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The Chabad Exchange, Part 2: ‘We are leading the establishment, not coming after it’

[additional-authors]
November 18, 2015

Rabbi David Eliezrie is the Director of North County Chabad –Congregation Beit Meir Ha'Cohen, Yorba Linda, CA. He serves as President of the Rabbinical Council of Orange County and Long Beach; Board Member of the Jewish Federation and Family Services of Orange County; Member of the Allocation Committee of the Federation, Chairman of the Chabad International Crisis Committee; Chair of the Chabad Partners Conference; and Member of the Advisory Committee of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute.

This exchange focuses on Rabbi Eliezrie’s new book, The Secret of Chabad (The Toby Press, 2015). Part one can be found here.

***

Dear Rabbi Eliezrie,

Your book features a very curious chapter on the entrepreneurial nature of Chabad Shluchim, members of the movement who are sent to promote Judaism throughout the world. The chapter tells about the method of management and fundraising of Chabad centers, which is all about giving entrepreneurial freedom to the individual Shluchim. These Shluchim, as you write, “are not burdened by committees or creating a broad, communal consensus.” The local centers do not need to send any money to the organization headquarters, most of the fundraising is done locally, and there are no governing boards or membership fees. This gives the Shluchim maximum freedom in their attempt to engage as many people as they can with Jewish activities.

Throughout the chapter you quote a number of Jewish leaders, including Reform and Conservative Rabbis, who are amazed, and at times shocked, by your movement’s grassroots organizational approach. The inclusive low barriers for participation many of the Chabad centers offer can even be seen as a threat by Jewish organizations and synagogues with a more traditional business model (why pay money to engage with Judaism when you can get it for free?).

I wanted to ask you about Chabad’s general attitude towards the activities of different denominations, specifically in the US – is there any sense of rivalry with them? Does Chabad, in general, intend to actively target Jews who are already engaged in other forms of religious/communal Jewish life? (In other words, are you coming after the current Jewish establishment?)

Yours,

Shmuel.

***

Dear Shmuel,

Chabad begins from the bottom up, from the grassroots, focusing first and foremost on the needs of each individual. The Rebbe dispatched  Shluchim to do so, and a global movement evolved organically. Our ‘currency’ is the Divinely given timeless Torah and mitzvos, as illuminated by the teachings of Chassidism. Coupled with a culture infused with the Rebbe’s insistence on personal responsibility to others, along with absolute commitment, programmatic creativity and an entrepreneurial culture, I believe you have much of the secret of Chabad’s success.

Again, one of the philosophical pillars is a commitment to every Jew. No matter his or her background or affiliation, the Torah and its Commandments are his and hers as much as they’re mine. Thus everyone is welcome, and we try hard to ensure that there is no requirement to pay to pray. Each Chabad center is supported by the local communities who appreciate the service it provides to the entire community. (No, there is no bank in  Brooklyn that dispenses money, it’s  a locally supported enterprise.)

It’s no secret that Chabad’s impact transcends historical lines that have divided Jews. That's because it focuses on drawing Jews closer to their heritage, Jew by Jew, Mitzvah by Mitzvah. I just participated in a session at the GA about what Jewish organizations can learn from Chabad. The audience was asked who has their own personal Chabad story. Almost everyone raised their hands. This is becoming a rising tide for all of the Jewish community.

Almost all Jews today have family with strong roots in tradition. Their engagement with Chabad is helping them strengthen their observance and Jewish learning. Others adapt some of those aspects, while their children add yet to that. Everyone’s commitment to Judaism is emboldened. Success is not measured by the metric of a higher membership or a stronger fundraising campaign. To us, success means Jews becoming more connected with their Heritage.

We are not coming after the establishment; if anything, we are leading the establishment. Others across the spectrum are thankfully now adopting some of Chabad’s approach and seeking ways to open up Jewish community life. Again, every single mitzvah performed is another connection with G-d, another conduit for the indomitable Jewish spirit to flow. The Torah, as I said earlier, is the Divine gift given to us at Sinai, an eternal teaching to mankind. It’s the very embodiment, even in the modern world, and the modern worlds to come, of G-d’s will and wisdom, and it transcends the ages. Sadly, some have chosen to modify the classical beliefs and traditional practice. This obviously created a fundamental theological divide. Yet Chabad still looks beyond that divide, towards the individual person, to focus on our common destiny. Every Jew is a Jew regardless of affiliation or background.

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