Photography

Hal Goldblatt Photos

My Encounter with the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Here is MY STORY

My birthday is Yud Aleph Shevat. Growing up in Long Beach, California, I knew nothing about the Rebbe or Chabad. In college I became a Baal Teshuvah and as I learned more about my heritage I found that the Rebbe would always have a Farbrengen starting on my birthday for the yarzeit of the previous Rebbe who passed away on Yud Shevat.


My rabbi, Rabbi Gershon Schusterman suggested that I go to New York and attend a Farbrengen. As an avid photographer I wanted to take my camera but Rabbi Schusterman suggested that my first visit I should not take my camera and just experience the moment. He arranged for me to stay with his parents.


I had never experienced anything like what I saw at my first Farbrengen. I had never seen so many Jews in one place. I did not understand what the Rebbe was saying but Rabbi Schusterman told me that my neshama would understand. It was very moving and I enjoyed the experience very much.


As a student, married with two children, I could not afford to travel to New York every year on my birthday but I was able to return two years later for Yud Shevat 5738. I brought my camera this time and was told not to take pictures when the Rebbe was talking but during the singing I could take pictures.


I was standing on a bench that was bouncing up and down as everyone was singing and clapping a lot. I would take a picture when the Rebbe was looking away from me and then lower the camera when he would turn in my direction. As I was getting ready to take a picture, the Rebbe turned and looked directly at me. The entire room disappeared and I could feel the Rebbe looking at my soul though my camera lens. It last only seconds but to me if felt like an eternity. I felt my finger take the picture and when the room came back into focus I felt different.


I never had a formal yechidus with the Rebbe but I feel that moment when he looked at me was all I needed. Anyone who knows about film and cameras will understand that taking a picture at 1/30 of a second standing on a moving platform is not a good combination. That one picture of the Rebbe looking at me and the next six pictures were all that came out clear on that roll of film.


Years later, when my oldest son was six, the airlines were having a special that kids under ten flew for free, so I took my son, Eliyahu, with me to the Yud Shevat Farbrengen. Having a young child with me I was able to get a seat close to where the Rebbe sat, with my son sitting on top of the table. During the singing people would hold up a small cup of wine for the Rebbe to give them a blessing.


I gave my son a small cup and he held it out for the Rebbe to bless him. When the Rebbe nodded, he went to drink the wine and I realized he had not made a brocha on the wine. I had him say the brocha for the wine and then looked up and the Rebbe was watching him the entire time and had answered Amen.


Fast forward a few years and this same son was attending Yeshiva in New York. I was working as a CFO for a manufacturing firm. I was having trouble with a co-worker that was very anti-Semitic. I decided I would write to the Rebbe a letter about this and other issues I was having. I faxed the letter to New York to the attention of Rabbi Klein (one of the Rebbe’s secretaries and the brother-in-law of my rabbi, Rabbi Gershon Schusterman) on a Friday morning. In my cover letter I asked Rabbi Klein to give the following letter in at an auspicious time.


That Shabbos was very peaceful and I knew that my letter would be answered when the time was right. Sunday morning my son woke up and decided to stand in line for dollars from the Rebbe (something he rarely did). After waiting a couple of hours he reached the Rebbe and got his dollar and started to walk away. The Rebbe called him back and gave him another dollar and told my son that this dollar was for his father and that I should have hatzlacha for all I needed.


My son ran to the telephone and called me and asked what is going on because he had no clue I had written the Rebbe. I was surprised at the speed I received my answer, but happy about the Rebbe’s response. Monday morning when I got to work I found out that my anti-Semitic co-worker had quit. Problem solved.