The Ballroom Farbrengens




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    The Ballroom Farbrengens

    From Beis Moshiach Magazine: The Rebbe’s first farbrengen of Kabbolas Hanesius on Yud Shevat 5711 took place in a room that can’t hold more than 200 people when packed as sardines… However, the Rebbe’s farbrengens drew larger and larger crowds and an original solution was found: The Ballroom Farbrengens • Full Article

    The Rebbe’s first farbrengen of Kabbolas Hanesius on Yud Shevat 5711 took place in a room that can’t hold more than 200 people when packed as sardines… However, the Rebbe’s farbrengens drew larger and larger crowds and an original solution was found: The Ballroom Farbrengens

    By Yisroel Yehuda, Beis Moshiach Magazine

    There are not many Chassidim who remember the farbrengens from the first years of the Rebbe’s leadership. This is not just because it was so long ago, but mainly for the simple reason that in those years, only a few dozen Lubavitcher families lived in Crown Heights. At the large weekday farbrengens, held on Yud-Tes Kislev, Yud Shevat, Purim, etc., Anash came from all over New York, and even from Montreal. Nevertheless, their numbers never reached more than a few hundred, and there was room for everyone in the small zal on the first floor of 770.

    As time progressed, the number of Lubavitcher families in New York City, particularly in Crown Heights, continued to grow. Together with this, Chabad activities in the suburban areas outside New York City also grew, thus increasing the number of Chassidim who came to make frequent visits to the “shelter of faith.”

    Slowly, the small zal became too cramped to hold the throngs of Chassidim who wanted to participate in farbrengens. Those who arrived late were forced to stand in the adjoining room or in the hallway, and soon afterwards, even those places were filled to capacity… The crowding in the zal was unbearable, and many of those in attendance were simply unable to concentrate properly on the Divine words emitting from the Rebbe’s holy lips.

    The Organizing Committee, headed in those days by Rabbis Yehuda Leib Groner, Shneur Zalman Gurary, and Shmuel Zalmanov, came up with an idea to arrange the large farbrengens in various ballrooms located in the vicinity of Crown Heights. This would enable the members of the Chassidic community, thirsting to hear the Rebbe’s words, to participate in farbrengens comfortably without disturbances. The proposal was brought to the Rebbe for his approval, and once a positive answer was received, the committee began the process of organizing farbrengens in the nearby large ballrooms.

    Beis Moshiach

    Until then, as mentioned previously, all farbrengens were held in one place only – the small zal on the first floor of 770 – and there was no need to let the community at large know where they would be taking place. With the new arrangements, it became necessary to put notices in the newspapers in order to update the public regarding which ballroom would host the farbrengen.

    In fact, in those days, one could easily find such announcements in the Yiddish newspaper Der Tog Morgen Journal, as publicized by the Organizing Committee, which gave details on the farbrengen, its starting time, and its location. In addition, the announcements provided directions on how to reach the ballroom and information on bus stops where special transportation would pass by and pick up those who wanted to taste the special flavor of a Chassidishe farbrengen with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

    These announcements were usually publicized the day before the farbrengen, however, there were also occasions when they were only printed on the day of the farbrengen itself.

    A few minutes before the appointed time, the Rebbe would get into the private car of one of the Chassidim, or a taxi, and travel to the ballroom. Hundreds of other Chabad Chassidim and friends would then follow him, primarily via the organized bus service, as almost no one had private cars in those days.

    The custom of holding major farbrengens in local ballrooms began in 5714 and continued until 5720, when the “shalash,” the inner courtyard of 770, which had previously served as a parking lot, was completed for use as a proper venue for large farbrengens.

    As mentioned earlier, the Rebbe farbrenged during those years in four different ballrooms, located in close proximity to the Crown Heights neighborhood. Regarding the reasons why farbrengens were periodically moved to different ballrooms, Chassidim explain that the managements in some of these locations did not agree to the holding of more such events, due to concern that the hall would be wrecked by the intensely joyous dancing of the many participants…

    We went out in search of those ballrooms where the Rebbe’s farbrengens were held in those days, to take pictures and hear from elder Chassidim who remember that special time. During the preparation of this article, we also found a large number of photographs from those farbrengens, some of which are being shown here for the first time.


    The first farbrengen of this type was held on Yud-Tes Kislev, 5714, in the Franklin Manor Ballroom. The hall was located on the corner of Union Street and Franklin Avenue, and had room to seat 400 people. In comparison with the small zal, the hall was considered very big. However, due to early publicity in the papers that the Rebbe’s farbrengens would be taking place in larger and more spacious locations, many people close to Lubavitch came who had previously refrained from coming, due to the concern that they would be unable to see or hear the Rebbe without the need to push or be pushed.

    Three years later, another farbrengen was held in this ballroom, on Chof Kislev, 5717. The Chassidim with whom I spoke in the preparation of this article recall to this very day the Rebbe’s sharp words about the kelipa of our times, which comes in the form of “extras” and “luxuries.”

    In those years, the area was bustling with Jewish life, and hundreds of Jews lived in the neighborhood. Today, it is home to only a few Jews, who still make a minyan in the synagogue located near the ballroom.


    Between Flatbush and Bedford Avenues, in  what is now an entirely black neighborhood, was the location of the Biltmore Hotel, the furthest hall from Crown Heights where such farbrengens were held. The hall was situated on a large ground floor area. Today, the building no longer exists.

    Something rather interesting is discovered from perusing the announcements publicized by the Organizing Committee about the farbrengens in this hall. The hall was on Church Street, and since they did not want to mention the street’s name with its unholy connotations, the name was completely ignored. Instead, they simply noted the local high school as the meeting point between Flatbush and Bedford Avenues.

    The first farbrengen held in this hall was on Yud Shevat, 5714. Afterwards, it was also the venue for the farbrengens on Yud Shevat and Purim, 5719. At the Purim 5719 farbrengen, there were a number of interesting “revelations,” and the tmimim of that period remember well the Rebbe’s unique expressions about the perception of “and He separated us,” which tmimim must have.

    At the height of the farbrengen, the Rebbe declared that he would now say, as is customary, a “Purim torah.” Towards the end of the farbrengen, there were several comments directed towards particular individuals who were in attendance.


    The closest hall to 770 was the Gayheart Ballroom, located on the corner of Eastern Parkway and Nostrand Avenue, on the building’s second floor. This hall hosted the farbrengens of Purim 5715, Yud Shevat 5716, Purim 5717, and finally, Yud-Tes Kislev 5718.

    The first farbrengen to be held in this hall has been forever burned into the memory of those who were there This was the famous Purim 5715 farbrengen, during which there was a heavenly inspired vote on wealth.

    At the height of the farbrengen, the Rebbe began to speak about the fact that there are those who complain why our service to G-d demands self-sacrifice. They say that it would be much better if there would be “each one under his vine and under his fig tree,” i.e., everything needed b’gashmiyus – children, health, and sustenance – in sufficient quantity.

    The Rebbe explained that when there is too much gashmiyus, this is liable to interfere with spiritual matters, as we have unfortunately seen with many wealthy people. The test of wealth is a very difficult one, which demands tremendous toil and effort in order to withstand it, and as is written in Tanya, it requires contemplation of several hours.

    The Rebbe paused for a brief moment, then continued: “Nevertheless, let G-d give wealth to every Jew, let them toil in body and soul, and let there be the need for contemplation of several hours in order to nullify the test.”

    After another brief pause, the Rebbe said with a playful look on his face, “In America, everything is brought to a vote. Therefore, all those who agree that there should be an abundance of wealth and don’t care about the toil and effort involved, raise your right hand with a full heart!”

    The Rebbe waited for a moment. Only a few of those present raised their hands. The Rebbe’s playful look disappeared, and he began to speak in a tone of anguish. “Afterwards, they complain that this is lacking and that is lacking. When there is an eis ratzon (an auspicious time) from Above, they made ‘Chabadske shtusim’! What am I going to do with you? In matters pertaining to gashmiyus, people go out and do even in cases of doubt – maybe something will come of it. And now there is a farbrengen with more than a minyan of Jews at an eis ratzonun m’chapt zich arois (and people slip out).

    “This is a matter connected to G-d Himself, yet they pass up the opportunity, as long as they are called ‘baalei mochin’ (people of great intellect)… What can I do?… This will not confuse even spiritual matters, and there will be more time and strength to affect things in this physical world for the strengthening of Torah and mitzvos!”

    Those who raised their hands at that special Purim farbrengen merited an abundance of wealth. The participants in that farbrengen and their children know exactly who.

    On the subject of heavenly inspired conduct, participants in the farbrengen of Yud Shevat, 5716, recall something most interesting. The Rebbe said that there are those who ask why we don’t see miracles in these times as in the times of the previous nesiim. He gave a marvelous response that is most applicable to recent years. “Those who believe in miracles – see miracles; those who have decided to go according to the ways of nature, we won’t ‘break’ the way for them, and thus, they don’t see miracles…”

    On Yud-Tes Kislev, 5718, a very special and joyous farbrengen took place. During the farbrengen, the Rebbe announced a special ‘collection’ for Kfar Chabad ‘Beis’, or in the Rebbe’s words, “The new neighborhood in Kfar Chabad.” The Rebbe requested that everyone contribute “according to his ability, and more than his ability!”

    The Rebbe added, “Since this collection (on Yud-Tes Kislev) is something unusual, therefore, this collection will have something else unusual. With every collection, I take however much they give me, whether I am satisfied with the amount or if I think that they could have given more.”

    “However, this time,” the Rebbe announced, “if I see that they need to give more, then I will tell each person how much he has to add!”

    The Rebbe concluded with a promise. “It is said in general regarding tzedaka, ‘And test me, I pray, in this’, and in particular regarding ‘tzedaka of Eretz Yisrael,’ which comes before all others, especially when connected to Yud-Tes Kislev, Chag HaGeula of the Alter Rebbe, G-d will surely pay many times over to each and every one, at least four times more than the amount that he gives (as is written, ‘four portions will be yours’), and they will even see this with their eyes of flesh!”

    After the conclusion of the sicha, all those assembled handed the Rebbe a card upon which was written the amount they committed themselves to give to the Rebbe. The Rebbe told many of the Chassidim that they should give double, triple, quadruple, etc.

    The Rebbe said regarding one such Chassid: He is in need of success, therefore, he should give several times [as much]! (The Rebbe specified the amount he should give.) Regarding a second Chassid, the Rebbe said: He is need of parnassa, therefore, he has to give several times [as much]! The Rebbe said to one of the Chassidim (whom the Rebbe told to double and triple the amount): I don’t even know from where he will get this amount, however it is said, “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine”! To another Chassid, the Rebbe said: We will demand the amount from the Alter Rebbe!

    In general, the Rebbe appeared very happy throughout all these declarations, and began himself the singing of many of niggunim that were sung in the interim.

    After the collection had been completed, the Rebbe declared, “I want the payments to begin tomorrow, on Friday, Chof Kislev (Erev Shabbos Kodesh Parshas Vayeishev), before Shabbos begins, in order that it should still be connected to Yud-Tes Kislev!” The Rebbe declared several times: Today is Yud-Tes Kislev, which is an eis ratzon!


    On a slope on the corner of Rutland and Albany Avenues, in a one-story building, which today looks abandoned and neglected, is the Albany Manor Ballroom.

    This hall hosted the farbrengens of Yud Shevat and Purim, 5718, Yud-Tes Kislev, 5719, and all the farbrengens in 5720. The farbrengens held in this hall were especially unique. What follows is a brief synopsis of some of the more outstanding highlights:

    The Purim 5718 farbrengen is engraved in Chabad memory as a farbrengen with wondrous revelations and unique utterances that had not been heard at regular gatherings of the sort.

    At the start of the farbrengen, the Rebbe spoke about the obligation of every Chassid to engage himself in the service of tefilla. The Rebbe retold what he had heard from the Rebbe Rayatz at one of the Purim farbrengens about one of the Chassidim in Lubavitch. He was a very simple man and it was hard to believe that he even understood the simple meaning of the words in the davening. However, he was accustomed to daven at great length, not only on Shabbos and Yom Tov, but even on a regular weekday – and not just Shacharis, but even Mincha and Maariv.

    The shul members, who were astounded by this custom, asked him for an explanation of his lengthy davening. His response was that he had heard the Alter Rebbe say that it is written, “‘Remember’ and ‘Observe’ in one utterance.” What does this mean? Every utterance must affect the ‘One’ within it (i.e., G-d must be felt within everything). The Rebbe Rayatz said that this Chassid davened with that saying in mind for many long years.

    The Rebbe shlita learned from this a general instruction for all the Chassidim – every Chassid can daven with avoda. The Rebbe used the expression “mofes chotech” (an incisive proof) that every Chassid, regardless of the level he is holding at, is capable of davening b’avoda.

    As the farbrengen continued, the Rebbe requested that someone volunteer to be “ad d’lo yada” for everyone.

    The farbrengen continued until very late in the evening. Most of the participants left the hall, leaving the Rebbe surrounded by a few minyanim of tmimim and Anash who crowded around the dais and sang niggunim. At one point, they began to sing the niggun “Rachmana d’anei l’aniyei.” The Rebbe asked why they don’t sing “a freiliechen niggun,” so they began to sing the niggun to which in recent years the words “Yechi Adoneinu” are used.

    During the niggunim, the Rebbe said some wondrous things to several of Anash. The Rebbe spoke very deliberately, and in a most unique fashion. The Rebbe demanded from a number of them that they work on themselves in certain matters. To others, he told them to say “l’chaim” on a large cup, while expressing himself in a manner rarely heard on normal occasions.

    At the Purim 5720 farbrengen, a special guest was present – Mr. Shneur Zalman Rubashov – Shazar. R’ Yehuda Leib Groner, the Rebbe MH”M’s secretary, recalls that farbrengen (as printed in Nasi v’Chassid, p. 173):

    “It was apparent that the participation in the farbrengen of Shazar, who sat not far from the Rebbe’s place, made the Rebbe very happy, and caused him to say certain things that were specifically meant for Shazar’s ears. For example, the Rebbe spoke sharply and with much pain about the meaning of, ‘You have chosen us from among all the nations.’ This was a clear reaction to statements that had been made at the time by members of the Israeli government. (Ben-Gurion had proposed that the words, “You have chosen us,” be removed from the prayer liturgy – Author.)

    “The Rebbe spoke specifically, without mentioning his name, about the relation of the guest to the printing of the Alter Rebbe’s writings.

    “I still remember that when the customary singing of the Alter Rebbe’s ‘Niggun of Four Stanzas’ began, Shazar appeared genuinely aroused. He let his cane fall, sat up, arranged the button on his coat, closed his eyes, and began to sway with devotion. The farbrengen lasted close to eight hours, and Shazar participated from start to finish.”

    Rabbi Groner also relates that Shazar left the farbrengen greatly impressed by the fact that the Rebbe spoke for eight hours on one topic!


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