Stories & Memories of Rabbi Chaim Meir Lieberman

By: Danny Fordham December 17

It's Always Better to Swim

I attended Yeshiva University (YU) between the years of 5773-5776 (2013-2016) and I had the great merit to spend countless Shabbosim at the Lieberman home during this time. I did not grow up in a religiously observant family and I began to become frum at the age of 14 with tremendous influence from Rabbi Moshe Lieberman (Rabbi Chaim Meir’s oldest son) who taught in my high school. When I began my studies at YU, Rabbi Moshe connected me with his family so I would have a place to go for Shabbos.

It was during my time in YU that I got to know Rabbi Chaim Meir Lieberman and our friendship ignited. One of very few Lubavitchers out of roughly 1,500 students, I felt out of place and somewhat lonely. My first week in YU was fraught with not such positive experiences. I remember telling Rabbi Chaim Meir about some of the challenges I was facing and he advised, “In life, you will either sink or swim and it’s always better to swim. You should start a Chabad Club.” That Monday I filed the paperwork to launch the Chabad Club and during my three and a half years at YU, we grew to be the largest and most active club on campus. To date, thousands have been positively impacted by the Chabad Club, a student-lead group with the goal of spreading Chassidus.

Rabbi Chaim Meir’s involvement didn’t stop there. Every week at the Shabbos table we would discuss the latest news at YU and the Chabad Club and he would help guide me through every obstacle we faced (of which there were plenty!). Following my graduation from YU, I went on to receive my rabbinical degree and today I serve as the rabbi of the Beth-El Jewish Center of Flatbush, a modern-orthodox synagogue in the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. I am fortunate to spend my days teaching and spreading Chassidus, and this is all a result of those initial words, “In life, you will either sink or swim and it’s always better to swim. You should start a Chabad Club.”

One winter break, I was visiting Eretz Yisroel and I travelled to Tzfas for a few days with some friends. In the morning, we davened shacharis at the Sanz Kollel and at the end of davening, the man sitting next to me (who I later found out to be the Rosh Kollel) asked the Gabbai to bring the sefer Luach D’var B’ito, which among other things, lists yahrzeits of tzadikim. The minhag in this community was to avoid saying tachanun and not to say tachanun on the yahrzeit of a tzadik. As such, they would look up which tzadik has a yahrzeit that day and skip tachanun. This particular day was 24 Teves, the hilula (yahrzeit) of the Alter Rebbe. The Rosh Kollel turned to me and asked me what minhag Chabad they could commemorate the date with. I responded by telling him half-jokingly that since minhag Chabad is to say tachanun on the yahrzeit of a tzadik, we should say tachanun. While the Rosh Kollel didn’t listen to my suggestion, he did appreciate the humor and we began to converse after davening. After he asked me if I grew up Chabad and I responded that I did not, he asked me who inspired me to become Chabad and after a little hesitation (I was thinking how in the world would this Rosh Kollel in Tzfas know my shliach from Boston), I told him, “Rabbi Moshe Lieberman.” The Rosh Kollel’s face became very serious and he asked me if Rabbi Moshe Lieberman is related to Rabbi Chaim Meir Lieberman. After I confirmed that Rabbi Moshe was the son of Rabbi Chaim Meir, the Rosh Kollel went on to tell me that he grew up with Rabbi Chaim Meir in Boro Park and that since Rabbi Chaim Meir was the closely living descendent to the Divrei Chaim (Rabbi Chaim of Sanz), he would like me to receive a brocha from Rabbi Chaim Meir on his behalf. I told the Rosh Kollel that with all due respect, Rabbi Chaim Meir will probably smack me if I ask him for a brocha. The Rosh Kollel smiled and responded, “you’re probably right.” I told this story to Rabbi Chaim Meir upon my return to New York and he confirmed that he would have given me a big smack. He also told me that this story gave him a lot of nachas.

I have countless memories and recollections from the Lieberman home. The Lieberman family not only opened their home to me, they opened their hearts. They have always treated me like family and their home served as my home away from home for several years. I greatly miss Rabbi Chaim Meir and I look forward to being reunited with the coming of moshiach tzidkeinu teikaf u’miyad mamosh.

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