“Excuse me, are you Jewish?” With these words, the relentlessly cheerful, ideologically driven emissaries of Chabad-Lubavitch approach perfect strangers on street corners throughout the world in their ongoing efforts to persuade their fellow Jews to live religiously observant lives. In The Rebbe’s Army, award-winning journalist Sue Fishkoff gives us the first behind-the-scenes look at this small Brooklyn-based group of Hasidim and the extraordinary lengths to which they take their mission of outreach.
They seem to be everywhere—in big cities, small towns, and suburbs throughout the United States, and in sixty-one countries around the world. They light giant Chanukah menorahs in public squares, run “Chabad houses” on college campuses from Berkeley to Cambridge, give weekly bible classes in the Capitol basement
in Washington, D.C., run a nonsectarian drug treatment center in Los Angeles, sponsor the world’s biggest Passover Seder in Nepal, establish synagogues, Hebrew schools, and day-care centers in places that are often indifferent and occasionally hostile to their outreach efforts. They have built a billion-dollar international empire, with their own news service, publishing house, and hundreds of Websites.
Who are these people? How successful are they in making Jews more observant? What influence does their late Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (who some thought was the Messiah), continue to have on his followers? Fishkoff spent a year interviewing Lubavitch emissaries from Anchorage to Miami and has written an engaging and fair-minded account of a Hasidic group whose motives and methodology continue to be the subject of speculation and controversy.
From the Hardcover edition.
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|Title of eBook: The Rebbe's Army|
|Release Date: 04-22-2009|
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|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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The Rebbe's Army
From Brooklyn to Your Living Room: Cornering the Jewish Outreach Market
The lights were dimmed in the Grand Ballroom at the Brooklyn Marriott, but two things were still visible-a sea of black coats and hats crowded around more than a hundred linen-bedecked tables, and a makeshift mechitza separating dozens of elegantly dressed women from their husbands. It was the gala Sunday night banquet of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Shlichim, or "emissaries," and more than 1,300 Lubavitcher rabbis had flown in from their postings around the world for a weekend of study, networking, and morale-boosting.
The roll call, the evening's highlight, was beginning. "Argentina! Australia! Austria!" Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, conference chairman and director of development for Chabad's international emissary network, was reading off the names of more than sixty-one countries around the world where the movement maintains permanent outreach centers. As each name was read, one, two, sometimes a dozen, men would spring up from their seats to a smattering of applause.
"Panama . . . Paraguay . . . Peru . . . Romania!" The clapping got louder as the shlichim congratulated their colleague who had just opened Chabad's newest center in Bucharest. Kotlarsky paused dramatically. Then, in a booming voice, he shouted "Russia!" Almost three dozen young men-one-quarter of Chabad's 130 full-time emissaries in the former Soviet Union, a place where Jewish education was banned for seventy years, where Jewish activists were routinely harassed and imprisoned until the collapse of the Soviet state in 1991-jumped out of their seats to thunder