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.
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…)