Former Israeli chief rabbi recalls memorable visits with Lubavitcher Rebbe

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Click photo to download. Caption: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, speaks at the Nov. 11 Chabad emissary conference in New York. Credit: Maxine Dovere.

The emissaries of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement gathered in New York City on Nov. 11 to celebrate their current accomplishments in Jewish outreach and gain strength from one another as they continue to work in virtually every country in the free world.   

Forty-five hundred rabbinic emissaries, or “shluchim,” from around the world came together at the Hilton Hotel to share their experiences and gain strength from one another and from renowned Jewish community leaders. By bus, by plane or train, they came; by car or carriage, and a few even on foot, they came to share and encourage each other’s work.

The Kinus Hashluchim (International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries) is an annual event that has grown immensely since the initial gathering of 65 shluchim from the United States and Canada attended the first North American meeting, held at Chabad headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn in 1987 (informally known simply as “770”).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Keynote speaker Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, fondly remembered his first meeting with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in March 1974 after the “crushing blow of the Yom Kippur War,” and his next meeting with Schneerson eight years later. Lau calls Schneerson a “spiritual mentor.”

Click photo to download. Caption: Rabbi Levi Shemtov of American Friends of Lubavitch in Washington, DC looks on during the Chabad emissary conference in New York. Credit: Maxine Dovere.

Upon first visiting “770” in 1974 as a district rabbi in Tel Aviv, Lau spent two hours and 20 minutes with Schneerson before the door was opened and he sensed it was time to leave. At that point, Lau recalled feeling the “very warm and soft hand of the Rebbe” on his hand, and the Rebbe told him “I take responsibility, don’t worry, we have what to talk [about].”

“Take responsibility. Be aware. But not only for the whole nation, or for the whole community, but for every individual,” Lau said, describing the Rebbe’s philosophy.

When Lau exited his meeting with the Rebbe about 3:50 a.m., about 100 yeshiva students surrounded him and eagerly asked what the conversation entailed, the Rebbe came out before Lau could answer and informed him “This neighborhood is a little bit dangerous at night… Crown Heights, Brooklyn, at this time, four o’clock in the morning, you need a car to drive you to Manhattan.” Instead of letting Lau get in a “yellow cab,” the Rebbe insisted that his friend Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky personally take Lau to Manhattan. That story showed how the Rebbe took responsibility for every individual, Lau said.

In 1982, Lau—then chief rabbi of the city of Netanya—visited with Rebbe unannounced. The Rebbe, when he saw Lau, smiled widely and said “Eight years you didn’t visit me. Exactly eight years.” They again spent two hours and 20 minutes together, Lau said.

Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Council, addressed the Chabad shluchim while the annual tribute dinner of the American Friends of Yad Vashem was underway less than 300 feet away from the Hilton. That gathering paid tribute to those who survived the attempt to annihilate the Jewish people; the Chabad Kinus celebrated efforts to foster the continuum of Jewish life. 

“Let’s sit down together, and let’s live together,” Lau said. “We always knew how to die together. The time has come for us to know also how to live together.” 

Chabad shluchim travel to places around the world to establish Jewish communities. Their mission, according to the directive of the Rebbe, is to discover “the unique needs of their respective communities.” The shluchim and their families work in 75 countries doing Jewish outreach, teaching Torah and establishing bastions of Jewish culture.

Posted on November 12, 2012 and filed under Features, U.S..