For the Lubavitcher Rebbe, rather than his memory and influence shrinking in the 25 years since his passing, his legacy has only served to create a phenomenal growth in the movement he nurtured, inspired and guided for nearly a half-century.
To celebrate Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and this milestone yahrzeit, Chabad of Rechavia brought the Jerusalem community together on Monday night to sing niggunim (haunting melodies beloved by generations of Chassidic Jews) and hear from one of his most inspiring students.
“When the Rebbe died 25 years ago, demographers predicted the demise of Chabad, saying it couldn’t survive without a leader,” said Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet. “But what they didn’t understand was that the Rebbe was a leader who empowered all of us to become leaders in our own right.”
And, he added, Chabad has “gone from strength to strength in the last 25 years.”
The rabbi’s focus earlier this week before the approximately 250 Jerusalemites from across the Jewish spectrum who filled the sanctuary of the Yeshuran Central Synagogue was one taken directly from the Rebbe’s playbook: “2 Jews=3 Opinions. Can the 12 Tribes Ever Become One People: The Rebbe’s Enduring Legacy.”The Toronto native was dispatched by the Rebbe to London in 1991 to grow that Jewish community, and it’s a city he still calls home. Over the years, Schochet has served congregations while earning a reputation as an international speaker and regular panelist on BBC’s “The Big Question.”
Schochet spoke of the fulfillment of one of the Rebbe’s most far-reaching visions: to have Chabad Houses around the globe to reach Jews wherever they are. To date, there are 3,500 Chabad institutions spanning more than 100 countries and run by 4,800 emissary couples or shluchim.
As the rabbi went on the say, today’s generation stands to inherit the Rebbe’s love for every Jew, regardless of any differences that seem to divide them. “We are too quick to pass judgment — to see those things that separate us and not the ones that should unite us. We do come together in times of tragedy, but why do we need that to bring us together? When are we going to learn to care for each other, to truly be one people without tragedy?” said Schochet, who dotted his speech with stories and the occasional L’chaim, his glass cheerfully refilled by Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, co-director of Chabad of Rechavia in Jerusalem.
What is the Rebbe’s most enduring contribution? Nothing short of “rebuilding the Jewish people in the post-Holocaust era and creating an opportunity for all Jews to connect,” Schochet told JNS after his talk. “The Rebbe taught us to see every encounter with another Jew not as a chance meeting, but as part of the Divine plan for us to be given the opportunity to be a force for good.”
‘Responsibility for each other’
“That’s the message that spoke to me the most,” said audience member Elana Bergovoy, visiting from Brooklyn, N.Y. “It’s that we need to examine the snap judgments we make about others. It’s as if the seeds that the Rebbe planted are growing, as one by one, we see what connects us and take responsibility for each other.”
In the evening’s final story, Schochet told of a couple and their young son who arrived at the Rebbe’s office for a private meeting. It was late at night, and suddenly, the child began to cry.
The Rebbe instantly reached out to comfort him, asking his parents: “Why is he crying?”
“That’s the Rebbe’s message,” said Schochet. “With so many Jews who are crying out, his complete dedication to reaching each and every one of them is the Rebbe’s greatest legacy.”
“I know,” he added, “because I was that little boy.”
Events continue worldwide throughout the month honoring the Rebbe’s teachings.