When I opened a podiatry practice in Crown Heights in 1983, I began to learn about my religion. I was raised in a secular home, so initially I felt a little shell-shocked as I learned that Jewish holidays didn’t consist of just Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and Passover, and as my patients began offering to help me put on tefillin. (I did it, although it took me some years to learn to recite the Shema with comprehension of what I was saying.)
After I became a bit more known, I got a phone call asking me to make a home visit to a Mrs. Schneerson. I set an appointment, but then I got busy and forgot to go. It was around 8:30 p.m. when the phone rang and the caller asked what had happened. That’s when I remembered the appointment and I apologized profusely, offering to come immediately, which is what I did.
When I arrived at the address she gave – 1304 President Street – I was met by a German Shepherd guarding the yard, so I figured that this lady must be quite affluent. But when I went inside the house, I found it quite plainly appointed – considering the guard dog outside, I had been expecting a mansion.
I met the nice elderly lady who had called me – this Mrs. Schneerson – took down her medical history and treated her. She was about 85 years old, but she still had very regal bearing. At the same time, she was very warm and kind and approachable. I recall that she also served me cake and tea, and then I left.
The next morning in the office, I got a number of phone calls. Some of my other religious patients had somehow gotten wind of my visit – perhaps I was spotted as I was pulling up to the house – and were very excited that I had treated Mrs. Schneerson. I didn’t exactly get what the fuss was about until my secretary explained to me that I had treated Rebbetzin Schneerson, the wife of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
When that didn’t impress me, she explained to me who the Rebbe was, and she suggested that I go see him on a Sunday when he was handing out dollars for charity. I said, “I don’t need his dollar; I make a living.” And she laughed and said, “It has nothing to do with money. To get a dollar from the Rebbe is an uplifting, spiritual thing. You should think about doing it.”
“Okay, I’ll think about it,” I told her, but really, I just forgot about it. (more…)