By Dr. David Lazerson
My work as a musician and author takes me to interesting places around the world. This Chanukah my band played for various communities, some with very few Jewish resources that might be called wastelands, having to import all their kosher food, knock on doors to get a minyan, and having to send older kids out of town for Jewish education.
The Chabad shluchim living in these far out places live and breathe dedication. Its also very unconventional, which I guess is why they like my weird blend of rap, reggae, country, rock n roll, bluegrass music.
We hit Floridas Donna Klein Center to start off the holiday. Then off to Chabad of Petersburg on Monday, and traveled across the state to Jupiter for Tuesday. On Wednesday, we did 3 kid shows in the morning in Margate, all afternoon in West Palm, and that same night in Doral. Thursday we did a Chanukah freilich music for judges & lawyers in Ft. Lauderdale, climaxing on the 8th night on South Beachs posh Lincoln Road till the wee hours of the morning.
At the all-shell menorah lighting, we were visited from Miami and Heat stars and major recording artists, not to mention 16,000 shoppers and January 1st partygoers from all walks of life and backgrounds.
The dedication of these Chabad shluchim boggles my mind. Like our Biblical ancestors Abraham & Sarah, their homes have that special 4-door hospitality policy. The Midrash relates that in order not to trouble guests to have to walk around, Abraham & Sarah had an opening on the north, south, east & west sides. These emissaries of the Rebbe have no official office hours and are open 24/7 to reach out with the beauty and depth of Torah.
These Chanukah venues were large, outdoor shopping malls and centers, so our celebrations also touched thousands of non-Jews as well, fostering tolerance, respect and unity in todays divisive world.
In every place people remarked; Our Rabbi & Rebbetzin are the most amazing people! Theres nobody like them! Chabads non-judgmental love and concern had touched their congregants, even casual acquaintances.
I met people who were visited by the Shluchim in hospitals. Young women who were given Shabbat candles and a tzedekah box for their homes. Men who would never put on Teffilin if it wasnt for their Rabbi & Rebbetzin.
I met a non-Jewish taxi driver at one Chanukah gig who said he was there to support Chabad. I was perplexed. He then explained that the Rabbi had told him about the seven Noahide laws and how G-d had given these important pillars of society to everyone on the planet. The taxi driver told me that this small bit of data changed his attitude. Before, he was just going through the motions of living, not sure if anything was significant.
This brief encounter had made him connect to the grander scheme of things. I cant help but wonder how many more such taxi drivers were among the huge crowds we played for.
I discovered something else interesting at Shabbatons in two cities, both Ivy-League type college crowds. Each Chabad House was located within a half mile of the university. What amazed me was that the Chabad Rabbis has such different personalities, yet achieved the same results.
One Rabbi was on the serious side. He prayed slowly, saying each word out loud, and they sang through the entire morning Shabbat services. The other Rabbi dressed more casual and was more outgoing, and told jokes. They flew through the davening, which was more to my liking. But both Chabad Houses were packed to the gills! More than 100 college students attended the Shabbat evening and morning service, and more came for the Shabbat meals!
Each simply offered the beauty and truth of Torah. All they had to do was be themselves true to their own personalities, and the rest would come across.
My surprise came Shabbat morning. I slept the night right next to the hallway, which led into a large room. I awoke to the Rabbis loud voice. He was very energetic and enthusiastic, and there was obviously already a large crowd in attendance.
It was kind of embarrassing, as I was the Shabbaton guest speaker. Everyone was at the Rabbis class but yours-truly! To make matters worse, I had to cross the hallway to get to the bathroom, so there was no way to sneak into the back and pretend Id been there all along.
I decided to try stealth, so I tiptoed slowly along the hallway. It would only be a second for me to cross. As I leaped across I caught sight of the class. The rabbi was teaching one student! One student. Yet, he did it with such energy and enthusiasm that I assumed there were a hundred in the room. Its not a matter of quantity, the rabbis behavior boldly declared, its quality that matters. The importance of every individual became so clear to me that Shabbat morning.
Now, if Im playing a gig and only a few show up, I give it my all - as if it were a major concert with thousands in the stands. Who knows who you will touch and how it will motivate them.
Its a matter of being positive and giving, no matter how small an event might seem. When youre dealing with another person, its never insignificant.
I salute the Rebbes awesome Shluchim for keeping us warm with their strong lights; they will surely lead the way to the Redemption speedily in our days.