By Rabbi Michoel Seligson
Tes Iyar is the 14th Yahrtzeit of Reb Berl Junik, a”h.
Rabbi DovBer Junik, fondly referred to by anash as Reb Berl, was born in Priluki, Russia in 1927 on the 6th of Menachem Av to Horav Naftoli and Mrs. Golda Ita Junik, descendants of the holy Rebbes, Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, Reb Pinchas of Koritz, and Reb Menachem Nochum of Chernobel. Under the influence of the Rav of the city, HoRav Hillel Solozuvski, Reb Naftoli became acquainted with Chabad Chassidus. Reb Naftoli was a Yireh Shomayim and did not send his children to government schools but brought them up with mesiras nefesh in an underground cheder. At the outbreak of World War II, the family escaped to Tashkent from Moscow, and in 1944, the 17-year-old Berl went to Samarkand to study in the underground Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim, receiving Torah from the elder chassidim and mashpiyim.
In 1946, Jews finally had a real chance to leave Russia. The way they did it was to cross the border to Poland under the guise of being Polish citizens who had escaped to the Soviet Union during the war and were returning home. Polish passports generally contained the citizen’s name with a list of the individual’s children on the side, without identifying photos. The people organizing the mass exit from Russia needed to separate some families and add their children to other families in order that the number of children that appeared on the passports should be consistent with the number of children present. Reb Berl Junik merited to be listed on the passport of the Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe’s mother, as her child. This marked the beginning of an extraordinary relationship with Bais HoRav, the Rebbe’s family.
The train left Lvov, situated on the Russian-Polish border, on rosh chodesh Kislev 5707/1946. Reb Berl was instructed to say that he was the Rebbetzin Chana’s son, if asked. The Rebbetzin did not utter a word during the entire trip. Reb Berl, who helped the Rebbetzin with her luggage, later recalled: “There was great fear, and no one dared to mention the name “Schneerson.” Somehow, I found out that she was the Rebbetzin Chana, the muchutenesta of the Previous Rebbe.” In addition to the Rebbetzin and Reb Berl, a large group of Chassidim traveled to Poking, Germany where a displaced persons (“D.P.”) camp had been set up. Reb Berl continued his studies at Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in Poking.
The Rebbetzin’s identity was known to some of the Chassidim, who arranged a private room for her and tried to assist her in every way possible. After a short period of time, the Rebbetzin left for France in 1947 where she met the Rebbe – after not seeing him for some 19 years – who had come to Paris to greet her and escort her to the United States.
A shochet in Dublin, Ireland
The Previous Rebbe suggested that Reb Berl study shechita under the auspices of Rabbi Zalman Shimon Dworkin. Reb Berl then found work as a shochet in Dublin, Ireland. After a year, Reb Berl was instructed by the Previous Rebbe to go to Brunoy, France where he studied for the next three years. In the winter of 1950, the Previous Rebbe advised the Yeshiva faculty that some of the bochurim should come to the United States. Reb Berl traveled to the U.S. with his friends, Reb Yitzchok Pewzner, who would later become his brother-in-law, Harav Sholom Morosow, and Reb Gedalia Korf. The bochurim arrived on Rosh Chodesh Shvat.
Reb Berl arrives to the Previous Rebbe
On the 4th of Shvat, the four bochurim, in addition to Reb Dovid Raskin who had just arrived from Paris, merited to have yechidus with the Previous Rebbe.
Reb Berl recalled the Yechidus. “When we entered the Rebbe’s room, his secretary, Rabbi Rotshtein, introduced us to the Rebbe. The Rebbe looked at each of us. I entered last and was introduced as Berl Junik. The Rebbe continued looking at me. Rabbi Rotshtein stated that I was Naftoli’s, referring to my father. The Rebbe acknowledged with a nod of his head that he knew who I was and greeted us with “Boruch Boachem L’sholom.” He continued, ‘Today, we see each other and from time to time we will talk.’ He then inquired about our learning seder. Less than a week later on Shabbos, the tenth of Shvat, the Previous Rebbe was nistalek.
Mekushar to the Rebbe
Reb Berl became very mekushar to the Rebbe, and on the 7th of Iyar had his first yechidus with him. The Rebbe put on his gartel and accepted Reb Berl for yechidus. Reb Berl asked the Rebbe to write the details of the yechidus for him. The Rebbe suggested that Reb Berl write the Yechidus and that he would edit it. After the Rebbe assumed the nesius and started wearing a kapota instead of a suit, the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka gave the Rebbe’s suit to Reb Berl as a gift. When the Rebbetzin Chana learned that Reb Berl had arrived in the United States, she invited him to her house.
After that first visit, the Rebbetzin asked that Reb Berl continue visiting her. At times, when the Rebbe would leave the shul on Friday night after maariv, he would ask Reb Berl to visit his mother. Reb Berl continued this tradition and visited the Rebbetzin every Friday night.
A Ben Bayis by the Rebbe
From then on, Reb Berl became a ben bayis, a member of Rebbetzin Chana’s household and also that of the Rebbe’s. Prior to the Rebbe’s nesius, the Rebbe told Reb Berl, “I know you are one of my people,” and from that moment he merited to serve the Rebbe. The Rebbetzin once made a comment to Reb Berl’s children that she considered them trustworthy, in the merit of the trust in Reb Berl. On other occasions, the Rebbe told the Rebbetzin, “If Berl Junik said that you can do it, you can rely on him.”
During one summer in the early years of the Rebbe’s nesius, Reb Berl was invited by the Rebbetzin to eat supper every night at the Rebbe’s house. One evening when he came for the meal, he overheard the Rebbe say, “I will go to my room, and you serve him. If he knows that I am here, he will not want to eat.” After his marriage, Reb Berl visited the Rebbetzin on Shabbos with his family, on a steady basis. His children visited the Rebbetzin as well and were in contact with her by phone.
At the beginning of the Rebbe’s nesius, the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka requested that Reb Berl set up the Rebbe’s table for the farbrengen. Over the course of the following decades, Reb Berl fulfilled this responsibility faithfully. Prior to every farbrengen, he would enter the Rebbe’s room, and the Rebbe would give him the kos on which the Rebbe would later make kiddush and say l’chaim. Reb Berl merited to be the Rebbe’s saar hamashkim, the one who poured the wine for the Rebbe, at the farbrengen. In later years, he passed this honor to Harav Mentlik, the Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshivas Tomchei Tmimim in 770. Reb Berl resumed this function after Rav Mentlik passed away.
Kiruvim from the Rebbe
Reb Berl merited many private and rare kiruvim from the Rebbe. The Rebbe once told him, “My father-in-law took you on his shoulders, and all the bochurim could be envious of you.” During the famous farbrengen of Parshas Shmini in 1952, which Chassidim refer to as the “Shabbos Hagodol Farbrengen,” the Rebbe farbrenged the whole afternoon and spoke to many people privately. The Rebbe also spoke to Reb Berl for about fifteen minutes. Reportedly, the Rebbe called Reb Berl over and held onto his beard as he spoke to him. The Rebbe then said about him, “such yungeleit will bring Moshiach.”
The Rebbe asked Reb Berl how long it had been since he had seen his parents. Reb Berl said he hadn’t seen them in five years. The Rebbe stated that the time had come to visit them. The Rebbe arranged the travel documents to Montreal, where they were living, and asked if Reb Berl had bought a gift for his parents. He hadn’t, and the Rebbe commented, “Such a batlonus, I didn’t expect from you.” The Rebbe gave Reb Berl money for the trip and for the gifts, and stressed that the gifts should be purchased before he reached his parents. He added, “You are probably traveling at night. Make sure that you book a sleeper on the train in order torest during the trip.”
In 1953 before Shavuos, the Rebbe asked Reb Berl if he was buying a suit for Yom Tov. Reb Berl answered that he was not planning to. The Rebbe told him that it is was worthwhile to do so and gave him money for a suit. After purchasing the suit, he returned to the Rebbe, who asked if he was wearing the new suit. The Rebbe wanted to see how the suit looked on him and asked him to turn around and then commented, “It seems to me that it is slightly short.”
The kiruvim that Reb Berl experienced were expressed more strongly when he reached the time for shidduchim. The Rebbe acted towards him as a father to a son, becoming involved and concerned in every detail. On one occasion the Rebbe said, “We need to take in consideration that the bochurim, Berl Junik, Sholom Morosow, and Dovid Raskin were born and brought up in Russia and cannot adjust to the American lifestyle.” It was clear that the Rebbe intended to represent their parents and involve himself in their shidduchim.
In Yechidusen, the Rebbe urged and encouraged Reb Berl to become actively involved in shidduchim. During one of the Yechidusen, the Rebbe told him, “Hashem makes miracles, but one also needs to do b’derech haTeva. Do you want to get up one morning and immediately stand under the chuppah? You are looking at me with terrified eyes. Your parents are in Canada, and you are not doing anything. Think about it. If you won’t do anything, I’ll write to your parents.”
Engagement and Wedding
Before Pesach 1954, Reb Berl became engaged to Ms. Fruma Pewzner, the daughter of the gaon, chossid, and baal mesiras nefesh, Reb Avrohom Boruch HYD. The Rebbe blessed the chosson and kallah with many blessings and instructed that the chosson and his father both receive aliyos to the Torah. When the gabbai informed them that there weren’t two openings for two aliyos, the Rebbe suggested that they be called up to the Torah at mincha.
The wedding was set for the 9th of Sivan. The Rebbe was the mesader kiddushin. Rebbetzin Chana attended the wedding and sat at the Kallah’s head table. Reb Berl recalled, “When I became engaged, the Rebbetzin told me that she knew the kallah. I later verified that in 1947 my wife was in France and studied at a school there. When the Rebbetzin was leaving for the United States, the school prepared a long speech and asked my wife to deliver this farewell address in honor of the Rebbetzin. Rebbetzin Chana participated in my tenoim and the wedding. When she arrived at the wedding, she asked to be photographed together with the kallah and then by herself. This is the famous picture that we have today of the Rebbetzin. In one of my chupah pictures, the Rebbe is standing and listening to the reading of the kesubah. I placed this picture in a frame and gave it to the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka, and she placed it in the Rebbe’s study in the house.
The Rebbe gave me a gift of eight handkerchiefs as a ‘preparation for the wedding.” In the following years, Reb Berl had eight children. Prior to each of their weddings, each one of them received one of the handkerchiefs as “a preparation for the wedding.”
After the wedding, Reb Berl worked as a shochet for a year. He was offered a position in another state but turned it down because he did not want to leave the Rebbe. Reb Berl recalled, “At one point, we were having difficulty with parnosoh. I already had three children. The Rebbe advised me to consult a wealthy individual. He also asked how long I had been out of work. I answered that it had been for three weeks. The Rebbe wanted to know what I earned each week. He then gave me a sum of money equal to three weeks of work. After that, the situation improved.”
Entrusted with situations in the Rebbe’s household
On the 13th of Iyar, 5712/1952 the bitter news was relayed to the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka that the Rebbe’s brother Yisroel Arye Leib had been niftar. The Rebbetzin asked Reb Berl to have Reb Shmuel Levitin come and speak to her. The Rebbetzin Chana was not told, and the Rebbe requested that no one should share the news with her. During the course of the shiva, the Rebbe mentioned to Reb Berl that he did not want his mother to realize that he was wearing sneakers instead of shoes. Reb Berl covered the Rebbe’s sneakers with black shoe polish to disguise them. RebBerl was also given additional tasks by the Rebbe to help him keep the sad news from his mother, the Rebbetzin.
Vov Tishrei 5725 (October 1964)
On Shabbos Shuva, the 6th of Tishrei (October 1964), the Rebbetzin Chana became ill. The Rebbe’s visited his mother that morning. He instructed Reb Berl to keep a constant watch on the Rebbetzin and to update him regularly on her condition. The Rebbe also instructed Reb Berl to stay in contact with Dr. Seligson, the Rebbe’s personal physician and that of his household. After the histalkus of the Rebbetzin Chana, the Rebbe entrusted Reb Berl with the task of securing his father’s seforim and bringing them to the Rebbe’s house. Sometime after the shiva, the Rebbe gave Reb Berl specific items of furniture which the Rebbetzin had used, adding, “Why should a Yid not use this, especially someone who merited serving my mother. She surely will have a nachas ruach that you are using it.”
For many years he made his living in the jewelry business and in his free time studied much Nigleh and Chassidus. This was in addition to giving a Tanya shiur during the work day. Reb Berl was always available to give his time and energy for any sacred matter. This is how he came to teach the bochurim shechita in a special course under the auspices of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch in 1956. Many shluchim were trained in this class over the next forty years. In the evenings, after a long and full work day, he stood with complete patience and commitment and trained groups of students to become shochtim and bodkim. In addition to this, he served as a member of the Gemach “Shomrei Shabbos.”
In the early 1960’s, Reb Berl and Rabbi Elye Gross spent their afternoons on the first days Sukkos at 770, dispatching and directing yungeleit and bochurim doing Mivtza Lulav. In 5727/1967, when the Rebbe initiated the Tefillin campaign, Reb Berl would travel to a hospital every Sunday to put on Tefillin with the patients there. In 1982, Reb Berl was asked by Rabbi Hodakov to involve himself with the bochurim who were not studying in yeshiva any longer, to set up a learning time with them, and in general be mekarev them. Reb Berl was, B”H, successful, and this shiur is still bearing fruit today. In his work attending to the Rebbe’s practical requirements, he participated in the construction of the Rebbe and the Rebbetzin’s living quarters in the library, built a sukkah near the Rebbe’s room, and more.
In 5750/1990, the Rebbe appointed Reb Berl to the board of Machne Israel and of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. Despite his kiruvim he remained a Quiet and humble chossid, and never utilized his position for himself in any way. In 5765/2005, on the 9th of Iyar, after suffering an illness, with his family members at his side, Reb Berl retuned his soul to her creator. He was buried near the Ohel, facing the resting place of the Rebbetzin Chana. Reb Berl and his wife, may she live and be well, Mrs. Fruma Junik, a woman of valor and a communal person in her own right, merited to build a beautiful family of chassidishe sons and daughters, who are following the ways of their ancestors and involved in the Rebbe’s matters.
Reb Berl left behind his wife, Mrs. Fruma Junik; his sons, Reb Yosef Yitzchok and Reb Avrohom Boruch, a”h, of Crown Heights; his daughter, Mrs. Nechama Itkin, shlucha in Pittsburgh, PA; his sons, Reb Shimshon and Reb Meir Shlomo – Crown Heights; his son, Reb Menachem, shliach in England; his son, Reb Dovid – Crown Heights; and his daughter Mrs. Chana Spielman – of Crown Heights, children and grandchildren and great grandchildren, going in the Rebbe’s ways.
Yehi Zichro Boruch!