After growing up in what he describes as a “New York Reform Jewish household,” Norman Frankel did not have extensive contact with Torah for most of his adult life. However, after attending High Holiday services at a Chabad center near his home several years ago, he reintroduced many Jewish practices into daily living and is now embarking on an ambitious project to study the entire Talmud.

Frankel, who lives in a suburb north of Chicago, says much of his inspiration comes from seeing videos of the Lubavitcher Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—that are curated and distributed by JEM (Jewish Educational Media).

“I find meaning hearing the Rebbe talk about various ethical concepts,” says Frankel, who is involved in publishing. “But beyond the specific concepts discussed, they made me curious and want to learn more about Judaism and Chassidism.”

Come Monday, March 14, he plans to be one of the hoped-for 3,600 individuals who will show their appreciation for JEM by contributing financially toward its substantial budget. Recognizing that their viewers are often groups—whether members of a Chabad House who watch “The Living Torah” after the end of Shabbat, Jews from a particular community or even members of a Facebook or WhatsApp group—donations will be acknowledged on an online “donor’s wall” organized in that format.

“The Rebbe’s message—Torah’s message—continues to inspire and attract,” says Rabbi Elkanah Shmotkin, executive director of JEM. “An incredible number of Jews who consider themselves removed from Jewish institutional life, and even non-Jews, have come across the Rebbe’s teachings in a vast variety of ways, including discovering the videos directly on social media, and find that learning from the Rebbe on video has deep resonance for them.

“Think about it: The experience of studying directly from the Rebbe used to be limited only to the thousands present at the Rebbe’s synagogue. Today, hundreds of thousands of people browsing the web on their smartphones learn from the Rebbe himself, and the number keeps growing.”

During the past 20 years, JEM has gathered, catalogued, preserved, restored and organized thousands of hours of video and audio, in addition to hundreds of thousands of photos that make up the recorded legacy of the Rebbe’s life and teachings. (Photo: JEM)
During the past 20 years, JEM has gathered, catalogued, preserved, restored and organized thousands of hours of video and audio, in addition to hundreds of thousands of photos that make up the recorded legacy of the Rebbe’s life and teachings. (Photo: JEM)

‘A Joyful State of Mind’

Speaking before the campaign, Shmotkin talked of the ever-widening circle of people who want to learn from the teachings of the Rebbe.

According to a report sent out to supporters, JEM videos have been seen more than 10 million times this past year on Chabad.org, Facebook and YouTube. Between the public viewings, mobile app and daily WhatsApp broadcast, that number more than doubles.

“Last week we had several hundred thousand video views on our Facebook pages alone,” Shmotkin reports. “Some 22,000 people have recently signed up to get a video of the Rebbe on WhatsApp every morning—in five different languages—and many of those were passed even farther to their groups and contacts. There’s clearly a steep upward curve in interest in the Rebbe’s message.”

“Based on the numbers it’s no stretch to project more than 25 million views in the next 12 months,” he says.

One regular viewer is 31-year-old Shane Urowitz from Thornhill, Ontario. “I start my day with the Rebbe’s spirited singing streaming from my phone,” says the businessman.

“You have athletes who play music before a game to pump them up. I find that the Rebbe’s energy puts me in a joyful state of mind.”

He also leaves JEM’s Facebook page open on his computer. “It’s my way of keeping focused and in tune, to keep me grounded and in a good place,” says Urowitz, who often watches clips of people approaching the Rebbe for advice and blessing.

While Urowitz listens mostly alone, Edward Dobin of Houston says he generally watches “The Living Torah” with fellow congregants at the Chabad-Lubavitch Regional Headquarters in Texas. “I didn’t grow up in Crown Heights or in a Lubavitch family,” says Dobin, who is originally from New Jersey. “For me, it’s is a nice way to round out Shabbos. It gives you a little push toward the start of the new week. The Rebbe’s words are always uplifting, inspirational and very encouraging. It’s a sweetness that bridges Shabbos and the start of the week.”

His 12-year-old son Solomon says he enjoys “Eye to Eye,” which features recordings of one-on-one conversations with the Rebbe, and “My Encounter With the Rebbe,” where people describe their personal interactions.

According to Rabbi Berel Namdar, community liaison for the funding drive, more than 90 percent of donors who support JEM give less than $1,000 per year. He is hoping that the donations brought in on Monday will be enough to cover 20 percent of the organization’s budget.

“It’s that simple. People enjoy most of what JEM shares for free,” states Namdar. “Once a year, we create an opportunity for people to give what they can to help make sure we continue to do what we do.”

JEM’s annual fundraiser will run on Monday, March 14, beginning at 10 a.m. EST. During that time, thousands are expected to log on to OurJEM.com to join thousands of others to help spread the Rebbe’s message to ever widening concentric circles.

JEM engages in a wide range of activities in preserving and disseminating the Rebbe's living legacy.
JEM engages in a wide range of activities in preserving and disseminating the Rebbe's living legacy.