Now Even the Blind Can
"Open Their Eyes"

Even though there are many organizations in the United States dedicated to serving the needs of the blind and visually impaired, not one of them publishes a weekly newspaper in a format they can access. In fact, Living With Moshiach, recently celebrated its first year in print and on the Internet, is the only such periodical in existence today. This interview with Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Shagalov, the guiding hand behind the entire operation, affords readers a "glimpse" into this most unusual and much-needed publication.

by A. Avraham

Nestled among the other pamphlets and brochures one usually finds in 770, Living With Moshiach looks like a galley proof or the unfinished draft of a work in progress. The weekly publication, however, is no mistake; its large type and bold letters are intended for the visually impaired, G-d forbid. Inside, the reader will find a sichah of the Rebbe MH"M, a section on Jewish festivals and holy days, articles on Geulah and Moshiach and more.

[Picture: The word "Moshiach" as it appears in Braille]

For the past year-and-a-half Living With Moshiach has brought the Rebbe MH"M's Torah to an audience previously excluded because of its handicap. And it isn't even necessary to travel to 770 to obtain a copy; Living With Moshiach can be found in hundreds of libraries, medical centers, retirement homes and other facilities catering to the visually challenged across the country.

As is often the case in such affairs, a single, solitary man is behind the whole enterprise. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Shagalov was already a veteran in the field of publishing before undertaking this current project, with several works (Mafte'ach Maamarim Sichos Vemichtavim; Hayom Yom Im Ha'aros, Chelek Alef; Likkut Niggunim, etc.) to his credit. In truth, the numerous answers he received from the Rebbe regarding their publication would provide sufficient material for another article in its own right.

Nowadays, however, Rabbi Shagalov's sights are set on "disseminating the wellsprings outward" among the Jewish blind. The entire responsibility for Living With Moshiach rests squarely on his shoulders, from subscriptions and circulation to sharpshooting technical problems and finding financial backing. The true uniqueness of this venture is underscored by the fact that no other organization for the blind in the entire United States including government agencies with huge amounts of money at their disposal puts out a weekly publication for the visually impaired, of any type whatsoever.

But let's pass the microphone to Rabbi Shagalov and allow him to tell us how Living With Moshiach came about.

So what happened, Rabbi Shagalov? One day you just woke up and decided to put out a weekly magazine for the visually impaired?

Not exactly. It really goes back several years, to a favor I did for a friend here in Crown Heights. Avrohom Schwartzberg and I go back a long time; we studied in the yeshivah in Morristown together. Back in 5752 I started to reprint the weekly L'Chaim so that Avrohom, who is legally blind, could read it.

After a while it occurred to me that Avrohom wasn't the only person who could benefit from such a service. How come no one else was responding to their needs? What really influenced me was the Rebbe's talk on Shabbos Parshas Eikev 5751, when he spoke about the importance of printing Chasidic books in Braille. During a telephone conference of shluchim involved in inyonei Moshiach I brought up the idea of printing a special pamphlet for the blind. Rabbi Zelig Rivkin, Rabbi Zushe Silberstien and Rabbi Eliahu Cohen picked up on it, and a brochure in Braille was produced in time for Chai Elul of that year. Before it came out we arranged a conference call between all shluchim in the United States who are involved in Kolel Tiferes Zekeinim (the elderly population has a large percentage of the visually impaired), and a special committee was formed.

[Picture: Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Shagalov
receiving a dollar from the Rebbe M"HM]

What was in that first brochure?

It was designed to coincide with the new year, and contained the Rebbe's message of "Behold, Moshiach is coming." I worked on the editorial angle, and Rabbi Menachem Sheingarten (today a shliach of the Rebbe MH"M in Buenos Aires) took care of having it translated into Braille. Several thousand copies were distributed to nursing homes in the greater New York area and beyond.

At the International Conference of Shluchim in 5753 a resolution was made to increase the number of Jewish books available to the blind, particularly works on Geulah and Moshiach. That winter we produced four more pamphlets: Moshiach and Chanukah; Moshiach and Yud Shevat; Moshiach and Tu B'Shevat; and Moshiach and Chof Beis Shevat. These pamphlets were much bigger than the first, containing 64 pages and were printed both in large type and in Braille.

Why the double format?

Before beginning the project I contacted the Library of Congress and did exhaustive research on publications for the blind. I found out that there's a much bigger demand for large-type reading material intended for the visually impaired than there is for books in Braille, intended for those who are totally sightless. Not wanting to leave anyone out, I decided to print the pamphlets in both formats. Ten thousand copies of each kind were distributed.

Had you received an answer from the Rebbe about this?

Of course. We informed the Rebbe of our progress every step of the way, and merited to receive many brachos for success. For our first brochure, the one that came out for Chai Elul, 5752, we got an answer on Chai Elul itself! We also received the Rebbe's holy brachah in Kislev of 5753 after reporting on a meeting we had held to discuss our finances.

When was the decision made to go weekly?

After Gimmel Tammuz. Everyone was looking for ways to strengthen our hiskashrus to the Rebbe and rededicate ourselves to carrying out his directives. My hachlatah was to enable the visually impaired to read the Rebbe's Torah every week. Why shouldn't they have the same rights as anyone else? A year-and-a-half ago, on Shabbos Parshas Vayeira, our first weekly edition was published, and we've been going strong ever since. And Boruch Hashem, we've expanded from 16 pages to 24. Some editions were even 64 pages.

Where do you get your material?

Living With Moshiach has several sections that cover a wide range of topics. There's a sichah of the Rebbe, a section on the halachos of Shabbos candle-lighting for blind women according to the Alter Rebbe's Shulchan Aruch (which, incidentally, was approved by Rabbi Yehuda Kalman Marlow, shlita), concise teachings on Geulah and Moshiach, and information about Jewish festivals and holidays. All the material is taken from L'Chaim, the weekly publication of the Lubavitch Youth Organization in New York. I would like to publicly thank Rabbi Shmuel Butman and Mrs. Yehudis Cohen, the editor of L'Chaim, for allowing me to reproduce this material and thus enable thousands more to appreciate the Rebbe's Torah.

At the end of every issue there are several telephone numbers that people can call for further information about Moshiach. This is also very important to a population that can hear better than it can see.

How is Living With Moshiach circulated?

Living With Moshiach is mailed to every single library for the visually impaired in the United States, as well as numerous nursing homes and facilities for the elderly in the metropolitan area. Many shluchim distribute it in their cities, and we also have a small number of private subscribers.

I myself am often surprised by the great demand. Last year I received several requests from ophthalmologists who wanted Living With Moshiach for their waiting rooms. Then there was the bachur who had just returned from "Merkos shlichus" in Wyoming and told me that he had visited the home of an elderly Jewish woman and was surprised to see a copy on her table! When he asked her how she had obtained it, she told him that she works in a library for the blind in her city. Every week she takes the current issue home with her. "It's the only thing that gives me inspiration to be Jewish," she confided.

How can someone whose vision isn't necessarily impaired obtain Living With Moshiach?

A while ago it occurred to me that as the text of Living With Moshiach is already typed on a computer, and anyone with a computer modem can have access to the Internet, why not make it available in this way as well? My E-mail address on the Internet is info@torah4blind.org. At first it could be accessed from the "Social Culture Jewish newsgroupe" only, but then people started asking me to send it directly to their private E-mail addresses. The circle of readers grew, and today there are hundreds of people all over the world who receive Living With Moshiach through the electronic mail.

Another advantage of this is that with the help of a simple program the text appears on the computer screen in especially large letters, so the visually impaired can also enjoy the material in this way.

What are your plans for the future?

The plan is for the Rebbe to reveal himself and for there to be no more blind people (as the Rebbe explained on Shabbos Parshas Eikev, 5751)...

In the meantime, however, there's plenty of room for expansion. First of all, I'd like to print Living With Moshiach in Braille as well as in large type. The only obstacle standing in our way is lack of funds. Even continuing in our present format requires us to locate a financial backer every week. Braille, however, is a much more complicated and costly undertaking. A commercial Braille printer itself runs somewhere around $20,000! Let me state that if someone out there is willing to donate such a machine, thousands of more Jews could be brought into the readers' circle.

As you may know, every library for the blind has a vast amount of recorded material on tape. These are special eight-track tapes with eight times as much playing time as regular tapes with a correspondingly higher price tag, of course. If financial considerations allowed, Living With Moshiach could be transferred to these audio tapes and thus reach an even greater audience.

At present, the biggest project we're involved in is preparing an expanded monthly edition solely on Moshiach and Geulah. The editorial process is almost completed; all we need now is a contributor to allow us to print the first issue.

I therefore appeal to everyone to whom the Rebbe's hora'os are dear to please help us in our holy work.

The address to write to in order to receive Living With Moshiach, or to send your donations, is:

Enlightenment For The Blind, Inc.
602 N. Orange Drive.
Los Angeles, CA 90036 USA

Back to "Living With Moshiach" Home Page