September 5, 2018
Menachem Ziegelboim in #1134, Interview, Tishrei

51 years have passed since the Rebbe personally invited the group of Chassidim who emigrated from Russia to come to him for Tishrei. * One of the group was R’ Zushe Gross who, despite the decades that passed, shares his sharp memories of that month and the special, unusual kiruvim, he and his friends received from the Rebbe.

 It was the middle of Elul 5726 when, in the mailbox of the Vaad Kfar Chabad, a letter appeared from abroad. Abroad meant a letter from the Rebbe. The members of the Vaad, despite being used to receiving letters from the Rebbe, rushed to open it, but no, it wasnt from the Rebbe. It was from his secretary, Rabbi Chaim Mordechai Isaac Chadakov. They all knew that Rabbi Chadakov did not make a move without permission from the Rebbe and that the contents of the letter would be instructions from the Rebbe.

This is what R’ Chadakov wrote to the Vaad Kfar Chabad:

We hereby wish to inform them that the Rebbe shlita instructed that the eleven people listed here […] will be given the costs of traveling here and back, for the upcoming month of Tishrei, together with the k’vutza. And surely they will begin immediately in acquiring the visas etc., through the agency of R’ Ephraim Wolf, in order that with Hashem’s help everything will be arranged in a timely manner.

With blessings for a k’siva va’chasima tova

Rabbi C.M.A Chadakov

In the margin of the letter was a list of immigrants that the Rebbe said should have the trip and tickets arranged for them:

Bisk, Itzik

Brod, Yisroel

Gross, Zis (Zushe Gross)

Gurevitch, Berko (Berele Gorevitz)

Vishedsky, Bentzion

Vishedsky, Michoel (Michel)

Zabrovsky, Aharon

Kagan, Shimshon

Levenhartz, Yosef

Nanes, Eliezer (Lazer)

Pruss, Boris (Berel)


This was a great surprise for the veteran Chassidim of Kfar Chabad as well as for the Chassidim who had recently arrived from Russia and had received a personal invitation from the Rebbe for Tishrei. What a privilege! It was one that none had dreamed of.

The Rebbe did not suffice with that but even got into the details about who would join the group. The main conditions were: immigrants from Russia who arrived in the past seven years and who were older than 20. The Rebbe made clear that he would take care of the expenses for the trip.


I spoke with my father-in-law, R’ Zushe Gross, a Chassid from B’nei Brak, who agreed to share his experiences of that extraordinary month with the Rebbe, an entire month in which he was the Rebbe’s personal guest along with another ten Chassidim who emigrated from Russia.


Russia, in those days, was ruled by the uncontested leadership of Nikita Khrushchev who served as General Secretary of the Communist Party and Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Premier) of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev’s rise to power heralded a critical change in the Soviet Union. He was interested in reforms and astounded the participants of the 20th congress of the communist party when he delivered his famous “secret speech.” In this speech, he attacked and derided Stalin’s self-worship and accused Stalin of crimes against humanity and mass murder.

In actual practice, the persecution against those labeled as “counter-revolutionaries” continued, which included klei kodesh, but there was a certain easing of tension. One of the signs of this easing was the release of prisoners from labor camps and giving exit permits to citizens, mainly citizens of Poland, and allowing them to return to their homelands and reunite with their families.

Among the Polish citizens were many Polish Jewish families who left Russia in this way, as well as families who took on Polish identities. One of them was the Pruss family (part of the time, the name was changed to Gross, in fear of “prying eyes”).

“We left Russia at that time with forged Polish identities,” R’ Zushe Gross related. “We were sure that we were clever and had pulled one over on the government. It was decades later when, through a friend, R’ Notke Berkahan a”h, I obtained documents that he found in government archives which showed that they knew everything. They chose to look the other way during our illegal exit.”

The Pruss family, R’ Shmuel Leib (Mulle) and his wife and sons, Zushe (Gross) and Chaim (today a shliach in Boston), did not reach their hoped-for destination so fast. They spent time in various refugee camps in Poland for a year until they were able to continue on their journey. They arrived in Eretz Yisroel in 5721.

At first, the family lived in Yavne and then they moved to Kfar Chabad where they moved from house to house until they took up permanent residence.

A short while later, R’ Zushe received a letter from the Rebbe about all of the miracles that he and his family saw, for which he ought to bring a thanksgiving korban. This korban he should bring was to go to yeshiva.

“I went to learn in Tomchei T’mimim in Lud by the mashpia R’ Shlomo Chaim Kesselman, from whom I received many kiruvim.

“In yeshiva, I met friends of mine from Russia with whom I had parted 15 years earlier, some of whom I had learned with in Tashkent. These were emotional reunions.”

Five years passed, five years in the course of which the Pruss family settled in Kfar Chabad. R’ Zushe married and had his first children and then one day he was suddenly informed that the heads of the Vaad of Kfar Chabad were looking for him.

A letter had arrived from the Rebbe in which he invited him, together with other Russian immigrants, to be his guests for Tishrei.

“We were tremendously excited. This was a surprise that nobody had expected.”

So you started preparing for the trip?

No! First, we had to resolve a host of problems, mainly for those among us who worked and now had to take off a full month. For me, the matter was more complicated since I was the principal of the vocational high school Torah U’Melacha in Tel Aviv. It was an official position and I couldn’t just pick up and leave.

I began looking into how to get off for a month and it wasn’t at all easy, especially at the beginning of the school year. And here, I saw a series of miracles. When I spoke with the educational officials in Tel Aviv to get permission to take off with this unexpected vacation, they reacted with great excitement. Not only did they not make me any problems, but the top officials of the municipality made me their representative to ask the Rebbe for advice and blessings for them. The lawyer Chaim Menachem Basok, who later was the deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and director of the education department, asked me to ask the Rebbe for a bracha for him. He had his picture taken with the Chabad representatives in Tel Aviv and asked me to tell the Rebbe that he helped them.

That wasn’t all. The municipal administration decided not to deduct anything from my salary and this was without a doctor’s note etc. I did indeed take the names of the employees and officials of the municipal offices who wanted it and gave their names to the Rebbe’s secretariat.


The last days of 5726.

The group of Chassidim from Russia joined up with a larger group of Chassidim who were going to the Rebbe on a special charter plane. The entire plane was suffused with the atmosphere of going to the Rebbe. “In all the rows, they learned the same thing in preparation for the trip. I sat next to R’ Zushe Wilyamowsky, the Partisan. They all said l’chaim and there were minyanim.”

On Monday, 27 Elul, the guests landed at Kennedy airport in New York. From there, they went in the cars of those who came to welcome them, to Crown Heights.

The encounter with the guests who had just arrived was particularly emotional, as R’ Sholom Dovber Wolpo described in his diary at the time.

“In 770 many of Anash waited, and every few minutes a car arrived from the airport which brought some of the guests. The encounters between the Chassidim who had left Russia with their relatives and acquaintances here were earth-shattering and are hard to describe. It was particularly interesting to see how the Jews from Russia, old and young, stood with awe and love before seeing the Rebbe for the first time. Most of them had not seen a Rebbe in over 45 years, i.e., not the Rebbe Rayatz, who left Russia many years ago and had been in Poland, and of course not the Rebbe shlita.”


During the following month, the immigrants from Russia were treated to a full range of kiruvim from the Rebbe, who saw them as his personal guests. During the various events, the Rebbe showed them rare signs of affection that astonished the old-time Chassidim who were used to spending every Tishrei with the Rebbe.

For example, at the Rebbe’s request, the guests stood on the farbrengen platform near where he sat. At one farbrengen, the Rebbe said l’chaim to each of the members of the group of immigrants. When he came to R’ Yosef Levenhartz, he said, “Let us get acquainted with Etka’s children.”

In his diary, R’ Yisroel Yoel Sassover wrote about the special regard the guests from Russia enjoyed. “In general, the Rebbe’s personal guests were treated with special importance, those 11 people who came from ‘there.’ They stood next to the Rebbe during t’fillos, t’kios and farbrengens.”

The pinnacle of the special kiruvim was on Rosh Hashana by the t’kios, one of the most moving times in Lubavitch. R’ Yisroel Yoel Sassover described it in his diary immediately after Rosh Hashana:

“This morning, the Rebbe came down to daven at 10 and brought the new Alter Rebbe’s siddur, the Yahel Ohr T’hillim and his regular siddur. In his right hand were the shofaros, which were wrapped. R’ Leib Groner followed him with the pidyonos. Immediately upon standing in his place, he began looking into the kavanos of the t’kios. He looked into them for some time and then began davening.

“At the fifth aliya, the Rebbe approached the bima, taking his siddur and shofaros with him. R’ Leib Groner was behind him with four bags of pidyonos. As soon as the Rebbe was called up for his aliya, they all clambered onto the tables and the benches and it was ‘leibedig.’ The Rebbe cried when the Haftora began. After maftir he looked around to see whether the Russians were with him on the platform. Then he pulled his tallis over the pidyonos and placed his head on the pidyonos and was under the tallis for five minutes. Then he lifted the tallis and looked again to see whether the Jews from Russia were near him and then he pulled his tallis over his forehead and began to say ‘LaM’natzeiach.’”

The next day, the same thing repeated itself. “After maftir, the Rebbe began looking around the bima to ensure that all the Russians were there. When he did not see them all, he began looking around the crowd and said that R’ Asher Sasonkin, Mendel Futerfas, Mordechai Chein, R’ Asher’s son and R’ Mendel’s son (Berel) should come up to the platform. He looked for them for a while to the point that he said, ‘Do you want me to go down to the Russians?’ When he saw Dov Futerfas down below, he motioned with his finger that he should come up.”

Did you also stand on the bima next to the Rebbe during the t’kios?

Certainly! I stood on the Torah reading platform right behind the Rebbe, and R’ Mendel Futerfas stood right next to me. You can imagine how I felt at that moment, with the Rebbe in front of me, and next to me the mashpia, who was ‘the’ model of a Chassid in Russia, R’ Mendel…

At a certain point, a moment before the t’kios, the Rebbe turned around and asked, “Zushe is here? Berel [my brother] is here? And the brothers [Vishedsky] are here?” Since I stood so close, I saw very well the ‘holy service,’ how the Rebbe exchanged shofaros and wrapped them in different cloths, exchanging a bigger shofar for a smaller shofar, and then back again. Literally, a heavenly ‘holy service’ about which we have no comprehension.

The actual event of the t’kios is impossible to describe… There was a feeling inside me that the fate of the entire world was dependent on these moments, and that literally, at this time, the fate of the world was being inscribed according to what was taking place here on the platform. I remember the sobbing and quivering of the Rebbe prior to the t’kios, a scene that is impossible to describe. I also remember the crying of R’ Mendel during the t’kios, he could not calm himself down. I am pretty sure that this was his first Tishrei with the Rebbe.

On the platform there was extraordinary crowding. Among those standing there was also R’ Berel Gurevitch, who was a member of our group. At a certain point, during the t’kios, I sensed that R’ Berel Gurevitch was not feeling well. He was squashed against the wood railing by the people, which apparently was pressing terribly against his ribs. At one point, he began to grunt, and I thought to myself that these might be his final moments. I could not relax despite the loftiness of the moment shrouded in holiness, and I thought that we have to help him somehow, but I did not know what to do.

Having no choice, I began to disturb R’ Mendel and whispered to him that R’ Berel was about to die. R’ Mendel did not respond. I looked again at R’ Berel, feeling helpless, and I saw that his eyes were beginning to widen and his face was completely distorted. I began to strongly nudge R’ Mendel Futerfas, and then, having no choice, he turned to me and whispered, “What do you want? It is a wonderful thing to die now during the t’kios of the Rebbe on the platform of the Rebbe. There can be nothing better than that.” When I heard that, I left R’ Mendel alone.

Immediately following the t’kios, the Rebbe began to say, with the well-known tune, “Ashrei ha’Am yodei serua.” Immediately after that, he removed the tallis partially from his face, and turned to look at the crowd to the right and the left. I remember like today the look that was on his face, very pleasant with a slight smile.

The moment the Rebbe descended from the bima, some of the pressure lessened, and I saw clearly how R’ Berel Gurevitch “came back to life,” with his face returning to a normal color and he began to breathe normally.


Throughout the month, the guests were on the receiving end of a number of rare and moving kiruvim. For example, the Rebbe asked R’ Yochanan Gordon, the gabbai of 770, to give each member of the group an aliya to the Torah. The Rebbe even donated 250 dollars for the aliyos, saying to the gabbai, “For my guests.”

In connection with that, R’ Zushe shared the following, “R’ Yochanan Gordon himself told me about this, and added that he got up the nerve to tell the Rebbe that if he were to sell the aliyos to the general public, he would get a much larger sum. The Rebbe reacted with a broad smile and said to him, “Nu, you will arrange some protektzia for me.”

During that month, R’ Zushe merited to go in for yechidus twice. “Before the yechidus, I was very emotionally overwrought. I remember that when I stood in Gan Eden HaTachton, before entering into the holy, my heart was pounding in such an unusual manner that I felt as if the lapels of my sirtuk were flapping up and down…

“When I opened the door and went inside, I said as I was taught to do, the blessing of SheHechiyanu in a loud voice, and the Rebbe answered, ‘Amen.’ And immediately, the Rebbe said to me in a fatherly tone and with a broad and calming smile, ‘You don’t need to be so emotional.’

“During the yechidus, the Rebbe inquired about a number of things as they were in Russia, but mostly spoke to me about the spiritual questions that I asked. In the second yechidus, I remember that the Rebbe asked me, also in a tone of closeness, ‘Nu, what does your balabusta write to you?’”


For Sukkos, the eleven members of the group received two esrogim and two lulavim from the Rebbe’s hands, and they used these throughout the holiday.

The kiruvim continued on Simchas Torah, when during the recital of the verses of “Ata Horeisa,” the Rebbe instructed that each of them read one of the verses in a loud voice.

“After the Hakafos, at about four in the morning, Shlomo Reinitz, who was the helper in the home of the Rebbe Rayatz, suddenly approached me and said, ‘Run quickly to the apartment of the Rebbe Rayatz. The holiday meal is about to start, and the Rebbe instructed that the guests should participate.’”

As R’ Zushe describes it, “This was an extraordinary spiritual experience. I sat at the table on the side where the Rebbe sat, third or fourth from him. Next to me sat R’ Shmuel Levitin, and across from me a Hungarian Jew whose name I do not recall. Next to him sat the artist R’ Hendel Lieberman, and further down was Rashag, who sat directly opposite the Rebbe. Various people were also standing around.

“I noticed the ambiance of royalty that was present there, which expressed itself even in the fine details; the beautiful dishes, the elegant cutlery, the setting of the table, and of course the atmosphere. Even the mode of service was worthy of note. There were three courses and a dessert, a repast worthy of a royal table. The Rebbe himself poured a thick layer of salt over the fish, to the point that the fish itself was no longer visible. None of those present began to eat until the Rebbe himself began. The Rebbe looked around and did not taste of his food until he had made certain that every one of the guests had received his portion. I paid notice to the fact that the Rebbe was particular not to make use of a knife, nor did he use his left hand which was on his knee the entire time.

“During the meal, they asked the Rebbe various questions, which have certainly been published in a number of places.

“The meal did not end until 5:30, and the Rebbe left the dining room first. Before I exited, Rashag turned to me and said, ‘Bachur’l, bachur’l, bring me a Samech-Vav [the volume of discourses] and a glass of tea.’”

R’ Zushe recalls the following episode from the farbrengen of Shabbos B’Reishis:

“In middle of the farbrengen, the Rebbe announced suddenly, ‘All those from Tashkent should say l’chaim.’ Suddenly, I saw R’ Yisroel Duchman hurry up to the Rebbe’s platform and say, ‘Rebbe, I am from Tashkent.’ The Rebbe looked at him with a big smile and said, ‘Bring a witness.’

“He turned around, looked to the right and looked to the left, and suddenly he saw his father, the elder Chassid, R’ Zalman Duchman. He ran quickly, and due to the tremendous crowding, he managed with great difficulty to pull him out from his place and bring him to the Rebbe, saying, ‘Rebbe, here is my witness.’ The Rebbe looked and said to him with a hearty laugh, ‘A father can’t be a witness.’ Despite the fact that the Rebbe saw how hard he worked in order to bring his father up to the Rebbe’s table, the Rebbe did not accept him as a witness, and still, with an extremely broad smile, the Rebbe gave both of them l’chaim.”


R’ Zushe shared one of the impressions of his experience in yechidus and a follow-up story:

During the yechiduyos, the Rebbe addressed me with the term “du” [singular, familiar], and not as he would often address others with “ihr” [plural, formal], a more respectful mode of address. Of course, I was very happy with that, since by Chassidim any sign of respect from the Rebbe is not seen as a “sign of respect.”

Years passed, and one year I went to the Rebbe with my oldest son, Ephraim. Since he was an outstanding student in Tomchei T’mimim in Kfar Chabad, he was awarded a ticket and a half for his excellence in learning.

We went in together for yechidus, and the Rebbe spent most of the yechidus talking to him. The Rebbe asked him his name, and he stood up straight like a soldier and answered, “I am Ephraim Pruss, talmid of Yeshivas Tomchei T’mimim Kfar Chabad.” The Rebbe smiled in response to the firm tone in which this was said.

“And what are you learning?” the Rebbe asked.

“Pesuhchim,” he answered, in the Lashon Kodesh (Ashkenazic) pronunciation.

“P’sachim,” corrected the Rebbe, as per the correct rules of dikduk and the Ivrit (Sephardic) pronunciation.

The Rebbe went on to ask him about the topics that he was learning, and Ephraim began to lay out with fluency the sugya that he was holding in, as the Rebbe listened intently. At some point, the Rebbe raised his hand to signal that it was enough, and then blessed him with a bounty of brachos, to be a Talmid Chacham, Chassid, Yerei Shamayim and Lamdan, and that he should learn in a manner of reaching the practical halacha in the halachos that pertain to daily life. Before he left, the Rebbe instructed that he should go to the secretariat and get a volume of Tanya with the Rebbe’s signature.

During the yechidus, I noticed that in the presence of my son, the Rebbe deviated from his usual way of addressing me, and addressed me in the formal plural, “ihr.” Since all the previous years the Rebbe spoke to me in the language of “du,” I felt very uncomfortable that the Rebbe was addressing me as “ihr,” and I sensed a certain distancing in that.

It is very possible that the Rebbe sensed what I was thinking to myself, as after my son left the room, the Rebbe turned to me again and in the course of our talking used the term “du” a number of times.

After the yechidus, I was also instructed to go to the secretariat and receive a Tanya with the Rebbe’s signature. In the office of the secretaries, I turned to R’ Leibel Groner and told him the story. I was hoping that he could explain things to me.

He answered me on the spot, “What don’t you understand? When your son was with you, the Rebbe addressed you in a term of respect, so that your son should realize that the Rebbe shows respect to his father. However, once he left, the situation returned to the original state, and to the Rebbe you are still a ‘du.’”


The following is another episode shared by R’ Zushe Pruss:

In those years, when emigres from Russia were few and each one was seen as special, we merited great kiruvim from the Rebbe.

I have many memories and stories in my “luggage” from that Tishrei, and I will share one occurrence that happened with us on Sukkos, a wondrous and heavenly occurrence to which I was a firsthand witness.

It was in middle of the Yom Tov of Sukkos. In those years, the Rebbe would still hold a farbrengen in the large sukka, which was located in the space where the shul’s sukka is today. Even though it was a large sukka that could hold many Chassidim, the crowding and crush were tremendous and it was practically impossible to budge.

Long before the farbrengen was scheduled to begin, the balabatim and the bachurim grabbed places from where they could see and hear. Since I had come from Russia, I stood together with the group of “distinguished” guests who had left Russia, near the Rebbe’s place. The group included the respected Chassidim, R’ Asher Sasonkin, R’ Mendel Futerfas, R’ Lazer Nanes, the brothers R’ Michel and R’ Bentzion Vishedsky, R’ Yisroel Brod, R’ Berel Gurevitch, R’ Elimelech Levenhartz, my father – R’ Shmuel Gross, my brother Berel and me.

As we were standing and waiting for the Rebbe to enter, the heavens opened up and a deluge of rain came pouring down. Within a few moments, the rain penetrated the sukka onto the heads of the hundreds of Chassidim, awaiting the arrival of the Rebbe.

Meanwhile, the Rebbe entered, and I remember well how his face shone in an extraordinary manner. The joy of the holiday was manifest upon his holy countenance. I noted that the Rebbe was wearing a coat.

The Rebbe sat down in his place and immediately began the farbrengen, as the rain continued to pour down without respite. Lightning struck, thunder boomed, and in a given moment a “skylight” opened up in the s’chach and a strong stream of water began to pour onto my head, with the water soaking me from head to toe.

Among the crowd there was some confusion and bewilderment; would the farbrengen continue like this? And if so, for how long?

As I was having these thoughts, the Rebbe suddenly announced, “Nu, it is possible that if we take our coats off the rain will stop.” The Rebbe immediately stood up, removed his raincoat, folded it and placed it on the table next to him.

Obviously, everyone else followed suit. The first one to do so was the Chassid, R’ Moshe Slonim, followed by R’ Yisroel Leibov, and then everyone else. I could not remove my raincoat due to the terrible crowding, although it was effectively useless anyway.

In that instant, and I emphasize that it was in that exact instant, a ray of sunshine peeked out from behind the dark clouds and shone through the “skylight” that had opened in the roof of the sukka. It was a great wonder, since up to that very instant the entire sky was covered with dark and heavy clouds, and suddenly there was a ray of sunshine.

The Rebbe continued to farbreng with great simcha. They sang niggunim and said l’chaim. Of course, the stream of water abated, and I was able to focus somewhat on what was said at the farbrengen.

At the conclusion of the farbrengen, after making a bracha acharona, the Rebbe stood up from his place, put the coat on again, and turned to exit the sukka. An instant after the Rebbe put on his coat, the heavens opened once again and “rains of blessing” continued to pour down over New York City.

Article originally appeared on Beis Moshiach Magazine (http://beismoshiachmagazine.org/).
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