Feb 10, 2019
R' Mendel, The Rebbe's Soldier

A large crowd participated in the levaya of R' Mendel Baumgarten on Sunday; His grandson explains why he was the Rebbe's soldier.

By Leibel Baumgarten

When the Rebbe began sending shluchim throughout the world, my grandparents, R’ Menachem Mendel and Sarah Nechama Baumgarten, they were eager to enlist. The wrote letters to the Rebbe stating their willingness to go on the Rebbe’s shlichus, wherever he would send them.

They received a note from the Rebbe stating that their shlichus was to be “here in Crown Heights.” The Rebbe wrote an infrequent (if ever) used term, “meguyasim — [they are] drafted.”

And indeed, they toiled as soldiers in the Rebbe’s army, pioneering the concept of a “Chabad House” right here in Crown Heights. As the number of shluchim increased, so did the number of baalei teshuvah and not-yet baalei teshuvah coming to Crown Heights to learn, live or visit.

Their doors were open to all. Every Shabbos meal had the dining room packed to capacity. On Simchas Torah and other occasions their basement was strewn with mattresses for people to crash a any hour of the morning, without even knowing whose house they were in.

As the years went on, and the needs of the baal teshuvah community grew, my grandmother became a shadchan and taught kallah classes. My grandparents became friends, guides and mentors to dozens.

It is impossible to count the number of people who were impacted by their generosity and hospitality. So many who were nurtured at their Shabbos table became community leaders and shluchim themselves. Even among the Crown Heights and shlichus communities, how many learned the art of an open home and guiding others in a loving, caring and dignified way from them?

In addition to an open home and all they did for the community in Crown Heights, they often traveled to various college campuses to run Shabbatons, taught Hebrew School classes in the Tri-State area, and did whatever it is that was asked of them with enthusiasm and commitment.

Once, after running a Shabbaton in College Park, Maryland, my grandparents stopped by 770 before going home to catch a glimpse of the Rebbe. A full report would come later, this was just soldiers returning to their general before heading home. It was about 2:00am, and the Rebbe had just finished yechidus. As the Rebbe saw them in the entrance hallway, the Rebbe gave them a wide smile and left.

Rabbi Hodakov gave my grandfather an emphatic yasher koach. Puzzled at Rabbi Hodakov’s uncharacteristic exuberance, my grandfather asked what had happened. Rabbi Hodakov explained that for the past week the Rebbe had appeared to be a dour mood, and nothing that was tried seemed to cheer the Rebbe up. The smile to my grandparents had been the first smile they had seen from the Rebbe in a week.

My grandfather was a committed shliach; a devoted soldier who epitomized kabalos ol. To him, every word the Rebbe said was sacrosanct. While he would have loved nothing more than to daven with the Rebbe in 770, he followed the Rebbe’s urging and davenned in the small shul next-door his home to ensure it remained open. In the summer, when many made their way upstate to be with their families, he wouldn’t miss a farbrengen.

While doing his Shlichus he worked incredibly difficult jobs to make ends meet. No job was too demeaning, no hour too early to rise. Hardened, though never embittered, my grandfather was as tough a character as they come. Yet his love for the Rebbe and his fellow Jew could never be disguised.

On the Shabbos following Chof Beis Sh’vat, he broke down in uncontrollable sobs when he got up to make kiddush. It had been an emotional week for everyone, but even so, those at the table questioned this sudden outburst. Eventually, through the tears, he explained that he couldn’t help but think about the Rebbe who was making kiddush for the first time without the Rebbetzin.

On Friday morning, my grandfather passed away. Today, the Rebbe’s faithful soldier made his way to 770 one last time to report to his general. There is no doubt that, as always, the Rebbe will be smiling broadly, thanking him for service.

*

The family will be sitting Shiva at 1608 Carroll Street, Brooklyn, NY. Five minyanim are needed. Shacharis: Two at 7:15 am, two at 8:20 am one at 9:00 am. Mincha & Maariv bizmana.


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Opinions and Comments
1
Yitzchok and Esther(Benarroch)Michael
BDE. Our hearts go out to the whole family. He never in his life missed going to minyanim. He was an amazing tzaddik. May we only share in Simchas from now on.
(2/10/2019 3:12:11 PM)
2
What a special family
Rabbi and mrs. baumgartens incredible legacy live on today through their amazing children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Moshiach now
(2/10/2019 5:09:38 PM)
3
such an inspirational article
well written. amazing!! BDE
Moshiach should come now!!!!
(2/10/2019 5:36:53 PM)
4
Beautifully written
Thank you for sharing these stories of your zaide with us!
(2/10/2019 6:44:37 PM)
5
Vahachei yiten ellibo
Thanks for sharing about your grabdfather. The soldier and his love for yidden and his shlichus in kan ziva hashem es hanrocha
(2/10/2019 7:43:46 PM)
6
Flatbush yid
BDE
(2/11/2019 5:19:40 AM)
7
krg
our hearts go out to that family. One rare family whose parents were not only fine people, but honest, caring, giving, true chasidim. What a legacy
(2/11/2019 10:44:27 AM)
8
Tzivia Yaffee-The humble giant-Rabbi Baumgarten
Rabbi Baumgarten, the humble giant.
Whoever did not hear Rabbi Baumgarten’s Rosh Hashana/Yom Kippur davening, has never heard davening in their life. The continual switch from intense awe to joy. The intensity of the al chat, U’nesaneh tokef, V’chol Maamiim. We were sure that he accompanied Kohen Godol as he did the Avoda and shared the Kohen’s joy and radiance as he exited the Kodeh Kodoshim. We listened in awe as he cried through the account of the Ten Matyrls.
Then there was the special ladies reading of Magillas Esther which relied, which he did after fasting all day and standing on his feet all day as a shochet. It was the real story of Esther. The drunken King Achashverosh and demise of Vashti. The wicked Haman We heard the painful walk of Esther going to the palace the first time and her brave walk to the king to save her people.
My girls away at Sem would always call me after Tishrei and after Purim to ask me, “what do they say in the other shuls?’ Not the same . Only Rabbi Baumgarten—the one and only.

Together with Mrs. B. –they were a team to care for us baalei teshuva. Shabbos meals there were amazing experience. Guests were from every walk of life. Really, Rabbi Baumgarten—your kids didn’t know who Bob Dylan was?! Mrs. B. laughed the next day as she told me that professors really were absent minded—he was eating soup with a fork during the the animated Shabbos table conversation. They were never intimidated by their guests—(hosting in their tiny house with all home made food from delicious Challah to yummy parve ice cream), Not intimidated that your guest could have easily fit your old used station wagon in their garage along with their Porsche and Maserati without even noticing it.
They were a real thing-real Chassidim and we look forward to seeing them standing in the ranks with the Rebbe M’HM…may it be NOW!

(2/11/2019 1:24:56 PM)
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