#174 (s5761-21 /21 Shvat 5761)


Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda ("J.J.") Hecht immediately called 770, and arranged for them to meet privately with the Lubavitcher Rebbe that night. He also hired a private detective.


The "Ploni" family were devoutly Orthodox Jews from Hungary who lived in the populous Jewish neighborhood of New York's Lower East Side in the 1950's. The father, meticulousness in mitzvah-observance, was highly respected in the community. The mother was a popular woman who worked in the summers as a cook in Camp Emunah (the Lubavitcher camp for girls in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York). Thus, she was well-acquainted with Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda ("J.J.") Hecht, of blessed memory, the founder and director of the camp.

One Thursday she showed up at Rabbi Hecht's house in the East New York section of Brooklyn. Bursting into tears, she begged his help. Her daughter had run away from home the year before at age 16. She had attached herself to a group of disreputable people and had ceased completely to observe mitzvot. They no longer had any idea of where she was. Relatives and friends had helped them to search, but every hopeful lead had turned out to be a false trail.

Finally they heard from her, but the news was not good. "Yesterday," wailed the hysterical mother, "she telephoned my married daughter, and told her that next week she will marry her non-Jewish boy-friend. Please, Rabbi Hecht, you must help us!"

Rabbi Hecht immediately called 770, and arranged for the Plonis to be on the list for yechidut (private audience) with the Lubavitcher Rebbe that night. He also hired a private detective to try to track down the runaway daughter's whereabouts.

That evening the Ploni couple entered the Rebbe's private room and poured out their hearts to him. The Rebbe listened with careful attention to all the details of what had occurred and then turned to Rabbi Ploni and asked him what seemed at first to be a strange and irrelevant question: "When you and your wife became engaged, did her parents give their approval?"

Rabbi Ploni's face drained white. From his appearance the answer was already clear. He explained that at the time a major quarrel had broken out in the family, and her parents had refused to give their blessing to the match.

The Rebbe probed further. "Afterwards, did you ever ask their forgiveness?"

Rabbi Ploni averted his gaze. With head down, he admitted that he hadn't.

"If so," instructed the Rebbe, "you should travel to their gravesite and beg their forgiveness."

"But," protested Rabbi Ploni, "nobody knows in what graveyard in Hungary they are buried, and anyway, most of the Jewish cemeteries there have been destroyed over the years. The chances of finding their site has to be considered infinitesimal."

"If so," replied the Rebbe, "tomorrow you should assemble a minyan and go to the "Ohel" [resting place] of the [previous] Rebbe, my father-in-law. Tell aloud the whole story there and ask for their forgiveness there, and G-d will help you."

The next morning, Friday, Rabbi Ploni gathered a minyan (one of whom was Rabbi Hecht's brother-in-law, Rabbi Moshe Zvi Lasker, from whom we know this story). In accordance with the Rebbe's instructions, Ploni related the whole course of events in front of them at the Ohel of the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneersohn. He then asked the forgiveness of his deceased in-laws.

Meanwhile, the detective had succeeded in locating the missing daughter. He tried to convince her to return home, but she wouldn't listen. So he reported to Rabbi Hecht, who called in the parents for a conference that same day.

After examining and discarding a number of possible plans, they finally decided that the parents would lodge a complaint with the police against their daughter. First of all, she was still under 18, so according to New York State law required parental consent before marrying, which they refused to give. Second, they told the police, she stole from them various things when she ran away.

That Shabbat the police arrested her. Her 'fiancee' tried to secure her release but was unsuccessful. The wedding had to be postponed.

When the parents arranged her release, the girl still refused to return home. Her spirit unbroken, all she wanted was to reunite with her non-Jewish intended. Rabbi Hecht spent many hours over several different occasions to try to influence her.

In the end she agreed to at least first go to Eretz Yisrael for a while to complete her studies. Rabbi Hecht and her parents were pleased, as now she would be far away from her fiancee and crowd of friends. After some time in Israel she slowly came back to her roots. Eventually she married an observant Jew and raised a strong Jewish family.

[Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Kfar Chabad Magazine #767 (and first published in Kfar Chabad Magazine - English).]

Biographical notes:
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (11 Nissan 1902 - 3 Tammuz 1994), became the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty after his father-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, passed away in Brooklyn on 10 Shvat 1950. He is widely acknowledged as the greatest Jewish leader of the second half of the 20th century. Although a dominant scholar in both the revealed and hidden aspects of Torah and fluent in many languages and scientific subjects, the Rebbe is best known for his extraordinary love and concern for every Jew on the planet. His emissaries around the globe dedicated to strengthening Judaism number in the thousands. Hundreds of volumes of his teachings have been printed, as well as dozens of English renditions.

Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda (J.J.) Hecht (24 Cheshvan 1923 - 15 Av 1990), has been described as the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Foreign Minister. In 1944 he conducted one of the first Jewish "release time" programs for children from public schools in New York City to study their faith. In 1945, he was appointed the official director of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE). In 1953 he started one of the first camps for religious Jewish girls, Camp Emunah. Rabbi Hecht was the official translator of the Rebbe's talks to children and for the farbrengens on the radio. The Rebbe once described him publicly as one of "the chasidim who share deep soul bonds with him."

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.

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