Weekly Story: The Historic Visit to America (part 2)

by Rabbi Sholom DovBer Avtzon

As noted last week, Reb Chaim Schneur Zalman Kramer was one of the original stalwarts of Lubavitch in America, and in the beginning of 5684 (1924) he wrote to the Frierdiker Rebbe, asking him to visit the chassidim in America. The Rebbe responded on the third of kislev of that year, noting that not only does something have to be logistically possible, but more importantly it has to be appropriate. Therefore the Rebbe advised and exhorted that the chassidim in America should make it appropriate, and the way to do so is by setting aside one evening a week to learn Chassidus.[1]

After the Rebbe was freed from Communist Russia in 5688 (1927), his secretary Reb Yechezkel (Chatdsha) Feigin wrote to Anash in America, which over the years grew, to write to the Rebbe requesting that he comes for a visit. Some wrote it as individuals, while Reb Avrohom Elya Axelrod wrote one letter and had all Anash and additional rabbonim from Baltimore sign it.

Why Reb Chadtsha Feifin decided to write then, I can’t say for certain, but this was not his first correspondence with chassidim in America. Previously, chassidim were asked to approach Dr. Rosen of the Joint Distribution Agency and convince him to support the Rebbe’s activities in Communist Russia and they were successful in that effort. Then Reb Elchonon Dov Morosow hy”d wrote letters to individual chassidim describing the dire financial situation in Beis HaRav and asking them to support the Rebbe by giving every month a set amount. This is referred by chassidim as maamid.

After the Rebbe left Russia, in 5688 (1927), the little that Russian chassidim were able to give to the Rebbe until then also stopped. So Reb Chatdsha wrote and implored to the chassidim in America that they should establish a fund for maamid. Although the Tmimim in America who were rabbonim barely earned an income, they contributed and encouraged some former chassidim who were more established to also help out and they would send around three hundred dollars monthly.

In Elul of that year, the Rebbe sent to America the maamar kuntres Kinyan hachayim, with the request that it be printed. Reb Mendel Cunin paid for its printing.

So we see that there was an effort to create a connection and bond between the Rebbe and chassidim, and perhaps they sensed that this will reach its potential, only if the chassidim in America and especially American Jewry actually see the Rebbe. Additionally, if they request the Rebbe to come, (and not that he comes on his own) then they will make the proper committees and arrangements when he comes.

On the 15th of Sivan 5688 (1928) the Rebbe wrote to Reb Chaim Shneur Zalman (Chazk) Kramer, that he hopes this meeting between him and American chassidim will come to fruition. The stated reason for the trip was that he was coming, not only to his chassidim but to American Jewry in general, to inspire them to help the Jews that are still in Russia as well as to change the mindset of American Jewry that America is not like Europe. He came to kindle the fire inside every single Jew.

The arranging of the Visas and other paperwork took some time, and on the 6th of Tammuz 5689 (1929), he wrote to the chossid Reb Menachem Mendel Rothstein that everything was arranged and he will be boarding the ship “France” on Wednesday the 6th of Elul. The boat arrived on the 12th of Elul, and the Rebbe got off the 13th (his anniversary). His visit to America was for ten months.

We will now discuss some of behind the scenes events:

After Pesach, when it was clear that the Rebbe was planning on coming, Agudas Chassidei Chabad hired someone to work on making the necessary preparations for the Rebbe. Mr. Yekusiel Kramer, who was a noted lawyer, used his prestige to convince the Mayor and officials that the Rebbe should have to go through the regular process of every visitor etc., but rather that he should receive a VIP treatment.

The city of New York sent out a tugboat to greet the ship. In addition to the officials who welcomed the Rebbe to America, a small delegation of chassidim also were aboard, including Reb Menachem Mendel Lokshin, Yekusiel and his brother Chazak Kramer, Mr. Phillip Kleinfeld and Reb Shmuel Nelson. The Rebbe would set foot on Pier I of the South Ferry.

Although the tugboat only arrived in the afternoon, there were still a few thousand Jews who braved the constant rain to greet and get a glimpse of the Rebbe. In order to keep order there was a large contingent of police to hold the crowd and a motorcycle division to escort him to his residence.[2]

Originally the Rebbe resided in a new house in Boro Park that belonged to Rabbi Eliyahu Simpson.[3] That Shabbos he said his first maamar in America, beginning with the words hashkifa mim’oin kudshecha. However, after a short time it was noticeable that the house wasn’t large enough. Notwithstanding the tremendous expense, the chassidim rented a large house in Crown Heights on 184 Brooklyn Ave, for $1800.00.

However, being that most of the chassidim were then living in Brownsville, for the Yomim Noraim, the Rebbe moved there. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, he davened for many hours as his custom was and on yom kippur, he remained in the shul the entire twenty-five hours.

For sukkos Jews who were not chassidim, but were so inspired by the Rebbe, built for him a sukka. So while the fundraising aspect wasn’t the greatest as he came right after the great depression of 1929, he succeeded in thawing the ICE of American Jewry.

This weeks story is l’zechus the complete and immediate healing of ny sister ChayaRivkah bas Cheyena with all other cholei Yisroel.

Rabbi Avtzon is a veteran mechanech and the author of numerous books on the Rebbeim and their chassidim. He can be contacted at avtzonbooks@gmail.com

I was corrected on last week’s article Rabbi Aronin lived in Sheboygan Wisconsin, not Michigan. Thank you very much and your feedback is greatly appreciated

[1] As noted last week the Rebbe sent a copy of the maamorim that he published to various individuals in America with the intent that they establish study groups to learn it.

[2] Perhaps because of the rain, or for other reasons, there as no official kabbalas ponim between the Rebbe and the multitudes of Jews that came to greet him. However, the Rebbe wasn’t happy with this and as soon as he came to the house, he instructed that all the rabbonim should be allowed to meet with him.

[3] Rabbi Simpson was then living in the Bronx, and he delayed moving into his new house, so the Rebbe will feel comfortable there.

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