Rabbi Yosef Yeshaya Abrahams

19 June 2024

My family had just moved to Chicago when my father passed away. It was 1948, and I was eleven years old. At the end of the school year, my mother decided to move back to her family in Philadelphia, and then she sent me off to the Chabad yeshivah in Brooklyn. I traveled from Chicago to New York by train together with Rabbi Dovid Moshe Lieberman, then the rabbi of Bnei Ruven, a local Chabad congregation.

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Just a few years after the war, the yeshivah had a mix of American kids, some Russian boys, and even a few Hungarians and other non-Lubavitchers whose communities didn’t yet have yeshivot of their own.

I saw the Previous Rebbe a couple times before he passed away in the winter of 1950. On special occasions, he would lead a farbrengen in his apartment upstairs in 770, but on account of his health, only a small number of chasidim would be allowed in – along with the odd person who managed to get in before the door closed.

Towards the end of a farbrengen on the 19th of Kislev of that year, the Previous Rebbe announced that “all the doors should be open – everyone should come in.” I made my way in, but there were too many taller people standing around his table for me to see anything. Then, an older yeshivah student picked me up and held me in the air for a minute. I saw the Previous Rebbe, wearing a fur spodek, his face flushed red beneath it. This was two months before his passing.

I had also seen his successor, the Rebbe – then still known as “the Ramash” – by then. A few months earlier, at a farbrengen held during Sukkot, someone pointed him out to me: “That’s the Rebbe’s son-in-law,” he told me. I watched as all the chasidim followed his lead on Simchat Torah, dancing as he danced, and then stopping when he stopped.

Over the course of the next year, as the chasidim began urging the Rebbe to take over his late father-in-law’s mantle, he began to speak in public more regularly. At farbrengens, he would often cry when speaking about the Previous Rebbe, and would always talk about how, even after their passing, the righteous do not leave their followers behind. “The shepherd has not left his flock,” he would say. “The Rebbe has not gone away – he is here with us.” (more…)

Dr. Dovid Krinsky

11 June 2024

One evening, the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, called 770, as she often would, to speak with the Rebbe. The Rebbe often worked late, but on this occasion the secretary who answered informed her that he had left some time before, and was not in 770 anymore.

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Now, it doesn’t take much time to get from 770 to the Rebbe’s house; it was long past when the Rebbe should have arrived home. Calls began to go back and forth. Nobody, not even the Rebbetzin, knew where he was; it was like the Rebbe had disappeared. Nor did anybody know the whereabouts of his car, or of Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the Rebbe’s secretary who would normally drive him.
Word got out, and before long, a crowd of concerned people began to form in front of the Rebbe’s house. They were debating among themselves, wondering what to do, when all of a sudden the Rebbe’s car pulled up. He got out, smiled to the chasidim as he often would, went up the stairs, and closed the door.
The Rebbe had disappeared, and nobody knew where or why – only that he was back. For a couple of hours, there were only three people in the world who knew, and I was one of them.
Several years ago, when Rabbi Krinsky, who is my uncle, was sitting shiva after the passing of his wife, I visited him to give my consolations. While I was sitting with him, a certain man was escorted in through the crowd and seated right in front of my uncle. My uncle then introduced me to him as “the Rebbe’s dentist.” (more…)

Rabbi Avremel Silver

6 June 2024
After getting married in 1975, I first tried pursuing a certain opportunity to be a Chabad shliach, but it didn’t work out. So I got back on the bus, went back to Crown Heights, and started looking for ways to make a living.

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There were a few other young men my age who were going to work in the diamond industry on Manhattan’s 47th street, so I wrote to the Rebbe about the opportunity. His response came back about two hours after I had sent in my question, and it was clear: “Take the offer.”
In general, whenever I wrote to the Rebbe, the answers I received were very clear and direct. Often, I had peers who wrote similar questions to the Rebbe at the same time I did, but the Rebbe would simply advise them to “consult with knowledgeable friends.”
So, in January 1979, I began working in the diamond industry as a broker; finding people who wanted to sell diamonds, others who wanted to buy them, and earning a commission of about $300 a week. (more…)

Rabbi Shea Hecht

30 May 2024

After Lubavitch came to America in the 1940s, its first initiative to reach the outside world was the Jewish Released Time program for public school children.

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This program – which is active to this day – also became known as “Wednesday Hour,” because from 2 to 3 PM every Wednesday, in accordance with New York State law, children may be taken out of school to a nearby synagogue to learn about Torah and Judaism.
“Mesibot Shabbat” youth groups also started at around this time, gathering children together on Shabbat afternoons to teach them Torah, tell stories, and recite blessings over some snacks. In those days, there were a lot of Jews in New York who weren’t religious but were attracted to these groups, which helped them grow in their Judaism.
As an outgrowth of both of these programs, whenever Lag B’Omer fell out on a Sunday and all these children were free from public school, there would be a special parade in Crown Heights. Mesibot Shabbat was built around keeping Shabbat as a focal point for our Judaism and our relationship with G-d; Released Time was about giving children a Jewish education; and the main theme of the Lag B’Omer parade was the concept of Jewish pride. The Rebbe really wanted people, young kids in particular, to feel proud that they were Jewish.

Rabbi Sholom Raichik

22 May 2024

My father, Rabbi Shmuel Dovid Raichik, would go to New York every year for all the festivals of the month of Tishrei, from Rosh Hashana through Simchat Torah. Sometimes, other members of our family would go along. In 1972, my father decided that I should join him and my older brothers in New York for Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

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When we had our audience with the Rebbe, he gave me a blessing for my ninth birthday, which was coming up on the ninth day of Kislev, and noted that it was a special one: “Nine on nine,” he commented in Hebrew: Tes on Tes.

The Rebbe also tested me on my studies in the Talmud. We were learning about the kinds of identifying signs one can use to prove ownership over a lost object.

Inside the room, there was a clock on the bookshelves that stood behind us. “What could serve as a sign for such a clock?” queried the Rebbe.

“The color of this clock could be a sign,” I suggested, and the Rebbe accepted my answer. There were three of us in the room at the time – me, one of my older brothers, and my father – but the Rebbe spent most of the audience focusing on me.

But all of this came at the end of our visit to New York. There was another personal interaction I had with the Rebbe before then, just a couple days after my arrival.

The trip from Los Angeles was actually my first time on a plane; my previous two trips to New York were by train, a two-and-a half-day journey each way. This time, I flew together with Marty Weiss, a family friend, and when we arrived in New York, it was a rainy morning.

Being so young, I was barely aware of what was going on. I was pretty green and had to be told what was happening, where to go, and what to expect. (more…)

Mr. Jonathan Nelson

16 May 2024

The one private audience I had with the Rebbe was before my Bar Mitzvah. Having heard many stories about him, it was a special opportunity to finally be able to meet such a great person.

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He asked about where I went to yeshivah, and I told him that I didn’t go to Lubavitch.

“That’s okay,” he said, and, after I told him about the yeshivah I attended, he went on to ask which tractate of the Talmud I was learning, and about my studies on the secular front. He also asked about my Bar Mitzvah speech, and while I only said a line or two, I got the impression that he was interested in what I had to say, and interested in me as a person.

Although I didn’t learn in a Lubavitcher yeshivah, I do follow the customs of Chabad, and in fact my family has been deeply involved in Chabad for several generations.

When my father, Sholom Nelson, was growing up in Brooklyn in the 1930s, Lubavitch did not yet have a yeshivah in America, and so he went to Yeshivas Chaim Berlin for elementary school. But after the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe came to America in 1940 and opened a yeshivah, he immediately transferred to Lubavitch, where he was one of the first six students to enroll. He found that they offered a sense of inclusion, that they welcomed everybody and cared about every single student.

My father also became quite close with the Previous Rebbe’s family. He recalled that the Previous Rebbe used to sit near the window in 770, and when he saw my father walking by outside, he would occasionally ask for him, or send a message to him through his secretary, to see how he was doing. (more…)

Dr. Menachem Kovacs

9 May 2024

I didn’t grow up in a religious home, but my life was changed when – at age 26 – I attended an “Encounter with Chabad” event for college students, also known as a pegishah. That pegishah – which was held at the end of December 1972 – included inspiriting Torah lectures as well as lots of robust singing of chasidic melodies. It proved very meaningful to me spiritually.

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The event ended around midnight on December 31 and, walking out of Chabad Headquarters onto Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, I saw non-Jewish people celebrating the New Year, mindlessly blowing horns and falling down drunk. The contrast between what I just experienced and what I was seeing in front of me couldn’t have been greater.

This had such a profound effect on me that when I went back home to Silver Spring, Maryland, I sought out the Orthodox rabbi of the Hillel House at George Washington University and the Chabad emissary at the University of Maryland, and I began regularly studying Torah with them.

Not long after, I decided to take a leave of absence from my job – as a teacher of sociology at Montgomery College – and I enrolled in Tiferes Bachurim, the Chabad yeshivah in Morristown, New Jersey, geared to students who were just beginning to learn about Judaism. While studying there, I had my first meeting with the Rebbe.

In preparation for that meeting, I wrote a note outlining my life issues for which I was seeking the Rebbe’s advice.

One of those issues was that I did not want to return to my job in Silver Spring because there was no rabbinic leadership there. Ethics of the Fathers teaches that one must have a rabbi to guide him – a point which later became the focus of one of the Rebbe’s campaigns – and I had no one there. (more…)

Yonason and Devorah Adler

2 May 2024

Yonason Adler

I met Devorah in graduate school, and after dating for a few months, I asked her to marry me. She said yes – but her mother objected. I was a real hippie type, with shoulder-length hair, and she was not comfortable with that. But I didn’t give up, I cut my hair, and after three years, in 1969, we got married, settling in Silver Spring, Maryland, near Washington D.C.

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By then Devorah and I were also in the process of becoming more observant, but even though my mother-in-law had agreed to the marriage, she still wasn’t completely happy with the idea of her daughter being religious. Because my mother-in-law did a lot of entertaining, hosting gatherings for family and friends, our refusal to eat food in her home that was not kosher to orthodox standards was a problem.

Initially, we tried making some changes that would enable us to eat there. She would buy meat from a kosher butcher, but then she would make some mistake so there were still kashrut problems with the food. We offered to get place settings that matched her fancy china and that we would cook for ourselves the same foods that that she was serving, but she didn’t like that idea. She kept pushing us to eat her food, we kept refusing, and the tension in our relationship kept getting worse.

During those years, my wife and I were very close with a Chabad emissary named Rabbi Itche Springer. After speaking with him about the trouble with my in-laws, he suggested we make an appointment to meet the Rebbe.

We came to 770 on a Sunday night. There, we sat on a bench with a list of questions for what seemed like forever. At about two o’clock in the morning, we went into the Rebbe’s room.

We had already been briefed on how to act during an audience with the Rebbe: Not to shake his hand, to stand rather than sit, and so on. But when we walked in, my wife was feeling very faint so the Rebbe took one look at her and said. “Sit down!” (more…)

Rabbi Shmuel Lew

21 April 2024

It was a severe time for the Jewish people of Russia. Under Premier Brezhnev, the USSR was no longer sending people off to Siberia and shooting them, but it was still a totalitarian state, and Jews were still being imprisoned or losing their jobs for engaging in religious activities.

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For decades, a Chabad organization called Ezras Achim had been providing them with assistance, primarily in the form of parcels, but due to the tension between the two superpowers, it was difficult in the early ‘80s for Americans to travel there in person. Living in a more minor power, which is also closer geographically, Jews in England were uniquely positioned to cross the Iron Curtain. That is why I was enlisted, by an activist named Ernie Hirsch, to make the trip; he had learned that the Russian Jewish leadership was primarily associated with Chabad, so he wanted to send Chabad chasidim.

In 1981, Reb Nosson “Bobby” Vogel and I flew to Moscow from London. We went for exactly one week, over Rosh Hashanah. We barely brought any clothing because our suitcases were full with enough Kosher food to last two months, almost all of which we left behind. We also brought Jewish books; three beautiful etrogim, which we kept among apples and oranges so as not to arouse suspicion; and a few recordings of chasidic melodies being sung at farbrengens in 770, in which you could actually hear the Rebbe singing along. I also took tapes of the Rebbe’s public talks in Russian, disguised with some classical radio music I had recorded at the beginning and end of each tape.

When Reb Nosson and I entered Russia, a customs agent spent nearly an hour inspecting everything we had – including the tapes.

“Play this one,” he ordered, pointing to a specific tape. “Rewind it first, and don’t stop until I tell you to.” (more…)

Mr. Yoni Nierenberg

18 April 2024

When Jewish students enter a university today, they can be virtually assured that they will find a Chabad House on campus – that they will be welcomed into a warm, inclusive Jewish atmosphere, invited for Shabbat and holiday meals, and offered Torah classes. It is hard to imagine that this was not always the case.

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This story goes back to before I was born. In the early 1960s, my father – Dr. Harold (Tzvi) Nierenberg – served as the dean of Long Island University, and although he was not a chasid, he was selected by the Rebbe to head up a revolutionary new outreach initiative.

How did this come about?

At that time, it was unusual for an academic to be an Orthodox Jew. And my father was not only Torah observant but also deeply involved in the Jewish community. He founded the first Orthodox synagogue in our town – North Belmore, Long Island – and he made it a point to reach out to Jewish students on campus. It was through one of those students that he was introduced to Rabbi Leibel Alevsky, the coordinator of programs for the Lubavitch Youth Organization, and Rabbi Alevsky, in turn, introduced him to the Rebbe.

My father immediately recognized that the Rebbe was a holy man – a tremendous tzaddik and a tremendous spiritual leader – and also that he was an incredible strategist. And I believe that this is what forged the connection between them. Although my father was an academic – he got his Ph.D. from Columbia University – he had a keen business sense, and he understood the role that visionary strategy plays in the success of any enterprise.

(more…)

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