40 Years

(courtesy)
(courtesy)

July 1, 1982, was my very first day serving as a Shaliach of the Lubavitcher Rebbe zatzal with Friends of Lubavitch of Bergen county.

Ellie and I were married in June 1981. Ronald Regan was in the first year of his Presidency. The big hit was the new Avraham Fried Album, his first, No Jew Will Be Left Behind, which we listened to on a cassette tape. Bette Davis eyes was the #1 song. Raiders of the Lost Ark was the #1 movie. MASH was a top 10 TV show. And we moved into our beautiful rental on 667 Crown Street in Crown Heights, the 2nd floor of a Brooklyn Brownstone.

We decided together as newlyweds that I would devote one year of study in “Kolel” and that Ellie would be the breadwinner. Every day I walked down Kingston Avenue to study, and Ellie schlepped to Manhattan via the Subway to get to work. I also continued to write for the Moshiach Times as well as doing some editing for the Tzivos Hashem children’s magazine.

From time to time we would make the trip over to Canarsie to visit Ellie’s parents. We did not own a car. We loved hosting guests in our new home.

In September I returned to work for a few weeks for Yosi Biston at Custom Sukah. It was a “Holiday job” I had already been doing for a few years.

Unbeknownst to me, Yisroel Brod of Teaneck, New Jersey was a customer of Yossi’s and had asked Yossi for a recommendation for someone to help him in Teaneck. Yossi suggested me.

And so, 40 years ago, back in 1981, on the first night of Rosh Hashana, I was approached by Yisroel Brod in 770 after davening. He recruited me for the long walk together with him to a Nursing Home in Queens the next morning for Mivtza Shofar. It’s hard to say no to Yisroel.

The next morning gave Yisroel a great opportunity to “sell” Teaneck, New Jersey to me. I mostly listened. Basically, Yisroel had instituted a number of successful ‘hit-and-run” programs and was looking for someone to help develop long-term relationships with our clientele. I would be that guy. I had once worked at his successful Harbor Island Spa at Long Branch, New Jersey Shabbaton program.

We reached the Nursing Home after a two-hour walk only to find out that someone had already been there. Yisroel spoke more on our way back. In the end, I basically told him “Don’t call me, I’ll call you”. First of all, I wasn’t in a rush to leave Crown Heights. I was hoping that I may end up with a full-time job at the Moshiach Times. Ellie and I were hoping to raise our family one day in Crown Heights.

Secondly, until then, the only thing that I knew about New Jersey was from my drives along the Turnpike; a place of many smokestacks. Not very impressive, especially for a Floridian like myself. I figured that when the time came that I could do better.

The months went by. Yisroel stayed in touch. He can be very persistent. I had received some offers for employment in the meantime (Switzerland, Florida). But in February, with our breadwinner Ellie in her 8th month, I agreed to actually visit Teaneck.

Yisroel picked me up in the Arfe Family-sponsored Mitzvah Mobile. We spent the day touring around Bergen County. I was impressed. Definitely, nothing like I had imagined. I was very impressed by Yisroel’s ability to build relationships with a very diverse community. I would eventually be interviewed by his Board of Directors, check out his massive Purim Party in Fort Lee, and receive the Rebbe’s blessings.

And so just one year after our wedding we made one of the most important decisions of our lives and moved into our two-bedroom garden apartment on Walraven Drive.

It would be many years until we would have a Chabad House. In the meantime I gave classes around our kitchen table in our apartment. Our “office” was in the basement of Yisroel’s house. I focused on our programs, and Yisroel focused on fundraising. We made a great team. Many programs we had were held in local Synagogues, the JCC, and at FDU. Programs instituted were “Mishmar”, Dial-A-Jewish-Story, and Melave Malkas. I visited Hebrew Schools and Nursing Homes across the County. Our Hospital Visitation program was a great success. We’d have Lag Baomer parades (and bonfire!), Mishloach Manot, huge Purim parties, Shabatons, and eventually Model Matzah bakeries, Counseling Center, Community Seders, and a model Shofar factory.

It was just me and Yisroel. Finally, after many years, Yisroel decide to purchase a Masonic Temple (at the suggestion of one of my students, Paya Sarah Horowitz) which would eventually be converted into Bergen County’s first-ever Chabad House. (Thank G-d there are many more today).

But that would happen after Yisroel’s decision to make Aliyah, and my decision to become the Executive director.

A student of mine, Faygie Lubliner ob”m, would say how she had written to the Rebbe, asking for programs for “her age” as well, and how months later she read in the paper that I had moved to Teaneck and would be giving classes.

She said that I was the answer from the Rebbe for the request she had made.

I liked that.

About the Author
Rabbi Mordechai Weiss was born in Miami Beach, Florida, and served as an emissary for Chabad in Teaneck, New Jersey for 21 years. Together with his family, he made Aliyah in July 2003 and is the author of "You Come For One Reason But Stay For Another." He is a licensed Tour Guide, a real estate agent for Noam Homes, a father of 12 children, and a grandfather of many. He resides in Mitzpeh Yericho, Israel.
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