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Felicia’s article in JGS of Greater Philadelphia Chronicles:
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Videos from the 6th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Z”L
Today is the 26th yahrzeit of the Rebbe Z”L
My videos of the Rabbi Chaim Gutnick Z”L, filmed at CHABAD House in Perth, Western Australia on 5 July 2000 on the 6th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
An inspiring story about the Rebbe Z”L told by Chaim Gutnick Z”L
|Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson|
Menachem Mendel Schneerson at the Lag BaOmer parade in Brooklyn, 1987.
|Synagogue||770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, NY|
|Began||10 Shevat 5711 / January 17, 1951|
|Predecessor||Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn|
|Born||April 5, 1902 OS (11 Nissan5662)
Nikolaev, Kherson Governorate,Russian Empire (present-dayMykolaiv, Ukraine)
|Died||June 12, 1994 NS (3 Tammuz5754) (aged 92)
Manhattan, New York, USA
|Buried||Queens, New York, USA|
|Parents||Levi Yitzchak Schneerson
|Spouse||Chaya Mushka Schneerson|
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (April 5, 1902 OS – June 12, 1994 NS), known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe or just the Rebbe, was a prominent Hasidic rabbi who was the seventh and last Rebbe (Hasidic leader) of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. He was fifth in a direct paternal line to the third Chabad-Lubavitch Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneersohn. In January 1951, a year after the death of his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, he assumed the leadership of the Lubavitch movement.
He led the movement until his death in 1994, greatly expanding its worldwide activities and founding a worldwide network of institutions to spread traditional religious practices among the Jewish people. These institutions include schools, kindergartens, synagogues andChabad houses. He successfully built a network of more than 3,600 institutions in over 70 countries and 1000 cities around the world.During his lifetime, some of his followers considered him to be the Jewish Messiah, but Rabbi Schneerson mildly discouraged such talk.
Menachem Mendel Schneerson was born on Friday, April 18, 1902, equivalent to 11 Nissan, 5662, in the town of Nikolaev. His father was Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, a renowned Talmudic scholar and authority on Kabbalah and Jewish law. His mother was Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson (nee Yanovski).
In 1907, when Menachem Mendel was six years old, the Schneersons moved to Yekatrinislav (today, Dnepropetrovsk), where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was appointed Chief Rabbi of the city. He served until 1939. He had two younger brothers, Dov Ber and Yisroel Aryeh Leib. His younger brother Dov Ber, an accomplished Talmudist in his youth, had become mentally disturbed during his late teenage years, and spent time at an institution for the mentally disabled near Nikolaiev. He was murdered in 1944 in a mass shooting by Nazi collaborators.
The youngest, Yisrael Aryeh Leib, was close to his brother, and often traveled with him. He was widely viewed as a genius and studied Talmud, Kabbalah and science. In the late 1920s together with his brother, he met Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, the sixth Rebbe. To escape the Soviet Union, he changed his name to Mark Gourary using the papers of Mr. Mark (Mordecahi) Gourary, who had been a friend of his father. He moved to Israel where he became a businessman. He later moved to England where he began doctoral studies atLiverpool University but died in 1952 before completing them. His wife died in 1996 and his children—Schneerson’s closest living relatives—currently reside in Israel.
During his youth, Schneerson received a mostly private Jewish education. He was tutored by Zalman Vilenkin from 1909 through 1913. In 1977, he said of Vilenkin: “He taught me and my brothers Chumash, Rashi and Talmud. He put me on my feet. He was an illustrious Jew…” When Schneerson was eleven years old, Vilenkin informed the boy’s father that he had nothing more to teach his son. At that point, the boy’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, began teaching his son. He also taught him Kaballa. And Menachem Mendel was gifted in both Talmudic and Kabalistic study. Yona Kesse, who in his youth frequented Schneerson’s home later recounted: “I witnessed his intense diligence in Torah study, I always found him learning in a standing position, never sitting down. I remember him as an extremely private person, an introvert; his entire being as I recall it, was Torah.” He was considered anIllui and genius, and by the time he was seventeen, he had mastered the entire Talmud, some 5,894 pages with all its early commentaries. Menachem Mendel learned far more from his father than just Talmud and Kaballa. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s courage and principles were a guide to his son for the rest of his life. Many years later, when he once reminisced about his youth, Schneerson said “I have the education of the first-born son of the rabbi of Yekatrinoselav. When it comes to saving lives, I speak up whatever other may say.”
Schneerson later studied independently under his father, who was his primary teacher. He studied Talmud and rabbinic literature, as well as the Hasidic view of Kabbalah. He received separate rabbinical ordinations from both the Rogatchover Gaon, Yosef Rosen, and from Rabbi Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg (also known as the Sridei Aish).
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Although Schneerson didn’t attend a Soviet school, he took the exams as an external student and did well on them, and he immersed himself in Jewish studies while simultaneously qualifying for Russian secondary school. Throughout his childhood Schneerson was involved in the affairs of his father’s office, where his secular education and knowledge of the Russian language were useful in assisting his father’s public administrative work. He was also said to have acted as an interpreter between the Jewish community and the Russian authorities on a number of occasions.
In 1923 Schneerson visited Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn for the first time. It was presumably at that time that he met Schneersohn’s middle daughter, Chaya Mushka. He became engaged to her in Riga in 1923 and married her five years later in 1928, after being away in Berlin.
Chana Schneerson, the mother of Menachem Mendel, has noted in her memoirs that when Yosef Yirzchok was permitted to leave the USSR in 1927, “he submitted a list of those for whom he requested an exit visa to accompany him.” And that “the list included my son, M.M., long may he live”. She then notes that “for each one on the list individually, the Rebbe (Yosef Yitzchok) gave a reason for his request — a reason the Soviet government officials had to find satisfactory. When they came to his request for our son, however, they asked the Rebbe (Yosef Yitzchok) why he needed him. He replied that he wanted him as a son-in-law, to marry his daughter. “Do you really need to bring even a son-in-law from here?” they asked, to which the Rebbe (Yosef Yitzchok) replied firmly, “I won’t find such a son-in-law there!”
Schneerson returned to Warsaw for his wedding, and in an article about his wedding in a Warsaw newspaper, “a number of academic degrees” were attributed to him. During the wedding celebration an elder Chassid asked Yosef Yitzchok “Tell me about the groom!”, to which he responded “I have given my daughter to this man. He is wholly fluent in the Babalonian and Jerusalem Talmuds; he knows the Torah writings of the Rishonim and Acharonim (the classic and modern commentators), and much, much more.” Taking great pride in his son-in-law’s outstanding knowledge, Yosef Yitzchok asked him to engage the great Torah scholars that were present at the wedding in learned conversation. Following the marriage, the newlyweds went to live in Berlin. The marriage was long and happy (60 years), but childless.
Schneerson studied mathematics, physics and philosophy at the University of Berlin for five semesters from mid-1928 through 1930.His father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchok, paid for all the tuition expenses and helped facilitate his studies throughout. Whilst there, he wrote hundreds of pages of original Torah discourses, subsequently published as “Reshimot”, and corresponded with his father on Torah matters, which were published in the 1970s in the book “Likuttei Levi Yitzchak—Letters”. During his stay in Berlin, R. Schneerson was assigned specific communal tasks by his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, who also requested that he write scholarly annotations to the responsa of Tzemach Tzedek. Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn also sought his annotations to various hasidic discourses. It was during this period, between 1928 and 1932, that there took place a serious interchange of halachic correspondence between R. Schneerson and the famed talmudic genius known as the Rogachover Gaon. This correspondence is indicative of Schneerson’s talmudic erudition at the time. In 1933 he also met with Rabbi Chaim Elazar Shapiro, as well as with famed talmudist Rabbi Shimon Shkop.During this time he would keep a diary in which he would carefully document his private conversations with his father-in-law Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, as well as customs he witnessed his father-in-law observing over the next fifteen years.
His brother, Yisroel Aryeh Leib joined him in Berlin in 1931, traveling with false papers under the name ‘Mark Gurary’ to escape the Soviets. He arrived and was cared for by his brother and sister-in-law as he was seriously ill with typhoid fever. Leibel attended classes at the University of Berlin from 1931 to 1933. In 1933, after Hitler took over Germany and began instituting anti-Semitic policies, Mendel and his wife helped Leibel escape from Berlin, before themselves fleeing to Paris. Leibel escaped to Mandate Palestine in 1939 with his fiancee Regina Milgram, where they later married.
Rabbis Herschel Schacter, Sholem Kowalsky, Julius Berman, Rabbi Menachem Genack, and Rabbi Fabian Schoenfeld (all students of Soloveitchik) have asserted that Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik met for the first time while they both studied in Berlin. They met many times at the home of Hayyim Heller in Berlin, and remained close even after the two left Germany.
In 1964, Soloveitchik paid a lengthy visit to Schneerson while the latter was mourning the death of his mother. Their conversation during this visit lasted approximately two hours. Soloveitchik afterwards told his student Sholem Kowalsky, who accompanied him: “the Rebbe has a ‘gewaldiger’ (awesome) comprehension of the Torah.” Soloveitchik later visited again following the death of Rabbi Schneerson’s mother-in-law. In 1980, accompanied by his student Herschel Schacter, Rabbi Soloveitchik visited Rabbi Schneerson at Chabad headquarters in Brooklyn on the occasion of a celebration marking the 30th anniversary of his leadership. The visit lasted close to two hours after which Soloveitchik told Schacter his opinion of Schneerson; “He is a gaon, he is a great one, he is a leader of Israel.”
In 1933, Rabbi Schneerson moved to Paris, France. He studied mechanics and electrical engineering at the École spéciale des travaux publics, du bâtiment et de l’industrie (ESTP), a Grandes écoles in the Montparnasse district. He graduated in July 1937 and received a license to practice as an electrical engineer. In November 1937, he enrolled at the Sorbonne, where he studied mathematics until World War II broke out in 1939. Schneerson lived most of the time in Paris at 9 Rue Boulard in the 14th arrondissement, in the same building as his wife’s sister, Shaina, and her husband, Mendel Hornstein. His father-in-law, Yosef Yitzchok, also recommended that Professor Alexander Vasilyevitch Barchenko consult with Menachem Mendel regarding various religious and mystical matters.
During his time in Paris, Schneerson oversaw and edited the “Hatamim”, a scholarly rabbinic journal that was published periodically from 1935 until 1938. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, wrote to his daughter, Chaya Mushka: “although other names will appear in print, the entire work of “Hatamim” is that of my dear and beloved son-in-law, the Rabbi.”
Prominent Rabbis, such as Yerachmiel Binyaminson and Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler turned to Schneerson with their queries regarding the reconciliation of different rabbinic and kabalistic opinions. His response has been published in Igrot Kodesh.
Rabbi Schneerson learned to speak French, which he put to use in establishing his movement there after the war. The Chabad movement in France later attracted many Jewish immigrants from Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia.
In 1941, Rabbi Schneerson escaped from Europe on the Serpa Pinto, which sailed from Lisbon, Portugal. It was one of the last neutral passenger ships to cross the Atlantic before the danger from U-boats became too great. He joined his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Upon his arrival in New York, Yosef Yitzchak dispatched a delegation of respected members of the Chabad community to greet him at the harbor. Yosef Yitzhok told them, “you will be greeting my son-in-law; he is fluent in all of Talmud, Tosafot, The Rosh and Ran, as well as all the published Chassidic books”. Seeking to contribute to the war effort, he went to work in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, drawing wiring for the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63), and other classified military work.
In 1942, his father-in-law appointed him director of the Chabad movement’s newly founded central organizations, Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, Machneh Israel and Kehot Publication Society, placing him at the helm of the movement’s Jewish educational, social services, and publishing networks across the United States, Israel, Africa, Europe and Australia. Over the next decade, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok referred many of the scholarly questions that had been inquired of him to his son-in-law Menachem Mendel. At his father-in-law’s request, Schneerson would speak publicly once a month, delivering talks to his father-in-law’s followers, and he became increasingly known as a personal representative of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok.
During the 1940s, Rabbi Schneerson became a naturalized US citizen. For many years to come, he would speak about America’s special place in the world, and would argue that the bedrock of the United States’ power and uniqueness came from its foundational values, which were, according to Rabbi Schneerson, ‘”E pluribus unum‘—from many one”, and “In God we trust.” In 1949, his father-in-law would become a U.S. citizen, with the Rebbe assisting to coordinate the event.
Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn died in 1950, leaving behind two sons-in-law. Rabbi Shemaryahu Gurary and Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Chassidim began rallying around Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, persuading him to succeed his father-in-law as Rebbe. Although Rabbi M. Schneerson was reluctant, and actively refused to officially accept leadership of the movement for the entire year after Rabbi Y. Schneersohn’s death, he was eventually cajoled into accepting the post by his father-in-law’s followers. Although there was no election, he was the natural candidate on dynastic grounds and on the basis of his scholarship and personal qualities. On the first anniversary of his father-in-law’s passing, 10 Shevat 1951, he delivered a Hasidic discourse, (Ma’amar), spontaneously at the suggestion of someone in the crowd at a gathering, and formally became the Rebbe.
A child announces one of the 12 verses. The icon at the bottom of the Rebbe’s position reads Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.
Waving to children at a Lag BaOmer parade.
From the beginning of his leadership, Schneerson put a strong emphasis on education and often spoke of the need of a true moral educational system. He said that education infused with godliness is the bedrock for a true moral society for all mankind regardless of religious faith, and that we cannot rest until every child, boy and girl, receives a proper moral education. Seeking to promote awareness for educational matters, Schneerson proclaimed 1977 as a “Year of Education” and urged Congress to do the same. He stated: “Education, in general, should not be limited to the acquisition of knowledge and preparation for a career, or, in common parlance, ‘to make a better living.’ We must think in terms of a ‘better living’ not only for the individual, but also for the society as a whole. The educational system must, therefore, pay more attention, indeed the main attention, to the building of character, with emphasis on moral and ethical values. Education must put greater emphasis on the promotion of fundamental human rights and obligations of justice and morality, which are the basis of any human society, if it is to be truly human and not turn into a jungle.” Following which, the Ninety-Fifth Congress of the United States issued a Joint Resolution designating April 18, 1978, as “Education Day, U.S.A.“. Since then, every President has issued a proclamation, proclaiming Schneerson’s birthday as “Education and Sharing Day, U.S.A.“ In 1982 Ronald Reagan also proclaimed Schneerson’s birthday as a “National Day of Reflection”.
In 1953, Schneerson established the Lubavitch women’s organisation. And in a marked departure from an entrenched tendency to limit high-level Torah education to men and boys, he addressed his teachings equally to both genders. Schneerson would describe the increase in Torah study by women as one of the “positive innovations of the later generations”
Rabbi Schneerson was the first person to put priority on what today is called ‘kiruv’, and drawing Jews closer to their religion, and he believed that the American public was seeking to learn more about their Jewish heritage. Speaking to an American journalist in 1951, he stated: “America is not lost, you are not different. You sincerely crave to know, to learn. Americans are inquisitive. It is Chabad’s point of view that the American mind is simple, honest, direct—good, tillable soil for Hassidism, or just plain Judaism”. Rabbi Schneerson believed that Jews need not be on the defensive, but need to be on the ground building Jewish institutions, day schools and synagogues. Rabbi Schneerson said that we need “to discharge ourselves of our duty and we must take the initiative”.
Rabbi Schneerson placed a tremendous emphasis on outreach. He made great efforts to intensify this program of the Chabad movement, bringing Jews from all walks of life to adopt Torah-observant Judaism, and aggressively sought the expansion of the baal teshuva movement. His work included organizing the training of thousands of young Chabad rabbis and their wives, who were sent all over the world by him as shluchim (emissaries) to promote Jewish observance and education.
He oversaw the building of schools, community centers, youth camps, and “Chabad Houses”, and established contacts with wealthy Jews and government officials around the world. Rabbi Schneerson also instituted a system of “Chabad mitzvah campaigns” called mivtzoim to encourage Jews to follow Orthodox Jewish practices. They commonly centered on practices such as keeping kosher, lighting Shabbat candles, studying Torah, putting on tefillin, helping to write sifrei Torah, and teaching women to observe the laws of Jewish family purity. He also launched a global Noahide campaign to promote observance of the Noahide Laws among gentiles, and argued that involvement in this campaign is an obligation for every Jew.
Today there are Chabad Shluchim, emissaries of Rabbi Schneerson, in over 70 countries and 1000 cities around the world, totaling more than 3,600 institutions. Chabad is very often the only Jewish presence in a given town or city and it has become the face of Jewish Orthodoxy for the Jewish and general world.
Although not a political lobby, Schneerson had great influence on numerous politicians, many of whom would seek his advice. During his years as Rebbe, he was visited by Presidents, Prime Ministers, Governors, Senators, Congressmen and Mayors. Many politicians came to him during their campaigns, courting his blessing and endorsement. Notable among them are prominent American politicians such as John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr, Jacob Javits, Ed Koch, Rudy Giuliani, David Dinkins and Joe Lieberman.
Rabbi Schneerson always took an interest into the affairs of the state of Israel. Although he never was in Israel, he had many admirers there, and many among Israel’s top leadership made it a point to visit him. One of Israel’s presidents, Zalman Shazar, who was of Lubavitch ancestry, would visit Schneerson and corresponded extensively with him.Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Moshe Katzav, and later, Benjamin Netanyahu also paid visits and sought advice, along with numerous other less famous politicians, diplomats, military officials, and media producers. In the elections that brought Yitzhak Shamir to power, Schneerson publicly lobbied his followers and theOrthodox members in the Knesset to vote for the Likud alignment. It attracted the media’s attention and led to articles in Time, Newsweek, and many newspapers and TV programs, and led to considerable controversy within Israeli politics.
Rabbi Schneerson did whatever was in his power to support the infrastructure of the state, and advance its success. He was concerned with the agricultural, industrial and overall economic welfare of Israel, and sought to promote its scientific achievements, and enhance Israel’s standing in the international community. He consistently expressed enormous recognition for the role of the Israel Defense Forces and stated that those who serve in the Israeli army perform a great Mitzva. Schneerson publicly expressed his view, that the safety and stability of Israel were in the best interests of the United States, as Israel is the front line against those who want the anti-west nations to succeed.
Just before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, Schneerson instructed his followers in Israel and throughout the world to initiate an active Teffilin campaign, to see that Jews observe the Mitzva of Tefillin as a means of ensuring divine protection against Israel’s enemies. Speaking to a crowd of thousands of people on May 28, 1967, only a few days before the outbreak of the war, he assured the world that Israel would be victorious. He said Israel had no need to fear as God was with them, quoting the verse, “the Guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.”
After the Operation Entebbe rescue, in a public talk on 16 August 1976, Schneerson applauded the courage and selflessness of the IDF, “who flew thousands of miles, putting their lives in danger for the sole purpose of possibly saving the lives of tens of Jews”. He said “their portion in the Hereafter is guaranteed”. He was later vilified by ultra haredi rabbis for publicly praising the courage of irreligious, Zionist soldiers and suggesting that God chose these people as a medium through which he would send deliverance to the Jewish people.Schneerson protested vehemently against those elements within the ultra haredi society who sought to undermine the motivations and actions of the soldiers.
He lobbied Israeli politicians to pass legislation in accordance with Jewish religious law on the question “Who is a Jew?” and declare that “only one who is born of a Jewish mother or converted according to Halakha is Jewish.” This caused a furore in the United States. Some American Jewish philanthropies stopped financially supporting Chabad-Lubavitch since most of their members were connected to Reform and Conservative Judaism. Controversial issues such as territorial compromise in Israel that might have estranged benefactors from giving much-needed funds to Chabad.
Benjamin Netanyahu said that while serving as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations in 1984, Schneerson told him: “you will be serving in a house of darkness, but remember, that even in the darkest place; the light of a single candle can be seen far and wide…” Netanyahu later retold this episode in a speech at the General Assembly, on Sept 23, 2011.
Schneerson greatly encouraged the Jewish community who were living in the Eastern Bloc, sending many emissaries on covert missions to sustain Judaism under Communist regimes. At the same time, he opposed public demonstrations on behalf of Soviet Jews, stating that he believed quiet diplomacy would be more effective than loud protests when it comes to rescuing the Jews of Russia.
Schneerson spoke passionately about the Jews in Russia. He said: “Behind the Iron Curtain, there are Jews who are in an extremely precarious position, to the extent that they must have self-sacrifice for every aspect of fulfillment of Judaism. Nevertheless, they do not worry about their physical wants…There are Jews who do not have tefillin! They cannot go to the synagogue, for if they get caught they will lose their employment… Despite all this, they make no calculations regarding what the next day may bring; their whole desire is to be able to put on tefillin…”
Following the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, Schneerson called for efforts to rescue children from Chernobyl and founded a special organization for this purpose. The first rescue flight occurred on August 3, 1990, when 196 children were flown to Israel and brought to a shelter campus. Since then, thousands of children have been rescued and brought to Israel where they receive housing, education and medical care in a supportive environment.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (November 2010)|
Beginning in the winter of 1979, during the tumultuous days of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Rabbi Schneerson directed his emissaries to make arrangements to rescue Jewish teenagers from Iran and place them in foster homes within the Lubavitcher community in Brooklyn. This mission, while not political in nature, was originally started as a secretive quest in order not to jeopardize the safety of the Iranian Jewish community at large. Many of Rabbi Schneerson’s followers in Brooklyn were asked to open their homes to these Jewish children and help save their lives from another potential Holocaust in the making. The new Islamic government in Iran was vocally opposed to the existence of Israel and created a genuine concern in world Jewish circles by accusing many in the Jewish community of being Zionists. The execution of the leader of the Iranian Jewish community, Habib Elghanian, had made this a tangible threat to the very existence of the community. Ultimately, while more than a dozen members of the Jewish community were executed by the new Iranian government, Jews were allowed to continue to live in Iran and there would be no Holocaust. Hundreds of Jewish children from Tehran and other major cities in Iran were flown from Tehran to New York with the help of Schneerson’s emissaries, placed in foster homes in Crown Heights and educated in Chabad schools. Many would adopt the Lubavitcher lifestyle and later, some even served as Chabad emissaries and religious leaders. Many others would later reunite with their biological parents after their parents and other family members emigrated to the United States.
Rabbi Schneerson is known for his scholarship both in the Talmud and hidden parts of the Torah (both Kabbalah and Chasidus). Rabbis and Rosh Yeshivas, as well as scientists and professors who would meet him or correspond with him would marvel at his wisdom and knowledge, of both Torah and secular subjects. Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, former chief Rabbi of Israel, has said regarding one of his meetings with Rabbi Schneerson: “The conversation covered all sections of the Torah: the Talmud, Jewish law, Kabbalah, etc. The Rebbe jumped effortlessly from one Talmudic tractate to another, and from there to Kabbalah and then to Jewish law… He was clear in all the subjects discussed and organized in his delivery. It was as if he had just finished studying these very topics from the holy books. The whole Torah was an open book in front of him”. His collected writings and speeches are gathered in more than a hundred volumes in Hebrew and Yiddish. They include Torah expositions, halakhic analysis, Talmudic discourses, explorations of Jewish mysticism and letters of guidance to Jews throughout the world. He also penned tens of thousands of replies to requests and questions. The majority of his correspondence is printed in Igrot Kodesh, partly translated as “Letters from the Rebbe”. His correspondence fills more than two hundred published volumes. These detailed and personal letters to many thousands of people offer advice and explanation on a wide variety of subjects, including spiritual matters as well as all aspects of life.
He is also especially renowned for his original insights and unprecedented analysis of Rashi‘s Torah commentary, which were delivered at the regular public Farbenegens. Many of these talks were later published in the 39 volume set of Likkutei Sichos. In halachic matters, he would normally refer to local orthodox rabbis, and advised the movement to do likewise in the event of his death. While Rabbi Schneerson rarely chose to involve himself with questions of halakha (Jewish law), some notable exceptions were with regard to the use of electrical appliances on Shabbat, sailing on Israeli boats staffed by Jews, and halakhic dilemmas related to certain religious observances which may arise when crossing theInternational Date Line.
Rabbi Schneerson was known for delivering regular lengthy addresses to his followers at public gatherings in precise Yiddish and without a text or even any notes open in front of him the entire time. These talks usually centered on the weekly Torah portion and on various tractates of the Talmud, during which he demonstrated a unique and amazing approach in explaining seemingly different concepts by analysis of the fundamental principle common to the entire tractate. These talks were then transcribed by followers known as choizerim and distributed widely. Many of them were later edited by him and distributed worldwide in small booklets, later to be compiled in the Likkutei Sichot set. Listening to these talks, which sometimes went for eight or nine hours straight, was an unparalleled spiritual experience. Following his attendance at one such talk with his son-in-law Rabbi Yisrael Lau, the then Rabbi of Tel-Aviv, Yitzchak Yedidya Frankel said “I have witnessed the magnificence of Polish Jewry…and I have known most of the great scholars of recent generations. But I have never seen such command of the material. That is genius.”
Beginning in 1951 when he accepted the leadership, Schneerson would receive visitors twice a week, on Sundays and Thursdays. These meetings, called yechidus, would start at 8pm and often continue until five in the morning. Anyone would have the chance to meet Schneerson privately for a discussion and to receive his advice and blessings. These meetings had to be booked in advance with Mordechai Hodakov, Schneerson’s chief secretary. At such private audiences he would meet over three thousand people. The sessions were so popular that reservations were required—often months in advance. It was at these sessions, that Schneerson met with mayors, senators, presidents and every prime minister of Israel.
Aside from a brief period of two months, after Schneerson suffered a heart attack in 1978, these meetings lasted weekly until 1982 when it became impossible to facilitate the large number of people. These meetings were then held only for those who had a special occasion, such as bride and groom for their wedding or a boy and his family on the occasion of a bar mitzvah.
In 1986, Rabbi Schneerson again began to regularly greet people individually. This time, the personal meetings took the form of a weekly receiving line in “770”. Almost every Sunday, thousands of people would line up to meet briefly with Schneerson and receive a one-dollar bill, which was to be donated to charity. People filing past Schneerson would often take this opportunity to ask him for advice or to request a blessing. This event is usually referred to as “Sunday Dollars.” Beginning in 1989, these events were recorded on videotape. Posthumously, hundreds of thousands of these encounters have been posted online for public access.
Rabbi Schneerson rarely left Crown Heights in Brooklyn except for frequent lengthy visits to his father-in-law’s gravesite in Queens, New York. A year after the death of his wife, Chaya Mushka, in 1988, when the traditional year of Jewish mourning had passed, he moved into his study above the central Lubavitch synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway.
It was from this location that Rabbi Schneerson directed his emissaries’ work and managed the movement’s development. His public roles included celebrations called farbrengens (gatherings) on Shabbats, Jewish holy days, and special days on the Chabad calendar, when he would give lengthy sermons to crowds. In later years, these would often be broadcast on cable television and via satellite to Lubavitch branches around the world.
In 1977, Rabbi Schneerson suffered a massive heart attack while celebrating the hakafot ceremony on Shemini Atzeret. Despite the best efforts of his doctors to convince him to change his mind, he refused to be hospitalized. This necessitated building a mini-hospital in his headquarters at “770.” Although he did not appear again in public for four weeks, Rabbi Schneerson continued to deliver talks and discourses from his study via intercom. His chief cardiologist, Dr. Ira Weiss, later stated that despite his own protestations against the Rebbe’s being treated in 770, in retrospect, it had turned out to be the correct decision, and “the Rebbe, in fact received better medical care in 770 than he would have had we taken him to the hospital.” On Rosh Chodesh Kislev, he left his study for the first time in more than a month to go home. His followers celebrate this day as a holiday each year.
Schneerson was opposed to retirement, seeing it as a waste of precious years. In 1972, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Schneerson spoke at length about his opposition to retirement, and instead of announcing a retirement plan, he proposed the establishment of 71 new institutions to mark the beginning of the 71st year of his life. In the mid 1980s, when Schneerson was already in his late 80s, he remarked to Rabbi David Hollander who was contemplating retiring at the time “I am older than you are, and I am taking on additional burdens, by what right do you retire?”
On February 10, 1988 Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson died. Following her death, Schneerson greatly increased his public functions. For example, whereas previously he had led Shabbat gatherings once a month, he now began holding these gatherings every Shabbat. He later edited these addresses, which have since been published in the 10 volumeSefer HaSichos set.
In 1992, Schneerson suffered a serious stroke while praying at the grave of his father-in-law. The stroke left him unable to speak and paralyzed on the right side of his body. Nonetheless, he continued to respond daily to thousands of queries and requests for blessings from around the world. His secretaries would read the letters to him and he would indicate his response with head and hand motions. During this time, the belief in Schneerson as the Messiah (Moshiach) became more widespread.
Despite his deteriorating health, Schneerson once again refused to leave “770”. Several months into his illness, a small room with tinted glass windows and an attached balcony was built overlooking the main synagogue. This allowed Rabbi Schneerson to pray with his followers, beginning with the Rosh Hashanah services, and to appear before them after services either by having the window opened or by being carried out onto the balcony.
His final illness led to a split between two groups of aides who differed in their recommendations as to how Schneerson should be treated, with the two camps led by Leib Groner andYehuda Krinsky.
From his childhood and throughout the years of his leadership, the Rebbe explained that his goal was to “make the world a better place,” and to eliminate suffering. In 1954, in a letter to Yitzchak Ben Tzvi, Israel’s second President, the Rebbe wrote: “From the time that I was a child attending cheder, and even before, the vision of the future Redemption began to take form in my imagination – the Redemption of the Jewish People from their final Exile, a redemption of such magnitude and grandeur through which the purpose of the suffering, the harsh decrees and annihilation of Exile will be understood… ”
In 1991, he declared to his followers: “I have done everything I can [to bring Moshiach], now I am handing over to you [the mission]; do everything you can to bring Moshiach!” A campaign was then started to usher in the Messianic age through “acts of goodness and kindness,” and some of his followers placed advertisements in the mass media, including many full-page ads in the New York Times, declaring in Rabbi Schneerson’s name that the Moshiach’s arrival was imminent, and urging everyone to prepare for and hasten it by increasing their good deeds.
Rabbi Schneerson died at the Beth Israel Medical Center on June 12, 1994 (3 Tammuz 5754) and was buried at the Ohel next to his teacher and father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York, in 1994. The Ohel had been built around the previous Rebbe’s grave in 1952.
According to police estimates, some 35,000 people were gathered outside Lubavitch headquarters waiting for the coffin to be brought outside. When the plain pine coffin appeared, the scene became one of emotional mayhem, with women wailing and men pressing forward to touch it. The 350 police who were on the scene could barely contain the surging crowds, and the pallbearers had difficulty getting the coffin into a waiting hearse. Among the dignitaries present at Lubavitch headquarters were New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani; Benjamin Netanyahu, Gad Yaacobi, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations; Colette Avital, Israeli consul general in New York; and Malcolm Hoenlein, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Soon after Schneerson’s death, philanthropist Joseph Gutnick of Melbourne, Australia established the Ohel Chabad-Lubavitch Center on Francis Lewis Boulevard, Queens, New York, which is located adjacent to the Rebbe’s Ohel. Following the age-old Jewish tradition of turning the resting place of a tzadik into a place of prayer, thousands of people flock to the Rebbe’s resting place every week. Many more send faxes and e-mails with requests for prayers to be read at the grave site.
Starting with President Carter in 1978, the U.S. Congress and President have issued proclamations each year, declaring that Rabbi Schneerson’s birthday — usually a day in March or April that coincides with his recognized Hebrew calendar birthdate of 11 Nissan — be observed as Education and Sharing Day in the United States. The Rebbe would usually respond with a public address on the importance of education in modern society, and holding forth on the United States’ special role in the world.
After Schneerson’s death, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives—sponsored by Congressman Charles Schumer and cosponsored by John Lewis, Newt Gingrich, and Jerry Lewis, as well as 220 other Congressmen—to posthumously bestow upon Schneerson the Congressional Gold Medal.
On November 2, 1994 the bill passed both Houses by unanimous consent, honoring Schneerson for his “outstanding and enduring contributions toward world education, morality, and acts of charity”. President Bill Clinton spoke these words at the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony:
|“||The late Rebbe’s eminence as a moral leader for our country was recognized by every president since Richard Nixon. For over two decades, the Rabbi’s movement now has some 2000 institutions; educational, social, medical, all across the globe. We (the United States Government) recognize the profound role that Rabbi Schneerson had in the expansion of those institutions.||”|
There is considerable controversy within Chabad about Schneerson’s will, as he named no successor. He did however write one legal will, which was signed before witnesses, whereby he transferred stewardship of all the major Chabad institutions, as well as all his possessions to Agudas Chassidei Chabad.
Another will, no executed copies of which are known to be in existence, named three senior Chabad rabbis, as directors of Agudas Chassidei Chabad.
Rabbi Schneerson’s followers believed he was the Jewish Messiah, the “Moshiach,” and some have persisted in that belief since his death. The reverence with which he was treated by followers led many Jewish critics from both the Conservative and Reform communities to allege that a cult of personality had grown up around him. His obituary in The New York Timessaid he “was attacked for allowing a cult of personality to grow around him” from Conservative and Reform critics. Though he worked to dissuade his followers from making it that, telling New York Times reporter Israel Shenker in 1972 “I have never given any reason for a cult of personality, and I do all in my power to dissuade them from making it that”. Moshe D. Sherman, an associate professor at Touro College wrote that “as Schneerson’s empire grew, a personality cult developed around him… portraits of Rabbi Schneerson were placed in all Lubavitch homes, shops, and synagogues, and devoted followers routinely requested a blessing from him prior to their marriage, following an illness, or at other times of need.”
Esoterica continue to be released by individual families for family occasions such as weddings, known as Teshurot.
Noranda CHABAD, Perth, Western Australia, 30 June 2018
Avraham Shalom Halberstam spends Shabbat Balak with us. I had discovered on his previous visit to Perth in July 2016 that we were 8th cousins. Researching using Geni.com, I discovered that we both are members of the Katzenellenbogen Rabbinic Family Tree.
Earlier the day on Shabbat, we did something during Shacharit that brought the Rebbe and our community together as never before – read below.
Please note: no photos were taken during shabbat!
My 8th Cousin – The Stropkover Rebbe – The Admor of Stropkov
Mendy of RARA and the Stropkover Rebbe. Other guests were Moishe, the Rebbe’s assistant, and Moishe from RARA
13 July 2018
Earlier after the torah reading on shabbat we recited Av Harachamim
A noteworthy custom fitting the mood of the Sefira period deals with the prayer Av Harachamim. Av Harachamim, recited on Shabbat after the Torah reading was written in response to the Crusades. In it we memorialize the righteous martyrs and pray for retribution for their spilled blood. Av Harachamim is generally not recited on Shabbatot which have an added celebratory nature – such as Shabbat Mevarchim (the Shabbat in which we bless the new month). In many congregations during the Shabbatot of Sefirat Haomer, Av Harachamim is recited even on the Shabbatot in which we bless Iyar and Sivan. The Mishna Brura (284,18) adds, that even if there is a Brit Milah that Shabbat, giving us a second reason why Av Harachamim should not be recited, Av Harachamim is still said, since this was the season of the tragedies.
A few weeks ago, Rabbi Marcus Solomon of Dianella Mizrachi Shule, told me about an initiative he had started in his shul.
Before reading the Av Harachamim prayer, he selects one of the 6500 shtetls that existed before and during the Holocaust from this three volume set:
Rabbi Solomon then shares the story of the particular shtetl to illustrate what we lost in Holocaust!
Today was the first time we did the same at Noranda CHABAD Shul during Shacharit.
With the Stropkover Rebbe spending Shabbat with us, I chose the following shtetl from Volume 3:
Thanks to Michelle Urban and the JHGS for allowing me to use these books from their excellent library housed at CHABAD.
It goes without saying that those in shul were inspired to hear about Stropkov with its Rebbe in our shul. The further connection as 8th cousins was an added bonus for us!
We discussed the Rebbe’s previous visits to Perth and at his request, last night I found this clip I filmed of the Rebbe at Benny Sasson’s barmitzvah June 2000. We did not know our connection then, and here 8 years later, I am pleased to be able to upload it to the internet for all to view and share!
At Benny Sasson’s barmitzvah
The Stropkover Rebbe has just completed a visit to Perth Australia from Jerusalem.
We were honoured to have him spend Shabbat with us at the CHABAD shul in Noranda WA.
He has visited Perth before.
I took the opportunity on Saturday night to learn more about him and his town.
The Rebbe was born in Germany and lives in Jerusalem. The Stropkover Rebbe’s “once upon a time” community was based in Stropkov in Slovakia.
View of Stropkov
|Elevation||202 m (663 ft)|
|Area||24.667 km2 (9.524 sq mi)|
|Density||441 / km2 (1,142 / sq mi)|
Jews first arrived in Stropkov, possibly fleeing Polish pogroms, in about 1650. About fifty years later, the Jews were exiled from Stropkov to Tisinec, a village just to the north. They did not return to Stropkov until about 1800. The Stropkov Jewish cemetery was dedicated in 1892, after which the Tisinec cemetery fell into disuse.
In 1939 the antisemitic Hlinka Party gain control of the Stropkov Town Council. From May–October 1942 the Hlinka deported Jews from the Stropkov area to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Maidanek, and “unknown destinations”. By the end of World War II, only 100 Jews remained in Stropkov out of 2000 in 1942.
The first rabbi of Tisinec and Stropkov was Rabbi Moshe Schonfeld. He left Stropkov for a position in Vranov. He was succeeded in 1833 by Rabbi Yekusiel Yehudah Teitelbaum (I)(1818–1883) who served as Stropkov’s chief rabbi until leaving for a post in Ujhely. The next incumbent was Rabbi Chaim Yosef Gottlieb (1790–1867), known as the “Stropkover Rov”. He was succeeded by Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam (1811–1899), a son of Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz. His scholarship, piety, and personal charisma transformed Stropkov into one of the most respected chasidic centers in all Galicia and Hungary. Rabbi Moshe Yosef Teitelbaum (1842–1897), the son of the aforementioned Rabbi Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, was appointed as Stropkov’s next chief rabbi in 1880.
The charismatic and scholarly Rabbi Yitzhak Hersh Amsel (c1855–1934), the son of Peretz Amsel of Stropkov, was first appointed as a dayan in Stropkov and then as the rabbi of Zborov (near Bardejov). As legend has it, Rabbi Yitzhak Hersh Amsel died while praying in his Zborov synagogue. He is buried in the Stropkov cemetery where a small protective building ohel was erected over his grave to preserve it. Rabbi Amsel was succeeded in 1897 by Rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam (1856–1940). Jews, learned and simple alike, sought the advice and blessing of this “miracle rabbi of Stropkov”, revered as a living link in the chain of Chassidus of Sanz and Sienawa. Rabbi Halberstam served in Stropkov for some forty years, until the early 1930s, when he assumed a rabbinical post in the larger town of Košice. Rabbi Menachem Mendel Halberstam (1873–1954),the son of the aforementioned Rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam was then appointed chief rabbi of Stropkov and head of the Talmud Torah. After World War II Rabbi Menachem Mendel Halberstam lived in New York until the end of his life, teaching at the Stropkover Yeshiva, which he founded in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
The present day Admor of Stropkov is HaRav Avraham Shalom Halberstam of Jerusalem. The Admor runs several yeshivas and kolelim in Jerusalem and other cities in Israel. The Admor dedicates himself to Ahavat Yisrael and to helping many who need to return to their Jewish roots.
I then went into my Geni account and looked up the Stropkover Rebbe and found what appeared to be his family line.
I recalled that on Shabbat, he had been called up to the torah as HaRav Avraham Shalom ben Yechezkel Shrage.
Havdalah after Shabbat.
On Sunday I printed out this page on Geni and showed it to the Rebbe who confirmed that this was indeed him – i.e. Avraham Shalom Lipschutz (Halberstam). He also confirmed that his mother was Beila, daughter of Avraham Shalom Halberstam.
I also printed out the Geni page which shows our relationship and presented a copy to the Rebbe.
So, besides all the friends he has Downunder, he now is happy to have added a 8th cousin in this isolated Jewish community!
We are both members of the Katzenellenbogen Rabbinic Tree.
There is an old saying that what makes G‑d laugh is seeing our plans for the future.However, if Tanakh is our guide, what makes G‑d laugh is human delusions of grandeur. From the vantage point of heaven, the ultimate absurdity is when humans start thinking of themselves as G‑dlike.
30 July 2017
We love hearing stories of families reunited through Geni. Recently, Eli Rabinowitz finally found his first cousin Zara Smushkovich after being separated for over 35 years! The discovery was made thanks to the help of a friendly person on Facebook who found the family tree on Geni.
As many of you know I have been extremely immersed in the Genealogy of my family and Gary’s. I have been active in the genealogy community on Facebook. I had the pleasure of stumbling on a request from a very nice man in Australia looking for family members. I was able to very quickly find a record for one of his ancestors which helped him reconnect after decades! Today on the Jewish NEW YEAR I received a note and this link. At the end of this very wonderful family history I was honored to be mentioned. What a wonderful gift on Rosh Hashana! Eli Rabinowitz here is wishing many years of happiness with your newly found family. I am humbled to have been a small part of this wonderful Mitzvah.
Please check out this link to hear his story!
I am so glad that I could help you. Your blog was amazing. I wrote Bubble Segal many years ago and she answered me so I know her by correspondence. Again I am happy for you.
Wishing you and all your family a Healthy and Happy New Year.
Gert Rogers – Toronto – Searching Goldman Woda Sziiakovich from Mordy, Losice, and Miedzyrzec Podlaski and Solnik Djtelbaum from Staszow all in Poland
Click on the image or source link below to read the article.
This story is a sequel to From One Photograph to a Journey of Discovery, my research into the tragic romance of my great-uncle Moshe Rabinowitz and Paula Lichtzier, recently published by JewishGen.
New photos of great uncle Moshe Zalman Rabinowitz found by my cousin Hadara Boczko in Israel
My zaida Nachum Mendel Rabinowitz and his brother Moshe Zalman
Moshe in Orla, Poland
Moshe – top left with friends?
Posted from Orla, Poland to Volksrust, Transvaal, South Africa
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The Lithuanian Department of Cultural Heritage confirmed on July 21, 2015, the renovation of the synagogue on Geliu Street in Vilnius has starte…
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Lara Lempert is the head of the Judaica Center at the National Library of Lithuania. Her field is the cultural history of the European Jewry, more specifically – Jewish classical texts and their integration in Jewish education in various settings; Jewish book and press; and day-to-day life of Lithuanian Jewry.
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A national cultural institution that collects, organizes and preserves the written cultural heritage of Lithuania, forming a fund for Lithuanian and foreign documents relevant for Lithuanian science, education, culture and economy, and provides library information provision services to the public.
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The Jewish cemeteries of Vinius are the three Jewish cemeteries of the Lithuanian Jews living in what is today Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, which was known to them for centuries as Vilna, the principal city of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Pale of Settlement of the Russian Empire. Two of the cemeteries were destroyed by the Soviet regime and the third is still active.
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Vilniaus žydų viešoji biblioteka – vienintelė Žydų kultūros sklaidoje besispecializuojanti biblioteka visoje Lietuvoje.Our library is the only one in Lithuania which specifies in spreading Jewish culture in various forms
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The Museum of Genocide Victims
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The Museum of Genocide Victims (Lithuanian: Genocido aukų muziejus) in Vilnius, Lithuania was established in 1992 by order of the Minister of Culture and Education and the President of the Lithuanian Union of Political Prisoners and Deportees. In 1997 it was transferred to the Genocide and Resistance Research Centre of Lithuania. The museum is located in the former KGB headquarters across from the Lukiškės Square, therefore it is informally referred to as the KGB Museum.
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The Keidaner Family tree on Laima’s classroom wall – an unique work of art!
The complex of two synagogues and the tree featuring the names of Keidaners, including my 3rd great grandfather Zalman Tzoref in the centre.
created by student Karolina Silvestraviciute
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Activities at the school including my presentation, a visit to the science lab and participation in classroom activities.
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English teacher Laima Ardaviciene inspires us all, seen here talking to a journalist
Another amazing contribution by Laima and her students for the TEC – Tolerance Education Centre program.
See link below
Kėdainių Atžalyno gimnazija – Tolerancijos ugdymo centras
Kedainiai Atzalynas Gymnasium – Tolerance Educational Center
Our tour of the local regional museum.
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Images from the Jewish cemetery
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I have added new items to my Jewish Partisan Song portal.
Click on the link – Zog Nit Keynmol below
I have additional resources thanks to the numerous people who wrote to me after I posted messages on JewishGen. Thanks so much.
Have a look at Other Resources as well as Our Vision for this project.
Please share this site with your contacts. You are welcome to subscribe to elirab.me.
On 15 February I gave a couple of workshops at the Johannesburg Holocaust and Genocide Centre.
One session was for survivors and the other for staff and members.
(L-R). Eli Rabinowitz & Don Krausz
This was the first time I had presented specifically to a group of survivors, although I had filmed several survivors’ testimonies in the past.
I showed photos from my trips to the Baltics & Eastern Europe as well as some videos from my Zog Nit Keynmol project for King David & Herzlia Schools.
The most noticeable outcome was the positive reaction to my initiative to get our youth learning and singing Zog Nit Keynmol, the Partisan Song.
(L-R). Eli, Veronica Phillips, Barbara Berman
For more details on Zog Nit Keynmol, please visit:
The two key videos to watch are:
the Phillip Maisel Interview
Herzlia’s Vocal Ensemble Sings:
Below is a video of Freidi Mrocki reciting the poem in English. Freidi is the teacher at Sholem Aleichem College in Melbourne, who recorded the interview with Phillip Maisel in 2015.
(L-R). Shirley Sapire, Betty Slowatek, Eli, Margaret Hoffman
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