Over the course of 40-plus years of leadership, the Lubavitcher Rebbe met with world leaders, humble teachers, renowned scholars, aspiring students and so many others, from all backgrounds and walks of life. These encounters—in his private study, during public addresses and on the streets of Brooklyn itself—left a profound impact on so many different people.

In honor of the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit, on the third of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, we offer the stories of six individuals and their life-changing encounters with the Rebbe.

The Coach

Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive
Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive

One evening in 1973, Harlem Globetrotters’ basketball team coach Abe Saks was flipping through channels when he discovered something surprising: “Religious America,” a TV series, was profiling the Rebbe and his Chassidim in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. So enthralled was he that Saks decided to take the train there that very evening to see the Jewish area for himself.

“The Coach,” as he would become known, became a regular at the Rebbe’s public talks, where he would exuberantly cheer and clap while everyone sang.

Read his story

The Academic

Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive
Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive

Today, Dr. Susan Handelman is a professor of English at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. While she was attending graduate school in the early 1970s at the State University of New York at Buffalo, she decided to spend six months living with and studying the Chabad community in Crown Heights.

Writing about her thoughts on feminism and Judaism, Handelman was surprised to learn that the Rebbe had taken the time to read her essay. In the years to come, the Rebbe edited several of her printed works and even guided her in choosing a doctoral thesis topic.

Read her story

The Producer

Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive
Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive

Joseph Papp, a New York theatrical producer famed for establishing the Public Theater in downtown Manhattan and “Shakespeare in the Park,” was watching television one evening when he came upon a live broadcast of the Rebbe’s public gathering on cable TV.

He would later recall the revelation of watching the Rebbe. “Before seeing this,” he would say, “I didn’t realize that the Jewish people still had a Moses.”

Papp would go on to produce a special broadcast of the Rebbe’s gathering for his 80th birthday in 1982.

Watch him introduce the gathering

The Artist

When famous sculptor Jacques Lipchitz took ill, his wife went to the Rebbe for a blessing. After his recovery, Lipchitz, still ill, went to visit the Rebbe.

“The Rebbe listened to everything [I said],” Lipchitz recalls. “He did not discuss anything about my work; he did not say a word about it.”

Instead, the Rebbe requested that Lipchitz do more to strengthen his Jewishness. Lipchitz told the Rebbe: “I’m not kosher. I do not pray; I do not go to synagogue . . . ”

After the encounter, the Rebbe sent Lipchitz a pair of tefillin, and a relationship blossomed.
Recalling the Rebbe’s public gatherings, Lipchitz later wrote: “Anyone witnessing this scene in the midst of 20th-century New York must be convinced that here beats a generous heart radiating faith, knowledge and hope to us all.”

Read his story

The Community Activist

Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive
Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive

When Geoffrey Davis and his brother, James E. Davis, were children in Crown Heights, they would play catch on their street. The Rebbe would walk past on his way home from synagogue.

Years later, Davis would relate that the inspiration behind his work—and that of his late brother, who served as a city council member—came from words the Rebbe would share with them when he saw them at play.

“I reflect about someone who was 75, 80 years old at the time,” Davis later said “who used to talk to us. [He] didn’t look like us, but opened the door for us to communicate and to embrace all human beings.”

Watch his story

The Rolling Stones’ Promoter

Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive
Image Credit: JEM - The Living Archive

Elliot Lasky was born in a traditional Jewish home. Yet in the spirit of the 1960s, he left his observance and yeshivah education to tour with the Rolling Stones.

In 1973, Lasky had a spiritual awakening and began to question the trajectory of his life. He approached the Rebbe on the street and asked him Yiddish: “Where is G‑d?”

The answer he received—and the resulting conversation—launched him on a journey of return to Jewish life.

Watch his story