Over the year’s late British businessman Zalman Jaffe and his wife Roselyn spent every Shavuos in Crown Heights, where they merited an especially close relationship with the Rebbe and Rebbetzin. At the Rebbe’s request Mr. Jaffe faithfully recorded these visits, which were published annually as My Encounters with the Rebbe and savored by Chabad readers everywhere.
The Avner Institute presents an excerpt from Shavuos 30 years ago, where the Jaffes, this time accompanied by five of their grandchildren, share experiences ranging from farbrengens to private audiences. To learn more about Mr. Jaffe’s diaries Click Here
Kabalas HaTorah Besimcha U'bipnimius!
Mr. Jaffe relates in his diary June 1981:
We now had our very own apartment on Eastern Parkway—next door, but one next to 770. Under these circumstances, we would have felt rather inconsiderate or even mean, if we would not have taken some of our grandchildren with us. So when we booked our flight, we also arranged to be accompanied by five of our grandchildren. They were Leah, Chanah, and Golda Jaffe, and Golda Rivkah and Pinchas Lew.
When we arrived at 770 for mincha [afternoon prayer], the months seemed to roll away. It was as it we had never been away from 770. I was delighted to see that the Rebbe had not changed. Thank G-d he looked fit and well—and as youthful as ever.
Roselyn and I, and our grandchildren, had the pleasure of greeting the Rebbe as he marched briskly up the steps and into 770. He welcomed us all with a lovely smile and touched his hat to Roselyn—the Rebbe is always the perfect gentleman!
Over the Shavuos period there were the usual farbrengens. I managed to obtain my usual seat. Pinchas had the best place: right at the top table—sorry—under the top table, exactly by the Rebbe's feet. This was extremely cheeky, but there were dozens of similar young cheeky boys underneath the top table. They were all crawling along and pushing in order to get even closer to the Rebbe.
During the farbrengen the air conditioning was not working. The Rebbe made a strong complaint. He mentioned that it had broken down twice, consecutively, already. He did not want this to happen again, because if it failed once more, it would become a chazoka, a tradition which cannot be changed.
Our yechidus was on Thursday evening. There were 155 appointments for that night, with a total of over 600 people involved. For example, our own appointment included seven of us—Roselyn and I, plus our five grandchildren.
Someone asked me in what language the Rebbe conversed with me in yechidus. I replied, “In English.”
“Hum,” this fellow grunted, “a grosser kavod (a big honor).”
It was two a.m. when Roselyn and I, and our grandchildren, entered the Rebbe's study for our yechidus.
The Rebbe raised himself from his chair and said, “Shalom Aleichem.” He greeted us with his usual wonderful and friendly smile. It is over twenty-two years since we first met the Rebbe, and thank G-d we have always received a most remarkable, heartwarming welcome, coupled with a most extraordinary happy and cheerful countenance. We shall forever be grateful to the Rebbe and always treasure his unique friendship.
I confided to the Rebbe that one of my grandchildren had told me that it was not very clever of me to write My Encounter with the Rebbe, because it was a gift from Hashem. I suggested that there should be a moral somewhere. The Rebbe agreed that if one had received a special gift from Hashem, then one needed to make full use of this—otherwise it was wasted.
The Rebbe was pleased that we now had a permanent apartment in Crown Heights. I commented that we would always feel guilty if we came alone—another wasted gift! So we had brought five grandchildren with us. The Rebbe observed that this was very good, “but next time bring seven!”
This was a bit of a shock. I looked at Roselyn. I thought she would have “gone through the floor,” but she was still standing there. She had paled a little, but in general she was bearing up well.
I complained that the grandchildren had all made certain promises—to help with the household chores, to go to bed early, and so on—and that they had not kept all these promises. The Rebbe smiled broadly and declared, “They still had two days to repent [before we left for home].” The Rebbe maintained that it was a very good thing to bring grandchildren to New York with us.
When the Rebbe inquired about my foot, I gave a demonstration with a skip, a hop and a dance—although I was wearing only sandals and not shoes. The Rebbe laughed. (I had sustained an accident to my Achilles tendon last year.)
I intimated to the Rebbe that I did not have a very good seat at the last farbrengen. I had Rabbi J.J. [Hecht] on one side—but a solid steel pillar on the other side. Although J.J. did give way a little, occasionally, I certainly could not budge the steel girder. It was tough.
The Rebbe commented, “A Chossid has to shvitz [sweat].”
The Rebbe continued with a nice smile, “I am a practical man, and I am looking for business for the Children's Sefer Torah.”
He then wished to know which of my grandchildren now present came under that category. I replied that Chanah would be bas mitzvah this coming Yud Bais Tammuz [the Previous Rebbe’s birthday and liberation from prison]. The Rebbe considered this a very nice time to celebrate a bas mitzvah. I told the Rebbe that Hindy's birthday was on Yud Shevat--also a memorable date [yahrzeit of the Previous Rebbe and day current Rebbe assumed leadership]!
(After the yechidus, I got into a terrible row with my granddaughters, who insisted that the Rebbe's question was directed to them, and that I had no right to have answered on their behalf. After all, it was also their yechidus—and so on, and so forth—ad infinitum and ad nauseam!)
The Rebbe confirmed that he was very happy with my Diary. He liked the binding, the format, and the printing, and mainly the Rebbe liked all the good things about which I wrote. He inquired whether I had given my usual talk at the Kinus Hatorah, and was delighted when I replied in the affirmative.
The Rebbe advised me to describe fully the farbrengen in my Diary. It would help our grandchildren to understand what happened much more easily. "Next year would be book number thirteen—a big year.”
I demurred. “I have nothing much to write.”
The Rebbe stated, “You are repeating yourself, just like last year.”
I said that last year I went to the brissim [circumcision ceremonies] of the Russian boys and to the Ladies' Convention, so that was additional things to write about.
The Rebbe again reiterated that I had grumbled last year and yet I had written more than ever. “So do not worry. You will have plenty to write.”
I then declared that it was getting late and that I did not want to keep the Rebbe. The Rebbe said that I was not keeping him.
The Rebbe was surprised that he had not heard from me about a certain unhappy affair. I replied that I did not wish to write unpleasant news, especially when it, thank G-d, did not affect us—and that there are always plenty of good things about which to write. The Rebbe laughed and said, “All I get is tzurus, bad news. I don't get too much good news.”
The Rebbe turned again to Roselyn and said, “And bring a special suit when you come for Simchas Torah. No, better, come for Succoth so that you [Roselyn] can have a week's rest before Simchas Torah.”
I referred to a certain gentleman who came to 770 for Simchas Torah. He put on a brand new kapote [cloak] in honor of the occasion. He jumped over benches, boys jumped and trod over him—in a very short time, he was wearing a very old and shabby kapote.
The Rebbe inquired of Roselyn about our apartment. Roselyn replied that it was adequate, but that it was in a wonderful position—right next door to the Rebbe.
“But,” the Rebbe insisted, “is it a good apartment?”
Roselyn maintained that it was very good for a couple of weeks a year. I reminded the Rebbe that at Succoth time, I was upstairs in the succah, while Roselyn was downstairs in the basement. The Rebbe repeated what he had said last year—that this basement apartment should be Roselyn's "Seventh Heaven.”
We discussed some other matters, and then I thanked the Rebbe for everything, especially his lovely welcome. The Rebbe interrupted and said, “No, no, I thank you, I thank you for coming to see me. It is my pleasure.”
The Rebbe asked us to give his regards to Avrohom and Susan, to Shmuel and Hindy, and to all our einelech [grandchildren] who had been left behind in England. Before we took our leave, the Rebbe handed everyone a dollar bill for shaliach mitzvah [charity].
We had been with the Rebbe for twenty minutes, and it was 2:30 a.m. when we left.
We were due to leave 770 at 5:30 p.m. I had asked the Rebbe whether we could see him after mincha to say farewell and receive another bracha [blessing] before our journey home. We made the usual arrangements. Roselyn would take all the children in the elevator to the second floor and then walk down the stairs to the Rebbe's waiting room.
Immediately after mincha, I followed closely behind the Rebbe to his waiting room. His secretary Leibel Groner shut the door behind us. I was gratified to see Roselyn and our five grandchildren waiting there.
I thanked the Rebbe for giving us this further privilege of seeing the Rebbe at this “mini-yechidus.”
The Rebbe said, “Faur gezunderhait [go in good health], and I should hear besuros tovos [good tidings]. Next time,” he added, with a twinkle in his eye, “don't print any lashon hara [gossip] about the pushing and shtupping. Continue to write good things.”
When I protested and said that my granddaughters push me around, the Rebbe commented, “They are alright, and that doesn't really matter.” The Rebbe said, "Grist [give regards] to your son and daughter and all the grandchildren.”
The Rebbe seemed to have realized that my granddaughters were still sore and annoyed with me about the main yechidus, because the Rebbe turned to each of them separately and gave everyone an individual bracha, mainly that they should have yiras shomayim [fear of Heaven], learn well, and be a lamdan [scholar]. The Rebbe again thanked us for coming to see him and hoped to see us again.
We then reluctantly took our leave of the Rebbe.