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Looking for Mr. Right

Looking for Mr. Right

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In my late teens, I found myself in a quandary. I was preparing to graduate from high school, and I was unsure what to do next. I felt torn between my desire to further my Jewish education and my wish to pursue academic studies and embark upon a career.

Reading through The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs, written by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory, the lyrical descriptions of vibrant early chassidic history captivated me. I loved the images of deep Torah study combined with a close bond with nature that the book portrayed, and I began to feel a deep connection to Chabad.

Thus, faced with the dilemma of my immediate future, I wrote my first letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

The Rebbe's response arrived quickly. Its content surprised me, and I realized that I had expected the Rebbe to simply say, “Don't go to college.” In fact, the Rebbe advised me to defer my college education for a year or two until I had a more solid background in Torah learning and Jewish values. This would also provide a stronger yardstick with which to evaluate my academic studies.

I followed the Rebbe’s advice, and, at the age of eighteen, began attending Beth Jacob Teachers' Seminary in Williamsburg. At the time it was the most highly regarded institution of advanced Jewish education for young women.

Each day, after school, I went to work as a part-time nanny in the house of a prominent rabbinic educator. While tending to the children, I unknowingly drew the attention of an older couple who lived nearby. The couple approached me and explained that they had noticed my love for Torah, and wanted to pay my way to Israel to meet a young man who headed a Kabbalistic seminary. They were convinced we would be a good match for marriage.

At the time, I had no one to ask for advice about such a serious matter. The offer sounded exotic and interesting, but I wasn't sure it was right for me. The well-meaning couple really didn't know me nor did they know what I was looking for in a life-partner. How could they suggest a soul mate for me?

Feeling very alone, I had a strong yearning to travel to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters were located.

By the time I arrived at 770 Eastern Parkway, I felt so emotionally overwhelmed that I sat outside the building sobbing. An elderly gentleman with a wispy beard approached me and asked me what was wrong. I explained that I had written a few letters to the Rebbe in my earlier teens and now I wished to speak with him.

"Wait here a minute," murmured the gentleman, and he went inside the stately brick building. I later found out that he was the Rebbe’s senior secretary, Rabbi Hodakov.

Rabbi Hodakov returned a while later and informed me I had an appointment with the Rebbe the very next day. Little did I know that I was not following the protocol for arranging a meeting, or that one usually needed to make an appointment months in advance.

The next day, after a sleepless night, I took my turn to enter the Rebbe’s study. My knees felt like jelly, and I held onto the desk for support. But as soon as I looked into the Rebbe's calm, clear, compassionate blue eyes, I was able to relax slightly.

I explained my situation as concisely as I could, and the Rebbe responded briefly, directly addressing my concern. "He (the prospective groom) is there [in Israel] and you are here. You are very different from each other." Then he added, speaking in Yiddish, (though I have no idea how the Rebbe knew that I understood the language), "Remove him from your agenda."

I walked out exhilarated and relieved, not just because I had received a direct answer from someone I trusted, but because I no longer felt alone in the world. I had found a guide, a mentor.

A short time later, someone else suggested a young businessman as a suitable match for me. I met with him a few times, but I was unsure if he was truly my soul mate.

This time, I went into the office of the Rebbe’s secretariat and asked to make an appointment with the Rebbe. My appointment was set for a week later, once again, highly unusual considering the typical wait for a meeting.

This time, the Rebbe took the initiative in asking me questions, "Do you like this man?"

It was an obvious question, but to me, coming from a rabbi, a totally unexpected one. I gulped before replying, "I have stam ahavat yisrael [basic love of a fellow Jew] for him."

The Rebbe grinned from ear to ear with the confidential smile of a close relative.

He responded, again in Yiddish, “Far a man darf men hoben mer vi stam ahavas yisroel,” -- “For a husband, one must have more than plain, basic love of a fellow Jew.”

From that moment on, I was certain that I had acquired not only a guide and a teacher, but also a compassionate friend, and father-figure. My father died when I was ten and was someone I never really knew. But when I spoke with the Rebbe, I truly felt the love, support and concern of a father.

I have heard from others what I personally experienced. When one spoke privately to the Rebbe, it was as if you were the only person in the world to him. As I was to continue learning throughout my life, even though the Rebbe was so spiritually elevated, he was able to relate to, and connect with, everyone who came to see him. He listened to each person with total focus and attention. I would even say he listened to me more than I listened to myself.

I went on to experience many life-transforming audiences with the Rebbe. Though many thousands of people from all over the world had similar experiences, that awareness did not detract one iota from my feeling that in the Rebbe's eyes, I was as precious as an only child.

I turned sixty-five this year, and I still cannot believe that the person who came closest to being a father figure for me was also, according to many, the holiest and most influential rabbi of our times.

Yehudis Fishman has been teaching Torah and chassidic philosophy to people of all ages and backgrounds for over fifty years. For the last six years she has been the spiritual director of congregation Aish Kodesh in Boulder, Colo., and continues to teach and counsel. Her qualities of erudition, relevance, sensitivity and humor endear her to a broad spectrum of multigenerational students.
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valerie akron, oh August 2, 2012

looking for mr right what a fantastic experience!!! and what a gift, such a spiritual relationship attachment that has stayed with you your whole life!! thank you for sharing!!! and happy birthday Reply

Allan N. Schwartz Boulder, Colorado/USA October 30, 2009

Close Encounters I agree with the previous comments that this is a deep, emotional and touching story of a young person's search for meaning and for herself, in life. I consider it a priviledge to know Yehudis Fishman Reply

Judy Boulder, CO July 11, 2009

Yehudis's Story This is such a beautiful story. The right person at the right time...It is magical when it happens. Thank you for sharing. Reply

reb Jamie A June 29, 2009

a lovely tribute to the Rebbe and the author Reply

shaina miriam denver, co June 28, 2009

yehudis' article i second what gary hittleman said about mora yehudis and add that many of us have needed a father figure to set a holy, loving, and knowing standard for us.

what a beautiful story. Reply

chanie jerusalem June 29, 2009

i'm jealous, too... Yeah, I'm jealous, too, since I never met the Rebbe in person. But I suppose I shouldn't be, because somehow I managed to dream about him 13 times, nearly all of them in a "yechidus" setting. It's not the same, though..... Reply

gfm Gainesville, FL June 26, 2009

Yehudis:

Nobody (but a lunatic) tries to climb a mountain alone. Three things are necessary: (1) a group of fellow-climbers with the same goal, (2) a map of the terrain, and -- above all -- (3) a guide who has been there, not just an avid reader or a glib talker. Everything you say and feel -- and what others say and feel -- about the Rebbe convince even a skeptic that he was a soul who had reached the heights and who could guide others wishing to climb that same mountain.

I recall, when the Rebbe was still among us, you suggested that I to go see him. I regret now that I did not have the wisdom to take your advice.

Thank you for sharing your story, and for choosing a life in which you help others up that same spiritual mountain. Reply

Gary Hittelman Boulder, Colorado June 25, 2009

It's not surprising that the same humanity, concern and lovingkindness that Yehudis found in the Rebbe are midos that she so readily displays to others! Reply

Malka Miami, Florida June 25, 2009

Me? Jealous? I know that jealousy is a middah (character trait) that we are supposed to shun, and that we should try and remove it from the myriad of personality facets that each one of us possesses ...yet I remember hearing that one is permitted to be jealous of someone else's Torah learning. After reading your account, Rebbitzen, I wonder if we're also permitted to be jeallous of someone else's encounters with the Rebbe. Among many of my friends, I feel extremely blessed, as I merited quite a few personal moments with the Rebbe, receiving dollars, whereas quite a few of my friends became frum after Gimmel Tammuz. And yes, the Rebbe remains my father figure, even though I merited to have my Dad around untill I was well into my 40's. But the attention and personal care that you experienced from the Rebbe...well, it cetainly indicated that you are a very special person.
Thank you so much for sharing your story. You've inspired me to think a bit more deeply about my encounters with the Rebbe. Reply

Ellyn Hutt Denver June 24, 2009

Coming Close How beautiful that you had this relationship and what an inspiration it is to know about someone who had such a special touch with everyone!! Reply

Chava LA June 23, 2009

How lucky we are- "I would even say he listened to me more than I listened to myself"

Just like a true parent... Reply

Shari K. Boulder, CO June 23, 2009

Close Encounters This heartwarming story by a talented teacher gives insight as to how she acquired her unique personal listening style. .Beautiful! Reply

Peggy Horwitz La Mirada, California June 22, 2009

Yehudis Fishman article Thank you for your personal narrative. The Rebbe only appeared to me while waking from a dream. Reply

Rishe brooklyn, us June 21, 2009

Mrs. Fishman does it again By sharing so honestly and endearingly, you teach so much... this is lovely, Mrs. Fishman!
former student Rishe (Gordon) Deitsch Reply

elianna Boulder, CO June 21, 2009

Memorable words Very appropriate stories for Father's Day. Morah Yehudis speaks plainly, from the heart and shares a few moments of connection with the Rebbe that are truly inspirational. Very sweet article. Thanks for printing it. Reply

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