I had the great privilege of growing up around the Rebbe. My father escaped Russia together with the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana, and as a result he became close with the Rebbe’s family and even worked for them after coming to America.
When I was born, my parents wanted to name me after the Rebbe’s maternal grandfather, Rabbi Meir Shlomo Yanovsky, since Rebbetzin Chana didn’t have any descendants named after him. So my father asked the Rebbetzin for permission, and she said she would ask her son, the Rebbe, about it. The next day, she came back with the okay, which is how I got the name Meir Shlomo.
The first time I met Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe’s wife, was some time after my Bar Mitzvah in 1977, when my parents took our whole family for a visit. As little kids, we were all nervous. The table was set with these beautiful glasses and the Rebbetzin served us Boston cream pie cake, which she always gave to guests, and something to drink. She asked each of us children what we were doing or learning in school and made us all feel very comfortable. This was something that always impressed me about the Rebbetzin: Whenever you walked in there, she was totally focused on you. There might be a phone ringing, but she would give her full attention to the person before her.
Later, my brothers and I would help around the Rebbe’s home, as well as that of his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shmaryahu Gurary. As a result, I ended up having many more conversations with the Rebbetzin and spent hours with her on the phone. She would ask about my family and speak about current affairs in America, Russia or Israel. I remember telling her when President Reagan was shot; in another conversation, she expressed concern about rising anti-Semitism. (more…)