Sunday, November 14, 2004

Lubavitchers in my life

On Friday night I went to the local synagogue in my neighborhood. I did this because I need to use a synagogues facilities on Wednesday for something my parents requested, and when I met the Rabbi he told me to come by on Friday night. So I thought the polite thing to do would be to show up. I did. The Rabbi was a Lubavitch rabbi, and the synagogue itself was a very mixed crowd of all sorts of people.

After the prayer, the rabbi insisted I stay for a meal afterward. Apparently there was a shabbaton of sorts. So before I could say no, I was already seated in front of a wrapped up chala and piece of gifelte fish at a table with about a half a dozen complete strangers. This was all fine. Everyone was pretty friendly.

There was a speaker there at dinner. She was a conservative woman who had written a bit about the Lubavitch community worldwide. She spoke really well. Her job was not to fawn over the community, but to talk about her experiences, which she did wonderfully. She obviously did not feel compelled to toe any line or hold back from saying anything, and yet the whole speech was full of praise, not the kind of praise you get from a fan, but rather from one who really has been well treated by the community, despite her status as an outsider. Her stories were fun and entertaining, talking about the different Chabad communities she visited and places she saw.

That got me to thinking about the various times in my life I have experiences the Chabad community. They have been actively doing outreach all my life. They started just after Israel's Six Day War, when there was 1) a strong pro-Israel feeling on the planet as a response to the war, and 2) when the counterculture zeitgeist was taking off, and Chabad was as counterculture as any hippy commune.

I remember two things from my childhood. The first was their "Army of Hashem" thing that they sent out. Everyone got their little newsletter, and I think everyone was able to get higher rank if they sent something in or did something. I forget what it was, but I do not think I was too involved, but I am pretty sure we all got their weekly or monthly newsletters.

The second thing I recall was their campaigns to have people purchase letters in torah scrolls. They had individuals go from door to door selling letters in torah scrolls. IT must have cost a dollar or a few dollars to sponsor the writing in a scroll, and you got to choose which letter you would be sponsoring. I remember my when one of these people came to my grandparents' home he bought letters for all of us. I think it was the first letter of our names.

As I grew up this all faded. Both of these things fell off my radar and I think fell off the radar of much of mainstream orthodoxy.

When I was in college Chabad took on other connotations. Chabad became rather obsessed with the Messiah. They were always rather obsessed with it, but then it took on a face, ie, the Rebbe, Schneerson. When he died, it looked for a moment like Chabad was going to become the new Christianity. At the time I had been taking a class with David Berger, the academic who wrote fiercely against the sect cautioning that they were breaking off from mainstream Judaism. I had a chat or two with him about it. He took this very seriously.

Ten years later this seems to have died down. One does not hear too many people too openly insist that the Rebbe never died, or is divine, or will be resurrected. . . Chabad has resumed, albeit without traditional leadership. There was never a new Rebbe appointed. One hopes that they do that soon.

I also remember rather fondly ending up in Gam Gam in Venice one Friday night. I had a quite pleasant meal there right on the water. Gam Gam is a Kosher restaurant operated by the Chabad community there. Again, I am not sure how I got there, but I it was fun.

I also recall the civilian rabbi who came in to Fort Knox for a little while each Sunday. He too was Lubavitch. He was not, to be hones, the most charismatic fellow, but he was nice, and he was there. This meant a lot to us there in Basic Combat Training. Basic Combat Training is brutal. The rabbi's presence each Sunday was comforting and reassuring, even if you are like me, one who is not too interested in God or religion or any such stuff.

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