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The Israeli President Visits the Rebbe

The Israeli President Visits the Rebbe

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Shazar and the Rebbe (Photos Eliyahu Attar)
Shazar and the Rebbe (Photos Eliyahu Attar)

It was 1966, and Zalman Shazar was on his first visit to the United States as the President of Israel. All the ceremonial events and official visits would be at the Manhattan hotel where the President was staying.

A formal invitation was issued to the Rebbe's secretariat for the Rebbe to come for an official visit. It quickly became apparent, however, that the Rebbe would not be visiting Shazar at the hotel; the only option was for Shazar to visit the Rebbe at Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn.

Until that point in Israel's young history, nothing of this sort had transpired—that a sitting president should go visit someone who was not a head of state. Added to that was the security risk posed by the president traveling to Brooklyn, which at the time was chaotic and its streets unstable.

Shazar, however, who shared a strong relationship with the Rebbe even prior to his presidency, did not want to pass on the opportunity to meet the Rebbe, considering that he was just a short distance away.

Shazar then placed his hand on the Rebbe's shoulder and the Rebbe held his hand. This was the first time that I witnessed such deep love and endearment between two individuals. Someone in the President's entourage told him that if he goes to the Rebbe he might lose his chance of being elected for a second term. Shazar responded that this reason doesn't even deserve consideration when the issue at hand is a meeting with the Rebbe.

Shazar felt very torn by the situation.

That Shabbat, Shazar felt ill. The doctor that checked him said that the cause was emotional strain.

After Shabbat, the New York City Police Department informed Shazar's staff that Brooklyn was now calm. It was now safe to visit the Rebbe, with no worries.

Shazar now edgily awaited the visit. During those hours before the visit, a delegation of elder chassidim visited with Shazar in his hotel room.

Elder group of Chassidim, disciples of the Rebbe, greet Shazar in his hotel room.
Elder group of Chassidim, disciples of the Rebbe, greet Shazar in his hotel room.

After hours of waiting with bated breath, the presidential motorcade made its way to Brooklyn. I sat in the car with Shazar; he shared with me that he was very emotional in anticipation of this visit.

A huge crowd was gathered outside Lubavitch World Headquarters, with a large police contingent securing the area. The Rebbe was waiting for Shazar at the doorway.

I will never forget the moment when Shazar exited the car. Silence fell over the entire crowd as Shazar walked to the Rebbe. The Rebbe and Shazar shook hands and embraced. Shazar then placed his hand on the Rebbe's shoulder and the Rebbe held his hand. This was the first time that I witnessed such deep love and endearment between two individuals.

Our entire group escorted Shazar into the Rebbe's office where Shazar presented the Rebbe with a wooden box containing manuscripts of Chabad philosophy. It seems that the manuscripts were smuggled out of the Soviet Union and given to the President. Later Shazar told me that he would always bring a gift to the Rebbe whenever he came for a visit.

The Rebbe reciprocated, giving Shazar a new chassidic discourse that was recently published in honor of the President.

Shazar and the Rebbe converse
Shazar and the Rebbe converse

Shazar introduced his entire escort to the Rebbe. The Rebbe shook every one's hand, inquiring what their name and position was. The Rebbe spoke to the group in Hebrew and English. Shazar, on the other hand, spoke to the Rebbe in Yiddish. The conversation opened with Shazar telling the Rebbe that they are building a new residence for the President and that it would include a synagogue.

As the escort was departing the room, leaving the Rebbe and Shazar in privacy, the President's doctor requested that the "personal audience" not be too long. The Rebbe said, "We are not here for 'personal' issues; our discussion will surround issues involved myriads of individuals."

This was my first meeting with the Rebbe after hearing so much about him. I was astounded. I could see the Rebbe's interest in every word that every one was saying; he paid attention in a remarkable fashion. His eyes were inquiring eyes. When spoken to, you could see the Rebbe coming closer and looking straight into the speaker's eyes.

The Rebbe greets walmly every individual from the Israeli delegation.
The Rebbe greets walmly every individual from the Israeli delegation.

Shazar emerged at two in the morning. In the meantime, we where were enjoying a chassidic gathering with elderly chassidim and the Rebbe's aides. Shazar saw that we were all very tired, so he only spent a few minutes speaking to the media about his impressions of the visit. He did not reveal anything personal or any details.

The Rebbe then escorted Shazar to his car. Shazar invited me to again join him in his car; he did not stop speaking about the illustrious history of Chabad, the great chassidim from previous generations, and about the pride he takes in his Chabad heritage.

He looked utterly refreshed; like a child who was just exposed to a new wonderful world. "Was it not amazing?" he continuously asked me about the meeting. I was surprised that such an elderly person could be so awake at such an hour. His face was actually shining.

We who accompanied him, who were many years his junior, were all so tired; and he was so awake and refreshed. It was truly amazing.

Journalists listen as Shazar describes his audience with the Rebbe after it finised at 2 in the morning.
Journalists listen as Shazar describes his audience with the Rebbe after it finised at 2 in the morning.

Though he did not reveal the details, Shazar did tell me that the discussion involved the situation in Israel, and his efforts to unite various Jewish communities. The Rebbe asked many questions and took great interest in the initiative.

During the conversation, Shazar mentioned his invitation from President Lyndon Johnson. In contrast to some of the previous presidents, Johnson openly showed his support for Israel, and he was the first to invite an Israeli President for an official visit. The Rebbe encouragement Shazar and blessed him with success in his visit.

Dan Patir was an advisor to Prime Ministers Yitzchak Rabin and Menachem Begin. He also advised and accompanied President Zalman Shazar during his first visit to North America.

As told to Yitzchak Yehuda Holtzman. Translated and adapted from the Hebrew by Dovid Zaklikowski.
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Chava California December 10, 2012

2nd to last picture That second to last picture is incredible, I am so grateful to get a glimpse of the Rebbe in this position and smiling so warmly. Thank you for this account and for these pictures. We want Moshiach now! Reply

Johnie Kemp San Antonio, Texas, USA December 8, 2011

The Rebbe Although I have heard of the Rebbe off and on for many years, I never knew who he was neither had I read any of his writings. In doing so now, I am frequently blessed by his simple and Godly wisdom that touches the hearts of those who listen. HaShem chose to bless this earthly vessel with quiet and profound understanding and a remarkable love for his fellow man. The Rebbe was, and is an example of what HaShem can and will do with a vessel dedicated solely to His service. His life remains a testimony of the love of G-d. Thank you for sharing. Reply

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