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I grew up on Long Island, New York, in a non-observant home. It was not until I was in my late twenties, when an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Gutman Baras, opened a synagogue in Plainview, Long Island, that I became religiously involved. Through Rabbi Baras and his wife Chana, I found my way to Machon Chana, which is a school in Crown Heights for women with no previous religious background who want to study Torah.
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I made rapid progress through their course of study and the next year, I met my future husband, Menachem, who had also returned to Yiddishkeit as an adult. By July of 1983, we were engaged. We wrote to the Rebbe, received his blessing right away, and began to make plans for the wedding.
Before setting the date, we checked the community calendar to make sure that we were not conflicting with any other event that our guests would feel obligated to attend.
We considered two dates. Menachem favored a date in the month of Tishrei, which includes many important Jewish holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Simchat Torah. Many of his rabbis and colleagues from Seattle would likely be in New York during Tishrei, and they’d be able to participate in the wedding. I favored Kislev, the month of Chanukah, because that was my favorite month of the year. We wrote to the Rebbe, naming the two possible dates – one in Kislev and one in Tishrei – and asking which he thought was better.
The Rebbe responded with a note, “Why wait so long?” and he circled the earlier date – which was the 12th of Tishrei. (We later learned that in general the Rebbe favored short engagements.) Now, the next day, the 13th of Tishrei, was the anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe Maharash, the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe, when the Rebbe customarily held a farbrengen. But on the 12th of Tishrei the community calendar was empty, so it was a good day for our wedding.
THE MORNING OF THE WEDDING, as I was getting ready, I got a phone call from Rabbi Binyomin Klein, the Rebbe’s secretary.
Now, I just want to make it clear that I had never met the Rebbe in my life. I had written to him for advice and for blessings, but I’d never had a private audience with him, so as far as I was concerned, the Rebbe didn’t know me.
Rabbi Klein said, “For spiritual reasons, the Rebbe will hold the farbrengen a day earlier than had been planned, the night of your wedding.” But the Rebbe wanted to – and these were his exact words – “appease the bride.”
Now, as I said, the Rebbe had never met me and didn’t know who I was, so why was he assuming that I needed to be appeased? But the truth was that I really did need appeasing – I was really mad inside, because I believed that the farbrengen was going to ruin my wedding.
Menachem’s friends and rabbis from Seattle, who had flown in for the occasion, would surely want to attend the farbrengen. My friends from Machon Chana would also want to go. So who would be at my wedding?
Yes, I needed appeasing, which is what the Rebbe knew even before Rabbi Klein made the phone call.
Rabbi Klein said that it was the Rebbe’s suggestion that we call all the vendors – the caterer, the florist, the photographer, and the band – and tell them all that the wedding would begin “on time,” which was 6:30 pm. Now, often, a Jewish wedding doesn’t begin on time, and many people arrive a couple of hours late. But if the wedding did start on time, there would be no conflict with the farbrengen, which was scheduled for much later – at 9:30 pm.
Then Rabbi Klein added an offer made by the Rebbe – that our sheva brachot, the seven blessings at the end of the wedding meal, should take place at the Rebbe’s farbrengen. Basically, this meant that we would leave the wedding hall, Oholei Torah, walk across the street to Chabad Headquarters at 770, and continue the wedding there.
After Rabbi Klein explained all this, he asked, “Do you give your permission?”
Of course, I said yes. What else was I going to say? I mean, I didn’t have a choice! But inside I was saying, “No, no, no.” I believed that no one would come on time, and the meal would be rushed. My wedding would be ruined!
After I hung up the phone, I dutifully called the vendors as instructed, but I didn’t feel good about it at all.
About an hour later, I received a call from Rabbi Shloma Majeski, the dean of Machon Chana. He was very excited. “What do you think?” he asked me.
I held my tongue.
He continued, “Do you understand what a special merit this is – that your sheva brachot will take place at the farbrengen?” And he asked me who my ancestors were that I should merit such an honor.
I said, “I’m nobody, I’m really nobody, and I don’t see this as an honor, because nobody is coming to my wedding.”
“I will be there,” he replied.
I said, “Yes, but you will leave at 9:30 to go to the Rebbe’s farbrengen.”
He said, “No, I promise – I will be at your wedding until the end.”
He also got an assurance from Rabbi Sholom Ber Levitin, from Seattle, that he too would stay until I decided when “the end” was.
That meant a lot to me. At least Rabbi Majeski and Rabbi Levitin would stay at my wedding till the end. Now I felt a bit better about the whole thing. I was also beginning to understand how much the Rebbe wanted to guarantee that it would be a truly joyful occasion for me.
IN THE END, it proved to be that and much more. After the ceremony under the chupah, I lifted my veil and saw all around me many people I didn’t recognize. Later, as well, there were lots of people dancing whom I had never met before. Apparently, the Rebbe had put the word out that people should come to the wedding, and they did! I didn’t feel at all that anything was missing, not for a moment. My heart was full – I was completely appeased, I was completely happy.
In fact, earlier, right after our chupah, I noticed a big commotion near the curb in front of 770. The Rebbe was leaving and people were gathering around to see. Suddenly the car stopped, the Rebbe got out, stepped toward us, and wished us “Mazal tov!”
After the wedding meal and the dancing, we walked over to 770. The place was packed – as it always is at that time of the year – with all the locals, plus people from all over the world. I went up to the women’s section and, because I was a bride, the women made room for me at the front, so that I could see the Rebbe. Just then he was talking about the mitzvah of simchat chatan v’kallah, the commandment of rejoicing with a bride and groom. It was such a beautiful thing, because it was our wedding, and the Rebbe was talking about us.
When he finished, the sheva brachot were recited and the Rebbe answered “Amen” after each one. Indeed, these sheva brachot were heard round the world because the farbrengen was being broadcast via an international telephone hook-up.
When I think about it now, it was mind-boggling that the Rebbe incorporated our sheva brachot into his farbrengen. This was not anything that we asked for. The Rebbe offered it out of sensitivity to a newly religious couple whom he had never met, and whose wedding might have been diminished otherwise.
From among the thousands of letters that he received, he remembered that we had picked this date – and as a result of his great sensitivity, we had the most amazing wedding. Twenty-five years later, these sheva brachot still sustain us.
Mrs. Devorah Emanuel lives together with family in Chicago, Illinois, where she is employed by Lubavitch Girls High School. She was interviewed in January 2009.