Shavuos was now approaching and, once again, I had the zechus of being invited to partake of Yom Tov meals with the Rebbe.

The seating arrangements and the food were similar to the past few years. The routine was the same too. But this year I had a good helpmate in my endeavors to make the Rebbe freilich. Rabbi Gutnick took my advice, followed my lead and a good time was had by all.

I remarked that Her Majesty the Queen was well represented, from Canada, from Great Britain and by Rabbi Gutnick who was a chaplain in Her Majesty’s forces in Australia. The Rebbe said that Rabbi Gutnick had an even higher title - a Kohen. Rabbi Gutnick told me after Yom Tov that it was the most enjoyable and memorable Shavuos he had ever spent.

Another interesting guest was Rabbi Laizer Nanness. He has been residing at Shikun Chabad in Jerusalem for the past four years, after spending twenty years in Russian jails, mostly in Siberia. He was sentenced to death for teaching yiddishkeit. This sentence was then reduced to ten years’ imprisonment. After serving this sentence in full (only a thief receives remission for “good conduct”), his sentence was extended for another ten years. After these twenty years of hard labor, which killed most of the prisoners, he was released. He then waited ten years for permission to travel to Israel. All this time, for thirty years, he had tasted neither meat nor poultry. (Incidentally, on the Rebbe’s directives, when he traveled back from New York to Israel, he visited us in Manchester for one day, )

At the outset of the first meal - the first night of Yom Tov - and recalling that the previous year I had earned good commission from the Rebbe for suggesting that we should continue to sing “ho’aderes veho’emuna” at 770 during davening, just as all Lubavitcher branches all over the world were still doing on Yom Tov, I declared to the Rebbe that I would like to discuss some business matter.

The Rebbe agreed to hear my proposition, but said I must not talk in English but in Yiddish, for many of the dozen or so guests could not understand English.

I asked why do we not sing “hu elokeinu” here at 770 during davening. The Rebbe said that he had not seen this song being sung at the previous Rebbe’s shul.

So, I asked “Did they sing it in Lubavitch?”

The Rebbe pointed to another rabbi who had been in Lubavitch. He said that they had not sung it in Lubavitch.

I offered, “That was Lubavitch of yesteryear, but today we live in a moderna velt (modern world) where we need happy niggunim. Anyway, the entire world learnt to sing that song from here, like in Manchester and Israel, but here they don’t sing it?”

The Rebbe confided that even though he had not heard “ein k’elokeinu” being sung in his father-in-law’s shul, “When I was in Berlin the first time, I did hear this song.”

Of course that was a misunderstanding, as I had not been asking about “ein k’elokeinu,” but “hu elokeinu!”

“Still,” I added, “I have been here now for two weeks and have not heard them singing hu elokeinu!”

The Rebbe said, “That is your fault.”

“I am only a soldier,” I protested.

“If so,” I am ‘commanding’ you to sing it,” said the Rebbe.

I figured I would also put in a word for singing “kalie atoh” during davening, so I said, “In Manchester we sing “kalie atoh” at the end of Hallel.”

The Rebbe mentioned, “It is a song of the Alter Rebbe.”

“So why is it not sung here?” I asked.

“Tomorrow, we should sing this song too,” said the Rebbe. “And those who are here now, if they will be there tomorrow, should help you.”

So it was settled and I was to be allowed to commence singing during davening tomorrow.

I did very well, I must admit. In the event, I started the first tune on Shavuos morning. I felt like Nachshon ben Aminodov who was the first to jump into the Red Sea before it split. The congregation hesitated quite a while before they joined in. Later, one fellow severely reprimanded me for singing in shul without the Rebbe giving the signal. I explained that the Rebbe had already given me permission previously, and I certainly would not do anything against protocol. He apologized profusely.

During the meal of the first day, I thanked the Rebbe “for helping me with the niggunim, but it was difficult.”

The Rebbe commented that it would be much easier on the following day and indeed it was.

The trouble was that I was then inundated with requests to sing various other niggunim. Obviously, I had to decline. One cannot, or should not, overdo a good thing. I was quite satisfied with what was achieved. I still continue the custom of starting to sing a niggun when the Rebbe leaves the shul, so the Rebbe is sung out; but, instead of helping me by joining in and being freilich, I get blank stares and a few smiles of approval and even disapproval. Fortunately, my old friend, Rabbi Shemtov, and my new friend, Zvi Fisher, had pity on me, and we danced and sang together for the Rebbe.

Well, to revert back to meals with the Rebbe. Every meal was freilich. I sang many niggunim and told a few good jokes. I had just concluded what I thought was a good joke, when the Rebbe remarked that he did not like the joke at all, as I had related something detrimental about the Jewish people. Therefore, I must immediately express something good about Jewish people, now and at once. This I did, and the Rebbe raised his glass and wished me l’chaim. At a subsequent farbrengen I thought of something very good to say about Jews. This time the Rebbe made me say l’chaim in a very loud voice.

At the first meal I was given the honor of bentching, which I very much appreciated, and I hope, the other guests did too.

At one point during the meal on the first day of Yom Tov, the Rebbe said to me, “You have to sing a niggun.”

I proposed, “Bli neder tonight I will sing two niggunim.”

“Sing now at least a halbeh niggun,” (half a niggun) said the Rebbe.

So off we went with another song.

When we finished singing, the Rebbe said to me, “And now say a complete l’chaim.”

I then asked the Rebbe a question on Rashi. The Rebbe always stresses that Rashi wrote his commentary so even a five-year-old can understand. I have yet to find a five-year-old who could answer this question:

G‑d commands the kohanim: “So shall you bless the children of Israel ‘omor lohem’ (say to them).” [Bamidbar 6:23] In Rashi’s commentary of this verse, he gives three explanations to the words of ‘omor lohem’. But, instead of including all three explanations in one entry under a shared heading, as Rashi usually does when having more than one interpretation, there is a separate heading for each of the three explanations.

The Rebbe promised to discuss this question at the next farbrengen on Shabbos.

At the last Yom Tov meal, I told the Rebbe that Rabbi Gutnick wanted to give me an answer on the Rashi; but I did not want to hear it because I prefer to hear the Rebbe’s answer.

The Rebbe said, “It is not a contradiction. Especially as Rabbi Gutnick is himself a kohen”. Rabbi Gutnick gave an answer, but it seems that the Rebbe had something else in mind.

This last meal on Shavuos had a very happy atmosphere.

We sang the words from the final verses in the Rebbe’s perek of Tehillim (Psalms 69:36-37) to the tune of “Dayenu.” The Rebbe had been quoting these verses at every farbrengen this year, “kee Elokim yoshiya tzion” (For G‑d will save Zion, etc.)

The Rebbe was exceptionally pleased with this new song and, his face beaming, asked whose inspired idea this was. Someone explained that some of the yeshiva boys had hit on this brilliant idea.

The Rebbe said, “They are very appropriate words.”

Rabbi Gutnick said that since the tune was from “Dayenu” which means “enough”, I am asking of the Rebbe at this auspicious time that it should be dayenu to all tzorrus!

The Rebbe answered, “Amen, kein yehi rotzon.” (So should be the will.)

In due course, this niggun became “top of the pops.”

By the way, we always saw that the Rebbe takes a lot of salt with his food. Once, someone asked him why he uses so much salt. The Rebbe replied, “Ess is gishmack.” (It is enjoyable.)

I am very sorry to hear that the Rebbe has now discontinued joining his chassidim at Yom Tov meals.

The Rebbe wrote to me about this some months later, in a letter dated the 3rd of Nissan, 5731 (March 29, 1971): line with various changes which took place lately... there does not appear a likelihood for joint seudos on Yom Tov, at which I could join you and other Chassidim...

I hope I am not to blame for this cessation. Maybe the Rebbe noticed that I did not eat too much at that last meal. Instead of the usual gefilte fish I was served a fish head - the first time in my life that I had this “delicacy” on my plate. The fish continued to stare at me with cold but appealing eyes. I did not have the heart or the courage to disturb it. The next course was the soup. It seems that by the time I really got started on my plate of soup the Rebbe had finished, so that was that! Normally, the Rebbe was very particular to see that everyone had finished the course before he put down his spoon or fork. I was unlucky this time. Then the meat arrived. Everyone had meat except me! I once caused a great commotion by asking the boys to exchange that day’s meat choice, beef tongue (which I do not like), for chicken. Maybe they think I only eat chicken. So, for the fourth consecutive meal, I had to eat chicken and look as if I was enjoying it.