What exactly makes a “Chabadnik”? Why are Chabad Houses seen everywhere, on campuses and communities from Alaska to Australia?
The Avner Institute presents a tribute by famed humanitarian Elie Wiesel on this distinctive breed—the young couples who willingly, and often at great self-sacrifice, devote themselves to the Rebbe’s outreach, and who have helped to make Chabad so widely popular, With special thanks to Rabbi Moshe Langer and Rabbi Levi Margolin.
By Elie Wiesel
As known, Chabad means carrying through a mission. A mission of Chabad and a mission of the Rebbe, its leader, missions from the Rebbe to his admirers, from follower to follower; from emissary to the mass public.
Chabad also means emissaries: these remarkable young men and women whom the Rebbe sends to the closest and far distant places, wherever Jewish people live, and wherever one has to spread Judaism and rekindle the Jewish spark of faith, hope, and redemption.
I would like to offer them a public expression of gratitude and thanks. Let the world know that even in human deserts, Jewish people are not left alone; let the Jewish and Chassidic world know that in the most abandoned cities and hamlets, in small and even smaller colleges the Chabadniks are there, seeking and reaching out to Jewish students, to affectionately offer them guidance and counseling, to expose them to their “roots” and—quite simple—to warm them up.
This does not mean that they are the only ones. There are also other organizations that do what they can and sometimes even what they should do. There are Hillel Houses, Community Centers, and various educational agencies that dedicate themselves to students, affording them an education in the Jewish spirit. However, Chabad is still different.
I sound like a Chabadnik? In order that no one accuses me of misleading, I usually admit at every Chabad gathering that I am actually not a Chabadnik, but rather a Vishnitzer follower. I am a Vishnitzer descendent and will probably remain an admirer of Vishnitz until the end.
So what? I am also close to the Gerer dynasty; and, quite frankly, I feel very close to the Chassidic movement as a whole. However, Chabad does occupy a special place in the Chassidic world. In the field of disseminating Torah and Judaism amongst Jewish students who have gone adrift, no one can compare with Chabad.
I witnessed this more than once. You arrive in a community somewhere in the South, Midwest, and you meet colleagues and students who speak with great fervor about their relationship with Chabad. If not for the emissaries of Chabad, many young people would have been misled and lured into various cults or drug addiction, etc., G-d forbid.
Thanks to these quiet, modest, but capable emissaries, many young people found an address where to find shelter, where they can meet human beings with warm hearts and talk about their problems. In those places Chabad emissaries are the only contact for youth with the Jewish people and with Judaism.
Seattle and Detroit, Madison and Boston, Amherst, Minneapolis and Chicago—no one has invited them, no one prepared any contacts or apartments for them, and in some cases, no one was even aware of their coming. They just showed up one bright morning and began to seek Jews.
Following the first week, they already had an explicit picture of the situation, what has to be done, where, and how much manpower is needed. The following month they have already organized their own center for the students, educational programs, etc. A year or so later, this small center turns into a huge edifice of activities.
Today we already have, thank G-d, hundreds of big branched-out Chabad centers in the United States of America. They draw the rich and the poor, the religious and the non-committed, the children and their parents. You learn, you pray, you sing, and organize joyful gatherings and rallies.
I wish that other Chassidic movements would envy them and also send emissaries, build schools and educational centers, and would also save Jewish souls—should that be the case our situation would be different.
How come the Chabadniks are the only ones in this field? Can we (or are we allowed to) say that others do not have the same self-sacrifice? G-d forbid. Perhaps it is rooted in the fundamental approach of Chabad to Judaism on the basis of education.
For Chabad, education is a fundamental principle. Second, its dedication is also attributed to the personality of the Rebbe. Every emissary feels that he serves in an army where the Rebbe is its Commander-in-Chief. One goes where the Rebbe asks him to, one fulfills all his requests. When an emissary once expressed his concern to the Rebbe that his center has a great deficit, the Rebbe responded: “Next year, I wish you a greater deficit.”
Come what may, a solution is always found. One finds philanthropists to cover the budget expenditures, one finds Jews who help here and there. “I sought and I found: believe,” the Talmud states. When we deal with seeking, one must have faith.
I am enthusiastically moved by the Rebbe’s emissaries. I see them on the battlefield, I see how they educate children, how they speak to estranged people. How can one stand from the side? One must lend a hand. One must respond by saying, Amen.
I must add that their personal conduct is to be admired. Whatever they or their families do, it is done for the sake of the cause. Their only ambition? To reach out to another young man, another young woman, and bring them closer to Judaism. To awake another heart, another soul, and to save them from assimilation or conversion, G-d forbid, so that their achievements may serve as an example.
I know what you think: The Chabadniks grabbed me, took me into their net. No, I am still a Vishnitzer. If Vishnitz shall establish centers on the colleges, I will praise them a hundredfold. In the meantime, Chabad is the only one doing this.