Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Continued letter from Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok Homnick, z”l, to his kallah at the time, describing his impression from a visit with Lubavitch at 770 shortly after the Rebbe accepted the leadership of Chabad.

“When I was learning in Spring Valley, Rabbi Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz started teaching classes in Tanya. His classes were amazing. Rabbi Mendlowitz was well versed in the teachings of Chassidus in general, and the teachings of Chabad in particular. He was able to bring down the concepts of the Tanya into a clear, modern language. But unfortunately, we only heard about five classes from him, and then he got sick and passed away.


“After his passing, I kept reading Tanya on my own. I always felt that there are very vital concepts to be found in the Tanya, things we all need to know. In general, I always had a deep interest in Chassidus. My family stems from Chassidim and we inherited that Chassidishe spirit. But as far as the teachings of Chassidus, even though Chassidus is such a well-written philosophy, with thousands of sefarim discussing it, I was never able to learn it thoroughly, because I never had a teacher to learn it with me.

“Taking all of the above into account, I was extremely interested to go and see what is happening at 770 Eastern Parkway. Lubavitch is the only Chassidus which is strong and active even in America, so I decided to go to Lubavitch. This is what their Shabbos Mevarchim looks like: At 8:00 in the morning, they all come to shul. First they go to the mikveh, then they recite the entire Tehillim. By 10:00, they’re ready to start davening. Anyone who walks into that shul is immediately awestruck by what he sees. When you walk into the impressive building, you will suddenly see more beards than you’ve ever seen in your life: Long beards, short beards, white beards, red beards. Elderly Chassidim with covered faces and younger ones with a few “grass hairs” on their chins.

“The atmosphere is completely different than the one out in the street. Everyone converses in Yiddish. They all understand Yiddish. There are people who were in Shanghai, people who escaped from Russia, bochurim who arrived from Eretz Yisrael to learn there, bochurim who came from South America, and from every corner of the world. You can tell from their faces where they come from. Most of them however, are Americans. Some are also baalei teshuva. They daven with great intensity. Even their mundane conversations have the “Chabad spirit” to them.

“The room that they daven in is fairly small; not more than 40 ft. x 20 ft. At the center of the room is a bimah. Immediately upon entering the room, I observed a very strange thing: On one side of the room there are many people crammed together, while on the other side there are only ten people. Then I looked closer and I understood: On one side of the room, the Rebbe is there. Because they want him to be able to see the amud and hear the chazzan well, they leave a huge empty space for only the Rebbe and some elder Chassidim, so he won’t be disturbed by the large crowd. There was no place to sit; everyone davened while standing. Amongst them are some very distinguished individuals: one person is a writer in the Yiddish newspapers, another is a doctor. The doctor also stands in the middle of the crowd of Chassidim and davens like all the rest of them. The chief rabbi of Shanghai from before the war is also present amongst the Chassidim who are here for Shabbos Mevarchim. Everyone stood and davened together.

“I tried getting closer to the Rebbe to look at his face. The Rebbe is tall with a round black beard. They say he learned in Berlin and completed his studies as an engineer. I can immediately see that he is a calm, orderly person. He never picked his eyes up from out of the siddur; he was completely focused on his prayers.”

(To be continued)


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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at [email protected].