As told by R’ Aaron Rakeffet,
An example of transplanting the Alter Heim to the
The Rebbe was running away, the State Dept pulled him out of
The Rebbe came down, he couldn’t speak, he had had a stroke, his wife spoke for him in Yiddish, her translator was Rose Lieberman, Sharon Mintz’s (Mrs. R’ Adam) grandmother. As they wheeled the Rebbe in, someone strikes up a niggun from the Alter Heim. The Rebbe joins in. People started to cry, even distant from Yiddishkeit. And people swore they wouldn’t be mechallel shabbos then. The women would go to the beauty parlor on Saturday to do their hair for the movie palace Saturday night, the women became shomer shabbos when their kids went to yeshiva. Big thing, suddenly the husbands are going to be home on Saturday!
They brought him to the Greystone Hotel on the
The next morning, they all come in to have breakfast with him, everyone is up & happy. The Rebbe tells them, “Chasidim don’t tell a rebbe what to do, the Rebbe tells the Chasidim what to do. “This is what I’m going to do. I’ll go to
At the end of the month, he calls in the Chasidim, including Rose Lieberman, and her father R’ Cunin, the grandfather of the head shaliach in
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And this is where I come in, because my great-grandfather, Louis Cohen a”h, Yitchak Eliezer b. Yaakov haKohen, in the pre-WWI era a wealthy coat manufacturer, moved to Crown Heights, built the biggest house on President St. (today an empty brick shell r”l, but 20 years ago still a beautiful home. And for wealthy Jews in this beautiful neighborhood of fine homes and boulevards, there should be a beautiful upper-class Orthodox Synagogue, huge Tiffany skylight, limited to 500 families (although by 1923 it had 1000), no families accepted from beyond Utica Avenue in the middle-class neighborhood of Brownsville (where my father’s parents lived in the 1920s). And that synagogue, the Brooklyn Jewish Center, would follow in the idea formulated by Louis Cohen’s older brother Joseph H. Cohen, founder of The Jewish Center on
Unfortunately, 18 months later, another person on the Board decided to affiliate with the fledgling Conservative movement, but as there was little practical difference between Orthodox and Conservative in those days, my great-grandfather remained part of the synagogue.
My grandmother taught dance classes there, directed plays, etc. as a young woman. She was married in the synagogue on Lag Ba’omer in 1926. As the second Jewish Center in the world, it was a “shul with a pool” and a gym, adult ed, Hebrew school, social groups, etc. Today, the building belongs to Lubavitch, and is used as a yeshiva. They hacked out the beautiful main shul, and replaced the space with a huge beis medrash and a library. The things they learn in that beis midrash, well, the school has a loyalty oath that children of non-Meschichst families are not allowed to make fun of children of Meshichist families. But at least it’s a Jewish institution still, not a church or a tile store or a used furniture store.
So why is Lubavitch in
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R’ Rakeffet’s story was part of a larger point, that while YU was about translating Judaism for