I’ve been the Chabad emissary to Minneapolis-St. Paul – the Twin Cities of Minnesota – for over 50 years.
In 1971 – together with Rabbi Manis Friedman – I started Bais Chana, a program where non-religious girls could learn about Judaism. The first year we had 11 girls, the second year we had 47, the third year we had a 110, and it grew from there. Who would have thought that the kernel for Bais Chana – which became a citadel of Torah for women from all over the world – was planted in such an unlikely spot as Minnesota?
A couple of years after we started Bais Chana, which was a seasonal program, a full-time, year-round seminary for girls was founded in Crown Heights called Machon Chana. Because so many girls from Bais Chana were now learning at Machon Chana, and my wife and I were the father and mother figures for these girls, we were invited to lead the Passover Seder there. We did this every year starting in 1974.
In those years, it was the Rebbe’s custom to visit the Seders at various educational institutions before he went home to conduct his own. During the Rebbe’s visit in 1978, the following took place:
The Rebbe came in and inspected the whole place. He looked at the classrooms, went upstairs to the dormitory, and even went to the kitchen. More than a hundred women, including students, teachers and helpers, were watching his every move. As he was leaving, he turned to Rabbi Rabbi Groner, his secretary, and said, “Ver fregt da de fir kashes – Who’s asking the Four Questions here?”
“Feller’s son,” Rabbi Groner replied, referring to my son Mendel who was nine years old at the time.
The Rebbe was on the stairs coming up from the basement dining room where the Seder was being held; he looked over the banister at Mendel and asked him in Yiddish, “Du vayst de fir kashes? Du vayst de fir kashes baal peh? – Do you know the Four Questions? Do you know them by heart?” (more…)