Contact Us

When Leadership Can Be Difficult

When Leadership Can Be Difficult

 Email

Rabbi Zev Segal was born in Saratov, Russia, in the year 1917. When he was yet a child, his family immigrated to the Holy Land where his father, Yosef, took a position as a rabbi in the city of Nes Tzionah. Zev came to the United States in 1939 and received his rabbinical ordination at the Skokie Yeshiva in Illinois.

In the mid 1940s, he accepted the pulpit at Newark, NJ's, Young Israel congregation, where he remained for close to 40 years until his sudden tragic passing in March 2008.

Segal had a very close relationship with the leading rabbinate of his time, amongst them he shared very close relationships with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik and Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum, the Satmar Rebbe. His influence extended beyond his synagogue, beyond New Jersey and even the United States. His missions on behalf of Jewish causes often took him abroad to places like Israel, North Africa, Europe and the Soviet Union.

It was in the capacity of his communal activities that Rabbi Segal first met the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Rabbi Zev Segal (Photo: Jewish Educational Media)
Rabbi Zev Segal (Photo: Jewish Educational Media)
"The Rebbe was not only the leader of our generation," Rabbi Segal said after the Rebbe's passing in 1994. "He will be the leader of generations to come. Many, many generations will benefit from what the Rebbe [gave] the people of Israel."

Although he wouldn't talk about the specifics, Rabbi Segal confirmed that he would carry out missions at the Rebbe's request.

"The Rebbe had a certain amount of confidence in me," said Rabbi Segal. "He shared with me things that I was amazed [that he did], and probably [because he knew that] I am not seeking publicity."

Rabbi Segal was careful to arrive on time for morning services at his synagogue. If he ever did arrive late, his congregants knew that he had been with the Rebbe through the wee hours of the night. His late-night audiences had at times lasted over five hours. "When you talked to him, there was nothing in the world in existence except you. I mean, it's only he and you; that's it," he said.

"And his inquiries, [the] questions that he asked that you never thought of," the rabbi describes his audiences with the Rebbe, "You experienced it but you never were able to articulate, you have to give certain answers and you have to accumulate events that you have experienced but there are novelties in those events, not every individual was able to do that. Words are not enough to express the experiences. It's amazing."

"I said that the Rebbe should know that it was not an easy task" On one occasion, the Rebbe found out that Rabbi Segal was traveling to "a certain country" and asked him to undertake a "very difficult assignment." When he arrived back in the United States, the rabbi was granted a private audience with the Rebbe.

"I said that the Rebbe should know that it was not an easy task," Rabbi Segal recalled.

The Rebbe responded: "Since when did you make a contract with the Almighty for an easy life?"

Rabbi Segal said that that moment stuck with him, and provided a lesson in how one should approach responsibilities and challenges.

As a vice president and, later, the president of the Rabbinical Council of America in the 1960s, Rabbi Segal met frequently with the Rebbe. They would discuss the status of Jewish communities all over the world, and the Rebbe would direct Rabbi Segal about missions to accomplish during his travels.

"The Rebbe had a tremendous amount of knowledge [about] what's going on in the Jewish community [everywhere]," Rabbi Segal once said. "It's amazing how in one human being you [could] have all these areas of knowledge.

"One of the major accomplishments of the Rebbe was that he was able to maintain an underground in the Soviet Union and I can tell you that the Jews that I met under the Soviet regime, when they were aware of someone who ever saw the Rebbe, he became a very important individual to them. So in spite of the lack of overt communication, there was a tremendous amount of binding between the Jews in the Soviet Union with the Rebbe and the Rebbe was a tremendous amount of encouragement to them."

Where Was Ariel Sharon?

Ariel and Lily Sharon exit the Rebbe's office on that fateful night in 1968 (Photo: Shmuel Rivkin)
Ariel and Lily Sharon exit the Rebbe's office on that fateful night in 1968 (Photo: Shmuel Rivkin)
Rabbi Segal related this story about when the first and last El Al plane was hijacked. It was in July 1968, when a flight from Rome was seized by the terrorist group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and forced to land in Algiers. Passengers and crew were held hostage there, with the last of them not released until five weeks later.

To the terrorists' dismay, however, their prime target, Ariel Sharon, then a general in the Israel Defense Forces, was not on the plane. Where was he? He was in an audience with the Rebbe, who continued to speak to him, though the general wanted to leave to make it on the flight.

"He came to say goodbye to the Rebbe, so the Rebbe told him not to go on that plane," related Rabbi Segal, "He listened to the Rebbe."

Rabbi Segal, who was in an audience a little while later, mentioned to the Rebbe that he wanted to ask a question. "Is it true that you stopped Sharon from going on that plane that was hijacked?" he asked.

The Rebbe confirmed that he did. To which the rabbi asked, "So why didn't you stop the plane altogether?"

"Is it true that you stopped Sharon from going on that plane that was hijacked? So why didn't you stop the plane altogether?" The Rebbe responded, "Do you really think that I knew that they'll hijack the plane? I didn't know that they'll hijack the plane. Sharon came to say goodbye to me, so I told him not to go."

"For me, this was a great lesson," says Rabbi Segal. "When you talk about miracles, it's not necessarily that you visualize what's going to happen. I mean, you have a certain intuition. So he said, 'I told him not to go'; that's it, period. So I learned what a miracle means."

A Great Interest in Israel

Rabbi Segal in an audience with the Rebbe in 1992 (Photo: Jewish Educational Media)
Rabbi Segal in an audience with the Rebbe in 1992 (Photo: Jewish Educational Media)
On several occasions, Segal served as a liaison between the Rebbe and Israeli government officials.

"The Rebbe was extremely informed of everything that was going on to the most minute detail in every aspect of Israeli life," he said of his audiences following his visits in the country. "He was extremely knowledgeable about every individual in the Knesset and every committee of the Knesset and he knew of every government meeting on every subject—what they had discussed and he knew who was against and who was for."

"I mean, it was an amazing experience to listen and see how deeply he was involved in it like [as if] he would be sitting there; he was talking about government meetings like he was there. He was talking about situations in the parties and individuals and their views like he was talking to them yesterday."

The Rebbe would frequently single out Rabbi Segal for attention. Once, while walking to Lubavitch World Headquarters on the day before Passover, the Rebbe met Segal and engaged him in conversation on a street corner for a half hour.

"As far as I'm concerned, he was the individual most responsible for the construction of Jewish life after the holocaust." "Whenever we discussed certain areas of problems in individual countries," the rabbi said, "including Arab countries, including Eastern European countries, whenever there was a discussion, he knew all the personalities involved; he knew all the reactions of various parts of the Jewish community."

"I learned that he was one of the very few individuals, if not the only one, who had a tremendous amount of insight and knowledge of what's going on in the Jewish world – globally, not only locally – and he was very extremely informed.

"As far as I'm concerned, he was the individual most responsible for the construction of Jewish life after the holocaust."

"You don't have a group in Jewish life that has the self sacrifice, the mesirat nefesh, as the shluchim [emissaries] of the Lubavitcher Rebbe," said the rabbi, "And that was motivated by the Rebbe. They give away their soul in order to preserve Jewish life. This is the impact the Rebbe made."

© 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
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
2 Comments
1000 characters remaining
ronnen toronto January 31, 2012

Wow! Yes keep up the amazing work! Reply

izzy s January 31, 2012

amazing! keep up the amazing work! Reply

Related Topics