By Maayan Jaffe/JNS.org Many questions surrounded the future of the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Hasidism after the death of its seventh and final leader–“the Rebbe,” Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson–on June 12, 1994. Schneerson had no children, and no successor was named. But 20 years later, Chabad is not only alive and well, but increasingly receiving the so-called highest form of flattery: imitation. Against the backdrop of last fall’s much-discussed Pew Research Center survey of American Jews, many Jewish leaders across the denominational spectrum are turning to Chabad for ideas to strengthen their own movements. Those who spoke to JNS.org to reflect on the Rebbe’s 20th yahrzeit may not agree with Chabad’s religious outlook or practices, and a number of them cited internal challenges within the movement, but all said that when it comes to outreach, engagement, and Jewish leadership, Chabad is to be emulated. Ron Wolfson, the Fingerhut Professor of Education at American University in Washington, DC, recently coined the term “relational Judaism”–using the power of relationships to transform the Jewish community. But such an idea is not new, said Rabbi Steven C. Wernick, executive vice president and CEO of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. “The Rebbe understood much earlier than most the importance of building relationships,” Wernick said. Click photo to download. Caption: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, then chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, delivers the keynote address at a 2011 banquet in Brooklyn that capped Chabad’s five-day international conference for emissaries. Sacks told JNS.org on the occasion of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s 20th yahrzeit, “We have to reach out to our fellow Jews with unconditional love. We don’t do enough of that and Chabad has taught us how.” Credit: Baruch Ezagui.
Schneerson also understood the importance of sending his shluchim, emissaries, to where the people were–even the most remote of locations–and of teaching those people Torah. Today, according to most reports, there are more than 4,000 Chabad emissaries around the world.
“We all have what to learn from their… going out into the trenches to bring people in,” said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president emeritus of the National Council of Young Israel. “If you want to accomplish stuff, you’ve got to leave the building. … That is something [about Chabad] that has to be respected and emulated.”
This concept of outreach is now also being exercised by the Conservative movement, said Wernick, who explained that there is a push to engage, train, and deploy rabbis, cantors, and master …read more Source: JNS.org