In my late teens, I found myself in a quandary. I was preparing to graduate from high school, and I was unsure what to do next. I felt torn between my desire to further my Jewish education and my wish to pursue academic studies and embark upon a career.

Reading through The Lubavitcher Rebbe's Memoirs, written by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory, the lyrical descriptions of vibrant early chassidic history captivated me. I loved the images of deep Torah study combined with a close bond with nature that the book portrayed, and I began to feel a deep connection to Chabad.

Thus, faced with the dilemma of my immediate future, I wrote my first letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory.

The Rebbe's response arrived quickly. Its content surprised me, and I realized that I had expected the Rebbe to simply say, “Don't go to college.” In fact, the Rebbe advised me to defer my college education for a year or two until I had a more solid background in Torah learning and Jewish values. This would also provide a stronger yardstick with which to evaluate my academic studies.

I followed the Rebbe’s advice, and, at the age of eighteen, began attending Beth Jacob Teachers' Seminary in Williamsburg. At the time it was the most highly regarded institution of advanced Jewish education for young women.

Each day, after school, I went to work as a part-time nanny in the house of a prominent rabbinic educator. While tending to the children, I unknowingly drew the attention of an older couple who lived nearby. The couple approached me and explained that they had noticed my love for Torah, and wanted to pay my way to Israel to meet a young man who headed a Kabbalistic seminary. They were convinced we would be a good match for marriage.

At the time, I had no one to ask for advice about such a serious matter. The offer sounded exotic and interesting, but I wasn't sure it was right for me. The well-meaning couple really didn't know me nor did they know what I was looking for in a life-partner. How could they suggest a soul mate for me?

Feeling very alone, I had a strong yearning to travel to the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, where Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters were located.

By the time I arrived at 770 Eastern Parkway, I felt so emotionally overwhelmed that I sat outside the building sobbing. An elderly gentleman with a wispy beard approached me and asked me what was wrong. I explained that I had written a few letters to the Rebbe in my earlier teens and now I wished to speak with him.

"Wait here a minute," murmured the gentleman, and he went inside the stately brick building. I later found out that he was the Rebbe’s senior secretary, Rabbi Hodakov.

Rabbi Hodakov returned a while later and informed me I had an appointment with the Rebbe the very next day. Little did I know that I was not following the protocol for arranging a meeting, or that one usually needed to make an appointment months in advance.

The next day, after a sleepless night, I took my turn to enter the Rebbe’s study. My knees felt like jelly, and I held onto the desk for support. But as soon as I looked into the Rebbe's calm, clear, compassionate blue eyes, I was able to relax slightly.

I explained my situation as concisely as I could, and the Rebbe responded briefly, directly addressing my concern. "He (the prospective groom) is there [in Israel] and you are here. You are very different from each other." Then he added, speaking in Yiddish, (though I have no idea how the Rebbe knew that I understood the language), "Remove him from your agenda."

I walked out exhilarated and relieved, not just because I had received a direct answer from someone I trusted, but because I no longer felt alone in the world. I had found a guide, a mentor.

A short time later, someone else suggested a young businessman as a suitable match for me. I met with him a few times, but I was unsure if he was truly my soul mate.

This time, I went into the office of the Rebbe’s secretariat and asked to make an appointment with the Rebbe. My appointment was set for a week later, once again, highly unusual considering the typical wait for a meeting.

This time, the Rebbe took the initiative in asking me questions, "Do you like this man?"

It was an obvious question, but to me, coming from a rabbi, a totally unexpected one. I gulped before replying, "I have stam ahavat yisrael [basic love of a fellow Jew] for him."

The Rebbe grinned from ear to ear with the confidential smile of a close relative.

He responded, again in Yiddish, “Far a man darf men hoben mer vi stam ahavas yisroel,” — “For a husband, one must have more than plain, basic love of a fellow Jew.”

From that moment on, I was certain that I had acquired not only a guide and a teacher, but also a compassionate friend, and father-figure. My father died when I was ten and was someone I never really knew. But when I spoke with the Rebbe, I truly felt the love, support and concern of a father.

I have heard from others what I personally experienced. When one spoke privately to the Rebbe, it was as if you were the only person in the world to him. As I was to continue learning throughout my life, even though the Rebbe was so spiritually elevated, he was able to relate to, and connect with, everyone who came to see him. He listened to each person with total focus and attention. I would even say he listened to me more than I listened to myself.

I went on to experience many life-transforming audiences with the Rebbe. Though many thousands of people from all over the world had similar experiences, that awareness did not detract one iota from my feeling that in the Rebbe's eyes, I was as precious as an only child.

I turned sixty-five this year, and I still cannot believe that the person who came closest to being a father figure for me was also, according to many, the holiest and most influential rabbi of our times.