This year, for the holiday of Shavuot, 1969, we arrived at "770" [Lubavitch World Headquarters] from England at about 7:00 pm. The Rebbe's aide Rabbi Hodakov informed me that the Rebbe would be addressing the annual Lubavitch Women's Conference in about half an hour's time in the large hall. After which, it was proposed that the women and girls from out of town only would form a line past the Rebbe, who was sitting alone at the table on the platform flanked by Rabbi Hodakov and another of the Rebbe's aides, Rabbi Groner. They would be allowed just a couple of moments to speak to the Rebbe.

Rabbi Hodakov suggested that after the file-past of women and girls had finished, we could then "tag along" and say [extend the customary greeting of] Sholom Aleichem to the Rebbe.

We rushed like mad to get to the hall before 8:00 pm. There were about 500 women and girls present and all anxious to speak to the Rebbe. So, although only the out of town ladies were supposed to file past, all the 500 insisted upon joining the queue. Instead of waiting an hour for our turn, we waited seven hours – [until] 3:00 am. We enjoyed an unforgettable experience.

We were the last in the line. There were now three girls ahead of us. Each would hand the Rebbe a letter, four or five pages, which took the Rebbe four or five minutes to read. Then, without hesitation, he would reply, "You must continue to do this, or that." "Stay at college." "Rabbi Hodakov will loan you $250 to finish the course... Pay back when you are able." "Go to camp this year and take this group and that course." [The last girl before us] was tremendously pleased and uplifted when she moved away. The girl immediately before burst into tears with joy, on going to see the Rebbe for the first time, she said.

Then our turn. "Why did you not come the day before Shabbat and have another farbrengen [Chassidic gathering, which the Rebbe customarily lead on each Shabbat preceding a new month, known as Shabbat Mevorchim?" the Rebbe asked].

The Rebbe asked me whether we have farbrengens in Manchester. "Yes, every Shabbat Mevorchim," said I. [The Rebbe jestingly responded:] "Oh, you will have to change your name to Kfar Chabad."

We were staying at the flat adjoining the back of 770 on Union Street, which belongs to the Rebbe. "Where are you staying?" he asked us. "Union Street," [I responded. To which the Rebbe responded:] "Ah, good, Unity. Shalom."

Oh, I am a real Chassid now, and am well and truly at home at 770, where people trample on my foot and push me with their hard elbows. Mind you, I am becoming quite an expert myself at this. On the other hand, it is an amazing and unbelievable sight to see the hall jammed tight with people and not an inch to spare. Then the lookout gives the signal that the Rebbe is on his way. A sudden hush falls on the assembly and, as if by magic, there is formed a large clearway through which the Rebbe passes on his way either to the platform during a Farbrengen, or to his own special place during a synagogue service.

Incidentally, the Rebbe never keeps the congregation waiting at [the conclusion of the recital of the prayers of] Shema or at the Amidah. After the services on Shabbat and holiday the Rebbe wishes everyone "Good Shabbat" or "Good Yom Tov [holiday]" very quietly. A pathway is again miraculously cleared for him and I normally start a melody so that the Rebbe is "played out" with a happy tune.

To my eternal surprise and astonishment, but also gratification, the Rebbe has continued to bestow upon me much honor. Once I was tempted to ask him why he treated me so remarkably well, when in fact I had done nothing much to merit such favors. The Rebbe replied that it was not for the work which I had done, but for what I was going to do.

Meals with the Rebbe

Once more I was invited to join the Rebbe for the holiday meals, together with about a dozen or so other men. Obviously this was a very great honor. Enjoyable, dignified—but oh, so tense. After all we were dining with our own royalty.

The guests assembled in the large dining room upstairs, on the second floor of 770. This was the residence of the previous Rebbe [Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory]. His [the Previous Rebbe's] Rebbitzin [wife] was our hostess.

(Note added at a later date: When the previous Rebbetzin passed away, the Rebbe discontinued these meals at his mother-in-law's home, although the Rebbetzin herself never actually attended the meals.

During all those years the Rebbe had given up the comfort and pleasure of his very own holiday table for the sake of Kibud Eim—of honoring his own Rebbetzin's mother.

At the time I was puzzled and surprised that the Rebbe did not sit at the head of the table—after all he was our "king." [Rabbi Shemtov adamantly declined to attend these meals. He could not bear to see the Rebbe take a "back seat."] Yet [I later learned that] it made sense, although, as I have already stated, I did not realize it at that time.)

We sat around a large rectangular table. There were normally six seats on either side, with two chairs at the bottom end. Each place was set with a silver goblet for Kiddush and two loaves of bread. The table itself was laid with an immaculate snow-white linen cloth and the finest cutlery, crockery and glassware were provided. Wine, soda, and other drinks were at hand for when required.

The top, the head of the table was set exactly the same as all the other places, but the chair was to remain unoccupied. This was the previous Rebbe's table, and the chair was his too. It was a symbolic gesture. Therefore, the Rebbe, who was the [Previous Rebbe's] younger son-in-law, sat on the left hand side, whereas Rabbi Shmaryahu Gourary (the older son-in-law, known as the "Rashag") sat on the right. Next to the Rashag was Rabbi Simpson [an aide to Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak]. My seat was always the same, next to Rabbi Simpson, and almost opposite to the Rebbe.

On the first day of Shavuot, before luncheon, we partook of coffee and cake (not cheese) in the adjoining room. The Rebbe was not present on these occasions, but the (previous) Rebbetzin, accompanied by her lady-in-waiting, welcomed her guests and presided over the gathering. She had a warm and gracious smile for everyone—a typical charming "Queen-Mother."

To continue with the story. The Rebbe makes Kiddush, quietly, whilst his Rebbetzin listens at the door which is slightly ajar. We all follow suit, each one in a subdued voice.

Then we all wash. The Rebbe is served first, of course, but he will not commence eating until after everyone is seated and served—even the boys who are acting as waiters. I once asked a boy to exchange the tongue I was given for chicken. It took seven minutes. It seemed like seven hours—all waiting for me to be served.

The Rebbe eats very slowly indeed and sees to it that he finishes that course last. No one would eat after the Rebbe has put down his cutlery. Therefore, he is always watching and ensuring that all have eaten before he lays down his knife and fork. There is no talking or even whispering during the actual courses which consist of the usual holiday dishes: fish, soup, chicken or meat, fruit and then drinks.

At the Yechidus [private audience with the Rebbe] subsequent to the first meal I had ever attended, I told the Rebbe that I was very disappointed at the atmosphere at the dinner. So quiet, so still, so tense. I said, "You should tell the Chassidim to make the Rebbe happy."

He agreed, and said, "Yes, you must tell the Chassidim."

So I now feel a special responsibility for trying, in between the courses, to enliven the proceedings, singing melodies and telling a joke or two—all with the Rebbe's permission of course. It is a bit embarrassing to have to force oneself to break the uncanny silence. Although the Rebbe normally speaks to me in perfect English, he insists that I speak in Yiddish so that all will understand. I am always given the honor of benching [leading the Grace after Meals] at one of the four meals. This means that I have to drink the whole goblet of wine [upon which the blessing is recited] and make an after-blessing, whilst everyone remains seated and quiet.

At the meals this year, thank G‑d, the atmosphere was happy—like a family party! The Rebbe asked me to sing a melody after the first course on the first night of the holiday. I did so, but when the Rebbe asked me to sing another one I had to be diplomatic. The Fetter ["Uncle"] Hendel [Lieberman] normally led the melodies and I did not want to hurt his feelings. The previous year the Rebbe had asked him to sing a tune which he did (Al Achas), but without the words. The Rebbe said, "No words? Give him a prayer book!" So Fetter Hendel started again, and once more again without the words, although he had a prayer book in his hands.

We discussed [at the meal] Manchester problems and I recounted what I had said to Rabbi Rashag, who asked me why there were problems with putting up a building [for Chabad in Manchester]. "All one needed was money," he stated.

"Oh," said I, "anybody could put up a building with money. The cleverness was to do it without money." "So, how did you manage?" asked Rabbi Rashag. "With the Rebbe's blessings," I replied.

All were delighted with this answer, because it pointed out to Rabbi Rashag that one had to do what the Rebbe instructed and it would be crowned with success. (Incidentally, if I personally would have always done what the Rebbe told me I would have had many great successes—I was good at telling others to take heed of the Rebbe's advice.)

Rabbi Rashag then pointed out [to the Rebbe] that from certain Jewish writings we could learn that we did not need a Chassidic gathering on the holiday of Shavuot. "Good," said the Rebbe, "then we will have a rest."

"Oh no," said I. "We will not let you off!" This caused much laughter and Rabbi Rashag said, "You must come more often."

The Rebbe intervened and said that everyone has his time for coming and as I pray the High Holiday as a cantor for so many years, so I cannot came at that time. The Rebbe then paid me some very nice compliments.

On the first day of the holiday I was surprised that [during the prayers, the melody of] "Ho'aderess Veho'emuna" was not sung. I therefore [at the following meal] mentioned to the Rebbe that in Manchester we always sang this melody at the morning prayers. "Every Shabbat?" asked the Rebbe. "No," I replied, "only on holidays." "Why not every Shabbat?" "Oh, dear," said I, wiping my forehead, and thinking of how many members we would lose if we took an extra ten minutes over the prayers. The Rebbe came to my rescue by saying, "Okay, only on holidays."

Next day, we did sing this during morning services—the first time for a few years. At the next meal, I thanked the Rebbe, who said that I should have mentioned it before, and we would have sung it the first day too. AND I will receive commission for this (this would come in useful as a bargaining counter for an extra Chassidic gathering [with the Rebbe]).

Good Yom Tov

After [the customary recitation on the first night of Shavuot of the] Tikun Shavuot, at 3:00 am, the Rebbe said the Maamer, a 45-minute deep and penetrating talk on Chassidus [chabad philosophy], extremely tough and difficult—for me at least. After the Rebbe had left at 3:45 am, Rabbi Yoel Kahan then repeated the same discourse. It is uncanny—like a human tape recorder.

After every Shabbat and holiday Chassidic gathering [with the Rebbe], there is a "Chazorah," a repetition. I have strayed into the synagogue at one o'clock in the morning after the end of Shabbat and found about 50 boys listening to Yoel Kahan repeating all the scholarly talks and Chassidic discourses from the day's gathering. Many pull him up and correct him and/or help him out. One of the boys is, at the same time, writing it all down in a special shorthand of his own, and by Monday the whole talk is already in print.

This does not refer to a mid-week gatherings [with the Rebbe, when the Rebbe uses a microphone and all the proceedings are recorded on tape].

Second day [of Shavuot], 8:00 pm, we had the Shavuot gathering. There is a long platform at the one end of the large hall. The Rebbe sits alone at the table surrounded by about 100 distinguished rabbis. In the well of the hall many sit at tables surrounded by tier upon tier of benches on which stand the boys, reaching almost to the roof. Something like a large auditorium. About 1,000 people are present normally and on special occasions even double that number. The Rebbe wishes everyone [a toast of] "L'chaim" ["to life"] and during the course of the gathering, one takes the opportunity of saying "L'chaim" to the Rebbe on numerous occasions. The Rebbe will say a talk, twenty to thirty minutes, on the weekly Torah reading, then a melody and more talk. Normally a discourse is also said by the Rebbe and everyone stands and listens enraptured and quietly for the forty minute duration.

The Rebbe gave a strong talk about bringing up children, who were our guarantors for the Torah – the True Torah – which can not be changed or altered—it is the truth. The parents were not accepted as guarantors, only the children. A man – a parent – uses his own so-called "ideas" and does away with a Mitzvah. Years later, his son takes away two more—he uses his so-called head.

Parents have to teach their children from a few weeks old. When the mother sings a Jewish lullaby to the baby – and even before the child is conceived, by keeping the laws of Family Purity – then they know the child will be perfect, and in turn will be a perfect father and then grandfather. It is up to the women!

During the gathering the Rebbe asked me why I was "unemployed." [The Rebbe was referring to the fact that] I had not said L'chaim for a while… [Which recalls an earlier occasion when] the Rebbe handed me a large plateful of cake and a bottle of wine. "What should I do with these?" I asked. "You will soon see," said the Rebbe.

I was practically mobbed [by chassidim who wanted a piece of the Rebbe's cake], and just managed to salvage a few pieces of cake for my wife.

This gathering took seven and a half hours and ended at 3:30 am, when the Rebbe gave out Kos Shel Brocha—wine [from the "cup of blessing"] from Havdalah [the traditional service recited over a cup of wine at the end of Shabbat or holiday], to everyone who filed past him with a glass into which the Rebbe poured wine. This took another hour or more for our "poor Rebbe." During this gathering we had visits from Mayor Lindsey who was seeking re-election as Mayor of New York and also some of the other candidates.

Private Audience: "Yechidus"

My Yechidus was the following night, Monday at 8:30 pm. The Rebbe said I must not tell anyone about this special Yechidus, as all would want the same. When we came out at 9:45(evening prayers should have been at 9:30) only about 150 boys were waiting for us!! And knew about this Yechidus.

When we had entered, the Rebbe rose and told Roselyn that it was nice to give her [the greeting of] Shalom Aleichem again, for the second time, and asked her to be seated. She sat, with paper and pencil in her hand ready to write down the vital points which would arise.

I was hoping that she would not do a repetition of the previous year when, after one and a half hours of Yechidus, all Roselyn had written on the pad was "the Rebbe said that the gathering was made especially for her." That was all she had written down.

I told the Rebbe that so far I had had a wonderful time socially, and now it was time for a business discussion. The Rebbe asked Roselyn whether she had given permission to me to leave her and eat the holiday meals with the Rebbe. When Roselyn answered in the affirmative, the Rebbe said he hoped she did not mind. Roselyn replied that as the Rebbetzin had made this sacrifice, so could she and was pleased to do so.

The Rebbe said that his Rebbetzin had made this sacrifice for 40 years, and Roselyn replied, "Until 120 years." The Rebbe smiled appreciatively. In fact during the whole one and a half hours the Rebbe was laughing and smiling.

We discussed business and family, Lubavitch and communal problems. I realized it was now 9:30 pm so I said, "The Rebbe will want to pray evening services." So he replied, "Well it says to do that in the code of Jewish law!" "Yes," I remarked, "but [it does] not [say that one must] pray at 9.30 pm—it could be 3:30 am like the other night."

"Yes," said the Rebbe, "that is so, but it was getting a little tight for [the counting of] Sefirah" [which must be done before dawn]. He advised me to come for my next Yechidus at my usual time in the early hours of the morning so that no one would be jealous.

The Rebbe asked me if I liked the apartment on Union Street. I replied that it was ideal, especially as it was only seconds away from 770 and I wanted it for every Shavuot.