My Encounter with the Rebbe records the oral histories of individuals who interacted with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, through videotaped first-person interviews. Please help us save these precious testimonies!
Wed, Jul 18, 2018
I grew up in a Chabad home – our family had been Chabad for generations – and, of course, we were very connected to the Rebbe. Nothing happened in our family that the Rebbe didn’t know about because he was like a father to us.
Shortly after the Rebbe took over the leadership of Chabad in 1951, I needed to have my tonsils taken out. Of course, the Rebbe was consulted, and he asked that we report to him right after the operation. I clearly remember my mother, who was quite a stout woman, running in the heat of the day from the doctor’s office to 770 Eastern Parkway to tell the Rebbe that all had gone well.
After receiving rabbinic ordination from the Chabad yeshivah in New York in 1960, I got engaged to be married to my first wife, Esther, of blessed memory. At that time, if a young couple had committed to go out as emissaries of the Rebbe, he would officiate at their wedding. We were planning to become the Rebbe’s emissaries, and we were hoping that he would come to recite the blessings under our chuppah.
But when we went to see the Rebbe two weeks before the event, he said to us, “There is going to be a change concerning my officiating at weddings.”
Of course, I got the hint – “change” meant he would stop doing it. Hearing this, I don’t know where I got the courage to protest, “But we are going to be the Rebbe’s emissaries!”
The Tasmanian Angel
Wed, Jul 11, 2018
I was born in Newark, New Jersey, where my parents were sent by the Previous Rebbe as his emissaries. Their mission was their whole life, and I was raised in an atmosphere of service and of connection to the Rebbe.
Growing up, I was keenly aware how much the Rebbe – his blessings, his advice, his influence – permeated our lives.
I recall that, when I was a kid, a teenager from our synagogue named Stephen Lutz was honored by President John F. Kennedy as the “Boy of the Year” in recognition of “superlative services to his home, school, synagogue, community and boy’s club.” During the ceremony, President Kennedy asked him, “Who inspired you to become what you are today?” And he answered, “It was Rabbi Sholom Ber Gordon, who is an emissary of the Rebbe.”
This story appeared in The New York Times and other papers, featuring a photo of the boy with the President and, of course, the Rebbe saw it. But he admonished my father because he was not in the photograph. “If your picture had appeared in the paper,” the Rebbe told him, “it could have caused one more Jewish girl to marry a Torah observant boy with a beard.”
High School Girls Record Women’s Untold Stories of the Rebbe
Thu, Jul 05, 2018
Over the last few months, girls from 24 English-speaking Chabad high schools and seminaries around the world have been interviewing their mothers, aunts, grandmothers, neighbors and friends about their stories with the Rebbe.
The grassroots project conceptualized by a group of Beis Rivkah seminary students, spearheaded by Leah Goldman, was started after realizing that not enough women were sharing their precious stories of the Rebbe. Together with JEM’s My Encounter project, Our Story aims to record hundreds of women’s stories via audio, otherwise untold, and share them with the world.
Hundreds of new stories were submitted and a few weeks ago, they launched a WhatsApp series for women and girls featuring a weekly story of the Rebbe.
Over a thousand women and girls have already signed up to the series and the feedback has been tremendous, with messages of appreciation received about how relevant and meaningful they are finding the stories.
We are pleased to present the first episodes of Our Story for women and girls.
Episode 1: Mrs. Shlomit Leinkram tells of the Rebbe’s warm attention to her as a six year old girl.
Episode 2: Mrs Chani Gurary speaks of some unexpected advice from the Rebbe about her life’s “occupation”.
Episode 3: Mrs. Tzippy Katz recalls a private audience that she had with the Rebbe. It was only years later that she began to realize the profound message that she had then received.
Episode 4: Mrs. Yehudis Brea relates how when she was a young girl her parents were unfortunately going through an unhappy divorce and she turned to the Rebbe.
To sign up and receive the weekly story or to submit a story, click here: http://bit.ly/MyEncounter-OurStory .
The Philanthropist Who Won’t Give Away a Dollar
Wed, Jul 04, 2018
In 1989, my friend Marvin Ashendorf, who was then in charge of the Hillcrest Jewish Center in Queens, New York, asked me if I’ve ever heard of an organization called American Friends of Shamir.
I hadn’t, and so he told me about it. Shamir was a publishing house which printed Jewish religious books that were then smuggled into the Soviet Union, where Jews had been forbidden to practice religion since the Russian Revolution.
Shamir was hosting its fifth annual fund-raising dinner and Marvin asked me to consider being their “Man of the Year,” which would be a vehicle for them to raise money through my friends and acquaintances.
I responded that I couldn’t give him an answer because I didn’t know anything about Shamir. But I decided to investigate it. At the time, a Russian immigrant named Michal Meshchaninov was working for my air-conditioning company, so I asked him, “Did you ever hear of Shamir?” He responded with a smile that literally went from ear to ear: “Of course. That’s why I’m here.” He also told me that Shamir was a publishing company established by the Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.
At the time I didn’t know anything about the Rebbe because I was brought up with little connection to Judaism. I was what Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress, called a “three day a year Jew” – that is, a Jew who would go to the synagogue on the two days of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. Beyond that, I had little to do with anything Jewish. But hearing Michal’s reaction, I agreed to become the “Man of the Year” for Shamir.
The Antidote to Burnout
Wed, Jun 27, 2018
I was born in 1947 in Hungary to parents who lost their entire families in the concentration camps. They married after the war and settled in Zomba (near Bonyhad), where my father operated a general store. However, because of problems with anti-Semites, we left there shortly following the Communist takeover, when my father was offered a position as a rabbi in Ujpest.
In 1956 came the Hungarian Revolution, and during the chaos, with the borders unguarded, we managed to escape to Austria. From there we immigrated to Canada, where I was introduced to Chabad-Lubavitch, which offered me a different outlook, a beautiful outlook, on life.
When I was seventeen I came with a group from Montreal to New York for Simchat Torah. I will never forget the crowds, the dancing and the singing. The Rebbe presided over it all, and a tremendous energy emanated from him.
Afterwards, I was granted a private audience with the Rebbe, in advance of which I wrote a letter telling him that I was at a crossroads. I had one more year before I finished high school, and I didn’t know which way to go after. I had already been accepted to McGill University, but I didn’t want to go, even though that’s what my parents wanted me to do. Instead, I wanted to attend a seminary to learn Jewish subjects and eventually to teach Torah.
The Rebbe’s response was: “Dos iz a guteh velen – This is a good desire.” But he didn’t give me any other specific directions. He asked me a lot about my parents and what they had been through, and he gave me a blessing for them. He advised me to tell them what I wanted to do with my life, and he blessed me to succeed.
Wed, Jun 20, 2018
I was born in Kisvarda, Hungary, in 1947, when the country was ruled by a Communist regime. Life there was extremely difficult, depressing and bereft of Yiddishkeit.
But, in 1965, when I was seventeen and still in high school, I managed to leave Hungary with the aid of a friend of the family from Williamsburg, New York. He sent a fake letter saying he was my uncle, was very sick and needed me to come immediately to care for him. Based on that letter, the Hungarian authorities issued me a passport, and that’s how I made it to the West. Once in the U.S., I finished high school and then enrolled in Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Sometime during the school year, my roommate suggested that I join him for a Shabbat at Kfar Chabad. I took him up on his offer but, for reasons I don’t recall, I was not very impressed. I returned a second time and was even less impressed. Yet, I went back again. By the third visit something clicked, and I decided to leave the university altogether and learn full time in yeshivah – at first in Kfar Chabad and later in Hadar HaTorah yeshivah in New York.
During my time in New York, I was fortunate to meet with the Rebbe several times, as it was the custom back then for yeshivah students to get a private audience on the occasion of their birthdays.
Generally, when I saw him, I would ask for a blessing to succeed in my Torah studies. However, on one occasion, I told the Rebbe that I had a strong inclination to become a teacher, and I asked if I should pursue education as a profession. The Rebbe responded, “Es iz a gleiche zach – It is a good idea,” and he gave me a blessing to succeed.
After I got married in 1971, I came with my wife to ask the Rebbe if we should become the Rebbe’s emissaries out in the world. The Rebbe agreed but said, “You should go to a place where there are already other young Chabad couples in the community.” In other words, he didn’t want use to go to some corner of the earth, as some emissaries do, becoming the only Chabad presence in a place that has hardly any, if any, religious Jews. This path was not for us. But shortly thereafter, the Rebbe approved us going to Miami Beach, which fit his criteria.
The Matter is in Your Hands
Wed, Jun 13, 2018
When I was four years old, all the Jews of my birthplace – Gura Humorului, Romania – were deported to Transnistria, where most perished at the hands of the fascists allied with the Nazis, including my own grandmother. My family and I survived and, in 1950, just before my Bar Mitzvah, we managed to leave Romania and immigrate to Israel.
Once in Israel, I went looking for a yeshivah and, although my parents were Vishnitzer chasidim, by chance I ended up in a Lubavitcher yeshivah in Lod. There I learned for about eighteen months before my father, worried about my ability to earn a living in the future, took me out and sent me to learn car mechanics in Tel Aviv. When informed of my plan to leave, Rabbi Yonah Edelkopf suggested that I write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe for advice.
I was shocked at the suggestion. Who was I, a fifteen year old teenager, to be writing to the Rebbe?! But he persisted in trying to convince me that I should. When he told me, “Write to the Rebbe that Yonah Edelkopf told you to write,” he finally succeeded in convincing me.
So I wrote, explaining my family situation and my reasons for leaving. The Rebbe responded:
It is clear that since, through miraculous circumstances, you have merited to enter a yeshivah … you must recognize how you are being assisted from on high to follow a path which is good for you materially and spiritually. And you should also understand that, in order to test you, thoughts occasionally fall in to you mind about abandoning your studies. You must get rid of these thoughts … Clearly, when the time comes for you to support yourself, the One who sustains all living will also provide a livelihood for you … A person’s livelihood depends exclusively on the Holy One Blessed Be He, so connecting with his Torah and mitzvot now are a great way to help you earn a living later on, while leaving the tent of Torah too early will only disturb this …
However, despite the Rebbe’s advice, I wound up leaving the yeshivah to become a mechanic’s apprentice in secular Tel Aviv. To do so, I cut my long side-curls, my long peyot, which I knew my employer and co-workers would consider strange. I didn’t want to feel ashamed in front of them.
One day, however, as I was coming home from my apprentice job covered in dirt and oil, I began to feel bad that I had left the yeshivah, and so I wrote to the Rebbe again. And, as before, and as many times since then, he answered.
A Great G-d in a Tiny Room
Wed, Jun 06, 2018
I grew up in 1950s Brooklyn in a very American home – that is, we knew we were Jews, but we led an American lifestyle. For me, this translated into sports participation. Indeed, I became so good at baseball, America’s favorite pastime that, while in college, I was scouted by the Boston Red Sox and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But that was not to be, as I was a student during a time of turbulence in America, the time of the Vietnam War. I was drafted and called to report for a physical to the induction center at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn. Many people were trying to get out of the draft back then, but I was taught that “you’ve got to face it,” so I did.
I fully expected, as an athlete in top condition, to pass the physical, but I was very nervous about being sent to Vietnam and all that it meant, so I prayed – though it was more like I mumbled than prayed – “G-d, if You get me out of this, I will do whatever You want.”
And G-d got me out of it. At the end of all the tests, they found that I had a hearing problem – which was total news to me – and I received an exemption.
I left the induction center crying with happiness. I realized that I had been saved, which moved me very deeply.
Shortly thereafter, I had a strange dream. In that dream, I was in a field, holding a shovel, and I was digging up a gigantic footprint. In that field, there were other people (some of them people I knew) who were doing the same thing – also digging up their footprints.
At some point in the dream, I saw an open book which read, “King Solomon had deep faith.” And then I looked up to the sky and heard a voice from on high saying, “There is going to be a resurrection of the dead,” and I turned to see millions of graves.
When I woke up, I was very moved by this dream, but I didn’t know what it meant.
The Power of One Blessing
Wed, May 30, 2018
My story starts in 1914, when my grandfather, Rabbi Gershon Katzman, came from White Russia to the US for medical treatment. But then World War I broke out, and he was stranded here. He became the rabbi of a small Orthodox community in San Francisco, while waiting to return home. But that was not to be. The Russian Revolution followed World War I, and it took him almost ten years to get his family out, including his daughter (my mother), my father (Rabbi Yaakov Karasick) and their children (my sisters and I).
Incidentally, my father came from the city of Barbruysk, which was the home to a large Chabad community – in fact, the name Karasick is a common name of the Lubavitchers from that area. Throughout his life, my own father kept some of his old Chabad customs, even though he was cut off from his fellow chasidim while living in San Francisco.
I grew up there as a young boy but, after my Bar Mitzvah, I was sent away for religious studies which did not exist nearby. Eventually, I enrolled in Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchok Elchonon (which is now called RIETS and is a part of Yeshiva University). There I became a student of Rabbi Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, better known as the Rav, and received rabbinic ordination from him in 1945, at the tender age of twenty-three.
A year later, on the day of my wedding, my grandfather decided that I should get a blessing from somebody very special and holy. Although he himself was not the least bit chasidic, my grandfather selected the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe as that person. It was strange that my grandfather would make this choice, but it must have been Divine Providence.
The Rebbe was very ill at that time, having suffered terribly in Soviet prison before coming to the US. He was wheelchair-bound and could barely speak. He was in terrible pain, and he passed away three years later. However, he agreed to give us his blessing.
Who is a Chassid?
Thu, May 24, 2018
After earning a Ph. D. in biological sciences and studying medicine at Oxford, I was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Immunology and Bacteriology at the University of California in Berkley. When I took up this post in 1957, I moved with my family to the San Francisco area. While there, I befriended Rabbi Shlomo Cunin, who was the Rebbe’s emissary to California, and I believe that it was Rabbi Cunin who brought me to the Rebbe’s attention.
The first and only time that I met the Rebbe was after a trip that I made to the Soviet Union in 1965, when the Rebbe asked to see me.
That year the Soviets decided to host their first symposium in modern medicine to which they invited twenty-five scientists from abroad, along with twenty-five of their own scientists. It was a very select symposium, and I was one of those honored by their invitation.
However, I didn’t feel honored. I knew very well about the oppression of the Jews in the Soviet Union, so I refused to attend. But then, Avraham Harman, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, appeared on my doorstep and convinced me that I should go. He told me of the dire situation the Jews in the USSR were facing – many had been imprisoned for minor offenses such as hoarding flour, which they were only saving to bake matzot for Passover! He told me that the staff of the Israeli embassy in Moscow was under constant watch and could not reach out to the Jewish community, but that I would have a chance they did not. I would be going to Russia as a VIP with special privileges; I would have a car and driver at my disposal, and I would have the freedom to move around. Thus convinced, I accepted the invitation and I went.