This week we mark the yohrtzeit of Rabbi Yisroel (Izzy) Rosenfeld OBM. Reb Yisroel was an Osek Betzorchei Tzibur, a Baal Chesed who gave of himself and his time and never turned away anyone who asked for help. He was the director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council for many years and devoted countless hours to community affairs.
Reb Yisroel’s parents arrived in the United States as young children and Reb Yisroel was born in Brooklyn in 1940. Reb Yisroel became acquainted with Lubavitch in 1950, after he came to the Lvaya of the Previous Rebbe. A short while later, Reb Yisroel was enrolled in the United Lubavitcher Yeshiva, then located at the corner of Bedford and Dean Streets in Brooklyn.
As a young bochur, Reb Yisroel merited to receive many kiruvim from the Rebbe. He was sent by the Rebbe on missions to many different cities. He also served as a teacher in Jewish schools in Queens and Long Island, and saw much success in his work in Chinuch. In the years that followed, Reb Yisroel served as the longtime director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council. In later years, Reb Yisroel involved himself with the young people of the Bucharan community, helping them when they had no one else to turn to. He made numerous shiduchim among young Bucharan boys and girls who built happy Jewish homes.
All these are known facts about Reb Yisroel. What is less widely known is the unique relationship that he merited to have had with the Rebbe. We will share some of the stories about Reb Yisroel’s experiences with the Rebbe, as related by Reb Yisroel himself.
The Rebbe’s Personal Interest in the Family
“How is your mother?
When I was young I saw how the Rebbe loved every Jew and was concerned for his or her wellbeing. When I became 18 I went into the Rebbe for Yechidus. One of the questions the Rebbe asked me was, “You wrote to me this past summer that your mother wasn’t feeling well, how is she feeling now?”
I remembered that the past summer, I had sent a letter to the Rebbe regarding my aunt’s health, so I figured that the Rebbe was referring to my aunt. When I spoke about my aunt, the Rebbe repeated his question, “How is your mother”, I understood that something was not right with my mother. The Rebbe was correct in his concern, for a month later my mother needed to have an operation.
The Rebbe interested himself in all the details of her care, directing me to the specific hospital and physician appropriate for the required treatment.
Wine from Kos Shel Brocho
When my sister was in Yechidus, the Rebbe advised her to study in Gateshead, England. She told the Rebbe that the school offered a three year program.The Rebbe insisted that it was worthwhile and added “I want you to promise me that you will go with an open mind”. In the course of the next three years, the Rebbe constantly encouraged her to complete the three year course of study.
My sister traveled to England and remained there for three years. The Rebbe mentioned her on many occaasions. When I received Lekach, the Rebbe added an additional piece of lekach for my sister saying, “She should bake it into a cake and distribute it to all the students in the school”. On another occasion, the Rebbe was distributing kos shel brocho from the wine on which he bencht after a Yom Tov Farbrengen. The Rebbe gave me a bottle of wine and instructed me to first cook the wine and then send it to Gateshead with instructions for it to be mixed it into the wine at the school”.
Where is she going for the summer
On Lag B’omer in 1968 my wife Marilyn and I became engaged and planned our wedding for Tamuz. This was in accordance with the Rebbe’s general directive not to delay weddings for a long period of time.
At the women’s convention before Shvuos, the Rebbe asked the kallah, which camp she was going to for the summer. She replied that she was getting married soon. The Rebbe instructed her to go to camp. Before she left for camp, she was asked by the Rebbe what she would do there, to which she responded that she would be a lifeguard. The Rebbe then said, “A lifeguard also needs to study every day, and the same with you too”.
Our wedding was rescheduled for the eleventh of Tishrei.
“He” will be a Y’reh Shomyaim
Before our oldest son Elimelech was born, we went into Yechidus and the Rebbe said, “He will be a Chossid, Y’reh Shomayim, and Lamdan”. I then told my wife, “You heard, the Rebbe said he will be, this means that we will have a son”. I immediately began making preparations for the Bris.
“There will no Farbrengen”
My son was born on Shabbos afternoon. When I walked home, I met the Rebbe in the street and informed him that I had a boy. The Rebbe told me to get an aliya to the Torah at Mincha and make a Mi Sheberach. And to my question that the baby did not yet have a name, the Rebbe replied, “For a mi sheberach you do not need a name”.
The Bris was scheduled for Shabbos, Erev Chai Elul, the 17th of Elul. The mohel that I planned to use for the Bris was scheduled to be in Boro Park on that Shabbos morning. I thought that there might be a Farbrengen that Shabbos afternoon, and therefore I should make arrangements with another mohel for the morning. I wrote to the Rebbe that I wanted to verify if there would be a Farbrengen. If that was the case, I would cancel the first mohel and call on the second one. The Rebbe answered that I should consult a Rav.
I presented the question to Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin, the Rav in Crown Heights. He said that to be a mohel is a special zchus. When a mohel conducts a bris it is a zchus for him and therefore I needed to use the originally scheduled mohel, who better reflected my feelings and original intention. Rabbi Dworkin added, “I think that because of this reason, of not taking the Mohel’s zchus and giving it to another, the Rebbe advised you to consult a Rav”.
I followed Rabbi Dworkin’s advice. An hour and a half before Shabbos, Rabbi Dworkin came to my house and informed me that he had just received word from the Rebbe’s secretariat that the Rebbe would not be farbrenging on Shabbos. Rabbi Dworkin smiled, adding, “You can prepare a cholent for the Bris”. Fifteen minutes had not passed, and Reb Sholom Yisroel Hodokov appeared and relayed a message to me from his father, the Rebbe’s personal secretary, to make sure that I knew that this Shabbos there would be no Farbrengen.
“Is it so bad to be with me in one place”
In 1969, after our oldest child was born, I told the Rebbe that I wished to go out on shlichus. The Rebbe responded “Exactly now, when your mother is here?!” The plan for shlichus was removed from the agenda.
A year later, our next son was born. Again I asked the Rebbe about going out on shlichus. The Rebbe answered, “You just had a newborn. How can you burden your wife with in this situation?”
Before the birth of our third child, I again asked the Rebbe that I wished to go out on shlichus. I added that every time there would be a different reason that would hinder my going on shlichus. Why could I not go on shlichus now? This time the Rebbe answered, “Is it so bad to be with me in one place?!”
After a short time, when I became involved in community affairs, I realized why the Rebbe had not approved of my leaving the shchuna.
After our marriage we first lived on Eastern Parkway. When the apartment became too small someone suggested we move to an apartment near Utica Avenue. I asked the Rebbe whether we should move to the new location. The Rebbe answered, “Check with your wife”. My wife said to do whatever the Rebbe said. I wrote to the Rebbe again, asking about a move. The Rebbe again answered that I should check with my wife.
At this point, my wife herself wrote to the Rebbe asking him to instruct her and she would fulfill the Rebbe’s directive. The Rebbe again reiterated his earlier response that this was her decision to make.
I then told my wife, “Your function is to make a vessel for self-sacrifice and then the Rebbe’s blessings will come”. The self-sacrifice I was referring to was moving to the other end of the shchuna. Living in that area of the neighborhood was considered self sacrifice then. My wife wrote to the Rebbe and we went into Yechidus. The Rebbe told us, “Don’t think too much and don’t be nervous, Hashem protects the house.” The Rebbe then added, “Outside of Israel, there is no obligation to post Mezuzos until thirty days after entering the house. But you should post mezuzos on all the door posts immediately. After thirty days, remove one mezuzo to be checked. When you will place it back on the door post, then you will make the blessing for the posting of the mezuza”.
L’chaim for the mother
When my wife was expecting our son Shmuel, she traveled to a hotel where she stayed for a month. Prior to her leaving for the hotel the Rebbe sent an envelope with two dollars on which he wrote, “For Mirel tichye, to give for Tzedoko there”.
The birth was in Elul. When I received Kos Shel Brocho on Motzoei Rosh Hashana, the Rebbe called me back and filled the whole cup with wine and said, “This is for the mother (of the baby)”. I said L’chaim to the Rebbe and the Rebbe raised his voice and said again, “This is for the mother (of the baby)”.
Communal & Public Affairs
This is what you accomplished
When I was a bochur my aunt who lived in Pittsburg was nifter. My mother didn’t feel well and was not able to travel to the Lvaya. I asked the Rebbe if I should travel in her place and the Rebbe answered in the affirmative.
Before my trip I passed the Rebbe’s room and the Rebbe told me that I should consult with Rabbi Dworkin, to receive guidance regarding the halachos involved in arranging all the details of the Lvaya. On the evening before the trip I went into the Rebbe’s room, and the Rebbe inquired whether I had studied all the halachic details. When I replied that I had done so, the Rebbe blessed me that I should always relay only good news.
I arrived at the Lvaya and immediately realized that there was a need for adjustments in the arrangements.
Three weeks later, Rabbi Krinsky approached me holding an envelope on which it was written “For the Tomim Yisroel Rosenfeld sheyichye”.
The envelope contained an article from a Jewish newspaper. The article reported on the funeral of a local woman in Pittsburg, who merited having an orthodox funeral which was prepared by a young Rabbi dispatched by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. As a result, the article continued, the members of the Pittsburgh community demanded that these burial laws be instituted in their city. The Rabbis and the community met to discuss this matter. Eventually, the Rabbis arranged that all Jewish funerals in all the Pittsburgh cemeteries would be conducted according to the laws of the Shulchan Aruch. At the end of the article, the Rebbe wrote his comment, “This is what you accomplished”.
Kos Shel Brocho for the students
I was a mechanech, teaching in girls’ schools for many years. Before the summer, the Rebbe would customarily address the counselors of Camp Emuna and the graduates of Bais Rivkah. At that time, no one else was permitted into the shul during the Rebbe’s talk.
On one occasion, the Rebbe told me to bring my students. This was considered something special because it was the first time that the Rebbe had invited a group of girls, who were not studying in a Chabad school. The Rebbe added that they could bring a tape recorder to record the sicha for themselves.
On different occasions, I would bring girls to the Farbrengens. After the farbrengen, when the Rebbe would distribute Kos Shel Brocho, I would inform the Rebbe that a group of girls had participated in the Farbrengen. On one occasion, the Rebbe poured wine for seven people. This is was not a wonder to me, because at that Farbrengen I had brought exactly seven girls!
“I am jealous of you”
I was a teacher of eighth grade boys. The plan was that these students would continue studying in a religious environment. A few of my students continued learning in the Yeshiva Ner Yisroel in Baltimore.
I asked the Rebbe if I should visit them, and the Rebbe answered, “What kind of question is this?!”
When I arrived there, the Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Ruderman stood up for me in the presence of his teachers and students. They were all bewildered that the Rosh Yeshiva stood up for a Lubavitcher. In one of his speeches, Rabbi Ruderman explained his action. “I am envious of Reb Yisroel” he told them. “He walks in the street, gathers children together and brings them to Yeshivos and then teaches them”. He turned to me and said, “I am jealous of you”. When I would sit in his office, he had the custom to personally prepare tea for me saying, “It is a zchus, a merit to serve you”.
Lekach delivered to the house
On an Erev Yom Kippur, close to candle lighting, Rabbi Sholom Ber Gansburg arrived at my house, and brought two pieces of Lekach from the Rebbe. When I expressed, my puzzlement, Rabbi Gansburg explained, “The Rebbe realized that you did not come to receive Lekach, and the Rebbetzin added, “It seems that he was at work; it is worthwhile to send him lekach”. The Rebbe took two pieces of Lekach and handed them to me to deliver to you”.
In reference to this, I also heard that the Rebbetzin once commented, “If one needs a favor in Crown Heights it is known that the address is the office on President and Utica” (Editor’s Note: Rabbi Rosenfeld’s Community Council office was located at this location for many years).
Are you a representative of Rabbi Schneerson
One day I received a directive from the Rebbe’s secretariat to travel to the airport. “At the airport, a person will approach you and ask one question, to which you will answer “yes” without adding an additional word. As a result of your response, you will receive a package from this person. Take it back to 770 and hand it to a member of the Rebbe’s secretariat”
I immediately went to the airport and entered the departure area. From a distance I saw someone approaching me. The person asked me if I was the representative of Rabbi Schneerson, to which I answered yes. He then handed me the package and left.
I thought to myself that I had not been told that I could not open the package. I did so and saw it was a package of Sforim. On every sefer there was a seal of a known cultural institute. When I reached 770, I immediately handed the package over to the Rebbe’s secretariat.
Jewish Federation aid
About forty years ago (in the 1950’s), tens of thousands of Jews lived in Crown Heights. When the neighborhood began to change, many Jews left the shchuna. The image of the shchuna changed and communal leaders were searching for options to increase funds for the shchuna. We turned to the Jewish Federation and they told us that in this specific situation they were prepared to support Lubavitch. When we wrote to the Rebbe, the Rebbe responded that Rabbi Krinsky should represent Lubavitch and I should represent the shchuna. The Rebbe added not to mix Lubavitch with the shchuna.
There was a lady named Mrs. Lazer-rav. The Rebbe once referred to her as a Tzikdonis, a pious woman. She wrote a letter to the Rebbe about the dirty condition of the streets in Crown Heights.
The Rebbe sent her letter to me with an additional comment saying, “Did you read the letter? This has been the situation tens of years. I will mention it for a blessing at the Rebbe’s grave site”
The next day I received call from Rabbi Krinsky who had been called to the Rebbe’s room and instructed, “Go to Yisroel Rosenfeld and ask him that he should show you the letter. If you will tell him that I sent you, he will show you the letter”. When Rabbi Krinsky returned and told the Rebbe that he had seen the letter, the Rebbe commented “Ask him what he has already done about the situation”.
Rabbi Krinsky followed up with many phone calls asking for progress reports to relay to the Rebbe.
In the summer of 1977, a blackout took place on New York. As a result of this blackout, many businesses were looted and destroyed causing great damage in the neighborhood. The stores on Utica Avenue, where the Community Council office was located, were not spared.
After a few days Rabbi Groner contacted me. The Rebbe wanted to know details of the damage done to the stores, both Jewish and non-Jewish owned. I asked, “Also the non-Jewish stores?”, and he answered yes. I was given to understand that strengthening the shchuna was amongst the issues important to the Rebbe. By working together with non-Jews in this instance, and having a good relationship with them in the present, we would contribute to Jewish well-being in the future and help stabilize the shchuna.
When we received sufficient federal aid to cover the damages, I notified the Rebbe. The Rebbe then asked, “This means that I do not need to give for this?”. I answered, no.
Now make sure that they don’t harass our people
After the riots in summer of 1991 I brought a group of black people to meet the Rebbe. Their leader said to the Rebbe, “Both groups have enemies who want to make rifts between the two groups”. The Rebbe responded, “When they discovered America they harassed your people. Now make sure that they don’t harass our people”.
“A yungerman who helps the shchuna”
Dr. Nissan Mindel once mentioned to the Rebbe that there was a person who needed a loan for his business. The Rebbe answered, “There is a yungerman by the name of Yisroel Rosenfeld who helps people in the shchuna”.
Dr. Mindel continued, “Is this definite?” The Rebbe answered, “I am sure and I also have proof of this. I have sent many people to him and not one returned to me. This is my proof that he helped them”
Yehi Zicro Boruch! May Reb Yisroel‘s memory serve as a merit for the success, well-being and blossoming of our community without bounds, physically and spiritually.
We should merit seeing when, “The ones who dwell in the dust will awaken and rejoice” and Reb Yisroel amongst them.