Nechemia Schusterman

The Dreamliner Defining Chabadniks

I’m in Israel celebrating the Bar Mitzva of dear friends, and we flew in on one of those new fancy dreamliners courtesy of Air Canada.

As I boarded and squeezed through the narrow aisles, and received different looks from the different flavored passengers, it struck me that as far as I (incorrectly) perceived myself, I don’t belong in any of these groups.

Dressed in comfortable khakis and a polo shirt, and a suit jacket and black hat, I was a watered-down outcast in the eye of that long peyos, sideburned, up-hatted and long coated Chassid.

Yet to secular Israelis on board, I was the religious zealot who probably throws rocks at cars on Shabbos and was barely worthy of breathing the same air.

I can’t even guess what I was in the eyes of the other Arab Middle Eastern folks on board.

But I was wrong.

This awareness came about 30 minutes into the flight in the strangest of ways.

The tall Chassid comes over to me and says, “you are a Lubavitcher (Chabadnik), yes”? I answered that I was. “Can you help me find a few more people so we can make a minyan for mincha? “Sure,” I told him. “Can you help me with the stewardess?” he continues. “What’s the issue?” I inquire. She won’t let us do it due to space constriction on the new Dreamliners.

Now why would he turn to me?

I chatted with the stewardess, and told her that if it was a Dreamliner, then it must help fulfil peoples dreams, not dash them, and that this guy should be able to put his minyan together if he wants to.

As I was talking to the stewardess, a secular Israeli guy, with the stereotypical T-shirt and jeans and no head covering saw us “discussing” this matter and told me, with clear intentions that she should hear, “when you get your minyan together please call me, I want to participate. ”

Now why would this guy inject himself in the conversation to help someone with a cause that appeared to not be particularly important to him?

My answer, that the whole labels things (quoted often is the cliche, labels are for shirts and shoes, not people) is not only overrated, but actually it is not true.

When push comes to shove, (and thankfully it didn’t come to that) a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. The Chassid come to me, because he knew that Chabadnik’s are not afraid to stand up and do things that need to be done, even if they are at times uncomfortable. He turned to me because he knew that I viewed him with the exact same defference as I viewed the secular Israeli. I wasn’t turned on by his holy garb, and I wasn’t turned off by the other fellows uncovered head and T-shirt and jeans.

And then it hit me. It wasn’t that I had no place on that plane, and that I didn’t belong in any of those groups, quite the contrary, as it turns out, I am every one of these groups.

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