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The Miracle Camera

Benny Gamlieli is a popular photographer who has snapped many memorable pictures, particularly in Eilat, his hometown. However, the most moving picture he ever took in his life, as he defines it, was not taken in Eilat.

Eighteen years ago, Benny had formed a close relationship with Rabbi Shimon Eisenbach, one of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's emissaries to Eilat. Rabbi Eisenbach convinced him to join him for a trip to New York, to see the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Benny was prepared to take a leave of absence from work, but not from his camera, which was an essential part of his being. He brought it with him on his trip to New York and into 770 Eastern Parkway, the main synagogue of Chabad.

The trip coincided with the first yahrtzeit of the Rebbe's wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka of blessed memory. Due to the occasion, the prayers for that day took place in the Rebbe's home on President Street. Benny, as a guest from Israel, was among the few granted the privilege of joining the minyan.

The prayers took place on the ground floor of the house. Right before the prayers, the Rebbe came down the stairs from the second floor. The Rebbe's appearance, especially his penetrating eyes, made a deep impression on Benny. The Rebbe walked with firm, brisk strides, and as he approached he locked eyes with Benny.

After a moment of confusion, Benny remembered his “appendage,” the camera. Quickly, before the Rebbe turned his face, Benny lifted the camera, focused the lens and snapped.

But nothing happened. He tried pressing the button again and again, but in vain. The shutter snapped, but no picture was recorded.

Something like this had never happened to Benny before. Only five minutes earlier the camera had been working perfectly, and Benny had taken several pictures, including one of the entrance to the Rebbe's home. What happened suddenly to his camera to prevent him from taking a picture at this dramatic moment?

The prayers ended. Benny returned with Rabbi Eisenbach to the home of their hosts. There were a few hours left until Shabbat, and Benny used the time to inspect the camera and try to fix the problem. However, he could find nothing wrong. All parts were in working order; yet the camera would not photograph.

The thought of returning to Israel without a single picture of the Rebbe nagged at him. I, Benny Gamlieli, the celebrated photographer, went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe and did not take a single picture of him...

The next day, after the lengthy Shabbat prayers were over, Benny was looking forward to returning to his hosts' home and enjoying Shabbat lunch. However, Rabbi Eisenbach explained that they would not be returning home. “We will hear kiddush here in the synagogue and have a bite to eat, and then the Rebbe will be returning for a farbrengen [chassidic gathering].” In response to Benny's disappointed look, Rabbi Eisenbach tried to comfort him that it wouldn't take too long. But Benny was not placated...

Benny sat through the farbrengen, although he could not understand one word of the Rebbe, who spoke in Yiddish. His hunger, plus his aggravation over his malfunctioning camera, nagged at him. Nevertheless, he remained until the end. Something about the Rebbe captured him and made it difficult for him to remove his gaze from the Rebbe's face.

After the farbrengen was over, while they were walking back to their host's home, Benny told Rabbi Eisenbach that he planned on spending the next few days in Manhattan visiting close friends. He would meet up again with Rabbi Eisenbach on Wednesday, the day of their return trip to Israel.

“Sounds wonderful,” replied Rabbi Eisenbach. “I do recommend, though, that you participate in the morning prayers with the Rebbe on Sunday morning, and then you will be able to receive the Rebbe's blessing and a dollar to give to charity.”

“Certainly,” agreed Benny. An opportunity to receive a dollar from the Rebbe was not something to pass up. Also, Benny's son had not been feeling well and Benny wanted to ask for a blessing on his behalf.

On Sunday morning, Benny arrived at the Rebbe's synagogue with his camera. Instinctively, he had taken it with him before leaving the house, even though he had still not managed to fix the problem. In the synagogue he stood close to the Rebbe's place.

When prayers were over and the Rebbe turned around to leave, Benny took out the camera, focused and snapped--and the camera worked!

Later, Benny went by the Rebbe and received a blessing for himself, his son, his whole family and his hometown of Eilat. But the experience of photographing the Rebbe in his tallit and tefillin was the highlight of Benny's trip.

Later, Rabbi Eisenbach theorized that perhaps the Rebbe wanted Benny to undergo spiritual preparation before photographing him. After spending a full Shabbat with the Rebbe and sitting through the farbrengen, Benny was ready and the Rebbe “allowed himself” to be photographed.
 

 


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