Following a common Jewish tradition to name children after biblical or other holy figures in Jewish history, Nissim and Rachel Arus, a Sephardic couple from Safed, named one of their boys after the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1994, just hours after the Rebbe’s passing on the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz.

The boy who became that day Menachem Mendel Arus, is believed to be one of the first, if not the first, of thousands named for the Rebbe— Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

“He was born on the 26th of [the Hebrew month of] Sivan and hours before the brit milah, we heard of the histalkus [passing],” the boy’s mother reported during her son’s bar mitzvah in 2007. “Although we are not Lubavitcher Chassidim, we nevertheless felt very strongly to name the child after such a tzaddik on the day of his histalkus, and we called him Menachem Mendel.”

Though the family doesn’t identify themselves as Chabad Chassidim, by his early years, the young boy had developed a history of reading many books about the Rebbe, longed to travel to the Rebbe’s gravesite in Queens, N.Y., and saved up for and eventually purchased a large picture of the Rebbe for his home.

“This is a very special child,” his father, Nissim, added on the boy’s bar mitzvah day. “He is the best in his class, has a very sharp mind and is way ahead of his peers. He is imbued with special yirat shamayim (‘awe of heaven’), and we have no doubt that this is in the merit of naming him after the Rebbe.”

Similar inspirational stories about and from boys named for the Rebbe have been repeated the world over countless times. The exact number of Menachem Mendels—or Mendys or Menachems named for the Rebbe—across the spectrum of the Jewish community is not known, but may soon be.

A Chabad organization devoted to furthering connection to the teachings of the Rebbe and ways of Chassidus—Vaad Or Vechom Hahiskashrus—has launched an ambitious project to publish an album containing the locations, pictures and stories, whenever possible, of all who have been named for the Rebbe since his passing.

The project, titled, “And these are the names: Menachem Mendel,” based on the verse in the Torah that introduces the chronicling of the 70 Jewish souls that descended into Egypt, is being prepared in advance of the 25th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing. The auspicious day is the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, this year corresponding to July 6, 2019.

“You have Menachem Mendels in every corner of the world—not only in religious families and Chabad families but across the board,” Rabbi Israel Silberstrom, the program’s project manager told Chabad.org. “In addition to honoring the Rebbe with the album, it is our goal to highlight the Rebbe’s inspiration to so many parents all over the world.”

As in the case of Nechama Potapov, of Kamenskoe, Ukraine, who named her son, born January 2013, after the Rebbe. “I gave my youngest son the name of Menachem Mendel in honor of our Rebbe,” she wrote in her entry to the album’s organizers. “I believe it is the best blessing for the child to bear the name of the Rebbe."

The book is being prepared in advance of the 25th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing.
The book is being prepared in advance of the 25th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing.

An Album for Jews the World Over

A highly styled, glossy coffee-table-type publication is planned. There certainly are many Menachem Mendels in the Lubavitch community, but organizers are finding many well beyond it.

Based on research, the organization conservatively estimates that there are 10,000 Menachem Mendels, Mendels or Menachems named for the Rebbe globally. About 2,000 already have responded to a well-orchestrated person-gathering campaign in an exhaustive multimedia networking blitz, including the use of a multi-language website.

The organization has asked Chabad representatives everywhere to gather as many participants as possible by the anniversary of the Rebbe’s birthday—the 11th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, corresponding to Tuesday this year, less than a week before Passover, which begins April 19. The Rebbe would have been 117 on that day.

Organizers of the album were inspired and further propelled by knowledge of the Rebbe’s appreciation and support of an album produced in 1990 in advance of the second anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson, of righteous memory (1901-1988), the Rebbe’s wife. The album contained the girls who had been named after her, complete with many of their baby pictures.

“We know the Rebbe was very pleased with the project, as he took the album to the Ohel [resting place of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn of righteous memory, the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, in Queens, N.Y.], a sign that he accepted it,” said Silberstrom. “He then insisted on paying for half of its costs.”

Present and future Menachem Mendels and their parents, along with all of the present and future Chaya Mushkas, can take further heart from words the Rebbe spoke in 1989 on the naming topic on the first yahrtzeit [anniversary of the passing] of the Rebbetzin.

“Every man and woman should ‘take it to heart,’ and demonstrate that ‘her [Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s] children are alive’ (and thereby ‘she is alive’) through learning from her (Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s) conduct and conducting oneself in her spirit etc., with Mesiras Nefesh [self-sacrifice],” the Rebbe said in a talk on the occasion of the Rebbetzin’s first yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) on 22 Shevat 5749.And especially through naming a child after her and raising the child in her spirit, which is the literal fulfillment of the teaching, ‘just as his children are alive, he is alive.’ This will add life (the meaning of her name—Chaya) for the child in a literal sense and bring her many long and happy years.”

Answering the call of the album organizers, more Menachem Mendel participants (often with the help of their parents) are rolling in every day, such as the one from the mother of the Ukranian Menachem Mendel. About half of the entries are accompanied by inspirational stories about how the decision to name the child after the Rebbe came about.

One woman from Beit Shemesh, Israel, who described herself and her husband as having grown up in various Chassidic non-Chabad communities, wrote about feeling closer to the Rebbe in recent years just as she entered her sixth pregnancy.

“Several complications arose, and the doctors predicted that it would end in a miscarriage,” she wrote in the entry shared by the album organizers. “We were traveling to a wedding of a relative in the United States, so we decided to make a detour to New York and pray at the Rebbe’s Ohel. While standing in that holy spot, I made a commitment: If my pregnancy would pass successfully and I would give birth to a healthy boy, I would dedicate that child’s name to the Rebbe and name him Menachem Mendel. Thank G‑d, the pregnancy continued uneventfully, which was a pure miracle. On Yud Gimmel (the 13th of) Tammuz 5778 (2018), our precious son was born, and we named him Menachem Mendel.

“From that day, the Rebbe’s presence is felt in our home. The 24-hour presence of our very own ‘tangible’ Menachem Mendel has added greatly to our journey in following the Rebbe’s ways.”

Many say similar things about the honor and power of bearing the name of the Rebbe.

One story, though, was a standout. It came from a young man from Lod, Israel, who had some ups and downs in his life, including in his Jewish practice.

“When I was a little kid, I always wanted to change my name,” said the 23-year-old Menachem Mendel Ben Harosh, his face aglow, having recently married a young woman with a similar history who was named for the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson. “Menachem Mendel wasn’t the classic, cool name, and everyone my age at my school had it. Then, when I got older, I realized that the name was so strong it was affecting everything I did. No matter how far I wandered, it kept pulling me back, keeping me strong through all of the ups and downs, and eventually, it took me back to my roots.”

All Menachem Mendels or their parents are welcome to be a part of the album. To submit name, photograph and story, visit: www.ourrebbesname.com