A Look at 5779’s Most Formative Stories

From hatred to hope, and from loss to resolve
By Tzemach Feller
Dr. Howard Kaye inscribes a letter in a Torah scroll dedicated in memory of his wife, Lori Kaye, as their daughter Hanna looks on. Lori Kaye was murdered by an anti-Semitic gunman who entered the Chabad of Poway synagogue on the last day of Passover, and began shooting during Shabbat-morning services.

The Jewish year 5779 was replete with consequential events, and Chabad.org/News covered hundreds of them. We shared uplifting moments of humanity at its best and heart-wrenching stories about humanity at its worst. We were there in Pittsburgh, as a community reeled from a horrific attack and we reported from Poway, as a Chabad House came under fire. We brought our readers looks into Jewish life in far-flung locales and heralded the founding of new Chabad centers. We celebrated the achievements of extraordinary individuals, and honored the memories of people who have passed on.

As the Jewish year comes to a close and we prepare to usher in the new year of 5780, here are some of the stories readers found most compelling.

Heart-Wrenching Hatred

Eleven precious souls were cut down in Pittsburgh in the deadliest anti-Semitic attack on U.S. soil, and its community mourned, regrouped and is rebuilding. The Center for Victims will continue to offer support through the High Holidays, and at all public and private commemoration events.

A Chabad synagogue in Poway came under attack by a gunman hunting for Jews. He murdered 60-year-old Lori Kaye in cold blood, and wounded three others, including Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein. Seeking to fight darkness with light, Jewish pride was the response as when a student proudly wore a kippah to his graduation, and from Poway to the White House, enacting a “Moment of Silence” in schools was encouraged.

A wave of arson attacks struck Massachusetts Chabad Houses, and once again, their rabbis responded with calls to increase in light over darkness, and inspired congregants to come to synagogue in larger numbers.

In Israel, haters of the Jewish people murdered innocents indiscriminately. A teenage girl who was hiking with her family. A yeshivah student slain in Shomron. A rabbi and a community activist who, though mortally wounded, fought back, saving others. A baby who was delivered prematurely and did not survive after his mother, father and five others were shot and wounded. Two workers at an industrial park. And four victims of the rocket attacks from Gaza that target civilian cities and towns in southern Israel. May G‑d avenge their blood, and may their memories be for a blessing.

Rina Shnerb, 17, was killed in a terrorist bombing while hiking with her father and brother at a natural spring outside Dolev, Israel.

Yet despite these tragedies, and in many cases in direct response to them, the main theme of the Jewish world throughout 5779 was one of hope, pride, defiance and resolve, manifested in acts of goodness and kindness, an increase in the performance of mitzvahs, and the opening of new centers and facilities around the world.

Life-Saving Measures

A Chabad rabbi became one of a handful of individuals ever to donate both a kidney and a liver, both to complete strangers. Some 150 Jewish passengers stranded in Greece enjoyed a memorable Shabbat, compliments of local Chabad emissaries, and we looked back 40 years later at the Chabad effort that saved 1,800 Iranian children.

Rabbi Ephraim Simon and Adam Levitz after the partial liver transplant that saved Levitz's life.

Legislation, Proclamations, and an Apology

Chassidim were instrumental in passing the First Step Act, a sweeping package of criminal justice reform. In a tradition that started with Jimmy Carter, the president proclaimed “Education Day” on the anniversary of the birth of the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—and honored the Rebbe’s vision for education in society. As the Jewish community marked the 75th yahrtzeit of the Rebbe’s father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, we looked back at the KGB’s belated apology for his persecution and death. And In California, a landmark ‘Mezuzah Bill’ enhanced religious liberty and Jewish pride.

California State Sen. Ben Allen, author of the state's landmark "Mezuzah Bill," and Rabbi Mendy Cohen of Chabad of Sacramento, Calif., affix a mezuzah on Allen's office door following passage of the legislation. (Photo: Legislative Jewish Caucus)

Remote, Remarkable Places

Chabad.org/News brought readers a glimpse into Jewish life deep in the Amazon rainforest. We found out what it’s like to be a Chassidic woman in Muslim-majority Morocco, and we visited Chabad Houses in balmy Aruba and historic Barcelona.

Chana Banon, co-director of Chabad of Casablanca, third from right, with a delegation of women from Morocco at the International Conference of Chabad Women Emissaries. (Photo: Kinus.com)


We celebrated the lives of those who have passed, but are remembered for their impact on the world around them. Herman Wouk, 103, stood out for his steadfast belief and observance, fueled by a deep, decades-long relationship with the Rebbe. Rabbi Tzemach Cunin, 43, founded Chabad of Century City, Calif., and touched the lives of so many. Samantha Josephson, 21, was remembered fondly for brightening her surroundings in a life that ended far too young at the brutal hands of a murderer. Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Landa, 100, was the last survivor of the World War II-era Chabad yeshivah in Shanghai. Rabbi Yona Avtzon, 61, brought couples together as a matchmaker and brought the Rebbe’s teachings to the world as a prolific publisher. Berel Raskin, 84, a Chassidic fishmonger, was a Brooklyn icon. Ohio lost two pioneering emissaries: Rabbi Mendel Sasonkin, 54, who taught and inspired a generation; and Rebbetzin Shula Kazen, 96, who guided and inspired thousands during decades of communal leadership.

Herman Wouk drew deeply from his intense, decades-long relationship with the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, shown together here at a Chassidic gathering in 1972. (Photo: JEM)

Growth and Celebration

We covered the opening of new Chabad centers around the world, in addition to the burgeoning expansion of existing ones. Sunny St. Lucia is now home to a permanent Jewish community. So is Kyoto, Japan, and Kigali, Rwanda. As New York City neighborhoods continue to evolve, Chabad opened up centers in the West Village and the South Bronx. New Chabad Houses were dedicated in Flagstaff, Ariz.; Burlington, Vt.; and Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. Brand-new mikvahs opened in Seoul and Malta to name just two of many more.

The 53,000-square-foot LifeTown center in New Jersey will redefine treatment and inclusion for those with special needs, and provide a welcome resource for families. It will also offer life-skills training so greater numbers of people of all ages can integrate into the larger community and the workplace. Shuttered for 332 years, a 13th-century synagogue was rededicated in Budapest. And 10 years after the horrific Mumbai attacks, new emissaries are championing a Jewish school, building on the legacy of Chabad emissaries Gabi and Rivky Holtzberg. And as more and more young Israelis find themselves at home in Chabad Houses in the Far East, Thailand is giving Nepal a run at the title of world’s biggest Passover Seder.

Rabbi Avromy and Sternie Super, and their young children, recently moved to the Caribbean to open Chabad of St. Lucia.

We hope that you've found these stories to be informative, inspirational and important, and we invite you to keep up-to-date on Jewish news from around the world throughout the year by subscribing to our bi-weekly email newsletter by clicking here, and by liking and visiting the Chabad-Lubavitch News Facebook page here. We look forward to your comments to this and all our articles.

As Rosh Hashanah—this year celebrated from sunset on Sept. 29 to nightfall on Oct. 1—draws near, may your coming new year be filled with health, happiness and only good news.

The Chabad.org/News Team

By Tzemach Feller    More by this author

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