Rebbetzin’s Driver Captured Unique Photos of the Rebbe

After the passing of Reuven Polis, a colorful Crown Heights resident who served as the Rebbetzin’s driver on occasion, some 20 rolls of negatives were discovered in his apartment, which turned out to be unpublished photos of the Rebbe.

There is no way to truly know the number of photographs of the Rebbe. Whether a Farbrengen, children’s parade, or a “regular” tefillah, one might see an unfamiliar face holding a camera in an attempt to capture a photo of the Rebbe at any given moment. The “in-house” photographers would show up regularly, but there were also those for whom photography was a hobby — capturing snapshots of the Rebbe in 770 was a “side project.”

Reuven Polis, a colorful Crown Heights resident, assisted Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka — on occasion, serving as her personal chauffeur. After his passing last year at age 88, his personal possessions were handed over to his friends. Reuven never married, and on his passing, the family of Yehuda Blesofsky sorted through his belongings to ensure that no treasures would unknowingly be thrown away.

Their efforts paid off, and several envelopes containing photographs of Crown Heights from the early 1960s were found. These included scenes of the famous Pegishos in Crown Heights, chassidim farbrenging, and… photos of the Rebbe.

The Blesofkys brought the materials to JEM for restoration and publishing, but even the experienced archival team was met with a new situation: Some 20 rolls of negatives that had never even been processed. There was no way of knowing whether the photos contained photos of the Rebbe at all. Careful not to expose the raw negatives to light, they were sent off to a company specializing in processing old negatives.

When the negatives returned to the JEM offices, the staff sifted through countless photos of family, scenery, and more, one roll was found with photos of a gathering with the Rebbe appearing to be from 1964. The Rebbe can be seen reciting a Chasidic discourse (as evidenced by the audience standing) as well as speaking to numerous individuals, whom JEM plans to eventually identify.

The negatives were cut, documented, and carefully scanned, in order to be made available to the public. The Purim photos were published in time for Purim, and now, in honor of 11 Nissan, the Rebbe’s birthday, the rest of this beautiful collection is being released. 

לרפואה שלמה למעלה מדרך הטבע לשניאור זלמן הכהן בן אלישבע

Browse the Polis photo collections here:

12 Tammuz, 5723:

Purim, 5724:

12 Tammuz, 5724:

Additionally, JEM recently identified new photos by Yossi Melamed, including the Farbrengen of 11 Nissan, 5737/1977, the Rebbe’s 75th birthday.

11 Nissan, 5737:

19 Kislev, 5738:

And the Rebbe drawing Mayim Sheluna in 5749/1989. 

7 Nissan, 5749:

If you are in possession of any recordings or photos of the Rebbe, please reach out to [email protected] to have them restored and published.

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