Born in 1902, the Rebbe moved to the large Ukrainian city of Yekaterinoslav in 1909, when his esteemed father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878–1944), was appointed as the city’s chief rabbi. By the time he turned 13, the Rebbe had already become known for his piety and for his fluency in all areas of Torah. The Rebbe’s bar mitzvah took place in Yekaterinoslav on Friday, 11 Nissan 5675 (March 26, 1915), and many guests from all walks of life joined the celebration. As the chief rabbi’s first personal celebration since assuming the position, it was the first opportunity for many community leaders to express their respect and love for their spiritual leader.

Presented below are two excerpts—brief in quantity, yet rich in context—from the memoirs of the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, describing the bar mitzvah celebration in Yekaterinoslav. In addition, we bring you a similar description of the bar mitzvah as told by Rebbetzin Chana to the Yiddish journalist N. Gordon and published in 1964. Though all three pieces are similar, each has details the other doesn’t, and we thus present them all to you in original form.

On 18 Nissan 5711 (April 24, 1951), Rebbetzin Chana recorded the following in her memoirs:

I believe he remembers what he spoke about at his bar mitzvah. He gave two speeches, I think, one on a subject of the “revealed Torah” [Talmud-Halachah] and the other on a subject of the “concealed Torah” [Chassidut-Kabbalah].

A large number of guests were present, as we had many good friends. Additionally, it was at that time that the chassidim triumphed in securing acceptance of a candidate of their own—my husband—as rav of the city. Consequently, many guests attended even without an invitation.

The celebration was on Shabbat,1 and the farbrengen continued until after havdalah.2

I wasn’t present in the room where our son delivered his talks. But everyone was indescribably overwhelmed by them. I recall how the engineer Sergei Paley—who possessed a sharp mind and was very Torah-learned—came over to me and said, “This is the first time in my life that I hear such scholarship from a boy of his age.”

The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory (circa late 1920s)
The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory (circa late 1920s)

At that point, the bar mitzvah boy’s father—my husband—urged the boy to promise him something, but the bar mitzvah boy wasn’t so ready to make that promise.

It was evident on the faces of those coming out of the room—old or young, Torah-observant or non-observant—that they had been weeping. There was an atmosphere that I simply cannot describe. It took many hours before our son gave his father the positive response he asked of him.

Everyone then joined together in spirited dancing, their faces still showing signs of their previous weeping, but now combined with intense joy. They were all transported to a different world.

Our son was a slim boy with a refined face reflecting an inner inspiration—of a caliber rarely encountered.

On 1 Adar I 5719 (February 9, 1959), Rebbetzin Chana recorded the following in her memoirs:

At a time when we look forward to a good week, and it’s also Rosh Chodesh, particularly of the month of Adar, when “we increase joy,”3 I should write in a cheerful mood.

However, I’m sitting alone at home, not so upbeat. On the 28th of Tevet, I became 79 years old. Thank G‑d that I’ve been able to keep going until now in my present condition, emotional and physical, but it gets more difficult every day.

This week was the bar mitzvah celebration of a friend’s son. It reminded me of the bar mitzvah of my older son, long may he live in good health and with success. All the bar mitzvahs of our sons were celebrated by us in a fine manner. But my older son’s was something special, extraordinary, on a highly sublime level. It was our family’s first personal celebration.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878–1944)
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878–1944)

My husband, of blessed memory, was held in high regard. This was despite the initial “birthpangs” of his rabbinic position due to opposition by non-chassidim and Zionists against Lubavitch, which they considered him to personify, and which is why they didn’t want to accept his appointment. But now it was already seven years that we had lived in the city, and our supporters were proud of my husband’s accomplishments, while those opposing had often expressed their remorse. Now, both sides had an opportunity to express their feelings.

For our good friends it was a genuine celebration, expressed in a delightfully friendly closeness, which had a delectable feeling, as I remind myself now.

It was held on a Shabbat, and many guests attended. At that time we had a large home, and all its rooms were packed. Because it was so crowded, there was a constant interchange of guests, with some leaving while new ones came to take their place. I had many female guests, and there were also many young people. All these groups included guests from all sorts of backgrounds.

I don’t remember exactly when it started, probably around 12:00 noon, after the conclusion of prayers at shul. The men sat in the large hall, while we women were in the large dining room. Of course, the tables were beautifully set with abundant food for both the men and the women.

Around 3:00–4:00 p.m. we saw some of the male guests, both old and young, emerging with weeping faces. I tried looking inside the main hall to discover the reason for their tears, but it was so crowded in there that I couldn’t see through all the heads.

Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson (1880–1964)
Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson (1880–1964)

When I asked those who had been inside, they told me that the father—my husband—had requested our son (long may he live) to promise him something. I wasn’t inside, so I don’t know the actual course of events. But our son’s reply, apparently, wasn’t immediate. Everyone was amazed by the great character of such a young boy, that he was so guarded and cautious about giving his reply.

I don’t know the details of what actually happened there, but around 6:00–7:00 p.m.—I remember it wasn’t so light any more—the weeping faces I had previously seen became very happy. Now from inside we heard the sound of such joyous dancing and singing, and the joy became so intense that it affected those outside, too. One sensed that the enthusiastic rejoicing held some deep significance, and that both the nature of the request and the one who gave his reply would remain memorable for a long time.

In Di Yiddishe Heim, Kislev 5724 (p. 5), N. Ben-Yochanan (Nissan Gordon) writes what he heard from the Rebbetzin:

“Concerning the great bar mitzvah celebration held in Yekaterinoslav, the Rebbetzin remembers to this day that after his speech, which left a deep impression on all the guests, the bar mitzvah boy wept intensely, and many guests who witnessed this were prompted to weep, too.

“[The Rebbetzin] heard that her husband had insisted that the bar mitzvah boy give him a certain promise, although she had no idea what it was. She remembers, however, that in the evening, following Shabbat, when the bar mitzvah boy agreed to give his word as his father asked, it was followed by great rejoicing, with dancing until late at night.

“Who knows? Perhaps father and son were already discussing matters pertaining to the future of Chabad-Lubavitch?”