So this 1987 photo came around more recently and there I (Mendel) am, 3rd from the left on the top row, standing on the bleachers at the Rebbe’s farbrengen.

This drew me down a rabbi(t)’s-hole of many memories. It’s a flood of memories, but without getting into the whole farbrengen experience, just remembering the Bleachers piece…

The bleachers are no longer there now, but they were a solid wooden structure with wide wood flooring, one tier above another, on the far western wall of 770. For prayers this would be the far back wall, and during the farbrengens, it was kind of a left field. It was a place with the whole 770 in view, but it was harder to hear from on Shabbos farbrengens. The thing about the bleachers is that it was a free-for-all, there were no assigned places, anyone could stand there. So many people who didn’t have designated places or inherited spots would be able to stand.

The experience aspect of the farbrengen, the vibe, the energy, the niggunim, even saying Lchaim to the Rebbe between the sichos (see this “Brown Bear” post) – all was fully accessible and vieweable on the bleachers, maybe even more so. But it was harder to hear, and so it was a less desirable spot. Shortly after this 1987 picture I got a closer, relatively “better place” from my cousin, closer up, alongside Rebbe’s farbrengen table, but prior to that, from 1983-1987 (age 10 to 14) I stood every farbrengen on the bleachers.

It was hard for little kids to stand a long time by the farbrengen, especially when Yiddish was not my first language and I was just learning it when I came to Yeshiva in Brooklyn at age 10, and Rebbe’s voice didn’t always carry all the way up to the bleachers. A lot of my friends would play outside (Kugelach in Dollars Room or Sticks & Belts in the Library driveway) and I was tempted to join (and once tried… a story for another time) but my father insisted to me: “The Neshoma hears!” and you know what, I absorbed so much even in the days when I could hear as much or didn’t really understand, so grateful for that. More on that later below.

There was a small rectangular window near the ceiling above the top tier of the bleachers. That window was to WLCC, the Communications Room, where farbrengens would be broadcast and translated. Just below that window stood the old Sofer Zirkind, R’ Eliezer, who was a unique Yid with his identifiable trademarks (his family carries on his dress and traditions). I remember because (not in this particular picture) Zirkind had bionic hearing! Sometimes, if you got on his right side, he’d repeat during the singing some of what he heard. I remember he took off his shoes and stood in his socks, I remember some of his caustic (but not hurtful) humor. Legend was that Zirkind wrote Rabbenu Tam Tefillin for R’ Moshe Feinstein upon Rebbe’s recommendation (I confirmed the story from a family member), he was a big madeyek and maven, he was an expert that made everything (clothing, parchment, basic stuffs,  you name it) on his own!

Further down on the bleachers stood a school teacher from Ocean Parkway, I remember him learning Mishnayos on the bus ride home.  His name was R’ Azriel Wasserman, he was a Baal Teshuvah, a pious earnest man. He stood on the widest step of the bleachers, it was a double-width and it had a waist-height bar. Rabbi Wasserman stood in middle of that row. And he’d also share in between the sichos. Sometimes I’d stand next to him. He had an earnestness. Later in life after moving back to Albany we have fellow neighboring Shluchim across the river, the Labers of East Greenbush, and Mrs. Nechama Laber (who runs Jewish Girls Retreat and similar orgs) is the daughter of the late Rabbi Azriel Wasserman of blessed memory.

Charlie Buttons stood on the lowest or maybe second row up. Charlie was a fixture in 770 for as long as I can remember! He always wore big blue overalls, rugged beige boots and a cap filled with all types of buttons. Where did Charlie come from? Where did he live? He was Shabbos in 770. He would attend all the Shalom Zachors (Friday night parties when newborn babies are born) and Crown Heights would have many such parties each Friday Night. He would go to “Murphys Shul” for Shalosh-Seudos. In later years we’d come back into 770 from Mivtzoyim and Charlie would stand against the Bima and read aloud a weekly sicha in English. But most memorable about Charlie Buttons is that he stood all farbrengen (I assume not understanding a word). When Rebbe finished each sicha, always ending off on a blessing, everyone present would say aloud Amen! Everyone said Amen, but Charlie said Amen louder than everyone and you always always heard Charlie’s Amen above the farbrengen crowd. Years later, after Gimmel Tammuz I asked Charlie what he missed most about the Rebbe? He thought for a second, and said, “It had to be his smile. The Rebbe never looked at me up close without a big smile! And often an uplifting encouraging swing with his hand, too.”

I had a special feeling for the weekday farbrengens (pre-1988) because it opened up the farbrengen to us on the bleachers. We could hear everything! The Rebbe’s voice was booming over the microphone, it was incredible! This picture above was obviously taken at a one such weekday farbrengen.

Actually I have a specific memory from my first year in Brooklyn. I was ten. It was a night in Tevet, and for some reason (this wasn’t typical but maybe I was there for some reason) I was doing homework with my big blue fabric 5-subject binder on one of the ledges/levels of the Bleachers. It was evening, and all of a sudden there was a big tumult below. Benches and tables were being moved around in a hurried way! Turns out there was a surprise farbrengen, it was the 20th of Tevet, yartzeit of the Rambam, and this was the first year of the Rebbe’s Rambam Campaign in 5744/1983-1984 and so I was present when that surprise weekday farbrengen unfolded! Funny memory, I have a distinct memory of worrying where to put my binder in the tumult of the farbrengen…

THE SICHA-ENDS – will get to woking on this part of this post later…

As mentioned above it was harder to hear and understand from the distance of the bleachers, as it was Shabbos and no microphone. I did hear the Rebbe’s voice but it was in and out, higher and lower, and harder to follow the concepts, especially as I was still learning Yiddish (the language the Rebbe spoke at farbrengens) and as a child I wasn’t yet familiar with all the basic concepts Rebbe was discussing.

Aside for the vibe, energy and atmosphere and just being present and taking it all in, and even without understanding the Rebbe’s talk or sometimes even what it was even about – I did pick up something. Rebbe phrases! Usually at the end of the sichos, the Rebbe would end each sicha (each individual talk at a farbrengen which had multiple such talks, each on different topics, or interconnected as is Rebbe’s way) with blessings.

And often, the Rebbe’s voice would rise when he would say the blessings at the end of the sicha talks, and often those blessings were phrases, verses and wishes that he’d often use, so they were familiar and beloved, and I heard and felt them loud and clear. They found their way into me and they stuck. Not all were from the end of the sichos, some were from middle parts, too, but mostly from the ends. The interesting thing is that I don’t always consciously think of them but they are a deeply embedded core memory, with lots of rich association. They bring up and evoke a lot.

Here are some of them:

V’Atem Teluktu Echad Echad – and you will gather the Jewish people one by one
The Rebbe oft quoted this verse from Isaiah. It so resonated! It jived with Rebbe’s way of speaking of each Jew and every Jew: Yder Yid un Aleh Yidden. Focused on community, but also on the individual. See this post we did on Rebbe’s Waldo and a Korach Rashi, or our son Moshe’s Bar-Mitzvah Speech on individual and community. All along the same theme. When the Rohr Family dedicated the new, bigger and better Shabbos House we needed to put up a new Perochet Torah Ark Cover with their dedication it was time to put up a new verse on the Ark. Which verse? There are classic Torah Ark verses many synagogues typically use but I knew I wanted this Rebbe-Isaiah verse up there as it tells the story of our Campus Chabad: Building Community, Celebrating Individual, Gathering the Jewish People – One by One!

B’Niareinu uvZkayneinu, B’vaneinu uvivNosanyu – with our youth & our elders, our sons & daughters
This verse comes from Moshe’s declaration to Pharaoh that the Exodus would include all the Jewish people, young and old, men and women – everyone. No one left behind. The Rebbe’s vision of Jewish community is all-encompassing, no one is left out. It’s not only for members, or only for scholars, or only for certain soceio-economic strata, but for everyone!

The young and old part especially resonated with me at the time. I was still a child living at my grandparents home as I studied in a Brooklyn Yeshiva. This was the mid-1980’s when Rebbe had just recently begun Tzivos Hashem and lots of special programming for children, especially the rallies! The Rebbe’s Rallies speaking to the children was a big highlight, a huge memory. And this was also around the time when the Rebbe began Tiferes Levi Yitzchak, senior programming for older folks established in memory of the Rebbe’s father. My grandparents retired during my living in their home, first my grandfather, then my grandmother, and both loved going to/near 770 for learning sessions and Torah classes, it became a big part of their social scene and their day’s activities.

Toras Chaim, Horaah BaChaim – a Living Torah, Lessons for Life
This is one of the key ways that Rebbe would describe Torah. This dual-phrase: Toras Chaim, Horaah BaChaim. I remember the Rebbe saying this often. It was a reminder that Torah must be relevant, it has to be personal, it must relate and connect to our daily lives.

Takef uMiyad Mamesh – very soon, immediately, tangibly/really!
B’Mehiera vYameinu Amein – very soon speedily in our days!
Lo Ikvan Afilu K’Heref Ayin – not to keep them back even for the bat of an eyelash!
B’agalah Didan Mamesh – 
All of these were common Rebbe expressions in the blessings at the end of the sichos, and they all conveyed an eager sense of urgency. More recently, reading Telushkin’s book Rebbe he considers alacrity and urgency to be one of