How did those ubiquitous Chabad televised farbrengens (gatherings) with the Rebbe really begin?
To hear Israel's dominant television executive, Keshet Broadcasting's Uri Shenar tell it, it had nothing to do with any 'prophetic qualities' the Rebbe may have had:
"In my M.A. dissertation, at the beginning of the 1980s in the Institute of Communications at Hebrew University, I argued that cable television would create community media events, as distinct from global media events such as the moon landing. Because the media event has the social function of reaffirming community values.
"At that time I was doing reserve service in Hebron, at Beit Hadassah, where Rabbi [Moshe] Levinger lived." (Shenar insisted on doing reserve duty in his Armored Corps company for 20 years.) "Chabadniks showed up and I talked to them to pass the time while doing guard duty. One of them told me about a phenomenon known as farbrengen, a Yiddish word referring to a gathering of the Rebbe's followers, which were broadcast live to about 150 places around the world. That turned me on. I went with him to a synagogue in Jerusalem at 2 A.M., where I saw a completely surrealistic scene: the holy ark, above which was a photograph of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and speakers on either side of the ark. And you hear the Rebbe. Sound only.
"It turned out that the Rebbe heard that Khomeini distributed his sermons on audio tapes, so he distributed his farbrengen on audio tapes, too. Then he was told that live broadcasts were extraordinarily potent. So they invented a new technology, a telephone augmented by speakers, a switchboard at 770 Crown Heights that was hooked up to 150 places via telephone lines. They had a system of silent call-up like in the Israeli army. An alert was declared at each spot. In Israel it was at Kfar Chabad.
"The Rebbe had regular farbrengen. But sometimes he would say, `Farbrengen in another two hours.' In the States it would be 7 P.M., here it was the middle of the night, and you had to alert all the Hasidim so they would come to hear.
"I was at a farbrengen in Brooklyn. The ecstasy reached levels you wouldn't believe, with all the signs of ecstasy. Four hours, with commercial breaks in the middle when the Rebbe would get up and throw a challah. I also met with the Rebbe, alone, at 4:30 A.M. An impressive man. He worked 21 hours a day. He asked for my M.A. dissertation and I sent it to him. He sent me a letter and they did away with the telephone technology and started broadcasting via satellite in the wake of my M.A. dissertation, because I explained how it was possible to create a media event in a small community. I maintained that damage was being done to the values of Chabad, to the spontaneity, to the Rebbe's image, because they were using technology unintelligently. The whole ecstatic experience of taking part in a farbrengen was lost at 3 A.M. in Kiryat Gat when you huddle drowsily with another three Hasidim and only hear the voice without seeing an image. You lose all respect and esteem for the image of the Rebbe. My phone number, by the way, is still on their lists. Every so often at 3 A.M. the phone rings and a voice shouts `Farbrengen! Farbrengen!'"
Was it then that you understood the power of live television, the connection between television and the community?
"That's right. Of an intelligent use of the medium."
Read it all here.