Danny Altschul went down to Union Station in Chicago yesterday to commemorate an historic event that took place 70 years ago. When the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, stepped onto the platform on Jan. 25, 1942 to begin a week-long trip focused on inspiring and strengthening the local Jewish community and its commitment to Jewish education, thousands greeted him.

Altschul, who used to go into the landmark station every day for work, felt such a connection to the place and its historic visitor that he joined a group of 50 Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries, community members and a class from the Lubavitch Mesivta boys high school in Union Station’s famous Great Hall to reflect on what the Sixth Rebbe’s visit meant and continues to mean for Chicago.

The group held an afternoon prayer service and was addressed by Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois director Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz and Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch. With the guidance of Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun, director of Chabad of the Loop, articipants also studied part of the Chasidic discourse that the Sixth Rebbe delivered when he was there, and then proceeded to the train platform to sing and dance together.

For Altschul, it was important to say “thank you” and appreciate the care and commitment the Sixth Rebbe had for the city’s Jewish community.

“I think the Previous Rebbe would be quite gratified that we recognized what he was trying to accomplish 70 years ago, and that the mission continues,” said Altschul.

Although he was in poor health and had visited Chicago during a whirlwind tour of communities in North America in 1929, the Sixth Rebbe was so committed to visiting Chicago again that he made the trip. The Windy City would end up having the distinction as the only locale outside of the New York area that the Sixth Rebbe visited after settling in the United States in 1940.

Altschul explained the significance of the event to his five-year-old son, stressing that the Sixth Rebbe made tremendous sacrifices in order for other people to learn Torah, do good deeds and exhibit Jewish pride.

“Those are the messages everybody should recognize,” said Altschul, “and they should try to their utmost to live them, to preserve the mission that was started 70 years ago.”

Moscowitz pointed to the more than 30 Chabad Houses in Chicago’s metropolitan area and the groundwork the Sixth Rebbe’s visit established as a credit to his work there.

His successor and son-in-law, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, “would use every opportunity to look at historical events and see what we can learn from them,” explained Moscowitz. “Today, like 70 years ago, we’re living in a world that’s in sore need of more Jewish education and stronger connections between people.”

The Sixth Rebbe came during wartime and he imparted strength, courage and faith to the Jewish community during a very difficult time, added Moscowitz. “We live in better times, but equally challenging times. The message of that visit was that through Torah, through Chasidic study, we can overcome any challenges we might have.”

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, addresses the gathering at Chicago’s Union Station.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, addresses the gathering at Chicago’s Union Station.

Jim Faier, an area attorney, said he was glad to have attended the event. He heard moving comments about the Sixth Rebbe and was touched by how momentous the visit was.

Gathered in the same station rotunda where the Sixth Rebbe had come to speak, the group heard about how the people of Chicago implored the Jewish leader to visit, as well as of his travels and writings. Faier was particularly moved by the visit to the tracks to imagine what it must have been like 70 years ago.

“I’m sure the people of Amtrak hadn’t seen anything like what happened here,” Faier said of Tuesday’s event. “We were a whole group of people singing and dancing on a train platform where there weren’t any trains.”

He returned to his office with a bound copy of the talks the Sixth Rebbe gave while in Chicago, which he looks forward to studying with Bais Menachem director Rabbi Baruch Epstein in the coming weeks.

“It always impresses me when I stop to think of the tremendous dedication and spirit of the leadership of Lubavitch,” said Faier, “and what has been built.”