In honor of 12-13 tammuz, family members reveal the identity that stood behind the hundreds of large and bold ads that appeared in newspapers for decades announcing the Rebbe’s weekday farbrengens.
He was way ahead of his time. He utilized the social media of the 1960’s, and spearheaded a marketing campaign directed at the entire Jewish world. His pseudonym was Meir Cohen (aka Yisroel Levinson) – but who was he really?
He was Rabbi Menachem Meir Blau, an unassuming Chossid with passion, scope, and a vision. For years, he constantly invested thousands of dollars at a time and countless hours to bring the Rebbe to the masses, and bring more Yidden to the Rebbe.
As early as 1960, Rabbi Blau recognized a gap between the Torah that the Rebbe taught and the Yidden that the Rebbe wanted to reach. His first project was to mail a hard copy summarizing the Rebbe’s talks to some 10,000 Jews weekly, including prominent leaders and Rabbonim.
But still he felt that it was not enough. When the Rebbe spoke to chassidim, the crowd was relatively small. The circle was expanded to various Chassidim and Shluchim who joined via hook-up to listen in to the Rebbe’s farbrengens. But how were the words of the Nosi HaDor going to reach other Jews, from the Binei Torah to the most unaffiliated? And furthermore, how would the Rebbe’s letters — addressed to all of K’lal Yisroel — actually reach them?
He devised an all-encompassing strategic plan to target as many Yidden as possible.
His first agenda was to bring Yidden from other communities to farbrengens. To that end, he placed full page ads – English and Yiddish – in all the papers reaching Jewish communities such as The Algemenier Journal, The Forward, Jewish Week, Jewish Press, Jewish Journal and more. The ads informed people of the time and place of the farbrengen, offering subsidized bus rides for Yungerleit and free buses for Bochurim.
The ads served a double purpose. For those who could not join Farbrengen in person, the ads informed them how to tune into the Rebbe’s talks being aired on the radio, (WEVD 3030 am, 97.9 fm wvos, 1240 am, and 95. Fm) and later on cable, with english translation delivered by Rabbi JJ Hecht OB”M. Using large, eye-catching advertisements, Rabbi Blau’s ads often appeared with titles like “Good News! The Lubavitcher Rebbe is Speaking”. In addition to the Jewish papers, he also advertised at times in the NY Times, NY Post, Daily News, and Newsday, giving hundreds of thousands the opportunity to tune into and be inspired by the Rebbe’s farbrengens.
Additionally, he received a permit to drive around Boro Park and Williamsburg with a pre-recorded message blaring through the speakers announcing all major Farbrengens. (6 Tishrei, 19 Kislev, 10 Shevat, Purim, 11 Nissan, 12-13 Tammuz & 20 Av) .
Another base that he covered was to publish the Rebbe’s sichos, and most importantly, the “Hora’ah Limaseh”, for those that did not attend farbrengens. For many years, He initiated and prepared the Rebbe’s sichos to be placed in teh Algemeiner Journal under the heading “Torah Gedanken from the Lubavitcher Rebbe”. and submitted it along with his own creative titles. With the Rebbe’s guidance, he covered the expenses at a special discounted rate per specifically in line with the Rebbe’s instruction. He received the Rebbe’s approval and appreciation when at a farbrengen of Parshas Bo 5736, the Rebbe publically referred to the Torah Gedanken and announced that “Ds Shaft an Emese Nachas Ruach” (this generates a true nachas ruach).
He also utilized the newspaper medium to spread awareness of the numerous issues that the Rebbe spoke about so passionately. Thousands of readers were exposed to the Mivtzoim the Rebbe initiated like Mivtzah Mezuza, or Shitas the Rebbe held such as Shleimus ha’aretz or his views regarding the famous Entebbe mission.
He was entirely a one man show. He was not the head of a Moisad, or even working in the capacity of any Moisad. He was simply a humble Chossid who constantly questioned himself, “What does the Rebbe want from me, Menachem Meir Blau? How can I help the Rebbe’s message have greater reach?”
The Rebbe held that very dear. When the Rebbe gave out bottles of Mashke to heads of Moisdos, Rabbi Blau was called up. The Rebbe noticed his astonishment and told him “far di torah vos ir drukt (for the Torah you are printing). He continued to receive a bottle of Mashke on many occasions “Far Di Tzaitungin” (for the newspapers). In addition, the Rebbe cherished his pen name and called him up for a Hakafah as “Mem Cohen”.
Due to the revolutionary nature of his advertisements and articles, he consulted with the Mazkirus and Mashpiim. Some elder Chassidim felt that it was disrespectful to the Rebbe to have his Torah in secular newspapers. However, once the Rebbe gave his public approval, and additionally mentioned to a Chossid in Yechidus that printing the Sichos is of historic significance, some of the influential Chassidim helped cover the enormous costs of the project, most notably, Rabbi Zalman Gurary. When Rabbi Blau wrote into the Rebbe regarding his work in the newspapers, he received many encouraging answers, to the like of “Niskabel, t’shuas Chen, t’shuas Chen.” or “Veyehae hakol Behatzlacha Rabbah azkir al hatziyon.”
In later years, he recognized the need for Lubavitchers outside of Crown Heights to hear the Rebbe’s words from Shabbos farbrengen immediately after Shabbos. He lost no time in arranging and subsidizing expenses for chazara of Shabbos Farbrengen to be available to anash worldwide over hookup with WLCC. Rabbi Yossi Jacobson was the young chozer recruited to give over the Rebbe’s sichos every Motzei Shabbos following a farbrengen.
Where did people go to for news in 1988 before the advent of the worldwide web and news sites? How did those outside Crown Heights stay connected? Recognizing this as a unique opportunity and platform, Rabbi Blau, along with his brother Reuven Blau, started the Crown Heights Newsline with a clever plan. He wrote to the Rebbe that it had one intended purpose “to get people to call in and hear the Rebbe’s sichos.” The news was only included strategically to draw in a crowd that would otherwise not call in.
After Gimmel Tammuz, Menachem Blau focused on delivering the Rebbe’s words about the call of the hour: to learn Inyonei Geula UMoshiach. For thirteen years, following the Rebbe’s Minyan in 770, he gave over a vort in Inyonei Moshiach and Geulah, making it practical and relevant to all. He would speak for about 2 minutes but spent hours preparing, carefully selecting the call to action from the Rebbe’s sichos relevant to each particular day and giving it over in the Rebbe’s exact words.
Today, on this auspicious day of Yud-Gimmel tammuz, let’s take a lesson to heart. Rabbi Blau was never boastful or even satisfied with past accomplishments and constantly sought additional venues to help ever-increasing audiences internalize the Rebbe’s message. He was not on Shlichus in a specific city, but his hafatza reached an immeasurable amount of people. He exemplified that wherever we may be and whichever resources we may have, we can utilize it all to spread the Rebbe’s message to the world.
In his memory, the family started a daily Whatsapp Broadcast group focused on bringing Moshiach. The daily messages are the Rebbe’s exact words on bringing Moshiach as compiled by their father, relating to the specific time of year. Please subscribe by messaging 718-813-4850 and specify your language preference – English, Hebrew or both.
If you or someone you know has been touched and affected by the above-mentioned ads to go to farbrengens or via the newsline, radio messages or inyonei moshiach that Rabbi Blau shared, please share it with the family: [email protected]