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The Longest Day Of All
From A Diary Of One Of The Tmimim During 22 Shvat 5748

It 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:

Last 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…”

It 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 answers.

A 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.

In 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.

In 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 standing there.

The 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 the house.

The 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.

After 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 group entered.

We 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.

We 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.

It 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.

Police cars closed the entrances to the main streets, President and Brooklyn. The police hung signs on trees and poles that announced “No Parking Today.”

The 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 Eastern Parkway.

During 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.

A minyan was planned at the Rebbe’s house at 9:30 a.m. for the Rebbe to say Kaddish.

An Emergency Gathering

At 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?”

Chassidim 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.

A 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 the Rebbetzin.

The 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 everyone else.

Everybody 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.

Police 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.

Chassidic 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.

They 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.

The Funeral

At 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.

Order 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.

The 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.

The 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

After 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.

Nichum Aveilim

Two 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...).

The 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.

Only 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.

At 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.

For 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 aveil.

After 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.

At 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.


  The levaya


Police and Chassidim escort the aron


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