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An Antidote for the Post-Holocaust Generation

An Antidote for the Post-Holocaust Generation

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I've been a Chabad-Lubavitch chassid, or, rather, I've been trying to be a chassid, for fourteen years now, and I have yet to meet anyone who really feels that he or she can adequately describe the Rebbe, to sum up his accomplishments, his teachings, let alone his essence.

Yet, the conversation is important—and so I keep trying, gleaning whatever lessons I can.

For me, one of the most compelling descriptions of what the Rebbe accomplished came from a rabbi who himself is not a Chabad chassid but who has long been a friend and supporter of Chabad.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of England, once described the Rebbe's work in relation to the particular situation of this generation. It has been just sixty-four years since the concentration camps were liberated, and we as a people still very much feel the wounds. When the Rebbe assumed the leadership of the Chabad movement, many survivors were still living in displaced persons camps. A new generation was growing up without grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins; with parents who would not, could not, talk about their past with them.

The Rebbe asked that his chassidim proclaim their Jewish identity clearly and proudly And those Jews who lived in the Soviet Union were still living in fear of persecution—and execution, imprisonment, torture, and deportation to forced labor camps.

How many of us know people who were told emphatically, even growing up in America: Never tell anyone that we are Jewish!

Many Jews felt that it was time to hide, to let the world forget that we exist.

The Rebbe disagreed.

He sent young men and women to shopping malls, office buildings, even bustling streets in the hearts of cities around the world, to connect Jews with one another and with our heritage.

And the Rebbe, the same man who growing up in Communist Russia would put on tefillin on a train and pray, clearly and proudly marking himself as a Jew, asked that his chassidim proclaim their Jewish identity—clearly and proudly. With their beards, black hats, and modest clothing; with billboards and full-page newspaper advertisements; with the now famous "mitzvah tanks"; they should invite Jews to learn Torah, to enjoy a Shabbat meal or to don tefillin.

It seems from the Rebbe's talks, and from the way many people – especially his mother – described him, that for him it was simply a matter of doing what G‑d wants us to do. Namely, to love one another, to love G‑d and to cherish His commandments, and to do this without any fear of what the rest of the world might think.

In many people's estimation, Rabbi Sacks among them, the Rebbe was healing the world as a whole, and the Jewish People in particular. For, as Rabbi Sacks put it, what antidote could there possibly be for a world determined to seek out, to hunt down, every single Jew, in pure hatred, and single them out for death, only because they were Jews? What antidote except the Rebbe's determination to seek, to hunt for, to single out – with a deep, pure love – every single Jew in this world, only because he or she is a Jew?

And in seeking out every Jew, he and his "army" of chassidim reawakened a pride in being Jewish, and a joy in being a part of this incredibly diverse and far-flung community.

How do you measure the distance from 1950 to 2009?Sixty years ago it would have been unheard of for any Jewish student to stop at a table, in the heart of his or her campus, and make a shofar, or shake a lulav and etrog in front non-Jews who might be walking by. Today, thousands of them do so—and rather than mock or insult them, their non-Jewish friends often want to join in. How do you measure the distance from 1950 to 2009? How do you describe a man who helped so many get from there to here?

I certainly don't know how, but one thing I glean from all of this:

The truth is, as much progress as the world has made, still much is unchanged: there are still people in this world who hate us. There are still nations which would like to destroy us. The antidote also has not changed: if you want to change the world, shower your fellow Jews with affection. Do a mitzvah. Be proud of who and what you are. Take the time to tell G‑d, even in your own words, how incredibly happy and grateful you are to be a part of the Jewish People.

Because it's honest, and it works.

Chana Kroll is an alumna of Machon Chana Yeshiva for Women in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Prior to moving to New York, she taught at a boarding school/shelter for runaways and young people whose families were homeless. Today, she is a proud mother and the editorial assistant for theJewishWoman.org.
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