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!
When I Won the Lottery
Wed, Sep 12, 2018
I was born in 1926 in Kursk, Russia. It was at the beginning of Soviet rule, but despite the difficulties involved, my parents made sure to give me a Jewish education.
When I was ten years old, my parents managed to get a permit to leave Russia, and we came to the Israel, then the British Mandate for Palestine. There I continued my Torah studies.
I was twenty-two years old when the State of Israel was established. I joined the Israeli army and served with the rabbinate of the IDF, eventually advancing to the position of officer in charge of religious affairs. My job description included supervising kashrut and overseeing prayers during Shabbat and holidays. On Rosh Hashanah, I blew the shofar for the soldiers, and on Passover I organized the Seder. I saw that if one had the will, one could gain much spiritual benefit from influencing soldiers within the framework of such a job. And indeed, the Rebbe encouraged me very much to take advantage of my position, and to use every means possible to strengthen the Torah observance among the soldiers.
When I completed my compulsory service, I was invited to sign up for the standing army. I debated doing so because I had gotten married in the meanwhile, and this position necessitated my staying on the base for Shabbat and holidays – not a convenient thing in my new status as family man. But I didn’t decide on my own. I wrote to the Rebbe and followed his advice to lengthen my service.
Long Live the Revolution!
Thu, Sep 06, 2018
As a left-wing radical in the 1960s, I was advocating an anti-war revolution, until I met the Rebbe who drafted me into an entirely different revolution – and, while doing so, changed my life.
I grew up in the 1940s, in the home of my Yiddish-speaking grandparents. It was a kosher home, respectful of Judaism, but not a Torah-observant home. For my Bar Mitzvah, I didn’t put on tefillin although I did learn the Hebrew alphabet, but that was about it.
As a kid, I was constantly picked on, and I discovered the connection between being picked on and being Jewish. That’s when I decided that I would help other people who were being picked on and discriminated against. When I went to college at the University of Rochester in upstate New York, I joined the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). I became the president of our NAACP chapter and launched a campaign to remove racist fraternities from campus. As a result, I earned a name as a radical, a reputation which was further enhanced when I became involved in the protests against nuclear testing, and later against the Vietnam War.
I was majoring in philosophy and reading the early writings of Karl Marx, the Jewish originator of Communist theory. His writings appealed to me because Marx was very much in favor of kindness, very pro people, and very anti letting those in power take advantage of the poor. And due to his influence, I became an atheist because, as Marx famously declared, “religion is the opiate of the masses.”
One Deed is Worth A Thousand Sermons
Thu, Aug 30, 2018
I am the son of Rabbi Chaim Gutnick, who fled Europe during World War Two and made his way to Australia, where I was born. In his work as a community rabbi, my father was very much guided by the Rebbe, and I would like to relate here a few anecdotes which my father had shared with me.
In 1965, my father came to visit the Rebbe and complained to him that although he was known as a great orator who could make people laugh and cry at the same time, and who was invited to speak in many places, he felt that he wasn’t making a real difference. “I must have given thousands of speeches in my career,” my father told the Rebbe, “but how many of them have really hit home? How many people have been moved by my speeches to actually change their lives?”
The Rebbe responded, “If you speak sincerely and you speak with passion, your message will enter the hearts of others, whether you know it or not. But if you really want to see the effect of your words, then you must speak about practical things, not just concepts. Instead of just talking about Shabbat or kashrut in general terms, you should urge the audience to try to fulfill these mitzvot as much as they can. Give them something practical to do – even if it’s just one little thing. And then you will see results.”
My father was impressed by the Rebbe’s advice and put it into practice immediately. When he spoke about Shabbat now he asked the non-observant in his audience to begin by not lighting a fire on Shabbat, by giving up one little thing – smoking. He said, “I want you to do me this personal favor. Your doctors will say it’s good for you, and as your rabbi, I’ll also say that it’s good for you.”
Fourth Time’s the Charm
Thu, Aug 23, 2018
I came to Chabad many years ago, but for me to say that is not accurate because, really, Chabad came to me.
In 1970, while studying at the University of Buffalo, I attended a class on Jewish mysticism being taught by Rabbi Noson Gurary. As a result of that class, I became interested in finding
out more about my roots and, during my last semester at college, I had my first encounter with the Rebbe.
Rabbi Gurary had arranged for me and others like me to come to Crown Heights for a long weekend. At the time I was a typical alienated Jewish-American kid. I had very long curly hair, past my shoulders, and I vividly remember feeling like I was sticking out, sitting at that farbrengen listening to the Rebbe with a thousand Jews who looked like Rabbi Gurary. They all had long beards and they were wearing long black coats and big black hats. I felt like I had been transported to a different planet, to a different dimension. But it wasn’t a negative feeling at all. It’s just that I hadn’t known that there were all these Jews living this kind of lifestyle in modern America. And while it boggled my mind, it also impressed me because these guys were bucking the system – in the melting pot of America, where assimilation ruled, they didn’t care whether they blended in or not.
To make a long story short, this led me to enroll in the Morristown yeshivah for two weeks, which turned into three weeks, which turned into three years. I went from a college student who learned maybe ten hours per week, to a yeshivah student who learned ten hours per day, and I couldn’t get enough.
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 .