The Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s Uncle: The Untold Story of Rabbi Benzion Schneerson




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    The Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s Uncle: The Untold Story of Rabbi Benzion Schneerson

    It was a night in Tishrei 5718 (1957) when the Rebbe and Rebbetzin made a rare trip out of Brooklyn to the New York International Airport to welcome a special guest by the name of Reb Benzion Schneerson, who was the Rebbetzin’s maternal uncle, brother of Rebbetzin Nechama Dina. After customs and the immigration authorities, the three drove to 770 where the Rebbe went up with the uncle in the elevator to the second floor, for him to meet his sister • Who was this man so little is known about? Beis Moshiach’s Ari Rubin conducted thorough research, including personal interviews, to present a biography of this special, humble man • Full Article

    By Ari Rubin, Beis Moshiach Magazine

    It was Tishrei 5718 when Rabbi Benzion Schneerson a’h, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s uncle arrived in the USA. In honor of this rare occasion, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin went to the airport to welcome him.

    The Rebbe and Rebbetzin left the car and walked together to welcome him. This was late at night. Back then, the area was outdoors and you could see the plane land.

    After he went through customs and the immigration authorities, the three drove to 770 where the Rebbe went up with the uncle in the elevator to the second floor, for him to meet his sister, Rebbetzin Nechama Dina.

    Beis Moshiach

    Throughout his stay in New York, he stayed in the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s house and they personally took care of him.


    R’ Benzion Schneerson was born on 3 Cheshvan 5657 in Kishinev. His father was Rabbi Avrohom Schneerson, the grandson of the Tzemach Tzedek; his mother was Rebbetzin Yocheved.

    When his father, Reb Yisroel Noach of Niezhin, passed away, the Chassidim of Niezhin asked R’ Avrohom to take over his father’s position but he declined. (He later attended the Rebbe’s wedding in Warsaw and sat on the dais next to his son-in-law, the Rebbe Rayatz, and the chassan.)

    Tragically, all of R’ Benzion’s older brothers died young which is why he was called “Benzion” as a segula for long life [The word ‘tziyon’ is like the Yiddish word tzi’en which means to extend.] Another reason was that it was common practice at that time, based on a tradition from the Tzemach Tzedek, for a son born late in life to be named Benzion.

    When he was just ten months old, his sister, Rebbetzin Nechama Dina, married the Rebbe Rayatz in Lubavitch. They lived there in Lubavitch, near the Rebbe Rashab and Rebbetzin Shterna Sarah.

    During the sheva brachos, the Rebbe Rashab founded yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim and appointed his 17-year-old son, Rayatz, as the menahel.


    R’ Benzion eventually went to learn in Lubavitch and during this time he lived with his sister and brother-in-law. For this reason, he had the privilege of eating with the Rebbe Rashab along with his brother-in-law. He was sometimes honored by the Rebbe Rashab to lead the bentching.


    As was done for other yeshiva bachurim, reports were written about young Benzion, about his progress in learning and Chassidishe conduct. These reports were prepared by the yeshiva staff and given to the menahel, Rayatz, who gave them to the Rebbe Rashab.

    In 5674 we found that Rayatz wrote to his father about his brother-in-law, Benzion. The Rebbe Rashab responded, “I was pleased from your report about your brother-in-law and the dear grandson of my uncle that he is diligent in his learning. May Hashem strengthen his mind and heart for Torah and avoda.”

    On one occasion, when the Rebbe Rashab was abroad, he sent his son a message to give “regards to the grandson of my uncle, the dear and eminent young man, Benzion.”

    In 5675, R’ Benzion was drafted. In concern for his brother-in-law, Rayatz sent a minyan of bachurim to the gravesites of the Rebbeim and sent seven pidyonos to the seven Rebbetzins who are buried near the Rebbeim. In a special pidyon nefesh addressed to each of the Rebbetzins, Rayatz wrote to each one in detail how R’ Benzion was related to the Rebbetzin mentioned in the pidyon, with a request that they arouse heavenly mercy

    One year, when the Rebbe Rashab sold his chometz to Rabbi Yaakov Landau (to then sell to a gentile as his own) R’ Benzion was the areiv kablan. The Rebbe Rashab told him to pick up the handkerchief and said to him, “With this you enter into being my areiv kablan.”

    R’ Benzion continued his learning in the yeshiva of Rabbi Yehuda Leib Tzirelson in Kishinev from whom he also received semicha.


    Kislev 5689. The Rebbe and Rebbe’s wedding was approaching and excitement was building. At that time, Rabbi Avrohom Schneerson wrote to his daughter, the Rebbetzin, mother of the kalla, in which he mentioned the desire of R’ Benzion to attend the wedding. To be able to do so, he obtained a special passport.

    At this time, R’ Benzion was 32 and was in business. Sometimes, he did deals with other Chassidim in business.

    In the Rebbe Rayatz’s letters to him, he called him, “my dear, beloved brother-in-law.” The Rebbe Rayatz wrote to him about what was doing with himself and asked him to write what was doing with him.

    R’ Benzion, on his part, showed his concern for his brother-in-law and in one of his letters he wrote asking whether there was any way he could help the Rebbe Rayatz and if so, he awaited instructions.

    In 5693, he married Tzila, daughter of R’ Moshe Horowitz, descendant of the holy Shelah. They lived in Kishinev. R’ Benzion supported himself as a bookkeeper.

    R’ Benzion in his special place next to the Rebbe at the 12 Tammuz 5730 farbrengen


    In 5701, the Germans invaded Kishinev and murdered the Jews; the community was completely destroyed. We don’t know what happened with R’ Benzion at that time aside from the fact that he had to remove his beard and hide his Jewish identity.

    The Rebbe Rayatz, who was in America by then, made inquiries about him many times through various Chassidim and even sent him encouraging messages and blessings for success in the hopes that they would reach his brother-in-law in the midst of the war.

    When he was able, R’ Benzion updated the Rebbe about himself.

    On 10 Shevat 5704, as the war still raged, the Rebbe Rayatz wrote that he would be happy to hear that he and his wife had been saved and had reached safe shores. From a document discovered while preparing this article, it turns out that during that terrible time, R’ Benzion fled to Budapest where he found refuge.

    After World War II, R’ Benzion returned to Kishinev which had been drawn into the Soviet Union. He thus joined thousands of Chabad Chassidim who remained stuck behind the Iron Curtain.

    The prolonged disconnect caused a great deal of worry in Beis Rebbe as is apparent in a letter that Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka wrote afterward: “We didn’t hear from you for so long, we didn’t even know what to think. My mother and I were afraid to speak about you and my mother would always say: What can we do?”


    In 5716, R’ Benzion was finally able to leave and he moved to Eretz Yisrael. Upon arriving there, he was horrified to learn that his luggage was lost on the way and he was in a new country without his possessions.

    If that wasn’t enough, the day he arrived is when the Sinai War broke out on the border with Egypt which made it that much harder to acclimate. Despite this, among the things he still had was something of great value which he sold. He then bought an apartment on Rechov Rashi 14 in Tel Aviv, a very simple apartment in which he lived until he died.

    Tel Aviv in those days was a significant center of Lubavitcher Chassidim. R’ Pinye (Pinchas) Altheus, a friend of Beis Rebbe, helped him tremendously. He helped him buy the apartment and invited him to his home many times. The two wives also struck up a friendship.

    R’ Pinye sent off a letter to Rebbetzin Nechama Dina in which he wrote at length about his concern for and aid to her brother and sister-in-law and about the warm relationship that had sprung up between them.

    R’ Benzion, freed of fear of the KGB sent off a letter to his nephew, the Rebbe in which he listed the names of Chassidim who were behind the Iron Curtain and needed his blessing and help.

    The Rebbe responded with an encouraging letter addressed to “my dear uncle” and with advice and guidance.


    Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka also sent a warm letter to her aunt in which she expressed her feelings, said how they worried over the years, and about how relieved they were as a result of their being freed from Russia and their moving to Eretz Yisrael.

    “Dear Benzion and Tzila,

    “In light of your making aliya, please accept my blessings with all my heart. I wish you much joy in your new, free land. Although my mother and I sent you a telegram, I can express my wishes more freely in a letter. The occurrence is important and great which is why I want to bless you again.

    “…you are already have an apartment of your own; there is no bound to our joy.

    “We didn’t hear from you for so long, we didn’t even know what to think. My mother and I were afraid to speak about you and my mother would always say: What can we do? But all that is behind us, thank G-d. Now, in your own apartment, you will be able to recover and begin to settle down.

    “I speak about this since, in the course of our lives, we have had to move from one country to another. Thank G-d you arrived in a country of warm, pleasant people and you won’t find it difficult to get used to this novelty.

    “Dear Benzion, I am writing this letter now and want to ask so much, but many years have passed. We all experienced great difficulties and in my first letter to you I am speaking about the present and not the past. Lately, my mother is feeling better and her state of mind is much more uplifted. Now, she obviously worries for you. There is nothing for you to worry about… she sends her warm regards, kol tuv.”

    Over the years, R’ Benzion and his sister corresponded often, with the letters conveying a warm and heartfelt connection. The letters were sent regularly, every two weeks, so that if a letter was delayed it was cause for concern.

    Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka often added a few lines to her mother’s letter.

    Rabbi Chanoch Glitzenstein related that one year, he was invited by Rebbetzin Nechama Dina to the Rosh Hashana meal in the home of the Rebbe Rayatz on the second floor of 770. When he went up there after davening, she asked that when the Rebbe went to wash his hands, that he come over to her because she wanted to ask him something. When he went over to her, she asked him excitedly, “Do you know my brother Benzion who lives in Tel Aviv? Were you by him? What is happening with him?”

    The Rebbe often corresponded with the uncle and they occasionally spoke on the phone. In these conversations, R’ Benzion would report on his welfare and on how impressed he was by the Chabad mosdos in Eretz Yisrael.


    R’ Benzion, not only as a grandchild and great-grandson of Chabad leaders, but also in his own right, being a talmid chacham, was considered one of the eminent Chabad Chassidim in the Nachalat Binyamin shul in Tel Aviv.

    By instruction from the Rebbe, he helped with the appointment of R’ Moshe Ashkenazi as rav of the kehilla, being convinced of this by those who davened in the shul.

    Sometimes, he would donate to Chabad mosdos as well as towards the printing of the pamphlets of Torah insights and explanations of the Tzemach Tzedek kollel in Yerushalayim and to the Chabad yeshiva in Tel Aviv.

    Despite his aristocratic lineage, he was modest and was particular to conduct himself with the utmost simplicity. When he walked down the street in Tel Aviv, he did so calmly with no affectations of a dynastic scion. He hardly ever spoke publicly for his fellow Chassidim and when he did speak, his words were measured.

    Nevertheless, discerning people knew to perceive his nobility and refinement. When they wished to honor him, he fled. In contrast, he would greatly honor those he knew and attended their simchas.

    R’ Benzion would go to the Nachalat Binyamin shul every Shabbos and would attend the many farbrengens held after the davening, taking a quiet spot on the side.

    He often attended the shiurim that took place in the homes of Anash, some of which took place also in his own house. At the conclusion of these events, one could see him together with the elder Chassidim walking the streets of Tel Aviv in a dignified manner and listening to their reminiscences.

    One time, a Litvishe rav went to the shul and took R’ Benzion’s place. R’ Benzion noticed this from afar and quickly sat in an available seat. One of the Chassidim rushed to bring the shtender from his usual place but R’ Benzion was annoyed by the person’s having offended the honor of a rav. Those present were astonished by how bothered he was by this.


    For Tishrei 5718, Rebbetzin Nechama Dina sent him a ticket so he would come to New York. R’ Benzion flew to 770 to visit her and his nephews and nieces – the Rebbe, Rashag, and their wives.

    The Rebbetzin had asked R’ Sholom Chaskind a’h to go with them to the airport but he was a few minutes late. When he arrived he saw a note on their door which said they had left.

    When he came out of customs, the Rebbe warmly welcomed R’ Benzion and asked which suitcases were his. He showed the Rebbe his suitcase which was on a cart pushed by a porter. The Rebbe took a bill out of his pocket and gave it to the porter and took the suitcase and began walking with it to the car.

    As soon as the Rebbe turned with the suitcase to go to the car, the driver Y. K. told R’ Benzion that this was the Rebbe. R’ Benzion ran after the Rebbe to take back his suitcase but the Rebbe was walking so quickly that it was hard for him to catch up.

    R’ Benzion would tell this story over and over again, each time with an expression of deep pain on his face over the fact that the Rebbe exerted himself for him.

    When he had yechidus, R’ Benzion asked forgiveness but the Rebbe dismissed this with a hand motion and asked, “Mechila?!”

    Although he was the Rebbe’s uncle, he treated the Rebbe as Rebbe, with the utmost bittul, and not as a relative. The Rebbe showed him great respect and gave him a special place at the davening and farbrengens, next to him. R’ Benzion found it hard to accept this honor for he saw himself as an ordinary Chassid and fled all signs of honor.

    Throughout Tishrei, R’ Benzion ate in the apartment of the Rebbe Rayatz together with the Rebbe and Rashag and the elder Chassidim. During hakafos on Simchas Torah, the Rebbe danced, as always, with Rashag, with their hand on the other’s shoulder. Suddenly, the Rebbe motioned to R’ Benzion to join them.

    After the Yomim Tovim, the Rebbe escorted his uncle to the door as Rebbetzin Nechama Dina parted from him at the car.

    R’ Benzion did not go often to 770 since he did not feel comfortable with the great honor that the Rebbe gave him.

    The next time he went was 24 Sivan 5730. Some say he came because of his sister’s poor health.

    When he arrived, the Rebbe went up to the second floor to greet him and they spoke for fifteen minutes.

    During his visit there was a Yud-Beis Tammuz farbrengen and on this occasion too, the Rebbe honored him to sit next to him while Rashag sat on the other side.

    A few days later, on 18 Tammuz, after Mincha, R’ Benzion had yechidus. The Rebbe stood up for him. At the end of the yechidus, the Rebbe walked him to the door of 770 and waited until he got into the car that was waiting for him with Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka. He was taken to the airport where she parted from her uncle.

    Rebbetzin Nechama Dina passed away on 10 Teves 5731. Moments later, the Rebbe was walking in the hallway of the Rebbe Rayatz’s home, between the room of the nifteres and the yechidus room. The nurse, who had cared for the Rebbetzin, told the Rebbe that her brother, R’ Benzion needed to be notified about the passing of his sister.

    The Rebbe said, “What for?”

    The nurse said that if he was told right away, he could still make it to the funeral. The Rebbe said, “What do we need that for? What is lacking for that? Why does he need to know?”


    On Chanuka 5733, R’ Benzion attended the first gathering of descendants of the Alter Rebbe in Beit HaAm in Yerushalayim. He was very impressed by the event and in his regular phone conversation with the Rebbe, he expressed his amazement by the success of the event.

    They say that one year, the idea was proposed to start a kollel Tiferes Zekeinim in Tel Aviv. Some Chassidim wrote about this to the Rebbe and asked for his blessing. R’ Benzion, who was absent from the meeting, did not sign the letter as did the other Chassidim. When he heard about the letter afterward, he asked, “Why didn’t they call me? Am I not part of Anash? Am I not, chalila, a Chassid of the Rebbe?”

    R’ Benzion Schneerson in Tel Aviv 5728

    The Rebbe asked that the wedding of his niece, Dalya Rotman, daughter of his brother, Rabbi Yisroel Aryeh Leib, have a Chassidic flavor. R’ Efraim Wolf took some of Anash with him including R’ Benzion. They sang the Dalet Bavos and brought great joy to the chassan, the kalla, and the families.

    One year, R’ Efraim Wolf had yechidus in the course of which the Rebbe told him to take a set of sterling silverware from the secretariat, that had been used by the Rebbe Rayatz, for R’ Benzion. Throughout the trip, R’Efraim kept the expensive set in his hand luggage. Upon arriving in Eretz Yisrael, he quickly gave it to R’ Benzion and his wife who were very moved by the gift.

    In addition, the Rebbe sent a monthly stipend to R’ Benzion. It was given to him through R’ Efraim Wolf who also helped him with whatever was needed. R’ Sholom Chaskind and R’ Sholom Dovber Butman, of Anash of Tel Aviv and some of his closest friends, also helped him when the need arose.


    Upon reaching eighty years of age, R’ Benzion had to be hospitalized for his health was deteriorating. At that time, the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Binyamin Klein, went to Eretz Yisrael. He visited R’ Benzion and found him asleep and so he left without saying anything. When he returned to 770 and reported to the Rebbe that he visited his uncle in the hospital, the Rebbe was very pleased.

    R’ Benzion passed away on 16 Teves 5737 and left no children. In his will he said he should be buried with the kittel of the Rebbe Rayatz that he had. He was buried in the Chabad section on Har HaZeisim in Yerushalayim.

    That day, at the Torah reading that took place in 770, the Rebbe said the half-Kaddish at the end of which he told R’ Dovid Raskin to say “Keil Malei Rachamim.” After the Torah reading, the Rebbe remained until the end of the davening (which is not what he usually did during those years) and said all the Kaddeishim.  Then he said Mishnayos from Pirkei Avos and ended with Kaddish d’Rabbanan.

    R’ Efraim Wolf took care of the funeral and mourning. He was in touch with the Rebbe who was updated and gave instructions for the funeral and the wording on the matzeivah. R’ Wolf brought minyanim to the kever and made sure talmidim from the yeshiva in Kfar Chabad said Mishnayos l’ilui nishmaso. Every year on his yahrtzeit, R’ Wolf made a farbrengen l’ilui nishmaso, also as the Rebbe instructed.

    Upon the Rebbe’s request, R’ Wolf sent a list of the doctors who treated R’ Benzion before he passed away. A short time later, the Rebbe sent thank-you letters to these doctors: “I’d like to express once again gratitude to you for your attentiveness regarding the medical treatment of my uncle, Rabbi Benzion Schneerson z’l, especially since it was done graciously etc… I will allow myself to extend through you my heartfelt thanks to all the doctors and nurses who took part in the care of my uncle z’l.”

    After his passing, the Rebbe instructed that a gemach (free loan fund) be started l’ilui nishmaso.

    A few months later, the Rebbe wrote to the widow acknowledging receipt of her letter about the start of activities of the free loan fund, and blessed her and the work that the merit be an elevation for his neshama and for long and good life for her, and that she be able to do goodness and kindness in good health and spirits.


    Mrs. Tzila Schneerson lived many years after her husband’s passing. The Rebbe and Rebbetzin took care of her. The Rebbe sold her chometz every year and sent her matzos.

    Once a week, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka called her to ask how she was, reassuring her that she was not alone and that someone cared about her. Sometimes, the Rebbe would get on the line and spoke with her too.

    One time, when the Rebbetzin called, a nephew of Mrs. Tzila Schneerson answered the phone. He apologized and said she was sleeping. The Rebbe came on the line and asked him who he was and how he was doing, and asked him to tell her when she woke up that they were continuing to support her and if she needed anything she was always invited to contact him or R’ Efraim Wolf.

    Once a month, R’ Efraim would visit her with his wife and give her the Rebbe’s financial support. On one visit, Mrs. Wolf invited Mrs. Schneerson to her son’s wedding. Mrs. Schneerson asked how many invitations she had given out. “250,” was the answer. Mrs. Schneerson was astounded. “You have so many friends? I have only two and a half…”

    The mashpia, R’ Sholom Dovber Butman, said that whenever he made a return trip to Eretz Yisrael he would call Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka and inform her of his trip. One time, she asked him to visit her aunt and let her know that they were concerned for her and she was not alone.

    He did as the Rebbetzin asked and the regards from the Rebbetzin revived her soul.

    Indeed, this was not a rosy period of her life. She was childless and deeply missed her husband. The passage of years did not dull her pain and she cried a lot. It was only because of the nonstop support of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin that some rays of light entered her life and this would take her back to the ‘good days.’

    She lived past the age of 100. Despite her advanced age, she remained a warm conversationalist with a clear mind. She didn’t even need glasses and even when she turned 100 she recognized the people around her. She loved children and when they came to visit her, it was clear how happy it made her. Over the years, she was in close touch with the leading Chabad Chassidim in Tel Aviv and was interested in what was going on in Chabad in Eretz Yisrael. She donated large sums to the yeshiva in Lud l’ilui nishmas her husband and in the yeshiva, a room was dedicated to him.

    She passed away on 29 Kislev 5766, Erev Shabbos parshas Mikeitz and was buried before Shabbos near her husband. After her passing, N’Shei u’Bnos Chabad in Eretz Yisrael decided to memorialize the names of R’ and Mrs. Benzion and Tzila Schneerson by writing a Sefer Torah l’ilui nishmasam.


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