Thursday, February 4, 2010

Our Rebbetzin: Personal Encounters

In the 1970's, my father [Mendel Notik] was privileged to work in the Rebbe and Rebbetzin's home. What follows are a few of many stories from my father's narrative. I asked my father what first comes to mind when remembering the Rebbetzin. Right away, he said it was how incredibly in tune and sensitive she was. The following stories capture a fragment of what my father means.

I hope publishing these short stories will aid all who read them in better understanding, appreciating, and exemplifying our enigmatic Rebbetzin.


Special Delivery

(Click image to enlarge)

The Rebbetzin sent this telegram to my father and mother on the day of their marriage. My father points out that even though he received wishes of Mazal Tov from the Rebbetzin in person, she still went out of her way to send it formally in writing the day of their celebration - as was customary in those days.

Around the time of my parents' wedding, the Rebbetzin returned to my father the wedding return envelope, in which the Rebbetzin included a monetary gift for my father and mother. She said they should spend it on something for the house. With the money my father bought an air-conditioner. When he told the Rebbeztin what he had spent it on, she was pleased. She felt that it was money well spent.

Love, Life, and Sacrifice

Once the Rebbetzin described to me in vivid detail how, when Jews were starving in Europe (probably during World War I), her father sent her and her sister sneaking through dark alleys, way past curfew, to deliver food and candles to the Navardoker Yeshiva (of the mussar movement). The two girls literally ran for their lives.

Imagine the Ahavas Yisroel of the Frierdiker Rebbe, that he would put his two beloved daughters in danger to save fellow Yidden from starvation, and to enable them to continue learning.

The Rebbetzin on Money

The Rebbetzin was extremely careful with other people's money.

One of my jobs was to go to the various stores in Crown Heights to pay off her accounts. When I would come to her house, the cash would be laid out on the table together with the invoices, ready for me. Before I would take the money, she would always insist that I count the money again, in case she had made a mistake. When I attempted to tell her that I trusted her – being that I knew she had counted the money carefully, and then probably re-counted to be sure – she would not allow me to leave until I counted the money myself.

She said, "In my home, they would say, 'Gelt Hut Lib A Cheshbon, Un Mit Yenem's Gelt, Darf Men Zich Zeier Hiten.'" (Roughly: "Money loves [needs/seeks] careful accounting," and, "With someone else's money, one must be extra careful.")

Rebbetzin: Such Great People

Because the Rebbetzin was not involved with the day to day goings-on in 770, she did not often witness the boundless love of the Chassidim for the Rebbe. On Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5738, six weeks after the heart attack that kept the Rebbe in bed in 770 (for six weeks) rumors had been swirling that the Rebbe would leave 770 that night for the first time since Shemini Atzeres, when the heart attack took place.

The rumors turned out to be true. When the Rebbe was getting ready to leave 770 at about 9:00 at night, people were packed in front of 770, as the strong desire to see our king was then at fever pitch (since most of Anash had not seen the Rebbe since the events of Shemini Atzeres). The Rebbetzin was watching the joyous spectacle from inside the Frierdiker Rebbe's Yechidus room, upstairs in 770, with the lights turned off in order not to be seen (and perhaps to see better).

Another fellow and I had the zchus to be there with the Rebbetzin, watching. Suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, a happy niggun burst from the mouths of the assembled throngs, and people were jumping in the air to get just one glimpse of their beloved Rebbe. It was absolutely electrifying – you could feel their love for the Rebbe with your hands. I burst into tears, and out of the corner of my eye, I glanced at the Rebbetzin and it seemed to me that her eyes also became teary. Then she said in Yiddish/Russian, "Ah-zelche maladyetz'n!" (Roughly translated: Such great people!) She repeated this a few times, glowing with love.

When the Rebbe had left and the Rebbetzin was getting ready to leave, I asked her whether she wanted me to come to the house afterwards, in case she'd need something. (She planned to leave 770 after the Rebbe had already left, and the crowds had dispersed.) She did not accept, saying, "You need to rest. Everything will be okay." (Apparently she had seen how I had been so affected moments before.) "I will call you afterwards from the house to tell you that everything is definitely okay, so you won't have to worry." At 11:00 that night the Rebbetzin called me to say, "Everything is fine with my husband. Now get some rest, and we'll speak tomorrow."

Awaiting the Rebbe's call

On the days that the Rebbe went to the Ohel, the Rebbetzin would rarely leave the house. If she did leave, she would come back early in order to be near the phone, the sooner to hear the news that the Rebbe had returned and was fine. She would sit near the phone waiting for that call, and if someone would call in the interim, she would apologize quickly, saying that she could not talk since she was waiting to hear from the Rebbe, and that she would call them back later. (This was before Call Waiting!) She would sit, worried, the entire time. Only after she heard that he had returned safely to 770 would she breathe a sigh of relief and leave her post.

How ironic that the events of 27 Adar 5752 (the Rebbe's stroke, resulting in partial paralysis and inability to speak) occurred at the Ohel. Were her fears due to the fact that the Rebbe stood fasting the entire day until he was back from the Ohel? Was it the driving through unsafe neighborhoods? Or was it because she, being the daughter of a Rebbe and the wife of a Rebbe, knew more than what any of us could ever know about what the future held for her husband?

The Rebbetzin: The Rebbe Doesn't Bite

The Rebbetzin always tried to make me feel at ease in proximity to the Rebbe. In general, I did whatever I possibly could not to be in the house when the Rebbe was home, but there were times when it was utterly impossible not to encounter the Rebbe face-to-face. One of those times occurred on Purim.
There was a constant flow of people bringing Mishloach Manos to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin through either of the two outside doors, plus the telephone was constantly ringing; I was needed to respond to the telephone and the doorbells. I would accept the Mishloach Manos and give the young ones some money that the Rebbetzin had prepared for that purpose.
When the Rebbe was ready to leave, I found myself "stuck," so to speak, at the front door as the Rebbe headed out, and there was nowhere for me to escape in order to get out of the Rebbe's way. So I stood there, shaking in fear. As the Rebbe passed me, he turned to me with a wide smile, and wished me, "A freilich'n Purim!"

The Rebbetzin, just behind the Rebbe, saw my situation and wanted to make me feel a little more at ease, so she commented to the Rebbe with a smile, "That Notik – every time he sees you, he gets all shaken up. I've told him many times that you don't bite!"

After I opened the door and held it for the Rebbe to leave, he turned around and said, "Yasher Koach!"

The Rebbe said Yasher Koach to me several times. In general, the Rebbe would show a lot of gratitude and appreciation to anyone who helped his dear wife in any way.

'Are you sure?'

One summer evening, as I was watering the garden, the Rebbetzin came outside on the back porch to get some fresh air. While talking with me, she mentioned, "I noticed that Rabbi Klein was driving my husband home these past few days, and I want to know if everything is alright with Rabbi Krinsky." I told her that Rabbi Krinsky had gone to a family wedding in Chicago and that he was fine. "Are you sure?" she asked me. I assured her that he was absent for a good reason, a simcha, and she was clearly relieved.

1 LadyMama voices:

Der Shygetz said... [Reply to comment]

Mimi, great article and nice to see you blogging again. Needless to say I won't be following this one (no, I don't have a female multiple personality called Di Shiksa and both Creedmoorer Rebbetzins are too busy raising 50 quintillion dependants to be able to comment here :)) but I wish you hatzlocho.

-Der Shygetz of Creedmoor