Last week was the 3rd of Tammuz, Yahrtziet of our Rebbe.
Here are 3 stories about our great leader.

The Rebbe

Turning Disappointment
Into Food for the Hungry


When Shirley Chisholm was elected in 1968 to represent New York's 12th District, which included her own neighborhood of Crown Heights, she made headlines as the first African-American woman elected to Congress. However, she soon found her congressional career stunted at its start by race-related politics. Bowing to political pressures from southern politicians, the House's leadership assigned Chisholm to the Agriculture Committee, a place where it was assumed that she could have little influence.

At the time, some in the New York media questioned the appointment and expressed doubt as to Chisholm's ability to affect the legislative agenda.

The less-than-open-arms welcome caused Chisholm, who died in 2005, an understandable amount of frustration, according to Anna V. Jefferson, a former state senator from New York's 22nd District.

She was interested in taking care of the issues in the inner city. That committee had no power "She was trying to help poor people," explained Jefferson. "She was interested in taking care of the issues in the inner city. That committee had no power" to do that.

But a phone call from the Rebbe's secretariat – a simple "the Lubavitcher Rebbe wants to see you" – changed her attitude, says David Luchins, who was a senior advisor to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) and chairs the political science department at Touro College.

According to Luchins, a 20-year veteran of Moynihan's staff who in 1983 heard the story first-hand from Chisholm at a party celebrating her retirement from Congress, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, told the congresswoman, "I know you're very upset."

Chisholm, who lived a block away from the Rebbe and had met him once before when she was running for Congress and searching for endorsements, told the Rebbe, "I am upset. I'm insulted. What should I do?"

The Rebbe, who had declined to endorse Chisholm's candidacy and that of her predecessors because of his policy of non-involvement in political campaigns, turned the situation around.

"What a blessing G‑d has given you!" the Rebbe told Chisholm "What a blessing G‑d has given you!" the Rebbe told Chisholm, urging her to take advantage of the Divine Providence that put her in a position to do something about food supplies. "This country has so much surplus food, and there are so many hungry people. You can use this gift that G‑d gave you to feed hungry people. Find a creative way to do it."

Tasked with this charge, Chisholm happened to meet U.S. Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas) on her first day in Washington. The farm-state politician – and later Senate Majority Leader and presidential candidate – was looking for help in shoring up the economic plight of Midwestern farmers who were losing money on their crops.

"Americans started purchasing [produce] from Cuba," explained Jefferson, who was a close associate of Chisholm's. "So as a result of the imports, the farmers were poor."

David Luchins (Photo: Jewish Educational Media)
According to Luchins, Dole told Chisholm: "Our farmers have all this extra food, we don't know what to do with it." Chisholm thought, "One second. The Rabbi!"

During the next few years, and for the duration of the 1970s, Chisholm worked to expand the national Food Stamp Program, which allowed poor Americans to buy subsidized food. Finally, in 1973, the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act mandated that Food Stamps be made available in every jurisdiction in the United States.

It was in the creation of the WIC program, however, that Chisholm really made her mark. The 1969 White House Conference on Food Nutrition and Health recommended targeted food supplements for high-risk pregnant women and their infants. Chisholm, in the House, and Dole, in the Senate, championed the idea and got Congress to approve a two-year pilot project that would be administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA, though, fought the measure. It finally took a federal lawsuit to get the USDA to relent, and today more than 8 million people receive WIC benefits each month, according to U.S. government figures.

Chisholm "was responsible for the food program," said Vernell Alburary, former president of the Shirley Chisholm Institute for Children. "She was a strong, determined individual."

But Chisholm herself gave ultimate credit to the Rebbe, said Luchins.

She "said at her retirement party, 'I owe this because a Rabbi who is an optimist taught me that what you may think is a challenge is a gift from G‑d,'" said Luchins in an interview he gave to Jewish Educational Media. "'And if poor babies,' I heard her say this, 'If poor babies have milk, and poor children have food, it's because this Rabbi in Crown Heights had vision.'"

The Blow



How to describe the feeling of a parent who has just been told that a malignant tumor is destroying the brain of his ten-year-old child? The doctor had suggested several possible approaches to treatment, but had been brutally honest about the chances. All that Eli and Sharon could realistically expect was a few more painful months of life for their Menasheh.

And then, in the wee hours of a sleepless night, Eli thought of the Rebbe. Both he and Sharon were raised in non-observant homes, but in recent years they had found themselves becoming more involved in Torah learning and practice. It all began at a lecture they had attended at the Chabad House in their Paris neighborhood, where they had first been exposed to the Rebbe's teachings. For the first time in their lives, the faith of their fathers was presented to them as a vibrant guide to a life of meaning and fulfillment. While Eli and Sharon would scarcely describe themselves as "religious," much less as "Chassidim," they developed a deep respect for the Rebbe and began keeping several basic mitzvot such as Shabbat, kashrut, and tefillin.

Eli had heard the stories of those who had been helped by the Rebbe's blessing. Now he grasped at the idea of writing to the Rebbe as his only hope in a sea of despair. If only the Rebbe would promise a speedy recovery for Menasheh!

A few days later, the telephone rang in Eli's home. It was the Rebbe's secretary, who reported that the Rebbe's reply to their note was, "I will mention it at the gravesite."

"What does that mean?" asked Eli.

"It means that the Rebbe will pray for you at the gravesite of his father-in-law, the Previous Rebbe, where he prays for all of those who send in requests for a blessing."

"But I wanted the Rebbe's blessing... I wanted him to tell us that Menasheh will recover..."

"But the Rebbe has given you his blessing. This is his standard reply to such requests. Chassidim regard a promise from the Rebbe to pray for them as a guarantee that everything will be all right."

Eli replaced the receiver somewhat reassured. Still, he had expected something more definitive, more committal. But if the Rebbe's secretary says that he has received the Rebbe's blessing...

Meanwhile, Menasheh's condition continued to deteriorate. The treatments brought much pain and little relief. Soon he had to be hospitalized. Helplessly, the parents watched the life drain out of their child.

Eli called the Rebbe's office. "Look, I know that we already received the Rebbe's blessing, but it doesn't seem to be helping. Menasheh has gone from bad to worse. The doctors say that every day is a miracle... Perhaps we can ask again? Maybe the Rebbe can say something more definite..." The secretary agreed to "send in" a note.

The reply came within an hour, but it was the same reply as before-"I will mention it at the gravesite." And the doctors had nothing good to report.

The following evening, Eli entered his darkened apartment for two hours of fitful rest. Sharon was at the hospital. Soon he would replace her, so that she could catch some sleep. He sank into the sofa, kicked off his shoes, and scanned the disordered room. Medical papers on the table, clothes strewn about, half-finished meals. Then his eyes lighted on the Rebbe's picture, hanging above the mantelpiece. The Rebbe was smiling.

A tide of rage rose in him. Menasheh lies dying in the hospital, and you're smiling! Unthinkingly, Eli reached for one of the shoes on the floor. There was a crash, a spray of shattering glass, and the picture tumbled to the floor...

Two years later, on a Sunday morning in Brooklyn, a father and son stood in line together with thousands of others waiting to see the Rebbe. As the long line snaked past the Rebbe, the Rebbe handed each a dollar bill to give in his name to charity, uttered a few words of blessing, and turned to the next in line. In this manner, the Rebbe devoted a few seconds to each of the tens of thousands who came from all over the world to meet him.

The Rebbe gave the father a dollar, and then turned to the child. "So this is Menasheh," he said with a smile. "How is he?" It took Eli several seconds to respond. How does the Rebbe know them? This was their first time in New York, and except for those two brief letters back then... "He is fine, thank G‑d," Eli finally managed, "a complete recovery. The doctors said it was a miracle. Thanks to the Rebbe's blessing."

"Thank G‑d, thank G‑d," said the Rebbe; and then, quietly: "I still feel the blow..."

A Jew In Brooklyn


 

 

Chaim Tzvi Schwartz was not a Lubavitcher Chassid — before the war, his family had been followers of the Rebbe of Munkatch — but a certain day in 1946 found him seeking the counsel of the then Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Scheersohn. Rabbi Schwartz was a young refugee who had lost his entire family, and the only world he knew, in the Holocaust, and was at a loss as to what to do with his life.

"Speak to my son-in-law, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson," said the Rebbe, and gave Chaim his blessing.

The Rebbe's son-in-law suggested that the young rabbi take up residence in a certain city in Brazil.

"Brazil?"

"There are a great number of Jewish refugees settling in Brazil. Due to the tribulations that our people have undergone in the last few years, most of them lack even the most basic rudiments of a Jewish education. Already, many have fallen prey to assimilation and intermarriage. It is the responsibility of every Torah-educated Jew to prevent the spiritual dissolution of our people. Go to Brazil and help build a community of knowledgeable and observant Jews."

Chaim accepted the mission, moved to Brazil, and founded a Jewish day school there. Much effort and toil were necessary to find the funding, train the teachers, and convince the parents of the importance of granting their children a Jewish education. Over the years, Rabbi Schwartz saw his school flourish and grow, and its graduates form the nucleus of a community of proud, committed Jews.

Rabbi Schwartz maintained an infrequent but warm contact with the man who had sent him to Brazil, who had meanwhile assumed the leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement following the passing of his father-in-law in 1950. From time to time, Rabbi Schwartz would seek the Rebbe's advice on various challenges and decisions he faced in the course of his work.

It was on one such occasion, several years after his arrival in Brazil, that Rabbi Schwartz truly realized the scope of the Rebbe's concern for his people. Rabbi Schwartz related this incident to a Lubavitcher Chassid he met on a flight from Brazil to New York:

One day-he began his tale-I received a call from the parents of one of the children in my school, requesting a meeting. While this was a fairly common request, the anxiety in the voices on the phone told me that this was no simple matter. I invited them to meet with me in my home that evening.

"This does not concern our son," began the father, after they had settled in my study, "who is doing wonderfully in your school, but our eldest daughter, who grew up here before you came. As you know, we are not very observant, but it is important to us that our children should retain their identity as Jews. This is why we send our son to you, despite the fact that your school is considerably more 'religious' than ourselves.

"To get to the point, our daughter has informed us that she has fallen in love with a non-Jew and that they intend to marry. We have tried everything to dissuade her, but our arguments, appeals, threats and tears have all been to no avail. She now refuses to discuss the matter with us at all and has moved out of our home. Rabbi! You are our only hope! Perhaps you can reach her, perhaps you can impress upon her the gravity of the betrayal against her people, her parents and her own identity in what she intends to do!"

"Would she agree to meet with me?" I asked.

"If she knew that we had spoken to you, she'd refuse."

"Then I'll go speak to her on my own."

I took her address from her parents and rang her bell that very evening. She was visibly annoyed to learn of my mission, but too well-mannered not to invite me in. We ended up speaking for several hours. She listened politely and promised to consider everything I said, but I came away with the feeling that I had had little effect on her decision.

For several days I pondered the matter, trying to think of what might possibly be done to prevent the loss of a Jewish soul. Then I thought of my last resort — the Rebbe. I called the Rebbe's secretary, Rabbi Hodakov, related to him the entire affair, and asked for the Rebbe's advice as to what might be done. A few minutes later the phone rang. "The Rebbe says to tell the young woman," said Rabbi Hodakov, "that there is a Jew in Brooklyn who cannot sleep at night because she intends to marry a non-Jew."

The unexpected reply confused me, and I failed to understand what Rabbi Hodakov was saying. "Who is this Jew?" I blurted out.

Then I heard the Rebbe's voice on the other extension: "His name is Mendel Schneerson."

I slowly returned the receiver to its cradle, more confused than ever. Could I possibly do what the Rebbe suggested? Why, she'll slam the door in my face! After agonizing all night, I decided to carry out the Rebbe's instructions to the letter. After all, the fate of a Jewish soul was at stake, and what did I have to lose, except for my pride?

Early the next morning I was at her door. "Listen," she said before I could utter a word, "whom I marry is my own affair, and no else's. I respect rabbis and men of faith, so I heard you out when I should have shown you the door. Please go away and stop bothering me."

"There is one more thing I need to say to you," said I.

"Then say it, and go."

"There is a Jew in Brooklyn who cannot sleep at night because you intend to marry a non-Jew."

"That's what you came to tell me?!" she said, incredulous, and proceeded to the close the door.

Midway she stopped. "Who is this Jew?"

"A great Jewish leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe," I replied. "The Rebbe is greatly concerned about the material and spiritual well-being of every Jew, and agonizes over every soul that is lost to its people."

"What does he look like? Do you have a picture of him?"

"I should have a picture somewhere. I'll go and get it for you."

To my surprise, she didn't object, and indicated assent with a mute nod. I rushed home and nearly turned the house upside down in search of a photograph of the Rebbe. I finally found a photo in a desk drawer and hurried back to the young woman's apartment.

One look at the Rebbe's likeness and her face turned pale. "Yes, it's him," she whispered.

"All week long," she explained, "this man has been appearing in my dreams and imploring me not to abandon my people. I told myself that I was conjuring up an image of a Jewish sage and putting those words in his mouth as a reaction to what you and my parents have been saying to me. But no, it was no conjecture. I have never met this man in my life, seen a picture of him, or even heard of him. But this is he-this is the man I have been seeing in my dreams..."

A Subway Conversation
With a Kohen

Yossi Marcus

It was a day like any other. I was standing outside the synagogue of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, enjoying a break from my Talmud studies. I had chosen a good time, for just at that moment the Rebbe had emerged from his office and was now making his way to his car. His path, however, was obstructed by a young man who looked out of place in the crowd of Chassidim.

The young man was tall, not older than twenty-five. A small kipah sat awkwardly on his curly hair, which extended several inches longer than the short hair of the chasidic young men congregating on the sidewalk.

The young man seemed to hesitate at first but then said a few words to the Rebbe. I heard neither the question nor the Rebbe's response, but I saw the Rebbe point to the sky and make a circle with his finger in the air. The young man seemed dissatisfied and spoke another few words to the Rebbe. This time the Rebbe smiled and pointed to the young man's heart as he responded. With that the conversation ended. The young man stood motionless and watched as the Rebbe got in to his car and was driven off down Eastern Parkway.

After a few dazed moments, the young man turned and entered the synagogue. I followed him. He sat down on one of the wooden benches, put his head in his hands and began to weep. This went on for about ten minutes, after which he composed himself, read a few psalms from a prayer book, then walked up to the Ark and kissed the curtain.

As he left the building, I found myself following him out into the street and down the stairs into the subway station. As we paid for our fares I said to him, "So where're you going?" He said he didn't know. I said, "Good, so we're going to the same place."

We sat quietly at first. The train rumbled on past Nostrand Avenue station. As we neared Franklin Avenue, I finally said it.

"So what happened there?"

"There?"

"Yes. What did you say, and what did he answer?"

"Oh, you mean the Rebbe?"

"Yes."

He paused for a moment then said: "I asked the Rebbe where G‑d was. And he said, 'Everywhere.'"

"Then what did you say?"

"I said, 'I'm serious.'"

"You said, 'I'm serious'?"

"Well, I didn't really mean to say it. It kind of blurted out of me. Even with my minimal contact with Chasidic Rebbes, I was pretty sure I had said the wrong thing. I was surprised when he smiled. I think he liked my response. The sincerity, perhaps. That's when he said, 'G‑d is inside you, right there.' And he pointed to my heart."

It dawned on me that we had not introduced ourselves. I guess it had just dawned on him as well, since he put out a shaky hand and said: "I'm Danny. Danny Cohen."

"I'm Israel. Israel Lipkind. So you're a Kohen, I guess."

"Yes. A descendant of Aaron the High Priest, who loved peace and pursued it. I'm from Long Beach."

Ah, on Long Island."

"No, Long Beach, California."

"Oh. A California boy."

"Yes. And I'm engaged."

"Mazal Tov!"

"Hold the congratulations. She's not Jewish."

I held the congratulations. And my breath. I guess you could say I lived a pretty sheltered life back then. It wasn't everyday that I bumped into Jews who plan to intermarry.

We sat quietly again as a crowd joined us at Grand Army Plaza. An older couple entered the train, gave us a curious once-over and sat down at a safe distance.

The Kohen resumed his tale and I listened in silence.

"At first it meant nothing to me — the fact that she was not a Jew. Judaism did not play a major role in my parents' home. We had the Passover seder with the Manischewitz wine and the Maxwell House Haggadah, my sister had a book by Martin Buber, we read The Chosen and there was a lithograph in our living room with three rabbis engaged in Talmudic debate who hovered over us as we sat on the vinyl black couch and watched Ponch and Jon chase bad guys down the 101.

"I was surprised that my parents cared. My mother cried for days. My father wouldn't speak to me. Their reaction gave me pause, but I intended to go ahead despite them.

"A few months ago, Lisa — that's my fiancee — took me to the church where we're supposed to get married. That's when something clicked. I tried to tell myself, 'It's just a building. What's the big deal if this guy's wearing a long robe and his necklace is not exactly a Star of David?'

"As we left the church, my heart felt empty. I said nothing and we went home.

"The next day, Lisa and I were out shopping. Across the street was a Jewish bookstore and I suggested we go in. A man with a long beard approached me with what looked like two black boxes with black straps attached to them. 'Shalom,' he said, 'would you like to put on tefilin?' I wasn't sure what that meant but how could I refuse this saintly man? I said, 'Sure', and waited for instructions. There were none. He simply rolled up my left sleeve and began tying the straps around them. He told me to say the Shema — which I knew from a Jewish day camp I attended one summer — and to speak to G‑d.

"That threw me. Though I had been to a synagogue a number of times, I had never considered actually talking to G‑d. It felt silly. I wasn't sure why. Perhaps I didn't think He would listen or that He existed at all.

"The man started taking off the straps from my arm and head. He turned to Lisa and said, 'So are you two married?' I said, 'No, soon'. He said, 'Mazal Tov' and I didn't bother to tell him.

"That night I couldn't sleep. In the morning I went back to the bookstore. The man was there saying the Shema with another customer. I waited. Then it was my turn and I put on the tefilin again. And when he was taking them off I asked him questions and he gave me some answers and I asked more questions and he gave me more answers and we began to study together and I learned more about Judaism in one day than I had learned my entire life.

"It still wasn't enough. My brain got it but it was not translating. The information was stalled at the intellectual level. When I mentioned that I would be going to New York for a week, the man told me I must visit the Rebbe in Brooklyn. And so I did."

The older couple left us at Bowling Green, not without a side-long glance on their way out.

I straightened the kipah on the Kohen's head and he resumed:

"When I came here today, I saw the Rebbe. It was my first time seeing him but I knew it was him. I had the sense that this was my chance to ask — that if I didn't ask now I never would. And so I asked. I asked him where G‑d was and he said everywhere. But that didn't satisfy me. I said, 'I'm serious.' I really need to know. This is personal. I'm not doing a research paper here on where G‑d might be. I need to know. I'm serious.

"And he smiled, as if he were expecting, hoping I would say that. And that's when he pointed at my heart and said: Right there. G‑d is inside you.

"Simple words. Anyone could have said it. But the Rebbe believed it. And because he believed it I believed it. I thought to myself, 'So this is what it's like to look into the eyes of a Moses and to catch a glimpse of your higher self in the reflection.' I felt like a small flame dancing up and joining the larger fire.

"At that moment the gap was bridged. My head and heart were one and I made my decision."

MOSHIACH MATTERS

A noted rabbi came to the Rebbe and asked for an explanation of the purpose of the Moshiach campaign. The Rebbe did not reply and shifted the conversation to other issues, among them a free-loan fund which the other Rabbi managed. "Do you know so-and-so?" the Rebbe asked. "Would you give him a loan?" "Of course," the other Rabbi answered. "I didn't know that he was in financial difficulty. I'd be happy to help him." 

"Would you extend the loan until Moshiach comes?" The other Rabbi hesitated. "My goal in the Moshiach campaign," the Rebbe continued, "is to eliminate this hesitation."