To world Jewry, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was a recognized leader and champion of Torah-true Judaism, who sacrificed himself all his life for the benefit of his people. To numerous individuals in all walks of life, he was a patriarch and sage whose word of advice and encouragement meant inspiration and comfort. To the Chabad community the world over, with its thousands of synagogues and hundreds of thousands of followers, his word was sacred and his wish a command.

His appearance was most impressive—his beard of gold and silver, his kindly eyes and majestic smile—left an unforgettable impression on all who observed him at close range. While benign and affectionate in his conversation with his numerous visitors, he could be gravely serious, fearless and outspoken, when touching upon any subject concerning the safeguarding of the religious observances or the economic improvement of his brethren, wherever they may be.

The Schneersohn Rabbinical Dynasty has for two centuries produced leadership of the rarest caliber in world Jewry. True to that tradition, the Lubavitcher Rebbe stood above party, but belonged to all Israel. Every Jew, without exception, was dear to him. Thus, while having devoted part of his time to the large Chabad community the world over, with its specific problems such as the dissemination of the Chabad philosophy and the perpetuation of the Chabad tradition, much of his energies were exerted for the general economic betterment of the Jew, and the safeguarding of Judaism everywhere, to the improvement of the educational system, and the support of all Torah-true institutions regardless of affiliation.

All the beauty of Chabad scholarship and piety, loving kindness and modesty, purity of heart and faith, were personified in him. He was all that a Jewish leader should be.

His selfless devotion to his people, his self-sacrifice for Torah and Judaism, his inspiring leadership in the most critical era of Jewish history, made the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe stand out as one of the most revered and saintly figures of the entire world of Jewry.

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Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn was born in Lubavitch, Russia, on the 12th day of Tamuz in the year 5640 (1880). His father, Rabbi Sholom DovBer Schneersohn,1 initiated his son into communal work at the age of fifteen, by appointing him his personal secretary.

For more than one hundred years, the Lubavitcher Dynasty enjoyed the status of privileged citizens, first granted by Czar Alexander the First, at the time of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia, in recognition of the great patriotism of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Chasidus, and the progenitor of the Lubavitcher Dynasty. This privileged status of the Lubavitcher Rebbes in each generation (even with many non-Jews), enabled them to render invaluable service to our people in Czarist Russia.

When news of the demise of Rabbi Schneur Zalman,2 the Alter Rebbe, reached St. Petersburg, the War Minister called a special session of the cabinet to send a message of condolence to the bereaved family.

The official address was brought to his son at Krementchug by representatives of the Governors of Poltava, Tchernigow and Odessa, with an inquiry as to the best way in which Russia could repay the Lubavitcher Rebbes for their services. The son and successor of the first Chabad leader asked nothing for himself, but requested a benevolent attitude by the Russian Government towards the Jews, and the improvement of their economic position. Asked for specific suggestions, he requested the cooperation of the government in the settling of numerous Jews on the land, a project which his father had taken up just before the Franco-Russian war broke out. Thus the famous Jewish settlements of Kherson came into being.

The Settlement expanded, and to thousands of Jewish families it meant nothing less than salvation.

The grandson of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the world famous Talmudist and codifier, author of Tzemach Tzedek, Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch,3 third generation of Lubavitcher Rebbes, acquired whole tracts of land around the town of Shtzedrin, including the town itself, where new Jewish settlements were established.

These efforts were further developed by each generation of Chabad leaders, right up to the time of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, when the American Joint Distribution Committee began to take an active interest in Russia's farming projects.

The settling of many Jews on farms was by no means the only activity which occupied the Lubavitcher Rebbes, with the purpose of alleviating the terrible economic plight of the Jews in Russia and Poland. They propagated the idea of artisanship among Jews, and raised their standards, economically and socially, to a place of recognition in Jewish life. No longer were Jewish artisans looked upon as the dregs of society. The son of the Tzemach Tzedek had induced the government to grant them special privileges of domicile in restricted areas, on a par with Jewish businessmen and professionals. The Lubavitcher Rebbes worked for the establishment of schools for training Jewish artisans. They also endeavored to create labor and occupation for Jewish workers, such as the establishment of the famous textile factory in Dubrovna, through the initiative of the father of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn.

The Lubavicher Rebbes were the true champions of Russian Jewry, always defending its economic positions against the restrictions and discriminations imposed upon the Jews by one government decree after another. Whether it was the annulment or postponement of an expulsion decree, such as in the years 1853-57 in the district of Vohlyn, or in the year 1891 in Moscow; or in the decree depriving Polish Jews of the right of running breweries in the year 1860, or the fight against the waves of pogroms and the like, the Lubavitcher Rebbes carried the fight fearlessly and selflessly to the highest spheres of the Russian Government and Court, and to the attention of the civilized world abroad, when it became necessary.

It is beyond the scope of this brief biography to enlarge upon the accomplishments of the earlier generation of the Lubavitcher Rebbes. The above brief references were made merely to give the reader a better insight into the position that the Lubavitcher Rebbe holds, not merely as leader of the Chabad world, but of world Jewry in general.

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As personal secretary to his illustrious father, the young Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn participated in all important Rabbinical convocations, political conferences, and the sundry other public activities of his father. In 1895, soon after he had joined his father in his public work, he participated in the great conference of religious and lay leaders which took place in Kovno, and the following year in Vilna.

On the 13th day of Elul 5657 (1897), at the age of seventeen, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn married Nehamah Dinah, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Schneersohn, a prominent man of great scholarship and piety. During the week's celebration that followed the wedding ceremony, his father, Rabbi Sholom DovBer, announced the founding of the famous Lubavitcher Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, and the following year, appointed his son executive director. Under the able direction of the Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, and guided by his ever watchful father, the Lubavitcher Yeshiva flourished and opened many branches in various parts of the vast expanses of Russia.

In the strenuous efforts of his father to improve the economic status of the Jews in Russia, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn was delegated by his father to carry on an intensive campaign for the establishment of a textile factory in Dubrovna. This campaign, which was conducted in the year 1901, took Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn to Vilna, Brisk, Lodz and Koenigsberg.

With the cooperation of the leading Rabbis of that time, including Rabbi David of Karlin, Rabbi Eliah Chaim of Lodz, Rabbi Chaim of Brisk, and Rabbi Chaim Ozer of Vilna, as well as the famous philanthropists, the brothers Jacob and Eliezer Poliakoff, a large textile factory was established in Dubrovna, in the district of Mogilev, giving employment to numerous Jewish workers, supporting some two thousand persons in all.

The difficult position of the Jews under the Czarist regime need not be elaborated upon here. As mentioned before, however, the Lubavitcher Rebbes continually interceded on behalf of their brethren, both with the government and the court. Such intercessions took Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn to the capital of St. Petersburg many times, as well as to Moscow. His visit to the capital in the year 5662 (1902) proved highly successful.

When the Russo-Japanese War flared up in the Far East in 1904, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn became quite active in the campaign inaugurated by his father to provide the Jewish soldiers on the far eastern front with matzot for Pesach.

The widespread unrest that followed in the wake of that war, known as the October Revolution, its suppression and the wave of pogroms that swept the Pale of Settlement, once again spurred his father into determined action. The Rebbe was sent to Germany and Holland, where he conferred with prominent statesmen, and induced them to intercede on behalf of the persecuted Jews in Russia, in order to suppress the wave of pogroms there. These efforts, too, proved highly successful.

In the year 5668 (1908), Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn again participated in the Rabbinical convocation which took place in Vilna. In the following year, he went to Germany to confer with Jewish leaders there. Upon his return he took part in the preparation for the next Rabbinical convocation in the year 5670 (1910).

His energetic and far-reaching public activities, his watchful defense of the rights of the Russian Jew, and his constant fight against local and central authorities aroused the displeasure of the then Czarist regime. During the ten years between 5662 and 5671 (1902–1911), Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn was arrested in Moscow and St. Petersburg no less than four times.

Since governmental inquiries could find nothing incriminating in the Rebbe's activities, he was released each time, with a stern warning which, nevertheless, did not deter him from continuing his work on behalf of his people with ever-growing vigor. In the years 1917 and 1918 Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn again took a leading part in the convocations of Rabbis and laymen in Moscow and Kharkov.

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The time came when Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, upon his father's death on the second day of Nissan 5680 (1920), was left alone to assume full responsibility of leadership. At the request of the entire Chabad world, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn accepted the leadership as Lubavitcher Rebbe.

By that time conditions had greatly changed. Russia was being bled white in the wake of war, revolution and constant internal strife, and, as usual, the Jews were the greatest victims. In those days, the Rebbe found himself practically alone, facing a task that required superhuman effort. He began to work on the rehabilitation of the Jewish communal and religious life in Russia. His fight was on two fronts. The material position of the Jews had been reduced to the lowest degree of poverty and suffering, and the future of traditional Judaism was gravely threatened by the policy of the godless Jewish group known as the Yevsektzia.4

While single-handedly pitted against overwhelming odds in his fight for the preservation of traditional Judaism in Russia, the Rebbe realized that the great Torah center of Russia was destined to move to a new country. Therefore, he founded a Lubavitcher yeshiva in Warsaw, Poland in the year 5681, and helped many students and deans of his Russian yeshivot to make their way to Poland to carry on with the growing Lubavitcher yeshiva there.

The Lubavitcher yeshiva in Poland, like its forerunners in Russia, rapidly developed into a whole system of yeshivot with many branches in which hundreds of students were enrolled.

In the meantime, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn fearlessly conducted his work in Russia, establishing and maintaining yeshivot and Torah schools, and other religious institutions in various parts of the country. He ignored the warnings and threats of the Yevsektzia. At that time, the Rebbe had his center in Rostov-on-the-Don, but because of libelous accusations, he had to move. He took up residence in Leningrad (St. Petersburg) from where he relentlessly continued to direct his activities. At that time, he also organized a special committee to help Jewish artisans and workers who desired to observe the Shabbat. He sent out teachers and preachers and other representatives to the most remote Jewish communities in Russia to strengthen their religious life. In many instances, the Rebbe supported rabbis and institutions through loans and subsidies, as it was very difficult to organize financial help in those days.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe found it necessary at that time to organize Chabad communities outside of Russia. It was then that Agudas Chasidei Chabad of the United States of America and Canada was organized, and he established regular contact with his followers in the New World.

In 1927, the Rebbe founded the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Bukhara, a remote province of Russia.

His fight against those who wanted to undermine the Jewish religion and religious observance became ever more bitter. The Yevsektzia was determined to stop him. They resorted to intimidation and mental torture. An illustration in point is the following:

One morning, while the Rebbe was observing yahrzeit after his father, three members of the secret (now defunct) Tcheku rushed into his synagogue, guns in hand, to arrest him. Calmly he finished his prayers and then followed them. Facing a council of armed and determined men, the Rebbe once again reaffirmed that he would, under no threat of compulsion, give up his religious activities. When one of the agents pointed a gun at him, saying, “This little toy has made many a man change his mind,” the Rebbe calmly replied: “Your little toy can intimidate only a man who has many gods (passions) and but one world (this world). Because I have only one G‑d and two worlds, I am not impressed by your little toy.”

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This relentless struggle, however, came to a head in the summer of the year 1927, when the Rebbe was arrested and placed in solitary confinement in the notorious Spalerno Prison of Leningrad. The Rebbe's life was now in imminent danger, but thanks to timely intervention by leading foreign statesmen, his life was spared. The intervention came in the nick of time, as a death sentence had already been passed.

For some time the Rebbe was banished into exile at Kostroma in the Urals. Finally, again giving way to great pressure by prominent foreign statesmen, the authorities released the Rebbe on his birthday, Tamuz the 12th-13th, and he was permitted to settle in the village of Malachovka, in the vicinity of Moscow. Further intercession resulted in permission for the Rebbe to leave Russia and come to Riga, Latvia. On the day after Succot, the Rebbe left for Riga, together with his family and the bulk of his valuable and historic library.

Without pausing to rest, the Rebbe renewed his activities. He began by establishing a yeshiva in Riga. In the years 1928–9, he took the initiative in providing Russian Jews with matzot. His efforts were highly successful.

In the year 1929, the Rebbe visited Israel and from there, traveled to the United States. Here he received an official civic welcome in New York, and was granted the freedom of the city by the Commissioner of Police, acting on behalf of the Mayor. Hundreds of Rabbis and lay leaders welcomed the Rebbe and sought personal audiences. During this visit, the Rebbe was also received by President Hoover at the White House.

Returning to Europe he continued his varied activities, and in order to have better facilities for his work, he took up residence in Warsaw (5694) 1934. The activities of the Lubavitcher yeshivot in Poland now gained considerable momentum. The central yeshiva in Warsaw and Otvock attracted many hundreds of scholars from all parts of Poland and other countries, including the United States. Two years later the Rebbe moved to Otvock, near Warsaw, and from there directed all his activities.

Storm broke out again, in September, 1939, with Europe in the throes of a second world war. Refusing every opportunity to leave the inferno of Warsaw until he had taken care of his yeshivot, and done everything possible on behalf of his suffering brethren in the Polish capital, the Rebbe remained there throughout the terrible siege and bombardment of Warsaw, and its final capitulation to the Nazi invaders. His suffering during this time, and his narrow escape under terrific bombardment, were not, however, in vain.

He had managed to evacuate a great many of his students to safer zones, and all the American boys who had been studying at the Lubavitcher yeshiva at Otvock were safely transported back to their homes in the United States. His courage and fearlessness (he had a succah built and observed the mitzvah of “dwelling in the succah” at the height of the bombardment) were a source of inspiration to the suffering Jewish community of Warsaw.

It was only after he realized that there was nothing more that he could do that the Rebbe finally consented to heed the urgent requests of his many followers in Warsaw and abroad, particularly in the United States, to leave the shattered and charred ruins of the Polish capital, and make his way to the United States. The Rebbe's ardent followers and friends in America, through the cooperation of the United States Department of State in Washington, worked incessantly to facilitate the Rebbe's transportation from Warsaw to New York. Finally, the Rebbe and his family were offered transportation to Berlin, and thence to Riga, Latvia.

Riga, the capital of Latvia, which was still neutral at that time, offered further opportunity for the Rebbe to help the numerous refugees, who had succeeded in escaping from Poland to Lithuania and Latvia, among them many students and Rabbis.

On the 9th day of Adar II, 5700 (19 March 1940), the Rebbe arrived in New York on the SS. Drottningholm, and was enthusiastically welcomed by thousands of followers and many representatives of various organizations, as well as civic authorities.

Immediately upon his arrival, the Rebbe publicized that it was not for his own safety that he had made the trip to the United States, but that he had an important mission to fulfill in this free and blessed country. This mission was to make America a Torah center to take the place of the ruined Jewish communities of Europe.

The decade that had elapsed between the Rebbe's first and second visit to the U.S.A. left its scar on the Rebbe's constitution. His health had greatly deteriorated by his suffering and self-sacrifice. Nevertheless, the Rebbe threw himself at once, body and soul, into his new mission.

The central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, Lubavitch, was soon established, and it became the forerunner of many yeshivot and Torah schools throughout the United States. The Rebbe continued his efforts on behalf of his war-torn brethren overseas, and at the same time, concentrated every ounce of energy on behalf of American Jewry, to bring about a religious revival here.

After a short stay in Manhattan, the Rabbi moved his headquarters to Brooklyn. The first issue of the monthly journal Hakriah Vehakdusha made its appearance as the official organ of the World Agudas Chasidei Chabad.

The Rebbe then founded the Machne Israel, Inc. and Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, Inc. organizations. The first is devoted to the general strengthening of Orthodox Judaism in America and the world over, and the other is dedicated to every phase of Jewish education, including the establishment and maintenance of many schools for girls; the publication of text-books and literature; the organization of Jewish youth into religious observance groups and circles, and so forth. These institutions are not Chabad institutions, per se, but are devoted to the general objective of strengthening Judaism and the remedying of the general position of Jewish education, consonant with the policy of the Lubavitcher Rebbes in the past five generations. The Kehot Publication Society was the next organization established. To head the three latter organizations, the Rebbe appointed his son-in-law, and future leader of Chabad-Lubavitch, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

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The aims of the Machne Israel and Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch organizations are dedicated to the welfare of all Jews without distinction. The idea of Ahavat Yisrael (love of fellow Jews), which permeates the work of these organizations, does not allow any distinction between one Jew and another, where Jewish spiritual and material welfare is concerned. Through the dissemination of literature in the spirit of our Torah and prophets of old, through the distribution of religious articles, support of religious institutions, and so on, the Machne Israel organization has brought new vitality and meaning to thousands of Jews in every walk of life.

Of course, special attention was given to Jews in the armed services, and a wave of religious re-awakening swept the rank and file of the Jews at home and abroad, the like of which had been unknown and held impossible here in America.

An eloquent illustration of the activities of these two organizations under the auspices of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn was the Farmers’ Department of these organizations. This department sent a special representative by car to visit the Jewish farmers in the States of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. Words can hardly describe what this visit meant to those lonely farmers. For many decades they had come to regard themselves as forsaken and forgotten. Most of them had become completely estranged from Judaism. Their children would almost certainly have been lost to us forever. Now direct contact was made with these ‘lost tribes of Israel.’ The above mentioned organizations furnished them free of charge, or at cost price, with various essential religious articles, fine literature and textbooks to make them conscious and proud of their great spiritual heritage.

The publication department of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch has published millions of volumes of various publications, including Hebrew textbooks, juvenile library editions, two monthly journals (now in their fifteenth year of continuous appearance), various pamphlets and booklets and other literature in Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French and Spanish. Who can estimate the far reaching moral effect of these publications on our growing Jewish youth, who until now have been fed on literature completely alien to the Jewish spirit?

Thousands of children of the Public Schools in greater New York and in other cities now receive religious instruction every week through the initiative and services of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, taking advantage of the provision of the Education Department releasing all students for one hour a week for religious instruction. It has also mobilized a legion of voluntary instructors from the ranks of senior yeshiva students to conduct these special religious classes. Special literature and pedagogic instruction are given to these teachers to conduct the classes in the best possible way.

Thus, not merely are thousands of Jewish children brought back to the Jewish fold, but through them the light and warmth of Judaism gradually penetrates into their homes.

Not of less importance is the work of the Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch in the field of chinuch habanot—girls’ education. Girls’ schools under the name of Bais Sarah and Bais Rivkah have been established by this organization in New York and throughout the continent, including Canada, as well as in the Holy Land, England, France, Morocco and Australia. There are now thirty-six such schools, in which thousands of Jewish girls are educated.

About seventy Mesibos Shabbos groups, for boys and girls, have been established by the same organization from coast to coast, whereby Jewish children and youths are made conscious of their great spiritual heritage. Meeting every Shabbos in a congenial atmosphere, led by a boy, or a girl—depending on the group—of their own age, these children become aware of the fundamentals of the Jewish religion, of the sanctity of the Shabbat and other precepts. They form a potential reservoir for yeshivot and Talmud Torahs.

At the end of the war, in 1945, when so many thousands of Jews were suffering in the DP camps of Europe and clamoring for help, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn established the Ezrat Pleitim Vesidurom, his Refugee Relief and Rehabilitation Organization, with a special office in Paris. He appointed Rabbi Benjamin Gorodetski as its head and official representative in Europe. Concentrating his efforts on this work, and with the help of the Almighty, the Rebbe succeeded in saving many hundreds of his own students and disciples and other Jews, from Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, etc., and in rehabilitating them in various countries as Rabbis and teachers, or in various professions, trades and businesses.

Many of these Jewish refugees came to Israel through the help of the Ezrat Pleitim, and in 1948, the Rebbe established Kfar Chabad, near Tel Aviv, where many refugees settled down to agricultural work. The village has made excellent strides in its development and is a model of dedication and industriousness. It has its own religious institutions, including a yeshiva. In recent years vocational schools have been established there, such as an agricultural school, a school for carpentry, and a school for printing. A second Chabad village, in the vicinity of the first, is being established.

A short while before his death, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn turned to his followers and supporters with the following message: “There is much to be done in North Africa. The Jews of Morocco need teachers and guides, and it is our task to spread the knowledge of Torah among them.”

This message resulted in the campaign for Jewish education and Torah-learning in Morocco. At present, many schools, teacher's seminaries, yeshivot and Talmud Torahs have been established in the various cities and towns of Morocco and in other parts of the world. All of these institutions and organizations for children, boys and girls, bear the name Oholei Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch, in memory of the one who had conceived of this work, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of saintly memory.

The achievements in the field of Jewish education and the general strengthening of Judaism here in America which can be credited to the Rebbe's direct or indirect influence, clearly prove the old Jewish axiom: Nothing can stand in the way of a determined will.

In many quarters, the Rebbe removed the handicap which has more than anything else been responsible for the deplorable state of Judaism and Jewish education in America. The handicap was the common belief that America is different, and that America is not suitable to become a center for Torah and G‑d-fearing Jews.

The Rebbe constantly underscored that strict adherence to the Torah as a factor in Jewish life is not limited to any particular country or any special conditions of time and place. He further impressed upon all our people, by word and by deed, that no matter how estranged a Jew may be from Torah—Judaism , the Jewish heart and soul remain unaffected, and the Jew can always be made aware and conscious of his or her great spiritual heritage, provided the right approach is taken.

Many Jewish communal workers and leaders have taken heart in the Rebbe’s successful efforts, and redoubled their own. New organizations and institutions have sprung up in the field of Jewish education, Shabbat observance, etc., the benefit of which is making itself increasingly felt.

Paraphrasing the words of the wisest of all men (Proverbs 10:25) okug suxh ehsmu—it can truly be said that Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, was one of the foundations of world Jewry in his generation.

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn passed away on Shabbat, the 10th day of Shevat, 5710 (1950), after thirty years of indefatigable leadership as head of Chabad and as leader of world Jewry, of which the last ten years were spent in dedicated work from his headquarters in Brooklyn, New York.

News of his demise saddened Jews all over the world, who mourned with a sense of personal loss the passing of so eminent, devoted and inspiring a leader. However, they found comfort not only in the knowledge that his spirit lives on in the unbroken chain of Chabad leadership, but also in the fact that his deeds and institutions continued to thrive under the leadership of his successor, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe and head of Chabad, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson [May his merit protect us!].