“I Was There When The Rebbe Became Rebbe”




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    “I Was There When The Rebbe Became Rebbe”

    Few people alive with us today were present in the moments that Dor Hashvi’i was formed. Beis Moshiach’s Mendy Dickstein spoke with Reb Shlomo Lundner, a Vizhnitzer Chassid from Bnei Brak who recalled seventy-year-old memories from those momentous days • By Beis Moshiach Magazine • Full Article

    Mendy Dickstein, Beis Moshiach

    Shabbos, parshas Bo, 10 Shevat 5710, at 8:00 in the morning, is when the Rebbe Rayatz, sixth Nasi of Chabad, passed away. Various notes and diaries have come to light over the years in which tmimim and Chassidim wrote to their families and for future generations, how they felt at the time.

    The published diaries then go on to describe the large funeral that took place on Sunday afternoon. Accompanying the text there is usually a picture in black and white of the aron with a sirtuk over it, carried on the shoulders of Chassidim.

    There are few people alive today who were there. I heard about a Vizhnitzer Chassid in Bnei Brak who attended the Rebbe Rayatz’s funeral and was there when the Rebbe accepted the nesius, a year later. I met with him to hear him describe those historic events in the history of Chabad Lubavitch.

    Rabbi Shlomo Lundner is an elder Chassid of Vizhnitz-Monsey. He is 86 and sharp. When he started talking, it was obvious that he has a good memory.

    He was born in 5694 in Bremerhaven, Germany. After Kristallnacht, when his parents realized that there was no future for them in Nazi Germany, they decided to emigrate to the United States. They boarded the last ship out of Germany in 1939 with their three children. The war began a short while later.

    After a difficult time traveling, the family arrived in America. They settled in Pittsburgh but the poor spiritual climate there made his parents fear for the chinuch of their children and they decided to move to where more religious Jews lived. They moved to Williamsburg in Brooklyn in 1940.

    Shlomo went to Yeshivas Torah Vodaas where Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky was rosh yeshiva. His family was not at all Chassidic and yet, they got along well with their Chassidic neighbors.One day, as he walked down the street on his way to daven shacharis, the man later to be the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, Rabbi Mordechai Hager, stopped him and asked him to come in and help complete the minyan. The atmosphere in the Chassidic shul was pleasing and when they asked him to come in, on another day, for a minyan for mincha, he was willing to do so and even stayed for maariv. Between mincha and maariv he listened to a shiur from the rav of the shul, a shiur that illuminated his life with new light, the light of the teachings of the Baal Shem Tov. From that point on he attached himself to the Chassidim and began to adopt their practices.

    As a result, he began to grow a beard which was rare and even odd at that time. His father was quite opposed to this new path his son was taking. Nevertheless, he chose to remain silent regarding his son growing a beard. This restraint continued until Pesach when he told his son to remove the beard, as the halacha says to cut one’s hair and shave in honor of the holiday. He refused and his angry father told him unequivocally that if he had a beard on Pesach, he should find himself another place to have the seder. The young man spent the seder with the rav that he had gotten to know and who later became the Vizhnitzer Rebbe of Monsey.

    In the winter of 5710, the Admor, the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz came to visit the United States. The Admor, who had gone through the Holocaust in Romania, arrived in Eretz Yisrael in 1947 and immediately began rehabilitating the Chassidus. In 1948, he began building Shikun Vizhnitz in Bnei Brak and he went to the U.S. several times for this purpose, to raise the desperately needed funds.

    R’ Shlomo Lundner remembers that the Admor wanted to meet with the Rebbe Rayatz but due to the Rebbe Rayatz’s poor health, this could not occur.

    On Shabbos, parshas Bo, 10 Shevat 5710, the Imrei Chaim of Vizhnitz spent Shabbos in Williamsburg. Of course, all Vizhnitzer Chassidim went to daven and attend the public “tish”meals with the Rebbe from Eretz Yisrael. R’ Shlomo recalls that in the middle of Shabbos came the sad news that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had passed away. The Vizhnitzer Rebbe was greatly saddened. He went to his room and canceled the joint, third Shabbos meal. On motzoei Shabbos, those present could visibly see that he was mourning the passing of the Rebbe Rayatz.

    The next afternoon, the Vizhnitzer Rebbe attended the Rebbe Rayatz’s funeral. R’ Shlomo Lundner was among the Chassidim who went with him and he described how all of religious Jewry in New York were there.

    “All the disputes and differences of opinion, real and imagined, melted away in the face of the larger than life persona of the Rebbe. All knew that he had stood strong against the communist government, had been through the terrors of the Holocaust, and upon arriving in the United States had reestablished the Jewish world which had been destroyed.”

    R’ Lundner remembers that all the yeshivos and talmudei Torah were closed and many of the students and their teachers attended the funeral.

    The funeral left 770 and passed the yeshiva on Bedford and Dean, which was somewhat distant from the main neighborhood. R’ Shlomo himself walked together with the Vizhnitzer Rebbe the long distance from 770 until Dean Street, near the yeshiva, a walk that took over half an hour, with sorrow apparent on his face.


    Motzoei 10 Shevat 5711

    Hundreds of people filled the small zal in 770 to mark the first yartzeit of the Rebbe Rayatz and in honor of the possible coronation of his second son-in-law, Ramash, as the leader of Chabad Chassidim. In fact, at the start of the farbrengen, nobody was sure whether he would agree to accept the mantle of leadership.

    After several sichos and divrei Torah in connection with the yartzeit, one of the elder Chassidim, R’ Avrohom Sender Nemtzov, stood up and proclaimed in Yiddih, “The people ask that the Rebbe say a maamar Chassidus. The sichos are good but the people want Chassidus. May we find favor that the Rebbe should say Chassidus.”

    “In the beis medrash it was silent. Everyone held their breath and with trembling hearts they waited to see how the Rebbe would react,” is how diaries written in those years describe it:

    At 10:40, the Rebbe began the maamar ‘Basi L’Gani’ of the Rebbe Rayatz from 5710 and said (while looking in the printed pamphlet), “In the maamar that the Rebbe gave out for the yartzeit, he begins with Basi L’Gani …” To everyone’s surprise, he began saying for the first time, in the tune used for a maamar, a maamar that began with the words, “Basi L’Gani Achosi Kalla.”

    For a few seconds there was a tumult due to the immense surprise and great joy. There was pushing. But then the crowd stood up and there was silence in the room. All listened to the continuation of the maamar.

    This beautiful diary excerpt that describes in detail and brings to life the acceptance of the leadership of the seventh generation, the last of galus and the first of Geula, uplifts the soul every time one reads it.

    R’ Shlomo Lundner was present at this historic, uplifting moment. At the time, Crown Heights was a Jewish neighborhood. Thousands of Jewish families lived there including many types of Chassidim. Young Shlomo had a good friend who lived a few houses away from 770, from the Kupitz family, Amshinover Chassidim.

    Due to the shaky relationship that Shlomo had with his family, since he chose the way of Chassidus, he often went to the Kupitz house and spent Shabbos in their home.

    One Shabbos, his friend told him that because of the Rebbe Rayatz’s yartzeit, he heard that there was going to be interesting goings-on with his Lubavitcher neighbors and they should be present. They arranged to meet the night that the papers announced that a farbrengen would be held.

    That night of motzoei 10 Shevat 5711, Shlomo Lundner went to 770 without knowing that he was going to experience one of the pivotal moments of our generation, the acceptance of the nesius.

    R’ Shlomo, not being knowledgeable in Chabad ways, does not remember the exact details of the events as they are described in diaries, but he remembers that there was great excitement in the air and a feeling of tension. The crowd, which wasn’t particularly large (about 200 people as he recalls) was tense and excited. This reached a crescendo when the maamar was recited and began to fade when the acceptance of the nesius became a fact.

    In the years that followed, R’ Lundner spent other Shabbosos in Crown Heights at his friend’s house until his move to Eretz Yisrael in 5714.

    He still remembers, and even describes, the appearance of the Rebbe as he walked alone from his home to 770 and back, something which wasn’t common amongst rabbanim at all, especially Admorim, who always walked surrounded by Chassidim.

    “It was something special to see the Rebbe on the street, or even from the window of the house where I was staying, as he walked quickly without an entourage.”

    R’ Shlomo remembers tefillos in the Rebbe’s minyan when the minyan was smaller and the farbrengens were tiny and the Rebbe farbrenged in a much more “heimish” fashion.


    R’ Shlomo Lundner has merited to see great-grandchildren and still, he describes the things that he saw and experienced over 70 years ago with sparkling eyes, a broad smile, and with his words flowing freely with excitement.

    As we spoke, he referred to Lubavitcher friends that he knew like Rabbi Moshe Greenberg a’h, menahel of Tzeirei Chabad in Bnei Brak. He was friends with R’ Moshe and his brother R’ Yosef. He also mentioned knowing Rabbi Nosson Ashkenazi a’h thanks to their working together on the diamond exchange.

    I wished R’ Shlomo long life with joy and nachas and most importantly, that he merit to greet Moshiach!


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