After the Six Day War, in the year 1967, I had become fascinated with the synagogue named after the third Chabad Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek Shul, in the Old City of Jerusalem, and would later contribute substantially to its refurbishment. It was the only synagogue that remained in its entirety since the Jews were chased out of the Old City in the late 1940s until after the war when Jews could once again return to live in the Old City.

My connection with the synagogue took me on a long journey of love with Jerusalem. In 1970, I purchased a dilapidated old house on Rehov Caspi with a wonderful view overlooking the Old City. My intention was to reconstruct it, in the anticipation of one day moving to Israel.

My third audience with the Rebbe, of righteous memory, which occurred in 1971, was for me a traumatic experience. I had submitted a six-page memorandum telling the Rebbe of my strong feeling of personal responsibility to participate directly in the rebuilding of Israel. I used every argument I could think of – personal and moral – in support of my desire to move to Israel with my wife Esti and our four daughters. With my considerable fortune at that time, I planned that I would work for the State Controller for $1 a year. Of course I assumed that the Rebbe would approve.

The Rebbe asked us, "Do you want a blessing, or would you like my opinion and then to discuss the whole matter?" This was the first time that my wife Esti was with me at an audience with the Rebbe. She had loyally agreed to settle in Israel, but was more apprehensive about the difficulties, and mindful of the Divine individual providence which had brought her to England in the famous Kindertransport just before World War II.

The Rebbe asked us, "Do you want a blessing, or would you like my opinion and then to discuss the whole matter?" I looked at Esti, but could not attract her attention. I told the Rebbe, "It is not a closed matter."

"If you ask, you must be prepared for an answer which can be no," the Rebbe said.

I told the Rebbe that we really wanted to hear his advice. The Rebbe turned to my wife and confirmed that it was her wish too.

The Rebbe then went through every point in my letter, explaining how in every way it would not be beneficial:

  • For your livelihood, you would be confined and restricted with governmental permission needed for every action.

  • For your standing in the community, you would become just one of the two million Jews. In Israel, control of all affairs is through one channel, the political one. In London, you are one of the leaders and in a position to influence 200,000 Jews. There you are completely free and do not have to answer to anybody. If you speak as a businessman from England, it will also have meaning for the Jewish community in Australia or Canada

  • For your children, It is good for them, in one way, to grow up in a totally Jewish environment. However, in Israel it is the usual practice that after thirteen children lead a separate life from their parents, both religious and otherwise. They go with friends to clubs and hiking, etc., and they are not under the influence of their parents. The relationship becomes similar to that of an elder brother or sister.

I told the Rebbe that "we did not consider more independence to be a bad thing."

"In general," the Rebbe replied, "it is not a bad thing, but it is not the type of relationship we usually wish for."

When I said that I thought we could be a good influence from within Israel; others who have gone there have been successful. The Rebbe replied, "No, it would always be just one voice to a small number of people. In Israel you can express influence only through political parties, usually with a silken glove, but these can be taken off."

The Rebbe concluded with saying, that "when one is in a forest, he does not always have the ability to see the bigger picture,"

After leaving the audience I was unable to reconcile the Rebbe's partial answers with a number of points raised in my memorandum about the desirability of a move to Israel. In spite of my wife's great concern in my appearing to resist the Rebbe's advice, I spent the whole night drafting a four page letter which was submitted the next day, Friday, at midday.

At midnight, after Shabbat, the Rebbe responded.

In the opening paragraph of my letter, I had restated my feeling of identity with Israel and the conviction that our activities could be raised there to a higher level. The Rebbe's objections as I understood them were principally that I would contribute less, feel less free and have more independent children.

The Rebbe wrote after this, "Another important reason, which I did not mention since your wife was present, is that each and every one of us has been mobilized by Divine Providence to wage the battle for Judaism in a specific place. Therefore, it is not for a military man to forsake his post, and all the military personnel around him and the cities on the scene which he is to defend, because he found, in his opinion, another place where the battle is easier. Especially if he is an officer over fifties or an officer over hundreds or thousands. This is simple to understand."

My letter continued: Regarding my contribution to society, initially it may be less, but over a ten-year period would this not change? The Rebbe responded, "On the contrary, the influence of those who come to settle in the Holy Land is greater during the first years of their settling, which is not the case when they become accustomed to, and are considered like, other residents of the country and members of the same party."

I still thought that at least I would be able to have some influence for the good. To this the Rebbe explained, "Yes, but not really as much influence as when visiting there as a guest. This is simple to understand."

Regarding the children, I wrote, "Would it not be in their own interest to develop a more [this word was circled by the Rebbe] independent outlook?" "No," the Rebbe responded. "This would be complete independence without the permission of the parents at all, and not, as apparent from your writing, as if the children in the Holy Land ask their parents in which matters they may be independent!"

The final paragraph of my notes concluded, "I submit to your guidance in this matter not as one able to follow unquestionably or at a high level of self-sacrifice, but as one who humbly recognizes greater wisdom and understanding, and wishes to avail himself of their benefits. If your advice is based on considerations at the level of my understanding, I must have failed to convey my reasons adequately or there is some defect in my reasoning. If your advice is based on a higher level than my understanding, I need this to be specifically underlined."

In his concluding note the Rebbe wrote, "You do not realize the extent of your soul's suppressed abilities. You are qualified and are prepared even for a high level of sacrifice, if you would find it necessary. But in the matter at hand the situation is just the reverse. The life of a man of your caliber (with the abilities with which you have been graced as well as your initiatives) who moves from England, the United States, etc., to the Holy Land becomes far less challenging, far more suppressed (in business, communal affairs, independence, creativity, etc.), and from year to year as his stay there prolongs, the above mentioned continually degenerates (excluding one who becomes boss of a large political party). It is therefore also for your material well-being not to move there."

A Good Team for Good

On my return to London, I wrote to the Rebbe of the impact on friends and family of our decision not to move to Israel and my concentration on several new opportunities which had arisen. In a most powerful letter the Rebbe again stressed the importance of our remaining in London, that together with my wife, we could have a great influence on English Jewry and thus on all of European Jewry:

By the Grace of G‑d
8th of Tammuz, 5731 [July 1, 1971]
Brooklyn, N. Y.

Mr. Pinchus Meir Kalms
London, England

Greeting and Blessings:

I am in receipt of your letter, and many thanks for the good news it contained to the effect that your affairs are progressing satisfactorily along the lines which we discussed here.

I take this opportunity also to express to you some of the impressions which were left with me after our conversation, when you visited me together with your wife, for the first time. The main impression is that both of you form a good team that could accomplish a great deal for the strengthening and spreading of Yiddishkeit [Judaism] in your environment, both immediate and more distant. I am confident that your wife will be a true helpmate to you in this, and that both of you will carry on these activities with joy and vitality. Surely it is unnecessary to emphasize to you the great Zechus [merit] of being the emissaries of G‑d to spread His Torah, Toras Emes and Toras Chaim [the true and living Torah], in the Anglo-Jewish community. Moreover, the need is very great, and at the same time the manpower is very small, for there are relatively very few who are active in this area and can be truly successful. Considering further that British Jewry has a considerable impact on European Jewry, and that every act and contribution to further this cause, makes one a שותף להקב"ה כביכול ("a partner with G‑d") – surely there can be no greater gratification and reward than the realization that one is a partner in this great and eternal destiny.

It is, further, well to bear in mind that together with a task which G‑d places on a person, the necessary capacities are provided by Him to carry out this task in the best possible way. Thus, the greater the challenge – as in the case of British and European Jewry – the greater are the capacities which G‑d provides to meet that challenge. But wishing to give the human being full credit for the accomplishment, G‑d does not make it too easy, and there are sometimes difficulties and problems to overcome, which indeed can be overcome, provided there is a will and determination.

May G‑d grant you Hatzlocho [success] that you should make your contribution to British Jewry to help restore it to its former glory, since, as you know, there was a time when Jews in England counted in their ranks outstanding Baalei Tosfos [famed commentators on the Talmud]. The Zechus Horabim [merit of the community] will further stand you in good stead.

With blessing,

M. Schneerson

Your Will or Against Your Will?

In my audience of October 9th, 1972, the Rebbe asked, "Do you have anything personal to discuss?"

Looking at my notes I replied that we already had discussed all the main points, but the Rebbe persisted that all that was discussed was community matters, were there any "personal matters," he asked again. I responded that for myself, thank G‑d, my affairs, personal and financial, are going very well.

"I will put the question another way," the Rebbe said. "The last time we spoke, your wanting to move to Israel was the cause of a considerable problem."

Confused, I said that having thought over the matter very intensely, I have come to understand and accept the wisdom of the points the Rebbe made. When I told this to the Rebbe, he said smilingly, "I am glad to hear you say those words."

I responded that of course, I have not lost my interest in or identity with Israel, "G‑d forbid that you should," the Rebbe responded. "I too do not lose my identity with Israel even though I sit here in Brooklyn!"

The Rebbe asked, "But do you accept that you can be of better service to Israel from outside?"

I responded that "this I can see."

The Rebbe asked, "And Mrs. Kalms also?"

I said that she needed less persuading on this issue.

The Rebbe said that I cannot mention the name, but there is another person active in London who also made preparations to move to Israel and decided not to go. "Tell Mrs. Kalms, so that she should know that this is not a unique case."

The greatest impression during the meeting was not only the outstanding wisdom but the warmth, sense of humor and the outstanding positiveness. The nobility seemed for the moment suspended, and before you was a true friend, one who knows you and loves you, aware of your many failings, but seemingly ignoring them and instead radiating confidence in your ability to meet the new challenges he opens up before you.

I believe it was this acceptance of the greater wisdom that lifted my relationship from being a well-meaning supporter to a virtual disciple. Thisenabled the Rebbe to entrust me with many special tasks, not only in the United Kingdom and Israel but later setting up the Shamir organization and guiding its unique contribution to Russian Jewish life.