The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson,
was born on Friday, April 18, 1902 (Nissan 11 on the Hebrew calendar)
in the Ukrainian-Russian town of Nikolaev.
His father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, was
a renowned Kabbalist and Talmudic scholar; his mother, Rebbetzin
Chanah, an aristocratic woman from a prestigious rabbinical family.
At age seven, the Rebbe moved with his parents
to Yekatrinislav (today, Dnepropetrovsk), where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak
was appointed Chief Rabbi of the city.
Those were turbulent years for the Jews of Czarist
Russia, who were subject to pogroms and persecutions. Rebbetzin
Chanah told of one occasion, in 1905, in which many Jewish families
huddled in a hiding place while a pogrom raged outside. The babies
and young children were wailing in fright. Their parents' frantic
efforts to silence them only increased their terror, and the danger
of discovery was imminent. It was young Mendel, little more than
a toddler himself, who saved the day by going from baby to baby
and calming them with a softly laid hand or a soothing word.
Years later, the Rebbe would describe his early
childhood as a time in which his worldview and life's goals were
already being formed. Indeed, the Rebbe had a unique perspective
on childhood, which he expounded upon in his teachings and put to
practical use in his programs.
The Rebbe saw the child not merely as an adult
in the making, but as a person with marked advantages of his or
her own: the child's faith, trust, integrity, energy, enthusiasm,
thirst for learning, conscientiousness, and sense of mission and
importance, are qualities to cultivated in the child and emulated
by the adult. The purpose of education is not just to prime the
child for adulthood, but also to nurture and preserve the gifts
of childhood and focus them on their proper and most positive expressions.
All this was not just theory to the Rebbe. In 1980
he established Tzivot Hashem, his "children's army" to
bring redemption to the world. But the Rebbe had enlisted children
in his work from the very start of his leadership; they, in turn,
were his most enthusiastic and devoted "troops." Several
times a year the Rebbe addressed children's rallies. He spoke to
them in their language, but never condescendingly, issuing to them
"orders of the day" that expressed his regard for them
as full-fledged participants in man's mission in life.