Evening service was, as usual, at 9:30 p.m., and it took place in the small synagogue upstairs. A new system was in force: only a very limited number of people were allowed to pray in the room with the Rebbe. They were very strict about this, because otherwise the place would become too oppressively hot and stifling for the Rebbe.

The result of all this was that the hallway and corridors became jammed and packed full of students. Roselyn, who normally always stood outside in the hallway and waited to see the Rebbe when he passed from his study to the synagogue, was pushed and shoved back further by the press of boys, until she found herself right outside the building, and of course never saw and was not seen by the Rebbe.

That night was Hoshannah Rabbah, the final day of the holiday of Sukkot, and one should stay up all night learning. At 1 a.m., the Rebbe arrived, and we all said the whole book of Psalms

During morning services, we needed hoshannos, willows, to bang on the floor, a symbolic gesture of discarding one's sins.

We had bought ours on the previous day.

On this day of Hoshannah Rabbah, the procession makes the circuit around the podium not once, but seven times. With so many thousands of people wishing to take part, there would soon be an impasse.

So a clear and unambiguous announcement was made that the Rebbe, followed by just seven or ten distinguished rabbis, would be the only ones to go around the podium the entire seven times at once. Afterwards, everyone else would have their turn. The service would not be continued until all had completed the going around.

The cantor led the way – then the Rebbe – and a few rabbis joined the procession. The Rebbe's aide signaled that I should follow too. I felt a little – a lot – unworthy. I am certainly not an illustrious rabbi, not even an undistinguished one.

However, he insisted very strongly – so I succumbed, and off I went. At the third round, the number had increased to thirty. By the time we had completed the seventh and final circuit, there were over a hundred distinguished rabbis in the procession (less one "non-rabbi").

After which, literally thousands marched and charged around the podium the seven times.

To conclude this part of the service, the Rebbe took his willows, bent right down, and banged them on the floor five times.

The Torah scroll was taken out of the ark to read the portion for the holiday. The Rebbe clapped his hands vigorously together, and in quick tempo, proceeded to sing very furiously, "Ana avdo," "I am the servant of the Holy One…," a prayer said as the Torah is brought out [watch a video of the singing]. All joined in, and this went on non-stop for about three or four minutes.

I received another unexpected honor that morning. I was called up to the Torah. It made me feel very humble and grateful.

Every Hoshannah Rabbah, after morning services, the Rebbe commences to distribute honey cake, lekach. He stands at the door of his own sukkah, situated in the front garden of 770. A queue is formed and everyone is personally handed a piece of honey cake by the Rebbe.

On this morning, there was already a good crowd waiting when the Rebbe came along. He entered the sukkah, and I could see, through the doorway, tray upon tray of honey cake stacked upon the table.

The Rebbe distributes honey cake, Lekach, on Hoshannah Rabbah (Photo: Levi Freidin/JEM)
The Rebbe distributes honey cake, Lekach, on Hoshannah Rabbah (Photo: Levi Freidin/JEM)

One of the Rebbe's aides, Rabbi Leibel Groner, took hold of me and led me to the front of the queue. I was therefore the first to be served. The Rebbe, with a happy smile, handed me a piece of honey cake and wished me a blessing for a good and sweet New Year. I asked for a piece for my son Avrohom and his family, and received the same for him, including the blessing for a good sweet year for him too.

Throughout the time we spent at 770, there were strong arguments and counterarguments continuously going on. The subject matter was the health of our Rebbe, and the debate centered upon the following theory. Was it right and proper to preserve the energy and health of the Rebbe by discouraging people from collecting the honey cake?

One of our rabbis had actually persuaded one of the Rebbe's aides that, for the Rebbe's sake, people should not actually be forbidden, G‑d forbid, but at least should be strongly dissuaded from imposing upon the Rebbe's time and energy. He had a very good point. The Rebbe would normally be handing out honey cake all day long, and if one could save the Rebbe even an hour or two of work, then it was well worth the effort.

This campaign had a very marked effect. 3:3O p.m., following afternoon services, was the time when the Rebbe distributed honey cake to the ladies, and there were very few clients. The small pitiful queue was nearing its tail end. It seemed a real shame and disrespect to the Rebbe that there were so few ladies willing to take advantage of the Rebbe's hospitality, generosity, and blessings.

Roselyn was standing nearby, so I shouted to her to join the end of the line. She did so and took with her Yenta Chaya. The Rebbe gave Roselyn some cake and a nice blessing and asked, "Where is your granddaughter?"

"Here she is," declared Roselyn, and indicated Yenta Chaya, who had been partly hidden by Roselyn. The Rebbe beamed at her and also handed her a piece of cake.

That was the end of the queue and the next unusual occurrence was the site of the poor aide appealing to some women to please come to ask for honey cake.

I was told that the Rebbe had asked the aide why there were so few people. He had related the story that someone had persuaded him to discourage people from coming forward.

The Rebbe expressed displeasure about what had transpired.

Incidentally, and significantly, this rabbi who had given this advice had himself gone personally to the Rebbe for honey cake.

His excuse was that he represented hundreds of people, and he wanted the cake for them. This same rabbi's daughter had a similar excuse: her classmates had begged her to bring home some honey cake from the Rebbe. What a lovely and lucky coincidence!!

At 4:30 p.m., the Rebbe had completed the distribution of honey cake. He descended the steps outside 770 in order to enter his car and leave for his home. I commenced a lively melody – everyone joined in – and so did the Rebbe. When the Rebbe drew up alongside me, he halted and smiled.

"Where are your grandchildren?"

Waving my arms about rather vaguely, I stuttered that "they are around here somewhere."

"Why did they not come for honey cake?" interjected the Rebbe.

I was thunderstruck and replied, a little hesitatingly, that they had received their rations on the eve of Yom Kippur, and were told that they should not trouble the Rebbe another time. The Rebbe was not very pleased. I think that he realized that they had not collected their honey cake on the eve of Yom Kippur, and for the very reason that they had abstained today.

I did find my grandsons shortly afterwards, they were all in their shirt sleeves and were pulling, schlepping, and dragging all the benches, tables from the synagogue of 770, and making a huge heap of them outside. It looked like a pile of firewood.

I considered that this was a very good idea, to burn all the old furniture and have it replaced with nice new equipment. However, I had erred a little. They were denuding the synagogue hall of every bit of furniture to enable all the extra people who were expected for the hakofot, when we celebrate the completion of the year-round cycle of reading of the Torah, to be accommodated.