Israel's President To Chabad: You Give Life to the Living

by Miriam Davids - Israel

July 6, 2009

( “I have no idea when the dead will come back to life, but I am certain,” said Israel’s President Shimon Peres, “that your work that gives life to the living, is no less important.”

Speaking to Chabad-Lubavitch representatives from the FSU at their annual convention in Jerusalem, the President, visibly inspired, said, “From Mumbai in India, to Siberia in Russia, Chabad Shluchim are in the trenches, breathing life into places remote and removed from centers of Judaism."

The event was an ovation to Chabad representatives in an area of the world where it takes mettle and moxie to turn the tide of a doomed Jewish future. In just a short number of years, Chabad Shluchim have addressed the needs of perhaps the most assimilated and ignorant Jewish population anywhere, with astonishing results.

Rabbi Berel Lazar, Russia's Chief Rabbi, who enjoys a bird’s eye perspective on the change in this region, shared his recent experience working with the Russian government to get state exams rescheduled so that they don’t conflict, with Jewish holidays.

“Two months ago,” he told the convened, "a young boy, Nikolai, approached me in the synagogue on Shabbos. He said he had a halachic question to ask me. State board exams were scheduled for Shavuot, and he wanted to know if he is allowed to take them.”

The Rabbi told him that he is not permitted to violate the holiday to take the exams, but that he would try to see if he can get the board of education to reschedule the test. Indeed, Rabbi Lazar contacted the minister of education, who told him that it would be impossible for him to change the law.

Rabbi Lazar met the boy again two weeks later and asked him what he plans to do. “I’ve decided not to take the exam. I won’t receive a diploma,” he said.

“After 11 years of studying, this young boy,” said Rabbi Lazar, “was prepared to forgo his diploma out of his respect for yiddishkeit, for Torah.”

The anecdote ended happily, not only for Nikolai but for all of Russia’s Jewish students, when Rabbi Lazar met with Russia’s President Medvedev, who readily implemented the change that would no longer present a conflict. But the notion that a young Russian teenager today is making choices that give priority to his Jewish identity, is astounding, and is largely the result of the work of Chabad in the region.

Representing their local communities from major cities to small backwaters of  Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Kyrgistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Latvia, Chabad emissaries participated at the four-day conference in Israel, which concluded with Sunday night’s banquet at Israel’s National Hall, in Jerusalem.

Israel’s president, who recently returned from a State visit to Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, had the opportunity to see some of the Chabad centers. At one stop on his itinerary, he toured a Chabad school, where the children sang for him in Hebrew. “I was moved to tears,” he said. “Were it not for your activities, these children would have been lost to the Jewish people.”

The activities continue despite the severe financial difficulties that compound the challenges of Chabad representatives in this region.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Chabad’s educational division, said he sees the economic recession as a “test.” He pointed to the continued dedication, despite real limitations in the current economy, of pillars like Mr. Lev Leviev, who laid the foundation for Jewish education in Russia with the Ohr Avner network of schools in the region; of Mr. George Rohr, a household name in Jewish communities worldwide for the Chabad centers and Jewish educational programs that the Rohr family has sponsored; and Mr. Gennady Bogolubov, who has carved his own niche in helping Chabad emissaries with their personal finances, among others.

But the sense of urgency compels Chabad to become ever more resourceful, because the work cannot be slowed. According to Russia’s Chief Rabbi, two more couples will be arriving in the FSU this week, to take up positions as Chabad representatives.

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