Three books, three opinions about The Lubavitcher Rebbe

The 20th anniversary of the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902-1994) has inspired no fewer than three new biographies, a fact that attests to his enduring importance even outside the Chasidic community he led for four decades. Even more telling, however, is the fact that he is not merely the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe but apparently the last one. Unlike his predecessors dating back to the 18th century, who were each followed in turn by a son (or, in Menachem Schneerson’s case, a son-in-law), there has been no new Lubavitcher Rebbe. 

The subtitle of Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s ambitious and comprehensive biography, “Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History” (Harper Wave), attests to the Rebbe’s commanding stature. Indeed, Telushkin argues that he was “inarguably, the most well known rabbi since Moses Maimonides (Rambam).” But even Telushkin warns his readers that the Rebbe was and is not wholly without controversy in the Jewish world. He was willing to insert himself and his hawkish views into Israeli politics, for example, and he disapproved of the confrontational tactics adopted by the movement to free Soviet Jewry. Above all, he embraced, advocated and symbolized a version of Judaism that was all too constraining for most American Jews, and yet, at the same time, his media-savvy emissaries have never been entirely forthcoming about the core values of Chasidism when approaching secular Jews.

Susan Rubin ExploresSpielberg’s Childhood

Steven Spielberg has inspired dozens of biographies, none of them written with the filmmaker’s consent. But Susan Goldman Rubin’s new book, "Steven Spielberg: Crazy for Movies" (Harry N. Abrams, 2001), has input from Spielberg’s production company and in-depth interviews with his parents and sisters. Rubin landed their cooperation because the family admired her track record, and loved her intended focus on how Spielberg’s childhood shaped his films, she said.

Rubin, who lives in Malibu, has produced 25 books, with her most celebrated being "Fireflies in the Dark: The Story of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin." She turned to Spielberg because she too, is crazy about movies. Through conversations with Spielberg’s family, she discovered "that he was such a fearful child, just like me." With her publisher’s blessing, she devotes a chapter to Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Foundation, and she is donating a portion of her royalties toward the foundation’s work. "As a Jew and as someone who has such strong feelings about the Holocaust, this is something I can do."

Rubin will be signing "Fireflies in the Dark" at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust on Dec. 2, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. For more information, call (323) 761-8170. — Beverly Gray, Education Editor