Rabbi Dovber Junik

Friday, 16 April, 2010 - 6:14 am


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.

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