Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gimmel Tammuz - 15 Years

17 Adar 5749 (1989)
Click on photo for larger view

Rabbi Shimon Posner of Chabad of Rancho Mirage (somewhere in America!) has written a thoughtful piece about the Rebbe. After 15 years there is not much to say. I suppose that we should at least reflect on how we can live our lives in the way that the Rebbe wanted to improve ourself and the world around us.

Walking down 34th Street you see the camera-clad map-wielding tourists heading towards the entranceway of the Empire State Building. They stop and look up, they lean back, lean all the way back until just before they lose balance, and they start clicking pictures -- of a wide, wide wall.

The more self-conscious and sophisticated ones blush when the passing New Yorkers suppress a sly grin. It is only once the tourist gets to Seventh Avenue that they gain any perspective of this magnificent, elegant landmark soaring above an already impressive skyline -- and how it is head and shoulders above Spokane.

Was the Rebbe a rabbi? Well yes, but no. Forget it, I'm not going to be able to explain what the Rebbe was, what the Rebbe is. It is now, as I write these lines, fifteen years already since his passing, and I don't have any perspective. I see legacy; newlyweds who never even spoke with the Rebbe that are chomping at the bit to do his work even before they've unpacked their wedding gifts.

So if I can't give any perspective on the Rebbe why do I write of him? I see that his idea – which raised more eyebrows than interest fifty years ago – is now considered normative Jewish experience; Jewish children will be more inspired than their parents’ generation. When I came to Rancho Mirage, a kind soul suggested that we’ll be getting lots of calls for people who want to say kaddish in a traditional synagogue, like the one their parents frequented. Once in a long while we get such a call. Regularly, just ten minutes ago in fact, we get a call for help with getting kosher food: their grandchildren are visiting.

So if I can’t give any perspective on the Rebbe why do I write of him? For the exercise: the mere exercise will allow a place for the perspective to develop – and will show the void of having no perspective. Lots of people who take their given expertise very seriously predicted what would happen to Chabad once the Rebbe would pass on, especially the youth. None that I know of spoke of a legacy which becomes more dynamic, not less. I would not have thought it.

Many of those aforementioned couples are not fully aware of it, but they are not the first. It was their grandparents’ generation that was arrested and served in Siberia’s gulags. In the blank next to the word “crime:” was written the word that sentenced them: Schneersonist. Most of these Schneersonists had never seen the Rebbe then; those who did not survive, never met the Rebbe now. The Bolsheviks meant Schneersonist pejoratively.

President Dubya on a trip to Russia, a couple years back, spent forty minutes longer than planned in a synagogue where Shneersonists were arrested, where one of those newlyweds had come back to -- can I say it without sounding hackneyed? -- breathe Jewish life into the embers of the Jewish spirit.

No, no this is not perspective, this is just a wide, wide wall. Perspective you want? Keep walking.