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?”
“Yes,” I replied, “I have.”
“And do you understand my farbrengens?” he inquired.
What’s a thirteen-year-old supposed to answer? There were seventy-year-old chasidim that didn’t understand all the Rebbe’s talks. “Not everything,” I admitted.
He then asked if I knew how to sing, and I told him I did.
“Well,” he said, “this Shabbat there’s going to be a farbrengen and I’m going to be watching you while you sing.” The warmth with which he spoke to me, after I’d just come to New York on my own, was like that of a father caring for his child.
Back in those days, when the Rebbe was going to hold a farbrengen on Shabbat, no one knew about it in advance, unless it was on one of the specific dates when there was a farbrengen every year. Otherwise, everyone found out on the day itself. But once in a while, the Rebbe would let someone know beforehand, and they would spread the word. That time, I was the lucky boy to be able to come out of the Rebbe’s office and tell everyone that there was going to be a farbrengen that Shabbat.
All of a sudden, I was the most popular guy around! So it was a wonderful beginning to my new life in yeshivah; it was quite a change in lifestyle, but a positive one.
A couple of years later, my lovely sister Shoshana was living in Richmond, Virginia. She was married to Rabbi Shlomo Capland, who was working as a fifth grade Judaic teacher, and they were expecting a child. Actually, although they didn’t know it at the time, she wasn’t going to give birth to one child, but to two. They only discovered that she was having twins at the last minute, however, which led to some serious medical complications.
At about 1:00 AM, in my dormitory, I received a phone call from my brother-in-law, with an urgent request:
“Can you please contact the Rebbe? We need a blessing. The doctors say that if they don’t perform an emergency surgery right away, then Shoshana and the babies are going to be in serious danger.” Both he and my sister didn’t want to do anything until they had the Rebbe’s blessing.
I immediately called a few people, and got the home phone number of Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary. When I called him, Rabbi Groner actually gave me the Rebbe’s home phone number, as he had been instructed to do in emergency circumstances. Of course, I didn’t take down the number in order to keep it, and I threw it away immediately after I called.
By that time, it must have been nearly 2:00 in the morning. The Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, answered the phone, and I apologized.
“Please,” she replied, “this is what we’re here for. If your sister has an emergency, we want to help make sure that everything should be fine.”
She didn’t say, “Why are you calling at this time?” or anything like that; she was warm and loving, and she made me feel very comfortable.
After a few minutes, she got back on the phone. “Tell your sister and your brother-in-law that there’s nothing to worry about. And tell the doctors it’s going to be a natural childbirth.”
Later, I heard back from my brother-in-law that the doctors, who had predicted major complications, had wanted to shoot him for interfering. But, as soon as the Rebbe’s blessing came through, the babies shifted in utero, and everything went smoothly and naturally. It was a miracle from Hashem!
Since 1976, Rabbi Yonah Fradkin has been serving as the regional director of Chabad in S. Diego county, California, which today has twenty-six centers. He was interviewed in the My Encounter studio in October of 2021.