In commemoration of the approaching 16th anniversary of the passing of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, Jewish Educational Media announced the release of a new installment in its acclaimed “Early Years” series focusing on the Rebbe’s life prior to his taking the helm of Chabad-Lubavitch in 1950.

The new release came alongside the unveiling of a revamped “My Moment With the Rebbe” website developed in cooperation with that allows users to search and update hundreds of thousands of photos of people meeting the Rebbe.

According to JEM director Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, the new DVD sheds light on 18 stories from the Rebbe’s life ranging from the circumstances surrounding his birth to his arrival in the United States. Among the stories included in the video is an interview of Yisroel Adamski, whose family were members of the Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine, community led by the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory. Adamski relates that the Rebbe’s parents, who were unable to attend his wedding in Warsaw because of politically-sanctioned travel restrictions, held their own celebration at home and invited the whole community.

“There is so much to be learned from the life of the Rebbe, in addition to his teachings,” said Shmotkin. “In some ways, his life is even more accessible than his teachings. We can learn so much from how he conducted himself.

“Part of what we’ve been trying to do with this project is to get to know the ‘human’ side of the Rebbe,” continued Shmotkin, whose organization is in the midst of raising money for its My Encounter With the Rebbe project, a massive effort to record 1,000 first-person testimonies of people whose lives were touched by the Rebbe. “Such videos teach us who he was and why he inspired to many. They show us who he was as an individual.”

Priceless Videos

The revamped website, meanwhile, focuses on a different aspect of the Rebbe’s legacy: the six-year-long sessions known as “Sunday dollars” where people lined up weekly for the chance to meet the Rebbe. At this brief encounters, the Rebbe would offer a blessing and hand them dollar bills to be donated to charity, making his interlocutors partners in the performance of good deeds.

The site functions essentially as an open archive where users can locate a still-image of themselves or acquaintances meeting the Rebbe. An upgraded interface allows users to identify an image and order a video of the encounter.

“This is our most oft-requested project and is a major focus of our whole work,” said Shmotkin. “This project is very meaningful for people.”

Already, there are countless stories of those who have found pictures of themselves through the site. One young woman about to be married discovered herself and her husband-to-be – both of whom were infants – as well as the matchmaker who introduced them all meeting the Rebbe within minutes of each other.

Rabbi Moshe Kesselman of Chabad of Beverly Hills was able to locate himself easily through the site.

“It was really incredible, and I ordered the video of myself as a result,” said Kesselman. “I was 13-years-old at the time and this video was the last time that the Rebbe ever gave out dollars. The next day he suffered his stroke.”

A little more than two years after that 1992 stroke, the Rebbe passed away on the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz. The 16th anniversary of the passing occurs this year on June 15.

“I still have the dollar that he gave me that day,” continued Kesselman. “I was very excited to see the shot of myself. It was very real and very powerful.”

Diana Shandling from Spring Valley, N.Y., was able to share the experience of finding her image with her daughter.

“For me, I was aware that the video must exist and it was very meaningful to finally find it,” she said. “For my daughter, it was very exciting. She played it over and over again.”

Mendel Blizinsky from Brooklyn, N.Y., had a similar occurrence with his son.

“My son found different pictures of me,” said Blizinsky. “One of them was when we went to the Rebbe when he was an infant and another son was about to get his [first hair cut]. These videos are priceless.”