My parents – Rabbi Meir and Sima Itkin – were part of a group of Lubavitch chasidim who escaped the Soviet Union after World War Two and came to the United States at the direction of the Previous Rebbe.
As our family awaited permission to immigrate, we stayed in Paris. I was a baby at the time, but I remember the story being told of the visit by the Previous Rebbe’s son-in-law – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the future Rebbe – who came to escort his mother to America. You can imagine the excitement of the refugees at his arrival, with everyone rushing to meet him.
My father told me later that Rabbi Schneerson realized the need of the chasidim to connect with the Rebbe through him, and so he took the most personal thing that each person owns – his name – and spoke about it. To my father he said, “Your name, Meir, comes from ohr meaning light. You will light up the world.” This short conversation set the stage for my father’s lifelong attachment and devotion to the future Rebbe.
To both my father and my mother, the Rebbe was everything. He epitomized the philosophy they believed in, the values they held dear, and most importantly, the love that united all Jews. And whatever he said – or even hinted at – was of utmost importance to them; they followed his directives to the letter.
So it was no accident that they bought the house at 760 Eastern Parkway, as close as one could possibly get to the Rebbe’s headquarters at 770. My father had considered another property at first, not on the main street but a few blocks away where other religious families lived, but the Rebbe asked him, “Don’t you like me as your neighbor?” So that was that. (more…)