My first contact with Lubavitch was in 1961 when an announcement of the birth of my third daughter, Penina, in the Jewish Chronicle led to a visit to my office from Rabbi Faivish Vogel, the Chabad emissary with the task of introducing Lubavitch to the Jewish Community in the UK. Gradually, as we became close friends, he brought me into the family of Chabad-Lubavitch.

The central role of the Rebbe in the lives of his disciples soon became apparent. I listened, with growing respect, to the stories of the Rebbe's admirable qualities, but did not, at first, feel that he might have any special relevance in my very active life. As I understood it, the relationship between a Rebbe and his disciples, or Chassidim, was not part of Anglo-Jewish education, and at that time I had not heard any mention from my mother of her family Zisslin's connection with Chabad in the town of Homel in Russia

When Rabbi Vogel suggested I should go with him to meet the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, in New York, I responded that whilst it could be interesting to meet such a charismatic personality, I had no pressing problems, no reason and no justification to impose myself on him and take up his valuable time. Fortunately Rabbi Vogel persisted, and so began a challenging, inspiring and totally unexpected relationship, quite unlike anything I had experienced, in which the social convention of not imposing just had no place.

The Rebbe's was able to immediately comprehend the world view of his visitor and then often in an unusual way find a new dimension to lift him to a higher level than before. Although writing and speaking for over 40 years at the highest level of Jewish spirituality, the Rebbe seemingly gave equal place to creating a personal bond with thousands of very different ordinary individuals. It was one of the fascinating aspects of the Rebbe's personality that he was able to immediately comprehend the world view of his visitor and then often in an unusual way, find a new dimension to lift him to a higher level than before.

It was my good fortune to have met the Rebbe in the nineteen sixties when he was under less pressure and able to give more time to individual relationships. Occasionally, he even directed the private audience, known as Yechidus, into a kind of relaxed conversation as between trusted colleagues with common interests. At every stage, even in the later years when thousands competed for his attention, he never showed the slightest hint of impatience. Indeed, his whole attitude was always total identification with the interest of the visitor with time of no significance.

The Rebbe would have private audiences three times a week that would begin at around 8 p.m. and often continue throughout the night to the early morning hours. The atmosphere at Lubavitch World Headquarters, addressed 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, was a combination of apprehension and excitement which increased in intensity the nearer one came to the Rebbe's room on the ground floor.

A list was compiled by the Rebbe's chief aide, Rabbi Hodakov, assisted by the aides Rabbi Groner or Rabbi Klein. They created a certain order of when the individuals would enter for their audience, but since it was never possible to be sure how long – seconds, minutes or hours – the visitors would stay, they were divided into two groups: The more immediate in the corridor outside the Rebbe's room and the rest in the main hallway or other study rooms, where the rabbinical students were learning at all times, day or night, Jewish scholarly subjects.

Usually the first to enter were engaged couples or young disciples. They would emerge quickly, backing out respectfully and overcome with emotion. Then, local families would go in for a birthday or special occasion, followed by visitors, mainly from abroad, who would be brought two or three at a time to wait outside the Rebbe's office prior to their audience.

Mr. Kalms receives a dollar to give to charity from the Rebbe.
Mr. Kalms receives a dollar to give to charity from the Rebbe.

There were men and women of every type and from every country, poor and prosperous, soldiers, politicians, intellectuals, businessmen and workmen, all waiting in silent tension for their call. Sometimes, when visitors would emerge from particularly long sessions, still somewhat shaken by the experience, friends and acquaintances would surround them, asking in urgent whispers for some explanation for the unusual length of time spent with the Rebbe.

For my audience, I always took with me a small notepad and, accepting the Rebbe's invitation to sit, would scribble key words and phrases during the conversation. The door was always left slightly open and, as the minutes passed, a buzzer would sound on the Rebbe's desk. From time to time, one of the Rebbe's aides would put his head round the door silently reminding the visitor of the lateness of the hour and indicating that he should have some consideration for the Rebbe's well-being – but the Rebbe, and usually the visitor, would appear not to notice.

On leaving the Rebbe's room, I would go immediately to a quiet corner of the building and for several hours (once I spent all night) and still on a "high" would write down my recollection of the complete dialogue using the Rebbe's own words. This was the procedure during the years from 1965 to 1981 when I was privileged to spend many hours with the Rebbe during nine separate audiences.

A wide range of topics were discussed in the early years: Lubavitch London affairs, Israel, Soviet Jewry, family matters, my business affairs and, later on, mainly the progress on the Solmecs project, which seemed to myself and my family to be a kind of mission from the Rebbe.

Like many others, I was torn between the desire for more detailed communication with the Rebbe on many different activities and the realization of how precious and limited his time was. Sometimes, my reports that I sent to the Rebbe were a headline summary and at other times they covered many pages. In the case of letters, written responses by the Rebbe were made in the margin of the original letter opposite the question, and passed on by his secretary by telephone or mail. Sometimes I was able to see the actual notes, but the Rebbe's aides always retained the original letter.

From the early '80s, when the demands on the Rebbe's time had increased many times over, the exchange of smiles was now our audience and I came to feel that an unbreakable link had been established, and that issues could mostly be resolved within the Rebbe's existing guidelines. We have been extraordinarily blessed by the spiritual and practical guidance of the Rebbe which has given our family a sense of purpose and enriched our lives in many ways far beyond that we would have considered possible.