Gershon Ber Jacobson was a well known journalist who wrote for several major newspapers around the world, was fluent in at least French, English, Yiddish, Russian, Georgian, and Hebrew, had a fluent style, an eye for often uncomfortable detail, and a drive for often life-threatening scoops.
He was also a totally observant Jew and a devoted Chassid of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, perhaps the greatest, most erudite Jewish leader in history who teaches his followers to do everything possible to improve mankind.
And it saved his life at least once.
RIght after the Six-Day war when Israel had decimated the combined armies of five Arab nations, the idea popped into the mind of Gershon Ber, who was then the chief correspondent in New York for the Israeli newspaper 'Yediot Achronot', to get a really hot story.
He decided to go to Egypt and get an interview with the Prime Minister himself; Abdul Nasser!
He soon got a phone call from another important personage: the head of the Israeli Secret Service the 'Mosad'. "Jacobson are you insane?" he screamed, "We have information that if you go through with this you'll never come back. They'll arrest you as a spy and you'll never get out of jail! And we won't be in a position to help you! Do you understand? Don't go! And if you do we will take no responsibility!"
Jacobson said thank you, hung up the phone and called the headquarters of the Lubabvither Rebbe. It wasn't long before he got a reply.
The Rebbe said he definitely should go but he should do the following things 1) Take several pairs of new Tefillin 2) Take a new 'sh'chita' knife for slaughtering birds 3) check into the best room in the most expensive hotel 4) before leaving write short letters to all his friends and important acquaintances telling them he is in Egypt and mail them as soon as you arrive 5) as soon as he enters the hotel call all the foreign ambassadors living in Egypt and 5) at the first opportunity visit the Jewish community there.
Gershon Ber did exactly what the Rebbe told him and soon landed in Cairo. He told the driver to take him to the finest hotel and on the way he stopped at the post office and mailed the letters he had written.
Then he checked in to his room and immediately set about calling all the foreign representatives in Egypt as the Rebbe said.
And the response was fantastic! In fact one of the ambassadors was so impressed (he claimed that in the fifteen years he was in Egypt no one had ever called him) he insisted on coming to see him and when he arrived insisted on being Jacobson's personal driver!
"Very well!" he answered. "Then let's go visit the Jewish community here." With the ambassador (it was the representative from Canada) as his driver they pulled up at the home of the head of the Jewish community. Jacobson brought greetings from the Rebbe and began asking journalist questions; how was life in Egypt, Was there anti-Semitism, was anything affected by the Six Day War? etc. etc.
The community leader answered that although there was not overt anti-Semitism it was nevertheless very difficult for them to get around and impossible for them to contact the outside world. For instance what they really needed were a few pairs of tefillin because several had become disqualified for use and a sh'chita knife for slaughtering chickens because the one they had somehow broke and was irreparable. But they couldn't get out of Egypt to get these things replaced.
You can imagine his joy and amazement when he produced exactly these items and told him how the Lubavitcher Rebbe somehow sensed their need.
Jacobson got the interview with Nasser and when he arrived back in New York he got another call from …. Issur HarAil. "Listen Jacobson. We know for SURE that they were planning to arrest you for spying. But when you got there and made such a storm with those letters and phone calls they didn't want to arouse adverse public opinion. Tell me, where did you get the idea to do those letters and phone calls?"
A few years later he got the idea to do an interview with Nikita Khrushchev the Prime Minister of Russia. This was not a simple task seeing that it was in the height of the Cold War and everyone suspected everyone else. People who were in the know told him it was dangerous and perhaps even pointless to even consider such a feat.
But the Lubavitcher Rebbe thought differently. He told him that he should go, that he certainly will succeed but that he must bring back as many names of Jews as possible. The Rebbe wanted to know what exactly is happening to Russian Jewry. Especially their problems.
Jacobson got his interview and also managed to travel a bit in Russia and secure 350 names or more accurately 350 hardship stories.
There was however one major problem. It was impossible to leave Russia with these names. If he wrote them down the list would certainly be revealed by the border police who checked every item and every suitcase as though it belonged to a spy and everyone on the list, himself included, would certainly suffer imprisonment and perhaps worse.
So Jacobson actually put 350 names to memory; first names, mother's Jewish names, last names and the stories they told!
He passed the border inspection and as soon as the plane was in the air he took out pen and paper and wrote them all down.