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Dr. Dovid Krinsky

11 June 2024

One evening, the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, called 770, as she often would, to speak with the Rebbe. The Rebbe often worked late, but on this occasion the secretary who answered informed her that he had left some time before, and was not in 770 anymore.

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Now, it doesn’t take much time to get from 770 to the Rebbe’s house; it was long past when the Rebbe should have arrived home. Calls began to go back and forth. Nobody, not even the Rebbetzin, knew where he was; it was like the Rebbe had disappeared. Nor did anybody know the whereabouts of his car, or of Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the Rebbe’s secretary who would normally drive him.
Word got out, and before long, a crowd of concerned people began to form in front of the Rebbe’s house. They were debating among themselves, wondering what to do, when all of a sudden the Rebbe’s car pulled up. He got out, smiled to the chasidim as he often would, went up the stairs, and closed the door.
The Rebbe had disappeared, and nobody knew where or why – only that he was back. For a couple of hours, there were only three people in the world who knew, and I was one of them.
Several years ago, when Rabbi Krinsky, who is my uncle, was sitting shiva after the passing of his wife, I visited him to give my consolations. While I was sitting with him, a certain man was escorted in through the crowd and seated right in front of my uncle. My uncle then introduced me to him as “the Rebbe’s dentist.”
Hearing this description for the first time surprised me. True, it was with the Rebbe’s encouragement that I had practiced and taught dentistry for years, and that he had pushed me to accept a particular position on the faculty of Columbia Dental School. But I hadn’t felt free to mention to anyone that the Rebbe also had a more direct connection with my dentistry. Only after hearing my uncle say this publicly did I feel comfortable telling this story.
It was probably in the early 1980s when Rabbi Krinsky called me one day to say that the Rebbe needed a certain dental procedure. This was already uncommon. Normally, patients don’t call requesting a specific treatment.
“Are we certain that’s what he needs?” Yes, he replied. That was what the Rebbe had told him.
Rabbi Krinsky wanted to know whether it could be done right away, in my Boro Park office, with no other staff assisting, or anyone else present. There were some logistics to be worked out, but the answer was yes.
There were also some other considerations. Since the Rebbe had sustained a heart attack in 1977, he had been advised to avoid certain medications, including one commonly used in dentistry, and so I was asked to avoid it as well. As it happened, I had been spending years trying to educate physicians that the amount of this particular substance that we use is so slight that it wouldn’t be a problem. So I called the Rebbe’s cardiologist in Chicago, Dr. Ira Weiss, but I got myself educated in turn. He explained that there is a certain variation of a heart condition in which even tiny amounts of this medication could have a deleterious effect on the heart.
Next, the Rebbe directed that we did not have to use anesthesia. In forty-five years of practice, several patients have asked to have this same procedure done without dental anesthetic and I’ve refused all of them, even when they insisted that they could tolerate the pain: “Maybe you can take it, but I can’t,” I told them.
“But the Rebbe said to do it without anesthesia,” insisted Rabbi Krinsky. I figured I would talk to the Rebbe about it when he came.
The third consideration was financial. The Rebbe instructed that I must receive payment. That was a tough one; how could I bill the Rebbe? The standard fee for the procedure at that time was 20 dollars, so after much thought, I decided to tell him that his fee was 10 dollars; at least I wouldn’t be charging in full.
When the Rebbe came in, a few hours after we closed the office, everything went smoothly.
After seating and examining him, I saw that the procedure was, in fact, exactly what he needed. I also saw that his procedure would not be difficult for him and could even be done without anesthesia. This was the only instance I have ever seen where this was the case, but the Rebbe had known it in advance.
I finished, the Rebbe got off the chair, and we began walking back toward the reception area. As we did, the Rebbe asked me, slowly, in English, how I had evaluated the difficulty of the procedure, and how much he owed me.
“It was actually easier than I expected, and the charge is 10 dollars,” I replied, as I had decided earlier. The Rebbe continued to engage me in conversation – about superficial things like my family or my job – while he took out some bills from his pocket. He thumbed through some singles, some fives, some tens, and then handed me a twenty.
I didn’t want to take it from him, and tried to find a gap in the conversation to say so, but it wasn’t there; the Rebbe had already moved on to the next subject. I also didn’t want him to stand holding his hand out, so I took the bill.
“But Rebbe,” I finally got in. “This is not the right amount.”
“That was your evaluation,” he explained. “This is my evaluation.”
Rabbi Krinsky then came in to drive the Rebbe home.
The experience was a little surreal for me; I hadn’t been nervous, but it felt like it had all happened in a different reality.
As to why the Rebbe’s disappearance became such a mystery: The Rebbe and the Rebbetzin were in the habit of trying not to worry each other, and so he simply hadn’t told her, or anyone else, that he was going to the dentist!
Dr. Dovid Krinsky, a retired dentist – who also taught dentistry for twenty years at Columbia University College of Dental Medicine – lives in Woodmere, New York. He was interviewed in April 2023.