The Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s Miraculous Escape: 28 Sivan

Read the fascinating overview of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s miraculous journey and arrival to the United States on Chof Ches Sivan 5701, brought to life with photos and documents from every step of the way.

By Or Vechom Hahiskashrus

This Thursday, Chassidim around the world will celebrate Chof Ches Sivan, marking 83 years since the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s safe arrival on the shores of the United States in 5701 (1941), heralding a new era of Hafatzas Hama’ayanos. The Rebbe refers to Chof Ches Sivan as “a day established by many for Farbrengens and Hachlatos, to renew our efforts in the mission of spreading Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Chassidus outward” (Shabbos Shelach, 28 Sivan 5749). It is clear that this is a very special day on a Chossid’s calendar.

We are pleased to share an overview of this historic day and era of the Rebbe’s early years in America. We hope this will help you understand and mark this special day. Much of the information in this overview was taken from The Early Years series of JEM and various articles from A Chassidisher Derher.

To explore a plethora of resources on Chof Ches Sivan, click here.


Below is an abbreviated overview of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s escape based on an article from A Chassidisher Derher. To read an incredibly detailed overview of the escape, consider the Kovetz 28 Sivan released by the Vaad Hatmimim in honor of 80 Years. Additionally, you can watch The Early Years series from JEM volume three and volume four for more details on the Rebbe’s life in Paris and his escape from war-torn Europe. 

In the winter of 5700 (1939-40), the endeavors to get hold of a visa for the Frierdiker Rebbe to enter the United States were nearing success. Effort was placed into bringing the Frierdiker Rebbe’s family along for the move, but the State Department was hesitant to supply them with visas, delaying the process for months. (The Frierdiker Rebbe successfully moved to the United States on the 9th of Adar 5700 (1940) without his extended family. For the full story of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s arrival, see the ‘America is no Different’ film from JEM.)

While this was happening, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin were safely living in Paris, France, where the war had not yet reached. That all changed in Iyar of 5700 (1940), when the Nazis ym”sh invaded France; it was only a matter of time before they would march up the streets of Paris, endangering the lives of all French Jews. The obvious solution was to move to a safer area within France, but obtaining a train ticket to leave Paris was nearly impossible. Luckily, an army official was able to procure two train tickets to Vichy, France, a quiet town 360 kilometers southeast of Paris, upon which the Rebbe and Rebbetzin escaped only three days before the Nazi invasion of Paris. Vichy was a wonderful safe haven for some time, but after a few weeks, it was apparent that it too was no longer a safe place for the Rebbe and Rebbetzin. Rabbi Sholom Ber Levin heard a first-hand account from the Rebbetzin about this time period and shared some interesting tidbits in an interview with JEM.

In the summer of 5700 (1940), the Rebbe and Rebbetzin relocated again, from Vichy to Nice, France, a resort town on the Mediterranean Sea, where they applied once again for a United States visa. A few months later, in Cheshvan of 5701 (1940), the Rebbe’s lawyer was informed by a U.S. Government official of a possible reason for the visa’s delay. The Rebbe was registered as an engineer, not as a Rabbi, which made him in valid to receive a non-quota visa. After receiving a telegram a few weeks later, confirming his Rabbinical status to the consulate, the Rebbe reapplied for a visa as a Rabbi. Due to other complications, the Rebbe moved his application from the US consulate in Nice to the consulate in Marseille, presumably due to their willingness to work with Jewish refugees, although this remains uncertain. The wait for a response was long and worrisome, and the Frierdiker Rebbe would check in frequently, hoping to hear good news.

In the winter of 5701 (1940-41), the Rebbe and Rebbetzin were summoned to the US Consulate in Marseille, France, where they were informed that they would be granted visasIn a letter dated 26th of Adar 5701 (1941), the Rebbetzin notified her father – the Frierdiker Rebbe – regarding the assurance of the American Counsel in Marseilles to approve the entry visas. In recent years, the team at JEM unearthed a copy of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s visa application, click here to read more. A few weeks later, on 20 Nissan 5740, they received them.

One of the few operating ports during that point in the war was in Lisbon, Portugal, a country that had remained neutral throughout. Once they received their visas, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin had to apply for travel permits to Lisbon where they would be able to board a ship to safety, delaying their trip yet again. Around one month after receiving their visas, on 27 Iyar 5701, they received their travel permits and were on their way. 

Getting tickets aboard one of the few ships heading to America at the time was no simple task. Rabbi Mordechai Bistritsky, a chossid living in America, bought tickets for his parents-in-law to leave Europe, but they could not obtain the necessary papers to escape. Hearing of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s plight, and with extra tickets in hand, he graciously passed them on to the Rebbe and Rebbetzin. 

On 17 Sivan 5701 (1941), the Rebbe and Rebbetzin boarded the Serpa Pinto for a perilous journey to New York. Even after boarding the ship, there was fear that the Nazis would take down the boat with hidden submarines stationed all around the European waters. After safely exiting European waters, the Rebbe sent a telegram to the Frierdiker Rebbe informing him that the main dangers had passed. [It is interesting to note that the Rebbe brought many original manuscripts from Frierdiker Rebbe’s library, as well as many of his own writings on his journey to safety.]

Finally, on 28 Sivan 5701 (1941), after 12 days at sea, the Serpa Pinto finally arrived on American soil, docking at Pier 8 in Staten Island. The Rebbe and Rebbetzin had finally arrived in America

[Interestingly, on the same date exactly six years later, on 28 Sivan 5707, the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana, arrived on American shores for the very first time, as is evident from her entry papers.]

Recently, a letter that the Rebbe wrote to Reb Shimon Aryeh Leib Greenberg shortly after his arrival in America was discovered. It is not only the first known letter of the Rebbe during this time period, but also gives us a glimpse into the Rebbe’s perspective on his perilous journey together with the Rebbetzin in the Rebbe’s own words. 


Upon arriving at Pier 8, the Rebbe and Rebbetzin boarded a ferry to Manhattan, where they were greeted by a large delegation of Bochurim and Chassidim. As related by Rabbi Yitzchok Groner, a student in Tomchei Temimim at the time, the Frierdiker Rebbe requested that all the students go to greet the Rebbe, stating: “My son-in-law is fluent in the entire Shas, many commentaries and all published Chassidishe Seforim.” From there, they were taken to their final destination, 770 Eastern Parkway. Rabbi Leibel Posner and Rabbi Dovid Edelman recoutned the Bochurim’s excitement over the Rebbe’s arrival and how everyone jumped at the opportunity to welcome and meet the Rebbe.

In a pure act of Hakaros Hatov, the Frierdiker Rebbe did not wait a moment, and immediately sent a letter to the father of the attorney who was working on the Rebbe’s case to inform him of the Rebbe’s arrival. As well, due to the lack of communication with the outside world while stranded in southern France under the Nazi puppet government of General Petain, only a day after his arrival in the US, the Rebbe sent an urgent telegram to the Yanovsky family in Tel Aviv (Rebbetzin Chana’s first cousins), inquiring about the whereabouts of his brother Reb Yisrael Aryeh Leib, his parents, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana, and his uncle, Rabbi Shmuel.

At a Farbrengen of the Frierdiker Rebbe a few months prior, the Chassidim were singing the Beinoni Niggun but no one was able to sing it perfectly right. The Frierdiker Rebbe remarked: “Soon my son-in-law will come, and he will sing it right.” The Chassidim in America at the time did not know much about the Rebbe, but did manage to hear a little information here and there, which led them to delight in the Rebbe’s presence. When he arrived, the Rebbe made an immediate impression on the Bochurim and the Chassidim, as related by Rabbi Yitzchok Popack of the special moment when the Rebbe was asked to simply teach the Bochurim a Mishnah. After he had a chance to bentch ‘Hagomel,’ the Rebbe farbrenged for the Chassidim in 770, and all those present felt that the Rebbe was “something different;” they hung onto every word he said. Read more about the “first Farbrengen” here.

Another well-known first impression that the Rebbe had on the Chassidim was on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, only two days after his arrival, during the Minyan for Shachris. The Rebbe modestly “hid” in the corner of the room under his Tallis, not wanting the Chassidim to witness his practice to don four pairs of Tefillin, as instructed by the Frierdiker Rebbe.


The Rebbe did not waste a moment upon his arrival to the United States, immediately starting to work on various programs and campaigns for the Frierdiker Rebbe. In the ensuing months, the Rebbe assumed leadership of three organizations: Merkos L’inyonei ChinuchMachne Israel, and Kehos Publication Society. These new efforts propelled the revolution in Hafotzas Hama’ayonos that we see in our days.

During the Farbrengen of 28 Sivan, 5749, the Rebbe said, “On Chof Ches Sivan, a new force took flight in the efforts of strengthening and spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit, and spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus. This was when the [Frierdiker] Rebbe, my father-in-law, established the central organizations of “Machne Yisroel,” “Kehos,” and “Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch,” whose work continued for the final ten years of his life in this world, and they still continue to grow and intensify even after his Histalkus, when he is found in this world even more than during his lifetime…”

The Rebbe took these organizations to the next level during his many years of actively directing them and continued to oversee their work even after accepting the Neisus in 5711 (1951).


As was the case of many details of the Rebbe’s personal life, such as the Rebbe’s birthday or Reb Yisroel Aryeh Leib’s yahrtzeit, many Chassidim did not know anything about the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s escape from Europe until late into the Rebbe’s Nesius. Even the date that the Rebbe and Rebbetzin arrived in America was unknown until the fifth volume of the Frierdiker Rebbe’s Igros Kodesh was published in 5743 (1983) which featured a letter from the Frierdiker Rebbe informing of the good news, in a letter dated “Chof-Ches Sivan 5701.

Even after this information was somewhat more public, the celebration and excitement surrounding this day took a few years to pick up. In 5745 (1985), after finding out the actual date of the Rebbe’s arrival, the Chassidim wanted to do something to mark the day, but were not yet sure if the Rebbe would appreciate it being celebrated as a Yom Tov. A small private Farbrengen was planned and the Bochurim sang the Rosh Chodesh Kislev Niggun as the Rebbe walked into Maariv on the night of 28 Sivan. The Rebbe responded with an immediate wave of the hand, relieving the Bochurim of their fears and validating the Simcha.

The first time a public event was planned for Chof Ches Sivan was the next year, in 5746 (1986), marking 45 years since the miraculous arrival. Being that Chof Ches Sivan was on Shabbos, the Chassidim planned a Melaveh Malka Farbrengen commemorating the day. That Shabbos, the Rebbe held a Farbrengen as he would every Shabbos Mevorchim. To the surprise of all the Chassidim present, the Rebbe spoke of the day publicly (English), calling it the dawn of a new era in Hafotzas Hama’ayonos. This was the first time the Rebbe mentioned the day in public. After hearing the Rebbe mention Chof Ches Sivan in the Sicha, Rabbi Meir Harlig approached the Rebbe to notify the Rebbe of the Farbrengen in honor of the Rebbe’s rescue. With a glowing smile, the Rebbe corrected Reb Meir, adding “איש וביתו,” implying that it was the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s escape. The Rebbe then gave Rabbi Harlig a bottle of Mashke as his participation in the Farbrengen.

Each year following, Rabbi Harlig would pass by the Rebbe during the Farbrengen preceding 28 Sivan to recieve a bottle of Mashkeh as the Rebbe’s participation in the yearly Farbrengen of Chassidim. Starting in 5748 (1988), the Rebbe began editing a Maamer and printing it in honor of Chof Ches Sivan. A total of four Muggedike Maamorim were published in honor of Chof Ches Sivan between the years 5748-5751.

In 5749, Chof Ches Sivan fell on a Shabbos Mevorchim, so the Rebbe was scheduled to Farbreng on the day of the Simcha for the first time since its public celebration began. Chassidim were very excited and started the Farbrengen with the Rosh Chodesh Kislev Niggun in lieu of the usual Niggun they would sing. During the first Sicha, the Rebbe spoke strongly of the power of the day and its connection to Hafatzos Hama’ayanos (English). The Rebbe also spoke of the now-established custom of holding a Farbrengen on this day. 

Perhaps the most memorable celebration of 28 Sivan was that of 5751 (1991), marking 50 years since the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s arrival in America. In honor of the occasion, a Kovetz containing all the Sichos said in connection with the day, as well as documentation of the Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s journey, was published. Rabbi Simon Jacobson relates the tremendous amount of research that had to be done to collect all this information and the Rebbe’s Brochos for this special project. To the surprise of all the Chassidim, the Rebbe announced that he would distribute the Kovetz personally to all assembled. Read an overview of the distribution in English here or in Hebrew here. An English version of the Kovetz is also available here

Among many other special moments of that year, President George W. Bush wrote a letter to the Rebbe expressing his good wishes. In a letter dated “The Third of Elul, 1991,” the Rebbe thanked the President for his “gracious felicitations in connection with the 50th anniversary of my arrival in the United States.”

When moving Lubavitch to America, the dream was to be able to mimic the same level of Jewish observance in America as had been conducted  in Europe. Undoubtedly, not only has Jewish observance in America caught up to that of Europe, it has surpassed it and continues to do so. The Rebbe attributed much of this to the day of Chof Ches Sivan, a day the Rebbe referred to as the start of an entirely new force in spreading Yiddishkeit.

To this day, Chassidim around the globe commemorate and experience 28 Sivan each year by farbrenging and making hachlatos, as well as learning the Maamarim and Sichos said in connection with this special day. It is a day to celebrate the start of a new era in Hafatzas Hama’ayanos, transforming the lower hemisphere into a place of Torah and Kedushah, paving the way for the arrival of Moshiach Tzidkeinu.

 Watch: Chassidim celebrate 50 years in America.
For the full resource site on Chof Ches Sivan, click here.

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