Rabbi Yoske Sossonko

22 September 2022

Whenever people hear that my family left Russia in 1964, they tell me that it’s impossible. As those who are familiar with Soviet history know, Jews weren’t able to leave during that period. But when our relatives in the free world – my grandfather and others – asked the Rebbe to pray for our release, he assured them that we would come out of Russia without a problem. Somehow, my parents, Reb Asher and Fraida Menia, and myself were indeed allowed to leave that year, along with a number of other chasidim.

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When we arrived in Israel, my father wrote to ask the Rebbe whether he should immediately travel to New York – he had never seen the Rebbe before – but was told to first reunite with his relatives in Israel, whom he hadn’t seen in years. He eventually came for Tishrei, the month of the High Holidays.

In those days, guests who spent the holidays in the Rebbe’s court were granted two private audiences, one on arrival, and another before leaving. When my father came to the Rebbe for the first time, he brought a present from Russia: a carton of Kazbek cigarettes.

“I don’t smoke,” the Rebbe told my father, “but since this is something a Jew from Russia has given me, I will accept it.” He then took the carton and put it in the drawer of his desk.

The Rebbe also told my father something that, at the time, he couldn’t comprehend: The three families that had just left Russia had opened up the “pipelines,” and soon all the Jews of Russia would be able to leave. Standing there and listening, my father could not understand how this was even remotely possible, but he believed the Rebbe.

Just a couple years later, there was an earthquake in the city of Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, where we had lived. The houses in the city were built with mud-brick, not concrete, and almost all of them were destroyed. As a result, the Russian government decided that the Jews of Tashkent all had permission to leave. And only a few years after that, the ban on immigration to Israel was lifted entirely. (more…)

Mr. Meir Shlomo Junik

14 September 2022

I had the great privilege of growing up around the Rebbe. My father escaped Russia together with the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana, and as a result he became close with the Rebbe’s family and even worked for them after coming to America.

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When I was born, my parents wanted to name me after the Rebbe’s maternal grandfather, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Yanovsky, since Rebbetzin Chana didn’t have any descendants named after him. So my father asked the Rebbetzin for permission, and she said she would ask her son, the Rebbe, about it. The next day, she came back with the okay, which is how I got the name Meir Shlomo.

The first time I met Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe’s wife, was some time after my Bar Mitzvah in 1977, when my parents took our whole family for a visit. As little kids, we were all nervous. The table was set with these beautiful glasses and the Rebbetzin served us Boston cream pie cake, which she always gave to guests, and something to drink. She asked each of us children what we were doing or learning in school and made us all feel very comfortable. This was something that always impressed me about the Rebbetzin: Whenever you walked in there, she was totally focused on you. There might be a phone ringing, but she would give her full attention to the person before her.

Later, my brothers and I would help around the Rebbe’s home, as well as that of his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary. As a result, I ended up having many more conversations with the Rebbetzin and spent hours with her on the phone. She would ask about my family and speak about current affairs in America, Russia or Israel. I remember telling her when President Reagan was shot; in another conversation, she expressed concern about rising anti-Semitism. (more…)

Rabbi Aharon Serebryanski

8 September 2022

My family arrived in Australia, by ship, at the end of a five-week journey. After escaping from the Soviet Union, my father had written to the Previous Rebbe about the possibility of moving to Australia, suggesting that my brother and I stay on in Europe, studying in yeshivah. It was 1949, and I was seventeen years old.

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The Previous Rebbe replied that the move was an extremely good idea, but wrote that my father should take along his family — including my brother, sister and me. He also instructed him to bring along any chasidic publications he could get. Our job, he wrote, was to be “day workers” — to bring light, the light of Chasidus, wherever we went.

We settled in Shepparton, a fruit-growing town about 120 miles from Melbourne. My father and older brother immediately went to work on the orchards, while I continued my studies. Shepparton was home to the Feiglin family, who were pioneers of Jewish life in Australia.

By Rosh Hashanah, less than two weeks after our arrival, my father had written to the Previous Rebbe with the idea of establishing a yeshivah in Australia. In his reply, the Previous Rebbe was extremely taken by the suggestion. He said we should start straight away, “without paying any attention, for now, to the number of students” who were available to join. So, at first, I was the yeshivah’s only student, learning all day long by myself, until two more boys joined seven weeks later.

Eventually we moved to Melbourne, which was the center of the Australian Jewish community, and very slowly, the yeshivah grew. In 1950, when the Previous Rebbe passed away, our Rebbe picked up right where his father-in-law left off and encouraged the continued growth of the yeshivah in every possible way. My father and I must have received hundreds of letters from the Rebbe full of support and detailed instructions. (more…)

Mr. Eitan Ben-David

1 September 2022

It was 1960, I had just finished my Israeli military service and  came to the US to join the family jewelry business, which was partly run from there. I worked alongside my uncle in our Manhattan branch, where I had several customers from the Chabad community. One day, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka – the Rebbe’s wife – came by our office to buy some pearls. She came alone, driving her own car without any airs about her. I didn’t yet know who she or the Rebbe were, but after finding out, I thought it was an honor to have served her.

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I don’t know how the Rebbetzin heard about us, or why she specifically chose to buy from us, when there were Chabad chasidim in the industry. My guess is that it had something to do with her deep sense of modesty and with her desire to avoid any special treatment or honor on account of her status. I believe she came to us precisely because we were not connected with Chabad.

I was impressed with our Chabad customers more generally: They were joyful people who always seemed to be radiating love. After a while, I decided that I would like to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I had a cousin by the name of Aharon Shalomov who had himself become close to Chabad, and in 1962 he helped set up my first meeting with the Rebbe.

I arrived at the Chabad headquarters on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, where I met the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Klein. He gave me my initiation, instructing me to write, in whatever language I was comfortable, a letter specifying my name and my mother’s name, as well as the area in which I was seeking the Rebbe’s blessing. Two or three hours later, I was called to enter the Rebbe’s room.

This audience with the Rebbe stirred up profound emotions within me. On walking in, I handed my letter to the Rebbe, which he read, looking up from time to time to gaze at me. When he finished, he gave me a blessing. (more…)

Rabbi Avraham Chaputa

25 August 2022

This story is an excerpt from the book My Story 2: Lives Changed. Get your copy today at www.jemstore.com.

Yeshivat HaRambam U’Beit Yosef, a Sephardi yeshivah, was founded in Tel Aviv in 1955, and at that time I was appointed its head though I was only twenty. Of course, it was a small yeshivah back then, but it grew and grew. And, after a time, I was looking for a place where we could grow even more.

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In 1972, I traveled to the United States to raise money for a building site and construction. At that time, a few donors to the yeshivah – businessmen who were Israelis and who happened to be in the United States just then – met me and said they had an appointment to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. They asked me to join them and I agreed, although I knew very little about the Rebbe.

As I recall, the meeting was late at night. We went into the Rebbe’s office, and my companions asked whatever they wanted to ask – as I recall they were seeking advice on business matters; the Rebbe blessed them, and we got ready to leave. Up to that point, I hadn’t uttered a word, but suddenly, the Rebbe said, “The rabbi who is with you should stay.” And then he rose from his chair and addressed me directly, “Are you Rabbi Avraham Chaputa?”

I was surprised that he knew my name.

I replied in the affirmative, and he asked me to sit down and began talking with me. This conversation lasted a long time, at least forty-five minutes. He spoke easily in pure Hebrew, smiling all the while. I would say it was a wonderful conversation, a very comfortable conversation as far as I was concerned. (more…)

Professor Zvi Malachi

18 August 2022

I come from a family with a strong Polish and Galician chasidic background. Even after my parents moved to Israel in 1935, as pioneers of the new settlement there, my father maintained ties with several chasidic Rebbes. Later on, I discovered that he had also corresponded with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

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After our marriage, my wife and I moved to the Chabad neighborhood in Lod, Israel, and became close to the community. Along with my work on Hebrew literature at the University of Tel Aviv, I helped found a large library and institute in Lod – the Haberman Institute – for literary studies, as well as the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which focuses on the literature of the Mizrachi and North African Jewish communities.

At the end of 1982 I traveled to the United States, together with my family, for a year-long sabbatical. Even more exciting than the skyscrapers of Manhattan was the prospect of meeting the Rebbe. Sometime before Shavuot of 1983, Rabbi Bentzion Lipsker of Arad, a warm-hearted Jew I had known from Lod, invited me to join him and spend the holiday in Crown Heights. I eagerly accepted.

For the duration of the festival, I participated in several public gatherings led by the Rebbe, and had the privilege of a more personal encounter as well: During the Kos Shel Brachah ceremony at the close of the holiday, while distributing wine to those present after the Havdalah service, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Lipsker, “Where is the professor?” I was standing nearby and immediately came over to receive some wine, which the Rebbe poured directly into my cup.

To my disappointment, I learned that the Rebbe had stopped holding private audiences. But, Rabbi Lipsker promised to try and arrange one for me. To what I owed the honor  I don’t know, but somehow, he pulled it off. (more…)

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Pinson

11 August 2022

There are three countries in the North African Maghreb that, until the second half of the 20th century, were under French control: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Morocco and Tunisia were French protectorates, but Algeria was actually considered part of France itself for about one hundred years.

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In 1953, my parents were sent from France to Morocco as emissaries of the Rebbe, and from the age of three, I grew up in that region.

Six years later, the Rebbe sent other emissaries to Morocco, and dispatched my parents to Tunisia. By this time, though, Tunisia had become an independent Arab country and, for that reason, a large number of Jewish people had decided to leave. Meanwhile, Algeria had a Jewish population of close to 150,000 Jews, with no Chabad presence at all. People began to ask the Rebbe to send representatives there, but he declined, predicting that the Jews there were going to leave, since French Algeria had no future. In fact, he even told the Jewish community in France to prepare the necessary communal infrastructure for the Jews who, he said, would soon come from Algeria.

But nobody thought that this would happen. Algeria had seen some anti-colonial fighting, but the French had made clear that they were never going to leave. The French Catholics who lived in Algeria were certain that their government wouldn’t abandon them in the Arab majority country, and the Jewish community felt the same. In 1959, around the same time the Rebbe had made his prediction, Charles de Gaulle, the president of France, even traveled there and declared “long live French Algeria!”

But by the next year, de Gaulle had reversed his position, and in 1962 Algeria won its independence. By the end of that decade, almost all of the Jews had fled the country. In France they asked, “How does a rabbi in New York have such a grasp on North African politics?” It was prophetic. (more…)

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…)

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