The last trolley of the evening rolled by on Kingston Avenue on a chilly winter night in 1955 as a jolly young Shimshon Stock ushered a close acquaintance and his soon-to-be-Bar-Mitzvahed son into the Lubavitch synagogue, around the corner at 770 Eastern Parkway.

Inside "770", soon to become famous as Lubavitch World Headquarters, was the study and office of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who a few years earlier had accepted the leadership of this small Chassidic community still struggling to recover from the ravages of Stalinism and the Holocaust. At the time, the Rebbe had only a handful of emissaries scattered across Israel, America, Europe and North Africa; but he was already relentlessly and tirelessly building a global network of communities soon to gain worldwide renown for its unconventional yet contemporary ways of reaching out to Jewish youth.

Shimshon, born and bred in the New World, was very much the "American Boy". Yet he had enjoyed a close and special friendship with the Rebbe prior to the passing of the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe — the Rebbe's father-in-law Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn — which continued on after the Rebbe accepted the mantel of leadership. He now introduced his friend and his friend's son to the Rebbe, who greeted them with his comforting and warm handshake, requesting them to please take a seat.

The Rebbe briefly blessed the boy that he should grow to become a source of pride to the Jewish people and to his family. As they turned to leave, Rebbe surprised the three Americans with the question he addressed to the youngster: "Are you a baseball fan?"

The Bar-Mitzvah boy replied that he was.

"Which team are you a fan of — the Yankees or the Dodgers?"

The Dodgers, replied the boy.

"Does your father have the same feeling for the Dodgers as you have?"

No.

"Does he take you out to games?"

Well, every once in a while my father takes me to a game. We were at a game a month ago.

"How was the game?"

It was disappointing, the 13-year-old confessed. By the sixth inning, the Dodgers were losing nine-to-two, so we decided to leave.

"Did the players also leave the game when you left?"

Rabbi, the players can't leave in the middle of the game!

"Why not?" asked the Rebbe. "Explain to me how this works."

There are players and fans, the baseball fan explained. The fans can leave when they like — they're not part of the game and the game could, and does, continue after they leave. But the players need to stay and try to win until the game is over.

"That is the lesson I want to teach you in Judaism," said the Rebbe with a smile. "You can be either a fan or a player. Be a player."

Outside 770 father and son said goodbye to Shimshon, the three now sharing a new admiration of a pioneer in Jewish education.