Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Rebbetzin Chana's Moving Memories

The Rebbe’s mother Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, whose Yahrzeit is 6 Tishrei, was an extraordinary woman—a true helpmate to the Rebbe’s father Rav Levi Yitzchok Schneerson during the dark years of the Soviet regime. The Avner Institute would like to present a gripping anecdote from her memoirs in which she describes her husband’s commitment to observe the Tishrei holidays of 1934 in those terrible times, and his influence.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a beautiful photo of the Rebbe, with special thanks to Mendy Heyward.

Good Shabbos

In her diary, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, remembers the profound dedication and Mesiras Nefesh of her Husband that took place during the Month of Tishrei 1934:

"By this year only two shuls remained in our city Yekatrinoslav. One of these had been founded and was being attended by a group of workingmen. The gabbai [caretaker] was a tailor, the treasurer a shoemaker. Precisely for this reason, that it housed a congregation of manual laborers—proletariats—it had not been seized by the Communists. It was in this shul that my husband the Rav prayed.

Once the Rav affiliated himself with this congregation, many other people joined as well. As most of these newcomers were from higher levels of society, it became somewhat difficult for the administrators of the shul to carry out their functions. Even so, they had to remain in their positions to ensure that there would be exclusively a "rule by the proletariat." (Indeed, I could relate many amusing incidents from their term of office, but it would be out of place here.)

The administrators asserted that they felt small and insignificant in the presence of the Rav, and they accorded him great respect. Although they had not been acquainted with him previously, once they came to know him they recognized that he was a person of noble character who was not at all part of the bourgeoisie—therefore a man whom they could trust completely.

By this time there were very few professional cantors in Russia. Those men who had strong and pleasant voices, who were able to carry a tune, and who knew well the mode of the liturgy would hire themselves out to lead the prayer-services for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Most of these men had government positions and were therefore entitled to a month's vacation each year which they would strive to have coincide with the month of festivals, Tishrei. Then they would leave their homes to be employed in cities other than their own.

In their prayers they would give vent to all the emotions that had built up in their hearts over the course of the year. These cantors were paid very well, but in secret; to avoid the exorbitant tax levied on religious functionaries, their salaries were officially recorded as the bare minimum.

One day, two such gentlemen came to Yekatrinoslav. The first, Mr. Lieber, was a highly-regarded opera singer. His clothes resembled those of a theater performer. However, he was a Jew of illustrious ancestry, a descendant of the Maggid of Mezritch, successor of the Baal Shem Tov. He occasionally related stories that he had heard for his grandfather and other Chassidic stories too, but he would tell them in a halting, awkward manner.

The second, whose appearance was closer to that of a typical cantor, was employed as an accountant for a government company. He was knowledgeable of Torah and an offspring of the well-known rabbinical family Shapiro of Slavitta.

These two candidates declared that a proper Jewish atmosphere for prayer was of the utmost importance to them. Therefore, when the reputation of Rabbi Schneerson reached them, they decided to travel to Yekatrinoslav. Upon arrival, they immediately went to see the Rav and requested his advice on how to do well in this profession, as well as how to best utilize their talents to inspire people and strengthen their Jewish consciousness, an identity that the government was determined to eradicate.

The Rav discussed with them their concerns and invited them to Yekatrinoslav for the month of Tishrei to lead the prayers in his shul during the Days of Awe and the festival of Sukkot. Words are inadequate to describe the special mood and the overwhelming spiritual outpouring which pervaded the congregation during the Days of Awe that year, a result of the influence of the Rav and those two cantors.

On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur a considerable number of the members had to be present at their places of employment. The Rav arranged a special service for them that began very early in the morning, in order that by eight o'clock they would have completed the morning prayers and be on their way.

On Yom Kippur all of these people returned to the shul immediately after work and arrived just in time for the closing prayer, Neilah. By then the synagogue was so packed with people that many were forced to pray outside in the street. Weak from the twenty-four hour fast, weary from having walked great distances, and full of sorrow from having had to work on these holiest of days, these Jews stood, crushed in spirit, and prayed from the depths of their broken hearts.

All of these congregants were grateful to the Rav for having made the special efforts which enabled them to pray communally. For his part, he would cry bitterly whenever he discussed the situation with them. On the other hand, he was pleased by their tremendous spiritual arousal. With joy and amazement he would exclaim, "See, this is a Jew!"

When Yom Kippur ended, it was always difficult for him to return to a regular weekday existence. Instead, he would break his fast with a glass of tea and sit and talk until late at night with the many visitors who came to be with him and hear his words during those hours. His discussions would deal primarily with the exalted nature of the Jewish soul and the extraordinary power of self-sacrifice that is hidden in every Jew.

The same scene would be repeated on Simchat Torah. Anyone who wished to truly enjoy the festival would make sure to pass by our house as soon as darkness fell. Young people—with whom the government was even stricter in religious matters—would also arrive, each trying his best to not be seen entering the building. When they entered, the Rav would speak with each one personally; after a short time, they would forget about which country they were living in and the lives that they led there.

Professor Herman Branover & The Rebbe

While many Jews might eschew Western science, the Rebbe saw its enormous potential and its amazing compatibility with Torah thought. The Avner Institute would like to present a dialogue, recorded 20 years ago, with Prof. Yirmiyahu (Herman) Branover, famed scientist and refusenik, who relied on the Rebbe’s professional guidance and sophisticated knowledge.

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a charming photo of the Rebbe distributing lekach (honey cake) during the month of Tishrei 5734/1973. With special thinks to Mendy Heyward.

Good Shabbos

Professor Yirmiyahu (Herman) Branover, born in Riga, Latvia, is a world-renowned authority on magneto-hydrodynamics. While in Russia, Professor Branover's research in this field had won him an international reputation. When Professor Branover applied for an emigration visa to Israel his career in the Soviet Union ended. He was dismissed from the Academy of Sciences in Riga and prevented from continuing his research.

During this time, he was exposed to Chasidic philosophy by members of the Lubavitch underground. When he finally emigrated from the USSR to Israel in 1972, he was a fully observant Jew.

After making aliyah, Professor Branover was in constant demand as a lecturer on the subject of science and Torah. Campus audiences around the globe flocked to hear an acclaimed scientist reconcile his belief in the Torah with the supposed conflicts in modern science.

"In the winter of 1973," relates Professor Branover, "I was on a lecture tour in the United States. Shortly before I lectured at the University of Pennsylvania, I was privileged to have a private meeting with the Rebbe, Among other matters, I mentioned the trip to Philadelphia. The Rebbe commented: 'During your stay in Philadelphia, introduce yourself to a local professor who has an interest in your field.'

"The Rebbe's statement baffled me. I was well acquainted with the names of American scientists involved in magneto-hydrodynamics. I was certain there was no one in my field in Philadelphia.

"I traveled to Philadelphia and the emissary there convinced me that we should visit two universities and check the faculties. After hours of searching, we were introduced to Professor Hsuan Yeh, who was clearly knowledgeable in magneto-hydrodynamics.
"Professor Yeh told me: 'In six weeks there will be a Magneto-Hydrodynamic Energy Convention at Stanford University in California. I will insist that you be added to the list of lecturers.'

"I appreciated the professor's offer, but declined; we were anxious to return to Israel. I returned to New York. Just before leaving, I wrote the Rebbe a report of our trip to Philadelphia, mentioning my encounter with Professor Yeh. The Rebbe advised me to reschedule my plans and to accept the invitation, for the convention presented an important opportunity.

"My wife and I were taken by surprise. However, we were acquainted enough with the Rebbe to value his advice. I called Professor Yeh, who was happy to arrange for me to deliver a lecture.

"The significance of my participation became rapidly clear. I met two representatives of the Office of Naval Research who had read about my work and were prepared to finance further research. They added, 'We understand that you want to establish your laboratory in Israel. We are willing to provide you with funds for your work there.'
"As a result, I set up a laboratory in Beersheva, which has enjoyed worldwide recognition for its magneto-hydrodynamics research. My contract with the Navy has been renewed six times. I couldn't have imagined how far-reaching the Rebbe's advice would be. This year marks 20 years since the Stanford convention. My project has been awarded a 15-million dollar grant by the U.S. government for further research and development of this energy technology."

Professor Branover frequently briefs the Rebbe on his various research projects. In one report, he presented a very sophisticated study built upon extensive calculations that had been prepared by computer. As he reviewed the details, the Rebbe remarked:
"Two numbers here are inconsistent."

Professor Branover was stunned. "But all the calculations were done by computer and the program used is based on the most advanced theory we have."

The Rebbe smiled. "With all due respect to the experts, you will see that there is an error."

It took Professor Branover's research team six months to discover that some of the data entered in the computer's database was faulty.
"In the spring of 1985, I received word that the Rebbe requested to speak to me," relates Professor Branover. "I arrived at 770 as soon as I could. The Rebbe greeted me and informed me of his desire that I relay the message to various persons in Russia.

"The Rebbe unraveled the precise details of the unbelievable change that was going to take place in Russia. With Mikhail Gorbachev's ascent to power, a new era of openness and freedom would begin, the Rebbe prophesied. And waves of Russian Jews would emigrate to Israel.

"If I had heard these words from anyone but the Rebbe, I would have dismissed them as fantasy. As such, I was neither surprised nor offended when the various people in Russia whom I contacted were skeptical. 'Are you sure this is exactly what the Rebbe said?' they asked. And, may I add, these were people who were directing all the Lubavitch underground activities in Russia.

"It was simply that the Rebbe's prediction seemed so far-fetched. In the spring of 1985, newspapers had published front-page articles predicting that Gorbachev's government would follow a Communist hard-line. This was felt even more powerfully by people who were living in the then Soviet Union.

"When I related the response from Russia to the Rebbe, he requested that I contact them once again, assuring them that these changes would indeed take place. The realization of the Rebbe's words is now history.

“In 1992, when Mikhail Gorbachev visited Israel, we were introduced and I told him what the Rebbe had said seven years earlier.

“Gorbachev was stunned. 'When I assumed power in 1987,' he told me, 'I myself did not have the slightest idea which direction this would take. I had no concrete plan. I would like to meet this man who knew so much about the direction I and my country would follow.'"