Rabbi Yossi Gansburg

11 July 2023

I moved to Toronto as a Chabad emissary in 1975. Beginning years before that, the Chabad community there had been bringing groups of people on annual trips to New York to visit the Rebbe. So about a week before I took up my position there, Rabbi Zalman Aaron Grossbaum – who had been running Chabad activities in Toronto for about a year – brought a large group to Crown Heights. The visitors enjoyed an entire program, and the highlight was a farbrengen – a chasidic gathering led by the Rebbe – which put the group on a real high.

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After Rabbi Grossbaum came back to Toronto and sent the Rebbe a report about this inspirational trip, he got a call from the Rebbe’s secretary. In response to the report, the Rebbe had written a note: “What were the practical results?” He wanted to know what kind of lasting impact the trip would leave on its participants. So Rabbi Grossbaum called each and every one of them for feedback, and found that many of them had been motivated to take on various aspects of Jewish life, which he was then able to report back to the Rebbe.

Over time we succeeded in establishing a beautiful community in Toronto, with many individuals who became close to Judaism and to Chabad in particular. By the early 1980s, the Rebbe no longer gave private audiences, and had not yet started receiving individuals in person for the weekly “Sunday dollars.” So, for the people who came on these trips, the one opportunity they did have to connect with the Rebbe was at the farbrengens. They were able to see the Rebbe and say l’chaim with him, but since it was in a public setting, they did not always feel that the Rebbe was paying any special attention to them.

One year, I brought a group to attend a farbrengen held on Shabbat. On the following Sunday morning, as we prepared to depart, I brought the participants to the foyer at the front of 770, in the hopes of receiving a blessing from the Rebbe before leaving. As we waited, the Rebbe’s car pulled up and he entered the front hallway. He nodded at us, gave us a brief blessing, and then went into his office. (more…)

Rabbi Nissen Mangel

6 July 2023

As a yeshivah student of marriageable age, I decided to consult with the Rebbe. The next time I had an audience with him, during a visit from Montreal in 1958, I presented a few matchmakers’ suggestions I had received. Surprisingly, however, the Rebbe didn’t approve of any of them. Instead, he turned to me with a suggestion of his own.

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I thought he was about to present the name of a prospective partner for me. Instead he began speaking to me about two works by the Alter Rebbe – his Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, and Likkutei Torah, a collection of chasidic discourses. Both of these works needed some revisions, the Rebbe explained: They had mistakes, certain sections of the Shulchan Aruch had been deleted by Russian censors, and others were missing source notes. “My suggestion,” he concluded, “is that you undertake to do this work.”

“I’ll be very happy to do it,” I replied.

“And which would you like to do first?”

In an audience the year before, the Rebbe had instructed me to study Likkutei Torah five times, and thank G-d I had managed to learn it very thoroughly. “I think I already know Likkutei Torah a little,” I told the Rebbe, “so I would prefer to choose Shulchan Aruch.”

The Rebbe agreed, and I went back to Montreal to work. For every law the Alter Rebbe wrote, I would write what the sources of that law were, from the Talmud down through the later Halachic authorities like Maimonides, the original Code of Jewish Law, the Magen Avraham, etc. I did this for a few chapters, and then came back to the Rebbe to see if he approved of the way I was doing it. (more…)

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Auerbach

30 June 2023

My parents passed away at a relatively young age, and after that I was brought up in the home of my uncle, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the world renowned Halachic authority and dean of Jerusalem’s Kol Torah yeshivah. Eventually, after my marriage, I entered the rabbinate myself, and was appointed rabbi of Ramat Chen, which is today a neighborhood of Ramat Gan, Israel.

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In 1971, I traveled to a wedding in the United States and stayed in the home of a certain well-off Jew in Queens, New York. “Rabbi Aurbach,” my host asked me, “what would you like to see while you are here?”

I replied that I would like to use this opportunity to see some of the great Torah sages of America, and since my host was well connected in rabbinic circles, he helped me to do just that. The first meeting he set up for me was with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

I walked into the Rebbe’s office with a feeling of reverence. The Rebbe invited me to sit down and asked for my name.

After I introduced myself, he asked, “Was your father Eliezer?” That was, in fact, my father’s name.

“Did you know that your father was here before?”

Again, I answered affirmatively. I remembered my father having an audience in 1952. It was before my Bar Mitzvah, and when my father returned from the US, he told us about the meeting. He had been especially taken by the Rebbe’s eyes, and how they seemed to look into the depths of his soul. (more…)

Rabbi Avraham Eliyahu Neimark

22 June 2023

My parents fled to Tashkent, Uzbekistan, during WWII, along with many other Chabad families. Despite the harsh material and spiritual conditions of the USSR, the chasidim there managed to maintain a Jewish way of life, while imparting an authentic Jewish education to the next generation. In fact, our own home became host to an underground yeshivah headed by my grandfather, Reb Zalman Pevzner, who would teach Torah throughout the day – to children in the mornings, and to older boys in the afternoons.

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In 1971, about a year after my Bar Mitzvah, my family left the USSR for Israel. I carried on studying in Israeli Chabad yeshivot and my family settled in Nachlat Har Chabad, a neighborhood of Kiryat Malachi that had been established by Chabad emigres from the Soviet Union some two years before.

By the end of that first year, we received word that the Rebbe had invited us newly emigrated chasidim to spend the festive month of Tishrei in his court; in fact, he even wanted to cover most of our travel expenses to come see him.

Three days before Rosh Hashanah, I arrived in New York and I saw the Rebbe for the very first time that evening at prayers. The Rebbe looked out at our group, nodding his head in greeting, and we felt him gaze intently at each and every one of us. The very next day, I enrolled in Oholei Torah, a local yeshivah, and quickly settled in.

After Yom Kippur, my family had a private audience with the Rebbe, during which the Rebbe spoke primarily about me. He inquired into where I was learning, who my teacher was, the tractate and chapter of Talmud we were studying. He quizzed me on my studies. He seemed to appreciate the first answer I gave, and so he kept going, with a question on a gloss of Tosfot a few pages into the chapter, and another one after that.

“I haven’t learned that yet,” I told the Rebbe. He smiled, and showered blessings on me, the traditional wish for “Torah, marriage, and good deeds;” and on my parents, that they settle successfully into their new lives. (more…)

Mr. Bentsion Berg

15 June 2023

My father’s parents were Russian immigrants who had arrived in Chicago by boat in the early 20th century. Even though they were not religious, my father began his schooling in a religious day school in the 1940s. It was there, as a six or seven-year-old, that he developed a great love for learning and Judaism.

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When it was time to start regular schooling, he wanted to continue learning in a yeshivah out of town, in Montreal or New York, but being too young, he went on to public school. One time in sixth grade, his class had a cooking activity. My father refused to taste the non-kosher food, and my grandparents got a call from the principal: “What are these problems we’re having with your son?”

After that incident, he went off to attend the Lubavitcher high school in Pittsburgh, followed by the legendary one in Crown Heights, on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Dean Street. Later, he would go off to the yeshivah in Montreal. During those years he became very attached to the Rebbe.

When my father finished yeshivah, he and his parents wanted him to start college, and  he wrote to the Rebbe about his plans. The Rebbe replied, by letter, that college was no place for a yeshivah student like him, and he also wrote a separate letter to my grandparents explaining why their son should not go to college. Still, they insisted that he go, and my father even had an hour-long meeting with the Rebbe to discuss the matter.

“Are intellectual pursuits your aim, or do you want to study in college in order to make a living?” the Rebbe asked him.

My father indicated that it was the latter: Earning a college degree would enable him to secure a better job and a stable livelihood. (more…)

Mrs. Devorah Emanuel

8 June 2023

This story is an excerpt from the book My Story 1. Get your copy today at www.jemstore.com.

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. (more…)

Rabbi Moshe Weiss

1 June 2023

Growing up, I didn’t have any grandparents; they had all perished in the Holocaust. As a matter of fact, none of my friends or contemporaries in Los Angeles did either. In our community of Hungarian immigrants, almost all of the adults were survivors so I never even knew what a grandmother or grandfather was.

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My father, Berel Weiss, was a successful entrepreneur in the nursing home industry as well as a devout chasid and a very spiritual person. We would walk to shul each week on Shabbat, and he would tell me stories about the Baal Shem Tov and the Rebbe. “He is our grandfather,” my father would say.

Although there were very few Lubavitchers in Los Angeles then, my father had gone to meet the Rebbe in 1962, and it was a seminal moment in his life. He had a very emotional meeting with the Rebbe, and then a formal audience. He only brought my older brother Yona Mordechai along, but he did write my name in the note he handed to the Rebbe. The Rebbe read the note, and when he reached my name, he underlined it.

“Your younger son, Moshe Aron, where is he?”

“He’s too young,” my father explained. I was just two at the time.

When I turned three and had my traditional upsherinish, or hair-cutting ceremony, there was a chasid there by the name of Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky. He was a very warm man who would periodically visit us in Los Angeles, and he delivered a gift. For my upsherinish, the Rebbe had sent me a little Chabad siddur. (more…)

Mr. Nissim Mizrahi

24 May 2023

I always felt that I would like to keep Shabbat and be religious. But unfortunately, when I lived in California during the ‘70s, I had to work on Shabbat. I wanted to stop working on Shabbat so badly that it was burning me inside, but in every job that I took, I had to do it.

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After twelve years, I moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Myrtle Beach is popular with tourists, and in the tourist industry, Saturday is the most profitable day; if you refuse to work on Shabbat, you would be shown the door. By then, I had a family to support so once again I ended up applying for a job in a chain store selling beach gear, where I had to work on Shabbat. But one day, I decided that I couldn’t take it anymore.

It was a Thursday afternoon, in the fall of 1991. During my lunch break, I decided to call the local Chabad House to ask Rabbi Doron Aizenman what to do, and he suggested that I write to the Rebbe.

What am I going to tell him? How would I write this? “Please,” I asked, “sit down with me and show me what to do.” Rabbi Doron told me to come over, explained the traditional way to address the Rebbe in writing, showed me how to use his fax machine, and left me in his office on my own.

“One thing you should know,” he warned before leaving, “is that you’re not going to get an answer for a while. It might even take three or four months.” In those days, he explained, the Rebbe no longer had the time to respond to every question that came his way, and certainly not right away.

I wrote my letter, placed it in the machine, dialed the number, and waited for the beep that told me it had been sent. After going back to work, I closed the store, headed home, and went to sleep. (more…)

Dr. Baruch Levy

19 May 2023

The oldest of four boys, I grew up in Tel Aviv in a traditional home where we soaked up a love of the Jewish people, its Torah, and its land. We had emigrated from Baghdad, Iraq, in 1935 when I was just two.

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Raised in the atmosphere of an up-and-coming country, I had a strong desire to be a part of the action. At seventeen, I was drafted into the army and signed up for permanent service. There, I served as an officer in the Nachal brigade and later, wanting to focus on education, as a commander at the Command Military Academy and in the Youth Corps, or Gadna.

In the early ‘70s, Prime Minister Golda Meir empaneled a special commission to inquire into the matter of Israel’s youth in crisis. In particular, it would be focused on youth within migrant communities, or “marginalized youth,” who, because of the inequalities in Israeli society and the discrimination they experienced, were suffering high rates of school drop-out and delinquency. I was then a colonel, and in light of my educational experience in the IDF, I was called on to lead the commission.

When the commission turned in its findings, we included a long list of recommendations for policy changes in the fields of education, housing, employment, health, and welfare. As a result, Golda Meir requested that I be discharged from the army, to join her office as an adviser for social welfare and to coordinate her staff’s efforts in implementing the commission’s recommendations, within the relevant government departments. Even after Meir’s resignation, her successor, Yitzhak Rabin, asked me to stay in this role, which I ended up filling for a total of four years. (more…)

Rabbi Alex Stern

11 May 2023

When I was growing up in the early sixties, the Lower East Side of Manhattan was full of great Torah scholars. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, the foremost Halachic authority in America, lived in our co-op complex. Not far away were the Kapishnitzer and Boyaner Rebbes, and Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin was there too.

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Rabbi Feinstein’s granddaughter was my sister’s best friend, and at some point, she suggested to her grandmother that I could come over and help out, to answer the phone, or to write Rosh Hashanah cards. I was only ten, but for the next two decades, I used to come by Reb Moshe’s, as he is known, on a regular basis. Later on I would even sleep over on occasion, whenever his wife was away and someone had to be there to see how he was doing.

The Feinstein home was like Grand Central Station. People were ringing the bell or calling the phone every minute, and Reb Moshe would spend time speaking with them in person. But he spent most of his remaining time writing, whether it was writing up his Halachic responsa or his classes on the Talmud, which have now been printed in his Igros Moshe and Divros Moshe.

One of the things I used to do for Reb Moshe was give out his books. When he would publish a new volume, I would give it out to a list of thirty or forty prominent rabbis in the Lower East Side.

One Thursday night in 1969, I came to Reb Moshe’s house, and told him that I would be going to have an audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It was not my first time visiting the Rebbe; my father had taken my brothers and I to our first private audience a few years earlier, and we came back a few times after that for other audiences and public gatherings. (more…)

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