Gheula Canarutto Nemni

How the Rebbe changed my life when I was 15

I was 15 and had many questions, yet I was too ashamed to ask my teachers and my rabbis, so I just kept them hidden in my heart. One day, one of my teachers told me she was leaving for New York and she asked me if I wanted to send a letter to the Rebbe. It was really strange, but I felt more relaxed and less embarrassed relating my doubts to the Rebbe rather talking to the people I knew.

So I sat down and started pouring out my heart.

Dear Rebbe,

There is a question that is really annoying me. I think it is more important to behave and be a good person, rather than concentrating on our exterior aspect, like what we wear, how long our sleeves are, what parts of the body we are cover, etc. I see people who are very careful about these details who, at the end of the day, do not respect others. I imagine G-d prefers that we put all our efforts in trying to become better people with high moral values, rather than concentrating on wearing a pair of trousers or a skirt that covers the knee.

I ask a blessing for all my family


After one month, my teacher came back from New York.

“I brought you the Rebbe’s answer,” she told me.

I opened the envelope.

There were two rows.

Both the things you mention are rules of our holy Torah.

I will pray for your family

I was 15 and I was not struck by the fact that the spiritual leader of our generation had answered me.

I was not surprised that the person who was standing for hours and hours to bless and smile and advise thousands of people who came from all over the world to see him, had found time to answer to my letter.

I didn’t ask myself how it was possible that a person who met presidents, generals of the army, famous celebrities and rabbis, had taken a pen and a sheet of paper to answer me.

He didn’t reproach me for my question, that maybe could have been seen as a little impertinent.

He answered me with respect, as you would answer an adult and an important dignitary.

That was my first leadership lesson.

A real leader does not use his influence to build something for himself. He is not a manager who uses his authority to make others feel tiny and weak.

A real leader gives his whole self in order to create other leaders, he doesn’t fear, and indeed maybe even hopes, that his students become as great as him.

A real leader strenghtens those who are around him, and nurtures their self esteem. He triggers positive chain reactions and makes everyone feel important, whether they are simple people or presidents.

If you are wondering what the secret was behind the Rebbe’s ability to rejuvenate and give life again to Judaism all around the world, read what Rabbi Sacks says about leadership.

A real leader does not use his power to force people to behave as he wants, but he transmits  his vision and his ideals to his students so that they can bring them forth.

At the age of 15, the Rebbe taught me that every question deserves an answer and every human being deserves respect.

And he taught me that a real leader doesn’t use his power to diminish others, but he uses his influence to empower them.

Even if we don’t see the Rebbe with our physical eyes, his guidance, his influence, his light and energy are still empowering us.

Gheula Canarutto Nemni




About the Author
Gheula Canarutto Nemni is a professor and novelist living in Milan, Italy. Her most recent novel '(Non) si può avere tutto' Mondadori 2015 tells the story of an Italian Orthodox Jewish girl and her challenges in the professional world in Milan.
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