Longest Day Of All
From A Diary Of One Of The Tmimim During 22 Shvat 5748
is late at night, yet we are still overcome by all the details of this
dreadful day. Perhaps writing things down will help lighten the heaviness
that weighs on our hearts. This is what happened:
night, at 1:25 a.m., a few of us were sitting in our room, talking. We
hadn’t gone to sleep yet, when suddenly one of our friends entered. He
looked frightened and teary-eyed. He asked us to shut the tape of
Chassidic music. While making this seemingly strange request he added in a
sad voice, “Bad news. The Rebbetzin…”
took a few seconds until we absorbed the terrible news. Without saying a
word, we got dressed to go out and silently left the building. Other bachurim
who had heard the news were also coming down the steps. We crossed the
street to the side of 770. A few hundred people were already standing
outside, all silent except for some whispering now and again. When exactly
did it happen? How did it take place? Where is the Rebbe shlita?
What was the cause of death? Was it sudden or were there problems
beforehand? The questions buzzed around our heads, but nobody had any
few dozen Tmimim sat and said Tehillim. We took a Tehillim too and
sat down quietly and began reading. The small zal of 770 filled up
with many bachurim and married men who had heard the news. They all
said Tehillim silently.
the meantime, we heard that the Rebbetzin had passed away at 12:45 a.m.,
and that the Rebbe was at home. Late in the evening, the Rebbetzin, a’h,
had not been feeling well and was taken to the hospital. She walked to the
car as the Rebbe accompanied her and spoke to her. She hadn’t been
feeling well the past few days, and her situation turned more critical
that night, which was why she was taken to the hospital. Apparently her
condition was quite serious (they said she coughed up blood) and that they
gave her strong medication for her heart. She passed away while being
treated, may her merits protect us.
the doorway at 1304 President Street, stood a number of Anash and mekuravim.
They didn’t know who would be the one to announce the sad news. R’
Leibel Groner hurried to 770 to get the Rebbe’s tallis and tefillin.
He looked for R’ Dovid Raskin, but when he couldn’t locate him, he
said they should make a lottery among the bachurim to say Tehillim
in the minyan by the Rebbetzin, z’l, which should change
every hour. This took a long time to arrange, but we finally finished and
put a list on the wall with the names of the boys for the first hour, the
second hour and so on. We heard that the aron (casket) had
not yet arrived at the house. Nevertheless, many bachurim went to
President Street and waited there for it. A large crowd was already
mikva on Eastern Parkway opened at about 3:00 a.m. We were told
that whoever wanted to participate in saying Tehillim had to immerse in
the mikva first. We heard that the funeral would take place at
12:00 p.m. the next day, and that the tahara would take place at
aron arrived at 5:30 a.m. and the Rebbe walked towards it slowly.
His head was slightly bent and his holy eyes were open wide, gazing at the
aron and the chevra kadisha who carried it. The Rebbe
followed the aron into the house. Only the chevra kadisha followed
him, in order to arrange things.
lighting candles, the Rebbe went up to the second floor. At first we kept
to the lottery, more or less, though the time for each group was only ten
minutes. Then, due to the huge crowd, a long line formed outside the house
of thousands of people who wanted to enter the house to say Tehillim. The
new arrangement was that a group of a few dozen people entered the house
for five minutes and then exited by a back door, at which point a new
passed through a small foyer to a larger room, and then into the living
room. A general view of the room showed simplicity. The lack of elegance
and modernism was very evident. The house overall was quite simple, with
uncarpeted floors and plain walls. We finally reached the kitchen at the
end of the house. Before the kitchen was a flight of stairs that leads to
the next floor. On the right side of the small kitchen lay the Rebbetzin,
wrapped in a white sheet, with plant stalks beneath her. Her head was
towards the south, and there were two large wax candles nearby.
stood in line and said Tehillim, slowly moving towards the exit. Tears
flowed from my eyes. A few minutes later we left by the back door from the
kitchen to a little porch with steps leading down to the backyard.
was dawn, and thousands of people kept coming. The line was very long,
consisting of many people who had just learned about what had happened
earlier that night.
cars closed the entrances to the main streets, President and Brooklyn. The
police hung signs on trees and poles that announced “No Parking
plans for the funeral were that the Rebbe would accompany the aron on
foot from President until Kingston, then follow the aron by car.
Men would walk that way too, while women would walk on Brooklyn Ave to
the night, announcements were drawn up about the Rebbetzin’s passing, as
well as the time for the funeral, which were sent to all the religious
communities in New York. They said that from early morning, the radio in
N.Y. broadcasted the news of the Rebbetzin’s passing every quarter of an
hour. That was in addition to the newspapers.
minyan was planned at the Rebbe’s house at 9:30 a.m. for the
Rebbe to say Kaddish.
daybreak, many people continued to stream towards 770. At 7:00 a.m. there
was a double siren to inform anyone who hadn’t yet heard the sad news.
Throughout the night and morning, the phones in 770 rang continually. Most
people fearfully asked, “Is it true?”
came from all over the U.S. and Canada. We heard that a large group from
Europe would be arriving on the Concorde, leaving at 8:00 a.m. and landing
at 11:00 a.m.
meeting about the funeral was called for 10:30 a.m. in 770. At 7:00 a.m.,
the members of the Kollel went to dig the grave next to Rebbetzin Shterna
Sara, a’h, the wife of the Rebbe Rashab and the grandmother of
meeting began at 10:30 a.m. Two men in charge went up to the bima. One
began to speak but was immediately overcome with tears and couldn’t
talk. The other man took over, and he too was choked up as he began
speaking. The arrangement was as follows: In addition to the police
presence, whose job was to maintain order, about 150 bachurim would
be appointed as the vaad ha’mesader, a committee to help keep
order. The Rebbe would be the first to walk behind the aron,
followed by the gabbaim members of the secretariat, Chassidic
rebbes, rabbanim, and gedolei Torah. The police and the team
of bachurim would follow and maintain a space between the Rebbe and
rushed. Those who hadn’t gone to the mikva yet did so now, and
then davened Shacharis. The police closed off the entire route to
traffic now, as well as the main adjacent streets. At about 11:00 a.m.,
both sides of President Street and all the adjoining streets were covered
with people. Thousands kept coming.
barriers were set up on the edge of the pavement. The area near the house
was clear, with only policemen, members of the vaad ha’mesader,
and important people who had permission to stand there. Dozens of
motorcycles and police cars stood ready in pairs, in order to travel in
front of the procession and to ensure order. There were hundreds of
policemen, in addition to the 150 bachurim of the committee. The
latter wore special identification badges.
rebbes began to arrive, as well as rabbanim, roshei yeshivos,
and delegations of many public figures. Rabbi Fuchs, of the chevra
kadisha, cut the Rebbe’s sirtuk, and then the Rebbe ripped it
further by hand, leaving a lengthy tear.
said that in the morning, the Rebbe sent the chevra kadisha to the tziyun
of the Rebbe Rayatz to inform him of the petira. About ten
minutes before the funeral, the Rebbe descended from his room to the first
floor, and spent some time alone in the room with the Rebbetzin.
exactly 12:00 p.m., absolute silence prevailed over the crowded throngs of
people. The procession left the house headed by those who carried the aron.
The Rebbe walked a few meters away from the aron. He walked with
bent head, glancing occasionally from side to side to observe the
procession, and uttering something the entire time. He looked pale and
tired. Behind him were the gabbaim, members of the secretariat, who
formed a ring around him, followed by Chassidic rebbes and distinguished rabbanim.
The police were behind them, and then came the huge crowds.
was kept with great difficulty as the throngs pushed forward to be able to
see the Rebbe. The Rebbe’s car traveled right behind him so that he
could enter it as soon as he wished. Another row of 70 policemen encircled
the car, preventing the crowds from pushing forward and block it. The
Rebbe walked down Kingston, and when the procession reached Eastern
Parkway, the pushing and crowding was so forceful that the police and the vaad
ha’mesader had a serious challenge to maintain order. Then the Rebbe
entered the car, and sped off with the secretaries Rabbi Chadakov, R’
Leibel Groner, and R’ Binyamin Klein in the back. Motorcycles led the
way, clearing traffic and going through all the traffic lights. It took
less than ten minutes to reach the cemetery. Dozens of buses left for the
cemetery, as well as hundreds of private cars.
large crowd had to stand behind the fence outside the cemetery. Only the
secretaries, the chevra kadisha, and a group of 100 distinguished
people went inside with the Rebbe.
Rebbe stood facing the open grave. His head was bent and he kept looking
at the chevra kadisha. The Rebbe asked R’ Berel Lipsker of the chevra
kadisha a number of questions privately. When they lowered the aron
into the grave, the Rebbe shuddered a bit and his head moved back
slightly. A bag was placed next to the aron
covering the grave of the Rebbetzin, the Rebbe said “Tziduk HaDin”
followed by Kaddish. The Rebbe’s voice choked with tears a few
times while saying Kaddish.
long rows of people stood alongside the exit way, and the Rebbe passed
between these rows as people said, “Ha’makom yinachem eschem...”
(may Hashem comfort you...).
Rebbe entered the car. He looked greatly pained. He seemed to move with
difficulty. Then all of a sudden the Rebbe exited the car, plucked grass
from the ground, and tossed it over his shoulder. Then he left the
cemetery with the police escort leading the way once again.
then did the vast crowd of thousands enter the cemetery and approach the
fresh grave of the Rebbetzin. There was tremendous crowding as each person
said a chapter of Tehillim. There were shovels standing off to the side,
and everyone tried to add a little earth to the grave.
3:15 p.m., the Rebbe davened Mincha from the amud. Only a
few dozen people were allowed to join the Rebbe, mostly heads of
delegations from around the world who would be returning home that day.
After Mincha, the Rebbe surprised us with a sicha lasting a
few minutes. This was followed by nichum aveilim. The davening took
place in the large room on the first floor (in the hall). The Rebbe sat on
a box covered with a thin black cover (used by the Rebbe on Tisha B’Av)
in the south-eastern corner of the room. People passed by the Rebbe
quickly and exited through the door in the southern wall. The Rebbe gazed
deeply at each person. It was a very painful sight to behold.
the remainder of the tefillos, beginning with Maariv at 6:00
p.m., it was decided to use the lottery method to determine who would daven
with the Rebbe’s minyan. The secretaries announced that on
Motzaei Shabbos the Rebbe would daven in the large beis
midrash of 770, after which everyone would be able to be menachem
each tefilla, many people passed by to be menachem aveil,
even those who did not participate in the minyan. Starting with
this tefilla, the tefillos were broadcast live in 770 so
everyone could hear the Rebbe daven. This made things a little
easier, for we were not completely cut off from the Rebbe.
night there was a gathering of shluchim from around the world to
discuss various projects that would be started, including establishing new
funds named for the Rebbetzin, especially in the three special mitzvos
associated with women.