The First World War sent floods of refugees streaming into the interior of Russia.

Many arrived in Yekatrinoslav, where, in addition to severe shortages of food, shelter and other basic necessities, they had to contend with the hostility of the local authorities.

The Jews, in particular, suffered from the classically anti-Semitic accusations of collaboration with the enemy, and were subject to arrest, seizure for ransom, and even execution.

Refugees during the World War I
Refugees during the World War I

The Rebbe's mother and father opened their home to the refugees and undertook to provide for them, ransom the captives, and intercede with the government on behalf of the accused-at great risk to their own life and liberty. The Rebbe was a full participant in these activities. Years later, he recalled the deep and lasting impression the devotion of his parents-particularly of his mother—had upon his fourteen year-old self.

Attending to the material needs of one's fellow has been a cornerstone of the Chabad Movement since its inception. The Rebbes of Chabad never saw themselves as "spiritual" leaders: the bodily condition of their people was no less important to them than the state of their souls. "Attending to the material necessities of a fellow in need is a most spiritual endeavor." The Rebbe, quoting the founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of LiadiIn Czarist Russia, they established agricultural settlements and factories to provide a livelihood for destitute Jews; under the communist regime, they clandestinely supported the "counter-revolutionaries" who had been deprived of all means of support; in the wake of the Holocaust, they sent emissaries bearing succor and aid to the DP camps.

Today, the Rebbe's disciples are running drug rehabilitation centers in California, airlifting children out of the radioactive Chernobyl area in Belarus, and operating soup kitchens in cities from Jerusalem to Moscow. By the Rebbe's directive, every Chabad House has a free loan fund and devotes a significant portion of its resources to serve the social needs of its community.