NEWARK, N.J. – While his government debated its next move in an ongoing diplomatic engagement with the White House and the Arab world, Israel’s ambassador to the United States told a crowd of approximately 700 people that his country would emerge victorious in its struggle against Palestinian terrorism.

Speaking at the 40th-anniversary dinner of the Rabbinical College of America, Michael B. Oren – an alumnus of the school’s preceding institution – said that Israel faced an existential threat.

“In these times of great [happiness], when we gather together to celebrate institutions of learning, it’s sometimes difficult to realize that the Jewish people and Israel today face challenges every bit as daunting and seemingly insurmountable as any that has confronted us at any stage of our thousands of years of history as a people,” said Oren.

Whether it was in the diplomatic, strategic or nuclear realms, the Middle East’s sole democracy is being challenged, he said. It would overcome the challenges, he assured.

Politics and international relations, though, occupied a small segment of the evening. Oren, who received an honorary law degree, delivered the keynote speech, but the dinners other honorees included noted lawyers, such as former U.S. Attorney Jonathan L. Goldstein of Helling, Lindman, Goldstein and Siegal; Arnold H. Chait of Vogel, Chait, Collins and Schneider; and Laurence Reich of Mcelory, Deutsch, Mulvaney and Carpenter. A slideshow presentation evoked the memory of slain Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, who were murdered along with four Jewish guests at their Mumbai, India, Chabad House two years ago.

For Rabbi Moshe Herson, the event marked a decades-long history of Jewish programming in New Jersey. Once known as the Achei Temimim Lubavitch yeshiva in Newark, the institution moved to its present location in Morristown 40 years ago, assuming its current name. What began as 10 students living in a tiny apartment grew to an annual student body numbering in excess of 300 pupils and an assortment of affiliated programs, including an elementary school, summer camp and yeshiva for young adults with little or no Jewish background.

As the regional headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch in New Jersey, the rabbinical college also coordinates activities at 47 Chabad Houses throughout the state.

“We started in a family apartment just 15 minutes away from here,” Hershon said in an interview. “Today, a great number of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries around the world are coming out of Morristown.”

Shmuly Brafman, a student at the elementary school affiliated with the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J., entertains the crowd at the institution’s 40th anniversary dinner as Israeli Ambassador Michael B. Oren listens to the performance. (Photo: Michael Livshin)
Shmuly Brafman, a student at the elementary school affiliated with the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J., entertains the crowd at the institution’s 40th anniversary dinner as Israeli Ambassador Michael B. Oren listens to the performance. (Photo: Michael Livshin)

Firsthand Experiences

In his speech, the American-born Oren, who became Israel’s ambassador in 2009, called the institution an embodiment of Jewish values.

“For more than 3,000 years, we Jews have been rising to monumental challenges, the greatest challenges faced by anyone in human history, and we have overcome these challenges because of resilience, unity and faith,” he said. “Those three qualities are represented and embodied by this institution, the Rabbinical College of America, and by the Chabad movement worldwide.”

To elaborate, the ambassador told of his own personal experiences. He noted that his son, who currently lives in Shanghai, China, regularly attends Shabbat services at the local Chabad House. And he related how he witnessed firsthand Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students and volunteers raise the spirits of Israeli soldiers.

It was during the Second Lebanon War four years ago, he began, and his unit was facing tank fire and Katyusha rocket attacks.

In the midst of the barrage, “there was a group of Chabad rabbis dancing and singing and giving out food,” and making the soldiers happy, recalled Oren.

Similarly, he added, wherever Jews can be found, emissaries are right there with them distributing kosher food, providing education and much more. “You are the reason we have been able to overcome all these challenges.”

Speaking after the dinner, Oren said that he was “deeply honored and privileged” to address his former school.

In the name of his government, he continued, “we appreciate what Chabad does here in New Jersey and around the world.”