Rabbi Sholom Jacobson

25 November 2021

Until the late 1970s, the Tanya, the central work of Chabad chasidic philosophy, had been printed less than 100 times since its original publication in 1796 by the Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Shneur Zalman. But in 1978, the Rebbe launched a special Tanya printing campaign, announcing that he wanted the Tanya to be printed in any country where it had not yet been printed. Since then, there have been 7,530 editions, thank G-d, and we’re still going strong.

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The purpose of printing the Tanyas, as the Rebbe explained it, is to help bring Mashiach, by disseminating the teachings of Chasidism – “spreading the wellsprings outward,” in the traditional phrase. But, instead of those springs just bringing water to some far places, printing a Tanya in a new city was a way of spreading the “fountainhead” itself. A place where the Tanya was being printed would become the source from which the wellsprings of the Torah would flow out further.

He gave a few general instructions regarding the master text, specified that each print run should have at least a thousand copies, and also said something very significant: Printing Tanyas would be a channel to draw down blessings for the year ahead.

As a member of the team responsible for publishing the Rebbe’s teachings, I had worked on a commemorative edition of the Tanya, in honor of the Rebbe’s 70th birthday, a few years earlier.

Now, with this campaign, I became much more involved. On the morning before Yom Kippur of that year, just over a month after the Rebbe announced the printing initiative, we got a call from Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, who told me that the Rebbe wanted us to print a Tanya that very day and to submit it to him before Yom Kippur began – that meant we only had about ten hours! It was impossible. We started calling some printers, but they laughed when we told them what we wanted. (more…)

Marcia Greensite

22 November 2021

The first time I went to Crown Heights, in 1973, it was a disaster. I had grown up in San Diego, connecting with Chabad as a student at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), but going from the beaches of La Jolla to Brooklyn, New York, was just too much for me at the time.

So, I went back to UCSD, unsure about my Judaism and unsure about my own life. After about a year, I had a better sense of who I was and what I was looking for, so I decided to go back to New York. I’m going to go again, and give it another try, I thought to myself.

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My parents were not supportive of the idea, to say the least. We belonged to a Conservative synagogue, but our interest and involvement fell away after the Bar and Bat Mitzvah years.

“You know what, Mom,” I suggested, “come along with me and see what it’s all about.”

My mother was from New York and always missed the city, but she was horrified at the idea. Still, I managed to convince her to come with me for the weekend of the “Encounter with Chabad,” when we would have an opportunity to meet the Rebbe.

My mother was very impressed with our hosts and felt very warm towards the other people we met over that Shabbat. But she wasn’t comfortable with the whole religious scene. When we had to wait for hours to meet the Rebbe, she was not happy. But she was a real trouper and she joined me.

We were told to prepare a little note with our names so we could hand it to the Rebbe. My mother’s name is Carol, but her Hebrew name is Chaya. She was always very proud of it – it means “life.”

Eventually, we were allowed into the Rebbe’s office and my mother handed her note to him. He read through it, and then looked up at her. “You have another name, don’t you?”

My mother started to stammer, “Uhh… yeah.” (more…)

Rabbi Yisroel Rubin

12 November 2021

I remember standing at the Rebbe’s farbrengen, a fifteen-year-old on a visit to New York. During that winter night of 1965, I found myself holding onto the chain link fence overlooking the back of the main synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, straining to hear, hanging on to every word.

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The Rebbe was presenting a teaching on the conclusion of the Talmudic Tractate of Makkot, and he was discussing the story of Rabbi Akiva laughing at the sight of the Holy Temple in ruins.

As the Rebbe portrayed the episode, Rabbi Akiva’s personal background set him apart from his fellow sages. Whereas his colleagues were elite members of the Jewish establishment, Rabbi Akiva was a baal teshuvah who had struggled to come closer to Judaism later on in life. “Rabbi Akiva said: I am the proof!” the Rebbe explained, paraphrasing the sage. “My character now is the result of all the hardships I have suffered. I exemplify how utter ruin can lead to ultimate redemption!”

The Rebbe’s voice was filled with emotion, and as he spoke, I couldn’t believe my ears. I had never before heard Torah presented with such a multidimensional perspective. With a deep understanding of the biographies of the people in these stories, the Rebbe analyzed who they were as individuals, their interpersonal dynamics, and how this related to their teachings. This unique method of Talmudic study led the Rebbe to ask questions that no one else asked, and to give answers that no one else answered. (more…)

Rabbi Mordechai Dubinsky

5 November 2021

In 1978, a neighbor called me up and told me that a couple he knew was coming to America from Israel, for the woman to have open-heart surgery. We had a spare room in our apartment, so he wanted to know whether we could accommodate them.

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“Absolutely,” I said.

The couple, Amos and Madlin Agiv, were in their twenties and they had been married for two years. She was a high school teacher and he was studying engineering in Beersheva, and they had been saving up for this trip for some time. There had been a problem with a valve in her heart ever since she was a girl, but it had recently gotten worse after an infection, and needed to be repaired. In Israel, this was done by replacing the damaged valve with a plastic one, but she was still young and wanted to start a family, and there were concerns whether these plastic valves would be able to hold up in childbirth. So, they found a doctor in Texas who would do the surgery using a similar valve from a pig’s heart.

Before going out to Houston, though, they decided to spend some time in New York. During that time, we hosted them and made sure to help them feel at home.

One day, I saw that he was very sad, so I went over to him and asked, “Amos, ma yesh? What’s the matter?”

The matter was that, in the middle of their trip, they had discovered that Madlin was pregnant. They had actually been looking forward to having children, but in her state, giving birth could be very dangerous. So the doctor they saw in New York told her that she had to go through an abortion, and that it had to be done right away. (more…)

Rabbi Aharon Blesofsky

27 October 2021

My grandfather came to the United States in 1910. He belonged to the Karlin Chasidic group and originally came from a city called Blezov, in Russia, which is how my family got its last name. How he managed to remain a religious Jew even after coming to America is a story in and of itself.

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He met and married my grandmother, who was also of Chasidic descent, and when my father was born in 1921, they named him Shneur Zalman after her grandfather. His parents sent him to Torah Vodaas, which was a religious yeshivah in the Lithuanian style, since there were only a couple of options available to them in New York at the time. Every day he’d schlep over the Williamsburg Bridge, from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to the yeshivah, and it was there that he got to know the Malach – “the angel.”

The Malach was a nickname for Rabbi Avrohom Dovber Levine, who was also a story unto himself. He was originally a respected figure within the Chabad community in Russia, but parted ways with it, before coming to America in the ‘20s. For a time, he taught some of the yeshivah students from Torah Vodaas, and attracted a following among them. While some of their peers assimilated and stopped keeping Shabbat, Rabbi Levine’s students remained very observant. They began to dress in a distinctive Chasidic style, with long peyot, long coats, with the brims of their hats turned up – the whole nine yards. All of this was very unusual in America at the time; normally people just wore suits and fedoras with the brim down; and so people began to call them “the Malachim” – the angels. After Rabbi Levin passed away in 1938, they stuck together.

My father hung onto this little Chasidic group, or as we called them, the “gang.” Eventually they got a building of their own, with space for a yeshiva and a little synagogue – a shtiebel – in Williamsburg. By the time he married my mother in 1941 and started a family, he was a full-fledged Malach. He would go to that shtiebel, and had a custom to stay there late on Thursday nights, studying Torah. (more…)

Rabbi Osher Lemel Ehrenreich

21 October 2021

In 1955, I became the principal of Bais Yaakov of Boro Park, a religious girls’ school, and in the sixty years since, I’ve had the exciting job of raising the daughters of Israel in the traditional Jewish way.

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In those early years, I had a little office in our building on 45th Street, and people used to come in to schmooze. Once, Mr Rubashkin, a Chabad chasid who had children in our school, came by, and in the course of our conversation he suggested, “Why don’t you come to see the Rebbe?”

I don’t count myself as a Lubavitcher, but, there was no doubt in my mind that he was a great man, and I was very much interested in meeting with him. So, we set a date, and organized a little committee to go to the Rebbe.

It was about one o’clock in the morning when the four or five of us – faculty and supporters of the school – entered the Rebbe’s office. The Rebbe welcomed us very graciously. He struck me as a real gentleman, a continental European of the old school. We presented a few issues of concern and he addressed each of them in turn.

When he started talking, I realized that, though I had heard him deliver addresses to the public before, this was the first time I had heard him speak in conversation and respond to questions. It was obvious that he was brilliant – brilliant, but with two feet on the ground – and well thought out. Whatever we asked him, he gave clear, concise, and definite answers without hesitating or searching for words. There was also a lot of wisdom there, and sincerity too. No doubt, it was one of the outstanding experiences of my lifetime. (more…)

Mrs. Leah Englander

14 October 2021

I always had a love and a longing for Judaism. I was a little girl from a traditional Conservative family, but when I would see Chasidic-looking people I would say, “Oh, they’re so beautiful,” like I wanted to be like them. When I grew up and got married, I lit Shabbat candles and kept a kosher home but I was not Shabbat observant.

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And then my brother Levi Reiter and his wife Raizel became Lubavitcher chasidim. Through them, I started coming to classes in Crown Heights every Sunday and then I became a lot more observant.

I went on to have three children, and before each of them was born, the Rebbe gave me a blessing for everything to be okay. At one point, he told me I would have tremendous nachas from my children, and as it turns out, they are all amazing, thank G-d.

But when my middle son, Yehoshua Leib, was one year old, he had his first seizure. The doctor felt it might have been caused by a fever, but then there was another mild seizure, maybe six months later. Apparently, he had a kind of seizure disorder. Then one night in 1981, when he was nearly three years old, I went in to check on him. Even in the dark, I could just tell something was wrong.

I turned on the lights and his face was blue. I don’t know how much time he had been in that state, but by the time I got there, he was totally limp and his breathing was very shallow. We picked him up and ran outside, hoping that the cold night air would revive him, but nothing did. We called the ambulance.

At the hospital, while the doctors were checking him out, they mentioned something, in this matter-of-fact way, about his paralysis.

“What?” I gasped. (more…)

Rabbi Chaim Itche Drizin

8 October 2021

When I moved there to set up a Chabad House in 1972, Berkeley was a very tumultuous place.

I found myself doing a lot of work with young people who had left home and somehow lost contact with their parents. I would get two or three calls a week from mothers saying, “My daughter is in an ashram somewhere. Can you try to get in touch with her?”

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I became so busy driving around to visit these people that I began taking my talit and tefillin along with me in my car, in case I got stuck someplace overnight. One Friday, as I was sitting in the Chabad House, I got a call from a Mr. Friedman.

Between sobs, Mr. Friedman told me that his daughter was on her way to Hawaii with a young man who was a born-again Christian. She had become attracted to him and to his new religion and they were staying together in a small town called Emigrant Gap, but just after Shabbat, they would be leaving for Hawaii.

“Please,” he says, “I beg you to go speak to her before she leaves.” Shabbat is a few hours away, but as he’s talking, I recall seeing a sign for Emigrant Gap on the I-80 interstate highway, past Sacramento. Not too far away, I think.

For some reason, I hear myself saying, “I’ll do my best.” I hang up and call my wife to say that I’m going to Emigrant Gap, near Sacramento. It’s about two hours away, so I’ll be able to make it back before Shabbat.

“Okay,” she reluctantly agrees. “But just remember that after Shabbat we’re having a special event in our house, so you need to make it back.

“No problem,” I say. (more…)

Mrs. Shoshana Gittel Meer

7 October 2021

When I got engaged in 1971, I was very concerned. I was head over heels for my husband, who had recently become religious and was very dedicated to Torah study. Reuven was everything I wanted, and I would have followed him anywhere.

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But I knew that while my whole family was Orthodox, my in-laws in Detroit were Conservative and not very observant. I was a graduate of Bais Yaakov, a religious girls’ school, and hadn’t been around many secular people. Now I was hoping to build a traditional Jewish home, and felt frightened and worried that this could lead to tension between us. I wanted to be welcoming to my mother-in-law and it was important to me to have a close relationship with her, but I also came with my dukes up: “What happens when she starts questioning the way we choose to do things?” I thought to myself. “I want to be the one who decides what goes on in my home!”

So, when my husband and I had the opportunity to meet privately with the Rebbe before our wedding, this was the main issue I wanted to speak with him about.

Before we went, my husband’s friend from yeshivah kept telling us about the Rebbe’s greatness. I was nervous to go in as it was, but the things he was saying seemed over the top. (more…)

Rabbi Yaakov Eckhaus

20 September 2021

When I was growing up, I couldn’t stay in class. After kindergarten, my parents sent me to the Toras Emes yeshivah in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and I would come to school every day. But then I would insist that somebody come pick me up to bring me home. I guess I had class fright.

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So in 1946 my parents decided to send me to the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Crown Heights. My brother was there already, and they figured that my brother could come stay with me in the classroom if I needed.

Well, that didn’t work, and every day my mother had to be called down to Crown Heights. Rabbi Zalman Gurary was our principal, and he used to call up my mother and tell her, “Come pick up your son – he doesn’t want to sit in class!”

When it happened again and my father had to leave work to pick me up, he lost his patience. “Don’t send him there anymore,” he told my mother, “he is not able to be in yeshivah.” (more…)

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