Rabbi Shlomo Cunin greets guest

By Larry Gordon

How much more can we explore from every conceivable angle the ravages of Hurricane Sandy? It was here; it did terrible damage, uprooted lives, departed, and left us with plenty of headaches to deal with. But I’ve written so much about Sandy you will have to excuse me if at least in this space, for now anyway, we try to move on.

And I really do not want to dwell on the recent presidential election or revisit the elongated clash between President Obama and Mitt Romney. I lived with that story way too long and wrote about it in this space again and again. The whole thing was a colossal disappointment and not just for Mr. Romney and his family but for many of his supporters who, like me, believed in him for so long.

Okay, I have to admit that I was so sure that the country was going to elect Mr. Romney that the night before the election I placed a $1,000 bet with a friend that Mr. Romney was going to win. The loser would have to donate the money to the winner’s favorite charity. So it wasn’t exactly a Las Vegas type wager. I made out the check. It’s in my pocket; now I have to mail it. I thought I was going to win.

I don’t want to over-analyze it. The country just felt differently than the commentators on TV and on the radio that I had grown accustomed to listening to. I think I may start listening to left-wing radio and reading the New York Times more thoroughly so at least next time I am not so disappointed.

Here’s something else I really do not want to get into at this point–the forthcoming election in Israel. Sure, we are here and that is happening over there, but still I feel that I am surrounded and, yes, even worried about the upcoming elections.

At least Israel features these extreme contradictions that we can deal with. For example, it has to be the roughest neighborhood in the world, surrounded by extremist and vicious enemies, but at the same time people like us keep visiting our friends and families who have made Israel home. I am a big fan of the “so what if Israel is located in such a dangerous place” attitude. It is home, and if we are not there physically, it is still where our hearts lie day and night.

But the elections in Israel are a different story. It is kind of a circus of sorts–everyone wants to get into the act. First of all, like the United States, except for some nuanced differences, Israel is a classic democracy where you really never know what the people are thinking until they have cast their votes.

Back here to America for a minute, I know I didn’t want to talk about it, but it troubles me that every morning I spent a few minutes studying the overnight polling online to see how my candidates were doing. My conclusion is that the polls are partisan and misleading, and I’m not going to take them seriously going forward, here in the U.S. or as far as Israel is concerned.

Israeli voters are notorious for misleading pollsters. And the exit polls are worth even less in Israel than the other conventional polls. People who vote one way get a good chuckle out of it when they tell exit pollsters that they voted the exact opposite way. Sometimes, I guess, almost everything is a joke.

So I am making peace with the idea that President Obama was reelected. I may be wrong again, but I have an inkling and am confident that there is a good chance that the president will begin to see things somewhat differently going forward. I think the president is going to try to tone down the combativeness with Congress and try to work together with it. That would be a complete turnaround from his first term in office. It will certainly be difficult for him, but I think he will do it and I hope that he does it. Time will tell, I guess.

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Insight Into Shlichus

Last Sunday I spent about six hours at the International Chabad Shluchim (Emissary) Conference Dinner in New York City. It’s a remarkable and dazzling event. As the guest list expands from year to year, largely as more and more young couples embark on the challenges and spiritual adventures of bringing the ideas of Torah and mitzvah observance to Jews in the hinterlands, the organizers are constantly looking for the largest venue possible.

Last year they settled on one of the terminals at the Brooklyn pier, which was turned into a state-of-the-art banquet hall by our own local impresario of the catered event, David Scharf of the Five Towns. The plan, of course, was to hold the event there this year too–that is until the infamous Sandy had her way and flooded the pier and the terminal, rendering it impossible to hold anything within its four walls.

So where do you find a venue to accommodate 4,200 Lubavitcher emissaries and another 500 of their lay leaders from around the globe? Not an easy task, but fortunately, or actually miraculously, all the ballrooms were available at the New York Hilton.

And it was indeed a spectacularly inspiring event, especially when the master of ceremonies and the head of the shlichus department, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, asked all those who embarked on shlichus as emissaries of the Rebbe after Gimmel Tammuz, the day that the Rebbe passed away 18 years ago, to stand up. Hundreds of young men rose and were acknowledged by thunderous applause. Their missions since the Rebbe’s passing is a living testament to the Rebbe’s vision all those years ago and an illustration of the vibrancy of the mission he embarked on when he became the Rebbe in 1951.

The featured guest speaker this year was the current Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau. Rabbi Lau held the almost 5,000 guests spellbound with his retelling of the details of his early encounters with the Rebbe in the wee hours of the morning in Brooklyn when he was just a young rabbi.

The same is true of the keynote presentation by Rabbi Ari Shishler of South Africa, who took us on a verbal journey into the life of a shliach and the nature of the work that is both all-consuming as well as rewarding on numerous levels.

And then there was the singing and the dancing. Somehow, despite the fact that tables were virtually on top of one another in the main ballroom, over 3,000 people managed to find room between tables for some wildly celebratory dancing. Actually it was somewhat of a mob scene, not dissimilar to the old days in the main shul at 770 Eastern Parkway.

We loved every second of it. v

Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at editor@5tjt.com.


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