In the year 5689 (1929), the Rebbe set out for America in order to activate a massive campaign for the relief of the impoverished Jews in Soviet Russia. One of the personalities who accompanied him on the voyage was R. Mordechai Dubin,359 popularly regarded as the unofficial “foreign secretary” of the realm of Lubavitch. As a seasoned diplomat, he knew when to speak and when to remain silent, but beyond that he excelled as a practical man of action. Thus, at a time when tens of thousands of destitute Jewish refugees left Russia via Latvia, and in particular via Riga, its capital, he was the caring father and brother who saw to the needs of every individual.

From the end of World War I, when he began his public career, he came in personal contact with no fewer than 100,000 Jews whom he helped in one way or another. With all that, his public appearances were rare, and he humbly insisted that he had done no more than what he was dutybound to do. Though he was only 40 years old at this time, his dreamy, professorial appearance and the early streaks of silver in his round black beard made him look older. And the top hat that he wore in honor of Shabbos stamped him as a classic diplomat.

He was born and grew up in Riga, but his influence was so wide that thousands of Jews in Europe and America recognized from personal experience that here was a man who blended the noblest, public-spirited qualities of the traditional communal functionary1 with the operational style of a modern diplomat.

On the one hand, with his unswerving ultra-Orthodox2 world view, he was a firm believer in the potential power of a modern organization such as Agudas Yisrael, of which he was one of the dominant leaders. At the same time, his wide horizons enabled him to maintain friendly relations not only with Jews of other opinions, but also with his political rivals and antagonists. Likewise, on the one hand he was a man of profound Torah scholarship, the son of a wealthy timber merchant who had given him a classic Lubavitcher education. At the same time he was well versed in European culture and languages.

While still a youth he was a devoted and efficient figure in various organizations that offered help to needy fellow Jews, especially to those who worked for the public good by disseminating the study and observance of the Torah. He first gained experience in this field when bringing financial relief to the scholars and public figures who spent the summer at health resorts. Later, with the outbreak of World War I, he accelerated his activities. When he encountered the huge numbers of Jewish refugees who fled from the pogroms and expulsions that accompanied that tornado, he provided many of them with food, housing, or transit visas. Many of them had fled to Latvia from Russia in 1917 in the wake of Alexander Kerensky’s short-lived revolutionary regime, which ousted the last czar and was in turn ousted by the Bolsheviks. Dubin, alive to the similar needs of the stricken Jewish minorities in the surrounding countries, utilized his political experience – by now he headed Agudas Yisrael in Latvia – to organize communal infrastructures in many other localities as well.

During World War I, the Jews of Latvia suffered under the German invaders, though they did enjoy certain rights. When the Bolsheviks overran Latvia and wrested it from the Germans, the plight of the Jews worsened, with famine, persecution and bitter internal strife. Confronted with this reality, Dubin made every effort to relieve the acute suffering and provide the basic needs of numerous individuals. He buttressed communal organizations and institutions, and went to great lengths to supply matzos, to open Torah-inspired school systems, and to support religious leaders and all their townsmen.

Under the Bolshevik regime, when flour was scarce, the anti-Semitism of the Latvian Communists peaked. At that critical time Dubin risked his liberty, and indeed his life, by fearlessly fighting the official restrictions on the civil rights of Jewish citizens. For this he was arrested on a charge of counter-revolutionary activity, no less. Other Jewish public figures were threatened with similar charges. Undaunted, he fought valiantly for his rights and, firm in the truth of his cause, succeeded in freeing himself from the claws of the Bolshevik invader.

He thus personally experienced all the woes that Riga suffered, both from the frequent changes of regime and from the bullets and bombings. Yet despite that predicament, he succeeded time after time in saving a fellow Jew from a death sentence (“for espionage”) that had been hastily handed down by the ad hoc tribunal of the current invader.

With the liberation of Riga after the war and the establishment of an independent government, Dubin was elected as a member of the Provisional Council, where his eloquent command of the local language stood him in good stead. From the beginning, he became a dominant member of the Sejm as the representative of Agudas Yisrael, though it was universally recognized that his interests transcended his particular party: his concern was the welfare of the Jewish population at large. As a member of various parliamentary committees, particularly the finance committee, he ensured that the equal civil rights of the local Jews were protected, and that Jewish causes were provided with whatever the national constitution entitled them to receive.

And side by side with the above, as we have seen, it was Dubin’s standing in the Latvian parliament that enabled him to exert the diplomatic pressure on Russia that finally convinced them to allow the Rebbe to leave for abroad.