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When the Rebbe Climbed the Fence

When the Rebbe Climbed the Fence

Rosh Hashanah 1956


On Rosh Hashanah, it is a custom to go to a lake, pond or other body of water to perform the Tashlich service. There we "cast away" the sins we may have accumulated during the previous year. In Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where "770" (as Lubavitch World Headquarters is affectionately known) is located, there is no lake or the like (until later years, when a well was dug behind 770).

Since the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, of righteous memory, arrived in New York in 1941, it became the custom to walk to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, located approximately one mile from 770. A beautiful parade of chassidim jubilantly singing marched down Eastern Parkway—joined along the way by many others.

The lake in Botanical Gardens (Photo: Freida Glassner)
The lake in Botanical Gardens (Photo: Freida Glassner)

This particular year, 1956, there was a drenching rain downpour. Three minutes outdoors was enough to soak you to the bone. But the annual march proceeded as usual.

It was a sight to behold. I was walking behind the Rebbe, who held his prayer book closely, so it should not get wet.

We arrived at the park, only to find that the gates were closed and locked. Apparently, the one in charge of the Botanical Gardens reckoned that no one would visit during the rain, so he locked up and went home. The words of the fourth Lubavitcher Rebbe became very relevant: "When you cannot go under go over!"

I watched as the Rebbe handed his prayer book to one of the chassidim, Rabbi Yisroel Duchman. Because you cannot climb and hold the book in your hand.

He quickly started climbing the wall. As he got to the top, he leaned over, athletically rolled over, then turned around and went down the other side.

And then he signaled to us, as if to say: Nu? What are you all waiting for? All the chassidim climbed over, young and old alike.

We arrived at the lake and recited the traditional prayer. The Rebbe then started to sing and motioned that we should dance. It was one of my happiest experiences, truly one that soaked me through and through...

We then trekked back at 770. The hats manufactured in those days had dyed ribbons that would bleed if gotten very wet. So people came back with blotches of dissolved ink on their faces, their skullcaps, and even their shirts.

The Rebbe then came out of his office with a big bottle of wine. He climbed up on a bench and distributed some wine to all those who had joined him on that very memorable Rosh Hashanah march.

For the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Dr. Jonathan Sacks', take on the story, see The Chabad Approach to Life.

As told by Yossi Goldstein to Dovid Zaklikowski.
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Anonymous Far Rockaway, NY August 21, 2011

Reply to Anonymous (Strong Faith) Men and women are separated during worship so that people can send their thoughts soaring into heaven. I, a Jewish woman, find this empowering rather than sexist. I feel that I and other women are in a protected, secure environment rather than being the object of men's stares and leers during the service. It would be very difficult for a new husband to concentrate on his prayers if his beautiful beloved new bride were sitting right next to him. The sheer joy and excitement of their relationship would overwhelm him and destroy his ability to think of anything else. People are only human and separating the genders during service to G-d makes more sense than allowing creepy guys to intimidate women away from the synagogue. Reply

Anonymous Brooklyn, New York August 7, 2011

The Rebbe Knows everySecrete The Rebbe understood that the greater the obstacles or the cost of carrying out a misva, the greater the light that is to be revealed (or the blessings so to speak). Thus He would not stop at any thing. He did not want to deprive the people or himself this wonderful opportunity for revelation of great light in their lives and the world at large that suddenly presented its self before them.
He also ensured that in spite of the challenges, they did it with so much joy, and with a sense of urgency - Making their service to Ha-Shem even more acceptable in His sight.

The wise can learn volumes from this singular act of the Rebbe. Reply

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman September 23, 2009

Re: Strong Faith We have several articles addressing your question listed here. Reply

Anonymous September 20, 2009

Strong Faith The Rebbe was stong willed, with great faith wiithin himself and G-d! Very inspiring story!
I am not Jewish, so I ask this question: Why are men, women and children separated during worship and other gatherings within the Jewish culture? Please answer, thanks! Reply

Anonymous Northridge, CA September 18, 2009

Machitsah Yes, it's all about building Emuna! It's sad neither my wife nor my two daughters will attend Chabad services so long as the sexist attitude prevails. Reply

Anonymous Inver Grove , MN September 18, 2009

The Rebbe climbed the fence This memory and story is, for me, a reminder of how faith in G-d brings strength and joy. Reply

Eve September 18, 2009

Splendid So joyful:) Reply

Anonymous Northridge, CA September 18, 2009

Machitsah Any chance the fence that separates me from my wife and children at services will be torn down soon? Perhaps your story about the
Rebbe suggests we should climb over our own walls? Reply

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