Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor whose travels around the world have made him an ambassador of Judaism, will address this year’s International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries in New York City.

Currently the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, Lau’s scholarly works have been translated into a myriad of languages, and in his recent autobiography Out of the Depths, he writes that later in life, he “became greatly influenced” by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, whom he calls a “spiritual mentor.”

“Rabbi Lau will share his long experiences and the directives he received from the Rebbe for more than two decades as a chief rabbi of Netanya and Tel Aviv, and as an educator par-excellence,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emmisaries. “He will focus on what attendees can take back to their communities as Jewish leaders across the globe.”

Born in 1937, Lau, who served as Israel’s Ashkenazi chief rabbi from 1993 to 2003, hails from a family of rabbinical figures stretching back 37 generations. During the Holocaust, he endured the horrors of the Czenstochov and the Buchenwald concentration camps, surviving the war as an orphan with his brother.

Chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Council, he said shortly after taking up Israel’s top rabbinical position that given all of the trials and tribulations of Jewish history, unity was paramount.

“Let’s sit down together, and let’s live together,” he stated. “We always knew how to die together. The time has come for us to know also how to live together.”

Two decades earlier, shortly after the Yom Kippur War in 1974, his first meeting with the Rebbe would echo that sentiment. The conversation, a much-anticipated “highlight” of an official trip on behalf of the Israeli government, lasted for close to two and a half hours and focused primarily on Jewish education.

The Rebbe “explained the importance of my position as an educator and the great responsibility I had in forming the character of youth who would eventually establish homes and families for future generations,” Lau writes in his autobiography.

But what really struck the rabbi was the Rebbe’s reaction to a story he told about a fellow Holocaust survivor whose husband died in Israel’s War of Independence and feared for the life of her only son, a soldier in the Israel Defense Force.

“It had been difficult for me to retell this story,” he would later recall, “and just as difficult to retell it to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. [The Rebbe] listened intently, his blue eyes penetrating, focused.

“The Rebbe did not know [the survivor] from Tel Aviv, but her story struck the depths of his soul,” continued Lau. “Pearls of tears formed in his eyes and dripped onto the back of his hand, which rested on my own.”

Lau saw a lesson for every rabbi.

“We need to feel for others, even if we do not know who they are,” he said. “Their plight needs to touch the depths of our heart.”

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau addresses an event honoring the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in Philadelphia.
Rabbi Israel Meir Lau addresses an event honoring the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in Philadelphia.

Lau once remarked that he was actively involved with bringing back so-called “lost Jews” who had strayed far from Judaism.

The Rebbe immediately responded.

“We cannot label anyone as being ‘far,’ ” the Rebbe told Lau. “Who are we to determine who is far and who is near? They are all close to G‑d.”

The Rebbe “brought a renewed spirit to Judaism across the globe,” said Lau, whose personal story of survival mirrors the post-Holocaust growth of the global Chabad-Lubavitch movement. “The Rebbe sent emissaries across the globe with the slogan, ‘There is no forgotten Jew.’ ”

“As a global ambassador of Judaism,” said Kotlarsky, “Rabbi Lau saw firsthand what Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries do on a daily basis and will share his encounters with these Jewish leaders.”

“Every day and every hour,” concluded Lau, “I am guided by the Rebbe’s care for every single Jew as if he was his beloved brother.”

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau’s address and other proceedings of the gala banquet of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries can be viewed live online on Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 5:00 p.m. eastern time at