I was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1957. Although my family had no Lubavitch affiliation, I gravitated from an early age to Lubavitch and had many Lubavitch friends. But it was not until after I got married that I decided to contact the Lubavitcher Rebbe directly.
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This happened in 1983. By then, I had been married three years already but had not children. As hard as we tried, my wife could not get pregnant. So I wrote to the Rebbe requesting a blessing for children. Before I wrote the letter, I was advised by Rabbi Aharon Serebryanski that I should do my part and offer something to G-d. So in the letter, I promised that, from now on, my wife and I would be observing the Jewish laws of family purity – what is known as Taharat Mishpachah.
The Rebbe gave us his blessing and immediately my wife became pregnant. And after, this we had five more children, so it was as if the Rebbe helped open the floodgates for us.
I wrote to the Rebbe many times. Sometimes the Rebbe answered, sometimes he didn’t. I had also gone to New York and stood in line several times when the Rebbe was handing out dollars for charity, but these encounters were seconds in length.
On one occasion, I had asked for a blessing because I had gone into a business deal that didn’t work out and, as a result, I was facing a huge tax bill which I couldn’t pay. The day after I received the blessing, the news came that the tax office had made a mistake and instead of having to pay a bill of $832,000 (in Australian dollars), I had to pay a bill of only $32,000.
And then, finally, in 1989, I got an audience with the Rebbe. Although the Rebbe was no longer granting private audiences, he was still receiving the donors to the Machne Israel development fund twice a year. The day that I came with my wife and family, there was a group of about two-hundred other people waiting, and after three hours in line, our baby, Zalman, grew irritated and started crying loudly. When it was finally our turn, I handed him to a woman I knew and asked her to look after him for a bit, as I did not want to bother the Rebbe with a squalling infant.
As we were walking up, Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, asked me, “Where is the baby?” I said, “I gave him to somebody over there because he was crying.”
To which Rabbi Groner responded, “Get the baby back here. The Rebbe wants to see the baby too.” So I quickly ran over and got Zalman, who behaved during the audience. And I was so grateful to Rabbi Groner for being sensitive to a family with a kvetchy baby and making sure the baby got a blessing too.
During the audience, I told the Rebbe about a project I had started in Sydney together with my partner Yisroel Dov Tolashevsky – the Jewish Birthday Club of Australia. The object was to make all our Jewish children become aware of their Jewish birthday, and with that goal in mind, we’d send a certificate to each child who registered, listing his or her Hebrew name and the Hebrew names of the parents. As well, we would send each child an annual birthday present, in accordance with the Hebrew calendar.
I took the opportunity to present the Rebbe with the same certificate as the children received and told him that he was now a member of our birthday club. He chuckled at that and asked how much were the membership dues. I told him there were no dues. “Why?” he demanded, smiling broadly, “It’s not normal for a membership not to require dues!”
I explained that we felt more kids would register if they were not required to pay dues. To which the Rebbe replied, “So are you preventing me from paying? I am not afraid of the expense.”
It was a very amusing and memorable moment. After that the Rebbe gave all of us blessings. In particular, I had requested a blessing for my older brother, telling the Rebbe that I was worried about him because he had absolutely no connection to Judaism.
When I said this, the Rebbe – who had been smiling before then – became very serious and said, “Your brother was born a Jew – that means he is not only connected to Judaism but it is his essence. You must only reveal it by removing the dirt, the soot, that is covering it up. And this depends upon you, his relatives …”
I felt like, in these few words, the Rebbe had delivered to me a lesson in Chabad Chasidism 101. He encapsulated the entire Chabad philosophy in those few words – that when you look at a Jew, all that matters is his Jewish soul. Some people may need some polishing to remove the soot, but the essence is what counts.
On another occasion when I asked the Rebbe for a blessing for my brother, he told me to check my brother’s tefillin but, when I asked him, my brother said he did not own any tefillin. So, of course, I bought him a pair. When I related all this to my rabbi back in Sydney – Rabbi Moshe Gutnick – he said, “That’s good, but you better check them because that’s what the Rebbe said to do.”
I didn’t think I needed to – they were brand new tefillin, so what could be wrong with them? But I followed Rabbi Gutnick’s advice. The scribe who sold them to me thought I was crazy, but he checked them as I asked, and afterwards he reported, “I am so embarrassed, because it seems that I mixed up the scrolls, and they were not in the right place. I am so sorry. But now I fixed them and your brother has kosher tefillin.”
I gave my brother the tefillin and suffice it to say there was never a need again for me to ask for a blessing for my brother, and I was able to bring him closer to Judaism than I had ever thought possible.
Mr. Louis Goldstein is the owner of A-Z Paper products in Sydney, Australia, where he was interviewed in July of 2016.
In honor of the Rebbe
by Dovid and Dorith Blachman