GRAPEVINE: Remembering the Rebbe

Like all great rabbis of his era, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as he was known, was left with a decimated community, scarred by the Holocaust, but determined to rebuild itself.

President Reuven Rivlin with participants of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA)’s U.S. Military Leaders Program (photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin with participants of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA)’s U.S. Military Leaders Program
(photo credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)
People in Chabad circles around the world came together this past Wednesday night to commemorate the date on which the mantle of leadership was placed on the shoulders of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, following the death of his father-in law Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef Schneerson, who had no sons.
Menachem Mendel was the last in a seven-generation Hassidic dynasty, but his legacy continues and grows.
Like all great rabbis of his era, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as he was known, was left with a decimated community, scarred by the Holocaust, but determined to rebuild itself.
One of the more successful hassidic movements due to a non-judgmental, inclusive, open-door policy that looks on all humanity as candles whose goodness is awaiting to be kindled, Chabad is active almost everywhere in the world where there are enough Jews to make up a minyan (prayer quorum).
In Jerusalem on Wednesday night, Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the Chabad emissary for Rehavia and Nahlaot, succeeded in packing the banquet hall of Kahal Hassidim in the Sha’arei Hessed neighborhood by bringing three diverse Chabadniks to speak about what they do and some of the important moments in their lives.
First up was Jerusalem-born television and film producer and director Emmanuel Rund, who works in Hollywood, New York and Germany. After a highly successful career in Hollywood, Rund decided to devote his talents and his energies to making features and documentaries about the Holocaust, partially to “liberate” Holocaust survivors who had never told their stories before. He also hunts down ex-Nazis and their descendants.
Rund actually persuaded a former Nazi who was close to the notorious Josef Mengele to appear in one of his productions and tell of the relationship and of how concentration camp inmates were treated. As far as the descendants go, Rund had taken groups of them to Auschwitz and other camps to meet Holocaust survivors in Germany and Israel. In some cases, the descendants have converted to Judaism to atone for the sins of their forebears.
Basketball player Tamir Goodman, dubbed by Sports Illustrated as “The Jewish Jordan,” is now a successful entrepreneur, coach, educator and motivational speaker. Though courted by many teams, not all were willing to take him on if he was unable to play on Shabbat and other Jewish holy days. As a result, he lost a university scholarship, but Shabbat was more important to him, and another university quickly stepped in to pick up the ball.
Never compromising his Jewish values, Goodman always wore a kippa, for which he was often ridiculed by fans of the rival team against which he was playing. Once when this happened in a totally non-Jewish environment, his disparagers were waiting for him after the game when he was about to board the bus transporting his team.
They blocked the entrance to the bus, which gave Goodman a scary feeling. But then the leader of the group put out his hand to shake Goodman’s saying that no matter much they made fun of his “hat,” he kept it on, and they thought that was admirable. Goodman’s team had lost the game but as far as Goodman was concerned, Judaism won.
Mattisyahu Brown is the son and grandson of Methodist ministers. He was always interested in comparative religions, as was his Jewish wife, Rachel. He worked in a book shop that specialized in comparative religion and he befriended people of different faiths. He went to Mecca with a Sufi mystical sect, meditated with the Dalai Llama, studied with Zen Buddhist and Hindu teachers, and more.
One day a friend of his wife’s invited the couple to her wedding. She had become religious and the wedding was in Crown Heights, New York. Brown had never previously experienced a hassidic wedding, and it blew him away. He became increasingly curious about Judaism, eventually getting his wife to light Shabbat candles in the bookstore. Then they began attending the Carlebach synagogue on the Upper West Side.
The regulars knew he wasn’t Jewish, but they were kind, friendly and welcoming. The upshot was that Brown went to study in Chabad institutions, converted 19 years ago, received rabbinical ordination, and now, in addition to being an Orthodox rabbi, he also leads synagogue prayers and gives hassidic concerts, accompanying himself on the guitar.
■ ALTHOUGH THERE are Like all great rabbis of his era, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, as he was known, was left with a decimated community, scarred by the Holocaust, but determined to rebuild itself. haredim (ultra-Orthodox) serving in the Israel Defense Forces, by and large, haredim choose to opt out of army service, often preferring to spend time in prison rather than to don the uniform. The arrests of haredim who have been called up but refuse to serve are often accompanied by mass protest demonstrations.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are Israelis with special needs who are automatically exempted from army service, but who desperately want to serve, and use every means at their disposal to get into the IDF. Many are accepted as volunteers on IDF bases throughout the country, and are given duties commensurate with their capabilities. Every year, such volunteers are brought to the President’s Residence so that the number-one citizen can thank them for their dedication.
At the beginning of this week, Brig.-Gen. Amir Vadmani, the head of the Planning and Research Department of the IDF Manpower Directorate, and Col. Nimrod Arzuan, commander of the IDF’s Meita Enlistment Unit, brought some 20 volunteer soldiers to meet with President Reuven Rivlin, who is fully aware of the important role that army service plays in the lives of these volunteers in preparing them for integration into mainstream civil society once they have concluded their stint in the IDF.
Among those whom the president met was Liran Natan, 24, who has cerebral palsy. She began volunteering on the Sar-El program slightly over a year ago, and last March enlisted as a regular soldier, after coming to the IDF through the Lend a Hand to a Special Child organization, where she was in the Great in Uniform program.
She fell over a lot, but refused to give in. Her willpower is stronger than the pain of falling. Today, she serves on the Palmahim base in an air defense warehouse.
Rivlin told the young people, “The fact that the IDF is open gives hope for Israeli society as a whole. In recent years, there is much talk of lack of motivation to enlist. Your strong desire to contribute to the IDF and the State of Israel is not to be taken for granted. There are those among you who fought for years to join up. Your determination, your motivation, your willpower – are truly inspiring.”
■ LATER IN the week, Rivlin hosted some 30 US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine officers who were visiting Israel under the auspices of JINSA, the Jewish Institute for National Security of America. JINSA works closely with US decision-makers in matters of military strategy and defense, particularly issues involving US-Israel cooperation on security. The Americans were accompanied by Israeli colleagues headed by Maj.-Gen. Itay Virov, commander of the IDF Military College.
Given the timing, Rivlin could hardly avoid mention of the “Deal of the Century” or the Iranian threat to peace in the region, and the importance of containing its nuclear capabilities
Knowing that Rivlin is a lifelong football fan, the Americans thought that it was time for him to broaden his knowledge, which is basically confined to soccer, and presented him with an American football.
■ FiRST THERE was the statuesque Yityish (Tuti) Aynaw, who in 2013 became the first member of the Israeli Ethiopian community to be crowned Miss Israel, and to be invited to a state dinner hosted by president Shimon Peres for US president Barack Obama, to whom she was introduced.
Now, Eden Alene, an equally beautiful and highly talented member of the Israeli Ethiopian community has been selected to represent Israel at Eurovision in Holland. The Israeli-born singer, who is still doing her mandatory army service, was given time off by the IDF in order to compete. As yet, the song she will sing at this year’s Eurovision contest in the Netherlands in May remains to be determined. The date set for choosing the song is March 3, the day after the Knesset elections.
Kobi Marimi, who represented Israel last year at the Eurovision contest in Tel Aviv, was in Jerusalem this week singing a new, much more moving interpretation of Israel’s Eurovision entry “Home,” than he sang at the Eurovision contest. He was performing pro bono at the President’s Residence at the launch of Ilan’s year of excellence aimed at proving that people with physical disabilities can still be high achievers. He also sang his own version of “Let it Be” that would have made The Beatles green with envy.
■ LEGENDARY JEWISH actor Kirk Douglas, who died this week at age 103, was a long-time supporter of Aish HaTorah after reconnecting with Judaism at age 70. In fact, following a visit to Jerusalem, he donated the theater at Aish Hatorah’s main Jerusalem facility, which faces the Western Wall in the Old City.
One of his sons, Michael Douglas, who followed in his father’s footsteps and even surpassed him by winning an Oscar, though not Jewish according to halacha (Jewish law), considers himself to be “a member of the tribe,” and even brought his son to Jerusalem for his bar mitzvah. Michael Douglas is not the only member of the family who bears an uncanny physical resemblance to his father.
An Israeli relative is also cast from the same physical mold. Kirk Douglas was born Issur Danielovitz, and his relative is Beersheba Mayor Ruvik Danilovich.
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