Rabbi Moshe Aron Kagan

29 April 2021

Half-a-dozen years before the Previous Rebbe was exiled from Russia for the crime of teaching Torah, he had already established a yeshivah in Warsaw – Tomchei Temimim. As a young unmarried man, my father – Rabbi Yosef Avraham – studied there, and in 1933, he was appointed the yeshivah’s secretary. And when the Previous Rebbe moved from Riga, Latvia to Warsaw, my father became a frequent visitor in his home.

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I recall him telling me when I was a boy that, even before the outbreak of World War Two, the Previous Rebbe foresaw that dark times were coming. Not long after Adolf Hitler became the chancellor of Germany, he asked my father to raise money for a rescue effort. He’d said to my father, “There’s a great problem approaching the Jewish community. But it has been decreed from Heaven that I not be able to speak about it.” In fact, after his tortures in Soviet prisons, the Rebbe had difficulty speaking clearly, and sometimes my father had to interpret his speech to others.

Another thing – a small thing – that I recall my father telling me was advice from the Previous Rebbe to always keep his things neat and tidy – to always make his bed and straighten his room before going out in the morning. This made an impression on me, and I took it upon myself from the age of eleven to do likewise; I have kept up this habit for most of my life.

The Previous Rebbe also told my father that if he should ever rent any place – an apartment, a hotel room, whatever – he should return it to the owner cleaner than he found it, especially if the owner is a non-Jew. My father took this advice very much to heart, and was very fussy whenever we traveled together. I used to say to him, “What are you cleaning for? We didn’t make it dirty – it was already that way!” But he cleaned the place as if he was cleaning for Pesach. “This is what the Rebbe told me to do,” he would say. (more…)

Mrs. Aidel Springer

23 April 2021

I grew up in Russia, in a Lubavitch family which had been close to the Rebbe’s family. In fact, my grandfather and the Rebbe’s father were lifelong friends, and my grandfather – Rabbi Shneur Zalman Vilenkin – had the honor of teaching the Rebbe when he was a child.

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Our family was religious at a time when practicing Judaism was a crime in the Soviet Union. I recall that I had to be home early on Friday afternoon – lest I let slip to my friends that we were about to bring in Shabbat. My mother would cover the windows with blankets, so that no one should see her lighting Shabbat candles.

After the war ended, we left Russia as part of a big exodus of Jews who were permitted to return to Poland if they were born there. We were not Polish but we made it out, like many others, on forged papers and – after a time spent in DP camps – we managed to get to France and then to America.

We were resettled by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) in Cleveland but, on the way there, we stopped in New York where we were able to have an audience with the Rebbe. This was in July of 1953, when I was thirteen years old. We went in as a family, and I recall that my grandfather had trouble walking because part of his body was paralyzed, so he moved very slowly. As we entered, the Rebbe got up and walked towards the door to greet us. He then repeatedly invited my grandfather to sit down, but my grandfather would never sit in front of the Rebbe, so he declined. And since he didn’t sit, the Rebbe also didn’t. During that entire audience, the Rebbe stood out of respect for his childhood teacher. (more…)

Mrs. Sylvia Goldhirsch

16 April 2021

I was born and raised in Australia in a traditional, warm and loving Jewish home, but I was not introduced to Chabad until I met my future husband, Michel Meir, whose family was connected to Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid and Rebbetzin Devorah Groner, the Chabad emissaries in Melbourne.

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After we got married, we also became close with the Groners and, at one point, Rabbi Groner offered me a teaching position at the Beth Rivkah high school for girls and Yeshivah College for boys, where I taught off and on until my family grew and I was needed at home.

We first met the Rebbe in 1985, when we came to New York for a fundraising dinner on behalf of Colel Chabad. We were introduced to him as he was leaving his office. I don’t even remember what he said to us because I was so overwhelmed by his presence. As soon as he looked at me with his piercing blue eyes, I knew that he could see exactly who I was and what potential I had in me. It was a very moving moment in my life.

Three years later, we met the Rebbe again, and this is where my story really begins.

By way of background, I must explain that there is a history of breast cancer in my family, on my mother’s side. My mother herself was diagnosed with it and passed away six years later, at forty-nine years of age. Then another relative was diagnosed with it when she was in her early 30s, although after treatment she recovered. And then I myself found a lump. This was in 1988. (more…)

Familiarity Breeds Friendship

8 April 2021

As a Chabad chasid, I had many encounters with the Rebbe over the years, and he gave me much good advice regarding personal matters, regarding Torah study and prayer, and regarding outreach. Today, I would like to share what he taught me about spreading the “wellsprings” of chasidic teachings in the most effective way.

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In 1966, when I was studying at the Chabad yeshivah in New York, I became engaged, and during a subsequent farbrengen, I approached the Rebbe to inform him of the good news, bringing a bottle of vodka along. The Rebbe poured some of the vodka into his cup and into my cup and wished me, “L’chaim v’livrachah – For life and for blessing.” Then he instructed me what I should speak about during my engagement vort.

It is customary at a Chabad vort for the groom to deliver a chasidic discourse which focuses on the deep mystical interpretations of the Torah – what is called nistar, its “hidden” dimension. But the Rebbe told me that I should also speak of nigleh, its revealed dimension, even if this is not usually done.

“If anyone bothers you, tell that person that I instructed you to do this,” he added. As I was walking away, the Rebbe called after me, “But prepare well!” (more…)

The Man Who Left Right

31 March 2021

My family has been associated with Chabad for many years. In fact, after the war, when young Lubavitcher refugees arrived in Montreal, some of them stayed with us, and our strong attachment grew from there.

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The leader of this group – Rabbi Aryeh Leib Kramer – was most instrumental in setting my life on the right path.

Like many of those who grew up in the 1960s, I had explored different religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, and the New Age teachings of Edgar Cayce – until it finally occurred to me that I should also look into my own roots in Judaism.

That is when Rabbi Kramer suggested I meet Rabbi Yosef Minkowitz, director of the Beth Rivkah Academy. I did, and I began studying with him – I have now been studying with him for over thirty years. (more…)

Rabbi Shlomo Cunin

23 March 2021

The events which I am about to relate happened when I was eighteen years old and still a student at the Chabad yeshivah in New York.

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On the Eve of Passover, before going home to my parents for the Seder, I went to stand in line to receive a piece of matzah from the Rebbe.

When he saw me, the Rebbe said, “I understand that you are going to the Bronx so please be so kind and deliver matzah from me to a family over there. My secretariat will give you the address.”

I was elated to have the privilege to do something for the Rebbe; I couldn’t be happier to do this good deed. But when I got the address from Rabbi Mordechai Hodakov, the Rebbe’s secretary, I realized this wouldn’t be a simple matter.

My parents lived near Yankee Stadium in West Bronx, while this address was all the way on the other side of the Bronx Zoo in East Bronx which, in 1958, was a crime-ridden area, very dangerous at night. (more…)

Rabbi Yaakov Spitezki

18 March 2021

When I graduated high school, my parents gave me a present – a ticket to fly from Paris to New York, where I could visit with the Rebbe. Although my parents were religious, they were not chasidic, but I had been connected to Chabad since my early teens and they knew this present would make me very happy.

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I remember that, upon entering the Rebbe’s room, I felt very cold because the air conditioning was on high, but as soon as the Rebbe looked at me with his bright blue eyes, I warmed up. He spoke to me softly, in French, and he put me totally at ease. I felt calm and serene – as if I was meeting with a loving father.

During the audience – which took place in July of 1968 – the Rebbe asked me many personal questions. He also answered questions I asked him, both my own and those that my friends from high school wanted me to ask. In particular, their questions concerned issues of faith. For instance, they wanted to be reassured that the Torah is the word of G-d and that it was given to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai – that these things really happened.

“You can tell your friends,” the Rebbe said, “that just as we know and accept as historical fact that Columbus discovered America, we also know that there was a revelation from G-d at Mount Sinai.” (more…)

Mr. Mottel Feiglin

10 March 2021

My ancestors have been Chabad chasidim going back at least one hundred and fifty years, but because we lived in Australia, we were able to visit the Rebbe in New York – half a world away – only rarely. I myself made the trip for the first time in 1971, when I was nineteen years old.

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I was most fortunate to be able to obtain an appointment with the Rebbe not long after my arrival, and I very much looked forward to meeting him, especially because I wanted to ask his blessing for a specific problem I was experiencing.

For quite a while, I had been plagued with migraine headaches. Sometimes, they would come on as often as once a week, preceded by flashes of light appearing before my eyes. When I began experiencing those flashes, I knew that shortly thereafter I would get a migraine headache. I had been to medical specialists who prescribed different medications, but none of them helped.

I had only hoped for the Rebbe’s blessing for recovery from this ailment, so one can imagine my surprise when, in addition, the Rebbe gave me a medical prescription. He said, “When you first get the signs that a migraine is coming on – when you get those flashes in your eyes – you should immediately take Anacin.”

Anacin was not a medication that I was familiar with at the time, as it was not available in Australia (and is still not). So I responded, “I don’t know what that is.” (more…)

Mrs. Shulammis Saxon

4 March 2021

When I was approaching my Bat Mitzvah, I heard that there was a custom to write to the Rebbe for a blessing. I was fairly new to Chabad and wasn’t familiar with this custom, but as I sat down to write my letter, I thought it would probably be nice to also give the Rebbe a blessing. I shouldn’t just be asking and taking; I should also be giving. This is the way my twelve-year-old mind reasoned.

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I knew that the Rebbe was childless, so I decided to give him a blessing for children. Now, this was 1981, so the Rebbe was nearing eighty, but I did not see that as an obstacle. Didn’t Avraham have Yitzchak when he was one hundred years old? The Torah teaches us that G-d can do anything!

Still, I was a little bit shy about writing this outright. I didn’t know if the Rebbe opened the letters himself, or if his secretaries read them first. I didn’t want anyone else to see what I wrote, because they might not give my letter to him if they felt that a blessing to the Rebbe from a little girl was not appropriate. So I decided to write that part of the letter in Hebrew code.

There are a number of substitution systems where Hebrew letters are exchanged with each other according to certain specific methods. The most famous is called Atbash, but there are many others. My younger brother helped me with this, and he told me which code was best for me to use. (more…)

Rabbi Sholom Spalter

25 February 2021

Some time before my Bar Mitzvah in the winter of 1966, my father – Reb Hersh Mailach Spalter – wrote to the Rebbe. As a Holocaust survivor whose brothers had perished, he was understandably very emotional as the Bar Mitzvah of his eldest son approached. And, of course, he wanted to mark the occasion in a grand manner as he was a man of means back then.

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But when he informed the Rebbe that he was planning an extravagant party, the Rebbe responded, “The Torah is careful when it comes to [spending] the money of Jewish people. So instead, make it spiritually extravagant.”

The Rebbe’s secretary relayed this message to my father over the phone, but my father wanted to see the Rebbe’s handwritten response for himself.

I vividly remember going along with him to Chabad headquarters and reading the Rebbe’s note. When we did, my father turned to me and asked, “What do you think the Rebbe means?”

I was a young boy, so what did I know? “I have no idea,” I said.

My father supplied the answer: “I think the Rebbe means that instead of reciting one chasidic discourse, you should recite two.” (more…)

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