In the 1950s, when I was a young man, I befriended Rabbi Moses Rosen, who was the chief rabbi of Romania. Whenever he came to New York, he prayed in my shul, which was the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and when we discovered that we both spoke French, it brought us together. We became good friends, our wives became friends, and it was a great friendship for friendship’s sake, as the saying goes.
On one visit to the US, Rabbi Rosen said to me, “I’m going to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, would you mind coming along with me?” I said, “Mind? I’d love to!”
His appointment was for one o’clock in the morning, but nevertheless, when we arrived at the Lubavitch Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, the street outside was crowded with people – dozens of chasidim were waiting there. When they saw Rabbi Rosen, they recognized him because he was famous – an Orthodox rabbi holding the position of chief rabbi in a Communist country was something very unusual – and they immediately made room for him.
Although we were early for our appointment, we were invited right in, and the Rebbe came out of his office and hugged Rabbi Rosen, whom he had known from before. Rabbi Rosen introduced me as a young rabbi from Belgium, a student of Rav Amiel, the spiritual leader of the Shomre Hadas Jewish Community of Antwerp. And the Rebbe started talking French to me, telling me that he had read Rav Amiel’s books, and he mentioned the Darchei Moshe in particular. He also asked me specific questions about the Jewish community in Antwerp, which he knew about very well.
When the Rebbe spoke with Rabbi Rosen, he also knew all the Romanian communities by name. Romania is a large country, with many towns with Jewish populations. I can’t remember their names, but the Rebbe remembered everything. He not only knew the names of the communities, but also exactly how many Jews lived where. And he wanted to know more. He asked Rabbi Rosen if there’s kosher food, if there are Jewish schools, whether the Jews want to leave Romania to go to Israel, or if they want to immigrate to America. He was very involved in this and interested in every aspect of Jewish life in Romania. (more…)