America is not Different

Friday, 25 June, 2010 - 12:01 pm

In the 1920s, during the height of the Communist oppression, one individual took it upon himself to ensure the continuity of Judaism behind the iron curtain. Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, organized and directed a complex network of secret Jewish institutions, schools, mikvahs, Shuls, and other Jewish ritual services. Staffed by his devoted Chasidim, this network operated throughout the entire Soviet Union. The Chasidim were often arrested and sent to Siberia or worse, but, despite the extreme personal risk, they were always willing to serve with dedication. 

In the early Summer of 1927 the Previous Rebbe was arrested. He endured horrible torture during his interrogations at the hand of the Soviets, espececially the Yevsektsia - the Jewish Sector; but he remained very steadfast in his refusal to show the slightest degree of submission to his captors. At first he was sentenced to death, then that was commuted to 10 years of hard labor, and then finally to three years of exile in a remote part of Russia. On the 12th of Tammuz he was freed.

Shortly afterward he was banned from Russia. He spent over a decade in Poland and Latvia from where he continued to direct the secret Jewish underground. He escaped from Warsaw during the bombings of 1939 and arrived in the US in early 1940.

Physically broken by his experiences, he was taken off the ship by a wheelchair. Close friends suggested that he would be well advised to open a small Shul and maybe a school but to lay low as America is different and not open to the Yiddishkeit of Eastern Europe. With tears in his eyes he responded "America is not different." And then with the same tenaciousness that he used in dealing with the Soviets, he launched the beginning of what would become the worldwide Chabad network of institutions devoted to inspiring Jews all over the world.

I spent a few moments reflecting on how pivotal this day was for me as a descendant of Russian Jews. Who knows what would have been if G-d forbid.... things would have turned out different. As an American Jew, I think about the devotion of the first generation, my grandparents, that came here and threw themselves into the work of "America is no different." They were inspired by the Previous Rebbe and his call and we owe alot to them as a result.

I hope that we will live up to being the grandchildren of people of dedication and self sacrifice. Though we are not asked to risk our lives, we must show the same devotion to the cause as they did. 

We wish Mazel Tov to Batel Sharon and Michael Lieberman upon their recent engagement. May they merit to build a new branch of the Jewish nation that we can all be proud of.

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