While Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense was in full force this past week, five Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis headed to Chicago’s Thompson Center on Tuesday to participate in a rally for Israel arranged by the Jewish United Fund of Illinois. Their main immediate goal? To help as many of the men as possible to put on tefillin right then and there.
Rabbi Baruch Epstein of Lubavitch-Chabad of Illinois explained that in addition to providing their financial and emotional support, Jews around the world can make a big difference through individual spiritual action.
At the simplest level, Epstein sais, “it’s comforting and inspiring for our brethren in Israel to know they’re not alone, and that Jews around the world support them.
“But far beyond that, if we recognize that no matter where we live we’re really one collective whole, then every good deed we perform contributes to the extraordinary layer of protection we ask G‑d to apply above our Holy Land,” Epstein said.
Referring to the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, Epstein said that “the Rebbe launched his now ubiquitous tefillin campaign in 1967, just before the Six Day War, assuring this mitzvah in particular, performed by Jews worldwide would help ensure the success and safety of Israel’s citizens.”
During this past week Jews across the globe took on additional commitments to prayer, Torah study and acts of kindness, in part as an effort to protect Israeli citizens and troops. (On Chabad.org alone, close to 2,500 registered publicly to increase their mitzvahs in protection of Israel.)
After dedicating last Shabbat to those in Israel, Rabbi Nochem Teneboim of Chabad of Hewlett, New York, organized a communal gathering on Sunday. “A lot of people showed up, more than we expected,” he said. Participants asked what they could do to help Israel and Teneboim suggested they use social media to help get the truth out, and that they increase in prayer, charity and other good deeds.
Men who came to the event put on tefillin, Teneboim said, while women resolved to light Shabbat candles and to help encourage their friends to do the same. One group of men resolved to open a Sunday morning ‘tefillin club.’
“People are really looking to do more and more to support Israel,” Teneboim said, “and we want to help them find the best ways to do so.”
Prayer services and communal rallies were held across South Africa, and as far away as Perth, Australia. In Melbourne and Sydney, sirens akin to those alerting Israelis to take cover ahead of rocket attacks were sounded. In Melbourne, some 2,000 people showed up to support Israel, including politicians and community leaders. Another 2,000 gathered in Sydney and a crowd of 500 assembled in Perth.
Students were out in force at Chabad-Lubavitch schools around the world. At the Torah Day School of Houston, each class chose a mitzvah to work on as a class over the next several weeks for the safety and security of Israel, according to school director Chiena Lazaroff.
At a school assembly each class explained the mitzvah that they chose and why. Some of the younger classes dressed up according to the theme of their mitzvah. Parents were asked reinforce the concepts at home and to help their children with their projects where appropriate.
At the Rohr Bais Chaya Academy in Florida, high school girls were taking the situation in Israel to heart, said Malkie Janowski, Judaic Studies principal. “We’ve made a campaign where girls can take on additional mitzvahs as a group, or commit to additional individual activities,” she said.
One spiritual initiative that many girls chose to take part in, Janowski explained, involves a commitment to become more sensitive to the Jewish concept of modesty and how that ttranslates to daily life, while another matches up a student with a specific name of an Israeli soldier for whom she prays daily.
The high school students worked together to create a giant paper chain that’s been strung across the ceiling of the school auditorium. The chain represents the Iron Dome, Israel’s missile defense system, as well as the girls’ links to the people of Israel. “It’s a very strong act of solidarity, and I’ve been impressed with how seriously the girls have taken all of this,” she said. “They really feel like it’s their land and their people.”
It’s also an act of unity among the girls themselves that is beneficial in so many ways,” said Janowsky. “It’s something we’re in together,” she said. “They’re going outside of themselves for someone else’s sake.”