Nechemia Schusterman

Disrupter in Chief

Disrupter in chief (Are Chabad Rabbi’s Nuts?)pic with rebbe

Are you crazy? Why would you do that? It must be so hard? How do you do it? You Chabadniks are nuts!

If I had a nickel for every time I heard one of the above statements… Let’s just say, I’d be driving a nicer vehicle.

So what does motivate us? Are we indeed nuts? How do we do it? It is a great question, whose answer keeps on getting deeper and deeper. As the Rebbe’s 23rd yahtzeit (day of passing) arrives Monday night, I ask myself these very same questions. I’ve asked myself this question each of the 14 years we’ve lived here in Peabody as Shluchim of the Rebbe (and each of the two years where Raizel and I were shluchim in Marina del Rey California).

There is always an answer, but like fine wines or good scotches, (or maturing minds) it gets more refined and better with age.

To steal a word that a colleague of mine has been bandying around a lot lately, in a word, its about “disruption.”

Let me explain. For starters, let me get this out of the way, yes, we are a bit nuts. Who else would uproot themselves from their community where they grew up, from a place where the vast majority of the people in that community share their values, customs and practices, and enter a word of the opposite?

Who would leave to go to a world, where the best they could hope for would be to never really have any financial stability, where a good Jewish education would constantly be a challenge, where family is often a many hour drive away, and usually a flight away?

One answer, a Shliach.

Literally, a Shliach means emissary of the (Lubavitcher) Rebbe. However, colloquially, it has taken on a whole new meaning. It means, a person, or family who have dedicated their lives to living it in the way that the Rebbe did, in a completely disruptive manner.

I don’t mean, being loud, and boisterous, singing songs at the drop of a hat or possibly drinking a lechayim any random given time kind of disruptive (though certainly guilty of that too), but rather life disrupting.
The Rebbe lived his life so completely out of the box, that in truth, mentioning a box, is disservice to who the Rebbe was. The Rebbe was a lover of Yiddishkeit (Judaism) of the highest order, but even more than that, (though one can argue they are one and the same) the Rebbe was a lover of Yiddin (Jews).

The Rebbe loved Jews so deeply and intensely, that nothing, literally nothing could interfere with his passionate love for his fellow. (There are stories that illustrate everything I am writing see for more…) The Rebbe reached out to sinners and searchers, righteous and rebels, to everyone and anyone he could impact. The Rebbe used tactics that were so disruptive to the typical mainstream Orthodox Jewish norms that fellow Orthodox Jews had no clue what to say or do.

Eventually, they watched as the Rebbe broke barrier after barrier and redefined the norms, and suddenly what the Rebbe had previously done as a maverick now became the emulated and imitated standard for all world Jewry.

The Rebbe wanted every man over bar mitzva to wear tefillin, he wanted every woman and girl over the age of three to light shabbat candles, he wanted every single Jewish child to receive at least some form of Jewish education. If not full, time at least once a week. The Rebbe wanted Shuls and Shabbas available anywhere there were Jews. The Rebbe had no time for naysayers or detractors, he spent his energy encouraging wave after wave of emissaries to join him in his march to disrupt, in the most positive way, all of Jewry.

Often accused of cult-like connection between Rebbe and chossid (follower), this too was part of the Rebbe’s disruptive plan. To take back Judaism from a generation of Jews beaten back by the Holocaust and assimilation in the “goldeneh medina” – America, the Rebbe inspired an army of LEADERS, not FOLLOWERS to go out, each to their own community with a simple mandate. In a decentralized Shlichus system, a model of sorts, that never existed and hasn’t since, the Rebbe created an army of independent disrupters, who job was to change the world, each in his own place, each in his own way.

Disrupt the status quo. Be a living example of what the beauty of Yiddishkeit is, and draw people in, with food, with Hebrew Schools, with Minyanim or with Torah classes, with BBQ’s, or a jam session. Find out what you are good at and use that to draw people to their own roots.

This is how I grew up, born and bred, in sleepy Long Beach, California, watching a community like that form out of nothing, and it was always my dream to be part of that Yiddishkeit Revolution.

So, to answer my questions above.
Crazy? you bet.

Why would you do that? Because nothing is more powerful and rewarding than making a difference.

Is it hard? Absolutely, which is why times like this, the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit in particular are important opportunities for us to asses and reassess our role and job that we are doing in being a part of the disruption. Are we doing it right? What can we do better? How can we be more efficient? Etc. etc.

I don’t know how we do it? Some times we pick one another up, but I do know this, that I wouldn’t trade it in for anything else in the world.

So, as we mark the 23rd yahrtzeit of the Rebbe, I invite everyone to join us in this Yiddishkeit disruption. As a
creator of leaders, the Rebbe invited every Jew of every stripe, color and level of observance to join and be another leader. One rule. Lead!

I salute you Rebbe and pledge to do my best to continue to do my part.

Thanks to my friend and colleague, Rabbi Peretz-Chanie Chein for your perspective and insight!

About the Author
Rabbi Nechemia Schusterman is a Chabad Rabbi in Peabody MA. Together with his wife Raizel and 7 beautiful children, the run Jewish activities in the area. He is passionate about Israel and Judaism. He has authored articles, that have been widely published, including