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Friday, 8 July, 2016 - 12:30 pm


Regards from the Old City! The world has become smaller, but no Instagram shot can capture the high of being in our homeland of Israel.

Chanie and I, along with several other families from our community, are here for several days. From walking on the cobblestones of the Old City of Jerusalem to praying at the Western Wall; from hearing firsthand of the everyday strength of our Israeli brethren to a casual conversation with a Chayal, I am once again humbled. Am Yisrael Chai!

In 1902, a soul entered our world. It was estimated at that time that about half of the Jewish people had abandoned Judaism in search of a newer, better future. Within two decades, WWI and the Bolshevik revolution changed the map of Europe and the living conditions of millions of Jews. Within five decades, the Holocaust—that began in the country where Jews assimilated most successfully and mainstreamed most remarkably well—wiped out a third of our people. Israel was born in 1948.

Two years later, this young man, age 48, assumed leadership of a small Chassidic group in Brooklyn. The Lubavitcher Rebbe—whose yahrtzeit will be commemorated this Shabbat—took a hard, deep look at the world and confronted a spiritual crisis. He set out on a courageous mission: to re-embrace and unify all of the segments of the Jewish people, and help redirect their course out of the wilderness of exile toward the Promised Land.

His message was both simple and profound. Rather than feeling encumbered by the Jewish faith and the Torah, our people needed to be shown how, on the contrary, their most powerful ambitions could best be achieved through a strong and powerful Jewish identity, rooted in the eternal values of Sinai. 

You want to become universal and part of the larger society? You want to get out of your cocoon and have a real impact on the larger human conversation? The more you will be etched in your distinct Jewishness, the deeper and broader your impact will reach. It’s like with love: the more you love your family, the more you can love other people outside of your family.

You want our people to have a strong national identity? You want them to feel confident that they are not thieves occupying another nation’s territory? You want them to feel deeply connected to their homeland and not feel apologetic about their existence there? You want them to stop apologizing for Jews to have the right to own one land on the entire planet? Then do not divorce Israel from the Ark of Torah. Do not climb that mountain without G-d in your midst. Only when we will link the State of Israel with the Holiness of Israel will we respect ourselves, and the world will respect us, too!

In the 1950’s, the great Jewish American novelist, Herman Wouk, (who just celebrated his 101st birthday,) asked the Rebbe: “Do you really believe that you can tell young American Jews what to do?” The response: “The American youth can’t be told to do anything; they can be explained to do everything.”

It is the ultimate redemption we need! It is Moshiach that we want, now! It is the revolution that will transform the world and bring the Divine presence into our cosmos that we yearn for. As the Rebbe wrote in a letter to the second Israeli President, Yitzchak Ben Zvi, “From the day I went to kindergarten, and even earlier, I began to weave in my imagination the picture of the future redemption, the liberation of the Jewish people from its last exile, a redemption of the nature that will allow us to understand the purpose of the pain of exile, the decrees and the extermination.…”

In the summer of 1995, one year after the Rebbe’s passing, two young Chabad rabbis travelled across Florida to visit Jewish inmates in jail. One evening, they were running out of gas and they also needed to find a place to stay for the night.

In a hick-town near Daytona, they found a gas station. A big and burly guy who seemed like the owner filled up their tank. Afterwards, he asked them to accompany him to a back office. 

The two young Chassidim got nervous. "I don't know why we agreed," one rabbi recalled. “It made no sense to follow him to an unknown location, but for some reason we did.” An old man sat there.

The younger man turned to the older man, and, pointing to the two rabbis said, “Dad! They came to get you!”

The two were dumbfounded. The old man turned to them and asked in Yiddish, Who do you belong to? Where are you from?

The rabbis replied: “We are Rabbi Schneerson’s rabbis! We're Chassidim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe wanted each of his pupils to try and help every Jew in need, so we have been visiting Jewish inmates in the area, Jews behind bars who may want to learn Torah, wrap Tefillin, or yearn for some inspiration and encouragement to rebuild their lives for the future.”

The man burst into bitter tears.  It took some time for him to recover and to tell them his story.

Before the Holocaust, he was a newly married young man from a Chassidic home living in Eastern Europe. Just as he began his new life, his entire family was transported and murdered by the Germans. Out of his large family, he was the sole survivor.

He survived the camps, but was completely devastated. He arrived in the U.S. and settled in Williamsburg, but could not fathom how Jews could go on living normal lives. In particular, he could not understand how religious Jews could continue keeping Torah and Mitzvot after the war. He was so angry, bitter and broken. He was determined to leave behind every trace of Judaism and Jewish identity.

He moved to this town near Daytona because there was no trace of Judaism there at all. He married a gentile woman and had three sons, one of whom had filled their tank with gas.

Years passed, but this former Chassidic Jew never shared his Jewish origins, even with his own family. One night, when he couldn't sleep, he turned on the TV and began flipping channels. To his surprise, he discovered a channel on Cable TV where an elderly bearded Chassidic Jew spoke in Yiddish.

He was stunned. He had not heard Yiddish in decades. His childhood memories kept him glued to the screen, listening to the rabbi speak on TV for a very long time.  The subtitles on the screen said this was the Lubavitcher Rebbe addressing an audience at a “farbrengen,” a Chassidic gathering.

All of the Chassidic memories of his youth returned to him. He was overtaken by deep emotions, but he knew that it was too late… he had made his choices decades earlier. “I am lost to my people forever,” he thought.

And then he heard the Lubavitcher Rebbe say on the screen (it is actually something the Rebbe said frequently): We were promised that that G-d will gather every Jew, one by one, taking each of them by his or her hand, and bring them to the redemption. No Jew will be forsaken. When Moshiach comes, G-d will take every Jew from wherever he is and whatever level he is on. No Jew will be left behind.

This man felt the Rebbe was talking directly to him. The Rebbe's words made such an impression on him that in the morning, he gathered his family and told them he was Jewish.  At first, they didn't know what he was talking about since they had never been in contact with Jews before. He explained to his children where he came from and his Chassidic origins. He told them that the Rebbe promised that one day, Moshiach, G-d, or some Jew would come to get him….

"That is why," he concluded, "when you came here, my son came to me and said, 'Dad, they came to get you.'!”

The rabbis sat with this older Jew and sang Chassidic melodies from his youth. They came back and put on Tefillin with him. They kept in touch with him; they sent him a Chanukah menorah to light on Chanukah, and re-involved him in Jewish life. Around a year later, they heard that he had passed away.

For me, this single story captures so much of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose 22nd yahrtzeit will be commemorated this Shabbat, Parshat Korach, the 3rd of Tammuz. His care for every Jew still resounds, even for one forsaken Jew somewhere near Daytona, because, as he always said, in this final journey from exile to redemption, no Jew will be left behind!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky
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