Bentzion Rader, a prominent lay leader in the Chabad community in London, and a visionary activist whose beautiful publications captured the living tradition of Chabad as it rose to the challenges of Judaism and modernity in the 1960s and 1970s, passed away on May 6. He was 92 years old.

Rader was born in the historically Jewish East End of London to Yehuda Leib and Chana Feiga Rader. As a child, he was deeply influenced by his maternal grandfather, Yaakov Waterman, an adherent of the Trisker Chassidic group and a native of the town of Mezritch in Ukraine. In addition to being pious and wealthy, Waterman was a generous patron to many of his fellow immigrants in London who were barely scraping by.

Every fall, Rader’s grandfather would prepare a long list of needy households earmarked for free coal delivery during the winter. Since the elderly immigrant could not write English, the task of compiling the list and communicating with the coal providers fell to his young grandson, who learned early the value of tzedakah and kindness—ideals that he and his wife would live by.

Following his graduation from the exclusive Cowper Street High School and the outbreak of World War II, Rader enlisted in the Royal Navy, where he served as a wireless operator and participated in the D-Day assault on Normandy. He was later stationed on a warship near the Falkland Islands off the coast of South America.

In 1947, he married Hinda Garfinkel, also of the East End, and launched a successful career as an accountant. The young couple joined the Jewish community in Ilford, a district of east London. Also engaged in business, Rader became quite wealthy over time.

The Raders built their home on traditional Jewish values and raised their three children in this spirit. In the 1960s, Rader met Rabbi Faivish Vogel, who introduced him to the teachings of Chabad chassidus and helped arrange for Rader’s first meeting, in 1966, with the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

During that meeting, the Rebbe advised Rader on business affairs, supplying both practical guidance and spiritual direction. In addition to showing a keen understanding of British economic matters, the Rebbe advised his visitor to have his tefillin checked. Sure enough, they were found to have been improperly assembled. “I was totally overwhelmed by this,” Rader would later relate in an interview with JEM. “How did the Rebbe know?!”

In an article penned in 2012, Rader reflected on the transformative impression the Rebbe made on him: “How can one capture his smile that seemed to light the world, his vigor and energy, his attention to detail, the piercing eyes that seemed to invade one’s soul and discover its secrets, his prodigious memory and his knowledge of so many disciplines?”

Rader was particularly drawn to the Rebbe and Chabad due to what he would later describe as the movement’s uniquely “dynamic approach,” combining “warmth and devotion” with “intellectual awareness of the problems of the Jews in the world as it is.”

‘The Challenge of Our Time’

It was this combination that inspired the Raders to compile a book designed to showcase how Chabad was advancing a rigorous and passionate adherence to traditional Jewish life, even as it embraced the complex challenges of the modern era. By the summer of 1967, the Rebbe had approved their plan, and over the course of the next two years would take an active editorial interest in every aspect of the project’s development. The Rebbe advised that the book should be illustrated with photographs and drawings; he meticulously reviewed all of the material and personally submitted critical corrections via transatlantic phone calls.

Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch-Chabad ultimately appeared in 1970, published by the Lubavitch Foundation of Great Britain. It opened with a personal letter in which the Rebbe addressed a philosophical problem “as old as humanity itself”—the question of how to square G‑d’s essential goodness with the “seemingly insurmountable obstacles” that confront ordinary people in real life. The crux of the Rebbe’s response is reflected in the title of the book: A world without challenge would be a world without effort, and without effort, goodness will always remain intrinsically flawed. The challenges of life stimulate Jews to resolutely pursue a Divine mission, allowing them to achieve true satisfaction commensurate to the effort exerted in their struggle.

A suggestion by Israel’s president, Zalman Shazar, was enthusiastically embraced by the Rebbe, and in 1973, a new volume appeared: “Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch-Chabad in Israel.”
A suggestion by Israel’s president, Zalman Shazar, was enthusiastically embraced by the Rebbe, and in 1973, a new volume appeared: “Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch-Chabad in Israel.”

“The challenge of our time,” the Rebbe concluded, “is to spread the knowledge of Torah and Mitzvos, particularly through the education of our young, until each and every Jew will attain the level of ‘Know the G‑d of your father and serve him with a perfect heart,’ and the fulfillment of the prophecy ‘They all shall know Me, small and great, and the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G‑d, as the waters cover the sea.’ ”

At the Rebbe’s suggestion, Rader and his wife traveled to present a special edition of Challenge to the then president of Israel, Zalman Shazar, at his birthday celebration in Jerusalem’s Tzemach Tzedek synagogue. The following Sunday, the Raders were invited to the president’s official residence. Shazar told them that he had read the book and was impressed by its encapsulation of Chabad’s history, along with its contemporary portrayal of present global activities. Yet he complained that the single chapter, “Chabad in Israel,” was far too limited in scope, declaring that “Chabad’s work here deserves a book of its own!”

This suggestion was enthusiastically embraced by the Rebbe. In 1973, a new volume appeared: Challenge: An Encounter with Lubavitch-Chabad in Israel.

Seeing the Big Picture

Also around this time, Rader met Geulah Cohen, an influential Israeli writer and later a politician, who was then active in the protest movement against Soviet Russia and on behalf of Jewish refuseniks. Cohen gave him her recently published book, One Who Broke the Silence, but made a point of saying that she would not send a copy to the Rebbe because she knew that he did not share her views about the effectiveness and desirability of public protests. Rader took the hint and asked Cohen if she wanted him to give the book to the Rebbe. “Yes,” she answered.

Shortly after the second volume of “Challenge” was published, the Raders had another private audience with the Rebbe, who suggested that Hinda take the lead in a new project, “Woman of Valour: An Anthology for the Thinking Jewess.”
Shortly after the second volume of “Challenge” was published, the Raders had another private audience with the Rebbe, who suggested that Hinda take the lead in a new project, “Woman of Valour: An Anthology for the Thinking Jewess.”

A few months later, Rader visited New York and asked if the Rebbe would explain his opposition to the protest movement. The Rebbe likened the situation to a hijacking standoff in which careful negotiation, as opposed to angry protest, was required in order to ensure the safety of hostages. He also likened the anger among refuseniks to the suffering of medical patients unable to assess their condition objectively, and so must defer to the expert knowledge and judgement of a trained physician.

In a recent interview, Rader recalled that in the course of this conversation, he “suddenly got a completely new insight, not just into his reasons for not demonstrating, but into the Rebbe’s unique perspective on everything: Everybody else dealt with incidents. The Rebbe saw the picture as a whole.”

Shortly after the second volume of Challenge was published, the Raders had another private audience with the Rebbe, who suggested that Hinda take the lead in a new project called Woman of Valour: An Anthology for the Thinking Jewess. As in the past, Rader began sending the Rebbe articles that he and his wife had written. They received a response in which the Rebbe expressed confidence in their judgment, saying it was no longer necessary to consult with him at every stage. Only when the final proof was ready to go to press did the Rebbe receive a copy, which he quickly reviewed, again responding with critical editorial insight. The Rebbe was also instrumental in securing advance funding to pay for the first printing of 10,000 copies.

In 1979, the Raders published a fourth volume, Return to Roots, documenting the flourishing activities of Lubavitch women’s groups across Europe.

Rader would go on to become an active participant in the Rebbe’s numerous campaigns to spread Judaism throughout Europe and the world.

In 1975, during a business trip to Detroit, Rader met a gentleman who began asking him all kinds of questions about the mitzvah of tefillin. The conversation continued into the night, with Rader encouraging his interlocutor to follow up on his interest by actually fulfilling the mitzvah. The gentleman agreed that if Rader would come to his bakery at 6:30 a.m., he would strap on tefillin between one bake run and the next.

Later that day, Rader flew to New York and wrote a note to the Rebbe, describing the encounter and adding that he was planning to return to Detroit in six weeks time, when he would bring the man a pair of tefillin to use regularly. The Rebbe encouraged Rader not to delay the mitzvah, doing whatever was necessary to ensure that the baker would be able to strap on tefillin that very day, even if it meant abandoning his original plan to return to his family in London for Shabbat. In the end, Rader was able to accomplish the Rebbe’s directive and still make it home in time. When he returned to Detroit six weeks later, the baker told him that the effort he had made to get him tefillin so quickly had made such an impression that he would never allow himself to miss a day.

In 1981, Rader spearheaded the organization of a week-long International Symposium on Jewish Mysticism, with sessions taking place in Oxford, London, Manchester, Leeds and Glasgow. Participating were such luminaries as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, among many others. Selected proceedings from the symposium were published in yet another volume edited by Rader, To Touch the Divine: A Jewish Mysticism Primer. In the volume’s foreword, Rader wrote of the many crises that assailed the modern thinking Jew and of the antidotes to be found in the authentic traditions of Jewish mystical thought, as developed and perpetuated in Chabad teachings. On the volume’s opening page, he encapsulated the fundamentals of these teachings in a short poem:

To contemplate, and meditate

Upon His great Design,

To sigh in awe, and do naught else,

Does not one’s soul refine.

To keep His law, His Statutes all

To Him one’s self resign,

Is to soar above this mundane world;

To touch the Divine.

Over the course of years, Rader had more than 26 hours of yechidus with the Rebbe. His personal accounts of his meetings with the Rebbe have inspired many, and have appeared in articles, books and videos.

Even though he had a regular day job, Rader found time to contribute to numerous publications and edited the Week in Review, a circular with timely Torah-related essays.

Long past retirement age, Rader continued his active leadership role in London’s Chabad-Lubavitch community. Well into his 90’s, even when he was already bedridden, he continued to provide accounting advice and help with government accreditation to Lubavitch institutions in London.

He lived to see more than 150 descendants. Not only did he recall each of their names and where they lived, said family members, but he knew their personalities, strengths, and challenges. Fully adept with technology, he emailed or messaged every one of them on birthdays, anniversaries and special occasions.

Despite his many accomplishments, Rader would often say that his greatest joy came from seeing his three children and numerous grandchildren taking their place among the ranks of the Rebbe’s emissaries all over the world.

In addition to his wife, Rader is survived by their children: Tzirel (Sandy) Weinbaum (London), Lieba Baumgarten (Johannesburg), and Rabbi Hershel Rader (London); and their many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.