The Philanthropist Who Won’t Give Away a Dollar

4 July 2018

In 1989, my friend Marvin Ashendorf, who was then in charge of the Hillcrest Jewish Center in Queens, New York, asked me if I’ve ever heard of an organization called American Friends of Shamir.

Click here for full-color print version

I hadn’t, and so he told me about it. Shamir was a publishing house which printed Jewish religious books that were then smuggled into the Soviet Union, where Jews had been forbidden to practice religion since the Russian Revolution.

Shamir was hosting its fifth annual fund-raising dinner and Marvin asked me to consider being their “Man of the Year,” which would be a vehicle for them to raise money through my friends and acquaintances.

I responded that I couldn’t give him an answer because I didn’t know anything about Shamir. But I decided to investigate it. At the time, a Russian immigrant named Michal Meshchaninov was working for my air-conditioning company, so I asked him, “Did you ever hear of Shamir?” He responded with a smile that literally went from ear to ear: “Of course. That’s why I’m here.” He also told me that Shamir was a publishing company established by the Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.

At the time I didn’t know anything about the Rebbe because I was brought up with little connection to Judaism. I was what Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, called a “three day a year Jew” – that is, a Jew who would go to the synagogue on the two days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. Beyond that, I had little to do with anything Jewish. But hearing Michal’s reaction, I agreed to become the “Man of the Year” for Shamir. (more…)

The Antidote to Burnout

27 June 2018

I was born in 1947 in Hungary to parents who lost their entire families in the concentration camps. They married after the war and settled in Zomba (near Bonyhad), where my father operated a general store. However, because of problems with anti-Semites, we left there shortly following the Communist takeover, when my father was offered a position as a rabbi in Ujpest.

Click here for full-color print version

In 1956 came the Hungarian Revolution, and during the chaos, with the borders unguarded, we managed to escape to Austria. From there we immigrated to Canada, where I was introduced to Chabad-Lubavitch, which offered me a different outlook, a beautiful outlook, on life.

When I was seventeen I came with a group from Montreal to New York for Simchat Torah. I will never forget the crowds, the dancing and the singing. The Rebbe presided over it all, and a tremendous energy emanated from him.

Afterwards, I was granted a private audience with the Rebbe, in advance of which I wrote a letter telling him that I was at a crossroads. I had one more year before I finished high school, and I didn’t know which way to go after. I had already been accepted to McGill University, but I didn’t want to go, even though that’s what my parents wanted me to do. Instead, I wanted to attend a seminary to learn Jewish subjects and eventually to teach Torah.

The Rebbe’s response was: “Dos iz a guteh velen – This is a good desire.” But he didn’t give me any other specific directions. He asked me a lot about my parents and what they had been through, and he gave me a blessing for them. He advised me to tell them what I wanted to do with my life, and he blessed me to succeed. (more…)

Dear Children

20 June 2018

I was born in Kisvarda, Hungary, in 1947, when the country was ruled by a Communist regime. Life there was extremely difficult, depressing and bereft of Yiddishkeit.

But, in 1965, when I was seventeen and still in high school, I managed to leave Hungary with the aid of a friend of the family from Williamsburg, New York. He sent a fake letter saying he was my uncle, was very sick and needed me to come immediately to care for him. Based on that letter, the Hungarian authorities issued me a passport, and that’s how I made it to the West. Once in the U.S., I finished high school and then enrolled in Tel Aviv University in Israel.

Click here for full-color print version

Sometime during the school year, my roommate suggested that I join him for a Shabbat at Kfar Chabad. I took him up on his offer but, for reasons I don’t recall, I was not very impressed. I returned a second time and was even less impressed. Yet, I went back again. By the third visit something clicked, and I decided to leave the university altogether and learn full time in yeshivah – at first in Kfar Chabad and later in Hadar HaTorah yeshivah in New York.

During my time in New York, I was fortunate to meet with the Rebbe several times, as it was the custom back then for yeshivah students to get a private audience on the occasion of their birthdays.

Generally, when I saw him, I would ask for a blessing to succeed in my Torah studies. However, on one occasion, I told the Rebbe that I had a strong inclination to become a teacher, and I asked if I should pursue education as a profession. The Rebbe responded, “Es iz a gleiche zach – It is a good idea,” and he gave me a blessing to succeed.

After I got married in 1971, I came with my wife to ask the Rebbe if we should become the Rebbe’s emissaries out in the world.  The Rebbe agreed but said, “You should go to a place where there are already other young Chabad couples in the community.” In other words, he didn’t want use to go to some corner of the earth, as some emissaries do, becoming the only Chabad presence in a place that has hardly any, if any, religious Jews. This path was not for us. But shortly thereafter, the Rebbe approved us going to Miami Beach, which fit his criteria. (more…)

The Matter is in Your Hands

13 June 2018

When I was four years old, all the Jews of my birthplace – Gura Humorului, Romania – were deported to Transnistria, where most perished at the hands of the fascists allied with the Nazis, including my own grandmother. My family and I survived and, in 1950, just before my Bar Mitzvah, we managed to leave Romania and immigrate to Israel.

Click here for full-color print version

Once in Israel, I went looking for a yeshivah and, although my parents were Vishnitzer chasidim, by chance I ended up in a Lubavitcher yeshivah in Lod. There I learned for about eighteen months before my father, worried about my ability to earn a living in the future, took me out and sent me to learn car mechanics in Tel Aviv.  When informed of my plan to leave, Rabbi Yonah Edelkopf suggested that I write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for advice.

I was shocked at the suggestion. Who was I, a fifteen year old teenager, to be writing to the Rebbe?! But he persisted in trying to convince me that I should. When he told me, “Write to the Rebbe that Yonah Edelkopf told you to write,” he finally succeeded in convincing me.

So I wrote, explaining my family situation and my reasons for leaving. The Rebbe responded:

It is clear that since, through miraculous circumstances, you have merited to enter a yeshivah …  you must recognize how you are being assisted from on high to follow a path which is good for you materially and spiritually. And you should also understand that, in order to test you, thoughts occasionally fall in to you mind about abandoning your studies. You must get rid of these thoughts … Clearly, when the time comes for you to support yourself, the One who sustains all living will also provide a livelihood for you … A person’s livelihood depends exclusively on the Holy One Blessed Be He, so connecting with his Torah and mitzvot now are a great way to help you earn a living later on, while leaving the tent of Torah too early will only disturb this …

However, despite the Rebbe’s advice, I wound up leaving the yeshivah to become a mechanic’s apprentice in secular Tel Aviv. To do so, I cut my long side-curls, my long peyot, which I knew my employer and co-workers would consider strange. I didn’t want to feel ashamed in front of them.

One day, however, as I was coming home from my apprentice job covered in dirt and oil, I began to feel bad that I had left the yeshivah, and so I wrote to the Rebbe again. And, as before, and as many times since then, he answered. (more…)

A Great G-d in a Tiny Room

6 June 2018

I grew up in 1950s Brooklyn in a very American home – that is, we knew we were Jews, but we led an American lifestyle. For me, this translated into sports participation. Indeed, I became so good at baseball, America’s favorite pastime that, while in college, I was scouted by the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Click here for full-color print version

But that was not to be, as I was a student during a time of turbulence in America, the time of the Vietnam War. I was drafted and called to report for a physical to the induction center at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. Many people were trying to get out of the draft back then, but I was taught that “you’ve got to face it,” so I did.

I fully expected, as an athlete in top condition, to pass the physical, but I was very nervous about being sent to Vietnam and all that it meant, so I prayed – though it was more like I mumbled than prayed – “G-d, if You get me out of this, I will do whatever You want.”

And G-d got me out of it. At the end of all the tests, they found that I had a hearing problem – which was total news to me – and I received an exemption.

I left the induction center crying with happiness. I realized that I had been saved, which moved me very deeply.

Shortly thereafter, I had a strange dream. In that dream, I was in a field, holding a shovel, and I was digging up a gigantic footprint. In that field, there were other people (some of them people I knew) who were doing the same thing – also digging up their footprints.

At some point in the dream, I saw an open book which read, “King Solomon had deep faith.” And then I looked up to the sky and heard a voice from on high saying, “There is going to be a resurrection of the dead,” and I turned to see millions of graves.

When I woke up, I was very moved by this dream, but I didn’t know what it meant. (more…)

The Power of One Blessing

30 May 2018

My story starts in 1914, when my grandfather, Rabbi Gershon Katzman, came from White Russia to the US for medical treatment. But then World War I broke out, and he was stranded here. He became the rabbi of a small Orthodox community in San Francisco, while waiting to return home. But that was not to be. The Russian Revolution followed World War I, and it took him almost ten years to get his family out, including his daughter (my mother), my father (Rabbi Yaakov Karasick) and their children (my sisters and I).

Click here for full-color print version

Incidentally, my father came from the city of Barbruysk, which was the home to a large Chabad community – in fact, the name Karasick is a common name of the Lubavitchers from that area. Throughout his life, my own father kept some of his old Chabad customs, even though he was cut off from his fellow chasidim while living in San Francisco.

I grew up there as a young boy but, after my Bar Mitzvah, I was sent away for religious studies which did not exist nearby. Eventually, I enrolled in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon (which is now called RIETS and is a part of Yeshiva University). There I became a student of Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, better known as the Rav, and received rabbinic ordination from him in 1945, at the tender age of twenty-three.

A year later, on the day of my wedding, my grandfather decided that I should get a blessing from somebody very special and holy. Although he himself was not the least bit chasidic, my grandfather selected the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe as that person. It was strange that my grandfather would make this choice, but it must have been Divine Providence.

The Rebbe was very ill at that time, having suffered terribly in Soviet prison before coming to the US. He was wheelchair-bound and could barely speak. He was in terrible pain, and he passed away three years later. However, he agreed to give us his blessing. (more…)

Who is a Chassid?

24 May 2018

After earning a Ph. D. in biological sciences and studying medicine at Oxford, I was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Immunology and Bacteriology at the University of California in Berkley. When I took up this post in 1957, I moved with my family to the San Francisco area. While there, I befriended Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, who was the Rebbe’s emissary to California, and I believe that it was Rabbi Cunin who brought me to the Rebbe’s attention.

Click here for full-color print version

The first and only time that I met the Rebbe was after a trip that I made to the Soviet Union in 1965, when the Rebbe asked to see me.

That year the Soviets decided to host their first symposium in modern medicine to which they invited twenty-five scientists from abroad, along with twenty-five of their own scientists. It was a very select symposium, and I was one of those honored by their invitation.

However, I didn’t feel honored. I knew very well about the oppression of the Jews in the Soviet Union, so I refused to attend. But then, Avraham Harman, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, appeared on my doorstep and convinced me that I should go. He told me of the dire situation the Jews in the USSR were facing – many had been imprisoned for minor offenses such as hoarding flour, which they were only saving to bake matzot for Passover! He told me that the staff of the Israeli embassy in Moscow was under constant watch and could not reach out to the Jewish community, but that I would have a chance they did not. I would be going to Russia as a VIP with special privileges; I would have a car and driver at my disposal, and I would have the freedom to move around. Thus convinced, I accepted the invitation and I went. (more…)

The Survivor Who Wouldn’t Sit Down

16 May 2018

The story I would like to relate concerns my father, Sam Moss, more than me. My father was born in Munkatch, Czechoslovakia, what is now Mukachevo, Ukraine. There he attended the yeshivah of Rabbi Chaim Elazar Spira, author of Minchas Elazar, who was the Munkatcher Rebbe.

Click here for full-color print version

In 1944, the Nazis herded the Jews of Munkatch into a ghetto, from where they were taken to Auschwitz and later transferred to Dachau. There they endured unspeakable trials, and at one point my father got very sick and was near death, but he was saved due to my grandfather’s intercession with a kitchen hand, Oscar Heller, who slipped him extra food which helped him recover. After the war, he made his way to Australia, where he married and built up a very successful textile business. I was born in Sydney, as was my brother.

Because of his war experiences, my father was not religious. Indeed, between the time of liberation until 1956, he never even walked into a synagogue. He was just so angry with G-d because of everything that had happened to him. Only when I, his first son, was born, did he set foot in a synagogue for my brit.

His travails continued when my mother passed away at age thirty-eight, at a time when my brother and I were teenagers. This happened just when my father thought he had gotten his life back together, and it made him more bitter and drew him even further away from Judaism.

Then, to my father’s chagrin, I became Torah observant, and after finishing high school, enrolled in the Chabad yeshivah in Melbourne. This really upset my father, because he had rejected all that. Now his son was wearing a yarmulke and tzitzit! This was just too much for him. (more…)

An Accountant Becomes a Soldier

9 May 2018

I was educated in England as an accountant and then went into business in London. My cousin Stanley Kalms – who is now Lord Kalms – got me a job as the finance director at Dixons which had been founded by his father. At the time, it was still a private company but I took it public, and it has since become one of the largest consumer electronics retailers in Europe.

Click here for full-color print version

Around that same time in the early 1960s, Rabbi Faivish Vogel came to London as the Rebbe’s emissary. He saw an advertisement that I had put in The Jewish Chronicle, announcing the birth of my third daughter, Penina, and he contacted me. We became quite friendly, and as a financial manager, I helped him set up the Chabad infrastructure in England. As a result of our association, I grew close to Chabad and three of my youngest daughters were enrolled in Chabad schools and eventually married Chabad boys, two of whom are emissaries out in the world.

Obviously, Rabbi Vogel talked to me about the Rebbe all the time, and he was very keen that I should meet him. “Faivish,” I said, “I believe that the Rebbe is a great man. But I have no problems financially or personally, so I have no need to take up the Rebbe’s time.” To which he responded, “Do it as a favor to me.” So I did.

During my first audience in 1965, the Rebbe and I spoke mostly about what Rabbi Vogel was doing and what was involved in setting up Chabad of England. And then the Rebbe made a very interesting observation; he reminded me of a very basic accounting requirement of balancing the books: that the right side of the ledger must balance the left side, and so it should be in one’s life. Yes, there should be commercial or secular activity, but the Jewish activity of learning and awareness should balance that and be equal to it. He also mentioned that among the 613 mitzvot of the Torah, there are small ones and large ones, but all have to be kept if you want the account to be right. (more…)

Don’t Abandon Ship

2 May 2018

My father, Rabbi Shabsi Katz, was born in Lithuania to a Chabad family. When he was a small child, he came with his parents to Johannesburg, South Africa, where he was educated until he reached yeshivah age – at that point he went to London to attend Jews’ College (now called London School of Jewish Studies) where he eventually obtained his rabbinic ordination.

Click here for full-color print version

When he returned to South Africa, he married my mother and took up a position as the rabbi of Pretoria, the capital city. This was in 1954. And that is where he stayed until he passed away in 1991.

Because of his Chabad background – though he was educated as an English rabbi – he developed a friendship with the late Rabbi Yosef Wineberg, the famous Chabad “globetrotting rabbi,” who persuaded him that he should meet the Rebbe.

Once he did so, he became strongly connected to the Rebbe and made many trips to New York to seek the Rebbe’s advice on apartheid, his role regarding that issue, and many other issues.

At his first audience he was accompanied by my mother, and I recall both of them speaking about that experience many times. Uppermost in my father’s mind was concern about the future as South Africa was in the throes of unrest then, and he wanted to know if perhaps our family should leave.

The Rebbe responded that he was aware of all the problems in the county. “As Jews, we know what it means to suffer under a system that makes you into second class citizens,” he said, “And we can never condone such a system.”

He spoke favorably of Helen Susman, the feisty Jewish member of the South African parliament who had challenged apartheid, quoting some of her speeches and saying that we should be proud of the fact that we are represented in that way because that is the Jewish way. (more…)

« Previous PageNext Page »