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Mrs. Chaya Kaplan

21 December 2023

Even before we met, my husband and I were on a quest for spirituality; it was the sixties and we were both on the hippie path. We wanted to know whether there was some foundational truth that existed throughout the universe, beyond what any individual person believed.

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I had grown up in an assimilated American Jewish family in Baltimore, Maryland, and unfortunately, my parents couldn’t teach me what they didn’t know. My parents never had the opportunity to have a Jewish education, although it was important to them I had one; I attended Sunday school as a child and our family also belonged to a Reform Temple.

I spent time exploring groups like Hare Krishna and then, as a high school exchange student in Argentina, I met Shlomo Carlebach. He encouraged me to learn about the Torah and my heritage and we remained close for years after. He was the only rabbi I knew and trusted, and when Dovid and I later decided to get married, he came to Baltimore and officiated at our wedding.

We spent the summer of 1971 in my husband’s hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts, where we got to know Rabbi Hershel Fogelman, the local Chabad rabbi, as well as other families in the community. They began encouraging us to take up different mitzvot. “Try eating kosher,” they would say. “Try one Shabbat; see if you like it. This is the mikveh; see what you think about it.”

We were open to all of it. “Teach us, show us, and then we will decide what we can handle and if we want to continue with it,” we told them. We tried everything, and kept on asking questions until we got answers that satisfied us. Then, Rabbi Fogelman sent us to Crown Heights for Yom Kippur.

We came to 770 wearing hippy clothes and my husband still had long hair, but it was an intensely Jewish experience for us. After that, we decided to make a commitment to keep Judaism fully. We didn’t yet have a full belief, but we were ready to learn, and we decided to see what would happen.

Back in Worcester, we spent the next year learning from the community, while my husband worked and I took some college courses. The more we learned about Judaism, the more we saw in it the truth that we had been seeking.
Over time, we also began a relationship with the Rebbe, and in every experience we had with him, we would see his wisdom. “If this is what the Rebbe believes,” I would tell myself, “then I must learn more about it.”

The first direct advice we received from the Rebbe was when the community wanted my husband to take over the local kosher butcher shop. They encouraged him to write to the Rebbe about it, which he did.

The answer he got back was not typical: “You should do it,” the Rebbe wrote, but then he added a condition, “if you can do it in the way it should be done.” My husband thought long and hard about what a properly-run kosher butcher shop would entail, and decided that it was what he wanted to do. He met with a Chabad chasid involved with kosher supervision who took him to several kosher butchers to teach him everything he needed to know. Ultimately, my husband went back to college and became an engineer, but for years he was a kosher butcher – and he ran the whole operation “the way that it should be done.”

In November 1972, my husband and I had a private audience with the Rebbe along with our five-month-old baby. Before entering his office, we had to wait in the lobby, so by the time the audience began, it was close to midnight. Our son was fussing and twisting and turning about, which made it difficult for us to focus.

Noticing our squirming son, the Rebbe began tapping on his desk to get his attention; not just tap-tap, but a specific rhythm. Our baby immediately focused on the Rebbe, calmed down, and didn’t fuss for the rest of the audience.

The Rebbe answered all the questions we asked, and then he gave us his blessings, including one for the baby. In particular, he told us about the importance of following the guidelines of the Torah and to “live your lives according to the Shulchan Aruch (the Code of Jewish Law).” We were already observant by then, but hearing these words from the Rebbe heightened our religious consciousness, as well as our commitment and care in Jewish observance.

Meeting the Rebbe in that private audience took our breath away. We knew that we had found our mentor, and a foundation in this universe that we could trust.

When we were with the Rebbe, it wasn’t like he was our friend, that he was trying to convince us or jolly us along. If anything, he was stern. Rather than smiling, there was a firmness to the Rebbe’s face and to his gaze; you might say it was a tough love. I felt him looking deep inside of me, out of a concern to help me be the best person I could be.

He was a human being, of course, but he was so pure and connected to the truth it seemed as if there was no physicality restricting him.

Before our second child was born, there were some medical complications. As the due date arrived in early 1974, I developed toxemia and was in terrible pain, and the doctor wanted to induce me. I much preferred taking a natural approach, but wanted to be careful, so I wrote to the Rebbe. It was towards the end of the month of Shevat, in the beginning of the week, and I received a reply shortly after: “Not until Friday.” From Friday on, the doctor could do what he wanted.

Luckily, I had picked my doctor wisely, and although he was very concerned, he was willing to work with me. He monitored me every day and gave me instructions. “If the toxemia is better, I’ll just check you again tomorrow,” he would say. “If it’s the same, we’ll meet in the hospital tomorrow morning for an induction. If it’s worse, I’m putting you in my car right now and we will go do the induction in the hospital.” As for me, following the Rebbe’s advice, I didn’t feel I was in any danger. Every day the toxemia subsided, and in the end, I made it to Shabbat morning, on the first day of the auspicious month of Adar. At the birth, the baby’s umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck three times and his Apgar score was very low, but I’m convinced he survived because his soul needed to have the blessings of Adar.

Later on, I realized something: At an audience a few months earlier, while I was still pregnant, the Rebbe had told me: “When your child will come in, your joy will increase.” At the time, I thought that was a funny way to say it – we normally talk about children being “born,” not “coming in” – but I figured it was because English wasn’t his first language.

But then later I found out that this is the exact phrase that is used regarding the month of Adar: “When Adar comes in, we increase in joy.” It was like the Rebbe had known for months that this soul needed to come in Adar, and thankfully, I was smart enough to listen.

Mrs. Chaya Kaplan is a mother to five sons and a psychologist. She resides in Monsey, New York, where she directs a program for developmentally disabled young adults. She was interviewed in July 2018.