I woke this morning happy to be a Lubavitcher. Most people know us Chasidic guys as Chabadniks. But growing up in Northeast Philly in the 70s and early 80s we were a tiny community and the rest of the then fledgling Orthodox enclaves in the city, with the exception of the Chasidic leader Rabbi Yolles, who was revered by all, regarded us with suspicion and resentment. I was frequently bullied by some kid who is hopefully a nicer adult today, so I won’t mention his name, except to say that it started with an F and rhymed with weed. Chani you know who I mean. He would taunt me with the name “Lubab” and even went so far as to put a picture of the Rebbe in the bathroom. There is no doubt that he picked up this behavior from home, and that his parents picked it up from the Shul that they attended, who picked it up from the snide remarks dropped by the Rabbi, who picked it up from the thinly veiled animosity trickling down from the “Gedolim” – the “ruling” class of Lithuanian Torah Jewry. Where was this coming from, and how have we gone from being the hated “Lubab” to becoming the (for the most part) beloved “Chabadniks?” How did we go from being the butt of Jewish jokes, to the undeniable trendsetters in all things communal and Jewish, for every major Jewish institution today? The major shifts each movement has undergone, whether it’s regarding using Rabbi plus the first name to lose the lingering Protestant influenced stiffness, or the restructured dues fees, (that happened right here on the North Shore of Boston where I live thanks to the fearless and forward thinking style of Rabbi David Meyer of Temple Emmanuel, a beloved and respected figure and a dear personal friend; who through strong leadership has actually set a trend in motion in the entire Reform movement) or through understanding the critical importance of marketing and not taking our constituencies for granted, or through Mitzvah campaigns, hands on workshops, or even just understanding the importance of projecting a religious sense that resonates with hopefulness and positive vibes; all this and much more is undeniably and directly linked to Chabad. Today is a good day to point out that this worldview flowed from one person. From a Chasidic Rabbi who decided that not giving up on Judaism mustn’t be synonymous with Giving up on Jews. And that throwing in his lot with the Jews doesn’t require discarding huge chunks of Judaism. A man universally known simply as the Rebbe. So why the anger? I’m not sure. Was it fear? Or perhaps even Envy? The truth is that it doesn’t matter. The Rebbe was the quintessential outlier surrounded by a sea of chronic inliers. The reactions were bound to be negative. So why am I so happy? I feel fortunate to have grown up being adrenalized with a mentality that encourages me to challenge myself creatively in the service of the Jewish community. To never accept a standard of mediocrity when it comes to the needs of the people I’m entrusted to serve, to never accept no, to believe in the impossible and pursue it relentlessly, regardless of the challenges. Growing up in the boot camp of the Rebbe meant knowing that there is no such thing as good enough. The Rebbe redefined Jewish leadership as we know it, by daring to raise an army of Jewish outliers rather than a horde of replicated homogenous followers. The idea of Chabad Rabbis personally distributing Shmurah Matzahs to the community resonates with the notion that we are wired to be Shmurah Matzah Rabbis. Though the ingredients are simple, no two ever come out looking quite the same. Thank You Rebbe, and Happy Birthday up in the Heavens above. I miss you. I love you. I hope I am making you proud.
Rabbi Lipsker is one of the Chabad domos in Greater Boston.