2015-12-09 / Voice at the Shore

Chabad leaders find inspiration—and high-tech ideas—at worldwide conference

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore correspondent


RABBI AVROHOM RAPOPORT RABBI AVROHOM RAPOPORT Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport of Chabad at the Shore joined roughly 3,000 colleagues from around the world at the Kinus Hashluchim last month in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. This annual conference for Chabad’s “Schluchim”—or emissaries— featured five days of sessions on everything from adult education programming to cutting-edge technology for improving business and outreach efforts. The workshops were followed by an inspirational Shabbat and a banquet for 5,000 attendees held in a ship hangar in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

“It’s a gathering where we discuss building a more vibrant and proud Jewish world. It was really a celebration of Jewish life,” said Rapoport.

It was also an opportunity for Rapoport and his fellow schluchim to learn more effective methods for reaching out to Jewish people locally at the nearly 4,000 Chabad centers that now operate worldwide. “There were workshops on how to deliver a good sermon, balancing the budget, marketing, web development— all different areas that can help Chabad organizations reach out to Jewish people,” he added.

But most of all, for Rapoport, it was a source of inspiration. “Every community has its challenges. The challenges here are similar to those faced everywhere— assimilation and apathy. It’s our responsibility [as schluchim] to try to encourage every single Jew to be part of the Jewish community and connect with their heritage. I see it as my job to do that here in Atlantic County.

“It’s nice to see so many other people have similar challenges— you discuss it and encourage each other,” he added. “It makes you understand that you are part of something much greater than your work—you are part of a worldwide effort to promote a stronger Jewish life. That’s very inspiring.”

One of Rapoport’s favorite parts of the conference was Shabbat. “Shabbos was a time where [schluchim] could be together and inspire each other spiritually. As a Chabad rabbi, it can be difficult always having to inspire others. This was a time when the Chabad rabbis could be more on the receiving end.”

Another incredibly moving moment was when nine-yearold Moshe Holtzberg recited psalms at the opening of the Chabad gala on Sunday evening. At the age of 2, Holtzberg escaped a 2007 terrorist attack on the Chabad house run by his parents in Mumbai, India. “The rabbi and his wife, a young couple, were brutally murdered along with other people visiting for Shabbos,” recalled Rapoport. “Miraculously, the maid was able to escape out the window with the two-year-old boy, who now lives with grandparents in Israel.”

“We all, in the Chabad community, feel like we’ve adopted this little boy,” added Rapoport.

The growth of Chabad’s Kinus Hashluchim (Assembly of Emissaries)—which began with 65 attendees in 1984—and the range of workshops offered there say a lot about Chabad’s unique approach to Judaism as well as Chabad’s success.

Chabad’s embrace of modern technology and business methods, as well as its mission to bring traditional Judaism to greater numbers of Jewish people all over the world, is what sets it apart “from the rest of the Haredi world,” said Rapoport.

Both of these distinctions are a direct result of the leadership and philosophy of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the 7th and final leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, who is reverently referred to as “the Rebbe.” Schneerson, who moved from Europe to the United States to escape the Holocaust in 1941, passed away in 1994. (Visiting the Rebbe’s resting place is an integral part of the Kinus Haschluchim,” Rapoport noted.)

“The Chabad movement was really inspired by the Rebbe’s devotion to the mitzvah of loving your fellow Jew,” he explained. “That accounts for our approach and our success. Other Orthodox groups have essentially built shtetls with high walls—and the way of life inside is beautiful to see. But the Rebbe told [his shluchim] that we are responsible for others. We haven’t fulfilled what we are supposed to do if we just live a Jewish life for ourselves. Schluchim live in the world, not separate from it.”

Likewise, Rapoport noted, the Rebbe himself embraced technology. “The Rebbe used to deliver his talks on satellite TV. It seemed a little odd that this Chasidic rabbi would use the medium of TV, which many Orthodox shunned from their homes. But the Rebbe believed in using technology as a tool to reach out to people. As a result of that, the Chabad movement embraces the internet.”

Although the Rebbe has passed, his visionary leadership is still very much alive and drives the Chabad movement, noted Rapoport. “Close to half of the Shluchim moved out to their communities after the Rebbe’s passing.”

Most of these shluchim share a common story, he added. “A young couple moves out to a community somewhere in the world with no funding, dedicated to reaching out to their fellow Jews. At first everyone prays in the couple’s living room, then they might rent a storefront, then maybe even something bigger. That model has been duplicated over and over again.”

That was how it was for Shmuel Rapoport, Avrohom’s father, who was sent here by the Rebbe in the early 1980s. (The elder Rapoport also attended the recent Kinus Schluchim.) But it was not quite the story for Avrohom. “I was given many choices to go to different interesting places around the globe—but I felt a strong attachment to this area, to reaching out to people here, so I came back here to work with my father.”

While the elder Rapoport had built a mikveh and opened a Chabad house next to the JCC in Margate, his son expanded operations by opening another Chabad location in Ventnor, enabling the organization to serve more people while also making it easier for observant Jews to walk to Shabbat services. Chabad at the Shore also started a Community Hebrew school three years ago in response to requests from local families, and last year expanded even further with the opening of the Chai Center, housed in a former church with ample space for worship, learning and communal gatherings.

More expansion plans are also in the works. “Our goal is to open two more satellite centers in the next three to five years within Atlantic County,” said Rapoport. “We want to continue to focus on young families and children. That’s the future of Judaism.” .

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