MY GENERAL
June 17, 2015
Beis Moshiach in #977, Obituary

The Chabad community was cast into mourning with the sad news of the passing of RYerachmiel Binyamin Klein on 18 Sivan, one of the Rebbes secretaries for decades. * “My generalis how the Rebbe referred to him when introducing him to Prime Minister Menachem Begin. * For many years he served as the conduit to convey thousands of answers from the Rebbe to shluchim, rabbanim, askanim, and people all over the world.

R’ Klein receiving a hadas from the Rebbe for the dalet minim on Erev SukkosLUBAVITCH IS ROYALTY

R’ Binyamin Klein was born in the Battei Ungarin section of Yerushalayim on 6 Av 5695/1935. His parents were the Chassid, R’ Menachem Klein, the leading figure of the chevra kadisha in Yerushalayim, and Rochel. His mother passed away shortly after his birth, which is why he was named Yerachmiel Binyamin, like the child of Rochel Imeinu who died when giving birth, and Yerachmiel alludes to his mother’s name.

R’ Binyamin was drawn close to Chabad by R’ Avrohom Leib Klein who was a Chabad Chassid and who served as rosh yeshivas “HaMasmidim.” In the years that followed, he continued to draw close to Chassidus through the mashpia, R’ Moshe Weber, from whom he absorbed Chassidus and yiras Shamayim, and also from R’ Nachum Shmaryahu Sasonkin.

In his youth he learned in Toras Emes in Yerushalayim, where he was further exposed to the teachings of Chabad Chassidus. He later said that when he learned in Toras Emes he met an American who was visiting Eretz Yisroel. The man was not a Lubavitcher and Binyamin asked him whether he knew of Lubavitch. The man said yes, and Binyamin asked, which Chassidus is greater, Chassidus X or Lubavitch? The man thought and then said, “Others have big buildings but Lubavitch is royalty.”

When R’ Binyamin related this, he added, “At the time, I did not know what he meant. Later on, when I went to 770 and became the Rebbe’s secretary, I began to understand how fitting the term ‘malchus’ was to describe the Rebbe. By the Rebbe, in every detail you see genuine royal behavior.”

It was Av 5716, when he was almost 21, that he went to learn in Tomchei T’mimim - 770 for a year. He waited six months in Eretz Yisroel until he received the Rebbe’s approval to leave the country in order to learn in 770.

At that time, there were two Chabad outreach institutions that operated in New York: Shaloh (Shiurei Limud HaDas) and Mesibos Shabbos. The latter was run by bachurim with the help of the secretaries. They would take Jewish children from public school and teach them about Judaism. There were also activities with public school children on Wednesdays when they were taken to a nearby shul for Jewish activities. Hundreds of children were drawn close to Judaism in this way and many of them eventually went to yeshivos.

The one who ran the organization at that time was Berel Shemtov, but after a short while he married and he asked Binyamin Klein to take over, which he did.

In this capacity, he spoke a lot with the head secretary, R’ Chadakov, who got to know the young bachur from Yerushalayim.

MEMBER OF THE SECRETARIAT

On 21 Adar 5721, R’ Binyamin married his wife Laya, daughter of R’ Mordechai Shusterman, who was the baal koreh in 770 and ran a print shop where many sifrei Chassidus were printed.

Before the wedding he had yechidus and the Rebbe said to him on his own initiative, “As far as what to do after the wedding, go to R’ Chadakov and talk to him about it.”

R’ Klein himself said about that conversation with the Rebbe that it changed his life, “It was a week after my wedding and the Rebbe called me to his room and said, ‘I suggest that you work for me.’ The Rebbe said precisely what job he had in mind. The Rebbe always used the word ‘suggestion.’ He never gave orders.

“In that meeting, the Rebbe said, ‘According to protocol, you need to go to R’ Chadakov and he will officially give you the job.’ The Rebbe was extremely organized and despite his supreme authority he told me to go to R’ Chadakov.

“When he saw that I looked very serious upon hearing this suggestion, he said, ‘If you want, I will arrange a meeting with R’ Chadakov so it won’t be hard for you to begin.’

“The Rebbe immediately went to the internal phone and dialed R’ Chadakov and said, ‘Klein is here now.’ The Rebbe always referred to his secretaries by their last names. ‘I want, as we agreed upon prior, that he go to you now, to meet you.’ I am being precise about each word.

“As soon as I left the Rebbe’s room, I went to R’ Chadakov and he told me what my job consisted of. Of course I agreed to all the details, but then R’ Chadakov added a very important rule: ‘You cannot avoid noticing what is going on around you while you work in the Rebbe’s presence, for you have eyes. You must hear, because you have ears. But what I demand and ask of you is not to talk and repeat to anyone a single word of what goes on here.’

“Since then, I’ve been in this position, extremely close to the holy of holies.”

In the first months after he married, the Rebbe told him to learn with a chavrusa (study partner) for half a day and for the other half to work in the office. Since he had a hard time finding a suitable chavrusa, he began learning with the Naroler Rav who lived on Eastern Parkway between Albany and Troy. The two of them learned Mikvaos together.

The young couple needed to support themselves and the Rebbe, who as mentioned already had his eye on him, told him that his father-in-law, R’ Mordechai Shusterman, would pay half his salary. “I will give you a sum to equal that of your father-in-law,” said the Rebbe, since R’ Binyamin had already begun doing various jobs as a secretary.

Less than half a year later, the suggestion arose that the young couple go to Australia on shlichus and help found the mosdos there. “At that time, a few months after I had begun working in the office, the Rebbe told me to go and help the shluchim in Australia. I went there under the auspices of the secretariat and had to report to the Rebbe about what could be done to establish Chabad mosdos.”

The couple left on Thursday, Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5722. One of the secretaries documented their going on shlichus in a special diary, from the perspective of “behind the scenes” from inside the holy, when the Rebbe expressed interest in their accompaniment to the airport, questions about various details about their going and the trip, etc.

“In the morning, the Rebbe asked me when Binyamin Klein and his wife were going. He also asked about the goodbye party and I told him about the speeches and that there weren’t many participants. The Rebbe asked why.”

After Maariv, the Rebbe himself went out to escort the Klein couple on their way to the airport.

The next day too, the Rebbe asked about details of the trip and how they were sent off. The secretary said that men, bachurim and N’shei Chabad went to the airport to see them off. The Rebbe asked what happened at the airport and the secretary said, “They sang and danced a little.” He added that the couple cried a lot. The Rebbe asked, “Binyamin too? That is from where they parted?” The secretary responded in the affirmative, and concluded his description by saying, “And I saw that his [the Rebbe’s] faced changed a bit.”

The shlichus in Australia was faced with many difficulties. When they wanted to start a Chabad yeshiva, the hanhala of the community yeshiva was afraid that the new yeshiva would adversely affect them. After a brief time in Australia, R’ Binyamin told the Rebbe that nothing could be done about this and the Rebbe said, “If that’s the case, then better return to New York.”

WORKING AT THE REBBE’S SIDE

As soon as R’ Binyamin returned to New York, he was asked to continue working in the Rebbe’s office alongside R’ Chadakov.

The Rebbe’s heart attack at the beginning of 5738 caused the other members of the secretariat to become closer to the Rebbe (as prior to that, R’ Chadakov usually handled all direct contact with the Rebbe). “In those days, we were with the Rebbe 24 hours a day and naturally, we became close to the Rebbe,” he said.

In those years, R’ Binyamin worked mainly on conveying the Rebbe’s answers to questioners. Most of the answers had been written by the Rebbe and the answer was sent to the questioner. In other cases, the Rebbe would write his answer on the paper with the question and his job was to repeat it orally to the questioner. In this case, the Rebbe would tear the paper into two parts with the secretary given the answer and only the name of the questioner, while the part with the question remained with the Rebbe.

“When you convey the answer, tell the questioner that he can ask other questions without hesitation. Nobody but I reads it,” said the Rebbe.

“Sometimes, the Rebbe would dictate to me what I was to convey in his name and after I wrote it down, the Rebbe asked me to read it and explain. Apparently he wanted to see how I understood it so as to ascertain that I would convey the answer as he intended.”

Memories of the early years were always with R’ Binyamin. Here he tells about one of his first assignments:

“R’ Chadakov told me that the Rebbe wants to meet with me and I should stand near the door to the Rebbe’s room in Gan Eden HaTachton. I was very nervous, but the door to the room soon opened and the Rebbe said this was a confidential matter. ‘There is an X-ray here that was sent from Eretz Yisroel. Take it to a certain doctor on the West Side of Manhattan and ask his opinion and tell me what he said. Nobody should see this aside from him.’”

In the early years, the Rebbe himself would go to the secretaries and take the letters addressed to him. There was a desk in the corner of the room and whoever wanted to give a letter to the Rebbe would put it there. It was called “the Rebbe’s corner.” In those days, it was only when the Rebbe summoned a secretary from the office that he went. In later years, it happened more and more that the secretaries would go to the Rebbe’s room after the davening when the Rebbe indicated. As the workload increased, R’ Binyamin would go to the Rebbe several times each day. “Even when I went in for the hundredth time, it was like the first time. You could never know what awaited you behind the door,” he once said.

“Every time we entered the Rebbe’s room, it was only by invitation of the Rebbe on the internal phone. Even when this happened a few times a day, the Rebbe always prefaced it apologetically and as a request, ‘If it’s not difficult for you, please come in …’ When he asked me to do something, he said, ‘If it’s not difficult for you.’

“The Rebbe also utilized the car rides when we were alone for talking or giving over answers in writing so nobody would know about it. I remember one time when the Rebbe spoke with me for half an hour in the car, on President Street, when we came back from the mikva to the Rebbe’s house. The Rebbe spoke sharply and animatedly about something and I stopped the car so I could concentrate and listen better. On such occasions, the Rebbe spoke in the same style as he did with sichos kodesh. First he would say the point and then bring proof.”

NIGHTTIME DUTY

The secretaries’ work was demanding and R’ Binyamin was at work all day, starting at nine in the morning and until one or two at night if there were no private audiences. If there were private audiences, he might stay there until dawn.

Whenever the Rebbe wanted one of the secretaries, he would call on the internal phone between his room and the secretaries’ office and would ask for who he wanted. “He always called me Klein. It was first in the winter of 5738, when we stayed in his room at night (after the heart attack) that he sometimes called me Binyamin.”

On yechidus nights, he would often stay to prepare the order of who went in, to escort the people in and out of yechidus, and to urge on those who were in the Rebbe’s room for a long time (this job was shared with the secretary, R’ Leibel Groner). He sometimes had to open the door and urge people to leave. R’ Binyamin certainly remembered those cases and told about one of them:

“Once, the elder R’ Kovalsky had yechidus and stayed a long time. I walked into the room and said that time was pressing, the line was long, and the hour was late. The Rebbe said to him, ‘You have to do what R’ Klein asks; otherwise he won’t let you in again.’”

Another story he told:

“There was a woman who had yechidus and waited for her turn patiently. Unlike others who insisted strongly on having their assigned slot she allowed others to go ahead of her and so she went in last, toward morning.

“Yechidus usually began at eight at night when I was in charge of sending people in and then R’ Groner came. That night, R’ Groner did not come and I replaced him.

“When it was finally her turn, she spent an entire hour there. I opened the door after a short time and saw that the Rebbe was sitting and speaking and I did not disturb. Another time I opened the door, I saw the Rebbe standing and still speaking. I left again. The third time, a few minutes later, I saw the Rebbe move away from his chair and continue to answer her and talk to her while taking his coat from the closet and getting ready to leave, but she continued talking. When the Rebbe started leaving the room, she continued to follow him and to speak to the Rebbe until he left 770.

“The Rebbe said good night as he always did and went home. A few minutes later, the Rebbe called me and told me to take money from the secretariat and ask two bachurim to arrange transportation for the woman to her home.”

THE MAN BEHIND THE SCENES

Confidentiality was a major component of the secretaries’ work. There were a number of instances in which the Rebbe told him to send secret messages and in order to be sure that nobody would hear anything, the Rebbe told him to make the call from his office. Or, he told R’ Binyamin to call when nobody was in the secretariat office or from his home.

Sometimes these were private matters and sometimes matters that affected the public, which sometimes dealt with saving the lives of Jews in various countries.

“The Rebbe always said that the confidential way was better and more effective,” he said.

R’ Klein also was placed in charge of the Rebbe’s communications with the government and security establishment in Israel.

“Originally, perhaps it was because I am Israeli born,” he once said, “but that is certainly not the main reason. The reason seems to have to do with the following facts. First, I was always in the office, from morning until the Rebbe left 770. I never had set work hours; I was always available. Second, I was the middleman between R’ Chadakov and the public and later on, also between R’ Chadakov and the Rebbe. Therefore, all the secret missions and secret communications that R’ Chadakov oversaw, went through me so I was already involved. That is how I developed connections with members of diplomatic missions, military people, consulates, and the media.”

In his role, R’ Klein knew that before every important decision there were Israeli government ministers who would first ascertain “what will the Lubavitcher Rebbe say about this.” Before deciding, they would contact the Rebbe. Many of the politicians, even from Mapai, viewed the Rebbe as someone special for they knew that the Rebbe’s involvement in Israeli matters was not that of a politician but of someone who truly cared. They regarded the Rebbe with tremendous admiration.

Over the years, R’ Binyamin dealt with many senior figures in Shabak and the Mossad as directed by the Rebbe. Most of these encounters and assignments have not been publicized and may never be.

Quite a few members of the security establishment would regularly convey secret messages to the Rebbe including updates and developments. They did not do this surreptitiously, but as part of their official job. Often, the government wanted the Rebbe to know. Various military and security people were aware that the Rebbe had no agenda and that he truly wanted what was best for the nation.

R’ Binyamin related:

We once had General Aharon Yariv here, head of Military Intelligence. When he left the Rebbe’s room he asked me, ‘Are you sure that the Rebbe was never in Eretz Yisroel? I started giving reasons why we don’t need to hold on to the territories and the Rebbe proved to me, with the geography, why a withdrawal is dangerous - over here are mountains and here are hills, and here is a valley …’ He was flabbergasted. A similar thing happened with Ariel Sharon.”

R’ Binyamin often traveled to Eretz Yisroel on assignments from the Rebbe. There were times that he himself did not know about a trip until right before, due to the secrecy. He once flew on a mission for the Rebbe to Eretz Yisroel. He landed in the morning and was already on his way back that same evening. The customs officer who examined his passport expressed his surprise, “What took just a day?”

R’ Binyamin replied, “I came to visit someone.”

The customs officer found the answer suspicious so he called the chief of security who was his supervisor. The latter asked R’ Klein some questions and only after he introduced himself as the secretary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe did he allow him to go on his way.

“Every time I returned from a trip to Eretz Yisroel, the Rebbe wanted detailed reports of every meeting and visit I made. If for example I visited a certain school, the Rebbe was not satisfied with general impressions but wanted to know everything - how many students there were, what did they learn in the morning, and what did they learn in the evening, who did I meet, who didn’t I meet. When I brought these reports to the Rebbe, he would listen intently. There were times that aside from the oral report, the Rebbe wanted everything in writing.”

R’ Binyamin maintained extensive communications with the leaders of the security establishment, including the heads of the Mossad, but he was never willing to open his mouth about any of this except for the following story:

“One time, they called me from the government and said that someone in a top secret position would be coming to the US in two days and he wanted to see the Rebbe, but his name could not be used. They asked me to ask the Rebbe whether he would be willing to receive him. It was very odd because it never happened that a person’s name was not said. But I was only a conduit whose job it was to convey messages. I went to the Rebbe and repeated their question. The Rebbe immediately told me to tell them he could come.

“The person came two days later. He went in and stayed in the Rebbe’s office for two hours. When he came out he said who he was and it turned out he was one of the senior officials of the Mossad. He had to identify himself only because it was necessary to keep the lines of communication open regarding the issue for which he had come to the Rebbe.”

The Rebbe had a vast range of contacts with leading government and military officials in Eretz Yisroel. The Israeli government received counsel and help from the Rebbe. R’ Binyamin related an example:

“The Rebbe once suggested that the government buy oil from Norway which would have been a change in Israeli foreign policy. They did it. There was also advice and guidance regarding buying weapons on certain occasions. Another time they needed something from Belgium for Israeli intelligence. I called the shliach there and asked him to find out a certain thing. He did not even know why, but it was for Israeli intelligence.”

Members of Israeli intelligence often sought to know the Rebbe’s opinion on timely matters. Here too, the Rebbe insisted on extreme confidentiality. R’ Binyamin Klein, the man of secrets and shadow communications was the one who received the letters via diplomatic mail. When the Rebbe answered their letter, he preferred the most secret way. He would convey messages in various ways - someone being sent to 770 to receive the letter or R’ Binyamin sending the letter with someone traveling to Eretz Yisroel, and the like.

When Prime Minister Begin made his famous visit to the Rebbe and came with his entourage, the Rebbe referred to R’ Klein as, “My general.”

MAN OF CHESED WHO LOVED THE T’MIMIM

As someone who was orphaned from a young age and was raised in an orphanage, R’ Binyamin grew up surrounded by men of chesed who extended themselves for others less fortunate, and this left on him a deep imprint of love for every Jew and doing unlimited chesed.

“When he was a boy in elementary school and when he grew older, his good heart and his readiness to help anyone who asked were outstanding,” said his friend of those days, R’ Tuvia Blau.

R’ Levi Yitzchok Garelik, his son-in-law, tells about his sensitivity:

“On my first visit to the Rebbe, I went to the secretaries’ office to buy a siddur (Kehot s’farim were sold there at the time). R’ Binyamin welcomed me very warmly. As we spoke, he asked me what my hobby is and I said I collected stamps. Four months after I returned to Italy, I received a package from him, full of stamps. I was so touched by the attention to a little boy by someone who was so busy.

Although he was tethered to Beis Chayeinu for decades, the short windows of time that he had he devoted to others, graciously, willingly, and as was his wont, with the utmost confidentiality.

Bachurim and young married men as well as older householders knew that if they needed financial help, R’ Binyamin was the one to ask for a loan. He did not ask for guarantors even when they were large sums of money, and he never turned anyone away empty-handed.

R’ Binyamin did not wait for people to approach him. When he heard about someone in the neighborhood whose financial state was unstable, he began visiting him occasionally and gave him nice sums of money.

In Nachalat Har Chabad there are two young men who went on K’vutza a decade ago but “did not find themselves.” R’ Binyamin noticed the two of them walking around and began being mekarev them. When they asked him to farbreng with their chevra, he did not hesitate to agree for he knew how much they needed it. He also knew that if it wouldn’t be him, how would the farbrengen look? So he immediately said yes.

R’ Yehuda Eidelkopf, a shliach, said that decades ago in his youth, he came from France to learn in 770. The one who helped him and hosted him whether it was to grab a bite Shabbos morning or a quick kiddush before the Rebbe’s farbrengen, was R’ Binyamin Klein.

“R’ Klein was the Rebbe’s repository of secrets, a secretary whose day was packed with work, but he still took an interest in the T’mimim. In ways known only to him, he would know who lacked something, who needed help, and he would quietly help those in need.”

Many men consulted with him, whether because he knew the Rebbe’s view on various topics out of the thousands of answers that passed through him, or because of his life experience.

Couples with shalom bayis problems who wanted to ask the Rebbe about certain things but were embarrassed to put it into writing, trusted his complete discretion and would go to R’ Binyamin’s house and confide all the details to him. R’ Binyamin would then pass the information along to the Rebbe and would tell the couple what the Rebbe’s response was.

SUDDEN PASSING

At the age of 79, he went to sleep and did not wake up. The sad news spread quickly among Anash in Crown Heights and in Chabad communities around the world.

R’ Klein is survived by his wife Laya and his children on shlichus: Rochel Gordon – London; Feiga Sudak - Edgeware; Chana Garelik - Crown Heights; Shterna Sara Krinsky - New Hampshire; Levi Yitzchok - Memphis; Esther Ciment - Arkansas; Rivka Grossbaum - Minnesota; Devorah Schmerling - Far Rockaway; Miriam Raizel Moskowitz - Chicago; Yaakov - Moscow, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

 

POWERFUL MOMENT

R’ Binyamin Klein also handled matters relating to the Rebbe’s home as the need arose. Every year he would bring wine and matzos to the Rebbe’s house for Pesach. Later on, when the Rebbetzin had problems with her feet, the Rebbe told him to take the Rebbetzin for treatment. When he went to the Rebbetzin, she refused and said, “Thank you for the help but I will manage on my own.” It was only when she heard that the Rebbe told him to help her that she conceded.

The day before the Rebbetzin passed away, R’ Binyomin was in the hospital after having undergone an operation. That night, the Rebbetzin was taken to the hospital and at about four in the morning, his wife called and told him the sad news of her passing. R’ Binyamin waited a few hours until the doctor allowed him to leave and then rushed to the Rebbe’s house.

“At the Rebbe’s house they were already saying T’hillim, and when R’ Groner noticed me, he said that the Rebbe was looking for me. I went upstairs and to my surprise, the Rebbe restrained his emotions and greeted me with a smile. I was very emotional and I began to cry but the Rebbe, sensitively, smiled and said, ‘Surely you have permission from the doctor to be here …’

“Only after that did the Rebbe speak about matters that had to do with his family and how to handle matters.

“It was a spine-tingling moment, one of those times I never forgot.”

 

IN GOOD COMPANY

His son-in-law, shliach in Far Rockaway, R’ Pesach Tzvi Schmerling, relates:

On a number of occasions, R’ Binyamin would say that one does not ask questions about the Rebbe’s conduct and throughout the years, he never asked why the Rebbe did or said something. But one time, he told me of an exception (I wrote this down right after hearing the story from him).

One morning, as I drove the Rebbe from his house to 770, he said, if it wasn’t too difficult for me, I should come to him afterward. When we arrived, I followed the Rebbe to his room. The Rebbe showed me a letter he had received from someone in Kfar Chabad who complained to the Rebbe that on my last visit to Kfar Chabad, I had not visited him, and he had all sorts of interpretations etc.

What actually happened was, some time before this, I had been in Eretz Yisroel and had to bring a package from my father-in-law, R’ Mordechai Shusterman, to his sister, Mrs. Golda Nadel, who lived in Kfar Chabad. When I left her house, the Mara D’Asra, R’ Mordechai Shmuel Ashkenazi, met me and he invited me to come in to see him for a few minutes and have a cup of tea. I did so.

When I left his house, R’ Mendel Futerfas met me, and he also schlepped me to his house. Then I passed by the home of the person who wrote the letter and I saw his wife outside and asked her whether her husband was home and she said no. I said I would call later and she said the phone wasn’t working. I asked her to give him my regards.

I related all this to the Rebbe but since this upset me, I veered from my usual practice and this one and only time I asked the Rebbe why he should believe stories like this that people wrote to him.

The Rebbe said that if he believed everything that was written to him, he would have to “chase out everybody from here.”

But the Rebbe saw that this still upset me and he added that I shouldn’t care so much about it since “you are in good company, because they write all kinds of things about me too.”

When R’ Binyamin related this, he was still emotional over the unpleasantness that he had actually questioned the Rebbe, and on the other hand, by the conciliatory words that the Rebbe said to him so lovingly.

 

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