Mrs. Chaya Korf

4 August 2022

I became interested in Lubavitch while attending the Bais Yaakov girls’ school in Brooklyn. At that point, there wasn’t yet a high school for the Lubavitcher girls to attend so they all went to Bais Yaakov, along with the girls from the Satmar and Modern Orthodox communities. There were students of all types.

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The girl who sat next to me, and who later became my sister-in-law, was a Lubavitcher named Rivka Eichenbaum; it was because of her that I became involved in Lubavitch. I began to attend classes for women on Chasidus as well as farbrengens and other programs.

But there was a problem. My parents were not Chabad chasidim and they strongly believed that I should be following their way of practicing Judaism. They were very committed, observant Jews who were proud members of the Agudas Yisroel community. My grandfather Rabbi Pesachya Lamm was a prominent figure who had helped introduce glatt kosher meat to America, and although he had connections with Lubavitch – the Previous Rebbe had actually eaten his meat – my father didn’t appreciate that I was now studying Tanya and doing things differently. Seeing that I wasn’t following exactly in his ways hurt him.

I wasn’t willing to listen to him, but when he asked, I said that there was someone I would listen to: the Rebbe. With that, he went and arranged an audience for himself, my mother and me. I was seventeen at the time, and they were going to take me to the Rebbe to express their concerns.

But first, I sent a six-page letter to the Rebbe, explaining my numerous dilemmas: I was drawn to Lubavitch, but my parents disapproved. Meanwhile, my teachers at Bais Yaakov preached a sterner approach to Judaism that conflicted with the Lubavitch path. They were oriented towards the Mussar school of Jewish ethics, emphasizing seclusion and avoiding the evils of the world, both on a communal level as well as personally. By isolating yourself from other people, they said, you could focus on your own studies, and you’d be less likely to wind up gossiping. The Chabad chasidic approach, in contrast, was more positive and confident, emphasizing the good to be done with ourselves and others. (more…)

Rabbi Chaim Menachem Teichtel

28 July 2022

I was born in the town of Piestany, Czechoslovakia, where the local rabbi was my father, Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo. In 1938, after Slovakia broke away as an autonomous state – with the support of the Nazis – and began enacting anti-Semitic measures, my father decided to send me off. Sixteen years old at the time, I spent a year at the Eitz Chaim yeshivah outside Antwerp, and then had to escape again when the Germans invaded Belgium. Eventually, I found refuge in Vichy, France, with Rabbi Shneur Zalman Schneerson, a cousin of the Rebbe. I was part of a group of twenty boys, whom he cared for, materially as well as spiritually, throughout those terrible war years.

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During that time, I also got to know Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Rubinstein, a prominent Paris rabbi who had gotten to know the Rebbe while he lived there. It was from him that I heard the following story:

Before Sukkot of 1940, the Rebbe had turned to Rabbi Rubinstein with a question: How much is a Jew allowed to place his life in danger in order to fulfill a commandment b’hiddur, in a special and enhanced manner? The two discussed the various Halachic considerations for a while, and shortly after the Rebbe disappeared for several days.

When Rabbi Rubinstein saw the Rebbe next, his face was beaming. He was holding two beautiful Calabrian etrogim, one of which he gave to Rabbi Rubinstein. Despite the war, the Rebbe had managed to travel into fascist Italy, and secured two citrons from the Calabria region, which are preferred by Chabad custom. The roads, and especially the border crossings, were quite dangerous, especially for someone who wasn’t hiding his Jewish appearance, but the Rebbe risked his life for those etrogim.

That Sukkot, there was a long line of local Jews wishing to make their blessing using that etrog, and the Rebbe was happy to oblige. (more…)

Rabbi Moshe Gewirtz

20 July 2022

I have served as the general secretary of the World Agudath Israel for several decades, at its Jerusalem headquarters. In 1981, in the course of my work, I was sent to the US. My wife and my son Yisroel, who was then four years old, also came along with me.

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It wasn’t my first time in the US, but since I hadn’t yet managed to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I decided to take advantage of the trip to make an appointment with him.

When we arrived at 770, I was a little dismayed to see the throngs of people waiting outside his office. If we have to wait for everybody to go in, I thought to myself, we’ll only get home tomorrow. Luckily, Rabbi Binyomin Klein, one of the Rebbe’s secretaries, spotted me from afar, and called me over: “Moshe, come quickly!”

We went over to him and he told us, “In a few minutes, when the person who is currently speaking with the Rebbe leaves his office, it will be your turn to go in.”

“But, I beg you,” he added forcefully, “please don’t speak with him about Agudath Israel right now. The Rebbe is feeling very weak, so we are trying to keep things brief.”

Of course, I promised to listen. Following his heart attack in 1978, the Rebbe had cut down on the number of nights that he held private audiences, and later I learned that he was only meeting with guests from out of town. Even this limited arrangement was discontinued later that year.

After several minutes, the door opened, someone emerged, we entered, and we saw the Rebbe. (more…)

Mr. Eliezer Shmueli

13 July 2022

In 1935, my family migrated to Jerusalem from the Greek town of Larissa, near Salonika. It was the middle of the school year so the schools were not willing to accept me. Eventually, my parents found a Kurdish rabbi, Chacham Fatal, who agreed to, despite his concerns that I didn’t know Hebrew.

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“Take a chair, put it in the corner, and let him sit there,” my mother told him. “He won’t disturb anybody, and by the end of the year he’ll be speaking Hebrew.” I was just a quiet seven-year-old who was afraid of this new rabbi, but that was what we did.

Later, I moved to a more modern school, then received a scholarship to attend the Hebrew University secondary school, and graduated from the David Yellin Teachers’ College in Jerusalem in 1948. By this time, I was a member of the underground Haganah, and was already an officer training new recruits for what would eventually become Israel’s army after the founding of the state.

When I left the army, I went to work as a teacher, mostly educating young children who had migrated from North Africa and the Middle East. I was promoted to principal of the school and held that position for several years before going to earn a graduate degree from Columbia University.

After that, I was hired as an assistant to Israel’s minister of education, and would continue to work in the ministry for thirty years. It was in that capacity that I was asked to go meet the Rebbe in 1971. (more…)

Mr. Yehoshua Saguy

8 July 2022

Higher IntelligenceFrom the day I was conscripted in 1951, I belonged to the intelligence wing of the IDF. Having been born and raised in pre-state Jerusalem, I spoke Arabic, so I began handling Arab agents and informants. From there, I rose through the ranks, and ended my service with the rank of major general. In 1979, I became head of Aman, Israel’s military intelligence directorate.

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During this time, I became acquainted with Rabbi Shlomo Maidanchik, the mayor of Kfar Chabad, and from the first time we met I sensed that we had much in common.

As head of intelligence, I saw that our young soldiers were missing some Judaism, especially on the Jewish holidays, so I took advantage of this relationship. There were a number of small bases around the country under my command, each with between ten and thirty-five soldiers, and I thought that they had to be able to pray or to do something for the holidays.

I turned to Chabad for help in running these services, and I got it. Nobody was obligated to go to the synagogue on their base, of course, but most of the soldiers preferred going there on the holidays than staying in their barracks.

Some in the IDF hierarchy were not eager to have religious people entering the bases, but to me it was refreshing. I felt it was very important, and it even helped keep the soldiers combat ready. This was the beginning, if I may say so, of Chabad coming to IDF bases.

Being the chief of intelligence was a very important position: I was responsible for evaluating decisions of national importance, like whether or not to go to war, and providing that analysis to the government. We would also share our views with the Americans, and at times I went to the USA. During those trips, I would usually stay with my brother-in-law in Long Island. (more…)

Rabbi Naftali Roth

30 June 2022

As a yeshivah student, I used to go on walks together with a friend every Shabbat afternoon, while discussing our studies. One week, we heard some people singing. We didn’t recognize the song, but I felt drawn in by its soulful melody.

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“Let’s go see where it’s coming from,” I told my friend.

That’s how we ended up at the “Baal HaTanya Synagogue,” a small Chabad shtiebel in Meah Shearim, Jerusalem. There we met ten or so men, singing chasidic melodies, as is the Chabad custom towards the end of Shabbat. The song, I learned, was an old Chabad tune, with lyrics from Psalms (62:6-7): Only to G-d should you hope, my soul, for my hope is from Him.

They sang this song a few times more, before moving on to others, and I felt something tugging at my heart. We started going to that shtiebel at the same time each week, and whenever I walked in, the locals would start singing that song for me. This was my first exposure to Chabad. After a few weeks, the rabbi, Rabbi Shimon Yakobovitch, offered to study Tanya with me, and before long I began to feel like a Chabadnik.

At a certain stage, Rabbi Shimon suggested I write to the Rebbe. (more…)

Rabbi Micha Peled

23 June 2022

I was born in Fez, Morocco, to the Turgeman clan, a deeply religious family. After the founding of the State of Israel, our family immigrated there and settled in Tiberias.

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The ‘50s were years of severe austerity in Israel, a time of poverty and famine. This allowed the kibbutz movement to recruit new immigrant children with promises of food, education and economic stability ,which is what happened with my family. Times were tough, my parents were naive about kibbutz life, and had several children to care for. So when a couple of young men came from a nearby kibbutz and spoke with them, they were persuaded, and reluctantly gave their permission for me to go to a kibbutz. When we separated, my father gave me a prayer book, a Chumash, and his blessings.

In the kibbutz, I was the only one leading a religious lifestyle. Gradually, I gave up wearing tzitzit, and then my weekday prayers, but I still tried to keep kosher and Shabbat to the best of my ability. When I reached my Bar Mitzvah, and my parents came to the kibbutz for the celebration, my father was shocked to find nary a trace of Jewish practice – there was no synagogue and I had no tefillin. He took me straight back to Tiberias with him and for the next two months, from morning till night, he had me shadow our community rabbi, who gave me all the Bar Mitzvah classes I had missed.

Still, after I’d spent two years becoming socially integrated into kibbutz life, my older brother told my parents that it would be unhealthy to tear me away from it now, so they let me return. Back at the kibbutz, my name changed from Machluf to Micha. Then, instead of Turgeman, I adopted the last name “Peled,” which was the name of the pre-military civil service youth group I was very involved in. (more…)

Rabbi Yonah Fradkin

15 June 2022

Back in the sixties, by Divine Providence, my family happened to move right next door to the dormitory of the Lubavitcher yeshivah in Montreal. One day my five-year-old younger brother Reuven, or “Ruby,” happened to smash a baseball right through the dormitory window.

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The students came out to this cute little boy, and you know how Lubavitchers are: They started to talk to him. Before you know it, they were coming to visit our family at home.

Zalman Deitsch was one of the students who would frequent my house, and he would learn with me as well. I was already attending a yeshivah in Montreal, but before my Bar Mitzvah that summer, he suggested I go to the Chabad yeshivah in New York to study.

“It’s a fantastic yeshivah,” he told me. “You’ll love it there.”

So in 1965 I came – a young and petrified boy –  to the Lubavitch Yeshiva on the corner of Bedford and Dean streets in Brooklyn, New York. Everyone was very nice to me, but it was a tremendously new experience. During my first year, I had the merit of having an audience with the Rebbe.

My yechidus took place right after my Bar Mitzvah, which had been back in Montreal. The Rebbe was extremely warm, and when I came in he looked at me and asked, “Have you been to my farbrengens?” (more…)

Rabbi Yaakov Shpitzer & Professor Aryeh Durst

8 June 2022

Rabbi Yaakov Shpitzer

In 1981, my niece, Tzippy – my brother’s daughter – was diagnosed with a severe form of leg cancer, malignant melanoma. The doctors at Rambam Hospital in Haifa were very pessimistic about her chances of recovery. One doctor gave her only one month to live. Obviously, her parents did not take the news very well, and they were at a complete loss as to what to do. She was a young girl – only nineteen years old – and an only child.

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One Friday night, while my family and I were in middle of our Shabbat dinner, my neighbor, Rabbi Leibel Friedman, paid us a visit. He said, “I heard about your niece. You should know that the only person nowadays who can help her is the Lubavitcher Rebbe. My advice is that you go see him in the United States and do whatever he tells you to do.”

I was a little surprised to hear this coming from him, since he wasn’t a Lubavitcher chasid, but I listened to his advice and as soon as Shabbat ended I began making arrangements for the trip. I did not have a visa, and I knew that on Sundays the American consulate would be closed, so I contacted Rabbi Menachem Porush, who was a deputy minister in the Labor Ministry at that time. After hearing me out, he promised to assist in any way possible. I don’t know how he did it, but twenty-four hours later I was on my way to New York.

Immediately upon my arrival, I took a taxi to Crown Heights. I located one of the Rebbe’s secretaries, and after telling him the whole story, he promised to arrange an audience as soon as possible.

The next night, at around one in the morning, I entered the Rebbe’s study. Immediately, I experienced a feeling which is impossible to put it into words. Anyone who did not experience it will never understand.

The Rebbe looked at me and asked me what I needed. I attempted to hand him the X-rays and written diagnosis that I had brought with me, but he told me that he didn’t need them. “Just describe the problem, please,” he requested. (more…)

Rabbi Moshe Havlin

1 June 2022

I came from Israel to visit the Rebbe for the festive month of Tishrei, 1973. During that visit, we noticed a number of changes to the Rebbe’s regular conduct. He cried profusely while blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, as well as at the close of Yom Kippur. During the intervening Ten Days of Repentance (at the very moment Israel’s enemies were finalizing their plans for a surprise attack, as we later learned) the Rebbe called for children’s assemblies “to subdue the enemy.” And he spent hours giving out coins, for charity, to the children – another departure from his norm at the time. Once the Yom Kippur War broke out, we understood what this was all about.

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I was supposed to have an audience with the Rebbe the day after Yom Kippur but I was informed of another change: The Rebbe went to pray at the resting place of the Previous Rebbe, and all the audiences planned for that evening were canceled. Clearly, this was due to the dire situation in Israel. I was rescheduled for after Sukkot.

Among the issues I hoped to discuss was the matter of my wife’s pregnancy. At the time, Chava Chaya was pregnant with our second child. However, as I told the Rebbe, her term had been very difficult until then, and fraught with problems.

“With the help of G-d,” the Rebbe assured me, “you will have nachas from your children.”

I noticed that he said “children,” in the plural, and I understood that there was nothing to worry about. And everything was fine; our son Itzik was born and we also had another son not long after that. (more…)

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