From the South
August 29 was, as Rabbi Mendel Slavin put it, history in the making. In spite of precarious times for the U.S., Israel and civilized and peace-loving people around the world, a dream that the rabbi and his wife, Rebbitzen Tzippy Slavin, had nine years ago was coming to fruition.
When the couple first moved to San Clemente, they were not sure how many Jews were there. They decided to reach out to every Jewish person and work together to build a community. Starting with a handful of people and getting progressively more at each event, the community, which operated out of a meeting room at a local hotel, began to form.
“For nine years we hoped, dreamed, sweated and toiled toward the milestone we’re reaching tonight – the opening of the Chabad Jewish Center of San Clemente,” Rabbi Slavin said. After the Shechechiyanu prayer, the rabbi described the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s initiative “to dispatch shluchim (emissaries) to far-flung corners of the earth to reach out to Jews and other human beings.” Today, he said, there are more than 5,000 shluchim and staff at 4,000 centers around the world, including 22 in Orange County.
“Every day Tzippy and I thank God that we serve as shluchim of San Clemente,” Rabbi Slavin said. “Our children are shluchim too. They embrace the sacrifice of being away from relatives and going a long distance to school joyfully and wholeheartedly.”
The building will stand as a tribute to what people have done for future generations, according to the rabbi. He added, “As my ancestors planted for me, I must plant for future generations. That’s the story of the Jewish people, a layer of perspective on the world, a sense of purpose.”
Rabbi Slavin related that one of the most widely read books of the 20th Century was The Diary of Anne Frank. From her hiding place, the young girl saw a chestnut tree that gave her hope. When the tree had to be cut down later, its sap was recovered and saplings were planted elsewhere. He added, “Torah is a tree of life. That which has been taken away in the last century is being rebuilt.”
He introduced 92-year-old Leah Elburg, also from Amsterdam, a “big part of the story of the miracle we celebrate tonight.” The Chabad Center will be known as the Noach and Rebecca de-Vries Jewish Community Center in memory of Elburg’s parents.
Rabbi Slavin also introduced Jeff and Deborah Berg, “consistent and dependable supporters who let their deeds do all the talking.” Deborah Berg said that “Chabad rabbis care about people that everyone else forgot, and Chabad rebbitzens take time from their kids to take care of the community.”
Jean Freedman, 88, was recognized for donating a Sefer Torah, and then Tzippy Slavin introduced “visionaries of the milestone,” building pioneers Dan and Rachael Feinberg, Sruly and Chaya Krinsky, Terry and Toni McDonald, Danny Narens and Barbara Bowman, Sam and Char Salkin and Ken and Wendy Schwartz.
Rabbi Yitzchak Newman, head of school at the Hebrew Academy in Huntington Beach, said, “Since we came here in 1968, Chabad has gone end to end in Orange County.”
The formal program concluded with the affixing of a mezuzah. Dinner and music followed.
Chabad Jewish Center of San Clemente is located at 1306 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente. For more information, visit firstname.lastname@example.org or www.scjewish.com.
From the North
Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, chairman of Chabad World Headquarters and named by Newsweek as one of America’s top rabbis, served as the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s personal secretary for four decades. Rabbi Krinsky is coming to Chabad of North Orange County for a talk called “The Rebbe: Up Close & Personal: An Historic Conversation with Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky” on Sunday, October 20, at 7:30 p.m. Orange County Jewish Life caught up with Rabbi Krinsky by phone to ask him a few questions.
Other Jewish movements seem to want to use the “Chabad model” for building community? How do you define that formula? That’s very true. Chabad shluchim (emissaries) were willing to go wherever they were asked to go and build communities. Shluchim are always couples who represent Chabad around the world and open their homes to people in the community, college students and travelers. That formula has been very successful. Reform and Conservative movements have come to notice that Chabad is emerging as a powerful force and are trying to understand that.
What do you consider to be the key factors to explain Chabad’s success? Studies undertaken to understand college campuses have seen the growth of Chabad and reached the conclusion that there is something special about Chabad. It involves integrity, serious connection to outreach work and genuine concern. It is especially effective when young people are looking for something genuine and an emotional attachment. The Talmud says that words that come from the heart penetrate the heart of other people. When college kids come to a Friday night meal, the shluchim know about their families and struggles. They show genuine concern.
What role have you personally played in spreading the message of Chabad all over the world? I was very privileged as a young student to have a certain affinity with the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe (Menachem Mendel Schneerson). I went to public schools in Boston and got to know the rebbe in the late 1940s. During my graduate and postgraduate studies, I was part of a group that the rebbe took under his wing. He offered me a position to be part of his secretariat in the mid-1950s and be part of the headquarters operations of Chabad. It was the vortex, the pulsebeat, of Lubavitch growth. Now I do the same things I did when the rebbe was alive. I was standing next to the rebbe when he had his stroke. Pundits said Lubavitch would lose its inspiration and stop growing when the rebbe died. I knew they were wrong. It grew more. Shluchim couples who never saw the rebbe have the same dedication as those who were around when he was alive.
What were the challenges of keeping the organization together after the death of the rebbe? The guidelines were set. The rebbe prepared us for it. The day his wife passed in 1988, after the funeral, the rebbe wrote a will to be signed, sealed and finished the week of shivah. He set up a foundation using the corporate entities his father-in-law (the previous Lubavitcher Rebbe) made. All operations were to come under the auspices of this agency. Legal people reviewed it, and guidelines were clear for any crossroads. There were 40 volumes of talks and 30 volumes of correspondence to cover the whole gamut of life. The direction was there, the corporate structure was revisited and the vacancies were filled. The rebbe set up a structure to move forward.
Some people claim that the rebbe was the moshiah (messiah). How do you address that? In every generation somebody has the qualities to be the moshiah. The rebbe had the qualifications, as evidenced by the way he revolutionized Jewish life. People who had no knowledge blurred the issue.
What factors do you consider when sending shluchim to a particular place? Ninety-nine percent of the places in the world now have shluchim. Shluchim have to be couples with knowledge, desire, dedication, observance and seriousness. When considering where to send them, it has to be a place with a mikveh, kosher food availability and educational amenities for their children. They are sent to places where nobody else will be displaced or upset.
Do shluchim move around once they have accomplished their goals in a given location? It’s a one-way ticket to a place they will love and nurture. There’s a waiting list.
How has the Lubavitch News Source grown since you developed it? In the early years, starting in 1957 or 1958, there were no faxes, computers or e-mail, and we created press releases primarily for Anglo Jewish and Yiddish newspapers. It was sent by mail. Now chabad.org is a major Jewish website where millions of people are using the free content.
What challenges do you anticipate in Chabad’s future, and how are you addressing them? The biggest problem is financing a $1 billion per year budget. Thousands of Chabad houses worldwide are raising their own money and standing on their own feet, but the need to raise money makes it harder for the shluchim to accomplish their mission. A lot depends on the economy, but philanthropists have supported us. Assimilation makes it harder to accomplish our mission too.
What challenges do you anticipate for the future of Judaism overall, and how should we address them? Assimilation, ignorance and lack of education are big challenges. High tuition at day schools makes it hard for some people to afford it. We anticipated problems after the Holocaust. We rehabilitated Jewish life and the Jewish landscape, but we haven’t scratched the surface of educating Jews without a Jewish background. We just have to forge ahead 24/7 and reach out to every Jew to get the proper education, association and connection with how Jewish life should be in Israel and the Diaspora.
Postscript: East and West
Yes, Southern California is about as far west as it gets in the U.S. But what about east? On the very day that the Chabad Jewish Center of San Clemente was being dedicated, another Chabad Center was also being opened – a 3,000-square foot synagogue in Vladivostok, Russia.