Mr. Eitan Ben-David

1 September 2022

It was 1960, I had just finished my Israeli military service and  came to the US to join the family jewelry business, which was partly run from there. I worked alongside my uncle in our Manhattan branch, where I had several customers from the Chabad community. One day, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka – the Rebbe’s wife – came by our office to buy some pearls. She came alone, driving her own car without any airs about her. I didn’t yet know who she or the Rebbe were, but after finding out, I thought it was an honor to have served her.

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I don’t know how the Rebbetzin heard about us, or why she specifically chose to buy from us, when there were Chabad chasidim in the industry. My guess is that it had something to do with her deep sense of modesty and with her desire to avoid any special treatment or honor on account of her status. I believe she came to us precisely because we were not connected with Chabad.

I was impressed with our Chabad customers more generally: They were joyful people who always seemed to be radiating love. After a while, I decided that I would like to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I had a cousin by the name of Aharon Shalomov who had himself become close to Chabad, and in 1962 he helped set up my first meeting with the Rebbe.

I arrived at the Chabad headquarters on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, where I met the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Klein. He gave me my initiation, instructing me to write, in whatever language I was comfortable, a letter specifying my name and my mother’s name, as well as the area in which I was seeking the Rebbe’s blessing. Two or three hours later, I was called to enter the Rebbe’s room.

This audience with the Rebbe stirred up profound emotions within me. On walking in, I handed my letter to the Rebbe, which he read, looking up from time to time to gaze at me. When he finished, he gave me a blessing. (more…)

Rabbi Avraham Chaputa

25 August 2022

This story is an excerpt from the book My Story 2: Lives Changed. Get your copy today at www.jemstore.com.

Yeshivat HaRambam U’Beit Yosef, a Sephardi yeshivah, was founded in Tel Aviv in 1955, and at that time I was appointed its head though I was only twenty. Of course, it was a small yeshivah back then, but it grew and grew. And, after a time, I was looking for a place where we could grow even more.

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In 1972, I traveled to the United States to raise money for a building site and construction. At that time, a few donors to the yeshivah – businessmen who were Israelis and who happened to be in the United States just then – met me and said they had an appointment to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe. They asked me to join them and I agreed, although I knew very little about the Rebbe.

As I recall, the meeting was late at night. We went into the Rebbe’s office, and my companions asked whatever they wanted to ask – as I recall they were seeking advice on business matters; the Rebbe blessed them, and we got ready to leave. Up to that point, I hadn’t uttered a word, but suddenly, the Rebbe said, “The rabbi who is with you should stay.” And then he rose from his chair and addressed me directly, “Are you Rabbi Avraham Chaputa?”

I was surprised that he knew my name.

I replied in the affirmative, and he asked me to sit down and began talking with me. This conversation lasted a long time, at least forty-five minutes. He spoke easily in pure Hebrew, smiling all the while. I would say it was a wonderful conversation, a very comfortable conversation as far as I was concerned. (more…)

Professor Zvi Malachi

18 August 2022

I come from a family with a strong Polish and Galician chasidic background. Even after my parents moved to Israel in 1935, as pioneers of the new settlement there, my father maintained ties with several chasidic Rebbes. Later on, I discovered that he had also corresponded with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

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After our marriage, my wife and I moved to the Chabad neighborhood in Lod, Israel, and became close to the community. Along with my work on Hebrew literature at the University of Tel Aviv, I helped found a large library and institute in Lod – the Haberman Institute – for literary studies, as well as the Museum of Jewish Heritage, which focuses on the literature of the Mizrachi and North African Jewish communities.

At the end of 1982 I traveled to the United States, together with my family, for a year-long sabbatical. Even more exciting than the skyscrapers of Manhattan was the prospect of meeting the Rebbe. Sometime before Shavuot of 1983, Rabbi Bentzion Lipsker of Arad, a warm-hearted Jew I had known from Lod, invited me to join him and spend the holiday in Crown Heights. I eagerly accepted.

For the duration of the festival, I participated in several public gatherings led by the Rebbe, and had the privilege of a more personal encounter as well: During the Kos Shel Brachah ceremony at the close of the holiday, while distributing wine to those present after the Havdalah service, the Rebbe asked Rabbi Lipsker, “Where is the professor?” I was standing nearby and immediately came over to receive some wine, which the Rebbe poured directly into my cup.

To my disappointment, I learned that the Rebbe had stopped holding private audiences. But, Rabbi Lipsker promised to try and arrange one for me. To what I owed the honor  I don’t know, but somehow, he pulled it off. (more…)

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Pinson

11 August 2022

There are three countries in the North African Maghreb that, until the second half of the 20th century, were under French control: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Morocco and Tunisia were French protectorates, but Algeria was actually considered part of France itself for about one hundred years.

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In 1953, my parents were sent from France to Morocco as emissaries of the Rebbe, and from the age of three, I grew up in that region.

Six years later, the Rebbe sent other emissaries to Morocco, and dispatched my parents to Tunisia. By this time, though, Tunisia had become an independent Arab country and, for that reason, a large number of Jewish people had decided to leave. Meanwhile, Algeria had a Jewish population of close to 150,000 Jews, with no Chabad presence at all. People began to ask the Rebbe to send representatives there, but he declined, predicting that the Jews there were going to leave, since French Algeria had no future. In fact, he even told the Jewish community in France to prepare the necessary communal infrastructure for the Jews who, he said, would soon come from Algeria.

But nobody thought that this would happen. Algeria had seen some anti-colonial fighting, but the French had made clear that they were never going to leave. The French Catholics who lived in Algeria were certain that their government wouldn’t abandon them in the Arab majority country, and the Jewish community felt the same. In 1959, around the same time the Rebbe had made his prediction, Charles de Gaulle, the president of France, even traveled there and declared “long live French Algeria!”

But by the next year, de Gaulle had reversed his position, and in 1962 Algeria won its independence. By the end of that decade, almost all of the Jews had fled the country. In France they asked, “How does a rabbi in New York have such a grasp on North African politics?” It was prophetic. (more…)

Mrs. Chaya Korf

4 August 2022

I became interested in Lubavitch while attending the Bais Yaakov girls’ school in Brooklyn. At that point, there wasn’t yet a high school for the Lubavitcher girls to attend so they all went to Bais Yaakov, along with the girls from the Satmar and Modern Orthodox communities. There were students of all types.

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The girl who sat next to me, and who later became my sister-in-law, was a Lubavitcher named Rivka Eichenbaum; it was because of her that I became involved in Lubavitch. I began to attend classes for women on Chasidus as well as farbrengens and other programs.

But there was a problem. My parents were not Chabad chasidim and they strongly believed that I should be following their way of practicing Judaism. They were very committed, observant Jews who were proud members of the Agudas Yisroel community. My grandfather Rabbi Pesachya Lamm was a prominent figure who had helped introduce glatt kosher meat to America, and although he had connections with Lubavitch – the Previous Rebbe had actually eaten his meat – my father didn’t appreciate that I was now studying Tanya and doing things differently. Seeing that I wasn’t following exactly in his ways hurt him.

I wasn’t willing to listen to him, but when he asked, I said that there was someone I would listen to: the Rebbe. With that, he went and arranged an audience for himself, my mother and me. I was seventeen at the time, and they were going to take me to the Rebbe to express their concerns.

But first, I sent a six-page letter to the Rebbe, explaining my numerous dilemmas: I was drawn to Lubavitch, but my parents disapproved. Meanwhile, my teachers at Bais Yaakov preached a sterner approach to Judaism that conflicted with the Lubavitch path. They were oriented towards the Mussar school of Jewish ethics, emphasizing seclusion and avoiding the evils of the world, both on a communal level as well as personally. By isolating yourself from other people, they said, you could focus on your own studies, and you’d be less likely to wind up gossiping. The Chabad chasidic approach, in contrast, was more positive and confident, emphasizing the good to be done with ourselves and others. (more…)

Rabbi Chaim Menachem Teichtel

28 July 2022

I was born in the town of Piestany, Czechoslovakia, where the local rabbi was my father, Rabbi Yissachar Shlomo. In 1938, after Slovakia broke away as an autonomous state – with the support of the Nazis – and began enacting anti-Semitic measures, my father decided to send me off. Sixteen years old at the time, I spent a year at the Eitz Chaim yeshivah outside Antwerp, and then had to escape again when the Germans invaded Belgium. Eventually, I found refuge in Vichy, France, with Rabbi Shneur Zalman Schneerson, a cousin of the Rebbe. I was part of a group of twenty boys, whom he cared for, materially as well as spiritually, throughout those terrible war years.

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During that time, I also got to know Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Rubinstein, a prominent Paris rabbi who had gotten to know the Rebbe while he lived there. It was from him that I heard the following story:

Before Sukkot of 1940, the Rebbe had turned to Rabbi Rubinstein with a question: How much is a Jew allowed to place his life in danger in order to fulfill a commandment b’hiddur, in a special and enhanced manner? The two discussed the various Halachic considerations for a while, and shortly after the Rebbe disappeared for several days.

When Rabbi Rubinstein saw the Rebbe next, his face was beaming. He was holding two beautiful Calabrian etrogim, one of which he gave to Rabbi Rubinstein. Despite the war, the Rebbe had managed to travel into fascist Italy, and secured two citrons from the Calabria region, which are preferred by Chabad custom. The roads, and especially the border crossings, were quite dangerous, especially for someone who wasn’t hiding his Jewish appearance, but the Rebbe risked his life for those etrogim.

That Sukkot, there was a long line of local Jews wishing to make their blessing using that etrog, and the Rebbe was happy to oblige. (more…)

Rabbi Moshe Gewirtz

20 July 2022

I have served as the general secretary of the World Agudath Israel for several decades, at its Jerusalem headquarters. In 1981, in the course of my work, I was sent to the US. My wife and my son Yisroel, who was then four years old, also came along with me.

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It wasn’t my first time in the US, but since I hadn’t yet managed to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe, I decided to take advantage of the trip to make an appointment with him.

When we arrived at 770, I was a little dismayed to see the throngs of people waiting outside his office. If we have to wait for everybody to go in, I thought to myself, we’ll only get home tomorrow. Luckily, Rabbi Binyomin Klein, one of the Rebbe’s secretaries, spotted me from afar, and called me over: “Moshe, come quickly!”

We went over to him and he told us, “In a few minutes, when the person who is currently speaking with the Rebbe leaves his office, it will be your turn to go in.”

“But, I beg you,” he added forcefully, “please don’t speak with him about Agudath Israel right now. The Rebbe is feeling very weak, so we are trying to keep things brief.”

Of course, I promised to listen. Following his heart attack in 1978, the Rebbe had cut down on the number of nights that he held private audiences, and later I learned that he was only meeting with guests from out of town. Even this limited arrangement was discontinued later that year.

After several minutes, the door opened, someone emerged, we entered, and we saw the Rebbe. (more…)

Mr. Eliezer Shmueli

13 July 2022

In 1935, my family migrated to Jerusalem from the Greek town of Larissa, near Salonika. It was the middle of the school year so the schools were not willing to accept me. Eventually, my parents found a Kurdish rabbi, Chacham Fatal, who agreed to, despite his concerns that I didn’t know Hebrew.

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“Take a chair, put it in the corner, and let him sit there,” my mother told him. “He won’t disturb anybody, and by the end of the year he’ll be speaking Hebrew.” I was just a quiet seven-year-old who was afraid of this new rabbi, but that was what we did.

Later, I moved to a more modern school, then received a scholarship to attend the Hebrew University secondary school, and graduated from the David Yellin Teachers’ College in Jerusalem in 1948. By this time, I was a member of the underground Haganah, and was already an officer training new recruits for what would eventually become Israel’s army after the founding of the state.

When I left the army, I went to work as a teacher, mostly educating young children who had migrated from North Africa and the Middle East. I was promoted to principal of the school and held that position for several years before going to earn a graduate degree from Columbia University.

After that, I was hired as an assistant to Israel’s minister of education, and would continue to work in the ministry for thirty years. It was in that capacity that I was asked to go meet the Rebbe in 1971. (more…)

Mr. Yehoshua Saguy

8 July 2022

Higher IntelligenceFrom the day I was conscripted in 1951, I belonged to the intelligence wing of the IDF. Having been born and raised in pre-state Jerusalem, I spoke Arabic, so I began handling Arab agents and informants. From there, I rose through the ranks, and ended my service with the rank of major general. In 1979, I became head of Aman, Israel’s military intelligence directorate.

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During this time, I became acquainted with Rabbi Shlomo Maidanchik, the mayor of Kfar Chabad, and from the first time we met I sensed that we had much in common.

As head of intelligence, I saw that our young soldiers were missing some Judaism, especially on the Jewish holidays, so I took advantage of this relationship. There were a number of small bases around the country under my command, each with between ten and thirty-five soldiers, and I thought that they had to be able to pray or to do something for the holidays.

I turned to Chabad for help in running these services, and I got it. Nobody was obligated to go to the synagogue on their base, of course, but most of the soldiers preferred going there on the holidays than staying in their barracks.

Some in the IDF hierarchy were not eager to have religious people entering the bases, but to me it was refreshing. I felt it was very important, and it even helped keep the soldiers combat ready. This was the beginning, if I may say so, of Chabad coming to IDF bases.

Being the chief of intelligence was a very important position: I was responsible for evaluating decisions of national importance, like whether or not to go to war, and providing that analysis to the government. We would also share our views with the Americans, and at times I went to the USA. During those trips, I would usually stay with my brother-in-law in Long Island. (more…)

Rabbi Naftali Roth

30 June 2022

As a yeshivah student, I used to go on walks together with a friend every Shabbat afternoon, while discussing our studies. One week, we heard some people singing. We didn’t recognize the song, but I felt drawn in by its soulful melody.

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“Let’s go see where it’s coming from,” I told my friend.

That’s how we ended up at the “Baal HaTanya Synagogue,” a small Chabad shtiebel in Meah Shearim, Jerusalem. There we met ten or so men, singing chasidic melodies, as is the Chabad custom towards the end of Shabbat. The song, I learned, was an old Chabad tune, with lyrics from Psalms (62:6-7): Only to G-d should you hope, my soul, for my hope is from Him.

They sang this song a few times more, before moving on to others, and I felt something tugging at my heart. We started going to that shtiebel at the same time each week, and whenever I walked in, the locals would start singing that song for me. This was my first exposure to Chabad. After a few weeks, the rabbi, Rabbi Shimon Yakobovitch, offered to study Tanya with me, and before long I began to feel like a Chabadnik.

At a certain stage, Rabbi Shimon suggested I write to the Rebbe. (more…)

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