Rabbi Shmuel Notik

13 September 2023

Back in the Soviet Union, in the city of Samarkand, my parents had run an underground yeshivah. My father taught a group of young men, while my mother cooked for them and hosted them in our home. Those boys were like her own children. There was an underground cellar where they would hide if the secret police showed up, we had a minyan for Shabbat, a mikveh, and my father also secretly served as a kosher slaughterer. It was like an underground Chabad House.

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Before we finally left in 1971, my parents had never seen the Previous Rebbe or the Rebbe – and of course neither had I. In communist Russia, even a picture of the Rebbe was something that had to be kept hidden – I had only ever seen one – but we were raised in the underground with the knowledge that the Rebbe was with us. In that country, we felt anti-Semitism all the time – I was constantly having to escape, fight, or be assaulted by non-Jewish kids – and often, I would feel a sense of despair about our predicament. But in those moments, the thought that the Rebbe was with me made me feel strong and determined to continue the struggle and continue being the Lubavitcher boy I was raised to be.

After spending seven years as refuseniks, waiting for permission to leave Russia, we emigrated to Israel, and soon began making plans to visit the Rebbe. Just a few months later, in the summer of 1971, Israeli chasidim chartered a plane in order to spend the festive month of Tishrei with the Rebbe. People borrowed and collected money to buy a ticket, although afterwards the Rebbe actually reimbursed us Russian emigres for all our travel expenses.

We were due to arrive on the Thursday before Rosh Hashanah when I was fifteen years old. Our flight landed in New York at around 4:30 AM, and we were able to drive into Crown Heights, run to immerse in the mikveh, and get ready for the Rebbe to walk into the synagogue for selichot, pre-Rosh Hashanah supplications, at seven o’clock. (more…)

Rabbi Binyamin Elias

8 September 2023

After studying in Jerusalem’s famous Sefardic Porat Yosef yeshivah, at eighteen years old I joined Kollel Torah VeHora’ah in Tel Aviv. The kollel, an advanced rabbinical seminary, was run by Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, who had just been appointed the city’s chief rabbi, and I was ordained there as a rabbi myself. In 1977, in consultation with several prominent rabbis, I joined a group from the kollel who decided to enlist in the army, hoping to devote ourselves to improving the Jewish character of the IDF.

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After going through an expedited basic training, we graduated as officers in the army chaplaincy. After serving in the 460th Brigade, the armored forces’ training formation, I was appointed rabbi of the 162nd division, and eventually of the Merchav Shlomo Command, which had been placed in charge of the southern Sinai Peninsula since the Yom Kippur War.

My duties as a senior army rabbi involved supervising the provision of kosher food, overseeing synagogues and holiday services, and distributing essential religious supplies like tefillin and Torah scrolls for all service members, on large bases and the most distant outposts. I was also responsible for Halachic matters relating to marriages, conversions, and mourning, and for the division’s burial unit, which had to always be ready to identify and bury any casualties in the most appropriate way.

By the time I came to the 460th, Israel’s peace deal with Egypt had already been signed and the plans for the evacuation of the Sinai were well underway. As an aside, orchestrating this handover meant that we had to liaise with several Egyptian officers. Being an Arabic speaker, I became friendly with some of them, and as a result of these relationships, on occasion, I managed to learn some pertinent information that I passed on to IDF intelligence.

In 1981, on the night following Yom Kippur, a lieutenant came to my office, complaining that he had been forced to work on the holy day. However, I didn’t recognize the name of his unit. I had an excellent and open working relationship with all the senior commanders, and had never experienced them hiding information from me.

I asked the lieutenant to wait in my office, while I went and spoke with the head of Command. “I have a lieutenant here who claims he was compelled to work on Yom Kippur. But I don’t recognize his unit!” (more…)

Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz

31 August 2023

As a young yeshivah student in Jerusalem, I first encountered Chabad by way of an underground Tanya class given by Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Segal. This class would introduce quite a few outstanding yeshivah students to the Chabad school of thought and, in time, I ended up organizing these classes myself. As a result, I transferred to the yeshivah in Kfar Chabad, and in 1967 I went to study in the Central Lubavitcher Yeshiva in the Rebbe’s court.

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When I came to New York, the first farbrengen of the Rebbe that I had the fortune of participating in was on Purim. In those years, anyone who needed to speak to the Rebbe could approach him at the farbrengen – as the chasidim sang between his talks – to say “l’chaim” and ask whatever was on his heart.

At the time, and for as long as I can remember before then, I had a certain medical issue that bothered me terribly. I had visited many doctors, undergone various tests and procedures, but nothing helped. I decided to use this opportunity, on the auspicious day of Purim, to request the Rebbe’s blessing.

I had already given up on normal medical means – they had been unsuccessful until that point – but I had the audacity to ask the Rebbe to promise me that everything will be resolved.

“Go to Seligson,” the Rebbe answered me, “and you will succeed.”

Dr. Avrohom Abba Seligson was a local chasid to whom the Rebbe would often refer people when they sought his blessing for matters of health. Encouraged by the Rebbe’s assurance, I went to see Dr. Seligson. He prescribed some sort of medication, which I took for a period of time, but it was to no avail. I was out of ideas, and felt deeply frustrated; after all of those treatments and after the Rebbe’s promise, I had really hoped that something would change. (more…)

Danny Amrani

24 August 2023

My wife Yardena and I married in 1978. After a few years passed and we were still unable to have a baby, we turned to doctors and underwent several years of fertility treatments. The treatments were unsuccessful, which caused us great pain.

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In 1985, we moved to the town of Afula. During that period, our religious observance was steadily increasing; my wife, who made quicker progress than me, was already keeping Shabbat. A friend encouraged me to reach out to Rabbi Yitzchak Yadgar, a Chabad representative in the nearby Ta’anakh region, and the principal of a school in the settlement Avital. One Friday after classes had ended, we came to his office. We shared our troubles and told him that we wanted a blessing for healthy children.

“What I can suggest,” said Rabbi Yadgar, “is that you write to the Rebbe and ask for his blessing.” He also advised that we take on a new resolution – some added aspect of Torah observance – as a vessel to receive G-d’s blessings.

Meanwhile, we had been referred by the Carmel Medical Center for an experimental fertility program that involved intensive preparations on our part. We were already in the advanced stages of the program but, after our talk with Rabbi Yadgar, my wife insisted that we ask the Rebbe about continuing with it, and then do as he advised. Together with Rabbi Yadgar, we worked on the wording of our letter, and before we left his office, he told us that, with G-d’s help, everything would work out.

Three weeks passed. It was another Friday, just days before the appointed time for the actual fertility treatment at Carmel. To my surprise, I found in our mailbox a letter from the United States, in the distinctive blue-and-white air-mail envelope. It was a letter from the Rebbe. (more…)

Dr. Dovid Krinsky

17 August 2023

When my oldest sister, Deena, was born, the beds of her fingernails and her lips were blue. This is not uncommon in newborn babies, but in her case, it didn’t go away. In medical terms, the blood in her body wasn’t circulating properly and getting fully oxygenated. Something was very wrong.

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My parents lived in Boston, so they took Deena to the Boston Children’s Hospital, where she was diagnosed as having a major congenital heart defect called Tetralogy of Fallot. It was 1943, and the hospital had been studying this syndrome for several years. My folks were told that their baby was not likely to survive a year without treatment, but by using some surgical techniques that had recently been developed in the hospital, her life might be prolonged somewhat.

By this time, my family had a close connection with the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak. They reached out to him, and he advised them not to do the surgery.

I can’t imagine what it would have been like for my parents to hear that – and what it takes for a human being to be able to say those words. But that’s what he said and so no surgery was done.

But then, she made it to her first birthday party; years later, I would grow up hearing stories about what a tremendous celebration it was. Then she made it to her second, and her third. I came along when she was six, and although she was somewhat limited in her physical activity and needed to be homeschooled much of the time, my parents could not have been happier – at least she was alive! (more…)


10 August 2023

Editor’s Note

Due to the nature of this account, the woman who shared it prefers to remain anonymous. We are thankful to her for allowing us to publish this story, which we hope will provide guidance to others facing similar challenges.

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When I was growing up, my parents had a troubled marriage. My mother had grown up in Stalin’s Russia, lost her mother as a little girl, seen her grandfather repeatedly imprisoned for teaching Torah, and suffered tremendously there. Now, as a young woman, she was unhappy, and my father was unhappy that she was unhappy.

I read in an issue of Here’s My Story[1] that the Rebbe once told someone, “A child is not allowed to judge a parent.” So it’s not for me to figure out what they did right or wrong, but I think they did their best and that they did a very good job as parents, all things considered.

Back in the ‘60s, every chasid would have a private audience with the Rebbe on their birthday. So every winter, my father would drive the whole family to New York for his birthday.

It was often very late by the time we went into the Rebbe’s room. The lines could be unpredictable, and somebody who was supposed to only have five minutes with the Rebbe might take two hours. We would be sitting on a bench in the 770 lobby, feeling very tired, and my mother would comb our hair right before we went in to make sure we looked presentable to the Rebbe. When I felt that comb on my head, I knew we were going in soon. (more…)

Rabbi Menachem Gerlitzky

2 August 2023

After finishing my studies in kollel – an institution for young married men to study Torah – I wanted to become an emissary of the Rebbe. I had been presented with several such shlichut opportunities, and so in 1983 I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, describing the various positions that had been offered to me.

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Regarding one position in a foreign country whose language I didn’t speak, the Rebbe wrote in direct reply, “If so, then it is not for you.” Of another, more vague idea: “Practically, what does it entail?”

The Rebbe also gave me some general guidance in my shlichut search. He explained that when a person is trying to settle on a vocation, he ought to first consider what he is most suited to, what he is capable of, and what is practical. Since I had just written down every proposal that came my way, they were quite different from each other. “How is it possible,” wrote the Rebbe, “for one person to be suited to all of the above positions which vary completely?”

In conclusion, he instructed me to think more about the remaining offers that I had, as well as others that would come up, and then I could ask him again. So I spent the next few weeks contemplating my options.

A few years earlier, in the summer of 1980, the Rebbe had launched a new campaign, aimed at retired seniors. Now in the Rebbe’s view, a person is never allowed to retire – or, put differently, there is no such thing as retirement. A person might stop going to work every day, but as long as he is alive, and as long as G-d continues to grant him health, he has to continue doing what G-d wants. (more…)

Rabbi Meir Tzvi Gruzman

25 July 2023

One of the questions Chabad educators and chasidic mentors grapple with is whether, and to what extent, we should be teaching young students the Chabad practice of extended, introspective prayer, while reflecting on the teachings of Chasidut. Prayer in this manner is understood to be a critical part of a person’s “inner service” – for developing a love and awe of G-d, for internalizing concepts like divine unity, and for refining one’s character.

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There are those who claim that today’s students should be receiving precisely the same education as they did in the days of the Rebbe Rashab. After founding the Tomchei Temimim yeshivah network in 1897 as the fifth Chabad Rebbe, he trained the students there to devote themselves to the discipline of prayer, and even wrote a pair of treatises with detailed guidance on the matter. Others contend that declining spiritual standards mean that our generation is no longer suited to this kind of prayer. Furthermore, the Rebbe was not commonly known to focus on the subject and so they surmise that there is no need for chasidic educators to emphasize the art of prayer.

When I traveled to the Rebbe shortly before the High Holidays of 1966, this debate was raging. So I decided to put the question to the Rebbe.

That year, I had taught a group of gifted, teenaged students who excelled in nigleh, that is in their Talmudic and Halachic studies. Occasionally, I would also speak with them about prayer, and many of them indeed began to engage more deeply in the “service of the heart,” as it is called. In the note I wrote for the Rebbe before my audience, I explained my ambivalence: Some of the students who became more involved in this form of prayer were not sufficiently serious about it, and over time, their newfound interest waned. Meanwhile, they had also become somewhat distracted from their regular Talmudic studies, which meant that they were left without being fully invested in either discipline. And so I asked, “Maybe at their age, we shouldn’t be speaking with them about prayer?” (more…)

Mrs. Deborah Alter Goldenberg

20 July 2023

My parents, Judith and Howard Alter, met in Israel; my mother a survivor of the Holocaust from Czechoslovakia and my father an American. They had three children in America but then my father was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. He had surgery in the summer of 1971, and they thought he was cured, but the next summer it came back and didn’t go away. He died on December 15th, which was the 10th of Tevet, 1972, at the age of forty-seven. My mother was thirty-six, and I, the oldest of three, was sixteen.

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We lived in Far Rockaway, and I attended the Yeshivah of Flatbush. Though my family had no significant connection with Lubavitch, before my father died, he had gotten it into his head that he wanted to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe to get a blessing from him. It was really important to him, and so they tried calling the Rebbe’s office and using some other channels of people they knew to make the connection. But, the message came back that the Rebbe was not able to have a private audience with my father, and he would send someone over to our house instead.

This dismayed my mother very much, and it still bothers her to this day. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, my dad did not end up meeting the Rebbe.

The man sent by the Rebbe came over to check the mezuzahs of our house, and he also asked my mother whether she would keep the laws of family purity. She had not been keeping them, and she began to at that point.

The timing of this story worked out well because I must have learned something about mikveh at school at around that time and I came home one day and asked my mother whether she went to mikveh.

“Yes, I do,” she was able to honestly answer. (more…)

Rabbi Yossi Gansburg

11 July 2023

I moved to Toronto as a Chabad emissary in 1975. Beginning years before that, the Chabad community there had been bringing groups of people on annual trips to New York to visit the Rebbe. So about a week before I took up my position there, Rabbi Zalman Aaron Grossbaum – who had been running Chabad activities in Toronto for about a year – brought a large group to Crown Heights. The visitors enjoyed an entire program, and the highlight was a farbrengen – a chasidic gathering led by the Rebbe – which put the group on a real high.

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After Rabbi Grossbaum came back to Toronto and sent the Rebbe a report about this inspirational trip, he got a call from the Rebbe’s secretary. In response to the report, the Rebbe had written a note: “What were the practical results?” He wanted to know what kind of lasting impact the trip would leave on its participants. So Rabbi Grossbaum called each and every one of them for feedback, and found that many of them had been motivated to take on various aspects of Jewish life, which he was then able to report back to the Rebbe.

Over time we succeeded in establishing a beautiful community in Toronto, with many individuals who became close to Judaism and to Chabad in particular. By the early 1980s, the Rebbe no longer gave private audiences, and had not yet started receiving individuals in person for the weekly “Sunday dollars.” So, for the people who came on these trips, the one opportunity they did have to connect with the Rebbe was at the farbrengens. They were able to see the Rebbe and say l’chaim with him, but since it was in a public setting, they did not always feel that the Rebbe was paying any special attention to them.

One year, I brought a group to attend a farbrengen held on Shabbat. On the following Sunday morning, as we prepared to depart, I brought the participants to the foyer at the front of 770, in the hopes of receiving a blessing from the Rebbe before leaving. As we waited, the Rebbe’s car pulled up and he entered the front hallway. He nodded at us, gave us a brief blessing, and then went into his office. (more…)

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