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Dvar Malchus

In But A Moment

Moshiach & Geula

"That They May All Call Upon the Name of the L-rd"

Chai Elul
In Honor Or In Chains

"Wake Up, Yidele!"

Chabad House On Wheels: "The Real Action Is Here"
Shleimus HaAretz
Pray For Rain

Chabad House On Wheels:
"The Real Action Is Here"

Being on the move is the secret to Rabbi Levi Baumgarten’s success * Rabbi Baumgarten directs the mivtza tank that travels throughout Manhattan * he has hundreds of mekuravim, and the number of people who visit his tank is in the tens of thousands each year * Avrohom Jacobson followed the tank one day and heard about the special feeling the Rebbe has for this tank, which is dedicated to the Rebbetzin, a’h * he also heard many stories and miracles that always seem to accompany this Chabad house on wheels

Every morning at precisely 11:00 a.m., you can see Rabbi Levi Baumgarten at the corner of Kingston and President Avenues unload boxes from his car into the mitzva tank, sit behind the driver’s wheel, and begin his drive into Manhattan. I had heard a great deal about his work and about the tremendous success he enjoys, and I was curious to discover the secret to that success. After all, what can just one tank accomplish without a permanent building for activities and programs?

One day I decided to pick up the telephone and inquire. I asked whether he had time to tell me about his work. "You cannot hear about my work," said Rabbi Baumgarten. "This work is something you have to see and experience yourself. If you are really interested in learning more about what I do, come with me tomorrow at 11:00 a.m."

It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, so the next day I was sitting in the tank on the way to Manhattan for a full day’s work.

* * *

The tank crossed Kingston and turned left on Eastern Parkway. Chabad niggunim played from loudspeakers on the roof, and from the window I could see the startled looks of some drivers who were new to the area and were encountering the musical tank for the first time.

The niggunim stopped briefly as we passed 770. "Rebbe, ad masai? We want Moshiach now!" shouted Rabbi Baumgarten into the loudspeaker, as he gazed at the entrance of 770. "As I pass here every day," he said with great feeling, "I recall the dozens of times I passed by 770 and saw the Rebbe. I am convinced that the Rebbe looks at me each time I pass by, but why can’t I see him? Ad masai?"

"We must carry on and continue our work, for this is the way to reveal the Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach!"

* * *

Rabbi Baumgarten has followed this route for eleven years, day after day, week after week, month in and month out. It’s his twelfth year on the road.

It all began after the passing of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, a’h. Rabbi Shmuel Butman, director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, went to be menachem aveil the Rebbe with his friend Dr. Weinstein, and they told the Rebbe they were thinking of buying a tank for outreach in New York. The Rebbe liked the idea and asked them to get started while still in the week of Shiva.

Rabbi Butman called close friends to an urgent meeting. Before the Shiva was over he was able to inform the Rebbe that a new tank would be arriving shortly, and now they were seeking a young man to direct the tank’s activities.

It took a long time to find a suitable person. Rabbi Butman had the foresight to see what the tank could accomplish and knew it wouldn’t be just another t’fillin stand. He knew this would be a virtual Chabad House in Manhattan that needed a talented young man to run it, someone who would know how to handle all sorts of questions and problems that would come up.

It took a number of months before Rabbi Butman found who he was looking for: Rabbi Levi Baumgarten, a young man who had been helping his brother, a director of a Chabad House in Long Island. Rabbi Baumgarten tells us what happened after his first meeting with Rabbi Butman:

"I was impressed by what Rabbi Butman described to me. I told him I was interested in the position – on condition, of course, that I received the Rebbe’s bracha. I wrote to the Rebbe that day and asked for his bracha.

"During those few months, the Rebbe didn’t rush to answer questions. Even questions regarding shlichus were answered a few days later in the best of circumstances. When I gave the letter to my uncle, Rabbi Leibel Groner, he told me he found it hard to believe I would get a reply. After forty-five minutes the Rebbe’s answer suddenly came out, and he was as shocked as I was.

"‘Bracha v’hatzlacha’ – that was the Rebbe’s answer. Two words every Chassid wishes for, but the speed with which I received them made it all the more significant. From the very start of my shlichus, I saw the great love the Rebbe had for the tank, which was named after the Rebbetzin. Over the years I almost got used to the special regard the Rebbe showed for the work the tank does. We have had numerous blessings from the Rebbe, and I received especially quick responses for nearly every report I handed in."

The cellular phone rang and interrupted our conversation. Rabbi Baumgarten listened, jotted down some notes, and ended the conversation. "That was one of our friends who’s in Florida now. He needs a bracha from the Rebbe, and he asked me to write his name to the Rebbe for success in his business." Throughout the day the telephone continued to ring, and after each conversation Rabbi Baumgarten had another story to tell.

Evidently, Rabbi Baumgarten’s work doesn’t begin precisely at 11:00 a.m, when he heads out to Manhattan; his work begins way before that. Starting at 9:00 a.m., he calls close to a hundred people who work near whatever location the tank will be that day, to notify them that the Chabad House will be coming to them and they are invited to come on in. Each week he gets enthusiastic responses. Dozens of people promise to pop in some time during the day, and even those who are too busy to show up thank him for calling.

Sometimes a telephone call takes longer than anticipated. "People have problems, and they know the address," he says. "Sometimes they want to discuss personal matters with me, which they can’t do on the tank. There are always people around, and you can’t talk quietly without someone coming over to put on t’fillin. So people wait for my morning call in order to talk to me privately."

There are other reasons for extended telephone calls. "Some of the mekuravim are interested in private classes in addition to the regular classes we offer in the tank. These are serious individuals who want to learn about Judaism in depth, and I do what I can to give them time in the morning. I sit on the phone with them for a quarter of an hour, one after the other."

The subjects that come up with the mekuravim are many, both practical and philosophical. Thousands of people who are in touch with him consider him their "number one rabbi," and turn to him with all sorts of Jewish matters, from circumcisions to funerals. Among his friends there are gentiles too, to whom he imparts the Seven Noachide laws. Then there are religious friends who aren’t Lubavitchers, but who want to learn Chassidus and hear what the Rebbe has to say about the imminent Redemption.

Publicizing the besuras ha’Geula is an important part of his work, because in 5752 the Rebbe addressed the Kinus HaShluchim and said that the primary shlichus today is kabbalas pnei Moshiach. The tank features a portrait of the Rebbe by the words "We Want Moshiach Now" and "Yechi Adoneinu" written across the top.

The pictures and writing arouse the curiosity of passersby, who enter the tank and ask questions. They get a full response, and those who have the time are invited to select one of a dozen books about Geula from the tank’s bookcase and delve in even more. For those who are interested, Rabbi Baumgarten delivers a fascinating lecture about the unique era we live in and about the role each of us has in preparing to greet Moshiach.

Throughout the day, when we were parked in the regular Thursday spot, most of the regulars were accustomed to saying "Ad masai" and "Yechi" when putting on t’fillin. They say it with heartwarming sincerity, and then they turn to Rabbi Baumgarten and ask, "Nu, when is he coming already?"

* * *

In recent months, Tamim Yisroel Stone has joined Rabbi Baumgarten in his work. He enjoys every minute of it. In the seven months since he began this work, he has connected with hundreds of Jews in Manhattan, and has strengthened their ties to Yiddishkeit and Chabad.

Often he is amazed by the tremendous influence the tank wields. "On one of my first days, I met a Jew on the street, and when I suggested that he put on t’fillin, he refused. After much persuasion he agreed to enter the tank. "Just come in for a few minutes," I said. When we entered the tank there were a few other businessmen inside, who were previous mekuravim. When they heard that he wasn’t interested in putting on t’fillin, they began working on him. I’m talking about top-notch businessmen. The very fact that they were asking him to put on t’fillin affected him so much that he finally agreed."

Over six months ago, when Rabbi Baumgarten asked him whether he was interested in joining his work in the tank, Yisroel assumed the job had definite hours, from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. He quickly realized he was mistaken. "One evening on our way back to Crown Heights, Rabbi Baumgarten asked me to show up at 7:30 the next morning. At first I thought he was kidding, because at that hour all offices in Manhattan are closed. That’s when I discovered that the work we do is not limited to either space or time. The next morning we went to New Jersey to put up mezuzos in the home of one of the mekuravim."

Officially, the tank’s work is over at 5:30 p.m. That’s when most offices are empty. But there are exceptions, like those who remain to catch a private class with Rabbi Baumgarten after work. The rabbis go from class to class, with a number of short visits in offices along the way, and arrive in Crown Heights late in the evening.

* * *

We were still traveling. I realized that after we parked I wouldn’t have a free minute to talk with Rabbi Baumgarten, so I decided to use the remaining time to inquire about his miracle stories.

"What do you mean by special miracles?" he exclaimed. "Every workday is a miracle. Each day we see how the Rebbe helps us prepare the world for Moshiach," Rabbi Baumgarten stated emphatically.

"This week, a religious woman approached the tank and said that over ten years ago she was completely non-religious, but when she passed a tank with her oldest son she suddenly felt compelled to ask her son to enter the tank and put on t’fillin. She didn’t understand why she did this.

"Today, after her son transformed the house into a religious one, as a result of putting on t’fillin that time, she wanted to let us know what happened. Just imagine how many people enter the tank and have their entire lives change because of that one visit. These are everyday types of miracles.

"But you are right, there are special miracles in which the Rebbe is directly involved. I’ll tell you a few of them. One day I met one of the mekuravim who was really down. I asked him what happened and he tried to avoid answering me, saying I couldn’t help him anyway. Finally, he told me that his sister was planning to marry a gentile. They knew each other for three years, and it looked like they were going to marry.

"I told him he had to do his part and Hashem would do His. I took him for ‘dollars’ on Sunday, and the Rebbe gave him his blessing. Three weeks later he called me and in a voice choked with emotion, said that his sister had just called him and said that her boyfriend had just come over with a ring and had proposed but she had adamantly refused him, not knowing why she had done so. He was very hurt by her response and left angrily. A few months later, he told me that his sister had married a Jew.

"Another interesting story happened at ‘dollars.’ This took place with the same mekurav, who was very involved in shleimus ha’Aretz. When we passed the Rebbe, the Rebbe gave him an extra dollar and said it was for his work on behalf of a complete Eretz Yisroel. At first he didn’t realize that the Rebbe knew about him with his ruach ha’kodesh, and he asked me in front of the Rebbe, ‘How did the Rebbe know about me? Did you tell him?’

"Another mekurav had a sister who was sick with yenner machla. He came with me for ‘dollars.’ Before we had our turn, I asked my uncle, Rabbi Leibel Groner, to tell the Rebbe that this man needed a bracha for his sister. When we passed the Rebbe, the mekurav began crying and couldn’t stop. Rabbi Groner told the Rebbe that his sister was sick and the Rebbe gave him a bracha for a refua. Shortly thereafter his sister recovered, and since then he puts t’fillin on regularly and from time to time takes another step forward in Torah and mitzva observance.

"While on the topic of t’fillin, I remember a particular mekurav who was not feeling well and I asked the Rebbe for a bracha for him. In my letter I wrote that I had asked him many times to put on t’fillin, but he always refused. A half-hour after I sent in my letter, Rabbi Groner called me with the Rebbe’s answer: This Jew must start wearing t’fillin, and this is how he’ll become better.

"I called him immediately, but he didn’t want to listen to what I had to say. I had no choice, so I decided to visit him in the hospital. I told him I was coming with my daughter, and after he agreed to the visit I went to a sofer and bought a pair of t’fillin and then went on to the hospital. I argued a long time with him until he finally agreed to buy t’fillin and put them on every day.

"In order to be sure he was putting them on, I went to him every day or sent somebody to put them on with him. Within a few days he was released from the hospital and the doctors told him he was better.

"The story, however, doesn’t have a happy ending, because he stopped putting on t’fillin and he became sick again and did not recover…

"One of the mekuravim became friendly with a gentile girl, and all my attempts to split them up failed. After great effort I managed to convince him to come with me to the Rebbe. He asked whether he could come with his girlfriend. I told him to bring her, the main thing being that he should come. I knew the Rebbe would make sure to break up the friendship.

"The day after seeing the Rebbe, he called me early in the morning and told me that his grandmother, who had died years before, had come to him in a dream and yelled at him for befriending a gentile girl. He was so frightened by the dream that he had decided to break up with her.

"Two years ago I met a Jew who refused to put on t’fillin. He said ‘it didn’t speak to him.’ I said that if he came to the Rebbe’s tank I was sure he would want to put on t’fillin. In the end he agreed and came to visit the tank. As I expected, the special atmosphere of the tank did its thing and he put on t’fillin. He showed up a week later and I realized that something was bothering him. I tried talking to him but he didn’t want to say anything about it. I told him to write to the Rebbe and he would surely receive the Rebbe’s bracha. At first he didn’t want to hear of it, but after a long conversation with him, he agreed and wrote his concerns to the Rebbe. I told him he could relax because as soon as he wrote, the Rebbe received his letter. The next day he called me all excited and told me that he had received two telephone calls that morning which simultaneously solved all his problems of the past few weeks.

"After those fateful telephone calls he did unbelievably well in business and credited all his success to the Rebbe’s bracha. He began putting on t’fillin every day and progressed in his observance of Torah and mitzvos.

"Before last Purim I invited him to the Purim meal I made for all the mekuravim at a Manhattan hotel. He told me sadly that he couldn’t make it since the doctors had discovered that his son was sick, and he had to have an important test on Purim.

"Purim morning, despite everything that was going on, I met with him and together we wrote a letter to the Rebbe. He already knew from experience that he had the Rebbe’s bracha. The next day he called me with good news: the test had shown that the illness had all but disappeared. Only 5% remained of what he was previously there, and they could take care of that easily. Obviously this great miracle inspired him to further progress in Torah and mitzvos.

"Recently a woman came to the tank who had many legal problems with her business, causing her to feel quite dejected. After I explained to her that you can write to the Rebbe and receive his answer in the Igros Kodesh, she decided to write to the Rebbe. The Rebbe answered that if she would be joyful and take the right lawyers, all her problems would be solved in the best possible way. She was very moved by the precision of the answer and followed the Rebbe’s instructions. Within a short period of time she could tell me about the success she enjoyed in all her cases."

* * *

We reached the tank’s usual spot on the corner of Broadway and 37th Street. As soon as we parked the tank and opened the door, there wasn’t a dull moment.

An Israeli walked in first. Although it was his first time in the tank he felt at home. They spoke a little and it turned out he worked in New Jersey, so he was referred to a Chabad House there.

An older businessman entered the tank and the first words out of his mouth were, "Nu, Moshiach came already?" He saw that Rabbi Baumgarten was talking with the Israeli and he went over to put on t’fillin. He really seemed at home because he knew where everything was. A few minutes later he said Sh’ma from a siddur. For those unfamiliar with a siddur, there are three pages of Sh’ma on the wall in English, Hebrew and Russian.

A cheerful man wearing a cap and holding a denim bag came into the tank and went over to the t’fillin. Unlike the other visitors, he came to put t’fillin on with others. It was Kalman Brudo, one of the mekuravim who became a regular worker on the tank. He had come to Manhattan twenty years ago on the Friday that the recently released American hostages in Iran were welcomed at a parade in New York City in order to participate in that parade. While there, he met bachurim on a mitzva tank. Since then he started keeping Torah and mitzvos. After living in Crown Heights, he met Rabbi Baumgarten. He liked the idea of helping on the tank with Rabbi Baumgarten, and since then has accompanied him almost every day. He has received dollars from the Rebbe on many occasions for being a "tankist."

A quarter of an hour after we arrived, at least eight people were sitting in the tank and talking with Rabbi Baumgarten and Yisroel Stone. On the nearby street, fire trucks sped by in the direction of a building a hundred meters from where the tank was parked. There was a fire on one of the floors and dozens of firemen had come to put it out. "There’s action out there," said one of the businessmen in the tank. "No," said another. "The real action is here, in the tank."

An hour later the fire was out and the street returned to normal. Inside the tank, there wasn’t a quiet moment. One of the mekuravim who wanted to speak with Rabbi Baumgarten privately, had to wait a long time before he managed to get a word in.

Most of the people in the tank had long since finished putting on t’fillin, but they stayed on. They enjoyed sitting there and didn’t rush back to their offices. Rabbi Baumgarten views it as an achievement. "They stay here because they feel at home," he says.

Cameras flash every so often as tourists take pictures of this unique Manhattan sight. Most of the time they stand near the Rebbe’s picture on the outside of the tank. Yisroel Stone goes out to them and hands out cards detailing the Seven Noachide laws. Sometimes he meets Jewish tourists who enter the tank to put on t’fillin.

"Once a group of 25 Jewish children on an outing with their teacher came here. I took them all in and together we recited the Twelve Pesukim. They were here for only 15 minutes, but I’m sure the visit left a deep impression on them."

* * *

Rabbi Baumgarten told me one of the greatest miracles he had experienced while on shlichus on the tank. He was reminded of the story because it involved the man who had just come into the tank. This is what happened:

"Since I started this work I have received a salary from the L.Y.O. Eight years ago, I was told that since the tank had become a veritable Chabad House, I had to take care of my salary myself like any other Chabad House director.

"I was at a loss at this news because I had never seen myself as a talented fundraiser. I was very concerned about whether I could go on. I wrote to the Rebbe and asked whether I should continue my work on the tank. If I was supposed to continue, I asked for a bracha for success.

"This took place in Nissan 5752. Rabbi Groner went to the Rebbe’s room and asked my question. The Rebbe nodded in the affirmative. Rabbi Groner asked whether I would succeed in fundraising and the Rebbe strongly nodded yes, even waving his hand strongly. Rabbi Groner asked whether the Rebbe was blessing me with success and the Rebbe answered "Amen" loudly three times while nodding his head.

"The next day, I went as I usually did on the tank, and one of the first people to enter the tank was this man here. He came over to me and took an interest in what I do. Then he asked me how I financed it, and I said that the tank was financed by supporters. He took out his checkbook and gave me a check for a few thousand dollars! I was astounded by how fast the Rebbe’s bracha had begun to be realized.

"That man continues to visit the tank each week, and every month he makes a nice contribution for our work. He recently introduced his brother, and both of them support us with amounts large enough to cover the tank’s activities." With that Rabbi Baumgarten concluded the story about the man, who just then finished putting on t’fillin with the proclamation of "Yechi Adoneinu Moreinu V’Rabbeinu Melech HaMoshiach L’olam Va’ed."


Behind every great man is a great woman. Mrs. Leah Baumgarten is deeply involved in her husband’s work. In addition to her work with the female mekuravim, which includes classes and lectures, she is the one who organizes the holiday parties which take place a few times a year for hundreds of families and mekuravim.

Among the mekuravim, Mrs. Baumgarten is known as an eishes chayil and a great hostess. Many of them accept her invitations and come to the Baumgartens in Crown Heights with their entire families for Shabbos. Women who were hosted one time make sure not to miss even one class she gives or organizes.

Her crowning achievements are the holiday parties she organizes in Manhattan hotels. One of those parties which all participants will remember is the one that took place this past Purim at Studio 54.

For years, Studio 54 has been known around the world as a celebrity hotspot. When the mekuravim heard the Purim party would be taking place there they thought it was a joke, but during the course of the meal with nearly 500 mekuravim couples, Rabbi Baumgarten explained that as a preparation for Moshiach’s coming, even places like this can be used for holy purposes.





Rabbi Baumgarten alongside his uncle, Rabbi Leibel Groner,
at a hachnasas seifer Torah for the tank.

Megilla reading in the tank




"I recall the dozens of times I passed by 770 and saw the Rebbe. I am convinced that the Rebbe looks at me each time I pass by, but why can’t I see him? Ad masai?"


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