Daily Alert

29 November 2007

The New Low of Moral Equivalency

Rice Compares Israeli Policy, US Segregation

(IsraelNN.com) In a speech at the Annapolis conference, United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice compared Israeli policy in Judea and Samaria to segregation between blacks and whites in the US south decades ago, according to the Washington Post. “I know what it is like to hear that you cannot go on a road... because you are Palestinian,” she said, referring to Israel’s policy of creating separate Jewish and Arab roads in areas where there have been repeated attacks.

Rice also expressed sympathy with Israelis, saying she knows what it is like to live with constant suicide bombings and other attacks because a local black church was bombed by white separatists when she was a child, killing one of her classmates and three other girls. “There is pain on both sides,” she said.




Back in the days of the old south, white communities were always hunkered down in bunkers waiting for the next round of attacks from the black side of town. These were vicious attacks, launched at white schools and community centers with the aim of forcing the white communities to surrender to the demands of the radical black leaders who believed that whites really had no place in the land and should leave it. The old South truly belonged only to the blacks and the whites through trickery and support from the outside, the racist white communities of Europe, were able to overcome the black owners of the land. Agreements to end the fighting were frequent and broken with the as much frequency as they were crafted, the black leaders unable to restrain their anger and hate for the whites.



Maybe some sort of fantasy as this was soring through the mind of Condi Rice when she said such ridiculous and ignorant words as quoted in the article from INN. The lack of the ability to draw a comparison between preventing attacks by barbarians and Jim Crow laws prevents a certain amount of discussion on this subject. Ideas need to have common ground in order to be comparable.

I sympathize with the fact that Ms. Rice has a childhood memory of a tragic event. Many of us have those memories. In Israel's case everyday a new tragic memory is prevented by security forces. The immensity of difference is unmeasurable. Maybe Condi should contemplate what it might be like to multiply her memory by many factors then she may actually come to realize the stupidity of her lack of morality in her moral equivalence.

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27 November 2007

Olmert the Forsaken

Olmert to World Jewry: Israel Makes Sole Decision on Jerusalem
17 Kislev 5768, 27 November 07 05:33
by Hana Levi Julian(IsraelNN.com)

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert informed American Jewish leaders Monday that Jews outside of Israel have no right to intervene in any decision regarding the status of Jerusalem.

Olmert declared at a news conference Monday following his meeting with leaders of U.S. Jewish communities that "the government of Israel has a sovereign right to negotiate anything on behalf of Israel," making it clear that Jews outside of Israel had no right to participate in decisions about the future of Jerusalem. The prime minister told reporters that the issue had "been determined long ago."

His remarks were seen as a slap to American Jewish leaders who oppose tentative plans by the Olmert administration to put Jerusalem on the negotiating table.

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, told hundreds of Jews in Chicago Monday night that "Yerushalayim is not for discussion, Yerushalayim is not for sale, Yerushalayim must remain undivided forever." Participants at the prayer vigil were led by the rabbis of the community in chanting tehillim (psalms) and speaking out against the division of Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. A statement sent to the media noted that "for at least one night both the Religious Zionist/Modern Orthodox and Aguda communities stood side by side to pray for what most matters."

The prime minister's statement also did not seem to take into account a declaration that was made decades ago by his predecessor, a founding father and the first Prime Minister of the State of Israel, David Ben Gurion during a session of the first Knesset in Tel Aviv.

"The attempt to sever Jewish Jerusalem from the State of Israel," warned Ben Gurion in 1949, "will not advance the cause of peace in the Middle East or in Jerusalem itself. Israelis will give their lives to hold on to Jerusalem, just as the British would for London, the Russians for Moscow and the Americans for Washington."

The Orthodox Union (OU) immediately responded to the prime minister's remarks with a statement saying it did not intend to dictate policy to Israel, but expressed its "resolute stand" that all Jews in the world have a share in "the holy city of Jerusalem." %ad%

Agudath Israel of America adopted a resolution Sunday at its 85th national convention in Connecticut bluntly stating "Israel should not relinquish parts of Jerusalem to Palestinian sovereignty, and the American government should not pressure the Israeli government into doing so."

Both statements echoed an assertion published on the website of the Coordinating Council on Jerusalem which states unequivocally that "World Jewry opposes Israeli negotiations which would include any discussion of ceding sovereignty over part or all of Jerusalem."

The group soberly notes in its statement that this is "the first time since the establishment of the State of Israel that a significant group of American Jewish organizations have created a broad united front to pursue a policy directly involving Israel that is based on an explicit principle that supercedes deference to the sitting Israeli government."

American Jewish and Christian leaders met Monday with White House officials to discuss their concerns about the events taking place in Annapolis Tuesday.

Nathan Diament, public policy director for the Orthodox Union, led the group of American Jewish and Christian leaders who met with Stephen Hadley, the National Security Advisor for U.S. President George W. Bush and other senior White House officials.

Included in the delegation was Jeff Ballabon, head of the Coordinating Council for Jerusalem, as well as representatives from Agudath Israel and the National Council of Young Israel, David Brog of the Christians United for Israel, the Southern Baptist Convention and former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.

"We had a constructive and meaningful conversation…." said Diament following the meeting, adding "We were happy to share with them the perspective of Americans who in their synagogues and church pews regularly pray for the peace of Israel and the rebuilding of Jerusalem."
www.IsraelNationalNews.com© Copyright IsraelNationalNews.com




Where Olmert is technically correct is that the government of Israel will eventually be the party to negotiate and ratify any treaty. He is wrong in that his government will not be the one to do so. Olmert is also wrong if he believes that Israel, under the terms to which he is limiting her decision-making to a mere secular consideration, will have any say on her destiny. Olmert, by denying a stake in Jerusalem to the diaspora doesn't weaken the diaspora but empowers it to pursue separate and distinct policies as to Israel's future, provided a unified front of Orthodox associations can be mustered. By Olmert's very unthoughtful remarks, he is setting a dangerous precedent where well-trained and thoughtful political action by diaspora Jews and their friends are cut lose from Israeli government priorities and actions. Then again, given the history of Israeli government, this may not be a bad thing and could result in better policy making in Israel.

The reality is, that outside the unity of Jerusalem, there are few issues which will result in a unified front by diaspora Jewry. But for Olmert to show his hand and his ignorance answering the call of the State Department which undoubtedly helped him contrive this comment, leaves Jewry in a quandary. Not supporting Israel is unthinkable. How to support Israel is another matter. The best situation would be for the immediate collapse of this government and new elections if for no other reason than to unify Israel and ease the nerves of diaspora Jewry.

It is likely not recognized in Israel how important the role of American Jewry in particular is to Israel and the delicate balance needed to demonstrate the connectivity between the US and Israel and why the close relationship is important. In the US, American priorities in policy making must be stressed. Making the case that US priorities and those of Israel is not always as clear as some might think but usually demonstrable. No trickery is needed, the two nations indeed share so many interests. But this balancing act is probably not so appreciated in Eretz Yisrael. Olmert's comments triangulate the equation, adding State Department professional diplomatease interests (which are not necessarily America's best interests) leaving a three legged table.

To make the case that the US is on the wrong track in middle east negotiations is an easy case to make. Differing with Israel which is in agreement with America's not yet enlightened middle east understanding is much harder. Olmert has turned the table upside down and not to Israel's benefit.

As pushed and shoved as he is, Olmert may have had no choice but to go to Annapolis. However, he could have come locked and loaded to make the best case that Israel could make, pointing out for instance that Abbas is useless and has done nothing in terms of his previous responsibility's nor does he carry and authority in the PA areas. Olmert could make Benny Elon's case or even that of a larger transfer, all for the sake of peace. He could make the case that Al-Qaeda is strenghtened by the creation of PA terror state, not weakened and that Syria will be emboldened to more aggressive actions as a result of a PA state. Olmert though brought with him the only thing of value that he can offer, Jerusalem, city of gold.

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25 November 2007

News for Thanksgiving and a Turkey in the Straw


Israel Becoming Less Secular


12 Kislev 5768, 22 November 07 07:53by Hillel Fendel(IsraelNN.com) An Israel Democratic Institute (IDI) demographic survey finds religious growth and secular decline - but most significant is that the proportion of religious in the public is highest among the youth.

The percentage of Jews describing themselves as secular has dropped sharply over the past 30 years, while the religious and traditional proportions have risen. The annual survey finds that the secular public comprises only 20% of the Israeli population - compared to 41%, more than twice as much, in 1974.

Nearly half the population, 47%, describes itself as traditional, while the hareidi-religious and religious together comprise 33% of the public.

The numbers were compiled based on a survey of representative sampling of 1,016 Israelis Jews.

Tradition Reigns
Over the past seven years, according to IDI statistics, the proportion of secular Jews has dropped sharply from 32% to 20% today. The "traditionalists" have traditionally had the lead in polls of this nature - except in 1974, when they trailed the seculars, 41% to 38%.

Other findings show that the Sephardic population is much more traditional and religious than the Ashkenazi sector. Only 7% of the former describe themselves as secular, compared to 36% of the Ashkenazim. At the same time, 56% of the Sephardim are religious or hareidi, compared to only 17% of the Ashkenazim.

It can be inferred from the numbers that Israel is a traditional society, and that it will become even more so as the years go by. 39% of those under age 40 are religious - more than those in their 40's and 50's (32%), and much more than those aged 60 and over (20%).

Country is Right-Wing; the Religious - Even More So
Politically, the religious are more right-wing, but so are the others. Among the religious, many more are identify with the right than with the left, by a 71-8 margin; among the traditional, it's 49-21, and among the secular, it's 43-27. In total, 55% of the population view themselves as right-wing, and only 18% are to the left.
www.IsraelNationalNews.com© Copyright IsraelNationalNews.com



It is interesting to compare the IDI study with another research report recently released.
"Beyond Distancing, Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel"
from The Jewish Identity Project of Reboot, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. The synopsis of the IDI study is that young Israelis are becoming more religious and more traditionally connected. The Beyond Distancing report measured and found young (non-Orthodox) American Jews growing increasing ambivalent towards Israel and less Jewishly connected.

The under 40 demographic in Israel and the 40-59 demographic are significantly more religious than the 60 and above demographic. Within the under 40 demographic 38.8% identify with the label "religious" while 44% identify with the label "traditional". By comparison, the over 60 crowd identifies most with the label "traditional" (57.4%) while only 19.8% claimed to be "religious". The consistent finding in Israel is that the secular label is relatively speaking flat, only moving from 22.8% in the 60 and above group down to 17.2% in the under 40 crowd. Overall, combining the categories of religious and traditional the social structure looks like this: 82.8% of the under 40 crowd are Jewishly connected, 77.4% of the 40-59 crowd in the same category, 77.2% for the above 60 crowd but heavily waited to the "traditional" label. The "traditional" label has clearly lost ground to the "religious" label in a generational sense.

In America, (not measuring the Orthodox, since the Beyond Distancing study factored out the Orthodox*) the younger generation of Jews has moved the other direction.

First lets look at some of the studies analyses and conclusions:


Yet these feelings of attachment may
well be changing, as warmth gives way to
indifference, and indifference may even give
way to downright alienation. Inevitably, if
sufficiently pronounced and widespread, this
prospective sea-change in attitudes toward
Israel will have profound effects upon American
Jews’ relationships with Israel, with
direct bearing upon Israel’s security.

Indeed, a mounting body of evidence
has pointed to a growing distancing from Israel
of American Jews, and the distancing seems
to be most pronounced among younger Jews.

The loci of Jewish identity have
shifted from the public to the private, from
ethnicity and politics to religion, culture and
spirituality (Cohen and Eisen 2000). Jews are
more thoroughly integrated with non-Jews,
and intermarriage is both a symptom and a
cause of this re-formulation of Jewish identities
in a direction that makes attachment
to Israel specifically, and identification with
collective loyalties generally, less intuitively
obvious.

Thus, three trend lines converge to
make intermarriage a major factor in driving
down the Israel attachment scores of
younger adults. First, many more young
people are intermarried. Second, the
intermarried are more distant and more
alienated from Israel. Third, the youngest
intermarried are the most distant and alienated
from Israel.

Many American Jews are claiming
or reclaiming their identities as proud, equal,
Diaspora Jews who do not necessarily believe
that Israel is the center and America the
periphery of a global Judaism.



These results point to the continuing secularization of American Jews and the damage wrought by outer-marriage. American Jewish youth in greater numbers than their predecessors are acculturated to a religion neutral society where the open ticket to social acceptance is ditching all that crazy Jewish stuff. Where have we heard this before. But if that were only the case. The problem runs far deeper. This younger crowd merely has cultural Jewish identification without recognizing that it is the religion aspect which defines the nature of what real cultural identification is. This limb of the Jewish body is educated poorly in Judaism and the education that most receive is sparse and filled with non-traditional learning. The beliefs and understanding of this group reflects its background.

(all respondents)

1. How important is being Jewish in your life? .............
Very Fairly Not Very Not At All Not
Important Important Important Important Sure
45% 39% 12% 3% 1%

2. Do you see yourself as:
Yes
a. Religious? … 35%
b. Secular - 44%
c. Spiritual? - 61%
d. Observant (religiously)? - 31%
e. Jewish by religion? - 89%
f. Jewish by ethnicity? - 82%
g. Culturally Jewish? - 78%
h. Pro-Israel? - 82%
i. A Zionist? - 28%

3. With respect to your belief in God, which term best applies to you?
Believer: 67% Agnostic: 14% Atheist: 6% Not sure: 13%

8. Do you agree or do you disagree with
each of the following statements?

d. Being Jewish is the primary way I identify myself.......
Agree Strongly 25% Agree 30% Not Sure 10% Disagree 29%Strongly Disagree 5%

e. It is important to me to have friends who are Jewish..
Agree Strongly 21% Agree 40% Not Sure 13% Disagree Strongly 22% Disagree 4%

f. I wish I knew more Jewishly…………………………....
Agree Strongly 15% Agree 34% Not Sure 24% Disagree 24% Strongly Disagree 4%

k. I have a special responsibility to take care of Jews in need around the world……………………………
Agree Strongly 20% Agree 39% Not Sure 23% Disagree 16% Strongly Disagree 2%

m. It bothers me when people try to tell me that
there’s a right way to be Jewish…………………….
Agree Strongly 41% Agree 39% Not Sure 11% Disagree 8% Strongly Disagree 1%

t. Jews should marry whoever they fall in love with,
even if they’re not Jewish…………………………...
Agree Strongly 29% Agree 34% Not Sure 13% Disagree 14% Strongly Disagree 9%

u. I would be upset if a child of mine were to marry a non-Jew who did not convert to Judaism…….....
Agree Strongly 13% Agree 17% Not Sure 14% Disagree 29% Strongly Disagree 28%

ISRAEL & YOU
9. Do you agree or do you disagree with each of the following statements

c. If Israel were destroyed, I would feel as if I had suffered one of the greatest personal tragedies of my life………….....................................
Agree Strongly 34% Agree 30% Not Sure 18% Disagree 13% Strongly Disagree 5%

e. I am sometimes uncomfortable identifying myself as a supporter of Israel……………………………………
Agree Strongly 3% Agree 11% Not Sure 15% Disagree 44%Strongly Disagree 27%

Another troubling observation which the study directors seem to take for granted and attempt to justify in their results is the measure of support for Israel based only upon war and political correctness. The authors imply that living through Israel's glory filled war history increases "support" and identification with Israel while the troubles since Rabin and Oslo (where only a non-religious Jew would conclude that a moral equivalency) have resulted in a distancing from Israel.

One explanation for these trends and
age-related variations looks to the impact
of history and how Israel has appeared in
various periods over the last 60 years.


What is obviously missing here is not a political determination of whether or not it is 'good' to support Israel but what is the Jewish thing to do. Where is the "Jewish blood" factor and the "all Jews are responsible one for the other" measurement? This is the reason, I would humbly conclude as to why the Orthodox were not measured in this survey. The survey is not really measuring support for Israel so much as it is measuring support or lack thereof for a single Jewish people. Despite the efforts to the contrary of late amongst the Reformists in particular to make the claim of a unique Jewish identity not based upon Jewish tradition and Torah but equal to it nonetheless (separate but equal) , the same benefit of equality isn't extended to the unification of all Jewry nor does it concern itself with Jewish life in Israel. Jews in Israel are Jews too. Israel will soon have a greater population of Jews than anywhere in the world (if not already). A large body of American Jewry is not ready to process this reality nor prepared to deal with the halachic consequences. The idea of a unified and equal Jewish people without Israel being intrinsically at the center, contains an inherent inconsistency of logic. Logic though, has never been a pre-requisite of non-traditional Jewry.


Some of the survey findings include broken down to age groups include:
(click to enlarge)




While Israeli youth grow more religious, American Jewish youth are increasingly losing interest with Israel, compared to the percentages of previous generations of American Jews and are less interested in Jewish life.

One of the reasons for free trips to Israel has been to stimulate interest in Israel affairs and Jewish communal responsibility. The focus of Israel education however is spiked by its being managed by non-religious Jews. Political correctness, the Pirke Avos of non-traditional Judaism demands looking at Israel "objectively" since Israel must be judged by the standards of "fairness" and "world peace". Israelis, on the other hand seem to better understand the traditional role of Jewish responsibility (possibly out of necessity).
American Jewry could better focus it's assets on teaching Torah and subsidizing Jewish day school education for all Jewish children than wasting it's time on other politically correct programs. Israel trips should be used as a reward for attending day school not as a means of last resort to save Jewish youth.

*"As might be expected, Orthodox
Jews maintain far different relationships
with Israel than those maintained by the
non-Orthodox. If anything, Orthodox engagement
with Israel has increased over the
years as Orthodoxy has been “Sliding to the
Right” (Heilman 2006)."

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21 November 2007

When Is a Mountain not a Mountain?

Muslims Declare Jewish Temples Never Existed In Jerusalem

Posted by The Editors on Sunday, November 18, 2007 at 7:37 PM

On the day that archaeologists announced discovering on the Temple Mount fragments of table vessels and animal bones dating back to Solomon's Temple in the eight century B.C.E. -- the former Mufti of Jerusalem and Fatah's adviser on Jerusalem declared "There was never a Jewish Temple on al-Aqsa (The Temple Mount) and there is no proof that there ever was a temple. Because Allah is fair, he would not agree to make al-Aqsa if there were a temple there for others before hand."

He went on to comment on the Western or Wailing Wall. He said, "The wall is not part of the Jewish temple. It is just the western wall of the mosque. There is not a single stone with any relation at all to the history of the Hebrews."

These sentiments were echoed by a Waqf (Muslim Religious Authority) archaeologist.

These are the current opinions of the Muslims Israel is going to "negotiate" with at Annapolis. They do not recognize the existence of Jewish history in Jerusalem, and President Abbas agrees with them.

The Bush Administration and the Olmert government are legitimizing these people by talking to them.

Stop this madness.




Well of course the Temples didn't exist. Al aqsa has been on al-quds since the time of Ibrahim. Everyone knows that Islam pre-dates all known religions and that allah chose al aqsa and al-quds as holy places to supplement Mecca and the Ka'bah.

The religious myth that Islam cares a hoot for Yerushalayim is built on the wobbly foundation of Islam's cultural and structural under-pinning. Jerusalem is holy to Islam and Christianity too for that matter ONLY because it is holy, now and forever to the Jews. That HaShem chose Jerusalem for the Jewish capital is fodder for all the replacement ideologies that we still see today. Yoshka walked the streets of Jerusalem because it was the Jewish center of life. It was holy before him, not made holy because of him. The conquering arabic hordes didn't make Jerusalem holy nor was this a goal. To the contrary they arrived there because the Christians were there and blocking their way of Islamic suppression of infidels. The whole Islamic claim is based upon a dream of Mohamed recorded in the Koran, not mentioning Jerusalem by name. In fact, Al-Aqsa was built after the death of Mohamed. At the time of Mohamed's "dream", Jerusalem was under full Christian Byzantine control.

Only the Jewish people can truthfully claim Jerusalem from a religious and national perspective. "World peace" whatever that actually means, will only be achieved when Muslims learn the truth and seek forgiveness from the Jews. But don't hold your breath. It takes humility to admit an error. Humility to the arab in particular means not stepping back but being stepped upon: humility = humiliation. Judging by the claims in the article above, the time for peace has not yet arrived.

On the other hand, the madness that is Islam's claims plagues us today and could be a punishment for not having cleared Har HaBayis in 1967. The yissurim of Israel are self-imposed. HaKodesh Baruch Hu strengthen the faith of your children to do your will.

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16 November 2007

Jewish Posterity for $8,000

This Dvar Torah was originally written in 2005 and can be found here. I received it by email this week. It struck me after having written my commentary A Flashy Bookmark Found Amongst The Torn Pages of a Discarded Shulchan Aruch. Rabbi Posner's general theme of Jewish continuity and the message conveyed by Ms. Berman in the article that I commented upon are interesting to compare. I took special note of the last paragraph:


"For these are the children of Jacob" conveys a faith that the chain is worth more than what a link lacks. We have nachas that our children are part of this chain, and we say a little prayer that they earn (for how else will they pay day-school tuition?) a whole lot more than $8,000 a year.


Finally, the Dvar Torah includes sagely advice from Mrs. Posner OBM.




FOR YOUR SHABBAT TABLE
By Rabbi Shimon H Posner
***************
My son the doctor had a son:
he is now a neurosurgeon.
His son is a forest-ranger in Yosemite:
the girl he is not yet married to is not Jewish.
My son the lawyer had a daughter:
she is a senior analyst with Morgan Stanley:
she's forty-three and just met Mr. Right.

A survey of Jewish America was unveiled two years ago:
containing little we didn't already know anecdotally.
Still, some of the numbers were shocking.
Three hundred thousand less Jews
than there were only ten years ago?
Forget Zero Population Growth:
we're eating away at our capital. And for what?
Because, as the survey reported, we earn $8,000 per year more than the average American family!
We're not having kids
so we can go out and earn an extra minimum wage.
My kingdom for a horse;
My birthright for $8,000 worth of lentils.

The problem is not that Jewish women don't want to be Jewish mothers:
it's that Jewish men don't want to be Jewish fathers.
Manis Freidman sees feminism as a cry,
piercing through the upshot of the Industrial Revolution:
"Give us back the husbands that you stole from us!"
Until that revolt, men grew into fathers:
fathers needed to provide, so men worked.
Gradually men stopped working to provide,
they went off to pursue a career,
self- fulfillment, a more meaningful life(style).
Who would want to be the mother of their children?

Perhaps more than any parsha, ours is laden with domesticity: it is painful to hear, from our perspective,
women pining for children and for their husband's attention
that childbearing would earn them.
More easily overlooked is the husband
who watched sheep all day in order to raise a family.
Bucolic as it may sound, this was not a sign of the times;
his twin brother led a high-pressured, adventurous, corporate-mogul lifestyle.

'Will our children say kaddish for us?'
was the worry of a generation gone by.
'We have no children.'
is the silent scream of the most comfort-conscious generation. Worry and concern of a Jewish future is misused,
overplayed and gauche.
Charged-up activism is annoying. Neither work.
Go get a job! Become successful! is the cry.
And the kids listen, in droves.

One of the positive aspects of the Sixties-Seventies is idealism: a greasy-haired, pot-induced, thoroughly-off-base idealism, but idealism. When the surviving hippies (the ones who didn't OD in Marrakech) took a bath and trimmed their hair they were also cleansed of selflessness and had their strife of the spirit cut short. The lucky ones had someone to help them channel their idealism.

Parents want to provide children with whatever the parents grew up missing.
A greater accomplishment is to provide children with whatever the parent grew up taking for granted.

It is not enough to want grandchildren.
You must want sons who are fathers more than you want sons who are doctors, want daughters who are mothers more than daughters who are market analysts.
You must want sons-in-law who are fathers
more than sons-in-law who are neurosurgeons.

My mother taught me
that you can never choose to have a child:
you can only choose not to have a child.

"For these are the children of Jacob" conveys a faith that the chain is worth more than what a link lacks. We have nachas that our children are part of this chain, and we say a little prayer that they earn (for how else will they pay day-school tuition?) a whole lot more than $8,000 a year.

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12 November 2007

To Sanctify the Profane

National Jewish conference focuses on youth
More than 3,000 leaders expected at Nashville event


By COLBY SLEDGE
Staff Writer

Published: Monday, 11/12/07
The gathering sounded like a college football game, complete with pep-rally music and pennant-waving students.

Instead, the scene was the United Jewish Communities' annual General Assembly, which is expected to bring more than 3,000 Jewish leaders to Nashville this week. The event runs through Tuesday at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.

With about 8,000 Jews in Nashville and around 20,000 statewide, Tennessee's Jewish community is the smallest to ever host the conference.

"It's really been quite an undertaking," said Judy Saks, community director for the Jewish Federation of Nashville. Saks' organization is teaming with similar chapters in Chattanooga, Knoxville and Memphis to provide volunteers for the event.

Although discussion topics will vary, the overwhelming issue for Jewish leaders is the same facing other religions: figuring out how to keep younger generations involved.

"That's the big question, and if you have the answer, we'll pay you a lot for seminars," Saks said. "It's probably going to involve a complete change in the way we are doing things."

Students get involved

More than 200 students from colleges ranging from the University of Michigan to Vanderbilt University are expected to attend the conference, which includes sessions on involving young adults in Jewish life.

"I'm here to learn a lot more about my Jewish identity," said Jon Hurst-Sneh, a University of Kansas student. "We're here to realize our religion."

Hurst-Sneh was among about 60 Jewish students and young adults who volunteered at the Nashville Rescue Mission on Sunday morning, sorting clothing, preparing food and speaking with men and women at the complex.

Volunteer and service work are likely to play a prominent role in future Jewish teaching of students, said Saks.

"They really want to put the things that they have learned in religious school to work, and one of those things is helping others and involving younger people," Saks said.

The students and other attendees will have several prominent leaders, Jewish and otherwise, to look to during the conference. Sunday's speakers included Gov. Phil Bredesen, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will address the assembly Tuesday morning.

"Judaism doesn't stand between being secular and being orthodox," said Pnina Gaday, an Ethiopian Jew who fled to Israel and now leads a student group in Tel Aviv. "Orthodoxy is scaring a lot of students. There are a lot of ways to be Jewish on both sides."



Why do college age youth go the GA to learn about yiddishkeit? Why not spend a semester in Yeshiva? Today, there are plenty of "kiruv" or better "in-reach" (read it as enrich) yeshivas for boys and girls which will inspire growth in Judaism not only by advancing their knowledge of Torah but by spiritually motivating the 'soul' of the wandering and lost Jew. Indeed, all Jews are of one soul. (for reference material on the single neshama of Israel and the ideas implications, see Chassidic Dimensions, Shochet).

One would do well to begin this path with a desire to cling to HaKodesh Baruch Hu while overcoming the urge to look for an excuse not to do so. This is a direct challenge to the "I need to be inspired" crowd. It isn't inspiration so much which is lacking but commitment.

I would bet that most people making the "inspiration" argument have either played organized sports, taken up an instrument, dance, art or any hobby which must be nurtured. In the effort to learn or master the necessary skills, did they need inspiration or commitment? Clearly, the matter is one of desire to achieve. No one gives this to a Jew, it must come from inside. The inheritance is a gift but it must be brought out from the shell it is hidden in. But what of the end product? A sports player plays the game in the end, and the piano keys are stroked producing a melody. What of the Jew? Here we come to the loggerhead. What is the purpose of this search for meaning or spirituality? Is it to have some sense of satisfaction or accomplishment? Or is it something else, larger than the very person.

A Jew looks for HaShem for no other reason than to discover himself. How so? Since HaShem, Israel, and Torah are united in eternal oneness, the search for spirituality is to find oneself, or better to recognize the divine source of the soul itself. We are mere vessels carrying the soul. HaShem blew that soul into us. It seeks to return to it's source at all times, but the body selfishly refuses to let it go. And this, may I venture, is a secret of Jewish life. The body refuses to let the soul have it's way seeking to meet it's own agenda. However, being stuck together for a tour on earth, the soul and body must work together throughout life. The yetzer hara empowers the body in its effort to control the soul. The soul cries out to it's creator for strength to overpower the urges of the yetzer hara. The body can be convinced to do right and the soul can be taught to give in to foreign influences. It is an effort in the intellectual realm which drives a Jew toward an observant path away from a not yet observant path. A conscious effort is needed to turn aveiros into mitzvos.

Sorting clothes at a shelter might be a good thing to do. If it is done because it makes the body feel good, then it has affected the soul negatively. If it is done because the soul says, it's an act of chesed for you to should sort clothes at the shelter, and the body says, "I would rather be sleeping but will go if you make me", then the soul has influenced the body in a positive way. This is called sanctifying the profane and is a message as I see it that the Rebbe taught. Make what you do holy. This message is what is missed by college students at the GA. Spirituality doesn't follow attempts to "realize our religion". Rather it is the love of humanity and desire to do what HaShem wants which teaches how we "realize our religion".

"Judaism doesn't stand between being secular and being orthodox," said Pnina Gaday, an Ethiopian Jew who fled to Israel and now leads a student group in Tel Aviv. "Orthodoxy is scaring a lot of students. There are a lot of ways to be Jewish on both sides."


Pnina, it isn't Orthodoxy" which scares students, it is the commitment which scares students. It is the fear of being Jews, who Think Jewish, act Jewish and appear Jewish which scares students. Your position is a false dicotomy. Orthodox or secular is not the choice. Jewish or not is the choice. You seem to wish to define Judaism based upon what is good for you. It isn't Orthodoxy which scares you it is the fear that you cannot set and keep the standards for which you are comfortable.

Comfort is not what makes you feel good but a sense of continuity, that you are able to keep the tradition of your ancestors alive and meaningful. This is a true comfort and what HaShem expects from you. Connectivity to the past and future is your reward. But it is hardly your only obligation. While it is truly hard work to live up to HaShem's expectations, seeing through the facade of self-determination Judaism is harder.

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A Flashy Bookmark Found Amongst The Torn Pages of a Discarded Shulchan Aruch


Reform Judaism Mag - Winter 2007

(ED. originally posted 1 Nov 07)
I’m a Jew Just Like You
by Joelle Asaro Berman



Discussing Outreach

Give us adult children of intermarriage a stake in the incredibly rich tradition that is our Jewish future.

When it comes to labeling, Jews take the cake. We’ve invented a term for nearly every Jewish lifestyle. While I knew from an early age that I bore the “Reform” label, I wouldn’t learn of my “interfaith” label until I was an adult working full-time in the Jewish communal world.

As a child, nothing struck me as strange about having a non-Jewish parent. It was the norm; many of my friends came from mixed households. That’s what happens in the condensed suburbs of New Jersey: People from different backgrounds inevitably cross paths and, in some cases, decide to raise families together.

In my case the cross-pollination occurred between a Sicilian mother, raised Catholic in Lodi; and a mélange-of-Eastern-European-descent father, raised Jewish in Fair Lawn. They met at the nearby college where they both held teaching positions.

During her own college years, my mother’s devotion to Catholicism dissipated, despite an unwavering faith in God. Her biggest obstacle to raising her future children in a particular faith was not the religion itself, but her distrust of all organized religion. Conveniently, my father’s twin brother is a rabbi, and for an entire year he and my father worked to dispel her fear, answering her searching questions until she felt comfortable enough to raise us as Jews. Soon enough she was hosting my baby-naming ceremony and driving my brother David and me to Hebrew school.

And so I grew up—becoming a bat mitzvah at a Reform synagogue, discovering my Jewish identity at Reform overnight camp, and spending many fun weekends at Reform youth group events. Never was I labeled as an “interfaith kid”; having a non-Jewish mother was merely a genealogical footnote.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I started working in the larger Jewish communal world and was almost instantly labeled and made to feel inferior for having a non-Jewish mother. According to some of these Jews, my father was among those “finishing Hitler’s work” by marrying outside the faith and pushing the Jewish people closer to extinction. Entire organizations and large sums of money were being devoted to studying the impact families like mine were having on Jewish continuity. The message was clear: Despite our Jewish upbringing, patrilineal children like me needed to suck it up and convert if we wanted to be considered legitimate outside the Reform world.

These detractors remain oblivious to how an interfaith family with both parents committed to raising Jewish children works. My parents figured it out early in their marriage. They concocted a careful, deliberate recipe sure to yield children with strong Jewish identities: A heaping serving of holiday observances sweetened by the recitation of blessings every Friday night at Shabbat dinner, a good measure of Hebrew school, bar/bat mitzvah, and a generous pinch of participation in informal Jewish activities—especially URJ Joseph Eisner Camp in Great Barrington, MA, where I made lifelong friendships.

Nowadays, the Jewish elements of my identity are as deeply ingrained as the Sicilian identity which my mother worked to infuse throughout my childhood. At our third-grade “Around the World Food Fair,” I wore my great-grandmother’s dress from Sicily and my mother helped me serve homemade ravioli. David and I couldn’t just watch The Godfather—afterward, my mother would expound on the history of the Sicilian mob, which formed, we learned, as a result of the persecution and hardship Sicilian immigrants faced when they arrived in this country. I also followed my mother’s example in scoffing at waitresses who would say “ca-la-mar-i” instead of the dialectally correct “co-la-mad.”

Still, I was a Jew, even as we ate a special meal with my mother’s side of the family every year during the Feast of St. Joseph. I was a Jew, even as I hung ornaments from the Christmas tree in our living room. I was a Jew, a proud Jew at that, when both sides of my family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—stood at my side as I ceremonially signed my bat mitzvah certificate at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey.

I see now that this is ultimately my parents’ biggest success—that I know exactly who I am: An American Jew of Sicilian heritage. And so, after wrestling with the interfaith label for the past several years, I now realize it means nothing to me except that I had a somewhat unique upbringing for an American Jewish girl.

That said, as someone who’s worn the interfaith label, let me offer some observations. One: Accept the reality of interfaith families. Whether you like it or not, the next generation of Jews will count many non-Jews as their parents and many not-typically-Jewish ethnicities as part of their identity. Two: Welcome interfaith families. For every interfaith family that’s weathered the storm of feeling unwelcome and disadvantaged, there are plenty who get lost in the flood. There’s no chance for Jewish continuity unless we open the tent to them all.

And last: Count in adult children of intermarriage. Give us a stake in the incredibly rich and resilient tradition that is also our Jewish future.

{Joelle Asaro Berman, a senior editor for JVibe (the magazine for Jewish teens), helped lead the NFTY L’dor V’dor trip in 2004.}

sample writing:
Wax and Tinsel




The Spirit of Ruth

You can always tell the sincere ones from the others. "I want to be Jewish and I don't care what it takes". "If I have to convert again and again and again, I will do it." I have great sympathy for the writer of this article and feel very sorry indeed that she is a victim of a convenience founded in the Reformist movement brought on by rampant secularism and divisive self-interest. The Patrilenial descent teshuva has resulted in vast numbers, thousands of Jews estranged from the people to which they identify themselves.
{inspiring lesson from Torah.org}

Ruth the Moabitess had an unyielding desire to join the Jewish people, fulfill the Torah and take her place in the unending saga of Jewish history. No cost was too great, no burden too unbearable. As a result, she is the model of conversion to Judaism. Ruth did not seek Israel solely because she felt comfortable with the Jews, indeed, the only Jews she knew were her first husband, brother-in-law, and mother-in-law before entering eretz Yisroel. Neither did she seek Jewish company to eat lox and bagels.

What gave Ruth her strength? Why not just hang with Naomi and be an outsider/insider?

One of the wreckage's of the Reformist movement is it's creation of now significant numbers of children produced by the married outs. Halacha has determined that many of these children are not Jewish, yet in many cases, the offspring have no personal identity other than being Jewish. Some are born into families in which multi-religious events occur: Shabbos and sunday services, Xmas and a conveniently timed Chanukah, Pesach and Easter, etc. The article above serves as testimony to the weakness of Reform Judaism. The best the author can come up with can be paraphrased as 'it isn't fair to exclude us {IE. children of interfaith}'.


Consider the following quotes:


"These detractors remain oblivious to how an interfaith family with both parents committed to raising Jewish children works. My parents figured it out early in their marriage."

"Still, I was a Jew, even as we ate a special meal with my mother’s side of the family every year during the Feast of St. Joseph. I was a Jew, even as I hung ornaments from the Christmas tree in our living room. I was a Jew, a proud Jew at that, when both sides of my family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins—stood at my side as I ceremonially signed my bat mitzvah certificate at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. "



I am not certain what it means to be a Jew at a Catholic feast and by hanging 'Jewish' ornaments on an idol tree. What I do understand is that Judaism has laws and beliefs. Jews can find guidance on every matter in their life either by reading or asking a Rabbi (Orthodox of course). I will stop short of accusing the writer's Jewish parent of religious abuse in child rearing. But, I will say that the decision to engage in a life-time relationship with a non-Jew, especially when the non-Jew is the mother is self-destructive behavior.

Rabbi Akiva Tatz class on Intermarriage from a Mystical perspective

Ms. Berman is asking for a stake in the Jewish world without being Jewish. What stops anyone, who "feels" Jewish or even G-d forbid messianics/Jews for J from using this same justification to make an argument for inclusiveness? Why should they be excluded? They "want" to be Jewish too as did the Samarians of old or the Karaites.

Rabbinic Judaism was empowered long ago to draw the lines and those same lines today obligate us as they have obligated all Jews from the beginning of time. We now slide into the general discussion of why Reformist Judaism is outside the boundaries of mainstream Judaism, ie. "Orthodox" Judaism. The rule of patrilineal descent can no more be added to the halacha than chazer can be made kosher. Sure Jews eat pig, drive on Shabbos, and some even marry out with non-Jews. But like the discussion over gay marriage and ordination, patrilineal descent requires the Jewish people to accept and give legitimacy to actions, forbidden by Jewish law simply because there are numerous violators of these laws who wish to have their own avodah zara made permissible in the eyes of the non-violators. This is a prescription for destruction. And, it is a hallmark of the liberal indoctrination for which Reformism is now associated.


Imagine my surprise, then, when I started working in the larger Jewish communal world and was almost instantly labeled and made to feel inferior for having a non-Jewish mother. According to some of these Jews, my father was among those “finishing Hitler’s work” by marrying outside the faith and pushing the Jewish people closer to extinction.
Meschita Nedarim 64b labels a childless Jewish male (not fulfilling the mitzvah of piryah ve-rivyah) as dead even while still alive.



The emotionally gut wrenching quote above is not at all an uncommon occurrence. Most married-out parents and children of those relationships were denied the basic information they needed not only to make appropriate decisions (the parents) but even to understand the implications of those decisions (the children). Reformists are led to believe their own rejection of the halachic standard will be accepted by all Jews as status quo. To challenge the status quo makes you a "divisive" or "mean-spirited" or even "hateful" person. Who would deny this poor innocent girl of her very personage and Jewish destiny? In a logical world view, one would have to conclude that if some Jews follow one fundamental law and some an entirely different and opposite law, two entities exist where there was one previously. Or, there are two equally valid sets of law. I cannot think of anything which separates Reformists from the rest of the Jewish world more than this one issue.

These real victims, (and there are plenty) are trapped in a world that tells them they are Jewish and Halacha that determines they are not Jewish. I heard a "victim" of the patrilineal descent once relate a story from his school years. A test in math was given, and word sentences were used to calculate dates (from one date to another). The question asked the students to calculate a certain number of days using "Christmas" as one of the dates of the calculation. The student (remember who is not Halachically Jewish) did not know on what date "Christmas" fell and had to ask the teacher. Clearly, some of these "victims" know nothing other than Judaism, even if their knowledge of religion is minimal.

So where to from here? I do not believe that any progress will be made on this issue until Reformism backs away from this decision and reverses it's previous ruling. At the same time, Reformist leaders must come clean, apologize to those children of 'interfaith' relationships (in particular those who are not Jewish) and open a dialogue, in good faith with the leading Orthodox rabbonim as to setting up batei dinnim specifically to deal with each case individually as to a proper conversion. While this is an uncomfortable at best arrangement, it beats "finishing Hitler's work." Ms. Berman, please consider an Orthodox conversion. You have too much potential to be written off from the Jewish people. You must, however, take the first step.

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All In The Family: Three Generations of Deren-Posner Shluchim

Printed from Chabad.org
(ED. note: originally posted 25 October 07)
Obituary

Pioneering Chabad Emissary, Mother and Grandmother Passes Away in Nashville

Mrs. Risya Posner

By Sue Fishkoff
Oct 24, 2007

Mrs. Risya Posner, who with her husband Rabbi Zalman Posner established the first Chabad-Lubavitch presence in Nashville, Tenn., died Tuesday at the age 80. An inimitable force behind Lubavitch outreach operations and techniques across the world, she was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Lubavitch parents who had immigrated from Russia. She and her husband pioneered the field of campus-based outreach, almost immediately inviting Vanderbilt University students to their home after their arrival in Nashville.

From when she was a baby until her last day in the hospital, she elicited love from those who were mere acquaintances as easily as from those who had known her for decades.

During her final moments, she was surrounded by all of her children, who sang the melody of her grandfather, Reb Osher of Nikolayev. (Click here to listen to the melody.)

In the article that follows, writer Sue Fishkoff, author of The Rebbe's Army, traces the reach and impact of Mrs. Posner's family. Originally intended as the book's final chapter, this story never made it into the final work because of space considerations. Parts of it were incorporated into other chapters, and parts simply went unpublished. This is the first time the work has been made available to the public.

Mrs. Posner passed away just four hours after her brother, Rabbi Moshe Kazarnovsky, who died in New York. Brother and sister passed away four days after the 25th yartzeit of their father, Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Kazarnovsky.

All In The Family: Three Generations of Deren-Posner Shluchim

It's Saturday night in Crown Heights, a crisp November evening around 7:30 pm. Three stars have come out in the night sky, indicating the end of Shabbat, and the streets have burst into life again after a 28-hour hiatus. Shops are opening their doors along Kingston Avenue, the pizza joint has turned its lights on, and car engines are revving up. Inside a rambling brick home on Union Street, three dozen people are jostling for space. Children scamper underfoot, young mothers and fathers burp babies, knots of three and four people stand close together along the walls and in the kitchen, their voices rising to be heard over the din as dishes of food are brought out and set down on the long dining room table still covered with its white linen Shabbat tablecloth. Noodle kugel, potato latkes, blintzes, quiche, mushroom soup--steam rises from the platters, giving off an aroma of unbearable sweetness.

Around the heavily laden table, a dozen men and women are seated in high-backed wooden chairs. The men all wear the dark suits, white shirts and black hats of the Lubavitch movement. A few are young, with smooth cheeks and still-straggly beards, but most of the men's long gray and white beards proclaim them as movement elders. One begins to make introductions; "Hi, I'm Rabbi Deren." Pointing to the man on his right he continues down the table, like some madcap host of a hassidic "To Tell the Truth" game show. "And this is Rabbi Deren. Next to him is Rabbi Deren. That's Rabbi Posner, and next to him is…" The interlocutor pauses, his eyes twinkling with glee. "--Rabbi Deren." Everyone chuckles. It's not a new trick to pull on an outsider, but it's still good for a laugh.

Four generations of Derens, Posners, and the people who married them have come together this weekend in the Crown Heights home of Chava Altein (nee Deren) because of the annual Chabad shluchim convention taking place a few blocks away. In Chabad today, it's quite usual for the sons and daughters of shluchim to become shluchim themselves. But it's rare to find a family whose emissary roots go back this far.

At the head of the table sits Rabbi Zalman Posner, sent by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe as Chabad emissary to Nashville, Tennessee in 1949. He and his wife Risya, seated on his left, recently celebrated their 50th anniversary as rabbi and rebbetzin of Nashville's Congregation Sherith Israel. They both still work full time, Zalman as an author, lecturer and pulpit rabbi, Risya as principal of the Akiva day school they founded in 1954. Across the table sits the Posners' eldest daughter Vivi, who runs Chabad of Fairfield County, Connecticut with her husband Rabbi Yisroel Deren. To Vivi and Yisroel's right sits their eldest son, Rabbi Yossi Deren, who opened the Chabad Center of Greenwich, Connecticut four years earlier with his wife Maryashi. And under the table, giggling wildly, are Yossi and Maryashi's two oldest toddlers, the newest generation in a line of Chabad shluchim stretching from their parents through their grandparents through their great-grandparents, back to Zalman Posner's parents Sholom and Chaya who were sent to Pittsburgh by the sixth Rebbe to open a Jewish day school in 1942.

Rabbi Zalman Posner (left) together with grandson Rabbi Yossi Deren

The Posner-Deren family is well connected politically, both inside and outside Chabad. Zalman Posner and Yisroel Deren sit on the national boards of central Chabad organizations, playing major roles in determining policy for the worldwide movement. And although Lubavitchers usually vote Republican, this family has personal ties to key Democrats. Senator Joe Lieberman's mother Marcia, who lives in Stamford, has been close to the Derens for more than a decade. Yisroel goes to her home almost every Saturday evening to perform havdalah, the ceremony marking the formal end of Shabbat. And both the elder Derens and the Posners spent election night 2000 with Al Gore in Nashville.

The shluchim at this dinner table all grew up in Lubavitch homes, yet each faced a different set of challenges when they set out on their life's work. The Posners knew they could depend on a steady salary from the very beginning, since Zalman was hired as a pulpit rabbi. But in terms of their Lubavitch outreach work, they had no models to draw from; they were movement pioneers. Yisroel and Vivi Deren had no financial assurances when they took on a college campus in 1974, the year the Lubavitcher Rebbe sent them to establish a Chabad House at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. But they also faced no local Jewish competition. Fourteen years later they moved to Stamford, a Connecticut town with a strong Orthodox community and several existing Orthodox congregations--a Jewish community with a strong identity, but plenty of other venues in which to express it.

By the time Vivi and Yisroel's son Yossi was ready to marry and set out on his own shlichus in the late '90s, Chabad had extended its operational arms into many small towns with little or no Jewish organizational life. Yossi and Maryashi ended up a few miles away from his parents in Greenwich, a wealthy bedroom community for Manhattan professionals. In contrast to Yossi's parents, who had to wave flags and blow shofars to attract the attention of 1970s-era college students, he and his new bride faced a financially established but largely assimilated community where social decorum was more appropriate than street masquerades and mitzva tanks.

Risya Posner, a diminutive, well-spoken and immaculately groomed woman in her 70s, is a lady of great elegance and refinement. She is very much in demand during this Chabad convention, and when she finally is able to sit down for a few hours to tell her story, it is already 11 o'clock Sunday night. Of course, she insists she's not tired.

"It's so important to have background," she begins. "If you don't have a perspective on where things come from, you don't know what you're looking at." Risya's parents, like her husband's parents, were born in Russia to Lubavitch families. Her father and her husband's father went to the same yeshiva in the Russian town of Lubavitch. Her grandfather, a shochet, was appointed by the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe to travel from village to village, collecting all existing versions of the Tanya in order to compile one authoritative edition, which Lubavitch published in 1900. That's the version Chabadniks use today. During his travels, he fasted every week from Monday to Thursday out of respect for the awesome nature of his assignment. Zalman Posner's family was also prominent in the movement while still in Russia. One of his uncles was exiled to Siberia for holding services in his home on Sukkot, and died on the forced march east from Moscow. The memories of descendants like that, who endured incredible hardships for their Judaism, are constant motivating factors in Lubavitchers' lives today, Risya says.

In 1926 Risya's parents immigrated to Rochester, New York, but moved on quickly to the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn, home to many Jews but few Lubavitchers. The only Lubavitch families in New York at the time lived in Brownsville and Boro Park in Brooklyn, or on Manhattan's East Side, seemingly a world away. Risya says that although many American Jews identified with Lubavitch, the actual number of Lubavitch activists living in New York in 1940 could be counted on two hands. Even in 1948, she estimates the total Lubavitch population in the city at less than 100 families. "As far as I knew as a girl, we were the only Lubavitch family [in the world]," Risya says. "The only place I heard Lubavitch niggunim (melodies) was at our Shabbos table."

When the sixth Rebbe sailed into New York harbor in March 1940, little Risya went along at dawn to greet him at the pier, dressed in her camel coat with brown buttons and a brown broad-brimmed hat. When she heard hundreds of men singing what she'd always thought of as "her" Lubavitch songs, she was filled with an overwhelming sense of belonging. "This was mine," she recalls. "What it showed me years later is that you can create a sense of belonging to something without it actually being there in front of you."

It was Rabbi Schneersohn's second visit to the U.S. He was here for ten months in 1929 just after his release from Soviet prison, on a trip to drum up financial support for the Jews of Eastern Europe and to decide whether to move Lubavitch headquarters from Europe to New York, an action he ended up delaying for 11 years. That earlier visit was covered extensively by the Jewish and secular press, neither of which quite knew what to make of this austere Russian hassidic leader in the fur hat and long caftan who drew such tremendous crowds in his wake. The New York Times of Sept. 18, 1929 called him "one of the most influential world leaders of Jewry," and reported that 500 hassidim waited for hours in the rain at Battery Park to greet him. Along with trips to Philadelphia, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Boston and St. Louis, all cities with sizeable Lubavitch populations, Schneersohn also visited the White House, where he held a meeting with President Truman.

Sometimes it was difficult to separate hyperbole from fact in the news reports surrounding his visit. The Day, a New York Jewish paper, reported in September 1929 that 5,000 Lubavitchers lived in New York, and 40,000 throughout the United States, both of them unlikely numbers. The Detroit Free Press claimed that 10,000 people escorted Schneersohn to Emanuel Synagogue for a meeting with that city's Orthodox leaders, and the Chicago Daily Tribune wrote that he had more than three million followers in Russia and Poland. What is certainly true is that much of the country's Orthodox population at the time were either themselves hassidic, or had hassidic roots, although not card-carrying Lubavitchers. It's also true that even non-hassidic American Jews were eager to see this legendary figure who narrowly escaped execution at Soviet hands, a man whom some of the secular papers referred to as "a saint."

Upon his final move to New York in 1940, the sixth Rebbe lived at the now-defunct Hotel Greystone on East 91 St. in Manhattan until the property at 770 Eastern Parkway was purchased for his use by some movement activists, including Risya's father. Because the movement was still so small Lubavitchers in New York felt more like a family than they do today. But the sixth Rebbe was less accessible than his successor. He was paralyzed, confined to a wheelchair after Soviet torture, and in the ten years before his death in 1950 he only left Brooklyn a few times. He held just three or four farbrengens a year in a small upstairs rooms at 770, usually on Purim, Simhat Torah, and Lubavitch holidays, a far cry from his successor's large and frequent public gatherings. His wife would entertain key Lubavitch women downstairs while the men were upstairs with their rebbe, and Risya remembers "being privileged" to stand in the open door outside the room, watching the men sing and dance with the Torah inside.


Bride Maryashie Deren, now co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Greenwich, Conn., celebrates with Risya Posner on the day of her wedding.

"I was very conscious of my good fortune," she says. "The Rebbe's smile was like the brightness of ten suns. It's something that has stayed with me for well over 50 years. It was a privilege to be anywhere in his presence. The only possible counterpart you could have is the awe people used to have for a king, but there are no more kings like that."

There was no Lubavitch school system in place when Risya was a girl. Her parents allowed their artistically talented child to make the daily commute to Manhattan's High School of Music and Art, something that would not happen in Crown Heights today. Risya is uncomfortable talking about that aspect of her upbringing. "I didn't grow up in a cocoon," she says. "But I'd never send a child there today. It was a wonderful experience, but you don't get the preparation for life they offer at a Jewish girls' school." Still, New York was her world, and it was a shock in 1949 when the sixth Rebbe announced that she and her husband of two weeks would be moving to Nashville. They were the first Chabad shluchim to be sent so far.

"I have to tell you, I never wanted to leave New York," she admits. "For me, the rest of the world was the romantic unknown. I'd never been west of Pennsylvania or north of Massachusetts. But my husband was looking for a position, and it was the Rebbe's suggestion to do this. The Rebbe would see possibilities for you that you couldn't see for yourself."

Nashville in 1949 had about 800 Jewish families. None of them expected the Posners to stay. "They thought, this is a nice place for a young rabbi to get training, and then after two or three years, you'd go to New York to a 'real' pulpit," Zalman Posner says. In 1954 Posner started his day school with five first- and second-grade pupils. He was their teacher and chauffeur, picking up the children and driving them home himself. That was not seen as a demeaning job for a Lubavitcher rabbi, Risya explains. Both the sixth and the seventh rebbes encouraged their hassidim to teach Judaism to young children, calling it the noblest possible vocation. After all, the Baal Shem Tov himself worked as a teacher's assistant in an elementary school in Poland.

Nashville at the time was the smallest Jewish community in America with a day school. Other local rabbis criticized its establishment, and the city's Jewish federation declined to support it. The Posners had to strike out alone. "We didn't have the things shluchim have today, all the publications, the tapes and videos," Risya says. "In those early years, the only communication you had were letters from the Rebbe and mimeographed sheets of the Rebbe's farbrengens they'd send in the mail."

The Posners held Sunday night get-togethers at their home for students from Vanderbilt University, which Risya calls "the first Chabad Houses." By 1959, Rabbi Posner was making regular trips up to Crown Heights to teach at the movement's "Encounters with Chabad" weekend workshops. He wrote down many of the questions visitors asked him, along with his lengthy answers, and sent them out to other shluchim as resources for them to use in their own outreach work. Many of those writings were later included in his first book, Think Jewish, a chronicle of how Chabadniks presented hassidic thought to the counter-culture generation.

On November 14, 1999 the Posners were the guests of honor at a gala dinner honoring their 50 years of service to Nashville's Jewish community. Letters of congratulation poured in, including two from the Rabbinical Council of America and Agudas Harabbanim, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada, indicating the esteem Posner is held in by the rest of the Orthodox world. Not all Chabad shluchim have been as successful at inserting themselves into the greater Jewish community.


Mrs. Vivi Deren

That was all very far away when the Posner's first child, Shifra Aviva (Vivi), was born in 1951. "In a sense, you can say I was born into the movement," Vivi comments. "But a rebbe is only your rebbe to the extent that you, the hassid, let him be. It's not automatic. Being born into it is a wonderful start, but if you're not working and struggling and moving forward yourself, then you're not a great hassid." In a way, being part of a prominent Lubavitch family is a disadvantage, she says. "A person can very easily think, 'I'm hot stuff, look who my father and grandfather are,' and sort of coast."

It's a week after the annual Chabad convention, and Vivi is standing in front of her stove in Stamford stirring a huge cauldron of soup she's preparing for the upcoming Shabbat. She is a large woman with a round, gentle face and eyes that size up the person she's speaking to with swift accuracy. She has continued in her parents' path, working as director of the Chabad preschool she and her husband run in Stamford, and speaking at dozens of forums nationwide.

Two of her six children are also in the kitchen, talking to her at once. Twenty-six-year-old Mendel is flying out that night to Vienna for a friend's wedding, and then on to Moscow the next day to check out a job opportunity. Chani, 21, is debating whether or not to drive with him to Kennedy Airport to catch the overnight flight to Brazil, so she can attend her cousin's bar mitzvah the next morning. She'll have to fly right back to New York in time for Open House Friday morning at the Hebrew School class she teaches, but neither the ticket price nor the long hours in the air factor into her decision. She's only afraid she might be late for the Open House. Anyone who thinks Lubavitchers are culturally isolated only has to look at this family's frequent flyer mileage, typical of most shluchim. These families are far-flung, making births, deaths, weddings and bar mitzvahs all the more precious. From their early teens, Lubavitchers think nothing of hopping flights at a moment's notice to represent the family or lend a hand to another shliach. The Rebbe discouraged excessive expenditures, but as shluchim become further spread out, people's understanding of "excessive" has shifted.

This kind of travel was not common when Vivi was growing up in Nashville. Crown Heights was far away, and even more than her mother in 1930s Bensonhurst, Vivi knew that she and her family were "different." There were other Sabbath-observant Jews in Nashville, but they were all elderly; she was the only observant child she knew. Her father was the rabbi, but he was also her first-grade teacher. "He taught us how to read, he told us lots of funny stories," she recalls. "It was a funny feeling, sharing him." When her father became her full-time Judaica tutor at the age of seven, he taught her Hebrew directly from the Bible. "We never had stencils or worksheets or lists of hard words. Just Humash. He'd ask a question, we'd find the pasuk (verse), I'd read it out loud and he'd show me how to break it down. I didn't cover as much ground as I would have in a regular class, but he gave me the tools and a real love for Humash, and the confidence that I could do it myself."

Zalman and Risya never apologized to their children for "forcing" them to be different, Vivi says. "Being different was a fact of life. My parents communicated so effectively that it was not a burden." Vivi remembers walking to shul with her father, and seeing other children point and laugh at his long beard and yarmulke. "My father was so totally not affected by it," she says. "It didn't touch him in the slightest. He didn't have to say anything to us, it was so clear he was proud of what he was and that anyone who didn't appreciate that was to be pitied." Rabbi Posner had a sense of humor about his appearance. With his dark beard, swarthy skin and large features, he bore a striking resemblance to a certain Latin American dictator. Once, while walking in the halls at Vanderbilt University's hospital, a man ran up to him to ask whether he was a well-known author scheduled to give a lecture that evening. Rabbi Posner said, quite nonchalantly, "No, I'm Fidel Castro," at which the man nodded, and continued on his way.

Like most little girls, Vivi idolized her father. When she watched him deliver his Saturday morning talks in shul, she felt that he had a direct link to G-d. "I imagined Hashem nodding in approval, saying, 'I'm glad at least somebody down there gets it.'" Students would come to the house to study Torah late at night, and Vivi remembers sneaking out of bed to listen from behind the door, until she'd be caught and sent back to her room--only to sneak out again. But in contrast to Lubavitch families today, where the Rebbe is a constant presence and children learn stories about him as soon as they can talk, Vivi says that Schneerson was a somewhat mysterious figure to her as a child. She and her siblings were brought up more on stories about the heroic Lubavitcher hassidim working underground in Russia. Their stories of secret mikvahs and Siberian exile were bedtime tales for American Chabadniks in the '50s and '60s. "It was all very hush-hush. We were careful not to talk about anything that could endanger people still there. But they were real people doing real things." And the Rebbe, she knew, was the reason they did those things. "The Rebbe was the one who was guiding, leading, showing the way. When my father got a phone call from the Rebbe's secretary, I saw the way he would act. It wasn't just a phone call, it was an event. There was nothing that got the kind of reaction from him as something coming from the Rebbe."

When Vivi was 10, she went with her parents to Crown Heights for yechidus--a private meeting with the Rebbe. Schneerson suggested that it was time for her to receive a proper education, so she was sent to live with Risya's parents in Bensonhurst to attend the Chabad movement's new girls' school, Beth Rivkah. The school was three bus rides away, and Vivi made the long trip every day for nine years. As a teenager, she went through the usual adolescent period of questioning authority. Everyone does it, Vivi points out, even hassidic kids. "At one point or another, you start doubting. Is there a G-d? Did Torah really come from Sinai? Most frum kids won't come out and say it, but we all have those questions." The fact that each Lubavitcher has to accept the communal yoke individually tends to blur the usual generation gap, she says. "We are all hassidim of the Rebbe. We are all people who live with the Shulchan Aruch. I remember a strong feeling of being treated as an equal, even as a child. Not in the stupid way that grandmothers might wear blue jeans, but in the sense that we shared goals and had shared standards."

When Vivi was 18, she says the Rebbe told her parents it was time to find her a husband. He suggested Yisroel Deren, her cousin in Pittsburgh, whom she hadn't seen since she was six. Yisroel was 19, in the middle of his yeshiva studies. "The Rebbe brought it up to his mother, that she should feel him out, and if he responded well they should take it further." Yisroel did not, Vivi remarks, respond well. In fact, he almost passed out. Marry? He'd barely spoken to a girl before. The family let things lie for a year, and then the match was made. After a seven-month engagement--lengthy by Lubavitch standards--the couple wed in February 1972. When Yisroel received ordination two years later, they set out to establish a Chabad presence at the University of Massachusetts' Amherst campus.

The Derens rented a small house right across from campus, and started holding Friday night services and teaching classes in their home. They found fertile ground for their spiritual energies among the student body. "Amherst was always a crunchy-granola kind of place, so the interest was there," Yisroel says. "They were still holding onto the '60s." Soon the Derens were working on all five U-Mass campuses, and oversaw the training of several young couples whom they sent out to open other Connecticut Chabad centers. In 1988 they handed Amherst over to one such couple, and headed to Stamford, the last big Jewish community in Connecticut without a Chabad presence. The city's strong Orthodox community required a certain delicate touch. The Orthodox shul had suffered a breakaway congregation ten years earlier, and the Derens didn't want to open old wounds by presenting another organizational threat. "They were perfectly happy to have us there, but things would have been very difficult if we'd tried to start our own congregation," Yisroel says.

The Derens had dreamed of opening a study institute for women, but they found out that Stamford Jews wanted a nursery school. So that's what they established, in space they rented from the Orthodox shul next door. Like other Chabad nursery schools, the Stamford school attracts non-affiliated as well as affiliated Jewish kids, and has proved to be the Derens' most effective way of drawing entire Jewish families into a more Jewish lifestyle. "We measure the success of our nursery school by how many kids move on to regular Jewish day school afterwards," Yisroel says. "Many would not have made that choice were it not for the exposure they had through our school."

Eleven years after moving to Stamford, Yisroel is itching to buy his own building. That's what Chabad shluchim do. "It's an axiom in Chabad that when you have the money, you build a building," he notes. He unfurls a map showing the site he's planned out, and the 19,000-sq.ft. building that will stand there. He already has a contract for the land. And the money? "It's in the bank," he declares confidently. "Just not in our account." Do the people in whose accounts this money lies know that it's destined for a new Chabad House? "No, they don't know it yet," he admits. Smiling broadly, he continues; "The important thing is that G-d knows. He'll let them know eventually."


Rabbi Yisroel Deren, a son-in-law of Risya Posner and co-director of Chabad Lubavitch of Fairfield County in Connecticut, greets Sen. Joe Lieberman.

One fortuitous connection the Derens made in Stamford was with Marcia Lieberman. As soon as her son Joe was tapped to run for vice president in the summer of 2000 the American media began harping on his Orthodox lifestyle, but made little mention of his long-standing connection to Chabad. Senator Lieberman first met the Rebbe while still an undergraduate at Yale, and visited him again several times at key moments in his life, including the eve of his first Senate inauguration in January 1989. His mother went along on that visit. "The Rebbe knew everything Joe was doing," she recalls. "He talked to Joe about things I didn't think anyone else knew. He gave Joe a dollar, and gave me two dollars for giving birth to him."

Lieberman's mother says that when he's home in Stamford, they often eat Shabbat meals at the Derens. An observant woman her entire life, Marcia says the Derens reinvigorated Jewish life when they came to Stamford, and did so without alienating people. "Rabbi Deren made people aware of their Jewish identity without being ashamed of it," she says. "They've done a lot for Stamford Jews, not only for those already here, but they've attracted others to move here. Once I went to their home for dinner and they had a Reform rabbi and his wife there. My mother would never have had a Reform rabbi at her table. How can you feel about people who present Judaism in such a wonderful way?"

The Derens are both active on the national speaking circuit. When they hold joint workshops, they are often asked to speak about faith in the face of adversity. Two of their children died within a year of each other, both of cancer. They speak openly of their loss, and of how their faith sustained them. But most of the time when Vivi is invited to speak, it's on women's issues. From the early '70s, she's been a major voice on the lecture circuit in defense of hassidic women. She gets a kick, she says, out of dispelling stereotypes. In the summer of 1972, barely 20 and newly married, Vivi spoke to a youth group from the Reform movement that was visiting Crown Heights. When she was finished speaking, one of the girls asked why hassidic women are only allowed to wear black. "I just smiled. There I was, standing in front of her wearing a white dress with red polka dots. I kept smiling, but she didn't get it. There were other hassidic women in the room in pastels, flowers, polyester. But this girl had read in a book that hassidic women only wear black, and that was the image she had."

Misconceptions went deeper than that, Vivi continues. "Jews are misunderstood. And within the Jewish world, hassidim are misunderstood. And within the hassidic world, women are the most misunderstood of all. " When she got to Amherst in 1974, she says the campus women's movement "had reached a rolling boil." Jewish students were asking very pointed questions about women's rights in Orthodoxy, and Vivi relished the chance to put her beliefs to the test. She was often asked to speak on Jewish panels where she was invariably billed as a hassidic woman, as if that described the totality of her presentation. "The image was, you know, barefoot, pregnant, in the kitchen. Very condescending. If you could make chicken soup or bake challah, that was enough. It made me think of the slogan on the Beth Rivkah stationery when I was going to school: 'Raising the Jewish mothers of tomorrow.' I was always embarrassed by that, even though we didn't have courses on vacuuming or kugel. Raising the Jewish mothers of tomorrow meant we had to learn Humash and Rashi and tefillot, materials of substance. It was a given: In order to be a Jewish mother, you had to have Jewish knowledge."

Vivi blames contemporary Western society for artificially elevating the public sphere--career, money, social position--while devaluing the private sphere of home and family, which traditional Judaism places at the center of human endeavor. In this, her argument has much in common with new feminist thinking. The Jewish woman keeps the family together and transmits values to the next generation, Vivi continues. That is her most important job, and it is of supreme important. Focusing on what women may or may not do in synagogue ritual is placing undue emphasis on what is secondary in the Jewish scheme of things. "When you define Judaism in terms of Christianity, you think that the most important Jewish things happen in shul, during the service, and if you're not up there front and center you don't have a role," she says.

When Vivi talks, she is not justifying a way of life that she secretly fears may be patriarchal. Neither is she speaking naively, as someone who knows no other way of being. With great care she conjures up a world, the world she grew up in, where everyone's roles, men and women alike, are circumscribed by an all-encompassing set of rules called halacha. It's not a case of men being "allowed" to do more than women, but a cosmic scheme in which man and woman, adult and child, Jew and non-Jew, each has his or her delineated function. "It didn't occur to us to want [equal rights]," she says thoughtfully. "We lived with a Judaism that was for the most part genderless, but which had within it certain very limited, very prescribed roles that were specifically for men or for women. We all kept Shabbos and we all kept kosher and we all learned Torah and we all went to the Rebbe and we all davened and sang niggunim."

Vivi's understanding of how women fit into Judaism derives from hassidism's view of the overall coherency of the universe, articulated by the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his predecessors as one Torah, one world, one Jewish people. It's a notion that makes many non-Lubavitchers uncomfortable, even angry, which Vivi acknowledges. But she still believes in it. "People always get a little bit uptight when we say things like, 'We see Lubavitchers, and we see potential Lubavitchers.' I personally don't like to use that phrase. It fits into the stereotype. Tongue-in-cheek, sometimes, when we're together, we'll use it, but only tongue-in-cheek. Underlying it is that sense of inclusivity, which is a very Lubavitch characteristic."

Ten minutes down the road from Vivi and Yisroel Deren, their eldest son Yossi and his wife Maryashi are sitting up late one night, studying one of the Rebbe's letters to help Maryashi prepare for her women's Torah class the next morning. "People in Greenwich are sophisticated, they all went to Ivy League colleges," Maryashi says, explaining why she prepares so carefully before every class.


Rabbi Yossi Deren , a grandson of Risya Posner and co-director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Greenwich, Conn., assists in affixing a mezuzah on a Greenwich doorpost.

Yossi and Maryashi moved to Greenwich in 1996, just before the birth of their first son, Menachem Mendel. They now have three children, aged four, two and one, and Maryashi is pregnant again--with twins. "I haven't told anyone in the community yet," she worries. "They thought it was bad enough I was having a fourth when my oldest was 3 1/2. If they knew it was twins, they'd freak out."

Yossi and Maryashi were 23 when they rented their first apartment in this wealthy Connecticut suburb, and started calling the handful of names Yossi's parents had given them as potential contacts. "Thank G-d we were so naïve," Yossi says. "If we'd known what we were getting into, we never would have been able to do it. On a college campus, you know exactly what you have to do--bring the kids in, and get them involved. But in a community like this, people are set in their ways. They have their lifestyle figured out."

Maryashi describes how nervous she was when she made a social call on one Greenwich woman, whose daughter she now tutors for her bat mitzvah. "I'll never forget walking into that house, a typical Greenwich home," she says. "I remember her walking down the stairs, dressed like a real wealthy woman, and I thought, I'll never get through to this woman. I laugh now to remember how intimidated I was."

Maryashi grew up in Crown Heights, the daughter of a businessman who very much wanted to go on shlichus, but whom the Rebbe told to stay in Brooklyn. "My mother was very disappointed, but I grew up knowing that they'd wanted to go," Maryashi says. "So we children all wanted to do it, too."

Maryashi is more naturally outgoing than Yossi, a bubbly, vivacious contrast to her husband's more reserved, thoughtful demeanor. But just like Maryashi remembers her home filled with visitors every Shabbat, Yossi grew up surrounded by college students 24 hours a day. "Our Chabad House was a total student center," he says. "They lived there, slept there, ate there. I remember going around the dorms when I was nine, pulling kids out to make a minyan. I was used to it, because my father did it. I remember one Rosh Hashanah, I went with my father to a dining hall. There were 1,000 people, hustling and bustling. He walked in, grabbed a chair, stood on top of it, held up his hand and shouted, 'Boys and girls, it's Rosh Hashanah!' Dead silence. Kids were walking with their food, they stopped dead in their tracks at the sight of this rabbi in a black hat, standing on a chair, yelling about Rosh Hashanah. He blew the shofar, everyone said the blessing with him, and we went on to the next place.

"On one hand, my parents set extremely high standards, in terms of the kind of shluchim they are. It's a challenge to try and fit myself into the same mold. On the other hand, they gave me a lot to work with. Sitting at a Shabbat table and talking to people comes naturally, as do many other things, because I saw my father do it. I constantly push myself to fill my father's shoes."

Greenwich Jews looked askance at the Derens when they moved in. "The hassids are coming to town, watch out! That's what people said," Yossi relates. "They thought we wanted to set up a yeshiva here." Two months after they arrived the young couple sent out shalach manos, Purim gift baskets, to every Jewish family on their list. One person sent it back with a nasty note asking why they bothered, since he wasn't one of their supporters.

Tempers cooled as local Jews met the soft-spoken young rabbi and his wife, who were careful to make social calls on all the local rabbis and Jewish organizational heads. "We were nervous, yes, but we were given so much more than we knew," Yossi says. "If we'd been taught about outreach techniques, 'this is what you have to do to reach them,' it wouldn't have worked. It would have set up an 'us' and 'them.' We were taught truths--Torah, Jewish soul--we were taught how to smile, to be nice. And people respond. The Rebbe told us that when you come to a town, your point is not to set up your agenda and try to impose it on others. You need to go and see what it is that people want, and then provide it. Hopefully when you come in with that attitude, people sense it."

In four years, the Derens have had visible impact on their town's Jewish community. Their first year in Greenwich, they held Purim, Lag B'Omer and Chanukah parties that drew hundreds of people. Two years later, the local Reform congregation organized its first Purim party. The following year, the Jewish federation held a Chanukah celebration, and the year after that, the Conservative synagogue had its first big Lag B'Omer bash. Maryashi feels that although these duplicate parties may be stealing some of Chabad's thunder, increased observance of Jewish holidays will eventually create a bigger pool of committed Jews. And some of those people might even, she adds with a laugh, gravitate to Chabad events.

Like his parents, Yossi made a concerted effort to get along with the local Jewish establishment. Local Conservative and Reform rabbis spoke at the dedication of the Greenwich Chabad House when it opened in September 2000. One of those rabbis comes to the Derens' Shabbat dinners, his wife attends Maryashi's classes, and the executive director of the local federation praised Chabad in a talk at a recent General Assembly of United Jewish Communities. "When we came to this town, not one UJA [federation] event was kosher, and now they all are," Maryashi notes. But that doesn't mean everything's rosy. A member of Temple Sholom, the Conservative shul in town, was present at a November 1999 board meeting where Chabad was discussed as an organizational threat. An internal draft from that meeting warned: "Chabad presents challenges to our growth in membership. The group has actively involved themselves in the Jewish community and welcomes non-members as well as members of their own congregation. Many of Temple Sholom's women in particular have been encouraged in a warm, pro-active way to join the events at Chabad." The meeting concluded, the member says, with talk of the congregation's need "to move to the right" in order to stop losing members to Chabad.

Living in a wealthy community has certain advantages. Maryashi taught full time at an Orthodox day school in Stamford the first two years she and Yossi lived in Greenwich, but then she quit to devote herself to drumming up support for Chabad activities. The Derens now raise virtually all of their annual $250,000 operating budget from local donors, who also contributed $1.5 million in 1999 to purchase the three-story building that serves as the Chabad House and Deren family home.

The morning after Yossi and Maryashi's late-night study session, Maryashi bustles into the Chabad office downstairs where half a dozen volunteers are already at work, preparing last-minute details for a parenting workshop planned for the next day. By 9am, 15 well-dressed women have shown up for her Torah class. She finishes a phone call, re-checks a flyer for spelling errors, and sits at the head of a long wooden table, opening her Torah to the week's portion. It's the chapter where Rebecca helps her favorite son Jacob deceive his blind father Isaac in order to steal his brother Esau's birthright, a colorful yet troublesome Biblical story that is often explained in terms of family jealousies, Oedipal bonds and other human weaknesses. But Maryashi is having none of that. If you want psychological interpretations of Bible stories read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, she advises --a book she has never read herself. ("What could it teach me? What non-observant women believe?")

Maryashi outlines the standard Chabad take on the story of the stolen birthright, one that emphasizes Rebecca's spiritual powers. Rebecca "knew" of God's plan for Jacob, Maryashi tells the class, and did what she had to do to help it come to fruition. Her seeming deception of her infirm husband thus becomes the determination of a holy woman bent on serving her Creator. "This is Torah," she states. "No excuses. This story isn't about trickery, it's about Rebecca receiving a prophecy while Jacob and Esau were in her womb. It's about women being powerful."

Margye Black is one of the women in Maryashi's class. A past president of Temple Sholom's Sisterhood, she says she was looking for a way to boost her own Jewish education, and Maryashi fit the bill. "As removed as she is from my world, she takes Torah and makes it applicable to my life," Black says. "You can't live in Greenwich as a Jew without having skewed values--the money these men make!"

Greenwich has 10,000 Jews, but you wouldn't know it, insist the women at Maryashi's table. "You don't want to hide your Jewishness, but you don't want to be too, either," Black notes. "Greenwich is such a WASP town," says Joan Mann, past vice president of Temple Sholom and a former president of the local federation. "When Chabad first came in, we wondered: What do they want? What will be their turf? I'm not a neophyte. I understand what Chabad is about. But from the beginning, I welcomed them. Their whole approach is so non-threatening, so inclusive. When I want Jewish education, I go to them." Mann is still a dues-paying member of her Conservative congregation. "It's not one or the other," she points out.

Black sends her children to the Derens' summer camp, which she says upsets her husband. "My daughter went for one week and started davening at home, and my husband went nuts. He doesn't want them at that camp next year. But they love it so much, and they're almost the only Jewish children in their school. So what do I do? It's a big conflict." Black says she "struggles all the time" with the question of how much of Chabad's teachings she wants her children to absorb. "Maybe they know they can't do the job on me, but they can get my kids," she muses. "My husband says we're being brainwashed, that we don't see the complete picture. I don't know. But what I get from this class is invaluable."

The Greenwich Jews who come regularly to Chabad activities see it as an antidote to what they describe as the money-driven lifestyle that dominates their community. Mark Blechman abandoned his Conservadox roots in the late 1960s to travel the world, exploring Buddhism, Hinduism and Chinese philosophies, before settling in Greenwich. Already a spiritual seeker, he met Yisroel Deren and immediately responded to the mystical aspects of Chabad philosophy. "I believe in reincarnation, all those Jewish beliefs that have been pooh-poohed by the Jewish [mainstream]," he says.

He went to a farbrengen in Crown Heights while the Rebbe was still alive, and although he couldn't understand much of what was said, the emotion in the room had a tremendous impact on him. He contrasted it with what he calls "a lack of warmth" in the Reform and Conservative congregations he knows. He may not agree with everything the Chabad shluchim preach, but they represent traditional values, a sense of right and wrong that he wants to give his children, "so they can deal with the peer pressure and the greed they're surrounded with here." He sees nothing odd about his support for a hassidic movement whose lifestyle is so far removed from his own. "This isn't a Chabad House to me, it's my shul," he shrugs.

Blechman isn't bothered with Chabad's focus on the personality of the Rebbe. Schneerson is a "sainted person" like many others, he believes. Even praying at the Rebbe's grave serves a human need. When Blechman's father and nephew died within five days of each other, Yossi Deren took him to the Rebbe's grave for consolation. "I viewed it as a cathartic experience," notes Blechman, who is trained as a clinical psychologist. "You write out all the feelings you have, and then you pray. You're not praying to the Rebbe. You feel energized by writing down all that crap and then tearing it up."

Steve and Annette Batkin are another local couple who became close to Chabad after they moved to Greenwich in the mid-'80s. When they decided to make their home kosher, they called their Conservative rabbi for information. "He said, 'We'll get back to you,' and it never happened," Annette says. "Someone told us about Yisroel and Vivi, so we called and they came right over. They told us how to make the kitchen kosher, and they held our hand as we went through it all."

When Yossi and Maryashi moved to Greenwich, the Batkins stopped attending their Conservative congregation and moved over to Chabad. The couple had already become more observant than most of their friends. They kept kosher and lit candles Friday night, but would then watch TV and drive to services the next morning. That's changed now. In 2001 the Batkins sold their home in order to move closer to the Chabad House, so they wouldn't have to drive on Shabbat. Mulling it over in his mind, Steve decides that it was less anything that Yossi or Maryashi taught than their personal example that drew he and his wife closer to the Judaism they represented. "They never tell you what to do, but they present a very nice model," he continues. "I've realized it's a better way to live. I've learned through Yossi that much of what we spend time doing is a waste of time. I've cut my TV time down to an hour a week--can't give up Star Trek. The more I see how they raise their kids, the more I see you don't need all this stuff we think is so important. Yossi's managed to get through life without it."

Hearing people talk about Yossi and Maryashi--or Yisroel and Vivi, or Zalman and Risya--it all sounds too good to be true. These people can't be so angelic, so self-effacing, so constantly giving. Is everyone in town on their payroll? "I'm sure not everyone in Chabad is like them," remarks Blechman. That's certainly true. Yet Yossi and Maryashi, like other Chabad shluchim, are careful to deflect praise by attributing everything they do right to the Rebbe--and everything they "have yet to accomplish" to their own human failings.

Growing up as a fourth-generation Lubavitch shliach can't help but rub off, Yossi believes. "We grew up with an emphasis placed on this kind of life service. It was our decision 100 percent, but we still grew up with it. Sometimes we fail to realize the greatness of what the Rebbe accomplished when he sent shluchim out to distant communities. Not just in terms of outreach and how he made it a trendy thing, but in terms of the philosophy of being able to look at another Jew seriously. The Rebbe imbued us with a belief in people and in the immutability of the soul. We heard it growing up like table talk, and we don't stop to think how profound a concept it is. We just look at it as what we do, but it has an affect on us, on other people, on the whole world. Part of the Rebbe's genius was to make it naturally part of our lives."

By Sue Fishkoff

Rights to publish this story were graciously provided by Sue Fishkoff, author of The Rebbe’s Army.

The content on this page is copyrighted by the author, publisher and/or Chabad.org, and is produced by Chabad.org. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with the copyright policy.

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