I grew up in a Chabad home in Toronto where, at a very early age, I was influenced by the Rebbe.
Before I ever met him, I knew the Rebbe was a force in the life of my family. I remember letters addressed to my father coming from the Rebbe. My father never just ripped the letter open. He prepared for reading the Rebbe’s words. He would wash his hands and put on a gartel – the cloth belt worn by chasidim – and only then would he read the letter. Most of the times, he didn’t share with us kids what the Rebbe wrote, but whenever that distinctive envelope arrived, we felt a special excitement in the home.
From time to time, we would travel to visit my grandparents in New York for Sukkot, and there was always such great anticipation, because we would be able to participate in the Rebbe’s farbrengens and possibly see the Rebbe in a private audience.
Even as a child, I distinctly remember the first time that happened. It was around 1954 and I was only five years old at the time, and although I certainly didn’t understand the importance of the Rebbe, I could plainly see his majesty. So I was in awe.
I recall that he asked me about my studies. The mere fact that he gave me any attention at all – and also to my siblings, whom he addressed each in a personal way – indicated a tremendous sensitivity toward children.
I remember that at the farbrengens around Simchas Torah time, the custom was for the young children to get up on a table and sing a song. Afterwards, the Rebbe would direct someone to give us grape juice so we could say L’Chaim. It was a beautiful thing – to give the children center stage in front of all the adults. More importantly, he was also sowing seeds that would flourish later. The Rebbe wasn’t just making a kind gesture by paying attention to children – the Rebbe was nurturing a future generation.