Thursday, November 6, 2008

"This Desk has Heard the Cries of Many Jews"

"I am not what they call a Lubavitcher Chassid. However, I still support President Shazar's trip to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn"

-Elie Weisel

Although the late Israeli President, Zalman Shazar OBM, visited the Rebbe several times throughout his lifetime, one particular visit in the summer of 1966 was of special significance, as it was the first made in his official capacity as head of the Jewish state. The following is a description of some the controversy that led to the meeting and a glimpse of what was discussed during the Yechidus.

"In the summer of 1966, at the invitation of their presidents, Zalman Shazar had set out on an extended trip to three South American countries: Uruguay, Chile and Brazil.

On his way back to Israel he stopped off in Washington to meet with President Lyndon Johnson, after which he was to continue on to New York, where he was slated to meet with a number of leaders of Jewish organizations. It was during this visit to New York that Mr. Shazar planned on visiting the Rebbe.

As Mr. Shazar well realized, paying a visit to the Rebbe was a controversial act, one which was sure to arouse intense opposition on the part of many in the Israeli government. President Shazar later related that after reaching New York, he had called the Rebbe's office and requested a meeting. "I don't care if it means that I won't be re-elected. I don't care if it's controversial. The only thing I'm concerned about is that it should not somehow damage the dignity of the State," Mr. Shazar related. The Rebbe informed the President he would consult his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, and give him his answer.

Rabbi Groner, one of the Rebbe's secretaries, recalls the day that Mr. Shazar called the Rebbe's office with the request for an audience:

"It was a Thursday; the Rebbe informed us that the next day, Friday, he would go to the Ohel. The Rebbe's stay at the Ohel was shorter than usual. When he returned, he asked us to tell Mr. Shazar that his father-in-law had said, 'No one ever goes away from Lubavitch.' Mr. Shazar immediately responded by saying that if so, he would definitely be coming to the Rebbe."

"The first thing the Israeli consulate did was to contact the Rebbe's office and suggest that the Rebbe come to the Israeli President, and not the other way around. When they were told that the Rebbe does not generally leave his neighborhood and that no meetings are held outside of Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway (except for a few rare instances when meetings have been held in the Rebbe's home).

The members of the consulate went so far as to try to convince the President himself: a hue and cry was raised that by Mr. Shazar going to the Rebbe instead of having the Rebbe come to him, the honor of the State of Israel was being compromised. [This is what prompted Mr. Shazar's initial question to the Rebbe about the damage to the dignity of the State]...

"Several members of the consulate then spread a rumor among the Israeli journalists in New York -- correspondents for the Israeli newspapers -- that President Shazar was ignoring diplomatic protocol by wishing to extend his stay in New York beyond the allotted time. No mention was made of why Mr. Shazar wanted to visit New York after his stopover in Washington. Nonetheless, the President stood firm, and insisted that a visit to the Rebbe be included in his schedule."

The Yechidus

"During the first part of the meeting between the Rebbe and Mr. Shazar, there were some Israeli dignitaries and members of the Rebbe's secretariat who were present. One of these people later reported that Mr. Shazar informed the Rebbe that he was keeping up with the study schedule the Rebbe had suggested for him on his last visit, and mentioned the names of the people he studied with. He also told the Rebbe of his efforts to spread the study of Chasidut among children and said that he had wanted to move to a place where there were regular classes in Chasidut but that the location he chose wasn't considered 'presidential.' However, a new 'presidential palace' is currently under construction and it is directly across the street from a synagogue that holds regular classes in Chasidut!

The Rebbe handed Mr. Shazar a copy of a booklet containing a Chasidic discourse that had been written exactly 100 years previously and was about to be published. The Rebbe told Shazar it was being printed in honor of his visit and said that he was giving him the first copy.
Mr. Shazar said to the Rebbe, "There are some people who are not friends of the Land of Israel, among them --, as contrasted with the Rebbe, who loves Israel."

The Rebbe responded, "Inside, they also love Israel."

Everyone else then left the room and a private audience between Rebbe and Chasid, a true communing of souls, continued for an hour and a half. After the audience, the Rebbe led President Shazar to the smaller study hall on the first floor of 770 and gave him a tour of the premises, complete with explanations. When Mr. Shazar walked into the Rebbe's private office, the Rebbe pointed to his desk and said, "This desk has heard the cries of many Jews. I could not have brought it with me had I come to visit you."

President Shazar presented the Rebbe with a large box made of olive wood. It contained a parcel of letters written by the Rebbe Rashab (the Previous Rebbe's father). The letters, which had been part of the Previous Rebbe's library, had disappeared during the Holocaust. Years later they resurfaced in the public library of Warsaw, from where they were redeemed. The Rebbe kept this box on his desk for many years.

Good Shabbos.