Before the war, my father learned in a yeshiva in Hungary. Although he was not from a chasidic background, he made sure that I got some exposure to chasidism.
When I was a kid he took me to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and also to Satmar and Bobov. He wanted me to experience the whole spectrum of Judaism – the modern side, the chassidic side, the non-chassidic side – to see what it’s all about. That way, wherever I found myself, I’d be able to fit in.
In 1973, my Bar Mitzvah year, my parents sent me to a summer camp in Israel. When I came back, I learned that my father was about to undergo surgery. It turned out he had colon cancer, and from that point on his health went downhill.
Two years later, just before Purim, my father’s condition took a turn for the worse. We went to the hospital, the doctors examined him, then they called me in and said, “You’d better go home; your father is staying here tonight.” That night they opened him up, but they saw that there wasn’t much they could do – just to try to make the end as painless as possible.
Of course, we didn’t want to give up, so we went to several rabbis for blessings. We even tried the alternative medicines of the time. My father was losing a lot of weight – he was five-foot-six, but pretty soon he weighed barely ninety pounds. Nothing was working.
Then one cousin told us, “You should go to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe.”
It was winter; the first week of the month of Kislev. Five of us went – my father and mother, my grandmother, my sister and me. My father was so ill… he was haggard; his face had lost its luster.
We entered the Rebbe’s office. I stood in the back of the room, and my father spoke quietly with the Rebbe for a few minutes. When the Rebbe finished speaking with my father we began to leave, but suddenly the Rebbe said to me, “You stay.”
I was already anxious with everything that was going on; I was only sixteen years old at the time, and I got very, very nervous.