Analysis: Chabad's success depends on its accessibility

Murderous attack marks an unprecedented challenge to the most visible - and vulnerable - face of Judaism around the globe.

chabad china 88 (photo credit: )
chabad china 88
(photo credit: )
The terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai underlines the vulnerability of Lubavitch shluchim - emissaries - to global Jihad. From its very inception, as conceived by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who began leading the Hassidic sect in 1951 and who eventually turned it into a global powerhouse, Chabad was a non-Zionist, pro-Israel ambassador of Judaism. Chabad offered an extra-territorial Jewish alternative to the Zionist state. Unlike Zionism, it never rejected the exile. It never bound Jews to a specific territory. Rather, Chabad set as its goal embracing the Jews of the Diaspora, strengthening their Jewish identity in the myriad places where they chose to live. As Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, put it in his book To Heal a Fractured World: "During the Holocaust Jews were hunted down in hate; the Rebbe had resolved to search them out in love." And so Chabad set about searching out Jews wherever they might be. There are Chabad Houses in far-flung locations such as the Congo and Vietnam. In all, there are about 4,000 husband and wife teams in at least 73 countries across the globe representing Judaism. This amazing outreach campaign, first orchestrated by Schneerson and continued by his followers since his death in 1994, has made Chabad a more visible representative of the Jewish people than any other body, organization or entity - including the State of Israel. With embassies in about 100 countries, Israel has representatives in more countries than Chabad. But the sheer number of Chabad Houses exceeds by far the number of Israeli embassies. And when a Jew plans a trip, he or she is more likely to go online and find out where the local Chabad House is than to locate the nearest Israeli embassy. But this amazing global expansion, achieved in the last four decades, when Chabad under Schneerson began putting all of its significant energies into reaching out to Jews, has also made Chabad one of most vulnerable Jewish targets of global Jihad. After all, what can be more visibly Jewish than a Chabad shaliach with a long beard, kippa and tzitzit. In fact, the very success of a Chabad shaliach depends on how accessible and visible he is. As former Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh has pointed out, it was not coincidental that the "Deccan Mujahideen" terrorists targeted Mumbai's Chabad House. Amazingly, while there have been numerous anti-Semitic incidents at Chabad Houses around the world over the years, the only fatal terrorist attack on a Chabad institution was in 1956 - when Kfar Chabad was infiltrated by Arab terrorists. Five students and a teacher were killed. But after Mumbai, perhaps Chabad and the State of Israel need to rethink security arrangements at Chabad Houses in India and in other sensitive locations. In Europe it's common to see local police and Israelis providing security to Jewish schools, synagogues and community centers. Rabbi Menachem Brod, official Chabad spokesman in Israel, said Saturday night that beefing up security presented a dilemma. "It's clear that we don't want our Chabad Houses to turn into barricaded forts," said Brod. "The whole idea of Chabad is that we are open and accessible to Jews traveling abroad. Besides, it is doubtful that security would have helped in this case. The hotels that were attacked had security." Nevertheless, Brod conceded that the issue of security would be addressed by Chabad leadership. "But I want to make it clear that Chabad will continue to be active in India and other places across the world. We will not allow this unfortunate incident to deflect us from our goal of bringing every Jew closer to their roots, wherever they might be." In coming weeks a Chabad couple will set up a brand new Chabad House in Bangalore, India. It was one of the many projects that the Holtzbergs left unfinished and which will be continued by the Chabad couple that will replace them in Mumbai.