Nearly Two hundred-fifty men and women gathered on a Sunday evening at Chabad of Flamingo’s beautiful Ballroom in North Toronto for an exclusive presentation of the story behind the recently released and highly acclaimed “Early Years” book, produced by JEM and published by Kehot Publication Society.
Chabad Flamingo’s senior Shliach, Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, invited his constituents, members of the larger Toronto Chabad community, and other Shluchim and Anash from across Toronto to the presentation. Rabbi Kaplan also engaged a non constituent, but long-time friend, Dr. Joseph Minkowitz, to help promote the event and spread the word amongst people who either have had limited exposure to Chabad, or know little about the Rebbe. Amongst the diverse crowd of attendees were the former Mayor, currently serving Regional Councillor Michael DiBiase and his wife Eliana.
Dr. Minkowitz and family dedicated the evening in loving memory of his father Reb Chaim Meyer Ben Yitzchok Yaakov OBM of Montreal Canada. Rabbi Kaplan opened the evening by sharing how fortunate he felt at having the opportunity to host the Canadian launch of this extraordinary book and introduced Dr. Minkowitz, noting that last month, Adar 2, 5777, Canada’s Jewish community suffered the loss of a prominent Chosid, Reb Chaim Meyer.
Dr. Minkowitz spoke of his late father as a Mekushar and Chosid of the Rebbe; remarking that just as his father’s story shaped his own family; so too, the story of the Early years helps us understand the Rebbe and Lubavitch.
Rabbi Yechiel Cagen, director of the My Encounter with the Rebbe project, traced the book’s genesis. He stipulated that the book had very rigorous requirements of veracity, satisfying historical tests of accuracy. He presented a fascinating first-person testimony of the Rebbe’s sensitivity to an orphaned teenager in Dnepropetrovsk, and how this teenager’s later claim of knowing the Rebbe as a youngster was proven credible, thereby underscoring the validity of an historical footnote.
Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, director of JEM who co-authored the book with Rabbi Boruch Oberlander, made the evening's major presentation. Sharing the surprising, disappointing, funny, and exciting backstory of the search and discovery of many unknown details and documents of this special period in the Rebbe’s life, he brought the story alive for the majority of people who are not familiar with it.
The diverse crowd – especially the many non-Lubavitcher attendees – were riveted. When the formal presentation ended, attendees purchased all available copies of the book, selling them out. Chabad Flamingo’s staff took backorders, even referring individuals to local bookstores.
Dr. Minkowitz’ reaction was emotional. “What an event, professional, beautiful and engaging. My friends turned out to honour my father and in so doing honoured Lubavitch and honoured the Rebbe. I cannot think of any other way I could have given tribute to my father on his Shloshim. A close friend of the Minkowitzs said the following; “I just need to tell you it was a very beautiful evening and appropriate to commemorate your father's shloshim . I actually learned about the history of the Rebbe which I did not know.”
Chabad Flamingo Shliach Rabbi Yossi Sandhaus worked with the JEM team in New York to produce a flawlessly professional event. Despite the late hour, attendees lingered on to ask questions of the author and to learn first hand of JEM’s educational activities.