By Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus
My father, Reb (Avrohom) Dovid Tennenhaus OBM, was born in Romania in 1921. At the age of seventeen, he emigrated with his parents and siblings to Canada in 1938. My father was originally a Viznitzer Chossid. He first encountered Lubavitch when the nine Shluchim of the Previous Rebbe arrived in Montreal in 1941. Thanks to these Shluchim, my father became a devoted Chossid of both the previous Rebbe and our Rebbe.
These Shluchim became close with my father, my father’s parents, OBM, and the Dalfen family. My father’s mother was (Sheva) Esther Dalfen, the oldest of nine children of Menachem Mendel and Tova Devorah Dalfen. The Dalfens were from the early and prominent supporters of Rabbi Leibel Kramer OBM, and the Lubavitcher Yeshiva in Montreal.
My grandfather Reb Yisroel Tennenhaus OBM would during the cold winter months, visit the dormitory of the Lubavitcher Yeshiva students, when the Bochurim were studying in Yeshiva, and anonymously leave brand new pairs of “long underwear” for all the Yeshiva students.
I was told by a number of these “nine Shluchim” that my grandmother Esther, who was highly intelligent and knowledgeable in worldly matters, was often approached by the Shluchim when they needed advice in their personal matters etc. (It was long before “therapy” etc. and “psychologists” was popular in the “frum” world). She was someone who many people came to for advice, including the Shluchim and Bochurim from the Yeshiva.
In the Igros Kodesh of the Previous Rebbe, on 14 Cheshvan 5702, twelve days after the nine Shluchim arrived in Montreal, there is a letter from the Previous Rebbe to Rabbi Yitzchok Hendel BM concerning my grandfather Reb Yisroel Tennenhaus. Rabbi Hendel showed me this letter, and told me that the letter was in response to a letter Rabbi Hendel had written to the Previous Rebbe that described my grandfather, who befriended the Shluchim upon their arrival.
In the letter, the previous Rebbe makes reference to the letter of 9 Cheshvan which served as guidance to the Shluchim, right after their arrival, on what their mission in Montreal was all about.
My father first met our Rebbe, in the winter of 1946. My father lived in a small town, Bathurst, New Brunswick, from 1940-1960. He helped support his parents and siblings long before he married my mother, Hanna Faust OBM in February 1949. In this small town, and neighboring towns, my father was the “unofficial” Rabbi and spiritual leader.
Both the Previous Rebbe and the Rebbe, gave my father many directives in spreading Yiddishkeit in this “Shtetl”. My father always kept his store closed on Shabbos, and always wore his Yarmulke, something that was not all that common, which had an impact on all the townspeople, both Jews and non-Jews alike. The impact has lasted over 70-80 years, as several months ago, a 90 year old non-Jew, who lived in Bathurst in the 1940’s and early 1950’s, made mention of this on a Bathurst, New Brunswick Facebook page.
In the winter months, when Shabbos would end early, my father would open up his store some 15 minutes after Shabbos. My father told his customers, that he would show up Saturday night, after three stars appeared in the sky. So on Main Street, in Bathurst, New Brunswick, on any given winter Saturday night, crowds of non-Jews would congregate, with their heads turned to the sky, to see if three stars were visible; if three stars appeared, they knew that “David” was on his way…
This letter gives a glimpse of the warm and loving relationship that existed between my father and the Rebbe, in both personal and communal matters. My father, with the Rebbe’s support, built a Mikvah in Bathurst in the mid 1950’s. As the children were getting older and needed formal Jewish education, the Rebbe gave my father the blessings to move to Montreal in 1960, on condition that he stayed in Bathurst to conduct High Holiday services before he departed.
R’ T. Hirsch Gansbourg OBM once told me that he had been to Bathurst as chazzan in the early 1950’s. He added: Your father was a very Chassidishe Yid. He took me Rosh Hashanah morning to the backyard of his house, on 525 Riverside Drive, which was on the Bay of Chaleur, and we used it as a Mikvah. It was freezing, but that’s what a Chassidishe Yid does…
My brother, the late Rabbi Yisroel OBM told me, that he once arrived at 770 in middle of the night with my father. My father noticed that the Bais HaMidrash was a bit “messy” (perhaps there was an impromptu farbrengen?). So my father found a broom and started to clean 770, muttering “the
Rebbe’s Bais HaMidrash must be clean…”
It is said that “a Minyan” of Chassidim depart this world in the year that a Rebbe is nistalek (passes away). My father passed away on Shabbos Shuva, 3 Tishrei 5754, exactly 9 months before Gimmel Tammuz 5754.
As we celebrate the Bar Mitzvah of my grandson Dovid Tennenhaus, and we observe 25 years since Gimmel Tammuz (and my father’s passing), I have compiled 26 stories about my father and the Rebbe. May these stories inspire all of us to strengthen our bond to the Rebbe. A special thank you to all who helped compile 25 Years, 26 Stories, including my secretary Mrs. Chana Eliyahu, Mr. Ari Kasowitz, Rabbi Yossi Lebovics and Rabbi Mendy Tennenhaus.
May we merit the complete and final Redemption, NOW, with the Rebbe at our head, and celebrate all future simchas in Jerusalem.