I am not a religious person, at least not in the traditional sense of the word. But I have much respect for those who observe Jewish Law. Having said that, I am against religious repression and imposition.
That is why I love the Chabbad Movement.
My experience with Chabbad spans over many years and over a few continents. It has always been positive and pleasant.
Chabbad members were there when I lived in the South Island of New Zealand where only a handful of Jewish people resided and barely knew what Orthodox Judaism was, let alone ever saw a Jew wearing traditional Jewish garb. The Chabbad Rabbi, at that time, made a special effort to come a long way, prepare a Kosher Shabbat Meal and have a proper Kabbalat Shabbat service with the small community. What an enriching and memorable event it was to many.
They were also there, several years earlier when I was stranded in Nepal and had no place to celebrate Seder Pesach (the traditional Passover Meal). What a refreshing experience it was to attend their Seder where other Israelis and Jews joined in the celebration.
And they were there in Mumbai, India, a few years later when I visited the place. I will never forget our daily visits to the Nariman House, the building that was home to Chabbad house, run by Rabbie Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg A”H.The warm welcoming atmosphere of Home that was open to all, the love, the closeness and of course the great food all joined to make it the best place in town for Jews. I remember the few grateful young Israelis who stayed there, some rescued by the Rabbi and his wife after encountering sad experiences with forces that brought them to the brinks of the abyss. I remember playing with their young son, Moisheleh and talking to Sandra, his nanny.
But then, suddenly, on a dark day in November 2008, they were no more. Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife Rivka were brutally murdered by ruthless terrorists along with a few other Jewish guests who happened to stay there. Rivka was five months pregnant. Luckily, Moisheleh was saved by Sandra, brought to Israel and will hopefully grow up to follow in the blessed footsteps of his parents.
That, however, did not stop Chabbad from doing its great work, the great work of keeping the Jewish tradition alive and bringing it to the farthest corners of the earth. Like a candle that does not lose any of it power nor light by kindling other candles but merely increases Light in the world, Chabbad keeps enriching and brightening the lives of many Jewish souls.
They even do it on the streets of Herzeliya where I see them every Friday when I go into town to do last minute shopping for Shabbat. They are there devoutly handing out Shabbat candles to passers by or offering Jewish males the mitzvah of putting Tefilin (phylacteries).
Yesterday was no different.
As always , I stopped by to thank the two young men who stood there in the hot sun, determined to share the gift of Judaism with the pedestrians. I was dressed in typical Israeli summer clothes, a sleeveless shirt and shorts. I apologized and expressed a hope that my dress code did not offend them. There was no need, they reassured me. “It is not the outfit that speaks to us. Rather, it is the Jewish soul that does, ” one of them told me
They were relentless in performing what they deeply believed is their mission which some welcomed while others rejected.
“I don’t need your candles,” one woman shot at the young man who offered them to her. “I have nothing to do with them!”
“How about lighting them?” I suggested calmly, “how about just lighting them and remembering who we are, where we are coming from so that we know where we are headed?” I asked her as my Jewish pride was welling in me.
She was not interested.
As I resumed my walk, I pitied her and thanked G-d for the blessing, the gift that these two young men and the movement they represent, offer us.
May G-d Bless them always.
Shavua tov to all.