Contact Us

Editor's Preface

Editor's Preface

 Email

Exactly fifty years ago to the day, late on a Friday afternoon, my grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Zalmon and Roselyn Jaffe, disembarked from the luxury ocean liner, the Queen Mary, after a five-day sea voyage brought them from England to the United States. Hurrying through customs, they were welcomed into a cold, overcast New York City, just one and half hours before the onset of Shabbos. They sped off by taxi to Crown Heights, where they were to meet the Rebbe for the very first time.

The Jaffes were not new to Lubavitch. They had been corresponding with the Rebbe for six years before they embarked on this expedition which, at the time, they considered to be a “once in a lifetime” journey to the Rebbe.

My grandfather would relate, how upon first arriving at 770 he did not speak to, nor was he introduced to, the Rebbe. It was only some 24 hours after he had arrived, at the height of the Shabbos afternoon farbrengen during the singing of niggunim that the Rebbe suddenly called out to him: “Zalmon! Do not wait for kovod [honor], get up and say l’chaim to me.”

It recently occurred to me that the thirty-five year relationship my grandparents subsequently enjoyed with the Rebbe, was to be based on this first, albeit brief, exchange.

This reminded me of another visit to the Rebbe eleven years later when a disappointing incident – this time as my grandparents were leaving for home – would lead to a very warm and personal letter from the Rebbe. In my grandfather’s words (as reprinted in My Encounter with the Rebbe, Volume One, page 187):

The Rebbe had expressed his wish to say farewell to us from the steps of 770. The Rebbe normally gave us this honor, but it still could not be taken for granted.

At last we were all in the bus, which then moved towards 770 and the Rebbe standing about 100 yards away. Then, a terrible calamity! The driver refused to open the door so we could see and wave to the Rebbe.

“Not while the bus is moving,” said he, but he also refused to stop. “Not allowed to stop on this road,” he said. Although we could see the Rebbe’s farewell, he couldn’t see us because of the tinted windows.

I subsequently received the following letter from the Rebbe, dated Sivan 23, 5730 (June 27, 1970). It was almost worth being held prisoner by the bus driver in order to get such a wonderful letter from the Rebbe:

I was a little disappointed that on coming out to see off your group (as I usually do, standing on the steps outside until the buses disappear from view with the party of visitors, especially your group), and hoping that you would come out, even if you were in the bus, so as to send you off again with “Tzeischem L’sholom [travel safely],” I did not see you.

But no doubt “Gam zu l’tovo [this too is for good],” for it is perhaps more fitting that after a Shovuos’dige visit, the leave-taking should be at a chassidishe farbrengen, as it was indeed this Shabbos, rather than on an ordinary weekday and in the street….

Just received the cable of the safe landing.

It would seem that when my grandfather first met the Rebbe, the Rebbe intentionally waited until it was Shabbos in the midst of the “chassidishe farbrengen” to personally welcome him (not “on an ordinary weekday and in the street”) accompanied with the singing of a niggun and a l’chaim!


My grandfather was born on Adar 7, 5673 (February 14, 1913) in Manchester, England, where he continued to reside until his passing on Elul 27, 5760 (September 27, 2000). He was not a rabbi but an accomplished businessman who typified the consummate British gentleman; not exactly the type one would have expected to encounter at a chassidic court. Yet, he would ultimately travel to the Rebbe at 770 Eastern Parkway in New York more than seventy times!

My grandfather often expressed regret at the dearth of family history available to him regarding his own maternal grandfather, Rabbi Schneur Zalmon Edelman (circa 1850-1905) for whom he was named.

The little he did know about Rabbi Edelman was that he was a devout Chossid residing in Rokiskis (Rakashik), Lithuania, who would spend yom tov with the Lubavitcher Rebbes, perhaps, as early as the third Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Tzemach Tzedek (1789-1866). Beyond that, nary a thing was known about his visits and interactions with the Rebbes of Lubavitch.

As my grandfather prepared to embark on his first (abovementioned) visit to the Rebbe, in 5719 (1959), he resolved that his descendents would know about his encounters with the Rebbe.

Though he otherwise did not maintain a personal diary of any sort, he did write a detailed journal detailing this first visit to the Rebbe. During the subsequent eleven visits to the Rebbe, spanning ten-years, he continued this good custom of writing his encounters with the Rebbe.

Taking the initiative in 5730 (1970), he decided to publish a small booklet containing the preceding year’s diary, which he titled: My Encounter with the Rebbe.

He immediately received the Rebbe’s enthusiastic approval and encouragement for this publication. For the next quarter century, he would faithfully publish another 25 annual editions!


My grandfather’s presence at 770 is fondly remembered for his efforts in bringing a smile to the Rebbe, and engendering joy to everyone else around the Rebbe. The impression he made is such that people are surprised to learn that he was only at 770 for about four weeks each year. His greatest accomplishments, though, are the vivid descriptions of those visits preserved in 26 books of My Encounter with the Rebbe.

While the Rebbe’s teachings were consistently documented, his daily customs and interactions were not so well preserved. (Many individuals certainly recorded their observations – be it via a diary and/or private correspondences – but these have by and large never been publicly distributed and the vast majority may be presumed lost to posterity.)

For my grandfather to have published his private diaries about the Rebbe in 5730 (1970) and in English – at a time when many of the 770 regulars were not fluent in that language – was truly innovative.


In addition to his “encounter with the Rebbe,” my grandfather would also include in his books at least one or two anecdotes from his and my grandmother’s visits with the Rebbetzin; the Rebbe’s wife.

The Rebbetzin was an extremely private person that few Lubavitchers ever had the merit of meeting. While it is easy to imagine the reverence she would have received from the Rebbe’s followers, had she so chosen, she instead shunned the limelight, forgoing a direct connection with the vast majority of the Lubavitcher world. The Rebbetzin did handpick a few individuals with whom she maintained personal contact. My grandparents felt privileged to be among this select group. They also chose to share some of those experiences in the annual My Encounter with the Rebbe, thus shedding a little light upon this important, albeit private, personality.

With the Rebbetzin herself taking a keen interest in the yearly books – and regularly commenting to the Jaffes about what she had read therein – My Encounter with the Rebbe remains a publication of historical significance regarding the Rebbetzin.


Readers of volume one of My Encounter with the Rebbe are sure to notice a decided increase of sichas (Torah discourses) included in the present volume. This effort reflects my grandfather’s response to the Rebbe’s personal requests – spanning a number of years – for more Torah to be included in My Encounter with the Rebbe.

The first one was a formal letter from the Rebbe, dated Sivan 23, 5730 [June 27, 1970], pursuant to the publication of my grandfather’s first volume of My Encounter with the Rebbe:

…You should always have good news to report, including… a report of the visit….You will easily guess, of course, that I do not mean a superficial report, but a meaningful one, containing the matters and messages spoken here [italics added for emphasis].

Two years later, another more specific horaoh (directive) was received

after my grandfather had presented the Rebbe with his third installment of My Encounter with the Rebbe, in which the following paragraph appeared:

On Shabbos we were again fortunate to have a farbrengen. Shmuel, my son-in-law, has impressed upon me the importance of quoting at least some of the Rebbe’s words of Torah in my diary. So, here goes…

The Rebbe’s acknowledgment came a few days later in the form of the following handwritten Hebrew memo:

Sivan 15, 5732 [Sunday, May 28, 1972]

…Regarding the diary: I have read it and thank you once again. As a remark: your son-in-law Rabbi Shmuel Lew is correct – as you wrote in your diary – that when you describe a farbrengen it is worthwhile to convey at least one point that was discussed then.

At that time the Rebbe’s talks were being disseminated in Yiddish and Hebrew. (It would take almost ten more years before they began being published – officially and regularly – in English.) For my grandfather to prepare his own distilled renditions of the Rebbe’s talks, and in English, must have been a considerable undertaking, and is a tribute to his dedication to the Rebbe and his requests.


In preparing this volume for print, I followed the same guidelines as laid out when preparing volume one. Nothing from my grandfather’s published diaries has been omitted. The minor necessary editing was in style only (such as spelling standardization, maintaining the chronological order, etc.), but not of substance. In order to further enhance the reading experience, I have added some new material culled from my grandfather’s handwritten diaries and “galley proofs” that – for some reason or another – were omitted in his original publications. The end result is that the current volume truly represents “aged wine in a new vessel” (Avos 4:20).

While the audience for the earliest editions of his diaries was relatively small (the first books were intended primarily as hand-outs for family and a small circle of friends), my grandfather could afford to mention the names of people associated with most of the anecdotes he invariably included in each edition. In a more widely distributed work, however, it would seem prudent to apply more discretion. On the other hand, some of these amusing interludes allow the reader to get a glimpse of my grandfather’s witty personality. I have therefore again chosen to leave all the stories intact, only omitting (when warranted) the individual’s identity.

Based on the popular proverb, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” I have – with the assistance of a number of pictorial archives placed at my disposal – enhanced the reading experience by adding over 120 pictures and other memorabilia throughout this book. I wish to single out my father, Rabbi Shmuel Lew, who loaned me his archive of over 300 photographs of the Rebbe, many of which grace the pages of the present book. (Most of the included pictures were solely chosen for their illustrative purposes and do not necessarily reflect the events described on that page.)


In the seven years since publishing volume one of My Encounter with the Rebbe, a renewed following has emerged. This is hardly surprising, since it remains one of the only memoirs available about the 770 of yesteryear. What is considerably more rewarding is how teenagers, and even younger children, are avidly reading it and finding relevance in it. I feel confident in stating that while my grandfather was tirelessly writing his yearly books, he could not have hoped for anything more meaningful. This also provides a possible reason for the Rebbe’s ongoing encouragement, not just for my grandfather to continue publishing his yearly edition, but to also expand them from year to year.


It is my heartfelt wish and prayer that through reading this book, you will be inspired to make history by performing just one additional mitzvah. And then another. This will herald in the Moshiach Age – a truly historic occasion the likes of which the world today can barely imagine – when the entire world, Jew and Gentile, adults and children, will serve the One G‑d together, and when once again, the world will interact with the Rebbe physically. Our world surely (and sorely) needs that.


Rabbi Pinny Lew Sunday, Teves 22, 5769 (January 18, 2009)
Fifty years from Reb Zalmon and Roselyn Jaffe’s first “Encounter with the Rebbe”
Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York

Acknowledgments

The Midrash states [Bereishis Raba 14:11]: “For every breath a person takes, he ought to praise G‑d!” The Almighty has bestowed upon me His never-ending kindness that has allowed me to bring this additional work to its realization. For that (and everything) I offer my gratitude.

To the Rebbe: every day I am reassured with your categorical brocha and promise that “everything will work out well,” giving me strength and encouragement to continue forward. Thank you for everything.

To my dear grandparents, Zalmon (author), and Roselyn Jaffe (behind-the-scenes editor [and censor]), I am thankful for your commitment that kept you writing! You have left an endearing legacy that enriches not only your family, but all of klal Yisroel (the Jewish people).

For the encouragement expressed by my grandfather’s long-time and devoted admirers as well as from newly acquired fans, I owe you all – more than you may realize – a prominent thank you! You are only holding this book because of that show of support.

To my parents-in-law, Rabbi Yossi and Rivkah Laine, thank you for all of your encouragement and support. A special note of appreciation and gratitude to you, Sholom Laine, Zev Cadaner and the fantastic team at the PrintHouse, for manufacturing this volume!

Rabbi Avrohom Jaffe, my uncle: thank you for your immeasurable help in getting Zaidy’s books out in the most beautiful possible manner. I pay homage to my parents, Rabbi Shmuel and Mrs. Hindy Lew, for their ongoing advice, support and observations throughout this entire endeavor.

Rabbi Yossi Lew (Atlanta), my oldest brother, you have excelled in your almost fanatical devotion to disseminating Zaidy’s writings (fartig!). Many times over the past few years, during one inevitable delay or another, you persuaded me to “get cracking on the book;” this one is truly yours. Two other brothers were extremely helpful: Rabbi Sholom Lew (Arizona), thank you for coming through with alacrity every time I called upon you. Rabbi Yisroel Lew (London): thank you for your editorial assistance.

To Rabbi Nachman Sudak for freely sharing material that was used for chapter four and Mrs. Fradel Sudak, for helping me obtain (and date) some of the pictures of her father, Rabbi Bentzion Shemtov. Rabbis Menachem Kirschenbaum, Michoel Seligson and Dovid Zaklikowsky: for sparing the time whenever I called upon them. Thank you, Rabbi Lipa Brennan, for allowing me to rummage through your own diaries (to glean certain additional facts), the last photo of Rabbi Shemtov and, of course, the photocopied sicha!

Thank you to “my cousin” Mark Jaffe, a dear and longtime friend, Mike Abel and Yaakov Lewis; fountains of encouragement I regularly tap into. For their time and expertise, I thank: Felicia Cohen, Alexandra Oves, Sarah Packer, Stacy Steinberg, Brittany Tenenbaum and Megan Tenenbaum. I could not have done it without them all.

I was blessed to have worked with three unique editors. Leslie Balkany, who undertook the initial editorship (a real word!) of this book, your well placed remarks are always on target; your keen eye has spoiled me! Matthew Shulman was next to join my team. Although, initially, this was unfamiliar subject matter to him, he diligently threw himself behind the task, with copious remarks, resulting in a most neat and professional book. Chaya Sarah (Hallie) Cantor, the final editor: The way you thoroughly combed through every sentence in this book, remarking on the tiniest of nuances, makes it all look so easy. You have done a fabulous job! I look forward to future collaborations with all three editors. I will add that any errors that ultimately “snuck” back into the final manuscript are solely due to my own making.

To my lovely children: thank you for enduring the time I spent “away,” while preparing this book. Though none of you ever complained, I know my early mornings, can’t-be-disturbed work was not easy on you. Additionally, having to field the repeated requests from your friends and their families – “When is the next book coming out already?” – must have been most frustrating.

Thank you Chani (my wife) for your support, continuously and subtly offered (all right, sometimes not so subtle). You keep me well grounded and focused. Indeed, it is your unending support that motivates me to get the things done.

May G‑d Almighty compensate the countless hours everyone has devoted to these pages "from His full, open, holy, and generous hand."

Pinny Lew

Published by PCL Publishing Brooklyn, NY. To learn more about My Encounter with the Rebbe visit: myencounter.com.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Start a Discussion
1000 characters remaining
Related Topics