If you’re part of the 38% of US Jewry engaged with Chabad, you likely received an email or text message seeking your support for an end-of-2023 campaign last week. You might have received more than one message from different Chabad centers.
As the largest and fastest-growing Jewish organization, Chabad serves over 850 college campuses, operates over 1,000 schools, and hundreds of soup kitchens, chaplains, and programs serving special needs children across the globe.
Largely, every Chabad center is independently funded and responsible for raising their own funds, thus running a December campaign. In Portland,OR three community Chabad Houses, two college centers, and one Young Professional Chabad ran separate campaigns last month.
Jewish foundations and their board members often ask: why is funding so decentralized? It’s an incredible story.
In the late 1980s, there was growing tension. On one hand, there was a critical need for more Jewish educational and engagement programming. On the other hand, regional directors responsible for large budgets were under tremendous strain.
At a crucial moment when growth stagnated, a transition occurred that changed Jewish history. Young couples inspired by the Rebbe’s call to reach every Jew started calling regional directors and asking for an assignment. They would raise “seed money” from friends and family to help cover the first two years of their mission and would then raise money from those they served to cover their budget.
Decentralization and ‘every hand on deck’ enabled tremendous growth. In Oregon, the new model allowed Chabad to grow from a single center to 12 community centers and 4 on college campuses. It also created an entrepreneurial spirit among Chabad Shluchim in which local leaders are attentive to the needs of their communities and finding local donors to meet those needs. Some places are in need of Jewish recovery programs while others may have a greater need for catering to shut-ins. Only local attentiveness and support can make that possible.
But it’s not merely practical; it’s also philosophical.
In a letter responding to a lay leader’s suggestion for Chabad to adopt a business aspect to support its mission, the Rebbe concluded:
‘The aim of Lubavitch is to involve the maximum number of Jews as partners in its activities. Some teach and influence, working with Lubavitcher activists. Others contribute financially, becoming equal partners. This echoes the ancient partnership of Zevulun and Yissochor, where businessmen supported Torah scholars.”
In December, Chabad across the USA hosted over 500 year-end campaigns, raising $80 million from over 100,000 donors to support outreach to over 150,000 college students, 20,000 Hebrew School children, over 1,000 public Menorahs, and millions of voices calling “Am Yisroel Chai!”
Now that is a tribute to the Jewish people!
This article is dedicated to the memory of Rebbitzen Rochel Chaiton, one of the founding Shluchot in Portland, OR who sudden passing this week leaves a void in the Jewish world.