Growing up, I was a rambunctious child. I was impatient and had a penchant for sparring with authority, regularly testing my teachers in the Chabad yeshivah I attended. In their perceived wisdom, they treated me with “applied psychology,” which was sometimes applied to my personality and sometimes to parts of my anatomy. In another words, they did what they thought they needed to do to keep me out of trouble.
But get in trouble I still did as when I decided, at age eleven, to take a picture of the Rebbe.
In those days – I am speaking about 1958 here – there were few candid photos of the Rebbe because he would frown at picture-taking of him; the only ones available were shots taken by Trainer Studios of the Rebbe officiating at weddings. But I was determined to get my own with my Kodak Instamatic camera.
After one wedding, I waited for him as he came up the staircase to his office. When he emerged, I snapped my photo, setting off the flash which seemed to startle him, and hastily entered the adjacent study hall, pleased with my success.
But the Rebbe cared too much to let this go. Instead of going to his office, he turned in the other direction, following me into the study hall. Suddenly I found the Rebbe looking straight at me with the evidence – my camera – dangling around my neck.
“Who is your teacher?” the Rebbe asked me in Yiddish. When I gave the name, he continued, “Is your teacher pleased with you?” I thought he was, but I didn’t how to say it without sounding pompous, so I just shrugged and said nothing.
“Dein gantzeh Chasidus bashteit in photographia? – Does being a chasid consist just of photography for you?” the Rebbe challenged me.
I didn’t know how to respond to that either, so again I said nothing. At that point, my principal, Rabbi Mendel Tenenbaum, must have spotted that I was in trouble since he appeared out of the blue. “Test him,” the Rebbe instructed Rabbi Tenenbaum, “if he passes, fine, but if not, take away the apparatus.” (more…)