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!
A Wonderful Fainting
Wed, Aug 15, 2018
From the time my husband and I got married in 1986, we wanted children, but five years passed and I had still not gotten pregnant. Naturally, we sought medical advice, but the doctors had nothing to tell us because they could find nothing wrong. Everything was fine – there was no reason why I shouldn’t get pregnant.
Then our friend, Judah Wernick, suggested we go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe to ask for a blessing. But I resisted going to see the Rebbe because I just didn’t believe in miracle workers. Still, Judah kept telling me, “You have to go … you have to go … you have to go.” After a period of time, he wore me down, and I agreed. Also my Israeli husband, who was having a hard time finding employment in the US – he worked as a taxi driver and was very unhappy doing that – wanted to ask for a blessing for a better livelihood.
It was in 1991 that we went to see the Rebbe – on a Sunday, when he was giving out dollars for charity. I was astonished to see how many people were waiting in line, but Judah had arranged for Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson to take us through a back door. Next thing I knew, we were in front of the Rebbe asking for a blessing for children.
He promised it would happen “in the near future.” And he gave each of us two dollars for charity, adding, “Give this when you become pregnant.”
Jobs, Jobs, Jobs!
Tue, Jul 31, 2018
I am a businessman, an industrialist. And the story I have to tell here is how my family – despite the indisputable logic of the naysayers and despite our own finely-honed business sense – invested in a textile business in Israel, knowing it would be a losing proposition. We thought of it as a charitable donation, a short-term loss, because there was no way this business was going to survive long-term.
Why did we do it even when we knew we shouldn’t?
We did it because the Rebbe said to do it, and we were followers of the Rebbe. And despite all the predictions to the contrary, despite our own worst expectations, the business succeeded. It succeeded not just modestly, but hugely – not just in Israeli terms, but in American terms, in global terms thank G-d.
And the only explanation that I have why it succeeded, where logically it should have failed, is that the Land of Israel is especially blessed by G-d (something which the Rebbe understood better than any businessman), and that – in addition – this particular venture was directed and blessed by the Rebbe himself.
The story begins with the passing of my mother in 1951, when I was four years old. My widowed father, a Holocaust survivor, a Bobover chasid – who was then coping with three small children, while living in the Bushwick section of Williamsburg – went to get a blessing, at the urging of a friend, from the new Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe tried to give him fifty dollars, which he refused because he was too proud to take the money, but the Rebbe also blessed him and that blessing has followed our family to this day.
I myself married into a Chabad family. My father-in-law, Reb Dovid Deitsch, was especially close to the Rebbe, and he had a plastics business which I joined.
Preemptive Child Protection
Wed, Jul 25, 2018
In 1990, when I was passing through New York – on my way home from Toronto where I was invited to speak at a women’s convention – I went to see the Rebbe as he was giving out dollars for charity. I stood in that very long line because there was someone who desperately needed the Rebbe’s blessing, and I wanted to use this occasion to ask for it. I was very nervous that when I reached the head of the line I would be so in awe of the Rebbe that I’d be rendered speechless, and I kept reciting Psalms to give myself courage.
When I finally arrived in front of the Rebbe, I somehow managed to verbalize my request, giving the name of the person on whose behalf I was requesting the blessing.
However, the Rebbe dismissed my request with a wave of the hand, as if to indicate that a blessing for this person was not necessary. Instead, he handed me three dollars and said that these were for my children.
When I walked away, I burst into tears because what I had come for was a blessing for someone – and that blessing I didn’t receive! What I received instead was three dollars for my children – of whom there were more than three – and they were all just fine, thank G-d; they didn’t need intervention. Or so I thought.
But when I returned to England and greeted my children, a very strange thing happened. The kids collected the presents I had brought back for them and ran off to play. They were playing a tag game called Keystone which involved running outside around the house and up to the front door which was “Keystone” – whoever reached it first, slammed into the door, yelled “home” and was the winner.
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.