Rabbi Sholom Ber Lipskar

11 April 2024

In 1981, I founded an organization called the Aleph Institute for Jewish men and women who have been incarcerated or are serving in the military. Among other things, we launched a program whereby the Federal Bureau of Prisons allowed us to take prisoners that met certain criteria out of prison for a two-week furlough. In this time, they were able to learn about the various prayers and laws that are relevant to a Jew living in the restricted environment of prison.

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The Rebbe had inspired the founding of this organization, so it was only natural that, in 1985, when we took a group of twenty men out of prison, we brought them to Crown Heights for the Shabbat after Shavuot.

That Shabbat, at 1:30 PM, we knew that the Rebbe would be speaking at a public gathering, a farbrengen. Since there were no sound systems on Shabbat, and you had to be pretty close to the Rebbe to hear him well, people would reserve their places early in the morning, sit there for the prayers, and then remain for the farbrengen. But, these men from prison were not used to keeping such a rigorous Shabbat schedule, and so we arranged for a group of yeshivah students to sit around a table, holding the space for them.

After prayers, our group went to eat something, and then at approximately 1:25 PM, we started coming back to 770. The students got up and the men slipped into their places, crowding into this cavernous synagogue along with thousands of other Jews.

Normally, when the clock hit 1:30, you knew the Rebbe was within seconds of coming out; he was very precise. But this time, Rabbi Leibel Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, came downstairs from the Rebbe’s office. (more…)

Mr. Avrohom Hilsenrad

3 April 2024

My parents were both brought up in chasidic families – my father’s family was Vizhnitz and my mother’s Ger – and both came to America as children in 1920. I was born in 1941, and grew up in Flatbush, in an area that was almost entirely Jewish, but barely had a minyan of Shabbat-observant Jews.

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My father, Zalman Aryeh Hilsenrad, began working for the Orthodox Union (OU) as a young man, and a couple of years before I was born, he became the first executive director of the organization. In a time when many Jews were uninterested in the old ways and were becoming more Americanized, he worked to revitalize observant Judaism.

In the 1940s and ‘50s there weren’t many chasidic courts one could attend in New York, and my father would go to many of them, but his closest connection was with Lubavitch.

For as long as I can remember, my father had a picture of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe on his desk, and he would visit him regularly.

In 1949, when I was eight years old, my father took me along with him to a meeting with the Previous Rebbe.

Although my father was fluent in Yiddish, he had a hard time understanding the Previous Rebbe. As he explained to me, the Rebbe had a speech impediment, which was in some way connected to the suffering he had endured under the communists in Russia. Therefore, the current Rebbe was also present in order to act as an interpreter and to facilitate the conversation with his father-in-law. I didn’t understand a word of Yiddish, and my father translated for me.

When we came into the room, the Previous Rebbe asked me something. (more…)

Rabbi Sheldon Rudoff

28 March 2024

The story I am about to tell happened in the early 1950s, not long after the Rebbe took over the leadership of Chabad Lubavitch. At the time, I was in high school and living in Crown Heights on Carroll Street, which is around the corner from President Street where the Rebbe lived.

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I used to see him on Shabbat mornings, walking from his home to Chabad Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway. He was not yet as well known then, and he was very approachable, as he walked alone without an entourage.

He’d greet me with “Gut Shabbos,” and we’d walk together, while he inquired about my Torah learning and about my teachers. We would part ways when we reached Eastern Parkway – he’d go right to Chabad, and I’d go left to Young Israel, where I served as a youth group leader.

We were just two people walking to their synagogues – a teenager and the Rebbe. Being so young, I did not realize the import of these encounters. I only learned to appreciate them later.

Then there came a time when my Young Israel youth group was invited for a private audience with the Rebbe. We were all Torah observant boys, studying at such storied Orthodox institutions as the Brooklyn Talmudical Academy, Yeshiva Chaim Berlin, and the Isaac Elchanan Yeshiva, which had a branch in Brooklyn back then.

From our Modern Orthodox perspective, Chabad was an anomaly, because the other chasidic sects that we were familiar with were very insular, but Chabad was open and doing a great deal of Jewish outreach. For instance, on Sukkot, Chabad chasidim would stand outside the subway stations offering the lulav to Jews, so they could fulfill that commandment. This was strange to us, and yet it also made an impact on us. And I do recall that some of the kids became enraptured by Chabad as a result. (more…)

Mr. Marvin Goldsmith

21 March 2024

I grew up in Long Beach, California, and – after serving two years in the army – I moved to Los Angeles. There, I attended the University of Southern California, graduating from its Law School in 1959.

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Not long after that, my wife and I met a rabbi who had come to Los Angeles to develop Chabad there. His name was Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, and we became fairly close. As a lawyer, I helped him out with a few parking tickets, and we became closer. Chabad in California has grown tremendously over the years, but I’ve been connected with Rabbi Cunin ever since the time he was working out of that second-floor office on Fairfax Avenue.

In 1969, I helped Rabbi Cunin acquire the building of the very first Chabad House. It was the old Pi Lambda Phi fraternity house at UCLA, and I had been a member of the fraternity when I was in college, so I wound up helping him with some of the legal aspects of the purchase.

Later, I accompanied Rabbi Cunin to present the key of the Chabad House to the Rebbe. We also had the lock with us. It was a Schlage lock, as I recall, and the plan was to then bring the lock back to California and install it in the door. But the Rebbe was against the idea. When we brought the key to the Rebbe, he told us: “Don’t put the lock on the door – it should always remain open!”

I’d had a private audience with the Rebbe before then, and a couple more after it as well. Whenever I came, there would be a great number of people who wanted to see the Rebbe, so you had to be patient when you waited for an audience. At my first meeting, it was around 9:30 in the evening when I began writing the note which I would hand to the Rebbe – but it was approximately 4:00 AM by the time it was my turn to enter his office. (more…)

Mrs. Edith (Yehudis) Bloch

14 March 2024

We had heard rumors that the Previous Rebbe was coming to the United States, but nobody believed them. It was wartime, 1940, and the Rebbe – I’m referring to the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn – was still trapped in Europe.

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“The Nazis won’t let him out,” I heard my father crying after coming home one day. “Oy! He has to come here. He must!”

Although I was born in Israel, to a mother who was a sixth-generation Jerusalemite, my father, Rabbi Eliahu Nachum Sklar, was originally from the town of Zhlobin, in today’s Belarus. Papa was a very special person, a real tzaddik, and after we emigrated to America, he went on to play a leading role in several important Chabad communal institutions. When he was a young boy he went off to learn in the yeshivah in the town of Lubavitch with two other boys from his town, who both later became prominent chasidim.

At the time, the Previous Rebbe was the administrator of the yeshivah in Lubavitch, which had been founded by his father, Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn, who was still the Rebbe. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak would often come in to check on the students, with whom he was very close. “Every student,” he would say, “is like my own child.” And so, ever since then, my father became very attached to him.

When we finally heard that the Rebbe’s ship would be coming into New York, Papa was so excited he could barely breathe. I just cannot describe his excitement.

I was still a little girl, but my father brought me along to the pier. The Hebrew date was 9 Adar II – Tuesday, March 19, 1940 – and I was jumping up and down: “I’m going to see the Rebbe! I’m going to see the Rebbe!” I shouted. (more…)

Rabbi Moshe Weiss

6 March 2024

My father must have had big aspirations for me. The very first time I was at a private audience with the Rebbe – along with the rest of my family – he told the Rebbe: “I want him to be a rosh yeshivah!” In 1966, I was just six years old, and had only started kindergarten the year before in Los Angeles. But back in Hungary, where my father was originally from, the biggest aspiration that a father could have was for his son to grow up to become the head of a yeshivah.

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The Rebbe looked at me and said, “First he should become a Torah scholar, and then vet men zen vos zein biznes vet zein – we’ll see what his career will be.”

That statement of the Rebbe set the tone for the rest of my life. I would often think about it and my father would regularly quote it too. Eventually, with the Rebbe’s blessing, I became a Chabad shliach while simultaneously running a business, which means that there are often tremendous pressures, or enticements, to spend more time with my work. “Nope,” my father would always insist at times like these, “you have to spend a few hours learning Torah every day. The Rebbe said that first you have to be a Torah scholar, and then you’ll be in business.” So I make sure to spend a few hours studying Torah every day, and it has been a tremendous blessing in my life.

As I grew up, my father kept up his high educational standards. When I was ten or eleven years old, he wasn’t happy with the curriculum at the day school I was attending. So he hired an elderly gentleman to be my private tutor for Jewish studies in the morning and then I would take a bus to school in the afternoon for general studies. The school wasn’t thrilled by this – and their Hebrew teacher was a little offended – but my father wanted the best for his son. He even tried to persuade the principal to send his son to be my study partner but, of course, that didn’t work.

I didn’t like this new arrangement. My tutor was very kind and he tried to make the whole thing as pleasant as he could – but it was boring. I did what I was told, but I really didn’t enjoy it. (more…)

Rabbi Yosef Wineberg

29 February 2024

Before arriving at the Chabad yeshivah in Warsaw in the early 1930s, I studied in several other places in Poland. In those days every synagogue or smaller shtiebel had an informal yeshivah, and it was in one of these institutions that I first heard about the Tanya from a fellow student.

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He spoke very highly about this classic work of Chabad philosophy, so when I eventually joined the Chabad yeshivah and started studying the Tanya, I felt like I had found a treasure. I would study it on my own, attend classes from our chasidic mentor Reb Baruch “Poilisher,” review what I had learned, and then prepare again for the next lecture. Unfortunately, during the war, I lost all my notes from this time, but thank G-d my studies remained in my mind and heart.

Eventually I moved to New York where I worked for the Tomchei Temimim yeshivah network. In that capacity, in the mid-fifties I began hosting a weekly radio program on a local station, where I usually spoke about different aspects of chasidic thought or practice. Thank G-d, people were pleased with the program and it gave a good impression of the yeshivah, which also helped with our fundraising efforts.

In 1959, I suggested to the Rebbe that I start another radio program to teach Tanya. I would prepare a script for the class each week, and the Rebbe could give his approval before it went to air. At first the Rebbe turned the idea down: “The time hasn’t come yet,” he said.

But a year later, I heard that a prominent teacher of chasidut named Rabbi Nachum Goldschmidt had started teaching Tanya on the radio in Israel. I decided to prepare a sample script and send it to the Rebbe for his approval. As soon as I did, the Rebbe edited the draft and sent it back to me with one hundred dollars to help with the expenses. He approved. And so, in the winter of 1960, I started teaching Tanya on the radio, starting with the author’s introduction. (more…)

Rabbi Yosef Shmuel Yehoshua Gerlitzky

21 February 2024

When I was a child growing up in Montreal, the entire Chabad community would make an annual trip to New York for the 10th of Shevat – the anniversary of the Previous Rebbe’s passing, and of the Rebbe’s subsequent appointment as his successor. We would travel there by train, an eleven-hour journey, and on the way the respected chasidic mentor Rabbi Volf Greenglass would lead a communal farbrengen, which invariably ended up with everyone in our car breaking out in a dance.

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There were few major Chabad communities outside of New York and Israel in those days, and Montreal’s was the largest community to travel together to the Rebbe, so we received special attention. All of the children were invited for a special audience, and the Rebbe spoke to us. Rabbi Yoel Kahn, the Rebbe’s oral scribe, was also present for these meetings, to ensure that the talk was transcribed, to be reviewed by the Rebbe and eventually published.

The first time I entered the Rebbe’s room was during one of these trips. It was 1960, and I was six years old. I remember standing in front of the Rebbe’s desk, together with my brothers and sisters, flanked by our parents on either side. At the beginning of the audience, my father gave the Rebbe a three-page letter he had prepared earlier. As one of the founders and directors of the Chabad yeshivah in Montreal, my father would include in his note various yeshivah related matters, in addition to writing about our family.

The Rebbe looked at the letter, and then immediately turned to my father, while pointing at me. “Why didn’t you write his name?” he asked. He didn’t just remark that the note was a name short, or ask “who is missing?” – he pointed directly at me.

My father was shocked. I saw his hands shake, and he seemed flustered. He didn’t say a word, and when the Rebbe held out the letter to show that my name was missing, he didn’t reach out to take it. (more…)

Rabbi Meir Tzvi Gruzman

15 February 2024

During the mid-1980s, I directed a branch of Tomchei Temimim, the Chabad yeshivah network, in the town of Kiryat Malachi, in Israel. While I was there, a certain mashpia, or chasidic mentor to the students, worked on instilling within the students a tremendous enthusiasm for the various mitzvah campaigns being promoted by the Rebbe, which involved sharing mitzvot with other Jews. Their strong commitment to these outreach activities, however, began to interfere with their regular study schedule. It happened on more than one occasion that after going out on mivtzoyim, as these activities are called, the students returned to yeshivah quite late.

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At one point, the students turned to me with their dilemma: “What should we do when mivtzoyim get in the way of learning Torah?”

In turn, I wrote a letter to the Rebbe, putting the question to him. As the Rebbe was such a strong proponent of these outreach activities, did he intend for students to engage in them at the expense of Torah study? Perhaps these mitzvah campaigns were so urgently needed that they should be done even if meant studying less Torah – but on the other hand, perhaps the students were supposed to get involved in mivtzoyim only so long as they didn’t interfere with their studies.

“A tomim,” replied the Rebbe, using the moniker for students of Tomchei Temimim, “is first and foremost a tomim. Mivtzoyim can only be with permission from the faculty.” The word “tomim” was underlined twice, and “first and foremost” had three lines under it!

His point was that it was the faculty’s job to determine how much time the students could dedicate to outreach work, outside of formal study times, without interfering in the student’s ability to fully devote himself to his main task – learning Torah. Therefore, all such activities had to be coordinated and approved by the faculty.

Over the years I spent working in Tomchei Temimim, in that particular branch and elsewhere, the Rebbe taught me several other important lessons about the nature and the priorities of the yeshivah. On one occasion, there was a certain very serious young man who had some complaint about members of the faculty, whether it was a Talmudic lecturer, mashpia, or the dean of students. “Why don’t you talk to the Rebbe about this?” he would often demand of me.

Before one trip I made to New York, he asked that I discuss with the Rebbe several issues in the yeshivah which, as he saw it, needed to be addressed. I refused, seeing as I disagreed with some of his claims. “Write to the Rebbe yourself,” I suggested. “Then, if the Rebbe wishes, he will speak about it with me.” But I also asked that he send me a copy of his letter so that I will know what he has written, in case the Rebbe chose to bring the subject up with me. (more…)

Rabbi Mayer Plotkin

8 February 2024

After getting married in 1965, and spending some time in Montreal, where my wife and I are from, we wanted very much to move out on shlichus – to become emissaries of the Rebbe. We had the opportunity to take up positions in Detroit, California, or Florida – but first we had to ask the Rebbe.

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When I wrote to the Rebbe about the idea, he answered that I should “consult with friends.” I did so, and my friends thought that I should go into business. However, I didn’t want to become a businessman, so I wrote to the Rebbe a few more times, telling him that I still wanted to go on shlichus – and he kept giving me the same answer: I was to follow the advice of my friends.

In general, I would write to the Rebbe as if he were my father, openly expressing how I felt and what was on my mind. And so, I took a deep breath, and decided to write one last time. I suggested that – despite what he had already told me – the Rebbe would really want me to be on shlichus.

I’ll never forget the response: “Where did you get that idea from?” the Rebbe retorted.  “Haven’t I already written, once, twice, three times,” – underlining those words for emphasis – “that you should consult with friends? Stop sending letters here because I am not going to answer. Make a decision straight away based on the advice of your friends, and may G-d grant you success.”

Well, I tried, and I didn’t get my way. But it wasn’t over just yet. (more…)

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