Giant Menorahs, giant latkes and giant donuts – Chabad only goes giant. Many Chabad “Houses” have secured major city destinations for their giant Menorahs to be displayed. Chabad’s literal interpretation of Pirsumei Nisa, (Hebrew for “publicizing the miracle of Chanukah”), is usually accompanied by a major public kindling of the Menorah with city officials and hundreds of participants. Nothing Chabad does is ever on a small scale — from giant Menorahs to mobile Succahs to free High Holiday Services. What is the secret of their success or to borrow from Mark Twain: “What is the secret to their immortality”?
A few weeks ago, I was privileged to attend the Gala Banquet of the International Conference of Chabad emissaries. With numerous friends and colleagues traveling in from near and far, and having watched snippets of the event over the internet in prior years, my intrigue grew to excitement as the event approached. The evening was nothing short of inspirational. The intense energy, deep passion and broad excitement in the room, coupled with dynamic speakers, engaging video presentations and impromptu celebratory dancing made the evening truly incredible and special.
Having grown up in Melbourne, Australia, one of the largest and most active Chabad communities in the world, I am no stranger to the wonders of Chabad. But more than simply being raised in Melbourne, I spent a great deal of time in my teenage years immersed in Chabad activities both social and spiritual, and many of my close friends hail from the Lubavitch world.
Yet, for all my Chabad awareness, experiences and integration, I had never grasped the secret to their success until I was surrounded by Chabad emissaries from across the globe. Chabad, one of the most creative and successful religious movements within Judaism today, has many unique attributes, but at its core, relies on three basic principles:
1. Creativity, Clear Messaging and Programming
Forget getting an MBA! Just become Chabad. They are born marketers. Like Coca Cola or Apple, Chabad is a global brand, and their emissaries are true brand “ambassadors.” Each Chabad “House” produces stunning, high quality graphics, glossy brochures and creative programming. They have a clear mission and focus. Everything from the programs, to the creative flyers are expressions of that brand. Chabad has a centralized, “corporate” office, and the global marketing collateral, brand messaging and brand “ambassadors” are consistent, authentic and “on brand.”
Simply put, Chabad’s messaging is up to par with the real world.
2. Passion, Passion, and more Passion
One Chabad Rabbi is reported to have said that when he moved into his city to serve as the local emissary he secured two pieces of land – a place to build a Synagogue and a burial plot, because he was there to stay! For most of us, even if we are emotionally attached to our work, it is still just a job. A Chabad Rabbi does not view his work as a job – it is a way of life. That difference makes a world of difference in one’s approach, effectiveness and outlook. They are not working at a job, but rather carrying out a life mission. Michael Steinhardt, the mega-philanthropist and co-founder of Birthright Israel, was interviewed at the Chabad banquet. He told a reporter (lubavitch.com) that “tonight was a unique event in the Jewish world, filled with spirit, enthusiasm and optimism. When I look around here, I find this group to be a moment of spring in an otherwise depressing environment.”
Chabad Rabbis do not take breaks, they are always on. Their passion is arguably unparalleled within Judaism.
3. Global Family and Network of Agencies
Chabad is really a global family. Anywhere in the world, there is always access to the warmth of a Chabad House. I have spent time in Chabad “Houses” across the globe – from Phuket to Honolulu to Las Vegas to Venice. Each time I sought out a Chabad “House” ahead of traveling to a new city, a local Chabad Rabbi from my point of origin would happily connect me with the Chabad Rabbi in my destination city, and with the click of a button, I had a Shabbat invitation, access to prayer information, and in some instances, a bed to sleep in.
The interconnected web of Chabad is a huge asset with immeasurable rewards.
One need not agree with everything Chabad does, but no one can discount Chabad’s global impact on Jewish life. Chabad has a unique approach to outreach and engagement that other branches of Judaism can and should learn from.
The theme of this year’s Chabad banquet was “the mission of bringing light into darkness.” I am confident that the lights of their giant Menorahs are certainly achieving this mission globally.