Leah Lightman

I recently played hooky from work. What a fabulous decision.

Chani Wolowik, the indefatigable Shlucha from Chabad of the Five Towns, had posted on her WhatsApp status the week before a women-only trip to see the late Rebbe’s home, office, archives, and more in Crown Heights. Lunch would be included. A friend and I jumped at the opportunity and signed up.

About 10 women from our greater community made the trip. Chani provided commentary on the background of Chabad and what it was like for her to grow up in Crown Heights. Her father Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, who should have a Refua Shleima, oversees Chabad’s 5000+ Shluchim throughout the world. One can only imagine the riveting conversations in the Kotlarsky home. At a minimum, it instilled within Chani a tremendous love and respect for Chabad and its work. She imparted those feelings and more, including facts about Chabad, to us during our outing. Chani is a proud Shlucha.

We davened in the Rebbe’s home on President Street which was especially opened for us. Chani explained that this residence was the private abode for the Rebbe and Rebbitzen and was not open to the public. It was the primary locale where Rebbitzen Chaya Mushka davened. Hence, it is deemed a special place for davening and my fellow travelers and I availed ourselves of this unique occasion.

Like the residence, the Rebbe’s office, located at the world-famous 770 Eastern Parkway edifice, was opened for us. One can only imagine the many world, religious and business leaders who preceded us there, visiting with the Rebbe, seeking and gaining from his wisdom. Here, too, we davened.

Other trip highlights included seeing Lubavitch archives and the original World Lubavitch Communications Center, the kernel of how Chabad commenced building a global communications center before there was Skype, VoIP or even satellite or cable television. The leadership of cTeen, the Chabad organization that provides Jewish teens with environments for socializing, Jewish learning and activism presented to us. There are more highlights and each one combined love of fellow Jew with utilizing cutting-edge technology and other means to engage our brethren in meaningful ways.

I told the group that in late 1991, my mother A”H had undergone emergency brain surgery and the recovery was not easy. I ventured out to Crown Heights with a friend where we waited nearly 2 hours for the famous dollar bill and bracha from the Rebbe. When it was my turn, the Rebbe handed me a dollar bill. I stayed in place, and told him that I was there to get a bracha for my mother to have a Refua Shleima. He asked me her name, which I provided. Then his piercing eyes looked into mine for about 3 seconds, and he said, Chana bas Tova just had brain surgery: She will never be quite the same but she will recuperate. I nearly fell over: How did the Rebbe know she had had brain surgery? The Rebbe then gave me another dollar bill. I ran outside to the pay phone at the corner of Kingston Avenue and Eastern Parkway (remember, this was 1991, pre-cell phone era), and used a credit card to called my mother. She was incredulous that the Lubavitcher Rebbe himself had given her a bracha. The news of that bracha helped set her further on her path to recovery.

Not missing a beat, Chani asked if I could recall the timeframe of that visit. I recall it. Chani then told me that I could reach out to Chabad’s communications center and go through the footage from that time period. I would most likely be able to find the footage of the Rebbe bestowing that bracha. It would be a privilege to have the footage (and add it to my list of projects to complete). It is most amazing that Lubavitch was already videoing in the 20th century. How did the Rebbe have the foresight to harness technology and use it for kedusha?

This was an unusual “field trip” that all of us appreciated, especially that Rebbitzen Kotlarsky, Chani’s mother, opened her home to us and shared of her life experiences.

When we returned to the Five Towns, we all felt “reJewvenated.” It was a break from our typical day, one that filled us with Jewish pride and respect for Chabad’s work. Chani’s running commentary was simultaneously factual and personal. Best of all, Dr. Lightman approved and now he wants a man’s trip to Crown Heights. He is putting it out there – and Wednesday would be his day of preference.

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