Rabbi Samuel Schrage: the Maccabee

This article was prepared in honor of the Yohrtzeit of Rabbi Shmuel Schrage, which takes place on the 11th of Teves, by Rabbi Michoel Seligson.

“Crown Heights of 1964 turned from a nice neighborhood to a soft territory for crime. People were being robbed, hit, stabbed and even murdered. Five crimes were reported every night. People became prisoners in their own homes”, describes Dr. Morris Mindel. The streets emptied after seven in the evening. Owners of stores were afraid to open, too early in the morning. Women stopped participating in communal events. What was most shocking was an attempted attack on a Lubavitcher woman who did not close the door to her house, while her children were playing in the yard.

That year, a child was born to the Schrage family, named Avremi. The concerned father, decided to act, which in a later time, formed the image of a bold fighter against crime and violence. When others were raging with anger, Reb Shmuel met with the mayor, Robert Wagner, and demanded an increase in uniformed police. “More police in the streets equals less crime”. Many years later, when Rudolph Guliani became mayor, it was proven that Reb Shmuel was right. But mayor Wagner rejected the request of police increase, explaining that he does not have sufficient man power and this will instigate other places to ask for a police increase.

Schrage’s reaction was to create the first community protection group in New York, and others say, in the U.S., named “Maccabees”. The unarmed volunteers that Schrage mobilized would patrol the streets, and at night would give the community people free rides to locations in the shechuna. “We are looking at each person that is walking alone in the street. If he is innocent – he will be happy to see us. If he is suspicious – he will fear us and run away. A criminal wants privacy and darkness. If he sees a patrol car, he looses his coordination and leaves the place.”

Many New Yorkers attacked Schrage verbally and labeled him as being “vigilant”, by taking the law in his own hands. The law enforcement organizations were doubly angry, but could do nothing to stop this organization which was not against the law.

A change took place. Beginning with the media. A Jewish teacher was brutally attacked and killed in an elevator of an apartment building, when she was visiting her mother. “If she would have phoned the number 6-5100 she would have been saved”, commented with anger, the listeners on the radio talk show. This was the phone number of the Maccabees code.

The daily “World Tribune” rushed to write a cover page story about the Maccabees. “When the Greeks and the Syrians oppressed the Jews, the Jews stroke back through the Maccabees, a group of fighters against crime”. Today, with the increase of violence in Crown Heights of Brooklyn, the Jewish-Chassidic Community created modern group of Maccabees, without ammunition but with patrol cars with and radios”. The Maccabees group was also mentioned in the German newspaper “Der Shpiegel” and the Brazilian newspaper “Menzet”, stating in headlines “The Maccabees are returning – few against the many”.

The project was successful. The police sent additional patrol cars and they offered to help the Maccabees. Parallel to the patrol cars, were plain civilians who volunteered. Amongst them, were many Italians and others who arrived from New Jersey, and Connecticut and Pennsylvania. A group of priests offered to patrol on Shabbos. In order not to interfere or transgress the law, Schrage interviewed every individual and set the requirements. To be valid for this force, a person needs to be married, has a job, family and a home. “We are not violent but love peace” he said. “But when one steps on our feet, we are obligated to respond”.

Also people in the community felt uncomfortable. Because of the crime reports, the value of the real estate went down and many people were very upset with Schrage. Schrage told the Rebbe about the complaints, and the Rebbe responded: “Don’t stop. Strengthen the activities.” Mrs. Schrage suggested to her husband to publicize the Rebbe’s response but Schrage said: “I would rather, not involve the Rebbe in the topics of this world”.

The violence reached the door step of the Schrage family. Mrs. Schrage felt this. “I was in the house and heard Shmuel being interviewed on the radio station. I received a phone call from an anonymous caller saying, ‘I murdered the Jewish person in the elevator, you are next on line’. I was very scared and a group of Italians came to the house to protect me until Shmuel returned home”. We received many threats. On one occasion, we received a letter in the mail from a Moslem written in red letters. We thought it was red ink, but the FBI told us it was real blood.

To date, when crime has returned to its past pace, the citizens of New York feel that “There is no doubt that we need Shmuel Schrage” says Reb Shmuel Melamed, a good friend of his, from their youthful years. “A person like him, with understanding, potential leadership, concern for his community, that worked from behind the scenes, and was available for everyone and helped with advice and organized work”.

Schrage’s record was full and impressive. Especially when we take in consideration his short life. He was a child who grew up in a poor home in South America, built with his own hands, until he won the trust of the senior members of New York State government. Parallel to his involvement in Chinuch matters, he worked to receive monetary aid for Torah and chinuch institutes and convinced government officials that by the Jewish people, also the families are poor and are lacking funds. He created a research which proved this point and brought the “Section-8 program” into the community for people which had low incomes.

“Schrage set up permanent jobs for people”, says Melamed. “Until this day there are families that are financially existing in his merit. I know these people. Some do not even know that he helped them. Originally, they worked in the meat industry, and today they are holding distinguished positions”.

It seems that the consideration for people in trouble, is related to Schrage’s past. He was born on 1935 in Rizonta, Brazil. Shmuel was an only child to his parents, who were refugees from Poland who moved to Rio De Janeiro. His father, a descendent of Belzer Chassidim, was a shamesh (helper) in a shul and preserved the daily life affliction. He would fast for three days in the week and eat eggs and rice. Chicken and meat would not enter his mouth, because of his lack of trust in the kashrus standards.

As the birth date of Shmuel is not clear, also the events of his later years remain cloudy. There are three versions as to why Schrage was sent to the Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch on Bedford and Dean, in Brooklyn. One article argues that this was a scholarship for him excelling in his studies in Brazil. A second opinion says when his father asked him what he would want for his Bar Mitzva gift, he answered: “Study in an American yeshiva”. Schrage’s wife says, a different reason, it was that “Shmuel had a good voice and when he studies in a basic school, the teacher asked him to sing in a church. Schrage’s father was very shaken up about this anecdote and with Rabbi Weinberg’s advice, Shmuel was sent to the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Brooklyn”.

“Separating from his parents was very painful for him”, says his wife. He traveled alone on the boat and did not know a word of English”.

Eight years passed until he saw his parents again. In these eight years, he would send money to his parents, which he earned from giving haircuts to the bochurim in Yeshiva.

In Yeshiva, Shmuel acclimated himself very quickly to the learning and was beloved by the Bochurim. He was successful in his studies, having a good mind. When someone would want to classify a smart person, they would say: “Schrage’s head”.

“We always loved when he came to eat by us on Shabbos”, says Rabbi Sholom Ber Tenenbaum, son of Rabbi Yosef Tenenbaum, who served as a father and friend of Schrage. “Shmuel had joyous and attracting heart. We all laughed together, including my father. Shmuel had a good and warm heart, found charm by everyone and people poshut loved him”.

“He was musically oriented and would sing Chassidishe nigunim like an old Chossid. My father enjoyed his company. After his marriage, he with my father purchased the building on Montgomery Street”.

At the age of 27, Schrage became the assistant principal in the Lubavitcher Yeshiva and worked with Rabbi Tennenbaum and Rabbi Fogelman, the Hebrew and English principals. Rabbi Fogelman who serves as the administrator of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva on Ocean Parkway, said the following about Schrage: “He had an absolute control. When he would open his mouth, everybody listened. During the schools assemblies, it was complete silence. They respected him and listened to him. From the students, and also the staff, great respect was given to him. He was talented, charismatic, sparkling, a quick thinker, in addition to being good hearted, courteous, and offering words of pity in times of need. He helped us with discipline and was very effective”.

“Schrage loved to deal with students who had problems. He loved the students with a “spark” and would constantly say you need to stress the difference between one student and another. Every child has his own nature and you need to work with each one individually. They are not all the same. Although many educators know this, but Schrage came to this conclusion on his own. He was able to relate to the children of all ages; to a child of ten years old, as to a child of fourteen years old.”

In 1963, when the Lubavitcher Yeshiva made the ground breaking for new building on Maple Street, in Brooklyn. It was the task of Reb Shmuel to invite dignitaries and the media. They were all there. Two New York senators, the mayor, the police chief and senior local officials arrived for the event. “If I would not have seen them there – I would not believe it”, said Rabbi SZ Gurary.

This marked the first sign of his contacts with political figures, and it was only a matter of time until he was to enter community activities

“Nothing stopped him from acting and he did things in the format of “Lchatchila Ariber”. When he left the Yeshiva position, it was a loss for the school”, said Rabbi Fogelman.

The first communal activity of Schrage, was the ‘Tashlich Struggle’ in late 1961. The Crown Heights residents would use the Botanical gardens for the Tashlich, which was owned by a private company, while the land was owned by the city. This tradition went for twenty years until the Jewish owner of the company, decided to ban the entrance to the park. Schrage immediately acted to receive an agreement, and the company members voted in support for allowing entrance. The newspapers covered this story very closely and reported that a crowd of 18,000 Jews visited the Tashlich. “Rabbi Schneerson, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, was present”, was mentioned in the papers.

A continuous column with an anonymous name which appeared in the last page of the ‘Jewish Press” was also publicized in an additional twenty five Jewish weekly newspapers. He was not afraid in dealing with painful issues. He also contributed an article addressing to the book ”Judaism and Drugs” by Lau Landman. Scharge argued that the Chassidic approach is the solution for the rebellious youth. “As one who saw from close the yeshiva Hadar Hatora, I can declare that this is the positive address. They give every student an entity, a stable and family environment that is based on conversations between people, without the media and television” said Dr. Joyce Brothers.

The article lead to a plea for help from a father that his daughter escaped and there was a fear for her safety.

Schrage established a contact with Abe Hoffman, the unofficial leader of the hippies in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The two sat together in a restaurant in the village and drank coco-cola. Hoffman relayed that the girl was using LSD. He knew the girl. Schrage told afterwards that he saw Hoffman putting in drops into his cup in order to drug him. The end of the story was, the girl was found drugged and deserted in an empty apartment- and was saved. Rabbi Yosef Tenenebaum once said: “Shmuel is a person to whom you can turn for assistance at any time, even in middle of the night”.

In a two flight building on Montgomery Street lived the two widows, Mrs. Tenenbaum and Mrs. Schrage.

In the house of Mrs. Rose Schrage there is a short corridor leading to a room with a table for six people. Mrs. Schrage brings to the table, albums and clips of articles. Shmuel and Rose married in 1963. Shmuel was 28. Mrs. Schrage was born in France and in a young age arrived with her parents in New York. Her father would make shofros and served as a Chazan in a Lubavitch shul, in Bronsville. Their shiduch was made by Mrs. Baumgarten, the wife of the first Shliach to Argentina, Reb Berel Baumgarten.

In the newspapers, he is described “Short, strong and upright appearance, with a little beard that adds ten years to his real age”. Mrs. Schrage remembers her husband saying: “The wisdom a person receives from Hashem. The personal character traits are dependent on the person”. “All his life he did favors for people and never accepted a ”no” for an answer”. “When he once came home at 11 P.M. at night, I told him, ‘You can not burn the candle from its both ends – work and also family’. He responded: ‘It is not work but favors. There is no point for me to be in my position, if I can not help others’. He attained work for people with the same zest and excitement as he worked against a crime or when he organized an organization against hanging Jews in Syria”.

When the cemetery workers made a strike in 1970, Shmuel bribed the workers who were demonstrating across the cemetery, with money and whisky, in order that they allow the bochurim to bury the deceased Jews that were waiting for burial.

Shmuel also delivered a complaint in court with a demand that the cemetery workers continue working until a solution is found with the city. For the media, he had this story: “When I was a child, a Ger (convert) was buried by his family in a Christian cemetery. My father and many members of the community removed the body from the grave, in the middle of the night, and buried him in the Jewish section”, told Shmuel, remembering that he personally participated in that event.

Shmuel had acquaintances from many colorful backgrounds and he made sure to mention to them about the Rebbe and Crown heights. “My ambition is to acquaint many Jews with the Orthodox Judaism, and to show them that a little time and energy could bring them to be complete with Hashem”, Shmuel was quoted as saying. He was appointed on the board of the relationships between communities, in the central organization of the Lubavitch youth, and was proud to declare for the newspapers that he lives five blocks from the Rebbe. “He is a live hero. A person whom we all love and respect. The life of our community is based around him and around the love we have for him”, he said about the Rebbe.

Radio host Barry Barber talks at the Bar Mitzva of Avremi Schrage.

He was a steady guest – and added much color – on the radio talk show of Barry Farber, who prides himself knowing 26 languages. Farber spoke at the Bar Mitzva of Schrage’s son, Arye.

On a certain occasion, Ed Joyce interviewed the Rebbe. When Schrage inquired by Ed, what he discussed with the Rebbe in Yechidus, Joyce relayed: “ I asked the Rebbe if the Jews are the chose nation, what is the function of the other nations like me? The Rebbe responded: “It is an example of a body. Hands can not work without feet, we need you because you are part of the body and we work together”, Joyce loved this response.

Mrs. Scharge remembers the fundraising that her husband made for the organization FREE (Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe) that helps with refugees from Russia. “Two things by my husband were a “No”. He was not into sports and did not like to fund raise. But they asked him, and he responded positively. He suggested to rich people to play football against him and his friend. If he and his friend win, then they contribute $500 for the organization FREE. He was dressed in a white shirt and Shabbos shoe. They consented to the deal and he brought his friend- the football player Liter Rockly who was seven feet tall. By the end of the game, ten thousand dollars were contributed to FREE.

Part II

An interesting event took place around the wedding of Reb Shmuel and his wife. This event demonstrated how the Rebbe felt that Reb Shmuel could be a role model for others to follow and do likewise.

In Adar 5723 (1963), Reb Shmuel and his wife were married. The Rebbe inquired privately if the chosson wore a kapota by the Chasuna. The Rebbe was informed that the chosson indeed did wear a kapota. The Rebbe continued: He can now speak to others who do not consider wearing a kapota, that they also wear a kapota. The Rebbe was told that there are some people that began wearing a kapota and after a short time stopped. The Rebbe inquired why did they stop wearing a kapota. The secretary answered that it was because of a lack in money funds. The Rebbe continued the kapota wearing is only for Shabbos and Yom Tov and not for the weekdays and they can wear it until the grandchildren are born.

***

The height of Shmuel’s carrier – which he could have reached greater heights if he would have lived on – was when John Lindsay served as the mayor of New York. Lindsay the tall man became attached to Schrage the short man and referred to him as “The Chassidic Urbanologist” and appointed him in charge of the most sensitive positions in that time. “He is young, but smart” Lindsay explained.

The crime in New York grew, and Lindsay requested from his friend, Schrage, to deal with social group problems. A committee of action was set up to stabilize neighborhoods that found themselves in a crisis such as Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Washington Heights, Laurel town, Grand Concourse and Jamaica. “We wanted that the average class should not escape from these critical neighborhoods as they did in Brownsville, and the South Bronx”, explained Schrage, who headed this committee.

Rose and Sam Schrage walk with Mayer John Lindsay and Chaplain Jacob Goldstein

Prior to being appointed to this position, Lindsay appointed Schrage as the vice secretary of the youth council of New York City and as the head of staff dealing with the summer programs for the youth of the neighborhoods – a high budget that was responsible for 46,000 children. Schrage appointed his friend from the yeshiva years, Reb Yaakov Goldstein, an appointed chaplain by the Pentagon, who serves till this day as the vice commissioner of the neighborhoods of New York. “These were difficult days of riots. We worked hard to calm the city. This established a relationship between the city and the neighborhoods and its citizens. Shmuel was very close to Lindsay and I learnt a lot from him. Many Jewish people were helped by him. He worked from behind the scenes and knew how to play with the media”, said Goldstein.

But the neighborhood programs did not last long. Lindsay ended his office term and Abe Beame, a Jew, was elected to the mayor’s position. Beame immediately fired many city workers and formed a new budget for the city – without additional success. In the past, he objected to the plan and now he announced that it was being dissolved. In the newspapers, Shmuel was described as a gentleman saying: “If it needs to be so, I think this would be the right thing. If dissolving my function will accomplish that an additional fireman or police man will be placed on guard, then it is in order. My work is important but not more important than their work”. Mrs. Schrage argues: “In the elections, Shmuel supported Lindsay against Beame, and politicians do not forget”.

Beame bumped into Schrage, on an additional occasion. It was a national holiday when the phone rang in the Schrage home. “Hello, we are speaking here from the White House. The President wants to speak with Rabbi Schrage”. A week prior to this call, Schrage suggested to President Nixon’s advisor how to restore the support for the president that sunk at that time to a low of 25%, after the “Watergate” scandal. Schrage passed the phone to his wife in order that his wife should hear the person mimicking Nixon’s famous line: “Let me make this clear”. The person invited Schrage to meet with him in a hotel in New York. Minutes later, the phone rang again. On the line was the mayor, Abe Beame, fuming with anger: “I am here the mayor. What does the president want from you?”

Schrage rushed to the meeting, which its details are unknown.

According to Mrs. Schrage, Shmuel was the one who organized the meeting of Robert “Bob” Kennedy by the Rebbe in 1968, when the New York Senator was running for presidency of the United States. Mrs. Schrage relates that Kennedy requested her husband’s support. Shmuel asked the Rebbe if there is anything he can accomplish through Kennedy. The Rebbe requested to free the Motchkin brothers – Reb Mule and Reb Yosel- from a Russian prison. Schrage presented this request for Kennedy and Kennedy returned to Schrage quickly: the good news was that Russia is freeing them. The bad news is they can not enter the United States. The reason is related to harsh orders from this country’s officials. “Even my brother (President Kennedy) could not do anything for them”, he said.

Schrage asked Kennedy for the phone number of this senior official, that has restricted issuing them a visa, and he called him. “I am giving you five minutes to change your decision. If you don’t plan to change your decision, your name will appear tomorrow in the newspapers under the heading “In Soviet Russia they were freed, and in the free and democratic country (U.S.), they restricted them”.

The official immediately notified the issuance of visas for the Motchkin Brothers.

Robert Kennedy rejoiced that everything was cleared and arrived in 770 with a greeting smile from the Rebbe who blessed him. Mrs. Schrage recalls: “We stood outside and spoke with Bob. One of my husband’s cufflinks that I bought for him for our wedding fell on the floor. I complained to Kennedy and he went down on the floor “on four” and found it. He was going to visit us again two days later, but he was assassinated two days prior to the planned visit”. [In 1968, the senator was killed by an Arab in California for making a positive statement about Israel].

Summer 1976

Rabbi Yosef Tenenbaum was planning to travel to Venezuela to raise funds for the yeshiva. He entered the Rebbe’s room on Motzoei Shabbos to receive a blessing from the Rebbe. In the ‘Yechidus’ the Rebbe inquired from him: “What is new by Shmuel Schrage?” Rabbi Tenenbaum responded everything is in order. The Rebbe requested that a message be sent to Schrage, “Maalin Bakodesh” (always accelerate in sanctity matters).

The Schrage family was for Shabbos in the Catskills, and Rabbi Tenenbaum assured the Rebbe that he will relay the message to Schrage on Sunday. “Aren’t there any telephones in America?” The Rebbe wondered. When Schrage received the message, he immediately took upon himself to work in Mivzta Mezuza. In response to his wife’s question, why Mivtza Mezuza in particular, he answered that Mezuza protects the whole family. He cancelled meetings and wandered around with the chairman of Lubavitch Youth Organization, Rabbi Dovid Raskin, to install Mezuzos and raise funds. Rabbi Raskin recalled that in Mivtzoim, Schrage was as involved as a Chossid from birth.

An additional signal came. Rabbi Yisroel Laibov from the Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel came to Schrage and requested help for the war orphans in Israel. Laibov relayed to Schrage that in a ‘Yechidus”, the Rebbe described to him the person that could help him in the United States. “I went to the Rebbe’s secretaries and to Rabbi Raskin and they all referred me to you”, stressed Rabbi Laibov. Schrage immediately responded that all the gifts for the upcoming Bar Mitzva of his son Avremi will go for the benefit of the orphans and arranged a telethon fund raising on Barry Farber’s talk show. Mrs. Schrage mentioned to her husband that it seems the Rebbe wants to meet you. Schrage answered: “I know, but I do not have enough Mitzvos with which to approach the Rebbe”.

On the Shabbos before the Bar Mitzva, a Farbrengen took place. Shmuel brought a bottle of ‘mashke’ to the Rebbe in order that the Rebbe bless the Bar Mitzva boy and his parents. It was customary to distribute some of the ‘mashke’ to people present at the Farbrengen and the rest by the simcha itself. The Rebbe instructed Shmuel to distribute “Part here and part by the chasuna”. Schrage mentioned to the Rebbe that we are approaching a Bar Mitzva, the Rebbe again repeated his words loudly. “The Rebbe’s face became red with tears in his eyes, and looked away from Shmuel, and could not look at him”, recalls Mrs. Schrage.

Shmuel returned home and became singing the nigun of the Alter Rebbe with tears in his eyes. For his wife, it was the first time that she saw him in such a state. He then said to her: “I feel that I will not be able to do everything for the children. They say that by singing the Alter Rebbe’s nigun, the Alter Rebbe becomes an advocate for you”.

That week there was a documentary film on Shmuel on the Egyptian television. Shmuel also sent a ticket for his sister-in-law (his wife’s sister) to fly in to the Bar Mitzva. On Thursday, Shmuel visited the office of Barry Farber the radio announcer, and successfully installed a Mezuza on the door post to his office. The Rebbe’s secretariat set up a ‘Yechidus’ appointment for Shmuel on the following Monday. On Friday, Erev Shabbos parshas Vayigash, very energized Shmuel returned home from buying Challah for Shabbos. Before he entered the house, he was conversing with Reb Leibel Motchkin. Mrs. Schrage lit Shabbos candles earlier on that Friday, and Shmuel went into the shower- and had a heart attack. ”It will be OK, just make an appointment by the doctor for Monday”, he said.

Mrs. Schrage felt that it was dangerous and phoned to her neighbor Rabbi Tenenbaum, and to 911, and to Reb Yingi Bistritzky from the Hatzola organization in Crown Heights. The Hatzola at that time was relied solely on man power only, without an ambulance at their disposal.

Initially, when Mrs. Schrage recalls the story, it is difficult for her to speak. “They killed him”, she said. The city ambulance arrived more than 15 minutes late, driven by a black and a Hispanic medic. Bistritzky was already present earlier and connected Shmuel to life support oxygen. The drivers arrived in their pressed clean clothing ready for the New Year weekend celebrations and did not look forward, to dealing with the situation. “I am not going to dirty my clothing for this Jew”, the black driver said and uttered additional coarse hate words. Bistritzky asked for the stretcher in order to transport Schrage to the hospital but the black medic immediately removed the life support. “He is an actor. I don’t have a stretcher. A chair is sufficient. He can stand alone”. The driver screamed at Shmuel to stand up and sit down. Schrage was not able to get up and the driver stubbornly forced him to stand up and then pushed him into the chair. Shmuel fell to the floor.

Two black policemen who were called to the scene, refused to get involved. “They feared that the driver is either drugged or drunk”, said Mrs. Schrage. The driver tried to stand up Shmuel by pulling his left hand – which is closer to the heart. Shmuel began screaming from pain and the driver covered his mouth with a cloth. Outside, it was a terrifying cold weather and the driver came to the conclusion that they need a stretcher, and suddenly one was found in the ambulance.

Rabbi Krinsky, who is a neighbor living on Montgomery Street, and is the Rebbe’s secretary, was a witness to the event. “They conducted themselves with him in an inconsiderate way and in a very rude manner”. The driver grabbed on to the upper part of the body and Bistritzky grabbed the lower part of the body, and then Shmuel was dropped from the driver’s hands. A loud bang was heard. The driver did not allow Bistritzky to administer oxygen, saying, “I am the responsible person here”.

The bubbling and dynamic person that fought for his life was lying without oxygen. “Don’t move me. I am dead”, Shmuel whispered with his last energy. He was placed on a stretcher and wildly pushed into the ambulance. As a result, the driver’s foot got stuck and again began cursing. “As far as I remember, he was not tied properly and he fell twice. This was disgraceful and negligent. They literally threw him”, said Bistritzky.

Months later, Bistritzky was asked to testify against the two drivers in a case that Mrs. Schrage initiated against them. As far as what is known, the two medics were not fired from their job.

Shmuel was nifter on the way to the hospital, on the 11th of Teves 5737.

The tragic death – which traumatized everyone who heard this senseless wrong doing – was accepted with total shock and great pain by all who knew him and by the many who respected him in the neighborhood and in the city. “He had a special charm to accelerate in everything he did. And he just began his way”, said Rabbi Krinsky, who recalls being helped by Schrage in his work.

People refused to believe it. “He was a healthy person without a white hair on his head”, they said. Mrs. Schrage went into a very difficult emotional state. Her in-laws were arriving from Brazil for the Bar Mitzva. The mayor and many Rabbonim were planning to come and now a whole life had been interrupted abruptly, and with such a cruelty.

When the lvaya passed 770, the Rebbe joined the crowd by lvaya for a distance. The students of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva came out to escort the Aron. The Rosh yeshiva Rabbi Ushpal stood up and said that although we do not make eulogies in Chabad, “But it is impossible for me not to say something”.

Shmuel was buried in the Chabad section of the Montefiore cemetery in Queens. It is noteworthy to mention, that Reb Shmuel was the first one to be buried in the second section of Chabad, since the first section was already filled. The Friday before, the Chevra Kadisha were mkadesh (sanctified) the new section.

The Rebbe instructed the information that should be engraved on his tombstone: “The young distinguished man, an energetic person of deeds, involved in communal affairs with much accomplishments, doing charity and goodness with a dedicated heart. Hatomim Reb Shmuel Avner Schrage”. Many came to pay a Shiva call and amongst them, Mayor Beame.

Mrs. Schrage says that the Rebbe escorted her with a fatherly conduct in this difficult time in her life. The most difficult thing that I did in my life was to tell the children what happened”, she recalls. On the Shabbos after, Avremi returned from Shul. He said he saw a father hugging his son and thought for him, that “I will no longer have one”. Exactly in that moment, one of the people walked over to him and adjusted his tie. This touched him very much. I wanted to cancel the Bar Mitzva, but the Rebbe insisted that it is important that Avremi’s friends be there. We then made something small in my sister’s house”.

Mrs. Schrage thought that the “signs” that came from the Rebbe prior to her husband’s ptira, were the Rebbe’s efforts to nullify the decree. “The Rebbe requested that he should help orphans, possibly to avoid his own situation. The Rebbe instructed to ‘Distribute by the Chasuna’ to lengthen his years”, she says. After the shloshim (30 days mourning), Mrs. Schrage with her two sons went into ‘Yechidus’ by the Rebbe that went past the scheduled time. “Five times the Rebbe sent away the secretary, when he came into the room to remind us to leave. I asked the Rebbe if I will be able to bring them up right”

“I want to bench you”, the Rebbe said to the children and asked if they understand Yiddish.

“Yes”, the children responded with an American accent.

“With such a Yiddish it is better [to bench] in English”, the Rebbe commented with a smile.

The children said: “Our mother needs a Brocho more than us”.

The Rebbe answered: “If you will listen to hear, this will be the greatest Brocho that can be given to her”.

“I felt like I was speaking to my father”, Mrs. Schrage remembers. “He had soft eyes and was courteous. I felt a certain closeness and commented to the Rebbe –I can not believe today that I did that – ‘You knew, why did you not try to help?’ The Rebbe answered: ‘You will see Shmuel at the Chasuna of the son’. This was in 1974”. Her son Arye got married in 1995. Her older son Avremi surprised her and showed pictures of the Father Shmuel. “I felt that he was participating in the wedding, like the Rebbe promised. This was twenty years before they had computers and technology like today”.

The telethon for the benefit of the orphans in Israel took place on the Radio show of Barry Farber and it successfully raised big funds. “Shmuel would throw out all the articles written about him. He would say, ‘Credit I only need in heaven’. During the Shiva days, Barry arrived with a briefcase full of news clips about Schrage”. He said that in addition to both of them being friends, Shmuel was his hero, and he gathered all the news about him”. The newspapers eulogized him and wrote that his leadership style was unique. “Even the tamed political statements that he was needed to make, had an added gesticulation”, they wrote. Even at the height of five feet and 3.5 inches, he was an impressive image when he would walk in the street with his yarmulke, beard and wishing to passer bys a hearty “Shalom Aleichem”.

Having a special concern and will to perpetuate her husband’s acts of kindness, Mrs. Schrage suggested to the Rebbe to buy an ambulance for the “Hatzola” of the shechuna. The Rebbe’s answer was: “Not only to involve one in that, but to do so quickly”. The Rebbe asked for the list of names of the donors and he added a one hundred dollar bill and an additional $20 bill. “During a heart attack every moment is precious. I don’t want it to happen to others. Time should not be wasted and the ambulance should have all the supplies”, said Mrs. Schrage. Lately, I found a receipt that I then raised $18,000. The other half was raised by Bistritzky and his friends.

In 1978, when the Rebbe had the heart attack, the generator of the ambulance served the Rebbe.

***

The clock on the wall shows we have rushed very quickly to one in the morning. The exhaustion is not felt at all. Mrs. Schrage got used to her life and is traveling tomorrow morning to visit her infant granddaughter in New Jersey. She approaches the front door, pushed aside the mail and the advertisements, and was ready to close the door on its locks, the minute the guest made his way into the cold night.

“Are you sure that it is safe to walk in the street in this hour?” she wonders.

That’s how it is when Shmuel Schrage is not around to worry for the shchuna.

Yehi Zicro Boruch!

We should merit seeing when, “The ones who dwell in the dust will awaken and rejoice” and Reb Shmuel amongst them.

13 Comments

  • 1. Ed Greenberg wrote:

    I remember this. We lived next door to Rabbi Schrage on Montgomery Street, and my father was a member of the Macabees patrol.

    I feel like it was earlier than 1964 though. My childhood recollection says about 1962. By May 1964, the New York Times was reporting that the Macabees was considering disband, if they could be absorbed into the Police Auxiliary. (Hasidim May Drop Roving Patrol Cars, New York Times (1857-Current file); May 29, 1964; ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 – 2004))

    I have electronic copies of these articles if anybody is interested.

  • 2. Y.R. Australia wrote:

    What an amazing article.
    I grew up in Crown Heights in those years
    It brought tears to my eyes.

  • 3. Mendel wrote:

    It’s lable bistritsky not yingi. Yingi took over his father who should live and be well till 180 and does great tireless work for hatzolha today aswell as lots of other orgniations.

  • 4. clove wrote:

    this is an awesome chizuk, just to hear about someone so great. the entire article is just an incredible eye opener. Why don’t we hear more about him, and maybe an organization or something in his name? Where are his children now? We want to hear more about him

  • 5. Yossi wrote:

    Fascinating article. I have never heard of this person. How do you pronounce his name?

  • 7. way to go wrote:

    very nice, thank you for taking the time to put all this together.

    thats why I love this site!

  • 8. very touching article wrote:

    A very touching article. I got the opportunity to meet Mrs Shragge, a very special woman. May she be blessed with many long years of happiness.

  • 11. Bedford and Dean wrote:

    In the 4th grade “ Schraga” as we spoke of him in his absence was convinced that I was responsible for a profanity written on a wall in the yard where we played “Chinese”. My parents were brought in he intimated that I might be canidate for reform school. I enjoyed the article and it brought me back,momentarily ,to a time of innocence and dreams some which came true. Sam! I have the feeling that you may be reading this. If you are It wasn’t me it was BECK

  • 12. anon wrote:

    to#9: prounouncwd “shrag” with a long ‘a’- I had the zechus to know him slihtly, and will never forget how he was murdered- the re-telling brought back the pain the whole community felt-

  • 13. David Berger wrote:

    This was a great article. I remember Rabbi Schrage very well. When I was at Bedford and Dean in 1960 thru 1962, He was among other duties the disciplinarian for the boys who lived in the dorimitory on the 3rd and 4th floors. At the time I was only 12, I didn’t have any idea of what other duties he performed. One thing I knew for sure, when he said lights out, it was lights out or else… I’m saddened to hear that he passed. My belated sympathies to his family.

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