Sharing the Prayer Book with a Youngster

After moving to the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, NY, around 1948, I would pray at "770," Lubavitch World Headquarters, each Friday night.

Congregants would not sit at the table where Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (who later became the seventh Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe and was then respectfully known by the acronym "Ramash") would pray, affording him the respect due to the son-in-law of the Sixth Rebbe.

(I knew the Ramash's brother, Reb Yisrael Aryeh Leib, from my visits to Tel Aviv, and would occasionally bring his mother, Rebbetzin Chana, pictures of her grandchild. In 1947, the Rebbetzin told me, "It is a good idea for you to get to know my son, Mendel." But I never quite took her up on that.)

One Friday evening, my six-year-old son Shlomo and I arrived for prayer services, and my son could not find a prayer book. Seeing that there was someone praying at a table alone, he figured that he could [either: stand or sit] next to him and share his prayer book...

The others congregants did not appreciate the scene unfolding before them. When the Ramash noticed this, he asked that they leave the child alone. "When done together with him, [my] praying goes very well."

A couple more nuggets:

In the 1940s, it was very uncommon for men to immerse themselves daily in a mikvah (ritual pool) before praying. On one occasion, I wanted to go to the mikvah, and inquired as to where I could find a key. I was told, "The Ramash has the key, for he goes daily to the mikvah."

This was how I began to get to know the Rebbe, of righteous memory, just a little.

My First Audience

One day in 1952, Shlomo Carlebach told me about a Jewish girl, an acquaintance, who was seeking employment; the Rebbe sent Shlomo to me to see whether I had any positions available. Soon thereafter I employed her as a secretary.

Several months later, my partner told me that he has an appointment for a private audience with the Rebbe, organized by our new secretary. He explained that he had no idea what to do in the presence of a Rebbe, and asked if I'd be willing to join him. I, of course, agreed, looking forward to my first audience with the new Rebbe.

We made up to meet in my house, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, at 10:00 p.m. and from there to go together to Lubavitch World Headquarters where we were scheduled to meet the Rebbe at 11.

At 10:30 p.m., my partner arrived at my house and told me that he would not be going. "I have a relative living in the neighborhood; she's very ill and I haven't seen her in a long time," he said.

"She recently had a growth that was surgically removed, but it grew back. The doctors are divided as to what should be done; one says operate and the other says not to. Since I am already here, I want to go visit her."

I explained to him that, on the contrary, this would be an excellent time to ask for advice and a blessing from this great Jewish leader. He agreed, and we both headed out to the Rebbe's office.

We ended up meeting the Rebbe at 2:30 a.m. The Rebbe greeted us warmly, and my partner accepted the Rebbe's invitation to sit down. Then the Rebbe turned to me and requested that I too take a seat. I told the Rebbe that I cannot sit before a Rebbe.

My partner handed the Rebbe a note he'd prepared with the name of his sickly relative and some details about her condition.

As the Rebbe read the details, his face transformed before our eyes; from welcoming and jovial to somber and serious. It was at that moment that I understood the difference between a great man and his now becoming a Rebbe.

My partner began to relate all the details about his relative's grave condition. The Rebbe asked several questions, and then asked, "Does she herself know the details of the diagnosis?"

"I don't know," my partner replied.

The Rebbe asked about her Jewish background, and my partner responded that she has no knowledge of Judaism.

The Rebbe said, "She should take on a good deed that should stand her in good stead."

"Of course," my partner said, "if it would not be too hard."

The Rebbe suggested that she light Shabbat candles, to which my partner responded that he was sure she already lights them.

"So how could you say she has no background in Judaism?" the Rebbe asked.

"Perhaps it is possible to influence her to place some coins in a charity box prior to the candle lighting?"

The Rebbe concluded, "Don't worry, everything will be alright."


The Rebbe the asked my partner if he had kids, which school they attend, and what he had in mind for their future.

My partner had a young child, and the Rebbe encouraged him to send him to a Jewish school of higher education when he grew up. My partner responded that he wanted his son to go to college to "become educated."

The Rebbe asked, "Is it true that you want him to marry a Jew?" My partner shook his head affirmatively, and the Rebbe patiently continued, "He will go to college and perhaps find a [non-Jewish] girl he likes… why should he not marry her?" He again affirmed what the Rebbe was saying, and said that he will have to think about it.

They continued to speak at length on the topic.

When we left the audience, my partner told me, "He is a brilliant man. I do not entirely agree with everything he says, but I will send my son to a Jewish school."

The Forgotten Bandage

When my partner arrived at the office the following morning, he was very emotional. "This morning," he said, "one of the doctors called to ask where I was last night. I responded to him that I was at the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

"He told me that they had decided to operate on her, and when they opened the area, they did not find a growth. What they did find was some surgical bandage that was causing an infection."

Several months later, I received a phone call from the Rebbe's office, asking how Shulamit, my partner's relative, was doing. I told them that she is well.

I was astonished that several months later the Rebbe remembered and cared to ask about her wellbeing.