Sunday, December 10, 1989

At 770 Eastern Parkway, Lubavitch World Headquarters, the weekly “Sunday Dollars” was well underway. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, would stand for hours in a small room adjacent to his office as thousands of men, women, and children filed past to receive his blessing and a dollar to be distributed to charity. Many used this opportunity to seek the Rebbe’s wise counsel.

Cantor Joseph Malovany of the Fifth Avenue Synagogue in New York City brought his family to the Rebbe that day. After introducing his wife and son to the Rebbe, he added that he has another son who is autistic and living in a Jewish institution in England, and “needs a blessing and G‑d’s help.” The Rebbe handed Cantor Malovany a dollar to be given to charity on his son’s behalf, and told him: “If someone is autistic, it doesn't mean that they don't relate to anyone. They might not relate well to people, but to G‑d they relate as well as everyone else, and even more—while they’re not busy with people, they’re busy with G‑d. Place a charity box in his room. This will benefit him, and he'll remind his visitors that they must give charity."

Cantor Malovany informed the Rebbe that they had plans to visit their son soon and would do as requested, and left this encounter with the Rebbe—which lasted under two minutes—with a complete shift in his perception and attitude.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

We are in the midst of a month-long roving rabbi stint in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Northridge, assisting Rabbi Eli and Mrs. Tzippy Rivkin of Chabad of Northridge. That Sunday, we had scheduled a home visit with Bob, per Rabbi Rivkin’s suggestion.

Bob greeted us warmly, and we sat down on his living room sofa to chat. We told him a little bit about ourselves and Chabad, and then gave him the floor—after years of listening to people, it’s clear when someone needs to share.

Bob began by telling us that 20 years ago, he had been “a lot more religious,” attending synagogue every Shabbat. Then, his two young children were diagnosed with autism, and the Jewish day school they attended was unable to properly service them. With no recourse, he enrolled them in public school. Without a solid Jewish infrastructure in their lives, coupled with some resentment for what they perceived as a lack of acceptance and support from the Jewish community, the family slowly pared down their involvement.

As Bob was talking about his challenges with his children, the Rebbe’s encounter with Cantor Malovany came to mind. It is available as a YouTube clip, courtesy of JEM—Jewish Educational Media. We decided to pull it up on our phones and show it to Bob.

Bob was mesmerized, and became quite emotional when he heard the Rebbe’s novel approach to children with autism. We showed him a few similar clips and discussed how the Rebbe loved every Jew unconditionally and urged his followers to do the same. That was the inspiration behind the founding of the Friendship Circle, Chabad's organization for children with special needs, which currently has 79 branches worldwide, including one quite close to Northridge! We forwarded their contact information to Bob, who promised to call first thing on Monday.

When we said our goodbyes to Bob, it was like he was a different man than the one who had welcomed us in an hour prior. He was standing taller, his eyes were shining, his faith in humanity had been restored. Once again, an encounter with the Rebbe had made an immeasurable impact.