Friday, March 18, 2011

A Moving Purim Encounter with the Rebbe

As Purim approaches, the Avner Institute would like to present a moving encounter that took place at a Purim Farbrengen in the early 1970s, when an Israeli yeshiva student who had strayed a bit too far came back, with the Rebbe’s help. With special thanks to author and scholar Rabbi Michoel Seligson, and to Rabbi Levin.
Photo Collection

The Rebbe Archive would like to a Photo of the Rebbe at a Purim Farbrgen 1959.

Good Shabbos

To Reveal a Soul

It was the mid-1970s. At that time I was 19 years old and like every other religious boy from Jerusalem—long coat, long peyos, a fuzz of a beard. My brothers and I went to Eitz Chaim Yeshiva. I was a good student, and it wasn't long before people began to suggest marriage proposals to my parents.

After a few months, I set out for New York to meet someone. Soon we got engaged and a summer wedding was planned. My parents wanted us to live in Jerusalem. Her parents wanted New York. They finally said, "Let the young couple decide."

But we couldn't decide. Arguments broke out and by Passover the engagement was broken.

I was devastated. My family was devastated, too. My parents insisted that I return to Israel, but I couldn't face returning alone. And so I stayed in America.
A friend of mine, also from Jerusalem, told me that he had a job offer in Cleveland. It sounded good so I joined him.
New Lifestyle

It was a different life for me there. Little by little, I began to leave my upbringing behind. I changed my long coat for a short jacket, shaved my beard, and was encouraged by my new friends to try other new things in America. Everything.
I couldn't bring myself to tell my parents of my new lifestyle. They only knew that I was in Cleveland, studying and working.

At Purim time I visited relatives living in Crown Heights, long before it was a Lubavitcher neighborhood. They almost didn't recognize me. After eating the Purim meal I decided to go for a walk to get some fresh air.

Suddenly, I saw two Chasidim running like crazy.

"What happened? Where's the fire?" I asked.

The boy called out, "We're going to the Lubavitcher Rebbe's farbrengen."

"Where?" I asked, and he pointed out the place.

I followed him inside, and saw hundreds of Chasidim listening to a man who I assumed was the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

It was hot and crowded, and I soon wanted to leave. This was no place for me. But as soon as this thought popped into my head, the talk ended, and hearty singing broke out and I was caught up.

“Seen . . . but not Close”

Suddenly, all fell quiet. The Rebbe was speaking again. He spoke about the World to Come, Moshiach, and that of all the Jewish holidays, only Purim would remain in the future. I don't remember everything, but I was fascinated with his beautiful explanation. It struck me when he said that on Purim every Jew's neshama, his soul, is revealed much more than even on Yom Kippur.

With a creeping awareness, I felt that the Rebbe was talking about me. He said that the Evil Inclination is a talented artisan, an expert in his field. First, he comes to a young man and convinces him to leave the yeshiva and go to work, because after all, Torah and work go hand in hand. Then he convinces the boy that America is different from all other places; he has to fit in, in order to make it. Then he tells him that "time is money": don't worry so much about prayer and putting on tefilin. The Rebbe carefully described my descent, step by step, and concluded by saying that even Yom Kippur isn't enough to arouse this youth.

But then comes Purim, self-sacrifice. A Jew says, "I will not bow down." His neshama reveals itself, and he is able to climb out of the pit.

As the Rebbe spoke, my face was burning. I knew the Rebbe described me well. I hastened to reassure myself: even though all the details fit, there was just no way the Rebbe could even see me. It was a coincidence. I was momentarily soothed.

But the Rebbe continued, "Particularly when the young man comes from Israel, from Jerusalem. It's possible that he is to be found here, even though he thinks that we don't see him. Close but not seen. Seen, but...not close."

The only thing that calmed me now was that no one understood except for me. No one was searching for a young man from Jerusalem in the crowd.
Drink of Life

At that moment, the Rebbe stopped speaking and the lively singing recommenced. Men called out "l'chaim" to the Rebbe, and I too, felt in need of a little external fortification. I looked up.

Everyone was looking at me. The Rebbe was looking straight at me. He indicated that I should say "l'chaim." A man gave me some vodka in a shot glass, but the Rebbe insisted -- a large cup.

There was no way I could drink it, and I said so. The man said, "Just make the l'chaim." I did and took a sip, but the Rebbe motioned for me to finish the whole cup. When I had finished, head reeling, he said, "Again." I drank the second cup to the end.

I don't remember anything else, just waking up on a bench, surrounded by sleeping Chasidim. It was early morning.
I never told anyone what happened that day. It stayed a secret between the Rebbe and me.

Today, I live in Jerusalem, with my religious wife and beautiful children. I have come back to America. Each time I wanted to go to the Rebbe, to thank him. But each time I was afraid. How could I approach someone who looked through me as if I were made of glass?

This year I came to the Rebbe. Somehow, I got up the chutzpa. I stood there at the Ohel, and whispered to the wind, and the walls, and the one who knows me so well. And I finally told the Rebbe, "Thank you."

The Rebbe Visit to Baltimore 1930

The year was 1930. Soviet Jewry lay under threat of its very existence. Six months earlier the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe Joseph Isaac Schneersohn had begun an extended trip, first to the Holy Land and then to the U.S. Traveling across the country, he described in great pain the difficult conditions of the Jews in Communist Russia. The Avner Institute would like to present an article that appeared in the Baltimore Sun the day after the Rebbe’s arrival at that city, where thousands came out to greet him, and describes the Rebbe’s work and details of his visit,

The Rebbe Archive would like to present a unique photo of the Previous Rebbe circa mid-1940s in the U.S., with special thanks to the Gal family from Petach Tikva, Israel.

With special thanks to Rabbi Levi Druk.

Good Shabbos

From The Baltimore Sun Jan. 13, 1930:

Religious Jews in Russia are grateful in the Soviets because that Government has consistently repressed anti-Jewish pogroms. Rabbi Samarius Gourary, son-in-law of and spokesman for Rabbi Isaac Schneerson, famous Jewish leader, said last night. Rabbi Gourary spoke in Yiddish, which was translated by Rabbi Adolph Coblenz, of Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

In the afternoon more than 3,000 Jews welcome Rabbi Schneerson when he arrived at Mount Royal Station. An automobile parade of hundreds of cars escorted the rabbi to his temporary Baltimore residence, 2343 Eutaw Place, where he was welcomed with Jewish songs and ceremonies.

Rabbi Schneerson, who was born in Russia and has spent practically his whole life there, leaving in 1928 after a term of imprisonment because of his activities as a leader in the organization of Russian Jewish religious schools.

Brings Message to U.S.

During his two-month stay in the United States the rabbi will enlighten the people of the United States as to the actual conditions of Jewish life in Soviet Russia and how these conditions can be improved to accord with the policy and legislation of the Soviet Government, which is anti-religious.

The second factor which interests the rabbi is the raising of funds to aid in the support of schools and academies he and his late father, Rabbi Shalom Schneerson, founded during their thirty-seven years of religious educational work in Poland, Lithuania, Palestine and other lands.

It was on June 16, 1927, that the rabbi was arrested. After being held for seventeen days he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, in Kostroma, Central Russia, for his religious work. He was released only when Jews from every part of Europe and America petitioned the Government for his release.

Allowed to Leave Russia

He was given his freedom, and permission was granted him to leave the land, which he did early in 1928, taking up his residence in Riga, Latvia. From there he directed his religious work.

Prior to the advent of the Soviet regime Russia was the scene of numerous anti-Jewish outbreaks. In spite of the elimination of these persecutions however, Rabbi Gourary said the economic status of the religious Jew in Russia at this time is deplorable.
Since the Czarist regime forbade the Jews the ownership of land, their energies were directed along other channels, most of the Jews becoming merchants and traders. Since the Soviet policy is adverse to individual trading, naturally the 3,000,000 Jews who depended primarily on commerce for their subsistence are hard hit, the rabbi said.
Some Turn to Industry

A small number of Jews have turned to industry, while others have found employment in Government offices and factories. However, the latter are mostly unorthodox Jews, who are more welcome to the Soviets than those who tenaciously cling to the faith of their fathers, the educator asserted.

Industry, it was said, is the natural outlet because through industrial life religious conditions can be ameliorated in conformity with the laws of the land. It is this desire to cooperate with the Government as far as their attitude toward the Jewish religion is concerned and to learn how to adapt their religion so that it fits within the category and law laid down by the Soviets that the Jews are working toward.

Rabbi Schneerson is 50 years old. He is of medium height, with heavy beard, once red, but now with graying streaks. His kindly eyes gleam from under his broad, round black hat. Throughout the afternoon and night he welcomed members of both Orthodox and Reformed Jewish congregations, and representative of various Jewish organizations.
Greeted in New York

After leaving Riga some months ago he went to Palestine, Germany and France before coming to America. In New York he was greeted by thousands of Jews from all over the country and an official welcoming committee on the tug Macon, appointed by Mayor James J. Walker, of New York

The rabbi comes from a long line of rabbis, who have been active in Russian Jewry for the last 150 years. He is the lineal descendant of the Ravi of Liadi (Schneerson), who lived 150 years ago and who was one of the founders of the Chassidic movement in Russia. The movement was the expression, in a renewed form, of the age-old mystic

yearnings of the Jewish people.

The Rav of Liadi became the founder of a dynasty, the spiritual leader to whom multitudes flocked from all of Europe for guidance, comfort and inspiration.
Rabbi Gourary comes from one of the wealthiest landed Jewish families in Russia, where, under the old regime, it owned large holdings in Odessa and Krimisichuk.
The rabbi and his party will remain in Baltimore for two weeks. He was welcomed to Maryland by Major Thomas G. McNicholas, who represented Governor Ritchie. The rabbi, through an interpreter, expressed his appreciation of the reception and sympathy shown him in this country since his arrival two months ago.

Among those who came to the house to welcome him were Representatives J. Charles Linthicum and Vincent L. Palmisano, Howard W. Jackson, former Mayor; Judge Philip F. Sykes of the Orphans’ Court, and State Senator Harry O. Levin. Charles F. Goob, Chief Engineer of Baltimore, represented Mayor Broening.

Mayor to Receive Him

Delegations from New York and Philadelphia, where the rabbi has spoken, accompanied him. A municipal reception is planned for Thursday at the City Hall, where he will be received by Mayor Broening.

It was a representative crowd that gathered at the station and on the grassy slopes leading up to Mount Royal Avenue to welcome the rabbi and his party. A pressing throng gathered around Rabbi Schneerson when he descended from the train. After a few minutes, during which time he was officially welcomed to the city, the long procession of automobiles drove out Mount Royal Avenue to the rabbi’s temporary residence. Here, a new throng had gathered to greet him.

Meets Jewish Delegations

Finally he was led to his private quarters on the second floor, where he begun meeting delegations of Jews and where he shortly afterward started his work.
Throughout the remainder of the afternoon and evening, however, hundreds of Jews called to see the rabbi.