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The Rebbe’s Photographer

A colorful combination of adept professionalism, personal charm and downright chutzpah blended in the "770" photographer, Reb Levi Yitzchak Frieden.

Reb Levi Itche, as he was affectionately called, has visited "770" from his home in Eretz Yisrael during each of the High Holidays since 1975. His camera's lens captured many touching incidents, such as the Rebbe's blessing of yeshivah students moments before Yom Kippur began. With one eye on his watch, as he dared not desecrate the holiest day of the year, and the other eye focusing his camera, Levi Itche took shot after shot of this memorable moment.

He was so involved in his work that the Rebbe once told Frieden to tell the yeshivah students studying at "770" that if their enthusiasm would match Frieden's passion for photography, things would look much better.

Frieden was eager to share the scenes of "770" with other Jews in Eretz Yisrael. In 1976, he held an exhibit called "770" at Tel Aviv's journalist center, Beit Sokolov. The exhibit, which later moved to Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University, afforded the large crowd of viewers a mix of spiritual experience and professional expertise.

On the whole, the exhibit was highly applauded. However, one journalist commented in the guest book: 'With all due respect to the superb photography, the subject you have chosen is extremely clerical and takes us back to the primitive darkness of the Middle Ages.'

"Upon my next visit to the States," Frieden continued. "I presented the Rebbe with the guest book. Leafing through it quickly, the Rebbe noticed that negative remark." 'Please compliment the journalist on his strength of character. It takes fortitude to differ from all of the other responses,' the Rebbe said, 'But tell him that not everything in the Middle Ages was dark. Furthermore, ask him to review his own newspaper. Today's news is not all that bright either.'

"The Rebbe then handed me a dollar, asking me to deliver it to that journalist."

Before he returned to Eretz Yisrael each year, Reb Levi Itche would wait at the sidewalk before the Rebbe's home to take leave of the Rebbe. He always thanked the Rebbe for allowing him to take photographs, excused himself for any disturbance he may have caused, and also asked for a blessing for his family.

One year, he waited with increased emotion. He had just met a young man who sorrowfully confided of his distress at having been married ten years without having children. "You have your own way of approaching the Rebbe. Please mention my difficulty," he asked. Reb Levi Itche was touched by his request and resolved to bring up the subject in his brief encounter with the Rebbe.

As he described the man's troubles, the Rebbe gazed sternly at Reb Levi Itche while the secretary, Rabbi Binyamin Klein, waited nearby to drive the Rebbe to "770". When Frieden concluded, the Rebbe responded: "Tell the young man to write a note with his name, his wife's name and the names of their mothers. I will take it to the Previous Rebbe's grave."

Then, as he often did, the Rebbe invited Reb Levi Itche to accompany him in the car to "770." Usually, Reb Levi Itche would decline. However, this time he entered the car, hoping to put in another good word for the young man. He did not have the opportunity. During the short ride, the Rebbe asked Frieden about his family and inquired if he had purchased a gift for his wife and children.

When the car arrived at "770," Frieden took leave of the Rebbe and rushed to the man's home. He quickly gave him the Rebbe's response, took off for the airport and boarded his plane to Israel.

Less than a year later, on the twenty-fifth of Elul, Frieden returned to New York. As he arrived in Crown Heights, his host, Rabbi Gavriel Shapiro, was just leaving his house. "Welcome, Reb Levi Itche. Remember when you requested a blessing for that childless couple at the beginning of the year? Well, you're just in time for the bris."

Frieden glanced at his watch. It was almost 10 o'clock, when the Rebbe would be leaving his home for "770." Without a second thought, he dashed over to President St. "Rebbe," said Frieden, "the blessing you gave last fall was fulfilled. Today is the bris."

The Rebbe listened patiently, radiating composure. "Don't make an issue of everything," he said waving his hand in dismissal. "There is no need for you to get excited."

(Excerpted from To Know and to Care by Rabbi Eliyahu Tauger, published by Sichos in English.)



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