Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who was 770’s First Official Photographer and How Did the Rebbe Relate To Him?

“On one occasion, the Rebbe mentioned photographer Yitzchak Berez while in conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. The Prime Minister turned to the Rebbe and said, "He takes pictures of me in Israel all the time!"

-From a Students diary

Who was the first official photographer in 770? How did find his way to 770? I would like to present the first photographer in 770 and how the Rebbe related to him. Also included is an interesting picture of the Rebbe (Part 46 in the series)

In the later years, photographers snapping shots of the Rebbe became a routine fixture in 770. In fact, however, there was initially much opposition to the practice, as related below.

Yitzchak Berez, the first individual to regularly photograph the Rebbe, was born in Poland, and then made “aliya” (immigrated) to Israel in 1947. His photographs are well known, with a portfolio including a famous photograph of Ben Gurion announcing the founding of the State of Israel, and several photos of the Adolf Eichmann trial.

Mr. Berez relates:

In 1971, Rabbi Krinsky invited my son and me to a farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) with the Rebbe in 770. When I arrived at 770, the room was filled to capacity with hundreds of Chassidim, waiting for the Rebbe to arrive. One of the Chassidim told me that the Rebbe normally entered the shul from the door located at the rear of the room. I immediately proceeded there to wait for the Rebbe.

After a short while, I heard a great commotion. The Chassidim were saying, “Der Rebbe gayt (the Rebbe is coming),” and 770 became silent. I prepared my camera and took my first picture of the Rebbe as soon as he came in.

Some people in 770 were upset by my brazenness and began to scream, “Who gave you permission to take a picture of the Rebbe?" Several bachurim attempted to take my camera away! I was nervous, as I did not know anybody in the room, and I searched for the easiest route to leave

In the middle of this episode, it grew still around me. I looked up and saw the Rebbe calling me up to his place to make a l’chaim (Chassidic toast). The audience made room for me to clamber to the Rebbe’s place. When I got to the Rebbe, he asked in Yiddish, “Where is this person from?”

“He is from Israel,” someone answered.

The Rebbe then said to me in Hebrew, “Nu, if a Jew comes from Eretz Yisroel he must say l'chaim!” The Rebbe poured for me a glass and instructed me to make a blessing.

“Perhaps we can speak in Yiddish?” asked the Rebbe. “This way, everyone will understand?”

“Yes,” I replied.

"What happened over there?" he asked, referring to the pushing by the door.

“The Chassidim were upset that I took pictures of the Rebbe.”

“Nu, and then what happened?” As if to say, that was no big deal.

Then the Rebbe told me, “Beginning today, you can take pictures of me from all sides, whenever you want and however you want!”

“Thank you very much!” I exclaimed.

After everyone heard this, no one bothered me any more regarding my photography of the Rebbe. I used this opportunity to take as many pictures of the Rebbe as I could, because I was unsure whether the Rebbe’s grant applied to all occasions or only to this farbrengen. I took altogether 170 pictures at the farbrengen!

At one point, the Rebbe turned to me with a big smile and said, “I think it is enough for today. Come another time and you'll have a chance to take more pictures!”

From then on, I often came to 770 and photographed the Rebbe. I normally gave the best photographs to the Rebbe’s secretaries, to pass on to the Rebbe, and sold the rest of the pictures.

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007

"Zalman Shazar believes that a person can be both a President and a Chassid"

“Zalman Shazar believes that a person can be both a President and a Chassid, and that the Chassid needs the Rebbe. This is Shazar's real greatness. Despite his high stature, he demonstrated the Rebbe-Chassid relationship with pride”

-Elie Wiesel

The following article was written in Maariv in 1966 by Professor Elie Wiesel. It addresses the controversy surrounding President Shazar's visit to the Rebbe.Many believed that the Presidents high position should have made it that the Rebbe visit him, and not the other way around. And interesting picture of the Rebbe (part 52 in the series)

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

Imagine President Linden Johnson showing up in the home of a famous composer or artist. Is there anyone that would lessen their respect for him and his position as president? Absolutely not. On the contrary. People would appreciate that he puts aside all political interests and power to visit a friend. He would be hailed a fabulous, dedicated and real leader.

I really don't understand what people want from President Shazar. In what way did he sin? And against whom? President Shazar goes to buy books in Oxford University or on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and a whole brigade of press photographers follow him. But all of a sudden, for him to go to the Rebbe is forbidden?!

I have said before, I would have preferred the Rebbe go to the President. However, the President did not invite the Rebbe. The reason for that is because, "a Chassid which tires his Rebbe is not a Chassid."

Zalman Shazar believes that a person can be both a President and a Chassid, and that the Chassid needs the Rebbe. This is Shazar's real greatness. Despite his high stature, he demonstrated the Rebbe-Chassid relationship with pride.

In my opinion, the people that are trying to make a fence between the two souls are doing a terrible thing.

In those words, Elie Wiesel gave the critics the background they needed to better understand President Shazar's trip. And more than that, he showed Shazar's greatness in that he wasn't too impressed with his own high position, and still found it important to visit the Rebbe.

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007

The Rebbe "Focus More on Positive Jewish Issues"

"'I Remember standing in front of the Rebbe I felt that the Rebbe knew everything about me and new what was going through my mind"

-Ron Peker

I would like to present an encounter that Rabbi Michael Schudrich the Chief Rabbi of Poland had with the Rebbe in the winter of 1990, also included is interesting picture of the Rebbe (part 58 in the series) Special thanks to the Chief Rabbi for sharing his encounter with me and to Rabbi Mordechai Kirschenbaum.

"In 1990 during the fall of communism, when Judaism began to revive again in Poland. At the time I was in contact with Rabbi Moshe Herson, a Shliach of the Rebbe in Morristown N.J. who was in touch with Ronald Lauder and David Chase; both very active in their efforts to revive Judaism in Poland. It was during one of these meetings that Rabbi Herson mentioned that they were going to go for Sunday dollars to the Rebbe; he asked me if I wanted to join, and I readily agreed.

At that time I had written a portfolio, about different projects that I wanted to start in Poland; including all the financing needed. It was late in the week and I figured maybe I could send the portfolio to the Rebbe (I took out the finances, and I also knew that the amounts of mail the Rebbe was getting at the time was enormous, and was therefore hoping the Rebbe would at least have a look at by Sunday), which Rabbi Herson agreed to do for me.

I gave him the portfolio on Thursday; he brought it with him to 770 on Friday to give in to the Rebbe's office. When I was writing up the portfolio I also included a list of topics that I had lectured on in the past, amongst them was a lecture on the topic of "what Jews really think about J.C.?" I didn't think it was appropriate to send it in to the Rebbe, so I took it out and reprinted it to go in to the Rebbe.

On Sunday when I came by The Rebbe for dollars, The Rebbe looked at me, gave me a dollar and said: "Bracha V 'Hatzlacha."

As I was walking away, I was called back, and The Rebbe told me:

"This that you were giving shiurim in these topics about "Oseh Haaish" -it's not something you should give shiurim on. You should focus more on the positive -Jewish issues...." Needless to say I was speechless as I left 770.

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007

Monday, October 22, 2007

IDF Commander: "Rebbe why don't you move to Israel"?

"Are you worried,” asked the officer, moving to a new topic, “about living as a Jew here in Brooklyn, in a non-Jewish environment?"

-Lt. General Ron Pekar

The following is a Yechidus with the Rebbe that ranking officer in the IDF, Lt. General Ron Pekar, who served in the air force. He transcribed the audience in his private diary. Also included is an interesting picture of the Rebbe (Part 34 in the series)

"Battle weary and depressed by the constant fighting, the officer expressed his wish that there be no more combat with enemies. Being realistic, however, and acknowledging that it was highly plausible that there would more conflict, he asked the Rebbe’s opinion on whether there would be another war, or whether perhaps the Arabs had been so discouraged, during the Yom Kippur War, that they would never muster the confidence to fight again.

“At the moment,” came the reply, “the Arabs are merely unable to attack. However, given time to recover and regroup, they will surely seek opportunities to instigate conflict. To further crush their forces and minimize the chance of future clashes, the army should have advanced to Damascus and Cairo when it had the chance. Although the government did not approve, the army should have continued anyway–ignoring the lack of permission from the government. It was a crucial and perilous moment, and we should have continued pressing the main cities.

"Why didn't Arik Sharon continue going into Cairo?” the Rebbe exclaimed. “He was just one hundred kilometers from there! Excusing the decision, the government claims that there was insufficient fuel to reach there. However, this is very difficult to accept; the Egyptians seemed to have no shortage of fuel, and if Sharon, as conqueror, had decided to use that fuel, no one could prevent him.

"Have you ever flown over Cairo?" asked the Rebbe, staring inquisitively at the officer.

“Yes,” the officer responded, proceeding to describe with minute detail the layout of the city.

"In that case,” challenged the Rebbe, “why didn't you take the necessary planes, fly there, and conquer the city yourself? Coming in with those planes, you would have easily surprised them and effortlessly taken control. If that had been accomplished, with Cairo in our hands for even a very short period, the present situation would be completely different. "

Unable to persuade the Rebbe to accept his position, the military officer asked about something which had been troubling him for a long time. In a devastating fashion, his close friend Zurik was recently murdered during a terrorist attack, just two years after Zurik’s losing his brother Udi in the latest war. It was inconceivable that one family should deserve to bear so much anguish, losing two members in a short span. How could G-d have permitted this? Where was He?

Distressed at the tale of sorrow and unable to control his tears, the Rebbe began to weep. He finally replied, “Indeed, the story you tell me is frightening and upsetting; we are tempted, when hearing such an account, to question G-d and conclude that He does not really dictate what transpires in this world. We must, however, remember that we mortals cannot aspire to understand the intricacies of His divine wisdom.

“Having studied Torah all my life, at seventy-three years old and still studying and adding to my Torah knowledge, I feel that I have attained a level of wisdom. Nonetheless, the extent of my wisdom is ridiculous when compared to G-d’s. Therefore, we must not come to preposterous conclusions based on our judgment of events around us. Although there is much we do not comprehend, often in retrospect we come to an appreciation of the righteousness of His decisions. Perhaps time will demonstrate the virtue of Udi’s and Zurik’s premature deaths; perchance, many Jewish fatalities were avoided as a result of these casualties.”

"Are you worried,” asked the officer, moving to a new topic, “about living as a Jew here in Brooklyn, in a non-Jewish environment?"

"As a soldier you are surely aware,” answered the Rebbe, “that during the time of combat there is no chance to reflect on your fear. You must fight with courage and sincerity, regardless of how you feel. Similarly, when I am immersed in my work, even if the extraneous conditions are unfriendly, I have faith and trust in G-d, because He alone controls what takes place here on earth, and is looking out for the interests of every Jew."

“But,” persisted the Israeli, “why don't you move to Israel? Your revered stature and dynamic manner will certainly influence the political and religious scene. Aware that many people questioned you regarding this, I have heard several different replies, but, the replies are unsatisfactory, and for me the question remains.”

The Rebbe answered, "Living in Israel and enduring the responsibilities that would come with it, my influence on world Jewry would be restricted. Inevitably, my controversial position on issues would limit my capability of communicating with Jews, both outside of Israel, in Moscow, for example, and in Israel; in fact, even this conversation would be impossible in Tel Aviv. I find this place the most conducive for my work."

Good Shabbos.


Copyright © Menachem Kirschenbaum 2007