Focus on the Good

9 August 2017

My history with Chabad goes back to the mid-1970s, when the Rebbe’s emissaries – Rabbi Mendel Lipskar, Rabbi Shalom Ber Groner and Rabbi Yossi Goldman – first came to Yeoville, a suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa, where I was born and raised.

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I was part of the post-hippie generation trying to find spiritual answers. This search drew us to Chabad where we found Chasidism and rediscovered the depth and beauty of Judaism.

Although I counted myself part of the Chabad community back from that time, I did not get to meet the Rebbe until nearly ten years later – when I was already married, and my wife was having problems conceiving.

In 1983 I joined a special raffle being held to select a representative of the community to travel to the Rebbe. I won, and I travelled to New York for Passover, where we were hosted by Rabbi Goldman’s parents. I finally met the Rebbe in person during kos shel bracha, when the Rebbe would distribute wine from his cup immediately after the holiday. When I told him that I was from South Africa, he gave me a huge smile, handed me a small bottle, and said, “My views about South Africa are well known. You should go back and celebrate, and remind everyone that I said it will all be good.”


Temporarily Permanent

2 August 2017

I grew up in Melbourne, Australia, and as a teenager I went to the United States in order to study in yeshivah. At first, I enrolled in Telshe Yeshivah in Cleveland, Ohio, but in 1964, after a number of visits to Chabad-Lubavitch in Brooklyn, I decided to switch. I was drawn to the Rebbe and to the study of chasidut. I saw that the Chabad students were very serious about their Torah learning, and their “awe of heaven” made a very strong impression on me; I wanted to learn among them.

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In 1968, I married a Chabad teacher from Worcester, Massachusetts and on the Rebbe’s instructions, we moved to Worcester. My wife returned to her teaching job, and my role included among other things, teaching in the day school, adult education, and organizing youth activities in the community. I would also give classes in Chasidic thought at various universities in Boston.

In 1970, a position opened up in Australia – at the Chabad day school, Oholei Yosef Yitzchak – and I was invited to return home to Melbourne by Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Groner, the Chabad emissary there. I asked for and received the Rebbe’s approval and blessings.

After this was settled and we started preparations for the move to Australia, I began to feel as if I was just treading water in Worcester. I wound up my activities and, since it was not appropriate for me to start any new projects, I felt betwixt and between, neither here nor there – not yet gone but with my mind already elsewhere.

During a personal audience, I confided my state of mind to the Rebbe, who responded, “In the Torah we find that during the forty years the Jews were wandering in the wilderness, they would sometimes stay in a place for just one day, yet they would go through the tremendous trouble of setting up the Tabernacle each and every time. The Talmud derives many laws from this, including the principle that, if you find yourself in a place even for just one day, it is as though you are fixed there permanently.”


The Rebbe’s Generals

27 July 2017

In 1975, when I was 20 years old, I had the good fortune to meet the Rebbe’s emissaries, Rabbi Benzion Friedman and his wife Esther, in Lomita, California, and that meeting changed my life.

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I had come from a very Reform background – I say “very Reform” because my great-grandparents were part of the original Reform Movement back in Germany. I received very little Jewish education from my father who got very little Jewish education from his father. In fact, when I asked my grandfather which one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel I was from, he had no idea what I was talking about. I, myself, when I saw a picture of a friend in front of the Kotel wearing a tallit and tefillin, thought: “Why is he dressed like an Arab?” I didn’t recognize what he was wearing. That’s how little I knew.

I did have a strong Jewish identity mostly because of my mother who came from a Zionist family. One branch of her family founded Zichron Yaakov, a town about 20 miles south of Haifa, in Israel, and when I was 19, I went to Israel as a volunteer during the Yom Kippur War where I learned some Hebrew.

When I came back I met Rabbi Friedman, and that’s when I began a journey back to my Jewish heritage, which I describe as a kind of awakening.

For Passover of 1976, I came to Crown Heights and had the first opportunity to see the Rebbe. At that time I was able to pray together with the Rebbe in the small synagogue at ‘770,’ and to participate in a farbrengen with him – a gathering which the Rebbe addresses, sharing his Torah thoughts and directives. These were very special experiences. But it was not until I got married and we had our first child – who was born in November 1984 – that my wife and I had a direct encounter with the Rebbe that profoundly impacted our lives. (more…)

A Special Greeting

19 July 2017

I grew up in Irvington, New Jersey, in a traditional Jewish family that was not fully Torah observant. But, in 1973, when I was twelve, thanks to my cousin Avraham, who had become religious, I began to explore Judaism in depth. It began when he dared me to keep just one Shabbat. I rose to the challenge and thus began my journey to a Torah life.

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Because of my cousin, I was invited to Shabbat lunch with the family of Rabbi Sholom Gordon, the Chabad rabbi in Maplewood, who showed me what it was all about. I remember sitting at their table for the first time – never having seen a table set like that with a white tablecloth and beautiful china – and I remember the blessings, the songs, the words of Torah. I told myself then that I wanted to have a table of my own just like this someday.

After that, Mrs. Gordon took me under her wing, teaching me basic laws and prayers, and sometimes arranging for me to spend Shabbat with her sister, Mrs. Goldman, in Crown Heights.

Crown Heights was a different planet altogether – the Chabad people there dressed much more modestly, and I purchased a set of special clothes which I would take along to wear there.

One Shabbat – it was Shabbos Mevarchim when blessings on the upcoming new month are recited – Mrs. Goldman urged me to go to Chabad Headquarters and see what a farbrengen with the Rebbe looked like. I went with my best friend Cheryl, and it was an amazing experience.


Mind Over Matter

12 July 2017

I was born in Montreal in 1944, the third boy in a traditional Jewish family. My two older brothers attended the local Jewish day school, but because they both contracted scarlet fever while there, my mother decided to change schools.. The school she chose was run by Chabad-Lubavitch, and that’s how my association with Chabad began.

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After a time, during a visit to New York, I asked the Rebbe for permission to transfer to the Chabad yeshivah near the Chabad Headquarters in Crown Heights. The Rebbe asked, “What were your marks?” I answered, “I don’t remember.” At that, the Rebbe laughed and said, “That’s a diplomatic answer.” But he gave me permission to transfer.

So it happened that I was in Crown Heights when it came time for my Bar Mitzvah – this was in 1957. During my Bar Mitzvah audience with the Rebbe, he asked me if I knew how many strings were on my tzitzit, the ritual fringes. I answered, “There are thirty-two strings total.” The Rebbe then took out a piece of paper and wrote down the number 32 in Hebrew, using the letters lamed and beis. He then explained that this spells lev, meaning “heart,” and he blessed me to have a good heart, a warm heart, a Jewish heart.

While I was studying in New York, my younger sister came down from Montreal for a visit. I took her to a farbrengen – a chasidic gathering led by the Rebbe – and she enjoyed it very much. After the farbrengen, I walked her back to where she was staying. Meanwhile, I missed the closing ceremony – kos shel bracha – when the Rebbe handed out wine from his cup.

By the time I returned, I saw that the Rebbe had finished and was walking back up the stairs. I felt very bad that I missed kos shel bracha, so I went up to the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Hodakov, and asked him if he could get a little bit of the Rebbe’s wine for me. Rabbi Hodakov agreed to see what he could do. I thought he would ask one of the chasidim, but instead he went to ask the Rebbe himself. (more…)

The Rebbe’s Favorite Prayer

6 July 2017

My story starts when I and my family came to the United States from France in October of 1951. We had been staying in a Displaced Persons’ Camp (DP Camp) after escaping from Russia. Then, the Joint (as the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee was known) relocated us to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where they gave us an apartment for a few months, after which we moved to Crown Heights. Once we moved to Crown Heights, my father established the first grocery store there that was closed on Shabbat.

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All his friends told him that he would not survive in this business being closed two days out of the week as, in those days, there were the so-called “blue laws” which forbid being opened on Sunday as well. But my father would never do business on Shabbat, and he asked the Rebbe if, under these circumstances, he should go into a different business. But the Rebbe advised him to keep the grocery store – and obviously, to remain closed on Shabbat.

In the early 1950s, when I was about nine years old, I became a delivery boy for my father. Using a three-wheeled pushcart, I would make the deliveries to his customers – and we had some famous customers. Among them was the Rebbe and his wife – Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, the Rebbe’s mother – Rebbetzin Chana, and the Rebbe’s mother-in-law, the widow of the Previous Rebbe.

Our other famous customers included the Koshnitzer Rebbe, the Bobover Rebbe, the Kozlover Rebbe, and the Novominsker Rebbe. The business never made a fortune, but we worked very hard and we managed to make ends meet. I myself had to get up at five o’clock in the morning to start preparing the deliveries, and my father, who got up even earlier than me, stayed in the store until 11 at night.

Then, one day – it was in 1953 or 1954, as I recall – a Lubavitcher named Yankel Lipsker came to my father and said he wanted to open another grocery store in the neighborhood, just one block away from ours. My father said to him, “There isn’t enough business for one family, how can there be for two? Besides this, the wholesale distributors of kosher products won’t deliver to you, since they are already delivering to me.” (more…)

A Daughter’s Plea

29 June 2017

Mrs. Goldie Feld

Both my parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland, and they raised a religious family rooted in Chasidic teachings. I attended a Lubavitch schools for girls in Boston, where my future husband – also a child of Holocaust survivors – was enrolled in a Lubavitch yeshivah.

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We began dating as students at Yeshiva University and got engaged. At that time – this was in 1974 – my father was sick with stomach cancer, and the doctors were not giving him much longer to live. Coming from a Chasidic background as he did, my father urged us to go see the Lubavitcher Rebbe to get a blessing for our marriage and, while there, to bring up his condition. We were to specifically tell the Rebbe – and my father was very adamant about it – that doctors were recommending we cancel the wedding and only hold a brief ceremony in the hospital as there was no time for more. Naturally, neither he nor any of us wanted to hear that, but my father believed strongly that a blessing from the Rebbe would help him. So we went to see the Rebbe.

In advance of our audience, I submitted a letter listing all the Hebrew names of those we wanted him to include in his blessing starting, of course, with my father. The Rebbe read my letter and responded, “Everyone mentioned in your note should be blessed.”

But that was not good enough for me. And now that I was face-to-face with the Rebbe, I decided to press on. I was mindful of my father’s specific instructions to make sure the Rebbe blessed him. So I said, “I particularly want to ask the Rebbe to bless my father, by name, for a full recovery.”

In response, the Rebbe simply repeated the same blessing, “Everyone mentioned in your note should be blessed.”


Moses’ Envy

22 June 2017
While studying at the yeshivah in Manchester during the early 1950s, I noticed that the Lubavitcher students were somehow different from the others. At the time, there was a great mix of students in the yeshivah representing various streams of Judaism, many of them survivors of the Holocaust – but the Lubavitchers stood out. They seemed to me more sincere and more serious – when everyone else was out playing cricket, the Lubavitcher students would stay behind studying the latest discourse from their Rebbe.

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I wondered what they knew that I didn’t, and eventually I found out – chasidus, the teachings of Chasidism. That’s when I decided that I wanted to become a chasid and learn seriously in a Lubavitch yeshivah.

Many people tried to dissuade me from this path. They said that the Lubavitch way was very different from what I was used to. But I stood firm in my resolve and, in 1956, I came to learn at 770, the Lubavitcher Yeshivah in New York.

Immediately upon arrival, I received an audience with the Rebbe. He had taken over the leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch just five years prior, and it he was remarkably accessible. I explained who I was, asked his secretary for an appointment with him and, a short while later, I was given an appointment. When I saw the Rebbe, one of the questions I asked him was whether I should change the prayer-book I was using for the Chabad liturgy. I was using the standard Ashkenazi version at the time, but I felt I should change to the Chabad prayer liturgy which follows nusach Ari. The Rebbe said it would be a positive change but that I shouldn’t switch right away. He suggested that I change at the start of the new month which was a few days later.

And then he asked me if I owned a Chabad prayer-book. I said, “No, but I will buy it.” He said, “You don’t have to do that. I will give you one.”
With that he started looking through his desk, but he found no prayer-books there, and he called in his secretary to bring one, but he also couldn’t lay his hands on a spare copy just then.
So the Rebbe said, “Don’t worry – I will make sure that you receive one.” (more…)

Remove the Dirt

14 June 2017

I was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1957. Although my family had no Lubavitch affiliation, I gravitated from an early age to Lubavitch and had many Lubavitch friends. But it was not until after I got married that I decided to contact the Lubavitcher Rebbe directly.

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This happened in 1983. By then, I had been married three years already but had not children. As hard as we tried, my wife could not get pregnant. So I wrote to the Rebbe requesting a blessing for children. Before I wrote the letter, I was advised by Rabbi Aharon Serebryanski that I should do my part and offer something to G-d. So in the letter, I promised that, from now on, my wife and I would be observing the Jewish laws of family purity – what is known as Taharat Mishpachah.

The Rebbe gave us his blessing and immediately my wife became pregnant. And after, this we had five more children, so it was as if the Rebbe helped open the floodgates for us.

I wrote to the Rebbe many times. Sometimes the Rebbe answered, sometimes he didn’t. I had also gone to New York and stood in line several times when the Rebbe was handing out dollars for charity, but these encounters were seconds in length.

On one occasion, I had asked for a blessing because I had gone into a business deal that didn’t work out and, as a result, I was facing a huge tax bill which I couldn’t pay. The day after I received the blessing, the news came that the tax office had made a mistake and instead of having to pay a bill of $832,000 (in Australian dollars), I had to pay a bill of only $32,000.

And then, finally, in 1989, I got an audience with the Rebbe. Although the Rebbe was no longer granting private audiences, he was still receiving the donors to the Machne Israel development fund twice a year. The day that I came with my wife and family, there was a group of about two-hundred other people waiting, and after three hours in line, our baby, Zalman, grew irritated and started crying loudly. When it was finally our turn, I handed him to a woman I knew and asked her to look after him for a bit, as I did not want to bother the Rebbe with a squalling infant. (more…)

The Shabbos Candle Lighting Campaign

9 June 2017

My name is Esther Sternberg. I’m very fortunate to have been born and raised in Crown Heights. My father, Rabbi Shneur Zalman Gourary, was close to the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dovber and the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, from the very moment he became Rebbe in 1920; and to our Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, from the very moment that he became Rebbe in 1951. So being brought up in this kind of a home, I had a very, very strong feeling for the Rebbe – a feeling of great respect and love. I felt that to be able to do something for the Rebbe, was an honor and a privilege.

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On September 11, 1974, a week before Rosh Hashanah when the Rebbe was giving a special blessing to a Chabad women’s gathering, the Rebbe suddenly started to speak about the fact that we live in a time that is very dark spiritually, and we have to bring more spiritual light into the world. He said he wanted to introduce a campaign that would reach every Jewish woman and girl, as young as three years old, and inspire them to light Shabbat candles. And he went on to say that now many women don’t do it — either because they were never taught, or because they came to believe that in America it’s not applicable. He told us that we should go out and find these women — who either never learned to do it or who just stopped doing it – and make sure that they light Shabbat candles to bring more spiritual light into the world.

Hearing him speak, I remember getting very excited about this beautiful idea and wanting very much to do something about it. Honestly, I didn’t know what to do or how to do it. But, as it happened, one thing metamorphosed into another, and I got very involved in this campaign.

The next day, I got a call — as one of the co-presidents of the Lubavitch women’s organization — from the Rebbe’s office that the Rebbe would like for us to prepare an ad to go into a Yiddish newspaper telling the general public about his message — that Jewish women and girls should be lighting Shabbat candles from age three and up. And when I got this call, I was very taken aback because I didn’t know how to put an ad together, especially for a Yiddish newspaper. So I checked around and I was referred to Rabbi Nison Gordon who was an editor at the Yiddish newspaper, Der Tog Morgen Journal. I called him and told him my dilemma. He said, “You know what? Just write down for me what the Rebbe said and bring it to my house, and I’ll take care of it.”

I transcribed what the Rebbe had said, I typed it up, and Rabbi Gordon put together a beautiful ad with which the Rebbe was extremely satisfied, and I got the credit. So I felt very good that I did something for the Rebbe. (more…)

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