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Year of Building

Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Pewsner is the director of the Sinai-Lubavitch educational system in Paris, France. In 1989, the Lubavitcher Rebbe announced that it was a “year of building,” and put out a call for all his emissaries around the world, as well as individual chassidim, to expand their buildings or private homes. The Rebbe promised to contribute $100 towards any new building project.

Rabbi Pewsner decided to take the Rebbe at his word and take on a big project – to build a giant complex that would house all the schools in his educational system. Once he had a blueprint, he hired a sculptor to build a model of the proposed complex. He took the model and a list of donors, and traveled to the Rebbe to present the model to him.

The Rebbe was very pleased with the plans and the model, and promised to give $100 to each individual who had donated a substantial sum towards the project. After Rabbi Pewsner returned to France, the Rebbe followed the project closely, offering advice as well as a handsome financial contribution.

There was rapid progress on the building, and within two years it was ready for dedication. It was in Adar 5752 (March 1992), and Rabbi Pewsner flew again to New York with a large group of donors, led by his father, Rabbi Hillel Pewsner (of blessed memory), the head of the Chabad community in France, to present the Rebbe with the keys to the building. As it turned out, this was the last time the Rebbe distributed dollars before suffering a stroke on the following day, the 27th of Adar, 5752.

When Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Pewsner passed in front of the Rebbe, he handed him the ceremonial key and said, “I am giving over to the Rebbe full ownership of the building and all that it entails.”

With a broad smile, the Rebbe accepted the key and said, “Begin immediately with constructing a new building!”

Rabbi Pewsner relates: “We left the Rebbe in a state of total confusion. We had just completed building a large, very expensive complex. We had come to bask in the Rebbe’s approval for a job well done. And instead we received instructions to build another building! Even if there would be a sudden surge of enrollment in our school, we had a number of trailers left over that we had used while the new building was being constructed. In a pinch, we could use those as extra classrooms. Why did the Rebbe insist that we begin immediately with a new building?

 “We returned to France wondering about the Rebbe’s strange instructions, yet determined to carry out what he told us. My first move was to set up appointments with various officials, to acquire the land for a new building. During one meeting, I described our work to a building official and presented my request. He expressed interest in seeing our existing building and getting acquainted with our activities up close.

 “During our tour, I asked him if he was a believer, and he answered in the affirmative. I then gathered my courage and asked him, ‘Have you ever heard of the Lubavitcher Rebbe?’

 “I proceeded to tell him the story of our trip to New York, and the Rebbe’s instructions to immediately commence with a new building, which was why we needed his help.

 “The official listened and when I finished speaking he declared, ‘Your Rebbe is a prophet!’

“ ‘What do you mean?’ I asked.

The official explained to Rabbi Pewsner that there was a secret plan of the city to clear out the trailers that the school had been counting on for supplementary use. This plan had not yet been made public, because an election was approaching and the ruling party did not want to be adversely affected. ‘But I trust that you will not reveal the secret. I felt it was my duty to tell you this, just so you should know that your Rebbe is a prophet, and you should not rely on using those trailers.’”

Rabbi Pewsner concludes, “Thank G-d, we were successful in obtaining a permit to put up a new building. In the end, the planned expansion of the street was not carried out and the trailers were not cleared. However, we already had the permits and were able to build a new building, which was called Heichal Menachem. The trailers remained in place, but shortly thereafter a fire broke out and they were completely destroyed. We understood quite well what might have been, G-d forbid, had they been in use…”


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