By Hannah Lee
This series explores some of the ways that Jews have created a sense of kehillah (community), both traditional and modern. Previous articles have focused on a contemporary approach on the Internet and the traditional method of hospitality.
Jews who travel know to contact the local Chabad rabbi in whatever city they find themselves to seek help about kosher food and Shabbat accommodations. The local Chabad website would have that week’s Shabbat candle lighting time and parshah (Bible portion), even when the traveller’s own congregation’s website may not be as current. This free service is extended to all Jews, regardless of religious background, but sometimes, the Chabad connection goes beyond the normal call of duty.
In Senator Joe Lieberman‘s new book, The Gift of Rest, he wrote about one memorable visit to Munich with Senator John McCain in February 2004, a time of massive anti-Iraq war demonstrations that targeted the international security conference attended by “almost all defense ministers and many foreign ministers of NATO countries.” Lieberman was greeted by the American military attaché who reported thus:
As you have seen, Senator, the streets around the hotel are sealed off with riot control vehicles and police cars. A few hours ago, I was called to come out and meet someone. I went out, watched the police vehicles separate, and through them walked a young rabbi with a beard, a black suit, and black hat, carrying a large shopping bag. When we met, he said he had brought the bag for Senator Lieberman for the Sabbath, and here it is.
And there it was, thanks to Rabbi Yisroel Diskin, the Chabad rabbi in Munich- a bag full of all I needed to make and enjoy Shabbat in Munich. How did the rabbi know I was there? My mother, in Stamford, CT, told her Chabad rabbi, Yisroel Deren, that I was going to be in Munich that Shabbat, and Rabbi Deren immediately e-mailed Rabbi Diskin who took it from there.
My daughter got through her college years with the help of her Chabad rabbi, another venue where Jewish connection is maintained by these dedicated rabbis and their wives. When she graduated at the end of the winter quarter, it was the day before Purim, so we celebrated Shabbat and Purim with Chabad and we had a fabulous time. I was Cleopatra, complete with headdress, gladiator sandals, blingy garb, and the fatal asp too! My daughter channeled her inner geek, by re-purposing her graduation gown as the English school uniform for Hermione.
When my family was in Aspen for its annual music festival one year, we celebrated Shabbat with Chabad there. Rabbi Mendel Mintz has created a lively Jewish community center in the Colorado mountains, which he, Brooklyn-born and bred, has learned to ski. His beautiful wife, Lieba, is director of their Hebrew school — as is usual in the Chabad outposts — and they’re assisted by a rotation of young women who come out from Brooklyn to help the family care for their children as well as serve as teachers in the Hebrew school. They give their all, with zeal and passion, because their mission is to bring all Jews closer to their tradition.
So, why can Jews travel all over the world and get consistent aid from the local Chabad websites? It’s because it’s all centrally maintained at 770 Eastern Parkway in Boro Park, New York. The staff at the headquarters helps new shluchim (emissaries) with websites, data bases, and tax forms. It’s maybe as old as the shluchim program. And for the Reader, if you feel inadequate about your knowledge of Jewish heritage, their newest educational project is Fascinating Facts: Exploring the Myths and Mysteries of Judaism and it’s available at your local Chabad center.