Reb Michel Raskin: Fruit Purveyor, Devoted Chossid

Behind the Crown Heights fruit and produce purveyor, stood a devoted chossid who graciously greeted everyone. Rabbi Michoel Seligson presents the story of Reb Michel Raskin in honor of his yahrzeit.

By Rabbi Michoel Seligson – (from the Kfar Chabad weekly)

Leningrad 5690 (late, 1929)

The communists who took over the government during the Russian revolution which took place after WWI, are strengthening their persecution against the Jews. Also, the economical state of the country was very difficult. As a result of this, a large flow of chassidim move to the big cities. There, it would be easier to hide and occupy themselves in a variety of parnosa options. 

Many families of Chabad chassidim lived in Leningrad, amongst them, Hachossid Rabbi Aharon Leib Laine and his wife Doba Raiza, Rabbi Aharon, being the son of Hagaon Hachossid Horav Yehoshua Laine HY”D, who was of great and distinguished Rabbonim and Chabad Chassidim in the generation before WWII; Rabbi Yehoshua was the son of the chossid Horav Chaim Dovid Laine of Nevel, a son of the distinguished family of Chein, with which the family members are amongst the great Rabbonim originating from the time of the Alter Rebbe. Mrs. Doba Raiza, is the daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Raskin of Gurki, the son of the noted chossid, amomgst the great chassidim and mkurovim of the Rebbe Rashab, Rabbi Chaim Benzion Raskin A”H. His ancestors were also of the original Chassidim, of the “Alter Rebbe” ZY”O.

It was in this year (1929) that their oldest son, Reb Yechiel Michel was born. He was named after the chossid Reb Michel Shtzerbiner (who is mentioned in the Previous Rebbe’s Sichos), the father of Mrs. Batya, grandmother from his mother’s side. 

Despite the difficult years in a physical sense and immense persecutions in a spiritual sense, the child merited a genuine true chassidishe upbringing. He remembered his great-grandfather Rabbi Chaim Benzion Raskin whose image surely made an impact on him. When he was only ten years old, he was sent to his grandfather Rabbi Yehoshua Laine who then served as a rav and shochet in Rudnia. This was in order to receive a more enhanced chassidishe chinuch, than was in Leningrad at the time. 

On a later occasion, Reb Michel would relate that at the age of ten his grandfather would teach him practical Halochos. His grandfather would tell him a Jew needs to know that before eating chicken, it needs shechita, and he would take him along to observe the shechita. When there was a need for Tahara (on a nifter), he would take him along to assist him, saying this also, a child needs to know. 

Leningrad 5702 (1942)

At this time the Jews of Russia over the course of the 1930’s have already experienced terrible years, persecution and murders. In addition, WWII came upon them. Leningrad was stricken with a double portion, since the Nazis placed a siege on the city, starved and bombed out the population. 

On an occasion, in the midst of the terrible days, the Chassidim. Rabbi Aharon Leib Laine and his brother-in-law, the chossid Rabbi Bezalel Halevi Rubashkin (who is also a member of the famous family in Nevel, who moved to Leningrad, a son-in-law of Rabbi Shlomo Raskin, husband of Mrs. Batya) conversed. When they began expressing their feelings, they said that during the troubled times they have one and only wish  – that their descendants remain honest Jews, and for that they are ready to give everything,  and if needed – to sacrifice their lives.

Not too many days passed and in the month of Shvat, they both were murdered together. 

With chasdei Hashem, their wives and children successfully left the besieged Leningrad and survived. 

Gurki, 5702-5706 (1942-1946).

Mrs. Doba and her sister Tzivia and their young orphaned children, made their way to the far Gurki (today Nizhni-Novogrod), to the house of their father. During the war years, Rabbi Shlomo’s house turned also into the home for his two young widowed daughters and their orphans. In addition, his other sons and daughters lived in his house or nearby. It demanded exceptional energy on the part of Rabbi Shlomo to conduct a business, which will support his extended family, host refugees with a gracious heart and conduct a complete Chassidic life.  

The Previous Rebbe once said about Reb Shlomo: “One should learn from Reb Shlomo how to do chesed, he is on a high level of Hachnosas Orchim”. 

Reb Shlomo did not just host guests who arrived to his home, but went to the train station searching for Jewish refugees who need his help and assisted them with everything possible, if it was potatoes, firewood, clothing and also medications which were quite expensive during the war. 

Being the oldest, the young Michel, had a central place in all that took place in the house. Already then, his talents were obvious as a smart person, resourceful with a good and merciful heart.

In the Rebbe’s environment

Paris 5707 (1947). Mrs. Doba with her four orphans from their father,  merited to be was amongst the chassidim who left Russia miraculously in the famous “escape”, in the years 1946-1947. For this purpose, she needed to adopt her maiden name Raskin. She remained in Paris with her sons for the following years. After the border crossings with great miracles and much wandering, they reached Paris. After a certain time period, they successfully obtained a visa to the United States and settled in New York.   

Mrs, Doba reached New York with her four sons- Reb Yechiel Michel A”H, Reb Sholom Ber A”H and may they live and be well Reb Chaim Dovid and Reb Benzion. Upon their arrival, they all connected to the Rebbe, to whom they became mekushar and loved. Following his directives and instructions they conducted their lives and are fathers to magnificent families and pillars of the Chabad community in Crown Heights,

770, 12th of Tishrei 5717 (late 1956)

In 1956, Reb Michel became engaged to may she live and be well, Mrs. Danya, the daughter of the Chossid, Reb Schneur Zalman Yissochor Getzel Halevi Rubashkin. They merited that the Rebbe officiated their wedding. The story is recorded in the sefer Mekadesh Yisroel

During his engagement, prior to him wearing a beard, Reb Michel, while in Yechidus requested of the Rebbe to officiate the wedding. The Rebbe responded: “If you will grow a beard”. The choson immediately consented and he planned to begin in the sefira days, the Rebbe commented: “I would prefer that you begin from now, but at least from Sefira”.       

During this engagement period, Reb Michel immediately traveled to Montreal fulfilling the Rebbe’s request, so as that choson and kalla not spend a long time together.

For Pesach he returned to New York and on Isru Chag the Rebbe expressed that he was pleased that Reb Michel left right after his engagement. 

[On the first night of Pesach, Reb Michel walked to Brownsville to his future in-laws to prepare the seder for them. That evening after the seder, noticing that Reb Michel was absent from the Rebbe’s table, the Rebbe asked, “Where is Michel?” The next morning he was already back in Shul by the Rebbe. 

During the summer, two months prior to his wedding, Reb Michel wanted to come into New York to purchase some things for the wedding, the Rebbe advised it was not worthwhile and perhaps to wait till Rosh Hashana.  

“Raskin – translate”

770. Simchas Torah 5723 (late 1962).

Simchas Torah night or rather Simchas Torah early morning, the Rebbe would teach Chassidim the new nigun. On Simchas Torah 5723 it was the nigun “Stav Ya Pitu”. Reb Michel would recall his memories of this event, with special delight: 

“Today everyone knows the words and meaning of the nigun. But at the time the Rebbe taught the nigun for the first time, the chassidim present were not able to record/absorb the words of the nigun. I stood at the side and suddenly the Rebbe turns to me and says in Russian: “Raskin, translate”. 

“I said I cannot grasp the first 3 words “STaV Yapitu  uvPiatnitzu.” The Rebbe then repeated the 3 words  with more punctuation “STAV YAPIT” (not YapitU) UVPIATNITZU” and B”H I was able to grasp all the words and translate the nigun

 “The entire event made a very deep impression on me. In particular the serious tone with which the Rebbe taught the last section of the nigun, that after all the joy and drinking, one needs to give cheshbon tzedek (sincere account) to his master…This was a special scenario, where the Rebbe reminds us, in the middle of a nigun that there is a master, and after all we need to stand for Hashem and give an accounting.. “

This would be the appropriate occasion to mention, that indeed Reb Michel was a Yereh Shomayim (G-D fearing person), one who had true chassidishe Emuna and Chassidishe feeling for every sacred matter; he was modest did not credit himself for doing good things. For example, assuming that not too many people know, over a long time Reb Michel would attend a Chassidus shiur on Shabbos morning with the Mashpia Reb Pinya Korf, who would come to Reb Michel’s house early morning for this shiur.

Bais Chayenu 770. Tishrei 5727-5728 (Late 1966-1967).

As many anash were leaving Russia in 1946-1947, there were many who have not yet left at the time, remaining behind the Iron Curtain for many more years. This was the lot of the Raskin’s family branch – the sons and daughters of Reb Shlomo Raskin. His daughter, Mrs. Doba, Reb Michel’s mother, had already arrived in the U. S. with her sons; his daughter Mrs. Luba Zarchi and her husband the Chossid Reb Meir and their families have arrived, his son Reb Shaul Raskin migrated to Eretz Yisroel,  but Reb Shlomo’s sons Reb Yehuda Leib A”H and Reb Sholom Duber A”H, his daughter Chaya and her husband Reb Moshe Vishetsky, and his daughter Tzivia with her husband Reb Zushe Margolin (in 2nd marriage)- were left in Russia. And after 20 years they received permission to leave and settled in Eretz Yisroel. 

Those who immigrated to Eretz Yisroel, merited that the Rebbe would invite them to come to him for Tishrei and pay for their tickets. The month of Tishrei 5727-5728 (late 1966-1967), are forever engraved in the history of these families, which had most recently left Russia. In Russia, it involved meiras nefesh to lead a Jewish and Chassidic life. For a while after they settled in Eretz Yisroel, it seemed for them as a dream. They were finally solidifying their life desire to see the Rebbe. 

In those years, Reb Michel and his wife Danya (may she live and be well), were occupied with their young children in a small apartment on top of the fruit and vegetables store.  Nevertheless, they went out of their limitations to host the relatives who have just left Russia, uncles and cousins of the Raskin family, Vishetsky and Margolin-and amongst them, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Marinowsky and the son-in-law of their aunt Tzivia – whom they didn’t see for many years or never.

It became very clear, that these two months of Tishrei (1966 &1967), were particularly the months of guests for many families, but for Reb Michel this was a home where Hachnosas Orchim was fulfilled to a great extent and in a very broad manner. Not only for year like this or that, and not only for relatives of the first class, second class or third class; on top of the fruit/vegetable store, located on the corner of Kingston and President Street, and also when they moved to a more spacious house – but their home was always spaciously open, in an exceptional manner, even in Crown Heights, where her residents also excel in Hachnosas Orchim.

Every Raskin relative, either close or extended family relative, whatever the status of his relationship was if he was either, a first, second or third cousin, he was accepted very graciously and very heartily. The guests would receive nutritional and satisfying meals, very appetizing meat and fish, treated as royal members. This took place Shabbos after Shabbos, Yom Tov after Yom Tov. Tens of guests from close and far, would be seated at their tables. During the month of Tishrei it would be doubled and quadrupled,  

One of the family members, upon hearing the sad news of Reb Michel’s petira said the following:  

Over the course of decades, whenever I came to the Rebbe, I was a desirable guest in his home. In a great measure, I was considered a member of the immediate family. I observed from close how Reb Michel benefitted from his exertive work, which was with great toiling and sweat. In an early morning hour, he would leave his house, get on to the big truck and manage his wholesale business with marketing his fruits and vegetables in New York. In addition, he had his retail shop in the heart of Crown Heights. Everything was done with exertion of his soul and body. Nevertheless, with a joyous heart, warmth, and he would graciously welcome everyone. His hand was always open for giving charity, and his home was always open for every needy person. Every guest, child or adult, felt like a king and merited much attention. 

Amongst their customers, they merited to have the Rebbe and his Rebbetzin, Rebbetzin Chana, and Rebbetzin Nechoma Dina. About one month before her petira on the 22nd of Shvat, the Rebbetzin called up the store and said, “I want to thank you so much for the wonderful service you have provided us. Even when  my assistant forgot to order something like five lbs. of potatoes, you would send it immediately”. Reb Michel responded, “You don’t need to thank us. We have to thank you”.  And he quoted from his shver – father in law ,Reb Getzel  Rubashkin, that in Russia they would say, “we are proud to be the purveyors to his majesty (the Czar). We say Boruch Hashem, we merited to be purveyors to the house of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin”.

All the members of this dear family, they should live and be well, beginning from the woman of valor, the crown of her husband, Mrs. Danya and their sons and their daughters, all as one compromised their personal matters,  and exerted and occupied themselves nights like days, to greet the guests, to receive them and pleasantly cater to them. 

As mentioned Reb Michel’s father Reb Aharon Leib Laine, was nifter in Leningrad Shvat 5702 (1942), his yahrzeit is Yud Shvat. As known, on this day, the Rebbe would daven for the omud in honor of the Hilulo of the Previous Rebbe. The older veteran chassidim, recall that in honor of their father, the Raskin sons, would supply and prepare the large five wax candles which were placed on the omud and the entire omud. They also sponsored the Menorah in their father’s name on the omud, upstairs and downstairs. They would polish the menorah on a steady basis. Until this very day, the Menorah is dedicated in the memory of his parents. 

The yahrzeit of their mother Mrs. Doba is on the 4th of Cheshvan. After her petira the sons established a Gemach (loan) fund, “Keren Horim” (fund of our parents). Annually, on Motzoei Shabbos Noach, they would make a melave malka in honor and memory of their parents and for the benefit of the fund. The Rebbe would give a bottle of Mashke for the melava malka. For this occasion, the four sons would approach the Rebbe and the Rebbe would pour L’chaim for each of them. 

Dor Yeshorim (a generation of righteous)

With the petira of Reb Michel Raskin, the wide community of Chabad Chassidim lost an image of a chassidisher Yid, and without holding any titles, nor any position, he was a G-D fearing person, a Chossid devoted and attached to the Rebbe and to everything which was sacred. 

He left – may they live and be well – his dignified wife who does much chesed, Mrs. Danya, his sons, Rabbi Aharon Leib, Rabbi Avrohom Menachem Mendel, Rabbi Sholom; his daughters, Mrs. Gutal, wife of the Shliach Rabbi Yisroel Edelman, Mrs. Masha, wife of Ish Hachesed, Rabbi Nochum Markowitz, and Mrs. Zelda, wife the Shliach Rabbi Yitzchok Treitel and grandchildren and great-grandchildren who follow the path of their ancestors, amongst them Shluchim of the Rebbe; and his brothers Rabbi Chaim Dovid and Rabbi Benzion Raskin.

May his memory be blessed forever. 

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