I often reflect about the day I stood before the Lubavitcher Rebbe. I like to close my eyes and try to remember every detail; the colors, the sounds, the line of people, and most importantly, the emotional experience of my 13-year-old self.

In the spring of 1990, Rabbi Avraham Shemtov arranged for newly arrived immigrants from the Soviet Union to visit Crown Heights in Brooklyn, N.Y. More than 30 years have passed since that day, yet it remains one of the most meaningful experiences of my life.

Needless to say, standing in front of the Rebbe and receiving a dollar with a blessing directly from him allowed me to connect to my own G‑dly soul and the Divine light hidden within. It sensitized me to my spiritual potential and to the understanding that we are intricately connected to a greater purposeful reality.

That same day, another memorable event that occurred that proved to me how much the spiritual and physical are intertwined.

Growing up in the Soviet Union, we were not exposed to any Jewish traditions. We never saw religious-looking people, and so that day, we were in awe when we saw hundreds of Chabad Chassidim walking around 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn.

I didn’t know then that we had arrived at Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters. To a Soviet child, it felt more like another planet. So many black hats, black coats and beards. Were these all rabbis?

We took out our Kodak camera with film for 24 images. I had 19 unused pictures left over on a roll from a previous family event.

I began to snap photos of the people on the street, even though it was clear that they didn’t want their pictures taken. Some covered their faces as they walked past me. Yet I was so mesmerized by the site of “real” Jews that I continued snapping. I am now embarrassed about my persistence, but at the time I assumed that I would never again be exposed to so many religious Jews, and I wanted to have memories of that day.

When we arrived back in Philadelphia, where we lived, my father and I drove to a pharmacy to have the pictures printed. A few days later, we received a call from the store. We didn’t speak English well enough to understand what the caller was saying, and so my father and I drove to the store to inquire about my pictures. Apparently, my film somehow got exposed to light and only the first five pictures from the family event were of good quality. The sixth that had an image of a religious gentleman was smeared and unclear. The rest of the roll didn’t even have any images on them. Every single picture that I took in Crown Heights without permission had simply disappeared.

I stood in front of the salesperson, realizing that this couldn’t be a coincidence. I felt that perhaps meeting the Rebbe attuned my soul to a deeper sensitivity of a spiritual reality. I took the pictures without permission and thus I was staring at blank images.

Thirty years later, I was reminded of this encounter through another picture—this time, a portrait of the Rebbe.

In the fall of 2019, I landed in Kiev, where I joined a group of women on the unforgettable spiritual journey, visiting the graves of tzadikim buried in that part of the world. Before I joined the group, I spent a day in Kiev visiting Jewish sites, including the famous Central Lubavitch Synagogue. When I entered the building, I was mesmerized by the portrait of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that hung near the entrance. The picture was magnificent and so welcoming.

As I approached the portrait to take a closer look, I was blown away when I realized that it was made out of thousands of threads—a cross-stitched piece of art. The artist probably toiled for hundreds of hours, carefully designing and color coordinating this one-of-a-kind portrait of the Rebbe.

The portrait represented to me how the Rebbe unified so many people from across the globe by infusing each of them with their unique purpose. He opened up the channels connecting each of us to our Divine soul and sensitized us to the fact that by tapping into this greater reality, we create a beautiful portrait for ourselves and our world.

I am no longer that little girl mesmerized by religious-looking people, but a Jewish woman who has grown to appreciate how the individual events of all of our lives intertwine to create masterful beauty.

While I wish that I could have the physical Crown Heights images from 30 years ago, I realize that what I received was much more important. That day for the first time in my life, I saw the “full” picture.