Last year, 1979, Yoseph Yitzchok ("Yossi") Lew, my oldest grandson, who was fourteen years old at the time, spent the whole month of Tishrei in Crown Heights, hosted by Nechama and Mendel Baumgarten. This enabled him to be near the Rebbe for Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. He was overjoyed and thrilled with his experiences over the holidays. He felt he had gained a tremendous spiritual stimulus that would fortify him not only throughout the following year, but for the rest of his life.

This year, his parents, Hindy (my daughter) and Shmuel, encouraged him to repeat last year's experiment. They also persuaded Yossi to take with him his younger brother, Menachem Mendel, who was one-and-a-half years his junior. Again they stayed with the Baumgartens.

The Rebbe receives letters with entreaties that were later placed on the podium during the shofar blowing.
The Rebbe receives letters with entreaties that were later placed on the podium during the shofar blowing.

Yossi related to me that the Rebbe himself blew the first (main) thirty notes of the shofar on the podium. First the Rebbe took three large paper sacks, which were crammed full with pidyonot – entreaties – which had been sent to him, asking him to beg G‑d on behalf of the writers for life, health, nachas, livelihood, and so forth. The Rebbe placed these sacks on top of the podium, and it was almost completely covered by them. The Rebbe then drew his prayer shawl up over his head, enveloping the podium and its contents as well. He lowered his head onto the podium, meditated, prayed, and wept—appealing to the Almighty to bless all the Jewish people everywhere with a good and happy new year, and to fulfill the desires of those who had sent him petitions.

The Rebbe then commenced to recite the blessings prior to the blowing of the shofar. It was a solemn and awe-inspiring moment, and Yossi admitted that he very nearly fainted. I remarked that stronger men might have fainted in similar circumstances.

"Oh no," retorted Yossi, "It was not the solemnity of the occasion. It was the terrible crush of thousands of men and boys, who were all trying to get nearer and nearer to the Rebbe to better hear the blowing of the shofar, which almost crushed my ribs and broke my back."

That was the reason why he nearly fainted.

Just before Yom Kippur, I received several reports from 770 to the effect that Crown Heights was full to overflowing. In addition to the many families streaming in from every corner of the United States, there were many thousands of visitors from Israel and France and around the world.

Sleeping accommodations were at a premium. I was becoming a little anxious about our own accommodations. Our friend Raizie Minkowitz had already promised me, many months previously, that she expected us to be her guests – with full board and lodging, free of charge – for Simchat Torah. When I heard how crowded Crown Heights was, I immediately telephoned Raizie for reassurance, and it was a great relief to learn that she was expecting us and everything was in order.

Lubavitch families in Brooklyn are providing a tremendous and invaluable service by generously opening up their homes to the visitors. It is a pity that there is not even one hotel in Crown Heights at which one could stay. But of course, even hotels are limited to a certain number of rooms (more or less).

Last year, someone approached me with a proposition. He wished to open a hotel and for me to be his partner. I was interested and asked the Rebbe for his opinion. I was told that "it is not your business and don't bother."

A Yom Kippur Story

The anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch (1834-1882), known as the Rebbe Maharash, takes place around this time. This gives me the cue and the opportunity to relate a little story about Rabbi Shmuel, of righteous memory.

The story concerns Rabbi Rivkin, a Lubavitch rabbi who lived in Manchester many years ago. He was also a member of the city's rabbinical court.

Prior to his birth, Rabbi Rivkin's mother had given birth to two boys, both of whom had died at a very young age. When she was pregnant with him, she was sorely afraid that the same thing would happen again.

She contacted the Rebbe Maharash for help and guidance, for she was extremely worried.

The Rebbe advised her to have an earring made from an atarah (a silver "crown" that some affix to the collar of the prayer shawl) and instructed that the baby should wear the earring throughout his life.

She obtained this small, thin earring, and in due course she placed it in the left ear of the young "Rabbi" Rivkin. He wore this for many years and enjoyed good health.

Just once, in the course of his sojourn on this world, did he remove this earring—and he became so ill that he replaced it immediately.

One year. on the eve of Yom Kippur, I, together with a good friend of mine, Motel Jaffe (no relation), went to visit Rabbi Rivkin to extend our wishes for a good new year to him. After we left, Rabbi Rivkin made his way to the mikvah, the ritual bath, and then he continued to the synagogue for Yom Kippur services. He was halfway up the steps when he collapsed – and died. It was then discovered that the earring was missing! He was 77 years of age.

A thorough search was made of the mikvah, but there was no sign of the earring – and it has never been seen since.