By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
It was March 1972, and thousands of people from around the world had arrived at Lubavitch World Headquarters for a grand Hasidic gathering, or farbrengen. The Rebbe was turning 70, but he was not slowing down.
“Age makes my life more exacting,” the Rebbe told a New York Times reporter. “My age is demanding more of me.”
At the gathering, the Rebbe refused personal presents, but requested a much larger commitment from his Chassidim and himself: 71 new Chabad institutions.
“I think that is a very good challenge, not only for me. It is a very good challenge for them,” the Rebbe told the reporter.
Standing in the packed synagogue, London diamond dealer Bobby Vogel felt he had to participate in the new initiative, but how?
Mr. Vogel had recently established a diamond-setting school. It began when an acquaintance got in trouble with the law and could not find employment. The diamond dealer taught the man how to set diamonds. When he had mastered the trade, Mr. Vogel decided to employ him to teach others.
At his manufacturing center in the London diamond district of Hatton Garden, Mr. Vogel dedicated an entire floor to the trade school. Many from the Hasidic community applied. There was a nominal fee, but the diamond dealer rarely collected it, and actually provided a weekly stipend for those who had no other employment.
Many in the diamond district viewed the school with skepticism. Not only was Mr. Vogel wasting money, they said, he was creating competition for himself.
In addition to the operating expenses of the school, there was the cost of the diamonds that the students practiced on. Often they were chipped or broken in the process, and became unusable.
For Mr. Vogel, however, the satisfaction of providing a livelihood for others made it all worthwhile. “What will I take to the next world?” he would ask. “The broken diamonds from the trade school.”
That day in 1972, Mr. Vogel decided that the school would be his birthday present to the Rebbe as one of the 71 new Chabad institutions.
In a private audience, he told the Rebbe of his intention, and suggested naming it “Lubavitch Trade School.”
“G-d forbid!” the Rebbe said.
Mr. Vogel was taken aback. Was the Rebbe rejecting his gift?
“It could be that a Chossid of another community would want to learn a trade,” the Rebbe told Mr. Vogel, “and because it is called ‘Lubavitch,’ he won’t join the setting school. How can you withhold a Jewish person’s livelihood?”