Remembering the rebbe

Chabad, which is an acronym for chochma, bina, da’at (wisdom, understanding, knowledge), was founded in the 18th century by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

June 25, 2019 21:05
RABBIS AT the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries, in Brooklyn, in 2016.

RABBIS AT the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries, in Brooklyn, in 2016.. (photo credit: ELIYAHU PARYPA/ CHABAD.ORG)


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The seven-generation Chabad dynasty came to an end on June 12, 1994, corresponding to the Hebrew calendar date of the 3rd of Tamuz, which this year falls on Saturday, July, 6. Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was the last of the Lubavitcher Rebbes, died 25 years ago. In his honor and in his memory, the New York-headquartered Chabad, which is guided by the teachings of seven generations of rabbis, has published a book called Positivity Bias – Practical Wisdom for Positive Living inspired by the life and teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Chabad, which is an acronym for chochma, bina, da’at (wisdom, understanding, knowledge), was founded in the 18th century by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi.

Although there was some fear during the last rebbe’s illness that Chabad’s special mission for inspiring Jewish unity, Jewish teaching and the observance of Jewish tradition might fade with the rebbe’s passing, Boston-born Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky – who for 40 years was the rebbe’s personal secretary and was also in charge of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad, which publishes and disseminates Chabad teachings – made sure that Chabad would not disintegrate. In fact, it has gained in strength, and every year thousands of Chabad emissaries, known as shluhim, fly into New York for the International Shluhim Conference, in which each strengthens the other and where they take the opportunity to pray together at the rebbe’s grave.

There is a separate conference for women, who are the codirectors of the Chabad Centers run by their husbands. The women often run Chabad kindergartens, from which in some communities children progress to Chabad elementary schools, high schools, yeshivot for boys and seminaries for girls. Chabad-Lubavitch Centers exist throughout North America, Central and South America, Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and although activities vary, depending on the size and character of the community, all in all Chabad operates synagogues, schools, yeshivot, seminaries, summer camps, kosher dining facilities, bar mitzvah classes and more.

Chabad rabbis have a reputation for always being ready to perform a religious service, be it a circumcision, a hospital visit, psychological counseling, a bar mitzvah party for a boy whose family can’t afford to give him one, a wedding reception for an impoverished bride, hospitality for the stranger, and much, much more.

For all this, the shluhim have to find their own funding. Where they most try to emulate the rebbe is in love of fellow beings, and in the acceptance of fellow Jews, regardless of their degree of observance or lack of it.

Among their greatest challenges is being in countries in which there may be 50 or 60 Jewish businessmen – mostly from the United States, but very few Jewish women. There is a general tendency on the part of the businessmen to marry local brides without asking them to convert, as a result of which children of the union are genetically half Jewish, but halachically not Jewish at all. But the Chabad rabbi wants to create an environment whereby the fathers will remain within the fold, and the mothers will eventually convert together with their children. It is this ability to accept a situation for what it is while subtly bringing about change that makes Chabad so popular, even among people whose interest in religion is negligible.

■ THOUGH STILL trying to overcome the trauma of the loss of their homes, which were devastated by fire just over a month ago, the residents of Mevo Modi’im – the moshav established in 1976 by Shlomo Carlebach, the singing rabbi, and his “hippelach” (hippies) – have not given up hope of rebuilding and starting their lives anew.

Their faith in the future has been slightly eroded by the experiences of those residents of Neveh Tzuf who, in November 2016, lost their homes in a fire. At a meeting between members of the two groups, the Neveh Tzuf people told those from Mevo Modi’im that they were still living in caravans and would probably still be there for years to come, due to government bureaucracy. Proof of how hapless Israeli citizens are victims of the bureaucratic process, or the lack of its efficiency, can be seen in the fact that some of the evacuees from Gush Katif in Gaza in August 2005 are still living in caravans.

For all that, Israel continues to reach out to potential new immigrants rather than deal with the problems of former immigrants who have been dispossessed.

Immigration is, of course, increasing due to the rise of violent antisemitic incidents around the world, though the majority of Diaspora Jews have yet to learn the lesson of history.

Insofar as Mevo Modi’im is concerned, the famed Solomon brothers are giving fund-raising concerts to help their relatives, friends and neighbors, and have been joined in this effort by Neshama Carlebach, who early this month wrote on her Facebook page: “So powerful, holy and beautiful to reconnect to and sing with my neighbors/soul brothers Yehuda Solomon and Noah Solomon Chase this week to raise much needed funds for the Moshav community.” She also expressed the hope that more people would lend their support.

As children, Neshama and her younger sister, Dari, frequently accompanied their father to Mevo Modi’im and developed an extended family relationship with other children on the moshav, most notably the musical Solomon brothers, whose father, Ben Zion, graduated from the Berklee College of Music. All seven Solomon siblings have been playing musical instruments ever since they could walk. Ben Zion Solomon himself frequently played with Shlomo Carlebach, and continues to play at Carlebach memorial concerts.

The women of Mevo Modi’im have not given up on their monthly Rosh Hodesh gatherings, and although they will not be meeting in the ruins of the moshav, they will be close by on Thursday, July 4, when they congregate outside the Zaglembie memorial on the right of the gate that leads to the moshav to celebrate the start of the Hebrew calendar month of Tamuz.

Participants at these monthly gatherings tend to give each other a spiritual uplift through the practice of yoga and through lectures and discussions. This time around, speakers will include Meira Ra’anan, who will speak on viewing the world with a positive eye; Shoshana Harari, who will advise on how to look beyond the obvious; Yehudis Golshevsky, who will talk of strengthening one’s faith; Leah Golomb, who with the voice of experience will advise that when you’re at the lowest point of your life, it’s only for a split second, and then you go up again; and Emuna Witt Halevi, who will share some of Shlomo Carlebach’s teaching. As always, there will be a communal rendition of Hallel to Carlebach melodies, plus performances by various women, including Dina Newman and Lieba Life.

Considering that nearly all the women came to Israel from the United States, it is quite appropriate for the event to be held on July 4.

■ IN RECENT weeks, President Reuven Rivlin has taken to applauding his audience as they applaud him. This happened several times last week at the international conference to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and antisemitism.

What was strange was the degree of security on the second day of the conference. Journalists who arrived early in the morning were kept at bay and not permitted to enter the conference hall till 9:45 a.m. People inside the hall later told journalists that they hadn’t missed anything, and nothing earth-shattering or of a confidential nature had been said. Even Rivlin’s people who always arrive well ahead of the president were initially not permitted to enter the conference hall. One imagines that a conference of this kind would be clamoring for publicity instead of exercising a closed-door policy. Worse still, some journalists who arrived just as Rivlin began to speak were not allowed to enter until he had finished. Yet inside the hall, Rivlin was surrounded by well-wishers, many of whom asked him to pose for selfies with him – and the president obliged. That didn’t seem to bother the security people at all.

■ AMBASSADORS OF different countries demonstrate their patriotism in different ways at national day receptions which they host. Some are content to do no more than have their national flag prominently displayed. Some have floral arrangements in the colors of their flags, and some repeat their national color in the decor, like the Dutch, who use the color orange in their floral arrangements, tablecloths and napkins and in their clothing accessories in honor of Holland’s royal House of Orange.

But the Canadians go completely overboard with their national symbol and their national colors of red and white. Guests who last week attended the Canada Day festivities at the residence of Canadian Ambassador Deborah Lyons were supplied with red maple leaf fans to combat the heat and humidity. In the three floors occupied by the Canadian ambassador in the apartment complex in the heart of Tel Aviv, miniature Canadian flags were everywhere, as were red and white roses, table cloths and more, and several of the women from the embassy staff wore red dresses, while the men adorned their white shirts with red silk ties.

Economy Minister Eli Cohen, who represented the government, got into the act and also wore a red silk tie with his white shirt.

Cohen and Lyons know each other well, having been together in Montreal in May 2018, when Cohen and Canada’s international trade minister François-Philippe Champagne signed a modernized free trade agreement that gave each country better access to the other’s market, and reduced tariffs on agricultural products. It also contained provisions for gender equality and environmental protection. The agreement, which Cohen described as “historic,” will go into effect in September this year. Cohen wore a red tie on that occasion, too.

Despite the geographic distance between the two countries, said Cohen, the friendship and cooperation grows from year to year, particularly in the fields of cybersecurity and water technology.

At the Canada Day reception last week, Cohen recalled that Canada had been one of the 33 UN member-states that in November 1947 voted in favor of the partition of Palestine. Since then, he said, Canada had become one of Israel’s closest friends. This was evidenced, he observed, by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s condemnation of BDS.

Cohen offered congratulations on the Toronto Raptors becoming the NBA champions after scoring a victory over the Golden State Warriors. “Leonard Cohen would say ‘Hallelujah,’” Cohen quipped, referring to Canada’s great singer and songwriter.

He said that he would also like to see the Toronto Raptors come to Israel, and Lyons confirmed that the team’s owner Larry Tenenbaum is also interested in such an eventuality.

Underlining that Canada has the fourth-largest Jewish community in the world, Cohen thanked the Canadian government for protecting Jewish tradition and for fighting antisemitism.

Although it was a happy night in general, with guests moving up and down the stairs between the fifth, sixth and seventh floors of the building where the festivities were being held, and where, across the road, Tel Aviv City Hall featured the Canadian flag in lights, there was one semi-sad note. Lyons said she was sorry to lose the services of her political adviser and deputy chief of mission Anthony Hinton, who is going to be the political director of the Canadian mission to the United Nations. On the other hand it’s much closer to home, where he can occasionally go for weekends.

Canada Day is actually on July 1. Speaking in jest, Lyons said that they’d decided to bring it forward in view of the fact that the US ambassador was celebrating America’s Independence Day on July 2 instead of July 4. Given that the Toronto Raptors had defeated the American team so recently, she didn’t want to make matters worse by holding her national day celebration so close to that of the American. She took pride in Canada’s diversity and gender equality, LGBT rights, human rights, territorial integrity and the rule of law, as well as its care and support rules based on international order.

Canada, like Israel, is also a country of innovation; and Israel, like Canada, is a country of diversity. Both have amazing immigrant communities. Canada has settled more refugees this past year than any other country, said Lyons, who noted that the date of the party she was hosting coincided with World Refugee Day, which gave her added cause for celebration. In this context she mentioned that 1,100 African asylum-seekers, with the help of private funds, had been relocated from Israel and absorbed in Canada over the past five years.

Canada and Israel have enjoyed diplomatic relations for 70 years, and one of the joint endeavors that most warms her heart, said Lyons, was the rescue of 422 white helmets who were members of Syria’s civil defense. They were taken out of Syria by the IDF and resettled in Canada, Germany, the UK and elsewhere.

Entertainment was provided by Canadian businessman turned opera singer Murray Newman, who sang anthems of both countries; Yankele Segal and his Broken Prayer band, who sang Leonard Cohen songs; and Yonatan Kunda, who gave spoken word performance about home. His mother, Canadian-Israeli, Lezli Rubin-Kunda, is the author of the book At Home: Talks with Canadian Artists about Place and Practice, which is now the gift that Lyons prefers to present to anyone and everyone, and was in fact the gift that each guest received at the end of the evening.

■ THE DIPLOMATIC exodus is now in progress, and by this time next week, Irish Ambassador Alison Kelly will be on her way to her home in Dublin in what used to be the Jewish area. She’s also going to find out what it means to be a retiree, because Israel was her final posting. At a farewell party that she hosted at her official residence in Herzliya Pituah on Monday, most of the guests were either fellow diplomats or members of Israel’s Irish community. It was not nearly as large a crowd as the one that three months earlier had attended her Saint Patrick’s Day reception, but the people who were there were the ones to whom she wanted to say a personal good-bye.

Summing up her almost four years in Israel, Kelly said that her period of service in Israel had been one of the most fascinating in her career, both professionally and personally. There was rarely a dull moment, she said, and when she woke up each morning, she never knew what the day would bring and was always stimulated and saved from ever being bored or falling into a state of lassitude or stagnation.

To Kelly, diplomacy is all about people. “Nothing can be achieved in our world without human contact,” she declared. This was one of the reasons that it had been easy for her to operate in Israel, because she had found a genuine desire on the part of Israelis to help others to communicate and to understand and be understood. Grateful for all the cooperation she had received, Kelly said: “We have done a lot, and we can do much more in the future.” She was also appreciative of the solidarity and collegiality of her diplomatic colleagues, which she said had been a major plus in her posting.

She is proud of Israel’s Irish community and what its members do in so many fields. The one she singled out was Malcolm Gafson, president of the Israel-Irish Friendship League, with whom she has enjoyed a fruitful relationship.

She is also proud of Ireland’s peacekeepers in the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization and the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force. With regard to UNTSO, she was very pleased to see Maj.-Gen. Kristin Lund, UNTSO head of mission and chief of staff, who is also a serving general in the Norwegian Army and the first woman to serve as force commander in a UN peacekeeping operation.

Within the scope of her duties, Lund visits countries in the region where she has seen increasing attention being given to a higher ratio of women in the armies of the Middle East. Asked whether she has to wear a hijab when she visits these countries, Lund said that she sometimes wears her army cap, but so long as a woman is in uniform, no one makes a fuss as to whether or not her head is covered.

Kelly conceded that despite the positive relations and achievements between Israel and Ireland, there are headline-grabbing issues in the bilateral relationship. She represents a government with a strong commitment to supporting a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “and we will continue to work tirelessly to achieve that,” she said. While she has been summoned a few times to the Foreign Ministry and has enjoyed a degree of publicity and notoriety, she emphasized that these summonses have never been about government positions, but always about the activities of opposition politicians, “and I don’t represent them.” But she did qualify that Irish society across the board shares deep concern about the plight of the Palestinian people, and in the absence of any progress toward peace is frustrated with Israeli government policy and practice.

Beyond the political differences, she said, trade links are strong, and there is great interest in Israel in Ireland’s history, the Northern Ireland peace process, Irish literature, music and films – and, of course, Irish pubs.

Her big disappointment, during her term in Israel, is the failure to achieve direct flights between Tel Aviv and Dublin. There are now some 2,000 Israelis working in the hi-tech sector in Ireland, and there are increasing visits to Israel by Irish businesspeople. She is hopeful that her successor will be able to participate in the launch of direct flights.

On a personal level, Kelly has made many friends and has had “marvelous experiences” in Israel, which she said “is an amazing country with so much history and beautiful things to see and do. It’s been a very rich posting, and I will be forever grateful.” She invited friends who come to Dublin to look her up. “I won’t be hard to find,” she said.

■ HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR Hana Greenfield, who in 1926 was born in Kolin, in what was then Czechoslovakia, was one of those survivors who, early on, recognized the importance of telling her story, in the hope that evils perpetrated against her and millions of other victims of the Nazi war machine would not recur. She wrote and lectured about her ordeals in Terezin, Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She was particularly eager to make youth understand the Nazi madness, so that as adults they would recognize any form of racism and xenophobia and stamp it out before it had a chance to spread.

Ironically, she died on January 27, 2014, which was the 69th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. During her lifetime, she was involved in initiating and supporting Holocaust memorial projects around the globe but particularly in her native Czechoslovakia, especially in her hometown of Kolin. Her American-born husband, Murray Greenfield, served in the Merchant Marine during the war, and afterward was involved in bringing Holocaust survivors ,who were regarded by the British Mandate authorities as illegal immigrants, to the Land of Israel.

A man of diverse achievements, he nonetheless found time to be involved in all of his wife’s Holocaust projects. Last week, together with members of his family, he was in Kolin to receive the key to the city, in appreciation and in memory of Hana Greenfield.

At the ceremony Mayor Vit Rakusan spoke movingly of Hana Greenfield and what she had experienced during the Holocaust, in which many of her loved ones, including her parents, were murdered. “We are ashamed of how we, as neighbors of the Jews of Kolin, did not do what we had to do,” said Rakusan, who in the presence of her husband, children and grandchildren described Hana Greenfield as “an amazing woman.”

Ambassador to the Czech Republic Daniel Meron spoke of Greenfield’s book Fragments of Memory and said that he had been greatly touched by it, and considers it to be one of the best and most useful books to teach youth about the Holocaust.

Two of Hana Greenfield’s relatives who live in Prague also attended the ceremony. Among the other guests was Jan Roubinek, director of the Pamatnik Terezin Museum, who spoke of the memorial project that Murray and Hana Greenfield initiated many years ago. Today hundreds of youth from around the Czech Republic participate in its activities and write essays about antisemitism and tolerance.

Hana’s daughter, Meira Partem, who attended with her daughter Orianne and granddaughter Emunah, shared memories of her mother, while Hana’s son, publisher Ilan Greenfield, presented the mayor with the book And Every Single One Was Someone conceived by Phil Chernofsky. The book contains only the word “JEW” and the figure 6,000,000.

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