Stories about the Rebbe

An eye that sees


Though I [Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin] was just a teenager, I'll never forget the day I was sitting at ULY (United Lubavitch Yeshiva, in Brooklyn) when my English teacher, George Landberg, put down his chalk and interrupted the lecture. He was a fine teacher. Usually he liked to talk to us about literary things like onomatopoeia in poems or characters in fiction. But that day he told us an amazing story that was not fiction, but pure fact. A real miracle of tefillin had occurred to real people…him and his tragically blind son, Daniel.
Daniel Landberg was born in 1973 with normal eyesight. New York State law at that time required the eyes of all newborns to be treated, as a prophylactic measure against infection, with a one percent silver nitrate solution while still in the hospital. An inexperienced nurse's assistant, on duty in the delivery room that day, picked up a stick of silver nitrate intended for cleaning the area of the umbilical cord, a medication seventy times stronger than the one percent intended for ophthalmologic use and highly corrosive, and tragically used it on Daniel's eyes. As a result, both the infant's eyes were burned by the chemical solution, his skin scarred, and his eyelashes gone. Worst of all, he was blinded.


For three weeks, Daniel remained in the hospital, receiving antibiotic treatments and getting tests from one specialist after another in an attempt to cure him. None of the doctors believed Daniel's sight would return. To make matters worse, each was more callous than the next in their treatment of the frantic parents. Why was this couple even bothering? It was clear their child would forever e blind.


A window of hope opened when Dr. Albert Hornblass took up their case, though not quite in the way the Landbergs expected. Dr. Hornblass was an ophthalmologist who, two years earlier, had returned from Vietnam, was an expert in chemical burns and, importantly, an observant Jew.(1) Hornblass applied himself to Daniel's case with a prognosis for healing that others had ignored. He wrote to the Center for Disease Control in Washington and obtained their permission to treat Daniel with steroids that had not yet been approved.(2)


He also took a more personal interest in Daniel's healing, suggesting more spiritual, Jewish channels of healing. In particular, he shared with the couple how a healing from G-d had occurred for him, personally. His own father had suffered a heart attack, and the prognosis was very, very bad. A religious man, he wrote to the Lubvitcher Rebbe asking for a berachah. He received one, and within a week, his father was cured. Might not the Landbergs do the same?


Fortunately, the means to implement the doctor's suggestion were close at hand. George already had a connection to Lubavitch, having worked at ULY for ten years, and his bosf and principal, Rabbi Tenenbaum, had personal access to the Rebbe. Landberg asked Tenenbaum to approach the Rebbe. Tenenbaum agreed and in no time was face-to-face with the Rebbe in private audience, beseeching him on Daniel's behalf.


The Rebbe gave his blessing


One week later, the Landbergs got a call from Dr. Hornblass in the hospital, "I'm witnessing a miracle," he told them, "I'm watching all the conjunctiva and stain ooze out of Daniel's eyes. I dare say I'm confident his vision will return!" Indeed, within a short time, Daniel was no longer blind.


The Rebbe didn't exact any payment or thanks, but Rabbi Tenenbaum pursued Landberg. "Since the Rebbe won't take money, you can show your gratitude by committing to do a major mitzvah on a regular basis, " he asserted. " I suggest that you wrap tefillin every day!"


A first, Landberg was stunned; he didn't have the mitzvah of tefillin anywhere on his personal spiritual radar, so it was unfamiliar to him.
But he was a good father, and he saw an inkling of what Tenenbaum was after. No matter how skeptical he was, he observed. The road to medically ensure Daniel's newfound sight was a long and often hard one, but through it all, every day, George Landberg laid tefillin.


Daniel was only six months old when he developed cysts on his cornea, a condition that would require surgery. But Dr. Hornblass had strong feelings against it. The child had so many steroids in his system, anesthesia would be risky. He delayed the surgery. Then one night, little Daniel rubbed his eyes in his sleep and broke the cysts. NO surgery was necessary.


As a preschooler, Daniel, like all small children, touched everything around him, including the floor and his eyes. As a result, the Landbergs were constantly at the eye doctor for treatment of eye infections, some so severe they oozed pus.


When Daniel was ten, a different sort of cyst developed on his eyelid that would affect the shape of his cornea. Surgery was required. When the surgeons went to remove the cyst, they also removed a great deal of scar tissue on the underside of his eyelid, further relieving the pressure on his cornea and improving his vision.


Years passed. Today Daniel is in his forties. His vision isn't perfect, but it is amazingly good, and the only physical damage remaining is a scar on the cornea of his right eye. He drives a car, coaches high school football, and has a child of his own. What's more, Daniel lays tefillin every day and is passing his connection to the mitzvah to his young son. He knows, without questions, that health and tefillin go together.


"We do feel it was all miraculous," Rita Landberg, Daniel's mother, concludes. There was this special berachah. It was miraculous that we found Dr. Hornblass and had a connection to Rabbi Tenenbaum, and that he, in turn, got a private audience with the Rebbe. Tefillin will always be intertwined with Daniel's wellbeing. There is no doubt his health is directly connected to the mitzvah."


I can attest that what Rita Landberg says is true. The mitzvah of tefillin is directly caught up with her family's health and wellbeing. I heard at school one day that George Landberg had fallen down the stairs at home and injured himself. Had he put on tefillin that day? No. He'd skipped it! He went right back up the stairs and put it on. Never again did he miss a day.


Thus, it was my English fiction teacher who taught me a Torah fact. When we observe the mtizvos assiduously, carefully, and without fail, we ourselves bring down enough power to transform darkness, quite literally, into light.


1. For another story in this email series with Dr Hornglass that occurred several decades later, click here.
2. The entire story of Daniel's amazing recovery wad documented by Dr. Hornglass in 1976 in the New York State Journal of Medicine; it is archived only at the NYU Health Sciences Library, reference cited as: New York State Journal of Medicine. Hornblass; October, 1976; Issue II;"Sever silver nitrate ocular damage: in newborn nursery"; pp. I,875-8. [Many state statutes requiring treating newborns' eyes with 1% silver nitrate have been changed in favor of less caustic treatments with fewer chances for error. Silver nitrate as treatment was a law in place for a century prior; cases like Daniel's over the course of many years influenced this change in medical policy.]




Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from "Guardian of Israel: Miracle Stories of Tefillin and Mezuzah" by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin

Rabbi Dovber Junik


Adapted from an article by Rabbi Michoel Seligson

Rabbi DovBer Junik, fondly referred to by locals as ‘Reb Berl,’ was born in Priluki, Russia in 1927 on the 6th of Menachem Av to Rabbi Naftoli and Mrs. Golda Ita Junik, descendents of the holy Rabbis: Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, Reb Pinchas of Koritz, and Reb Menachem Nochum of Chernobyl.

Under the influence of the Rabbi of the city, Rabbi Hillel Solozuvski, Reb Naftoli became acquainted with Chabad Chassidus. Reb Naftoli was a Yireh Shomayim (G-d fearing Jew) and did not send his children to government schools but educated them with self sacrifice in an underground cheder.

Reb Berl obtained his background in Torah and Chassidus in Communist Russia, at a time when Chassidic life and studying Torah were conducted underground and fraught with danger.

His father was vigilant to give Berl and his siblings an authentic Chassidic chinuch (education).

At the outbreak of World War II, the family escaped to Tashkent, Uzbekistan from Moscow, and in 1944, the 17-year-old Berl went to Samarkand to study in the underground Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, learning and receiving guidance from the elder Chassidim and Mashpiim (Chassidic mentors).

Leaving Russia

In 1946, the chance to leave Russia for Poland became a reality. The Jews from Russia traveled to Poland under the guise of being Polish citizens who had escaped during the war and were returning to their homeland.

Polish passports generally contained the citizen’s name with a list of the individual’s children on the side, without identifying photos. The people organizing the mass exit from Russia needed to separate some families and add their children to other families in order that the number of children that appeared on the passports should be consistent with the number of children present.

Reb Berl Junik merited to be listed on the passport of the Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s mother, and be identified as her child. This marked the beginning of an extraordinary relationship with Bais HoRav, the Rebbe’s family.

The train left Lvov, situated on the Russian-Polish border, on Rosh Chodesh Kislev 1946. The Rebbetzin did not utter a word during the entire trip. Reb Berl who helped the Rebbetzin with her luggage, later recalled: “There was great fear, and no one dared to mention the name ‘Schneerson’. Somehow, I found out that she was the Rebbetzin Chana, the mother of the Previous Rebbe’s son-in-law.”

In addition to the Rebbetzin and Reb Berl, a large group of Chassidim traveled to Poking, Germany where a refugee camp had been set up. Reb Berl continued his studies at Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Poking. The Rebbetzin was known to some of the Chassidim, who arranged a private room for her and tried to assist her in every way possible. After a short period of time, the Rebbetzin left for France in 1947 where she met her son – later to become the Rebbe - who had come to Paris to greet her and escort her to the United States.

A Schochet in Dublin, Ireland

The Previous Rebbe suggested that Reb Berl study shechita (the skill and laws of ritual slaughter to make animals and fowl kosher for consumption) under the auspices of Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin.

Reb Berl then found work as a shochet in Dublin, Ireland. From there the meat was sent to Israel.

After a year, Reb Berl was instructed by the Previous Rebbe to go to Brunoy, France where he studied for the next three years.

Berl Junik.jpgIn the winter of 1950, the Previous Rebbe advised the Yeshiva faculty that the bochurim should come to the United States. Reb Berl traveled to the U.S. with his friends, Yitzchok Pewzner, who would later become his brother-in-law, Sholom Morosow, and Gedalia Korf, may he be live and be well. The bochurim arrived on Rosh Chodesh Shvat.

Reb Berl arrives to the Previous Rebbe

On the 4th of Shvat, the four bochurim in addition to Dovid Raskin who had just arrived from Paris merited to enter Yechidus (private audience) with the Previous Rebbe.

Reb Berl recalled the Yechidus. “When we entered the Rebbe’s room, his secretary, Rabbi Rotshtein, introduced us to the Rebbe. The Rebbe looked at each of us. I entered last and was introduced as Berl Junik. The Rebbe continued looking at me. Rabbi Rotshtein stated that I was Naftoli’s, referring to my father.

The Rebbe acknowledged with a nod of his head that he knew who I was and greeted us with ‘Boruch Boachem Lsholom’, blessed be your arrival. He continued, ‘Today, we see each other and from time to time we will talk.’ He then inquired about our learning seder (schedule).

Less than a week later on Shabbos, the tenth of Shvat, the Previous Rebbe was nistalek (passed on).

Connection to the Rebbe

Reb Berl became connected and given over to the Rebbe and on the 7th of Iyar for the first time had his first Yechidus with him. The Rebbe put on his gartel (traditional belt typically worn when praying, and by a Rebbe while receiving a chasid in a private audience) and accepted Reb Berl in Yechidus. Reb Berl asked the Rebbe to write the details of the Yechidus for him. The Rebbe suggested that Reb Berl write the Yechidus and that he would edit it.

After the Rebbe assumed the nesius (acceptance of the mantle of leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement) and started wearing a kapota (traditional clothing worn by chassidim on shabbos) instead of a suit, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka gave the Rebbe’s suit to Reb Berl as a gift.

When the Rebbetzin Chana learned that Reb Berl had arrived in the United States, she invited him to her house. After that first visit, the Rebbetzin asked that Reb Berl continue visiting her. At times, when the Rebbe would leave the shul on Friday night after Maariv, he would ask Reb Berl to visit his mother. Reb Berl continued this tradition and visited the Rebbetzin every Friday night.

A Ben Bayis by the Rebbe

From then on, Reb Berl became a ben bayis, a member of Rebbetzin Chana’s household and also that of the Rebbe’s.

The Rebbetzin once made a comment to Reb Berl’s children that she considered them trustworthy, in the merit of the trust the Rebbe has in Reb Berl.

During one summer in the early years of the Rebbe’s nesius, Reb Berl was invited by the Rebbetzin to eat supper every night at the Rebbe’s house. One evening when he came for the meal, he overheard the Rebbe say, “I will go to my room, and you give him to eat. If he knows that I am here, he will not want to eat.”

After his marriage, Reb Berl visited the Rebbetzin on Shabbos with his family, on a steady basis. His children visited the Rebbetzin as well and were in contact with her by phone.

In the beginning of the Rebbe’s nesius, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka requested that Reb Berl set up the Rebbe’s table for the Farbrengen. Over the course of the following decades, Reb Berl fulfilled this responsibility faithfully.

Prior to every Farbrengen, he would enter the Rebbe’s room, and the Rebbe would give him the kos (cup) on which the Rebbe would later make kiddush and say L’chaim. Reb Berl merited to be the Rebbe’s Saar Hamashkim, the butler who poured the wine for the Rebbe, at the Farbrengen. In later years, he passed this honor to Rabbi Mentlik, the Rosh Yeshiva (the leading professor) in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in 770. In 1988, when Rabbi Mentlik passed away, Reb Berl resumed this function.

Kiruvim from the Rebbe

Reb Berl merited many private and rare kiruvim (warm encounters) from the Rebbe. The Rebbe once told him, “My father-in-law took you on his shoulders, and all the bochurim could be envious of you.”

During the famous Farbrengen (gathering of souls) of Parshas Shemini in 1952, which Chassidim refer to it as the “Shabbos HaGadol Farbrengen”, the Rebbe Farbrenged the whole afternoon and spoke to many people privately. The Rebbe also spoke to Reb Berl for about fifteen minutes.

Reportedly, the Rebbe called Reb Berl over and held onto his beard as he spoke to him. The Rebbe then said about him, “Such yungeleit will bring Moshiach.”

Once, the Rebbe asked Reb Berl how long it had been since he had seen his parents.

Reb Berl said he hadn’t seen them in five years. The Rebbe said that the time had come to visit them. The Rebbe arranged the travel documents to Montreal, where they were living, and asked if Reb Berl had bought a gift for his parents. He hadn’t, and the Rebbe commented, “Such a batlonus (oversight), I didn’t expect from you.” The Rebbe gave Reb Berl money for the trip and for the gifts, and stressed that the gifts should be purchased before he reached his parents. He added, “You are probably traveling at night. Make sure that you book a sleeper on the train in order to rest during the trip.”

In 1953 before Shavuos, the Rebbe asked Reb Berl if he was buying a suit for Yom Tov. Reb Berl answered that he was not planning to. The Rebbe told him that it is was worthwhile to do so and gave him money for a suit. After purchasing the suit, he returned to the Rebbe, who asked if he was wearing the new suit. The Rebbe wanted to see how the suit looked on him and asked him to turn around and then commented, “It seems to me that it is slightly short.”

The kiruvim that Reb Berl experienced were expressed more strongly when he reached the time for shidduchim (marriage). The Rebbe acted towards him as a father to a son, becoming involved and concerned in every detail. On one occasion the Rebbe said, “We need to take in consideration that the bochurim, Berl Junik, Sholom Morosow, and Dovid Raskin were born and bred in Russia and cannot adjust to the American lifestyle.” It was clear that the Rebbe intended to represent their parents and involve himself in their shidduchim.

In Yechidus (private audiences with the Rebbe) , the Rebbe urged and encouraged Reb Berl to become actively involved in shidduchim (finding a suitable wife).

Engagement and Wedding

Before Pesach 1954, Reb Berl was engaged to Ms. Fruma Pewzner, the daughter of the Gaon (Torah genius), Chossid, and man of self-sacrifice, Reb Avrohom Boruch. The Rebbe blessed the chosson and kallah (Groom and Bride) with many blessings, and instructed that the chosson and his father both receive aliyos to the Torah.

The wedding was set for the 9th of Sivan. The Rebbe was the mesader kiddushin and officiated at the chupa.

Rebbetzin Chana at wedding.jpgRebbetzin Chana attended the wedding and sat at the Kallah’s head table.

Reb Berl recalled, “When I became engaged, the Rebbetzin told me that she knew the kallah. I later verified that in 1947 my wife was in France and studied at a school there. When the Rebbetzin was leaving for the United States, the school prepared a long speech and asked my wife to deliver this farewell address in honor of the Rebbetzin at a gathering in the Butman family home.

Rebbetzin Chana participated at my tenoim (engagement party) and the wedding. When she arrived at the wedding, she asked to be photographed together with the Kallah and then by herself. This is the famous picture that we have today of the Rebbetzin. In one of my chupa pictures, the Rebbe is standing and listening to the reading of the Kesuba.

I placed this picture in a frame and gave it to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, and she placed it in the Rebbe’s study at home.

The Rebbe gave me a gift of eight handkerchiefs as a ‘preparation for the wedding’.” In the following years, Reb Berl had eight children. Prior to their weddings, each one of them received one of the handkerchiefs as “a preparation for the wedding”.

After the wedding, Reb Berl worked as a shochet for a year. He was offered a position in another state but turned it down because he did not want to leave the Rebbe.

Reb Berl recalled, “At one point, we were having difficulty with parnossa (work). I already had three children. The Rebbe advised me to consult a wealthy individual.

He also asked how long I had been out of work. I answered that it had been three weeks. The Rebbe wanted to know what I earned each week. He then gave me a sum of money equal to three weeks of work. After that, the situation improved.”

Entrusted with situations in the Rebbe’s household

On the 13th of Iyar 1952, the bitter news was relayed to Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka (the Rebbe’s wife) that the Rebbe’s brother Reb Yisroel Arye Leib had been nifter (passed away).

Rebbetzin Chana (the Rebbe’s mother) was not told, and the Rebbe requested that no one should share the news with her. During the course of the shiva, the Rebbe mentioned to Reb Berl that he did not want his mother to realize that he was wearing sneakers instead of shoes (part of the signs of mourning, one is not to wear any leather shoes). Reb Berl covered the Rebbe’s sneakers with black shoe polish to disguise them. Reb Berl was also given additional tasks by the Rebbe to help him keep the sad news from his mother, the Rebbetzin.

On Shabbos Shuva, the 6th of Tishrei (October 1964), Rebbetzin Chana became ill. The Rebbe’s visited his mother that morning. He instructed Reb Berl to keep a constant watch on the Rebbetzin and to update him regularly on her condition. The Rebbe also instructed Reb Berl to stay in contact with Dr. Seligson, the Rebbe’s household’s physician.

After the histalkus (passing) of the Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe entrusted Reb Berl with the task of securing his father’s seforim (holy books) and bringing them to the Rebbe’s house. Some time after the shiva, the Rebbe gave Reb Berl specific items of furniture which the Rebbetzin had used, adding, “She surely will have a nachas ruach (pleasure) that you are using it.”

During the passage of many years, Reb Berl made his parnossa (career) in the jewelry business and in his free time studied and taught public classes of Torah.

This was in addition to conducting a Tanya shiur (class) during the work day.

Reb Berl was always available to give his time and energy for any sacred matter.

This is how he came to teach the bochurim (yeshiva students) shechita in a special course under the auspices of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch in 1956. Many Shluchim were trained in this class over the next forty years. In the evenings, after a long and full work day, he stood with complete patience and commitment and trained groups of students to be come shochtim.

In the early 1960’s, Reb Berl and Rabbi Elye Gross spent their afternoons on the first days Sukkos at 770, dispatching and directing people to doing Mivtza Lulav. They tried to reach as many people as possible and bring them the mitzva of making the brocho on the lulav and esrog.

In 1967, when the Rebbe initiated the Tefillin campaign, Reb Berl would travel to a hospital every Sunday to put on Tefillin with the patients there.

In 1982, Reb Berl was asked by Rabbi Hodakov (the Rebbe’s chief secretary) to get involved with the bachelors who were not studying in yeshiva any longer, set up a learning time with them, and mentor them. Reb Berl was, B”H, successful, and this shiur is still bearing fruit today.

In his work attending to the Rebbe’s practical requirements, he participated in the construction of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin’s living quarters in the library, built a sukkah near the Rebbe’s room, and more.

In 1990, the Rebbe appointed Reb Berl a member of the board of Machne Israel and of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.

It is noteworthy to mention that although Reb Berl merited being close to Bais HoRav (the Rebbe’s household) and serving there, it did not in any way affect his Chassidishkeit. Reb Berl never stood out more than other Chassidim. He remained a discrete person of utmost humility, who never utilized his position for himself in any way.

In 2005, on the 9th of Iyar, after suffering an illness, with his family members at his side, Reb Berl returned his soul to her creator. He was buried near the Ohel facing the resting place of the Rebbetzin Chana.

Reb Berl and his wife, may she live and be well, Mrs. Fruma Junik, a woman of valor and a communal person in her own right, merited to build a beautiful family of sons and daughters, who are following the ways of their ancestors and involved in the Rebbe’s matters.

Reb Berl left behind his wife, Mrs. Fruma Junik; his sons: Reb Yosef Yitzchok and Reb Avrohom Boruch, of Crown Heights; his daughter, Mrs. Nechama Itkin and her husband, Reb Yosef Yitzchok, Shluchim in Pittsburgh, PA; his sons, Reb Shimshon and Reb Meir Shlomo of Crown Heights; his son, Reb Menachem, Shliach in England; his son, Reb Dovid, of Crown Heights; his daughter Mrs. Chana Spielman; and grandchildren.

Berl Junik.jpgYehi Zichro Boruch! May Reb Berl, a legendary Chossid known for his total commitment to the Rebbe’s needs, without any expression of self-esteem or pride, his devotion to dedicating his free time to spreading the Rebbe’s Mivtzoim, and his refined character traits, serve as the inspiration to commit ourselves to the Rebbe’s directives, to fulfill them spiritually and physically, and to relate to our fellow Jews in a refined manner in speech and deed.

We should speedily witness, “The ones who dwell in the dust will awaken and rejoice,” with Reb Berl among them.

A Jew is a Jew

 by Chana Weisberg

Almost thirty years ago, my father was asked to lecture to a group of Jewish and non-Jewish students in a city that neighbored Buffalo, New York. Although he was reluctant to accept, he was urged to do so by the Lubavitcher Rebbe who directed him to focus his lecture on charity, as charity is a universal responsibility of both Jews and gentiles.

He began his lecture by telling the following story:

During the time of the Tosfot Yom Tov [Rabbi Yom Tov Lipman Heller, Chief Rabbi of Prague and Cracow during the 17th century and author of a commentary on the Mishnah], there lived a wealthy individual who ostensibly never contributed to charity. After this miser died, the Chevra Kadisha [Jewish burial society] felt that he was unworthy of being interred next to any upright and respectable individual. They buried him in an area of the cemetery called hekdesh, where society's outcasts were buried.

A few days after the funeral, there was a tumult in Prague. Two prominent members of the community, the butcher and the baker, who had previously been extremely charitable and generous, suddenly stopped distributing their funds.

The poor people of the city, who had always relied on the benevolent pair for their sustenance, were in an uproar. Emotions ran so deep that the matter was finally brought before the Tosfot Yom Tov.

The Tosfot Yom Tov asked the butcher and baker why they had so suddenly stopped their acts of charity. In reply, they informed the Tosfot Yom Tov that they were not personally wealthy.

"We were only able to give so much charity because the 'miser' who died just a few days ago constantly supplied us with funds for charity. He strictly warned us, however, not to disclose from whence the money had originated, since he wanted the great merit of performing the mitzva anonymously. Now that he is gone, we no longer receive the funds, and are, unfortunately, unable to continue with this worthy work."

The Tosfot Yom Tov was so impressed by the modest behavior of this unassuming "miser" that in his own will he requested to be buried next to this humble man.

When my father completed his lecture, a participant from the audience, a priest, approached him and asked him to repeat the story. My father, about to return to his hotel, arranged a time to meet with the priest the following day. Thinking that the matter would be forgotten, my father was surprised when the priest actually arrived.

My father repeated the story for the priest but was astounded when, after concluding the story a second time, the priest seemed terribly disturbed and begged him to repeat it yet a third time.

Finally, the priest divulged the reason for his agitation. "Rabbi Schochet, that charitable man in the story was my ancestor."

Skeptically, my father calmed the young man saying that there was no connection between him and the story, which took place over 100 years ago. "Furthermore," he told him, "you are a gentile, while this man was a Jew."

The priest looked intently at my father and whispered, "Rabbi, now I have a story to tell you!"

He began by describing his background. He had grown up in the state of Tennessee. His father was a major in the U.S. Army during the Second World War. In Europe, his father had met a Jewish girl and fell in love with her. He brought her back home as his war bride, and no one knew of her Jewish background. A short time after their marriage, the couple was blessed with a child, who they devoutly raised in the Catholic Church. The child grew up and attended a seminary where he eventually trained to become a priest. In his early adulthood, the priest's mother died. On her deathbed, she disclosed her secret to her astonished son.

After reciting the Shema prayer, she confessed, "I want you to know that you are Jewish." She informed him of his heritage and told him that his great-grandfather was buried next to the well-known sage called the Tosfot Yom Tov. She then recounted, almost verbatim, the story that my father had told in his lecture.

At the time, the priest, who was unaware of this information, imagined that his mother was delirious. Although he felt uneasy about his mother's parting words, it was only a temporary, fleeting emotion. As he got on with his life, he soon for got the entire episode.

"Rabbi," cried the priest, in a state of utter emotional turmoil, you have just repeated this story, detail for detail! You have just reminded me of my mother's parting words, and I realize now that the story must be true, or it wouldn't be so well known. Yet, what am I to do? I am a reputable priest with a large congregation of devoted followers."

My father offered to assist him in any way. He emphasized to him, however, that according to Jewish law, he was indeed Jewish. He encouraged him to explore his heritage, and he put him in contact with people in his city who could guide him. With that, the newly-found Jew departed. My father then understood why the Rebbe had suggested the topic matter.

Rebbe pic 72.jpgHe had no further interaction with the man, and did not hear from him again. Several years ago, when my father was on a visit to Israel. A Jew with a beard and a kipa approached him at the Western Wall and wished him "Shalom Aleichem [ Peace unto you]!" My father, who didn't recognize the individual, was completely taken aback when the man exclaimed, "Don't you recognize me, Rabbi Schochet? I am the former priest whom you met in Buffalo."

The Previous Rebbe Sat Right There

This Monday is the 60th anniversary of the passing of the Previous Rebbe and the begining of the Rebbe's leadership.

Previous_Rebbe_laugh.jpg rebbe12-1.jpg

Here is a story with the Previous Rebbe, and the Rebbe.

Once, a Lubavitcher chasid, Rabbi Michoel Vishetzky, went to visit a Rabbi Rabinowitz in the rabbi's synagogue in the Bronx, New York. Rabbi Vishetzky was surprised when he noticed that Rabbi Rabinowitz sat at a corner of the table rather than the head of the table. "No one sits in that place," the elderly rabbi told Reb Michoel. When the rabbi noticed Reb Michoel's surprise, he began to tell him the following story.

"When I came to America, I was privileged to meet with the Previous Rebbe. I told him everything that had happened to me in Europe and asked him what I should do with my life. The Previous Rebbe said, 'Since you are a Torah scholar, you should look for a position as a community rabbi.'

"Soon after that, I was recommended for a position in this shul (synagogue), here in the Bronx. I asked the Previous Rebbe if I should take the job. The Previous Rebbe said, 'A shul is a shul, and so it's very suitable. But I don't like the shammas (sexton).'

"Why did the Rebbe mention the shammas? I wondered. The Previous Rebbe saw that I was confused and repeated, 'A shul is a shul, but I don't like the shammas.'

"Time passed. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until I found out that the shammas was not pleased with me. After the passing of the  shul's previous rabbi the shammas had assumed many responsibilities and had become the unofficial rabbi. He felt that I had pushed him aside and he began to cause trouble for me. Eventually the situation became  unbearable.

"When it became too much for me, I went to see the Rebbe, who had assumed the leadership after the passing of the Previous Rebbe on the tenth of Shevat, 1950. Before I even had a chance to open my mouth, the Rebbe said, 'My father-in-law said that a shul is a shul and he did not like the shammas. Continue to serve as rabbi in the Bronx. As for the antics of this shammas, he will soon need to worry about how long he will keep his job.'

"I was amazed by the Rebbe's words. When I had spoken with the Previous Rebbe, no one else had been in the room, and I had never discussed the matter with the present Rebbe.

"A few nights later I couldn't sleep. At daybreak I decided to go to shul a little earlier than usual. On my way, I was surprised to meet the president and manager also walking toward the shul. The manager pointed to a light in the windows of the shul. It looked suspicious. We quietly  opened the door and walked in. The shammas was holding the tzedaka boxes and emptying the money into his pockets. Needless to say, we fired him.

"The next few years passed peacefully. Then something even more incredible happened. The shul shared an adjoining wall with a butcher's shop. Business went very well for the butcher, and the shop soon became too small. He found a much larger shop, and sold the old shop to the shul as the congregation needed more space. After some friendly negotiations, a deal was struck. The whole transaction was conducted without a written contract.

"A few years later the butcher began to look for a storeroom. When he couldn't find one, he remembered that there was no official contract with the shul. Without any scruples, the butcher went to the shul management and asked them to give him his shop back. He hired a lawyer and was positive that the court would decide in his favor as there had been no written contract of sale.

"After a short court case, the shul board received a court order telling them to vacate the premises by a certain date. If they disobeyed, the police would be called in. The date was drawing near. I went to the Rebbe for a blessing.

"When I described the situation, the Rebbe said, 'My father-in-law told you clearly that a shul is a shul. Everything will turn out the way it should.'

"The night before the critical date, I had a dream which I will never forget. In the dream I went to the shul and I saw the Previous Rebbe sitting in the chair at the head of the table - the very same chair which I never let anyone sit in. Standing next to him was the Rebbe. He said, 'Don't worry. G-d will let everything turn out for the best.' He then looked toward the Previous Rebbe. 'The Rebbe told you that a shul is a shul. What do you have to worry about?'

"I stood there in astonishment. The Previous Rebbe was right there, even though he had passed away ten years ago. I was still marveling at this extraordinary sight when I woke up. I ran to shul as fast as I could. A crowd had gathered outside the shul and people were arguing with the policemen who had blocked the entrance. They had started to remove he furniture. Then something very dramatic happened.

"On a nearby street, in the butcher's large shop, a light fixture fell suddenly from the ceiling. The butcher was knocked unconscious. When he regained consciousness, his first words were, 'Please, stop emptying he shul.' When the police arrived, the butcher admitted that he had made false accusations against the shul. He had, indeed, received payment for the old shop.

"Now you understand why I don't let anyone sit in that chair. The image of the Previous Rebbe sitting there will be in front of my eyes forever," Rabbi Rabinowitz said as he finished telling his story.


Some 30 years ago, Rabbi Yitzchok Vorst, was just beginning his assignment as a Chabad representative in Amstelveen, Holland. Shortly before Passover, he received a phone call from Lubavitch Headquarters in Brooklyn. Rabbi Hodakov, the Rebbe's personal secretary, informed him that the Rebbe wants him to go to a certain small town and give shmura matza, the special matza hand-made from flour that was guarded against moisture, to the Jew that lived in that town. The young rabbi asked for the name of this Jew, whereupon he was informed that the Rebbe did not mention any names. Rabbi Hodakov assured him, though, that he would be able to locate him once he got to the town.

Rabbi Vorst attempted to explain that the town was many hours' drive from Amsterdam that he was busy making preparations for his first communal Seder in Holland and distributing matzos, and besides, he did not believe there were any Jews located in that town anyway. Rabbi Hodakov was adamant. The Rebbe said that he should leave tomorrow for this town. There was no choice.

The next morning Rabbi Vorst packed a lunch and spent the day driving to this secluded town. Once there he spent hours searching and inquiring for any Jews in the town, to no avail. He finally decided that the expedition was a total waste of time and went to fill his car with petrol for the return trip. The gas station attendant asked the rabbi what had brought him to town. Upon hearing his story the attendant replied that he believed that a worker at the local butcher shop was indeed Jewish.

With nothing to lose, Rabbi Vorst made his way to the shop. When he walked in, the man behind the counter took one look at him and fainted. When he revived he told Rabbi Vorst the following story:

His mother and he were the only survivors in his family of the Nazi horrors. They moved to this secluded part of Holland to avoid further persecution. On her deathbed, his mother made him swear never to marry a non-Jewish girl and always be true to his faith. That had been five years prior. For the last several months the local priest had frequented his shop and began proselytizing him. They would enter into long discussions, but for this man, conversion was out of the question.

Eventually, though, the priest began to make headway. One of his arguments G-d had abandoned the young man, as proved by the fact that he was the only Jew in the area.

Therefore he should convert and become part of a community.

After several months of being worn down, the young Jew agreed to be baptized. But, he insisted, first he wanted three days to think it over further.

He felt confused and depressed. He was indeed all alone. But how could he abandon his faith? How could he renege on the vow he made to his mother? He cried bitterly. Finally he called out to the Almighty, "I will wait for you, dear G-d, to show me a sign that you are still watching over me. If I do not see anything from you by 6:00 PM on the third day, I will convert!"

And so the man cried. For three days he became more morose. He found work impossible.

The third day had arrived and still no sign. The man spent the day looking at the clock. At lunch time he took a break and again beseeched the Almighty. There was less than six hours before he would agree to convert. During his 3:00 break the man again turned and prayed.

Boy with MatzahNow there was less than three hours. If he did not see some sign indicating that the G-d of the Jews still cared for him, he would be baptized.

As the minute hand passed the 5:00 mark, the man was besides himself. Perhaps the priest was right after all. Maybe it would be better for him to convert. The minutes ticked on. Each one felt like an entire hour. At 5:45, he began closing the store. At 5:55 PM Rabbi Yitzchok Vorst, armed with his matza from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, walked into this man's store.

After hearing this story, Rabbi Vorst begged the man to come back with him to Amsterdam and spend Passover. The man agreed. Every step of the way was a new beginning for this man. He had never been exposed to Judaism as his mother wanted to hide him from it. After Passover, he thanked the Rabbi and left.

Twenty-five years later, Rabbi Vorst traveled to Jerusalem for the wedding of a relative. He was praying devoutly at the Western Wall, deep in concentration, when he heard his name being called and felt a hearty slap across his back. He turned and saw a large, burly man. The man asked him in Dutch, "Rabbi, don't you recognize me, I am so and so from the town of …. I spent Pesach in your house one year. Now I live in Jerusalem with my family. I owe everything to you." Sometimes, it is possible to make a deal with the Almighty.

Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from

Two miracles are better than one

Phil and Elaine Brown were married for many years but had no children, even though they had visited several doctors and tried many kinds of treatment. One of the doctors told Elaine bluntly: "There is absolutely no chance that you will ever conceive naturally."

Phil and Elaine Brown were married for many years but had no children, even though they had visited several doctors and tried many kinds of treatment. One of the doctors told Elaine bluntly: "There is absolutely no chance that you will ever conceive naturally."

Hearing this, they decided to adopt, and went to a social service organization to fill out the papers. The case worker looked at their forms and said: "It's difficult to find Jewish children. The wait may be anywhere from a year to two or three or more." Still, the Browns decided to go ahead.

The agency examined their financial background, their education, their friends, their attitudes to children, their friends' attitude toward children, their attitude towards their friends' children, and dozens of other factors. After 13 months of questions, the agency finally asked for references.

At the time, Phil and Elaine lived across the street from Rabbi and Rebbetzin Zalmen Kazen, Lubavitch shluchim in Cleveland. Every time Rabbi Kazen would see Phil, he would say "hello" and invite the couple over for Shabbos dinner. Now, although Phil didn't know what to make of a Rabbi with a beard, the adoption agency wanted references, and so Phil thought that maybe he could combine business with pleasure. He could get a reference for the social service agency - after all, what could be better than a reference from a Rabbi? - and fulfill his obligation to the Kazens once and for all.

During dinner, Phil and Elaine told the Kazens that they were looking to adopt children. The Kazens told them that many couples had been blessed with children after receiving a blessing from the Rebbe, and suggested that the Browns try this route as well.

The Browns politely declined; they were not observant and did not want to make any commitments. Mrs. Kazen, however, is a very persistent lady. Ultimately, she persuaded the couple to send in a letter.

Several weeks later, the Browns received a reply. The Rebbe suggested they observe the mitzvah of taharas hamishpachah.

While they appreciated the Rebbe's concern and his suggestion, Phil and Elaine didn't feel ready for formal observance of any sort, and so they put the letter away. By this time, all their references had been checked, their personal character had been analyzed, and their bank statements reviewed. Still there was no child for adoption.

One day, a representative of the social service agency came for a visit; as part of the decision-making process, the agency wanted to inspect the home. The Browns graciously let the representative in, but it wasn't long before their attitude changed. The representative pulled open drawers, looked through closets, peered under beds and behind bookshelves. After going over every inch of their home, the representative departed. By that time, Elaine had made up her mind.

"Let's try the mikveh," she told her husband.

They did, and that month she became pregnant with the first of their many children. Shortly afterwards, the agency called and told them it had a child for adoption. The Browns, however, replied that they were no longer interested.

nf_3521_46237.jpgOne day as Phil was cleaning out some drawers, he noticed the Rebbe's letter. He read it again and saw that the Rebbe had told him that in the month of ___ , they would hear good news. That was the month in which their first son Mordechai was born.

Several months afterwards, Phil's mother Sadie became so ill that she was hospitalized and lost consciousness. The doctor solemnly told the family to call all her children together. "She probably has only several hours to live," he said. "It is highly unlikely that she will regain consciousness. If she survives beyond morning, it will be as a vegetable."

Phil sat with his brother and two sisters. It was as if they had already started mourning.

And then Mrs. Kazen arrived. "Did you write the Rebbe yet?" she asked the Browns. "You'll see! He will give his blessing and everything will be all right!"

The family were amazed, and even upset. Their mother was on the verge of death, and here this lady was treating it in what seemed a cavalier fashion.

Phil's brother Burt was piqued enough to usher Mrs. Kazen out of the room, but not before she had secured Mrs. Brown's Hebrew name and that of her mother.

"I'll write the Rebbe for you," she promised as she was being pushed out.

A few hours later she came back. The Brown family were deep in sorrow, and hardly listened as she told them: "I spoke to Rabbi Chodakov, who caught the Rebbe as he was leaving 770. 'Tell the family there is no need to worry,' the Rebbe said. 'Let the doctors repeat the tests; they'll see they made a mistake. In the morning, everything will be fine.' "

The Rebbe's answer did not make the Browns feel any better. They could not understand how a Rabbi in New York could know their mother's condition more accurately than the doctors who were treating her. But in the morning, their attitude changed. Mrs. Brown woke up, demanded a cup of coffee, and read the morning newspaper. Her answers to questions were sharp and to the point. This lady was no vegetable.

At that point, Phil's brother Burt decided to adopt a chassidic lifestyle. "The Rebbe didn't just give a blessing," he explained. "He set a time. That's putting yourself on the line. When he proved right, I felt I had to make a commitment."

* The picture is for illustration purposes only

The Fifth Night

One of the legendary soldiers in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's army of teachers and activists who kept Judaism alive in Communist Russia in the darkest years of repression was Rabbi Asher Sasonkin, who spent many years in Soviet labor camps for his "counter-revolutionary" activities. In one of these camps he made the acquaintance of a Jew by the name of Nachman Rozman. In his youth, Nachman had abandoned the traditional Jewish life in which he was raised to join the communist party; he served in the Red Army, where he rose to a high rank; but then he was arrested for engaging in some illegal business and sentenced to a long term of hard labor in Siberia.
Menorah 3Rozman was drawn to the Chassid who awakened in him memories of the home and life he had forsaken. With Reb Asher's aid and encouragement, he began a return to Jewish observance under conditions where keeping kosher, avoiding work on Shabbat, or grabbing a few moments for prayer meant subjecting oneself to near-starvation, repeated penalties and a daily jeopardy of life and limb.
One winter, as Chanukah approached, Reb Asher revealed his plan to his friend. "I'll get a hold of a small, empty food can -- the smaller the better, so it'll be easy to hide and escape notice. We'll save half of our daily ration of margarine over the next two weeks, for oil. We can make wicks from the loose threads at the edges of our coats. When everyone's asleep, we'll light our 'menorah' under my bunk...."
"Certainly not!" cried Nachman Rozman. "It's Chanukah, Reb Asher, the festival of miracles. We'll do the mitzvah the way it should be done. Not in some rusty can fished out from the garbage, but with a proper menorah, real oil, at the proper time and place. I have a few rubles hidden away that I can pay Igor with at the metal-working shed; I also have a few 'debts' I can call in at the kitchen...."
A few days before Chanukah, Nachman triumphantly showed Reb Asher the menorah he had procured -- a somewhat crude vessel but unmistakably a "real" menorah, with eight oil-cups in a row and a raised cup for the shamash. On the first evening of Chanukah, he set the menorah on a stool in the doorway between the main room of their barracks and the small storage area at its rear, and filled the right-hand cup; together, the two Jews recited the blessings and kindled the first light, as millions of their fellows did that night in their homes around the world.
On that first night the lighting went off without a hitch, as it did on the second, third and fourth nights of the festival. As a rule, the prisoners in the camp did not inform on each other, and their barrack-mates had already grown accustomed to the religious practices of the two Jews.
On the fifth night of Chanukah, just as Reb Asher and Nachman had lit five flames in their menorah, a sudden hush spread through the barracks. The prisoners all froze in their places and turned their eyes to the doorway, in which stood an officer from the camp's high command.
Though surprise inspections such as these were quite routine occurrences, they always struck terror in the hearts of the prisoners. The officer would advance through the barracks meting out severe penalties for offenses such as a hidden cigarette or a hoarded crust of bread. "Quick, throw it out into the snow," whispered the prisoners, but the officer was already striding toward the back doorway, where the two Jews stood huddled over the still-burning flames of their candelabra.
For a very long minute the officer gazed at the menorah. Then he turned to Reb Asher and asked: "P'yat? (Five?)"
"P'yat," replied the Chassid.
The officer turned and exited without a word.

$1 brings 10,000,000 Euros

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Pevzner is the manager of a large complex of Jewish schools in the heart of Paris called 'Sinai' where over one thousand children learn.
As could be understood such an outstanding achievement was accompanied by many harrowing experiences but possibly the shakiest of them occurred just a few years ago.
Over seventeen years ago in 5749 (1988) the Lubavitcher Rebbe declared that year to be the 'Year of Building'. Hundreds of Chabad institutions took this declaration as a prophesy and, certain beyond any shadow of a doubt that they would succeed, began projects that were completely beyond their normal realm of imagination. And they worked!
In that year thousands of buildings were begun and/or finished. But one of the most impressive examples was that of Rabbi Pevzner.
He announced a multi-million dollar project that only a miracle would
finish.  And the miracle occurred.
The Rebbe announced that he would give a one hundred dollar bill to whoever donated money to the project and the donors flocked in. 
In no time some ninety percent of the costs had been covered and Rabbi Pevzner was able to proudly go to the Rebbe with pictures of the finished buildings and names of the benefactors before the year was over.
But strangely enough when he presented it all to him, the Rebbe seemed to show no sign of satisfaction. In fact, of all things, he seemed a bit worried.  He took a dollar bill in his hand, held it out to Rabbi Pevzner
and said,
Excerpt-Dollars_Line_Eng_Narration_SM82-1L.jpg"There still remain debts. Here is a dollar for the debts."
Rabbi Pevzner couldn't understand what the Rebbe meant.  Of course there were some debts but they were almost gone, it was only a matter of time till the same miraculous spirit that brought the ninety percent would bring the last ten.
But Rabbi Pevzner took the dollar. Little did he know that it was to be the lifejacket that would save him.
Thirteen years passed and although the debt never really got paid (as soon as money came in other debts replaced it) it didn't grow either. It was not unusual for an institution of that size to have such a reasonable debt and the Rabbi gave it no thought whatsoever.  
In fact the number of pupils in 'Sinai' increased and were coming from such a wide area of Paris that the board of directors of the school decided to expand.  Plans were made, licenses and permissions were given and allocations and donations were pledged to build a branch on the outskirts of the town.
Then, suddenly France turned over. The Moslems became militant and anti-Semitism again reared it's ugly head in the streets and in the media. Donors retracted their pledges, the ministry of education cancelled funding and the Government turned a deaf ear.
Overnight the debts began piling up and after a few months the situation was unbearable with no end in sight. Teachers, lunchroom, electricity, upkeep all required money and there was none. The majority of his pupils were poor and had been paid for by the government.  And then there was the new unfinished expansion project that he still owed a fortune for.
Every week brought more debt until after a year and a half Sinai Schools owed no less than TEN MILLON EURO!!
It seemed obvious that the schools would have to close; there was simply no possibility to pay such an amount and to continue was impossible.
Rabbi Pevzner had personally borrowed millions to keep the institutions going and would have to borrow more, but from where? Not only would no one give him a loan, his creditors were hounding him for their money back! The government stepped in, appointed a board of investigators and they decided that it was obvious that Rabbi Pevzner had no choice but to declare bankruptcy.
But he was given a reprieve. It seems that the government court was not interested in closing him down so quickly. If he went bankrupt no one would get what was owed them and, after all, this was an institution that had been working successfully with no motives of profit for years.
They agreed to keep 'Sinai' running for twelve months on government funding to give him a chance to come up with the money. 
But nothing happened. The anti-Semitism increased, the debt remained, and the days passed.
He gathered all his teachers, workers and pupils and with tears in his eyes informed them that he had tried everything. He begged them to increase their prayers and then, choking back the tears told them that without a miracle it was only months until the end.
Then he remembered the dollar.
Suddenly he remembered what the Rebbe said and it was clear to him he was prophesizing precisely this catastrophe he was going through now. It was like a flash of pure light in the stark murky reality surrounding him.  The Rebbe was never wrong!
Sure enough the very next day something happened!
A group of Israeli Newspaper reporters came to visit his institution as part of a report they were doing on France and to his amazement the official that was showing them around was none other than one of the most outspoken opponents of orthodox Judaism, the wealthy and influential Baron David Rothschild of the famous Rothschild family.
But miraculously the Baron was treating the Rabbi like his best friend. He was smiling, laughing and putting his arm around the Rabbi's shoulder at  every opportunity as though nothing could please him more than the Rabbi's  company! In fact Rabbi Pevzner even managed to set an appointment with him for the next day in his office.
It seemed that this was the breakthrough he was praying for! But he was in for a bitter surprise.
It was all a show. It seems that the Baron had some sort of political reason to pose publicly as a friend of Jewish Orthodoxy, but privately was a completely different story.
When the Rabbi arrived at the Baron's office the Baron's secretary told him bluntly and in no uncertain terms that he, and all other Rabbis in the world could jump in the lake and they would never enter the Baron's office. 
It seemed that even the Rebbe's dollar couldn't help.
The precious months passed and the situation got worse. If it wasn't for that dollar Rabbi Pevzner would have gone mad. He had tried everything! Where would he get a ten million euro donation? He could do nothing but go on spreading Judaism and try not to think of it. But it was impossible.
Then, just as he thought that things couldn't get worse, they did. He got invited to a formal government dinner.
He hated official government functions, especially the dinners. They were boring, pompous, false, extravagant and exactly the opposite of everything he stood for. He had nothing to do there but force smiles and shake hands, he couldn't even eat the food and especially now with his life's work crumbling before his eyes he was certainly not in the mood for parties.  But he had to.
And when he arrived he saw it was worse than he thought; It was a large and gaudy affair hosted by none other than his 'friend' Baron Rothschild! 
The Rabbi wanted to turn back and head for the exit but before he could move the Baron zeroed in on him and began his fawning act again. He hugged him warmly, smiled like a clown and posed with his arm around him whenever possible.
Suddenly the Rabbi got a bold idea.
He pictured the Rebbe's face handing him the dollar, mustered up his courage and said in a loud enough voice to be heard,
"Tell me my friend, why is it that now you are so friendly when just a few months ago you refused to even see me?"
The Baron was confused. He paled, faked a smile and whispered to the Rabbi "Don't tell anyone about what happened. Listen, tomorrow morning I promise that if you call my office I will make a time to see you."
And so it was; two days later he was sitting before the Baron in his plush office. But he was so apprehensive that all he could manage to do was be friendly and hope the Baron would change his anti-Religious attitude. Until Rothschild himself finally interrupted,
"Rabbi, we both are busy men and there is no point wasting time. Tell me what you want!"
Rabbi Pevzner poured out his heart and when he was finished Rothschild lifted the phone, called a close friend, a retired economist, briefly told him the story and asked if he would be willing to investigate the case. 
The economist accepted and when he met the Rabbi the next day he revealed that he too was an assimilated Jew who happened to know a bit about Judaism. Everything he saw in 'Sinai'; the order and joyous atmosphere, the hundreds of children of all ages, the devoted teachers and workers and the incredible debt seemed to make a deep impression, but it was impossible to tell.
No one knows what he reported to the Baron but it was enough to cause him to make a meeting with the bankruptcy officials and promise that he; the rabidly anti-religious Baron Rothschild, would personally....cover the
That's right!  He personally promised to give five million euro from his own pocket and arrange allocations to pay the rest!!   
One week before the deadline, the Rebbe's dollar brought Ten million euro and at least two estranged Jews a bit closer to Judaism.

The Rebbe's Children

By Diane Abrams

When I was forty-eight years of age, I only had one child, Rachel, and my husband and I wanted another child. We went to a doctor who was considered an expert in the field, and she told us that we had less than a five percent chance of having another child. Throughout the time when we were visiting doctors and doing research on the possibility of having another child we had not told anyone about this, not even our parents. We were hoping and praying alone that we would have another child.

Every year on Hoshana Rabba (the final day of the holiday of Sukkot) we would come to the Rebbe to receive a traditional piece of honey cake and a blessing for a good and sweet year. That year we arrived directly from a funeral which Bob and I had attended; it was the first time we had not brought Rachel with us to the Rebbe.

Out of the blue, the Rebbe looked at us and gave us his blessing for "an addition to the family within the next year." I was stunned. How could he have known that this is what we wanted? We had made no such request of the Rebbe nor did we tell any of the Rebbe's secretaries about our wish. It was tremendously encouraging to me, and many times throughout the year I thought about the Rebbe's blessings, picturing the moment when the Rebbe gave us that special blessing.

Six weeks later, it was on Thanksgiving, I tested myself on one of those home pregnancy tests and it turned blue, indicating a positive result. I remember asking Rachel what color it was, and she said it was blue. I asked her again, "Are you sure it's not white?" And she said, "No, Mom, it is definitely blue!"

I immediately went to the doctor's office for a "real" test. Actually it was our daughter's pediatrician, because most doctors were not in on Thanksgiving Day.  He called back to say that the test was positive... but there must be some mistake because it simply could not be that I was pregnant! Instead, he advised that I take another test. Sure enough the second test was positive as well. I was absolutely ecstatic.

A year later, in my fiftieth year, I gave birth to a wonderful girl, Binyomina, or Becky, named after my father-in-law Binyomin, who was a very fine and special man.

The day I went to the hospital, Rachel, ten years old at the time, was at home. The phone rang, and Rachel answered. It was Rabbi Krinsky, one of the Rebbe's secretaries, calling at the Rebbe's behest. "Is everything okay with your mom?" he asked.

"I think so," Rachel responded. "She went to the hospital a few hours ago. I think she is about to have a baby." As it turned out, I was delivering our second child at that moment when Rabbi Krinsky called on the Rebbe's behalf!

Bob and Diane Abrams with Rebbe.jpgWhen Becky was a few months old, we went for our traditional annual Hoshana Rabba visit to the Rebbe. Normally, the line of people waiting to receive the Rebbe's blessings extended for three-four blocks along and around the Crown Heights streets, but the chassidim were always so very nice to us. When our car would arrive, somehow, somebody would come and lead us to the front of the line, sparing us the long wait.

We had the little infant in our hands. The Rebbe said, "I see you brought the addition to your family." This was a year later, and the Rebbe used the exact words he had used one year earlier. I said that we wanted to thank the Rebbe very much for giving us this beautiful child.

The Shabbos Candle Mitzvah Campaign

candle lighting 6In the 1970s, the branch of the Lubavitch Women's Organization dedicated to spreading the practice of kindling Shabbos candles, organized a series of radio ads encouraging women and girls to fulfill this mitzvah. Because federal law required that every ad have a commercial aspect, the notices mentioned that if the listeners sent one dollar to the Candle lighting Division of the Lubavitch Women's Organization at 770 Eastern Parkway, they would be sent a special set of Shabbos candle holders.

Thousands of these holders were distributed. At times, people would err, and instead of addressing their letters to the Lubavitch Women's Organization, they would send them to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

On one occasion, a woman living on Ocean Avenue in Brooklyn wrote to ask for the Shabbos candle holders. She too erred, and addressed her letter to the Rebbe. The Rebbe received the letter in the Friday mail. On Friday afternoon, he had his secretary, Rabbi Binyamin Klein, call Mrs. Esther Sternberg (who ran the Shabbos candle campaign) and ask her to see to it that this woman had the opportunity to light Shabbos candles that Friday.

Mrs. Sternberg is not one to take a request from the Rebbe lightly. With 45 minutes left before Shabbos started, she tried to get the woman's phone number, but was told it was unlisted. Then, noting that the woman's address was not far away, she resolved to deliver the candle holders personally. If the woman was not home, she would leave it with a neighbor.

Taking two of her daughters along, Mrs. Sternberg drove (flew!) to the woman's apartment. She rang the bell and knocked several times, but there was no answer. She tried several of the neighbors' apartments, but they too did not answer. Finally, a woman from an apartment down the hall replied that, yes, she knew the woman who had asked for the candle holders. She was an elderly lady, said the neighbor, and hard of hearing. That's probably why she had not answered her bell; she hadn't heard it ringing!

And so Mrs. Sternberg, her two daughters, and the neighbor all knocked hard on the woman's door. Eventually, an elderly Jewish lady answered. She was grateful to see visitors, and even more grateful when she found that she would be able to light Shabbos candles that week.

Mrs. Sternberg was happy to give the woman the candle holders, but couldn't help wondering: The woman seemed sincerely committed to the mitzvah; why then hadn't she lit candles before? "Don't you have candle holders of your own?" she asked.

"Of course I have Shabbos candles," the woman told Mrs. Sternberg, taking her into her kitchen and showing her a large silver candelabra on top of one of the cabinets. "But when my children moved me here," she explained, "they put my candelabra up there. Neither I nor any of my neighbors can reach it! That's why I haven't been able to light." (Apparently, this woman, as do many others, mistakenly felt that Shabbos candles had to be lit in a ritual candelabra.)

One of Mrs. Sternberg's daughters climbed up and brought down the woman's candlesticks. And so, thanks to the Rebbe's concern and Mrs. Sternberg's commitment, the woman was able to light candles in her own candelabra that Shabbos.

On another occasion, the Rebbe received a letter from a man from Bowie, Maryland, asking that Shabbos candle holders be sent to his daughter. Again, the letter arrived on Friday, and again, the Rebbe had his secretary ask Mrs. Sternberg to see to it that the girl lit candles that Friday.

This time, it was only 20 minutes before Shabbos when Mrs. Sternberg was contacted. She immediately phoned one of the Shluchim in Maryland and asked if he could deliver candles to the girl. But the Shliach replied that Bowie was over two hours away; he had no way of delivering the candles in time.

Not seeing any alternative, Mrs. Sternberg located the family's phone number. The mother answered the phone. Yes, her husband had asked for the candleholders. She didn't light candles herself, but thought that it was a good idea for her daughter to light.

Mrs. Sternberg told her that she would be mailing the candle holders, but meantime, she would instruct her on how to make candle holders from aluminum foil so that her daughter would be able to light that Shabbos. And with no more than a drop of convincing, the mother agreed to join her daughter and light candles herself.

She listened diligently to Mrs. Sternberg's instructions, and wrote down the transliteration of the blessing word for word.

As they were talking, Mrs. Sternberg asked the woman if her daughter had any other friends who would like candle holders. The woman mentioned that there were several girls in her daughter's Hebrew School class who would probably appreciate such a gift. And in her own Chavurah group, she could think of a few women, and she had some other friends....

All in all, when Mrs. Sternberg prepared the package of candle holders to send to Bowie, it contained more than 40!

On the following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg received another call from the Rebbe's office. "The Rebbe wants to know what's happening with the girl in Bowie," the secretary told her.

Mrs. Sternberg again called the woman. Yes, her daughter had lit candles the previous Shabbos, and they had received the candle holders in the mail. Everyone was overwhelmed. Women were talking about it all over town.

"Could you send more?" she wanted to know. "My daughter has other friends... and I have other friends...."

And so, the following week, Mrs. Sternberg sent an even larger order of candle holders to Bowie.

The following Friday, Mrs. Sternberg did not wait for a call from the Rebbe's office. Instead, she phoned her new friend in Bowie herself. Yes, the candle holders had arrived and the women were very happy. What's more, the woman's friends and neighbors wanted to meet some of the ladies who had reached out and brought Shabbos light into their homes.

A Shabbaton was arranged. Women and girls from Crown Heights came and shared a Shabbos encounter with the community.

So it was that a few words from the Rebbe snowballed into an ongoing positive Jewish experience.

Saying Mazal Tov

by Tzvi Jacobs

Rebbe Farbrengen Ah.jpgEsther and I were married for 2 1/2 years before we had our first baby. It often happens that couples have to wait a while, and our story would be more dramatic if we were married for 10 years or more without being able to have children. Still, our story is unusual.

We had heard many stories and even had friends who had trouble either conceiving or carrying a baby to term, and after receiving a blessing and sometimes also advice from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, they had at least one baby. With those stories in mind, I went to Crown Heights in September, 1988. It was a pleasant Sunday afternoon and hundreds of people were in a long line waiting to see the Rebbe.

A black limousine pulled up in front of the house, and I overheard that some politicians from New York were arriving. An official escorted them straight in to receive a blessing and seek the Rebbe's advice on an important political issue.

The line didn't move for about 30 minutes. I became unsure if I should ask the Rebbe for a blessing. Should I make the Rebbe, who had been fasting and standing all day and would continue to do so until he met and blessed the final person who got in line, stand and fast for even five seconds longer?

As I looked back at the rapidly growing line, I spotted one of my Yeshiva teachers. "Should I ask the Rebbe for a blessing for a baby?" I asked.

"Sure you should ask," he answered me, erasing all my doubts.

The line started moving. My heart started beating harder. The Rebbe is an awesome figure. He is a man, but people say the Rebbe has the superhuman ability to see into anyone's soul, even someone on the other side of the globe who has never seen or even heard about the Rebbe.

Finally, I made it into the Rebbe's home. The line was moving quickly. It was my turn. "Blessing for baby," I blurted out nervously.

"Amen. In a good and auspicious time," the Rebbe said. He spoke with a clear, strong voice while handing me a second dollar bill.

By December Esther was suspicious. She went to the doctor and the results were positive. We were pregnant. We were ecstatic. But about a week later, the nurse told us the fetal protein level was high and they wanted to do an amniocentesis to find out more and, if need be, G-d forbid, recommend an abortion. But Judaism does not allow for abortions for such reasons. The doctor's staff was pushing for the amniocentesis, but we called back and said, "No thanks."

Only then did I find out that high fetal protein was indicative of Down's syndrome. I didn't tell Esther immediately what I had found out.

The following evening we went to Crown Heights for a friend's wedding and I broke down and told Esther. We were both crying.

The "siren" sounded meaning that the Rebbe was going to say a short public discourse after which the Rebbe gave out dollars for people to give to charity. We got into the line. I couldn't say anything to the Rebbe. I tried to believe that all this was a test from G-d and that it was really a big blessing. I would have to write a letter to the Rebbe. Esther had gone through the women's line and was already waiting for me in the car.

"The Rebbe said, 'Mazal tov' to me," Esther said. "How did he know that I'm pregnant?"

"I thought the Rebbe says 'mazal tov' only after a baby is born," I said.

"I know. I was starting to doubt that I heard him right. And then when I got into the car I saw was the back cover of this magazine."

It was a picture of a pregnant woman headlined, "Saying mazal tov is not enough." The advertisement then explained that a pregnant woman should have the "shir hama'alos" card in the delivery room, as a protection against any harm to the mother or newborn baby. It's a custom from Kabala and strongly encouraged by the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"Everything is going to be all right, Esti," I said. The Rebbe saying "mazal tov" calmed us down a lot. We just had normal worries and fears throughout the rest of the pregnancy. On Sunday night, May 9, Esther went into labor. At about 20 past midnight we drove to the Morristown hospital and went straight to maternity. At 12:55 a.m. the nurse called out, "Congratulations! It's a girl. A beautiful baby girl."

By the way, you can be sure that when we went into that delivery room, we had our "shir hama'alos--saying `mazal tov' is not enough" cards--one for the mother, one for the baby, and a spare for the expectant father.

Esther was so happy and thankful to be a mother--and to have such a healthy, adorable baby--that she wrote a thank-you note to the Rebbe about four months after Chaya Mushka Bracha was born. While writing the letter, Esther saw a friend walk past. She was still childless. So Esther added a note at the end of her letter: "May the Rebbe please give Leah bas Sara a blessing to have a baby."

Our Sages teach that when you pray for someone else, G-d blesses the one who prayed for his fellow first. Three months later both Esther and her friend were expecting. Our Nechama Dina was born within two weeks of Leah's baby.

I hope that this one little story gives you some insight into who the Rebbe is.

After 20 Years!!!

Last week, David and Phoebe Marciano of Kiryat Shmuel celebrated the birth of their first baby … 28 years after their wedding.

If that was not amazing enough, the birth of their baby son was a beautiful miracle story that involved a promise from the Rebbe.

The story began 20 years ago, as David Marciano, who runs a chessed organization in the Krayot, related this week:

“Soon after our wedding, we found that we had a problem and were unable to have children. I asked the Rebbe for a bracha on various occasions, and the Rebbe would give us his blessings, but nothing definite. In 5750/1989, when my wife and I traveled to the Rebbe, I decided that this time I wouldn’t settle for anything less than a clear bracha. I spoke to the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Binyamin Klein, to find out if he would let us in for dollars before everyone else so that we could ask the Rebbe for a bracha.

“Rabbi Klein agreed, and he told me to knock on the window of his room before dollars were given out. He also let us stand at the head of the very long line. At the relevant time, we knocked on the window of his room, and he let us in before everyone else.

“It was Sunday 21st Marcheshvan, 5750/1989, and we waited for an hour and a half before the Rebbe walked out. We were very excited and we felt unable to speak, but we decided not to waste this special opportunity. When the Rebbe came out, I said, ‘Rebbe, we want children!’ The Rebbe gave me an extra dollar and said, ‘This is for the children that you will have!’ The Rebbe then gave another dollar with a similar bracha to my wife.”

But the years went by, and the couple did not have a child. But they never gave up. At one point, David lost his hands in an explosion at the Raphael weapons factory where he worked. But the couple continued to believe that one day they would be blessed with a child.

“I always told everyone that this bracha must be fulfilled. It just had to happen. I didn’t know how or when, but the Rebbe made us a promise and so it had to be kept. Even though we went through some very hard times, we never gave up because the bracha gave us hope.”

David Marciano, who is 56, is still very excited. “It’s taking us time to recover and fall back to Earth,” he says. “We still can hardly believe that we have just become parents after 28 years of marriage!”

Tomorrow, the Marciano’s will hear a final answer from the doctor about when to hold the bris, but chances are that it will be on time, iy”H, on Wednesday

The Power of Shabbat

David Solomon was what you would call a self-made man. He lived in Manhattan and had built himself up from almost nothing with his own 'two hands'. Today was a multi-millionaire with several factories, had substantial holdings on Wall Street and knew exactly how loud money 'talks'.

Of course there was no place in his life for Judaism and no time for anything except business ... and family.

The most precious of all his possessions was his eighteen year old daughter. She was the apple of his eye. Her picture was on his desk and every wall of his office. He dreamed of the day that she would marry and he would see grandchildren. He even had a special fund saved up to buy her a new house and whatever she needed. And that day would soon be here.

He was sitting in his office when the phone rang. 'Mr. Solomon?" asked an official sounding voice on the other end of the line.


'Have you got a daughter by the name of Sarah Solomon?

Again he answered yes.

"This is a police officer speaking from County hospital. You'd better get down here fast, Mr. Solomon. Your daughter has been in a pretty severe automobile accident."

Mr. Solomon asked a few questions to make sure it wasn't a prank, slammed the phone down grabbed his keys and raced out of the office.

It was a nightmare. She was in critical condition. In a coma. Wires and instruments were attached to every part of her body. The doctors said that it was impossible to operate until her condition stabilized.

He stood there weeping. What could he do? His wife arrived and she too burst out in tears.

The next few days were almost without sleep. They waited in the hall for some news from the doctors. Perhaps she opened her eyes? Perhaps there would be some improvement?

But the only message of hope he received was his father's suggestion that he consult with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"He's the only one that can help" his father said. "I have friends that he did big miracles for. If anyone can help you he can. Just go, get an appointment and get to see him.

David's emotions began flipping. At first he was excited; there was hope! But then he became disappointed .. in himself. What? I, Dovid Solomon, a normal, successful American businessman going to soothsayers and healers?

But maybe this was something different? After all, this was a respected Jewish Rabbi. He even heard that he was a great leader, a serious person. He was uncertain.

Then suddenly he was afraid. "I don't do any commandments. How can I go to this Rabbi? I'll be so ashamed."

But then his confidence returned. He remembered his money. "I'll give a big donation and the Rabbi will certainly hear what I have to say."

Dovid drove down to the Rebbe's headquarters in Brooklyn to arrange a 'Yechidut'; a private meeting. Usually people had to wait for even months but because of the urgency that evening he was standing before the Rebbe.

"Rebbe!" He began to cry. "My daughter had a terrible accident. She is in critical condition. Rebbe, can you save her? Here, here is a check for fifty thousand dollars! For your institutions."

The Rebbe just looked at him without seeming to notice the check and said. "If you want to save your daughter you must begin to observe Shabbat."

"Rebbe," he replied "I can't promise such a thing. I'm a very busy man and I'm not a religious Jew. Here!" he took out his checkbook put it on the Rebbe's desk and began writing, "Here. One hundred thousand dollars! Please, Rebbe, please take it, just save my daughter."

The Rebbe looked at him even more intently and said. "Mr. Solomon I am here to help you, I'm not thinking of myself. If you want her to be healthy keep the Sabbath."

"Rebbe, here!" Said Solomon as he signed his name to another check and placed it before the Rebbe. "It's an open check. Write what you want. Take what you need, just save her!!" He was really crying now. Looking deeply into the Rebbe's eyes for some hope.

"G-d is responsible for her healing." the Rebbe replied. "You must appeal to Him. I can only help with prayer but you must also do your part" . "At least keep the Sabbath. Then your daughter will be healthy and you will even see grandchildren from her."

Mr. Solomon gathered up his checks. Said he would think about it, shook the Rebbe's hand and left closing the door after him. He waited around for a while outside the door hoping that the Rebbe would call him back. But he didn't and Solomon returned to the hospital empty handed.

That night he couldn't sleep. The meeting with the Rebbe made a deep impression on him. The Rebbe's face danced before his eyes saying "I am here to help you, not to help myself. keep Shabbat". It was the first time in his life he met a man that was not interested in his own personal profit.

Meanwhile Sarah's condition deteriorated.

"Nu" He said to his wife. This Shabbat we won't drive or turn on any lights. I mean we'll be staying in the hospital anyway so we have nowhere to go. And I think I remember how to make Kiddush; we can at least begin to do what Rabbi Schneerson said."

That Sunday there was some improvement and the next Sunday she opened her eyes for the first time in a month.

Mr. Solomon became a 'Shomer Shabbos' Jew and his daughter Sarah not only became completely healed, she eventually got married and had several children. Just as the Rebbe said.

Securing An Interview

Shazar_01.gifGershon Ber Jacobson was a well known journalist, according to some he was the journalist's journalist.  He wrote for several major newspapers around the world, was fluent in many languages including French, English, Yiddish, Russian, Georgian and Hebrew, had a fluent, often stirring style, an eye for often uncomfortable detail and an unquenchable drive for often life-threatening scoops.

But in addition to all this, or perhaps we should say foremost, he was a totally observant Jew and a devoted Chassid (follower) of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, perhaps the greatest, most erudite Jewish leader in history who teaches his followers to do everything possible to improve mankind.

And it saved his life at least once.

The scene was immediately after the Six-Day war. Israel had decimated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and the other Arab nations surrounding them and the idea popped into the mind of Gershon Ber, who at the time was the chief correspondent in New York for the Israeli newspaper 'Yediot Achronot' the biggest daily in Israel, to get a really hot story.

He decided that the scoop of scoops would be to get into Egypt and get an interview with none other than the Prime Minister himself; Abdul Nasser!

He began to go about getting the necessary papers, when he got a phone call from another important personage from the 'other side' of the coin; 'Isar HarAil' the head of the Israeli Secret Service the 'Mosad'. "Jacobson are you insane?" he screamed, "Listen, we have information that if you go through with this you'll never come back. Why, they'll arrest you as a spy and you'll never get out of jail! And we won't be in a position to help you! Do you understand? Don't go! And if you do we will take no responsibility!"

Jacobson thanked HarAil, hung up the phone and called the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.  It wasn't long before he got a reply.

The Rebbe said he definitely should go but he should do the following things 1) Take several pairs of new Tefillin 2) Take a new 'sh'chita' knife for slaughtering birds 3) check into the best room in the most expensive hotel 4) before leaving write short letters to all his friends and important acquaintances telling them he is in Egypt and mail them as soon as you arrive 5) as soon as he enters the hotel call all the foreign ambassadors living in Egypt and 5) at the first opportunity visit the Jewish community there.

Gershon Ber did exactly what the Rebbe told him and a week or two landed in Cairo. He told the driver to take him to the finest hotel and on the way he stopped at the post office and mailed the letters he had written.

Then he checked in to his room and immediately set about calling all the foreign representatives in Egypt as the Rebbe said.

And the response was fantastic! In fact one of the ambassadors was so impressed (he claimed that in the fifteen years he was in Egypt no one had ever called him) he insisted on coming to see him and when he arrived insisted on being Jacobson's personal driver!

"Very well!" he answered. "Then let's go visit the Jewish community here." With the ambassador (I heard it was the representative from Canada) as his driver they pulled up at the home of the head of the Jewish community.  Jacobson brought greetings from the Rebbe and began asking journalist questions; how was life in Egypt, Was there anti-Semitism, was anything affected by the Six Day War? etc. etc.

The community leader answered that although there was not overt anti-Semitism it was nevertheless very difficult for them to get around and impossible for them to contact the outside world. For instance what they really needed were a few pairs of tefillin (phylacteries) because several had become disqualified for use and a sh'chita knife for slaughtering chickens because the one they had somehow broke and was irreparable. But they couldn't get out of Egypt to get these things replaced.

You can imagine his joy and amazement when he produced exactly these items and told him how the Lubavitcher Rebbe somehow sensed their need.

Jacobson got the interview with Nasser and when he arrived safely back in New York he got another call from …. Isar HarAil. "Listen Jacobson. We know for SURE that they were planning to arrest you for spying. But when you got there and made such a storm with those letters and phone calls they didn't want to arouse adverse public opinion. Tell me, where did you get the idea to do those letters and phone calls?"


By Tzvi Jacobs

This true story happened during the Jewish month of Elul (September 1989). I was driving home from a bris in Elizabeth, New Jersey. On the way I stopped at a branch of the bank that I use to make a deposit. I parked in the lot behind the bank. I got out, locked the door and then remembered that the check was in the car. I opened the door, found the check, turned to close the door, and gasped.

Three men surrounded me. They wore tattered jeans and filthy t-shirts. Though it was before noon, they reeked of alcohol. The guy on the left was clutching a whiskey bottle like a hammer. He had a desperate, mean look in his eyes. The guy on my right almost looked friendly, but a little scared and hungry. He was about my size. But the one in the middle--he was big, bad and ugly. He loomed above. He had tattoos up the entire length of his bare arms.

"Got some change?" he said, extending his huge hand towards my neck. Three teeth were missing from his grin. A deep scar ran from his chin to his cheek.

Thoughts raced through my head. Think fast, stay calm. Everything happens for a reason. All is for the good. Only fear G-d. All the Chasidic dictums about life were running through my mind. They made sense in yeshiva.

But now? Now it was Elul, when G-d is supposed to be very accessible, like the King who leaves his palace and is in the fields and streets listening to the requests of the ordinary folks.

"Yes, I have some change for you," I said, while dropping the check back in the car, locking and closing the car door behind me.

Everything happens for a reason.

"Any of you Jewish?" I asked. I knew it was next to impossible.

"Yeh, I'm Jewish," the big guy said.

"You're Jewish?" I said in disbelief. It must be a ploy. "You have a Jewish name?"

"Shmuel Yankel ben Moshe," he said with pride, like a boot soldier responding to his officer. In his eyes I probably looked like a rabbi.

"Did you have a Bar Mitzva?" I asked.

"Yuh. Baruch ata..." The big guy, nee Shmuel Yankel, began singing the Haftorah blessings.

"Why are you asking for a few cents? You should be asking for millions. It's right before Rosh Hashana and you can ask G-d for anything. He's here in the streets with you and me and we can ask Him for anything now. On Rosh Hashana, G-d goes back into His palace and it's not so easy for us to get in, but now He's taking requests. I might have some change, but G-d has millions.

"You know what tefilin are? Put them on, Shmuel Yankel. I'm sure G-d will hear you."

As I spoke I slipped the car key out of my pocket and got my tefilin out. "Put out your arm."

The sleeve was torn off his shirt. That made it easy to slide the tefilin over his arm, past the chorus line of tattoos and rows of little holes.

Those must be needle tracks, I thought.

"Here," I said, as I took off my yarmulka from beneath my hat. "Let me put this on you so you can say the blessing with me." He lowered his head so I could reach it. "Baruch ata..." We said the blessing and then I reached up and put the tefilin on his head. Shmuel Yankel said the Shema and his eyes became wet.

"G-d's right here with you, Shmuel Yankel. Ask Him Illustration onlywhatever your heart desires." He was quiet. A tear rolled into the scar groove.

One of his partners was pacing back and forth on the asphalt, like a shark swimming in front of his prey. "Let's go already," the Shark snapped.

"You just wait. I'm praying," Shmuel Yankel said. The Shark backed off like a guppy. The third guy looked with amazement at the whole ceremony. Why was he so interested?

I asked him his name. "Michel," he said with a slurred French accent.

"Are you Jewish, Michel?"

"No, I'm Catholic. My mother was Jewish but she became Catholic. The Nazis killed her parents and a Catholic monastery raised her."

"You're Jewish," I told him. "If your mother was born Jewish, then nothing can take that away. Once a Jew, always a Jew," I said. "Today is like your Bar Mitzva. Put on these tefilin and we'll make a Bar Mitzva celebration."

Michel repeated the blessings for tefilin as best he could. The tefilin sat on his greasy, long, black hair. His eyes sparkled with life, and Michel began to look like a scraggly Jewish boy, like the lost prince who had been dragged through the mucky alleys of medieval Europe, beaten and abused, and now has finally stumbled across his royal home. The King met him in the streets, and Michel recognized his Father.

"We can take them off now," I said. Michel held out his arm and let me unwrap them as if he were a gentle baby.

I had some cake with me from the bris. The four of us split the two slices of cake. "L'Chaim. To life," I said, raising my cake.

My two Jewish friends thanked me. We shook hands and hugged.

"Wait," I said, running after them, "here's some change."

"No, that's all right," Shumel Yankel said as he waved good-bye.

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