In 1984, the late Canadian Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet was sent on behalf of Chabad to the Soviet Union. Among his many clandestine tasks was to conduct a secret Jewish wedding for a young couple named Yuli and Tanya.

Little did he know that one day that same young man—Yuli Edelstein—and his own son would share center stage in Jerusalem at a celebration of freedom.

Once married, Edelstein took on the code name among Moscow’s Chassidim of Baal HaTanya (“Master of Tanya”), an honorific title associated with Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the first Chabad Rebbe who had authored a groundbreaking work of Chassidic thought known as the Tanya. Since baal can also mean “husband,” the name was especially appropriate for the man who had become the husband of Tanya.

Shortly thereafter, Edelstein was arrested on trumped-up charges and sentenced to three years of backbreaking labor in the Siberian Gulag.

Fast-forward 30 years, and Edelstein is a free man who now serves as Speaker of the Knesset in Israel. He and Rabbi J.I. Schochet’s son—Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue in London—will take to the podium at an event on Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. That day, the 19th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, celebrates the day in 1798 on which the original Baal HaTanya (also known as the Alter Rebbe) was released from a Czarist prison after a commission acquitted him of charges that included subverting the government in St. Petersburg and aiding the Ottoman Empire.

The Alter Rebbe’s exoneration is regarded in Chassidic circles as signaling a heavenly decree that the rabbi’s teachings should be publicly disseminated. Thus, notes Schochet, the events of 19 Kislev paved the way “for the growth of Chabad, which effectively resulted in my father and the Edelsteins meeting up all those years ago.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue in London, will speak at an event on Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.
Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet, rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue in London, will speak at an event on Tuesday, Dec. 9, at the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem celebration—arranged by the Chabad Center of Talbiyeh, led by Rabbi Eli and Chana Canterman—is one of many as communities around the world preparing to celebrate the day commonly known in Chassidic parlance as Yud Tes Kislev, the “New Year of Chassidism.”

19 Kislev: A Merit and a Calling

In hundreds of Chabad Houses, synagogues, public auditoriums, the holiday will be marked with farbrengens (informal Chassidic gatherings), featuring words of inspiration, Chassidic melodies, stories and dancing.

Once again this year, many thousands of celebrants from all walks of Jewish life are expected to attend a massive Yud Tes Kislev farbrengen at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, Binyanei Hauma.

“This is a day when we get together to celebrate the wonderful gift of Jewish spirituality, joy and deep intellectual satisfaction that Chabad Chassidism brings us,” says Rabbi Levi Notik of F.R.E.E. of Chicago, which will host a community-wide, family farbrengen that will feature guest speaker Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson. “It’s a time to reflect on what the Chassidic way of life really means on a personal, practical level. Following the Chassidic teachings is a great merit, but it’s also a calling that we share with our families, our surroundings and the world.”

About 250 people from across the Illinois Jewish community are expected to attend the event.

In 1984, the late Canadian Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, right, was sent on behalf of Chabad to the Soviet Union. Among his many clandestine tasks was to conduct a secret Jewish wedding for a young couple named Yuli (Edelstein) and Tanya.
In 1984, the late Canadian Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, right, was sent on behalf of Chabad to the Soviet Union. Among his many clandestine tasks was to conduct a secret Jewish wedding for a young couple named Yuli (Edelstein) and Tanya.

At the celebration in the Great Synagogue, the talks will be accompanied by a musical performance featuring the Alter Rebbe's niggunim (melodies), performed by notable musicians Mordechai Brodsky (violin), Gabriel Chouraki (violin) and Simcha Freedman (piano). In fact, a 19 Kislev farbrengen is one of the rare occasions when the Alter Rebbe’s haunting “Niggun in Four Stanzas” is traditionally sung.

‘Keys of Life’

Nineteen Kislev, popularly referred to as “Yud Tes Kislev,” is also the day on which Jews the world over begin the yearly study cycle of the Tanya anew. It is also the anniversary of passing of the Alter Rebbe’s mentor, Rabbi Dov Ber of Mezeritch, in 1772. The celebration tradionally extends to the following day, so gatherings will take place at different venues on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. For details contact a local Chabad center near you.

Tens of thousands of celebrants from all walks of Jewish life are expected to attend a massive Yud Tes Kislev "farbrengen" at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, Binyanei HaUma. Last year, Rabbi Yoel Kahn was a featured speaker. (Photo: Meir Alfasi)
Tens of thousands of celebrants from all walks of Jewish life are expected to attend a massive Yud Tes Kislev "farbrengen" at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center, Binyanei HaUma. Last year, Rabbi Yoel Kahn was a featured speaker. (Photo: Meir Alfasi)

“It is quite significant that the very birth of Tanya and the way of Chabad, so to speak, originates on the 19th of Kislev, when the first Rebbe was released from imprisonment,” says Rabbi Dr. David Nesenoff, who will be speaking at afarbrengen on Tuesday in Ormond Beach, Fla., on the state’s northeast coast. “The Alter Rebbe’s very commencement of Tanya screams to us, from his jailed confinement, that it is the long, holy—and sometimes difficult—road that allows us to reach our spiritual destination faster than the unfulfilled short cuts.”

“Thanks to Rabbi Shneur Zalman’s actual life, the easiest way that I can illustrate the beautiful life of Torah, mitzvot, Chassidus and the joy of Chabad to my fellow Jewish friends is that these are the keys of life that free us. The 19th of Kislev is the celebration of the incredible freedom with which Torah allows us to live our lives.”