My Encounter with the Rebbe records the oral histories of individuals who interacted with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory, through videotaped first-person interviews. Please help us save these precious testimonies!
HMS: Seeing is believing
Wed, May 22, 2013
The accident happened in the early morning of Tisha B’Av, 1982. As I opened my closet door to get ready to go to synagogue, I noticed an old stepladder and a carpet sweeper stashed there temporarily. We were in the midst of construction, and the plumber was running new pipes through my closet up to the attic. I stepped on the rickety ladder to take a look, and I slipped. The handle of the carpet sweeper went straight into my right eye. I screamed in excruciating pain. My wife, Sharon, came running. We realized the severity of the injury: I might, G-d forbid, have lost the vision in my eye.
We called our friend, Dr. Goldstein, an ophthalmologist in Long Beach, and fortunately we caught him before he left his house. “Meet me in my office at 8 o’clock, and I’ll have a look.”
Sharon drove us over, and after he examined me, Dr. Goldstein said, “Well, I’ve got good news – it seems like your globe, the eyeball, is intact, but it’s up in your head, and you injured the lower part of your eye muscle which controls the movement of your eyeball. I have to get you to an expert right away. A world renowned expert in eye muscles, Dr. Steven Feldon, happens to be at USC here in Los Angeles. We’ll get him to examine you.”
On the spot, Dr. Goldstein called Dr. Feldon at the Doheny Eye Institute. It normally takes months to get an appointment, and we heard him say, “No, no, no, this is an emergency. Dr. Feldon has to examine Dr. Lovitch today!”
Finally they said, “Okay, Okay, send him down.”
Dr. Feldon examined me, and after they took some tests, he said: “You have a major injury, and there’s nothing I can do for you right now. I want you to wear a patch over your eye, and come back in a month. We’ll check you again and see if there’s any improvement. We’ll see then what we have to do.”
HMS: Taking up the Rebbe’s time
Tue, May 14, 2013
In the 1950s, when I was a young man, I befriended Rabbi Moses Rosen, who was the chief rabbi of Romania. Whenever he came to New York, he prayed in my shul, which was the Fifth Avenue Synagogue, and when we discovered that we both spoke French, it brought us together. We became good friends, our wives became friends, and it was a great friendship for friendship’s sake, as the saying goes.
On one visit to the US, Rabbi Rosen said to me, “I’m going to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, would you mind coming along with me?” I said, “Mind? I’d love to!”
His appointment was for one o’clock in the morning, but nevertheless, when we arrived at the Lubavitch Headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway, the street outside was crowded with people – dozens of chasidim were waiting there. When they saw Rabbi Rosen, they recognized him because he was famous – an Orthodox rabbi holding the position of chief rabbi in a Communist country was something very unusual – and they immediately made room for him.
Although we were early for our appointment, we were invited right in, and the Rebbe came out of his office and hugged Rabbi Rosen, whom he had known from before. Rabbi Rosen introduced me as a young rabbi from Belgium, a student of Rav Amiel, the spiritual leader of the Shomre Hadas Jewish Community of Antwerp. And the Rebbe started talking French to me, telling me that he had read Rav Amiel’s books, and he mentioned the Darchei Moshe in particular. He also asked me specific questions about the Jewish community in Antwerp, which he knew about very well.
When the Rebbe spoke with Rabbi Rosen, he also knew all the Romanian communities by name. Romania is a large country, with many towns with Jewish populations. I can’t remember their names, but the Rebbe remembered everything. He not only knew the names of the communities, but also exactly how many Jews lived where. And he wanted to know more. He asked Rabbi Rosen if there’s kosher food, if there are Jewish schools, whether the Jews want to leave Romania to go to Israel, or if they want to immigrate to America. He was very involved in this and interested in every aspect of Jewish life in Romania.
HMS: “Thank you for your blessing”
Wed, May 08, 2013
I was a yeshiva student on shlichus in Safed, Israel, in 1984. In addition to our own full-time studies, we were involved in many outreach activities across the city, including running a kindergarten program and giving Torah classes.
On several occasions, the Rebbe had asked that his chasidim report on their outreach activities once a month, preferably at the beginning of each month, on Rosh Chodesh,. Usually, I would be the one to write the report of our activities on behalf of the yeshiva administration.
Writing a report to the Rebbe is no simple matter. Several days before, I would begin to to consider what I would report and how I would write it. And you don’t just dash off a letter to the Rebbe in half an hour. You need to find a block of several hours in order to prepare yourself, and then to write it properly. And then you need to decide what to write first, what deserves to be mentioned, and what to leave out. Of course, we used a typewriter – we didn’t have computers in those days.
The month of Adar had been hectic, with lots of activities. Suddenly we were in Nissan, and I still hadn’t written the report for Adar. There was so much to report: Purim celebrations, preparations for Pesach, many different outreach projects.
HMS: “Call your sister”
Wed, May 01, 2013
In the 1970’s, I used to come from Gibraltar to learn in yeshiva in New York. With no direct flights between the two cities, I would always travel through England. On one occasion in 1979, while I was on a layover in London, I decided to call “770” from the airport. There were many hijackings in those days, so I requested the Rebbe’s bracha to arrive safely.
Usually, it took me quite a few tries to get through to the Rebbe’s office, but this time I got through right away. Rabbi Binyomin Klein picked up the phone. I explained that I was in London on the way to the yeshiva and that I wanted the Rebbe’s bracha for my trip. He responded, “Call me in exactly twenty-five minutes.”
I did as I was told, and exactly twenty-five minutes later I called back. Rabbi Klein told me that the Rebbe wished me a safe flight, and he also inquired how my sister was doing.
I had not seen my sister for a couple of days, but I assumed she was fine. So I told Rabbi Klein, “She’s okay. Tell the Rebbe she’s fine.” “No,” said Rabbi Klein, “the Rebbe wants to know how she is right now. Call your sister.”
I hung up and I tried to call my sister, but there was no answer in her house. I called my parents next, but there was no answer there either. Just then my flight was being announced. I took my luggage, boarded the plane and I totally forgot about my sister and the phone call.
When I got to New York, my first stop was 770 to inform Rabbi Klein that I had arrived safely.
He told me to wait, as he wanted to tell the Rebbe that I had arrived. He went into the Rebbe, and I remember waiting quite a few minutes until he finally came out. He said, “You know, the Rebbe is really concerned about your sister; you haven’t told him how she’s doing.” There was a touch of irritation in Rabbi Klein’s voice and I was a little bit alarmed that I had forgotten. I ran out and immediately placed a call to my sister’s house, but again, I could not get through.
Thu, Apr 25, 2013
I don’t remember how old I was, maybe thirteen years old, when I caught a very bad case of bronchitis. There was a danger of pneumonia and my parents and grandparents were terrified. I guess in Europe, if someone coughed, it meant tuberculosis or worse, and they were beside themselves.
I did have a terrible cough and it took a very long time for it to get better. I don’t remember this part so clearly, but I do remember we went from one doctor to another and I was given one antibiotic after another. Nothing seemed to work.
All the coughing made me hoarse – first a little, then very, very hoarse. It became harder and harder for me to speak, until one day I stopped speaking altogether.
We went to all kinds of doctors who had all kinds of theories, but the bottom line was that I could not talk and they could not help. Sometimes when I think back, I wonder: Perhaps it was psychological?
And then my parents took me to the Rebbe. We went in as a family, with my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, squeezing into the room until you couldn’t fit a pin in! Everybody received a blessing and then the Rebbe said, “All of you please go out, I want to speak to her alone.”
I was astonished and stunned that everybody had to go out and that I was going to have a private audience with the Rebbe. I remember being in such awe of him.
As soon as everyone left I remember feeling completely comfortable and calm, as if I was there with my own grandfather. And he spoke with me as if we were on the same level.
Recent Interview – Mr. Yankel Shiffman
Mon, Apr 22, 2013
A few weeks ago, we interviewed Mr. Yankel Shiffman in our studio in New York.
Mr. Shiffman currently lives in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. When Yankel was only 15 years old, his father became very ill. The doctors said that he didn’t have much time to live. So together with his father, mother and grandmother, they went to the Rebbe for a bracha and advice. Yankel stood in the back of the room while the Rebbe wished the family well. As they were walking out of the room, the Rebbe asked if Yankel could stay in for a few minutes to talk. The Rebbe then told him, that according to nature, his father wasn’t supposed to live and there will be a time when he will be depressed, but as a Jew, even when things get tough, he must always believe in G-d. The Rebbe then pulled out a Gemorah Brochos and together, they learned line by line, the story of Chizkiya on his deathbed. The Rebbe then told him to learn the Gemorah together with his father.
He learned the Gemorah with his father a few times and a couple of months later his father passed away. It was only then, did Yankel realize why the Rebbe learned the Gemorah with him. Those few minutes, Yankel told us, kept him going even in the darkest of times. We heard about this story because Yankel was visiting the Ohel asking the Rebbe for a bracha because of a difficult situation he is currently going through. A very powerful story.
HMS: “This is how I feel your pain”
Wed, Apr 17, 2013
Three or four months after I started studying in kollel, the rabbinical seminary where young married men go to study for a year or two, I was asked to see Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Aizik Hodakov, who was the head of the kollel and the Rebbe’s chief secretary. Rabbi Hodakov told me that he had a special mission for me that would take priority over everything else I was doing, even over my studies.
The mission involved helping a young, seventeen year-old girl who was experiencing great emotional difficulties with teenage issues – rebelliousness, religious confusion, her home situation – the typical things that trouble teenagers. In her case though, these problems were quite severe. The Rebbe had taken an extraordinary personal interest in helping this girl through this stage in her life, and I was recruited to do what needed to be done.
For three or four months, I spent fifty percent of my time working on this issue. I didn’t do a single thing without consulting Rabbi Hodakov, who in turn would consult with the Rebbe and relay the Rebbe’s instructions how to deal with each particular situation.
This young girl often wrote to the Rebbe directly, and when the Rebbe responded, I was instructed to discuss his response with her. What I want to describe is one particular exchange that was absolutely extraordinary.
My Encounter Studio Reaches 50 Interviews!
Mon, Apr 15, 2013
With much gratitude to Hashem, the My Encounter with the Rebbe team is proud to announce that they have hit the milestone of 50 interviews conducted in our studio in the heart of Crown Heights! A special thanks to Haysha and Bassie Deitsch of Crown Heights for graciously donating the studio space. These testimonies would simply not have been recorded but for their generosity.
Interviews conducted in-studio feature a significantly reduced cost-per-interview, allowing us to conduct more critical interviews at a faster pace. Individuals from various backgrounds have been coming through the studio to share their encounters with the Rebbe – a number of them, many of them over the age of 80!
HMS: The Story Behind Tofutti
Thu, Apr 11, 2013
In the late 1970s, I asked the Rebbe for a bracha to open a kosher restaurant, Mintz’s Buffet, on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. At the time there was nothing glatt kosher there. They only had “kosher style.” The only real kosher place was Meal Mart on the West Side, and aside from that, there was nowhere an observant Jew could eat.
When I first opened and people saw the glatt kosher sign and then saw that I was wearing a kippa, they said, “Young man, you’re wasting your time and money in this place. You belong on the Lower East Side.” But I said, “I appreciate your interest and advice but the success of the business depends on G-d.” dairy
The restaurant became a huge success. I did a lot of take-out and a lot of catering. People would often ask me for ice cream, to which I would reply, “The food is fleishig, so in the same meal we can’t have ice cream.” They said, “Okay, then we’ll buy our own ice cream.”
That’s when the seeds were planted in my head. I started to do research and finally decided to make non-dairy parve ice cream which I could sell with a fleishig meal. I read an article about tofu. I didn’t even know what tofu was at the time, and I went to Chinatown to buy it.
I started experimenting with it but at first I had little success and whatever I made, I had to throw out. During this time, whenever I met with the Rebbe I would mention what I was doing, and he would say to me, “You have to have faith. If you have faith in G-d, you can do wonders.” So I kept trying.
‘My Encounter’ Catches Up with Israeli President
Wed, Jul 18, 2012
Forty-six years after Israel’s current President, Mr. Shimon Peres, met the Rebbe in a private audience at 770, he spoke about it on the record for the first time, sharing previously-unknown details about their conversations and correspondence.
It has long been known that the Rebbe received Peres for an audience in 770 during January of 1970, but it was largely unknown that his first meeting with the Rebbe took place four years earlier, in 1966.
Prior to interviewing JEM’s My Encounter with the Rebbe team conducted several months of research in New York and Israel. After learning about the two audiences, the team studied whatever details were available, uncovered photos of Mr. Peres’ at 770, as well as correspondence between the Rebbe and Peres.
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