Rabbi Yankel Abramczyk

7 July 2021

Although I come from a family of Radomsker chasidim, I was educated in non-Chasidic schools – I attended Torah Vodaas in New York through high school and then the Telz yeshivah in Cleveland, and I received my rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the legendary adjudicator of Jewish law in America.

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Still, I gravitated to Chasidic courts, and when trouble hit, this is where I went for help.

On Shabbat, in the winter of 1968, while we were living in Montreal, my wife, Frieda, gave birth to our second child, Yossi. She had gone into labor on Friday morning and we arrived at the hospital early to avoid any unnecessary violations of the holy day. The baby was delivered that night without complications and we were very happy.

I went home to sleep and returned after morning prayers, as the hospital – Jewish General – was within walking distance. But when I arrived, I immediately saw that there were problems. The baby had been placed in an incubator and he was wired up to all kinds of instruments. He seemed to be having trouble breathing, and the doctors and nurses were running back and forth, looking very concerned.

The baby’s condition did not improve during the day, and so our pediatrician informed me that Yossi would have to be transferred to Children’s Hospital that evening, because here they couldn’t figure out what the problem was.

While my wife stayed behind at Jewish General, I followed the ambulance that transferred the baby to the other hospital where he was taken into the emergency room. After a long time passed, when I assume they were checking him over, a doctor came out to speak to me. “Mr. Abramczyk, we have to be realistic,” he said. “This child might not survive the night.” Those were his exact words, and they sent me into shock.

“What should I do?” I asked, trembling. (more…)

Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson

30 June 2021

Just before Passover of 1980, the Rebbe started a new campaign to teach kids about the holiday and to get them excited about eating matzah, holding a Seder, and learning about all the related mitzvot.

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At the time, I was a newly-married yeshivah student who had signed onto an earlier initiative of the Rebbe to enroll more kids in Jewish schools, and now I became part of this initiative too. Among the activities to publicize the Passover project, we printed and distributed 250,000 brochures which we headlined “Matzah Ball Contest,” showcasing the prizes that could be won by kids who did the mitzvot associated with Passover. Along with my fellow yeshivah students, I stood outside schools to distribute the brochures and stuffed mailboxes in Jewish areas of New York.

It was a brilliant idea. No one had thought of doing such a thing before, but the Rebbe reasoned that if kids got involved in the mitzvot of Passover, they would naturally involve their friends and relatives. And there was no better way to get them interested than by holding a contest and giving away prizes.

Indeed, this project proved enormously successful – we received tens of thousands of contest entries from kids all over New York. And we heard many stories about families that had not celebrated Passover for many years but did so this year because the kids were on fire about it. We also heard about families who had previously observed Passover in a perfunctory way, but this year did so with enthusiasm because the impetus came from the kids.

No sooner was that project over than the Rebbe had another brilliant idea – a children’s organization which he called Tzivos Hashem, “The Army of G-d.”

On the fifth day of Sukkot, the Rebbe held a children’s rally at the Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, where he explained how this organization would work. Kids who joined would study Torah and do mitzvot and, through these activities, would advance in rank – starting out as privates and progressing to sergeants, majors, colonels and even generals, just like in the army. At certain times of the year, there would be rallies with prizes and medals awarded. (more…)

Rabbi Zev Katz

23 June 2021

In the summer of 1966, my parents decided to visit Israel and they took me along – I was a young man at the time, not yet married. Of course, before we left New York, we went to see the Rebbe for a blessing, and at that time, the Rebbe gave me a mission to fulfill in Israel.

“I hear that in the synagogues in Jerusalem, there are vintage Chasidic pamphlets just lying around,” he said. “And I have been wondering whatever happened to the library of Radatz.”

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By Radatz, the Rebbe meant Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Chein, the legendary Lubavitcher chasid who served for many years as the rabbi of Chernigov, Ukraine, and who, at the end of his life, moved to Israel where he passed away in 1925.

“Also, there was a collector of Chasidic literature named Bichovski,” the Rebbe continued. “What happened to his collection after he died? Can you find out when you are in Israel?”

I took on this mission very seriously, and I spent the entire three weeks that we were in Israel going from synagogue to synagogue, looking, searching.

My efforts were greatly aided by Rabbi Chanoch Glitzenstein, who invested a great deal of his time in locating many of these pamphlets. As well, I received help from Zelda Schneerson Mishkovsky, the well-known Israeli poet, whose mother was the daughter of Radatz and whose father was the Rebbe’s father’s brother, which made her a first cousin of the Rebbe.

Among other things, she gave me a notebook belonging to the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana, detailing the hardships the Rebbe’s parents suffered in Russia after the Rebbe’s father was imprisoned and exiled to a remote village in Kazakhstan. This is the notebook that begins, “I am not a writer, nor am I the daughter of a writer…” and which has since been published and widely distributed. (more…)

Rabbi Michael Kanterovitz

23 June 2021

Although I was raised in a secular home in Tel Aviv, already as a child, Chasidic teachings captured my imagination.

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As a teen, I was sent by my widowed mother to an agricultural school in Kfar Silver, near Ashkelon. I was the only one among 400 students who wore a kippah, and I would stand in the dining hall every Friday night, sing Lecha Dodi and make Kiddush for all the others.

At one point, I managed to convince one of the American tourists who came to visit the school to donate a Torah scroll, and I arranged a festive Hachnasat Sefer Torah ceremony complete with a parade. The school’s administration provided a room where we built an ark to house the Torah and, on Shabbat mornings, I would wake up the Sephardic students who came from traditional homes so we could make a minyan and participate in a prayer service, complete with a Torah reading.

It was also at this time – in 1958 when I was fifteen – that my connection to the Rebbe began. I felt I needed guidance, and when I heard about his reputation of caring for every Jew, I wrote to him for advice. I described the unique situation in which I found myself and I asked: “Since I live in a place where Torah is not practiced, and I myself know little, how should I behave in this environment?”

The Rebbe wrote back – which in itself shocked me, because I did not expect a response – saying that what I was doing was a great mitzvah and encouraging me to continue spreading Judaism among my peers. This was more than fifty years ago, so I do not remember his exact words, but I can testify that his advice had a tremendous impact on me. It has been my guiding light from that day forward. (more…)

Rabbi Edgar Gluck

9 June 2021

When I got married, I was already an ordained rabbi – having attended the Chasam Sofer yeshivah in Boro Park and then the Beis Medrash Elyon in Monsey – but when I went to work, I chose an unusual avenue for someone of my background. I became the assistant for community relations to US Congressman John Lindsay.

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In 1965, when he decided to run for mayor of New York City, he asked me to set up meetings for him with the top Jewish leaders of the city, and the first appointment that I made was with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. They spoke for some time, and after Lindsay walked out, he said: “This man is brilliant.” He just couldn’t get over the Rebbe’s vast knowledge and the wise advice he gave him. And then he added, “Could I meet with him again after I’m elected?”

“Definitely,” I replied. “The Rebbe’s door is always open. And he wants to see leaders like you, so that he can give you some ideas how best to run the city.” In fact, Lindsay did go back several times, and he even helped get security for the Rebbe.

When the Crown Heights riots broke out in 1991, he was no longer the mayor, and the new administration was not as receptive. But I still had contacts in the police department, and I managed to arrange for a couple of unmarked police cars to escort the Rebbe when he traveled from Brooklyn to Queens to pray at the ohel, the gravesite of the Previous Rebbe.

The first time he went with the escort, I was there to make sure everything went well.  The Rebbe noticed me standing behind his car in the driveway, and he signaled that I should come over to him. He looked through all his pockets and found a nickel and gave it to me with his blessing. That was one of the most precious gifts that I ever remember receiving. (more…)

From the market stall to the yeshivah hall

7 June 2021

I was eleven years old when my family emigrated from Morocco to Israel. My father had passed away three years before, and despite his intense wish to settle in the Holy Land, he did not merit it. We arrived by boat in Haifa, and from there we were sent to a transit camp in Ashkelon.

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Shortly after we got there, I went out to help earn money that my family badly needed. I stood in front of the local market with two buckets of ice and fruit syrup, selling drinks. One day, Rabbi Yisroel Leibov, the chairman of the Chabad Youth Organization, came by and saw this boy with a yarmulke working so hard. He felt sorry for me, and he waited until I was done, so he could come home with me to the transit camp.

He convinced my oldest brother Nissim, who functioned as the head of our family, that I and my other brother Yaakov should be enrolled in a Torah academy in Lod, and this is how my connection with Chabad began.

In 1961, after I had been studying in Lod for six years, Rabbi Mordechai Levin – who was the principal of the vocational school in Kfar Chabad – came there and he recruited me for his school, Beit Sefer Lemelacha. This school, which had been founded by the Rebbe six years prior, had been the target of a terrorist attack in 1956, with one teacher and five students killed and another ten wounded. Since that time, the school had greatly expanded at the Rebbe’s direction, and although I thought at first that my stay in Kfar Chabad would be short – just a few weeks – it proved to be a commitment lasting thirty-five years. In fact, I have dedicated my life to that vocational school, owing largely to the guidance I received from the Rebbe throughout the years. (more…)

They Have Enough Businessmen!

26 May 2021

When the USSR joined the Allied powers in fighting the Nazis in 1941, my father was drafted into the Red Army, and my mother – like many other Jews who ran for their lives at that time – fled East with me and my siblings. That is how we arrived in Samarkand, the second-largest city in Uzbekistan, where there was a big local Jewish community, including many Bukharan Jews and also many Chabad chasidim.

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I was only three years old when we arrived in Samarkand, and I ended up growing up there. While others managed to make their way to the West, we remained behind because my elderly grandfather couldn’t travel.

In my high school years, I worked part-time in a factory owned by a Chabad chasid, and where a few other chasidim worked as well. One of those was Rabbi Moshe Nisselevitch, a unique persona who founded the CHAMA organization, and I was privileged to be among the original members. The goal of the organization was to help strengthen Torah observance among the local Jews, and we engaged in many activities – despite the risks involved, as these things were against the law – such as opening religious schools for young children, building mikvehs, and organizing prayer services and joyful farbrengens.

In 1969, my cousin Gershon Jacobson, the renowned journalist and founder of the Algemeiner Journal, came from New York to visit Moscow. I was very eager to meet him and hear from him about the Rebbe, but I was also afraid. I knew that the KGB would be keeping its eyes on anyone meeting with an American citizen and that could land me in hot water and endanger all of our CHAMA work.

I decided to ask my brother Betzalel, who lived in Moscow, to investigate and report back. Betzalel met with Gershon who told him that before his other trips to the Soviet Union, he had asked the Rebbe whether to see his family members and, each time, the Rebbe had advised him to avoid it. But this time was different; the Rebbe said he should meet with family members, and to do it out in the open, without trying to hide anything. (more…)

Mr. Ovadia Eli

20 May 2021

Throughout the years that I served as the mayor of Afula, I became very close to the Chabad emissaries in the city – Rabbi Chaim Sholom Segal and Rabbi Shlomo Segal – and I came to consider them not only as my good friends but as my brothers. There came a time when I, and the Afula city council, decided to present the Rebbe with a key to the city – a symbolic golden key in an elegant box – as a token of appreciation for the important contribution that his emissaries were making to our city.

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Before we actually presented the key to the Rebbe, I began serving as a member of the Knesset, and I was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Defense, becoming responsible for protection of Israel’s home-front.

Two months later – during Sukkot of 1991 – I came to visit the Rebbe in New York with my wife Ruti. We were there for a few days, and we were hosted by Chabad chasidim in Crown Heights. In the afternoon of Hoshanah Rabbah – which coincided with Sunday that year – the Rebbe was distributing dollars, and I stood in line in order to hand him the ceremonial key to the city of Afula. The exchange I had with the Rebbe on this occasion made a deep impression on me.

Before I even managed to introduce myself, the Rebbe began to speak to me in great detail about the types of missiles which the enemy had and which might endanger the home-front. I was astonished by the vast knowledge he showed regarding the types of munition stockpiles that our enemies had and the dangers that may come from them.

I was even more surprised by what the Rebbe said to me later on in the conversation: “You are responsible not just for the well-being of the citizens living in Israel, but also for the well-being of all Jews wherever they dwell in the world.” (more…)

Rabbi Nochem Kaplan

12 May 2021

After I was married in 1968, I enrolled in Chabad’s kollel, the institute for advanced rabbinic studies for married men. It was a small fledgling group – there were just ten of us, sitting at a couple of tables in Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway studying Torah together. But during the same week that I was married, there were five other weddings, so immediately the group increased by fifty percent. Soon, the room we were allotted wouldn’t be able to accommodate all who’d want to join.

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Since the kollel was functioning under the auspices of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, Chabad’s central educational arm, I went to see Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Hodakov, the head of the Rebbe’s secretariat, to discuss this situation. I explained the problem and my solution: “There is a building across the street that Merkos just purchased. Allow us to go into that building and learn.” He listened to me and said, “I’ll get back to you.”

The next day, he called me in and asked, “Who is going to take responsibility for the activities in that building? Will you? If so, I will give you the key.”

“What do I have to do exactly?” I asked, and he said, “In the morning you open up and at night you lock up.”

I agreed and got the key. We brought a couple of tables and chairs into the building, and we sat down to learn.

About a month later, I had just finished the afternoon prayers and was making my way back to the kollel, when I saw the Rebbe coming out of the building, followed by two of his secretaries. He didn’t say anything, but as he passed me, he gave me a very sharp look.

When I went inside, I came upon two kollel fellows looking dumfounded. “The Rebbe was just here,” one of them stammered out. (more…)

Rabbi Refael Zvi Hartman

12 May 2021

After more than a year had passed since our wedding and we had not yet been blessed with children, my wife and I turned to doctors. For a long time, we went from one doctor to the next, each of them supposedly more of an expert than the previous one until, after five years of this, we found a professor who was considered to be the top specialist in his field. He looked over our medical history, performed his own series of tests, and then he dashed all our hopes. He told us in no uncertain terms that there was no chance we would ever have children naturally.

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Of course, we were completely broken to hear this verdict. And we were terribly depressed as a result.

At the time I served as the principal of the vocational school in Kfar Chabad, Israel – an institution which was overseen by Rabbi Ephraim Wolff – and he suggested we travel to New York to seek the Rebbe’s advice and blessing.

My wife’s family members – who aren’t chasidim – objected to this plan when we first proposed it. “There are Rebbes in Israel too,” they argued. “Can’t you just send a letter?” they asked. When they saw we would not be swayed, they suggested that I go alone. “Since when do women go to see a Rebbe?” they demanded.

However, my wife knew better. So we both arrived in New York between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur of 1967, and we merited to have a private audience with the Rebbe.

Waiting outside his office was nerve-wracking. We sat and recited Psalms, while feeling anxious and tense. But the moment we went inside and saw his warm smile and gentle face, all our fears completely dissipated.

The Rebbe invited us to sit down, but in accordance with the instructions we received in advance, we remained standing. I handed the Rebbe a twenty-page letter explaining why we had come to see him, which included a report about my work in the vocational school and a summary of our medical saga of the past several years. (more…)

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