Chabad in Israel

"Ufaratzta," "And you shall spread out . . ." is Chabad's slogan. It's actually their anthem, too. You'll find Chabad followers spreading out everywhere. You'll find them at the IDF's front lines handing out gifts to every soldier for the Jewish holidays. You'll see them at malls and in the streets offering to put tefillin on the Jews passing by, or helping others say a few powerful words of prayer while wrapped in a tallit, a prayer shawl. On the Festival of Sukkot, they can be found at the Western Wall offering the visitors the opportunity to say a blessing on the lulav and etrog.

Chabad activities are extremely well-organized, down to the last detail. "I really respect them; they're far from lazy," says an IDF chief commander. "They're like us—you'll find them serving as soldiers in the best units. Some even opt to be paratroopers . . ."

The Chabad movement is deeply involved with the State of Israel. Following the order of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Chabad chassidim established two agricultural settlements: Kfar Chabad, near the city of Lod, and Kiryat Malachi, known by chassidim as Nachlat Har Chabad.

The mission of Chabad educational institutions is to bring the light of Torah to every Jew. At the Tomchei Temimim Yeshiva in Lod, you will meet observant young men studying Torah alongside ba'alei teshuvah, who until recently knew little about Judaism. These baalei teshuvah come from a variety of backgrounds, yet they made the decision to leave it all behind and pursue the Torah way of life. Over the years, thousands of Jews have become observant through Chabad.

An Address for all Chasidim

The driving force for the Chabad chassidim is the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe of the Chabad dynasty that dates back to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Tanya, who lived over two centuries ago. The headquarters of Chabad are located at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn, New York. This address has become well-known among Jews worldwide and is known to many as just "770." During the Rebbe’s lifetime, many turned to this address for blessings, helpful advice, or to participate in a farbrengen, a chassidic gathering.

The Chabad neighborhood in New York used to be a bustling Jewish area but it gradually turned into a deserted island as the white population left the area, fearing the "Negro invasion". The Lubavitcher Chasidim chose to stay "As long as the Rebbe's here - we are here," they declared.

Eastern Parkway, one of the most attractive streets of Brooklyn in the past, turned black. Its Jewish identity disappeared. Three or maybe four of the buildings located near 770 have Jewish activities going on day and night. Even the subway station opposite the Rebbe's house is the only one in the area that’s busy till the early hours. If that's what it's like on any regular day, you can imagine how busy it gets on a Farbrengen day.

At the entrance to the Rebbe's house are young men looking like soldiers on guard. They surround the house and stop to talk to guests who arrive to give a letter to the Rebbe, asking for a blessing. The house is a regular residential building but the Chassidim regard it as a holy one. Every wall, window and piece of furniture in it is full of the holiness of Chabad, they say. Chasidim prepare themselves before entering the building, as if they're about to step in to the Royal Parlor.

We visited 770 twice: once for a Farbrengen and the second time for Yechidut- where we had a personal audience with the Rebbe. On the first occasion we were there together with thousands of Chassidim listening to the Rebbe speaking, and on the second occasion, we were all alone with the Rebbe.

Both times were special. The Farbrengen went on for hours. It was accompanied by singing and drinking Lechayim. The Chassidim would hold up their glasses until eye contact was made with the Rebbe and only then would they say LeChayim and drink. At the Farbrengen we met Chabad and at the Yechidut that took place at twelve o'clock at night in the Rebbe's study on the ground floor of 770, we met the Rebbe of Chabad.

The Ba'alei Teshuva

The Rebbe stood in his study neatly dressed, his white beard adorning his noble face and a piercing look in his eyes. We greeted the Rebbe and he answered us with a warm "Shalom Aleichem" offering us a seat. We sat down at his table which was covered with thick glass, reflecting his face just like a mirror. At the end of the table there was a clock with a bell linked to the Rebbe's secretary. He began the conversation by asking us where we were from. Then he spoke about the prophecy saying that the "big day" is approaching when sons will bring their fathers back to the path of Judaism. The Rebbe spoke about it happening already.

The Rebbe cared for the young generation. He saw in the revolution which the youngsters are involved in a sign of Teshuva - repentance. About the hippies the Rebbe said that since they're disenchanted with the wealthy, materialistic establishment and are looking for something different, their hearts are open to hearing about Judaism. They're searching for the truth. People all around are telling them that G‑d is dead, and they're out to find a living one. We try and help.

At Chabad's center in New York we also found hippies, now Ba'alei Teshuva delving into Torah and Chassidut based on the philosophy of wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

Chabad's philosophical approach evokes great interest among scientists, researchers and the military. Professors, politicians and army personnel have met with the Rebbe. Among them were most of Israel's cabinet ministers, IDF generals and even the Israeli President Mr. Zalman Shazar, not only a guest but also a loyal follower.

The Rebbe has a special approach to the IDF. He was among the first who predicted a victory for Israel during the Six Day War. He based his prediction on the observance of the mitzvah of Tefillin, which he says gives the people of Israel the strength to win as in the words of the morning blessing: "who girds Israel with might." Even today, the Rebbe has a special sensitivity toward military matters. Perhaps this is due to the fact that during the Second World War he served as a naval engineer for the American fleet (he is a graduate of the Sorbonne University) and that might well be the reason for his interest in Israel's military challenges.

Spirituality and Politics

Much of the conversation with the Rebbe was about political, security and spiritual issues. In the Rebbe's eyes they are intertwined. From the Rebbe's point of view both security and politics are connected to spirituality.

Regarding politics it seems that he agrees with Ben Gurion's approach: "Never mind what the gentiles say, the most important thing is what the Jews do."

About military matters, he believes in the combination of force, strength and spirit. With regard to matters of the Jewish spirit, he says that we live in an age of repentance - an era in which hearts are open to accept and live a Jewish life, we are here to encourage a Jew to return, as it says: "and return to the L‑rd your G‑d, and listen to His voice in all that I command you today, you and your sons, with all your heart and all your soul".

The Rebbe is satisfied with the political performance of the Prime Minister and the Defense Minister although he would like to see the settlements built up at a much faster pace.

We asked the Rebbe, what right do Jews sitting in the United States really have to intervene in the internal affairs of the State of Israel?

The question is not a new one and the Rebbe was actually expecting it. "I know," he said, "people resent me and write against 'the person sitting on Eastern Parkway wanting to make decisions as if he was the one in charge of Jerusalem... '"

After a short reflection, the Rebbe continued: "Every Jew has a portion in the land of Israel, as every Jew has a portion in the world to come. As Jews, our whole religious experience is associated with the land of Israel. The fact that so many Jews live outside of Israel and have no intention of moving there has nothing to do with the question of their right to have a say about the country's decisions. We Jews in the Diaspora are often asked to appeal to certain senators or governors to put forward a good case for the Jews in Israel. The Rebbe doesn't agree that the Jewish people should be regarded as being divided into two nations - the Jews living in Israel and the Jews living in the Diaspora. Those are the tactics of our enemies, to differentiate between Jews and Israelis. We are forbidden to do so.

- But still, when will we merit seeing the Rebbe in Israel?

The Rebbe: "The day will come. I hope it is not too far off. "

- What about the Chassidim, do they have to wait until the Rebbe leaves to live in Israel?

The Rebbe: "Any Chassid who comes to ask about going to live in Israel, who isn't involved in education or in the Rabbinate, is advised to go and we give him our blessing for his move. The problem is for those who have vital roles in the community and if they leave everything will crumble; they are compared to ships' captains in stormy seas, the captain is always the last to abandon ship. First, he must save the passengers ..."

- Does that mean you're in favor of people moving to Israel?

Rebbe: "We hold by the commandment of settling the Land of Israel. Have you heard of any another Hassidic movement that is so involved in the building of Israel?! "

The Operations Room

It was three a.m. when the meeting ended. Many Chassidim gathered in the hallway, despite the late hour. Some wanted to hear what the Rebbe told us, others invited us to the Chabad "operations room". Along the wall were banks of telephones which connected to five continents: Europe, Australia, America, Asia and Africa. On each bank were written the names of all the cities waiting to be called: "You see, using these phones we spread the Rebbe's words all over the world. 'Ufaratzta' "- they told us.

Thousands of visitors

Our conversation with the Rebbe took place on his seventieth birthday. It was a special, very festive day. Visitors came from around the world. The Rebbe's house wasn't really big enough to host so many guests, but Chassidim don't mind and you'll never hear a Chassid complain that he doesn't have enough room. They clung to each other waiting for hours for the arrival of the Rebbe at the Farbrengen.

They stood on the windowsills, hung on the walls and even climbed on each others' shoulders to get a glimpse of the Rebbe on his birthday. The Rebbe entered the room briskly and stood on the raised platform then took his place at the top of the table, picked up a glass of 'Lechayim' and the crowd of thousands broke into a mighty song, with the new tune composed specially for the Rebbe's birthday. The words were chosen from the 71st chapter of Psalms as the Rebbe was entering his 71st year.

"In You G‑d I trust, never let me be put to shame" were the words sung again and again in honor of the Rebbe. The Rebbe listened, singing with occasionally, and waving his arm in the air urging them to increase the tempo.

Thousands came to farbreng. Hundreds upon hundreds came to greet the Rebbe personally. There were governors and there were special emissaries, among them the author Herman Wouk who brought the Rebbe special greetings from the President of the United States, Richard Nixon. Israel's ambassador to the United States Yitzhak Rabin also came, bringing congratulations to the Rebbe on behalf of the Israeli government. The representative of Mayor Lindsey presented the Rebbe with a Certificate of Appreciation from the New York Municipality.

The Rebbe greeted them all heartily. He thanked every guest personally. He also received thousands of gifts from around the world, including a special album with signatures of most of Israel's cabinet ministers and the who's who of Israeli society.

The New York Times devoted a special profile in honor of the Rebbe. One of the editors, who had spent time at Chabad, interviewed the Rebbe. One of the questions presented to the Rebbe was: "Your Honor is celebrating his seventieth birthday. You are the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe. Who's to come after you?

"The Rebbe chuckled" - writes the New York Times – "and said simply: "We'll leave some concerns for the Moshiach to deal with when he arrives ..."