“The smallest will increase a thousand-fold, and the youngest into a mighty nation.”1

In the mid-1960s, during the difficult time of the Vietnam War, many young people were swept up by a new lifestyle of “freedom,” choosing to break off from all the old-school guidelines. They felt that it was time to live life on their terms, without having to conform to the societal norms of the “Establishment.” These hippies caused a whole lot of anguish for their parents, and their lack of restrictions made life tough on the authorities as well.

In the spring and summer of 1968, an influx of hippies descended on Boston’s most famous public park, the Common, setting up mini-farms and tent colonies throughout the 50-acre park. Due to the resulting chaos, Boston mayor Kevin White issued a curfew on all loitering on the Common from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Lamenting the distraction from more serious issues, an administrative aide of Mayor White commented: “It’s a shame he [Mayor White] has to waste so much of his time and political capital on these kids when there’s so much to be done in this city.”

When the curfew went into effect on Friday, June 28, protests and violence ensued, and within three days, 34 arrests were made. State Representative Charles Ianello—who had referred to the hippies as “parasites” and suggested they be run off the Common via police dogs—was attacked in his office by protesters. (He was not hurt.) For the next couple of months, police would fight with the intruders every night, until the curfew was repealed in December and the pandemonium died down.

Baby Boomers and Baby Bombers

While this saga was transpiring in Boston (and throughout the states), something unique was taking place some 215 miles south in Brooklyn, N.Y. It was Shabbat Parshat Shelach (June 22), the Shabbat when we bless the month of Tammuz. It was also the Shabbat before the curfew was implemented in the Common.

In 770, the Rebbe addressed his chassidim. Following several talks, the Rebbe began to speak about the current hippie situation. It was a short discourse, probably no longer than 10 minutes, but right then and there, the Rebbe put the whole circumstance into perspective.

The Rebbe saw, not a public nuisance, but an incredible, and perhaps unprecedented, opportunity. The hippies possessed passion and energy that far surpassed that of the previous generation, and no one and nothing could deter them from whatever they wished to do! If even one of these these young people were to be inspired by Torah knowledge and truth, he would stop at nothing to spread the word to the next guy, who would, in turn, do the same—producing a domino effect of goodness.

The Rebbe then went on to discuss the mistake of the spies whom Moses sent to scout out the Promised Land. Following their homecoming, 10 of them reported that “The people who live in the land are extraordinarily powerful. The cities are huge and well-fortified, and we even saw the children of a giant there!”2 They then went on to describe—in a negative light—how the fruits of the land were larger than life.

The 10 spies said it exactly as they saw it, superficially. Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, were able to see the land transparently. They saw through the land. They understood that because the people and the produce were that enormous, it implied how good the land was because it could sustain so much! If it was extra intense, it could surely handle extra intensity!

Likewise, the Rebbe perceived the hippies, not as a bunch of unruly rebels, but as passionate young people who could be a key resource in his mission to disseminate goodness throughout the world.

Recruiting Day

Yes, the Rebbe truly believed in the merits of the youth. During the bloody Yom Kippur War of 1973, when 2,800 Jews died and another 8,000 were wounded, a delegation from the Israeli embassy in the U.S. came to pay a call to the Rebbe on Simchat Torah, as they did every year.

Among them was a representative of the Israeli army connected to the embassy, who told the Rebbe, “I want you to know that the war has been won. Right now, it’s just a mop-up operation.”

The Rebbe responded, “The reason you had a problem is because the general staff of the army is too old.”

The officer replied, “Rebbe, you’re right, we know. That’s why 40% of the general staff are now younger officers.”

“That’s not enough!” the Rebbe said. Then, pointing to all the Chabad students in the room, the Rebbe said, “These are my chayalim—my soldiers. Ninety percent of them are under 20 years old! The young ones can scale anything!

Twenty-First Century Hippies

“The youth will shame the faces of the elders,”3 says the Talmud. Although it sounds like a severe admonishment, the Rebbe interprets this quote in a very positive light: “The youth of the next generation will outshine the achievements of all their predecessors!”4

It’s the youth who get things done best. They’ve got all that energy, and many are never discouraged by anything standing in their path.

Of course, this doesn’t imply that those of us who are no longer in our youth have nothing to contribute. We all have that inner spark of youth inside us, and our job is to awaken that spark, to feel fresh passion for our own Judaism and to spread that passion to others. 5

So, in essence, those Boston politicians were dead wrong. We’re not “wasting so much time and political capital on these kids when there’s so much to be done in this city.” Rather, the reverse holds true: Because there’s so much to be done in the city, we spend so much time on these kids, so that they can best assist us with what needs to be done.