In the early years of the international growth of Chabad, my late grandfather was questioned by a non-Chabad colleague about Chabad’s popularity around the world. The colleague challenged my grandfather to explain the attraction of Chabad compared to historical Jewishness and wanted to understand how Chabad became such a phenomenon.
My grandfather responded, “It is the difference between a ship captain and a doctor.” He explained that they both serve with commitment, and we place our complete trust in both.
However, a captain gets on the boat with the passengers. There are many rabbis who serve their communities with diligence and commitment, but the distinction is that the Rebbe demanded of his Shluchim to become part of the community and commit themselves to that community. They live within the community, raise their family within the community, and shop within the community. In this way, they can better understand the wants and needs of their specific community. It is not just a job for them; it becomes their life.
Chabad Lubavitch of Roosevelt Island was founded in July 2006. My husband, Rabbi Zalman, and I hope to foster the love and sense of community unique to Roosevelt Island by celebrating Jewish experiences, Shabbat, holidays, and lifecycle events together, and we welcome anyone seeking to share in these experiences.
One of the first amazing blessings we noticed when we moved to Roosevelt Island a decade ago was the sense of community that exists here: a community started by the early pioneers and picked up by those who moved here afterwards. A community in the complete sense of the word. Our dream is to enjoy a Shabbat dinner with every Jew and interested person on Roosevelt Island.
The Talmud (the compilation of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara) states, “just as no two people look alike, no two people think alike.” There is no expectation for two people to agree about everything and perceive things in the same manner; a community is just a diverse mix of people who come together. Similarly, the goal of Chabad is not to make you orthodox. Chabad is an educational organization dedicated to providing everyone, regardless of background, affiliation, or personal level of observance, the opportunity to deepen their level of Jewish knowledge and involvement.
Some of the programs that Chabad Lubavitch of Roosevelt Island offers to the community are community-wide traditional holiday celebrations. We offer a variety of children’s activities on a monthly basis; Hebrew School, Mini Chefs; we offer women’s programs throughout the year as well as weekly Shabbat prayers and Community Kiddush. Some of the programs have a suggested donation and requested RSVP, but all of our prayer services are always free of charge and open to all.
Rabbi Zalman officiates at life cycle events. Being the only rabbi living on and serving the Island, he has a keen understanding of the local community. Chabad Lubavitch of Roosevelt Island also offers individual assistance based on need, be it family-related, health-related, spiritual guidance or anything in between.
This week (June 12 and 13, corresponding to 6 and 7 Sivan on the Jewish calendar) marks the 3,328th anniversary of G-d giving the Ten Commandments (the book, not the movie) and the celebration of the giving of the Torah. A Torah scroll contains 304,805 letters, each handwritten in black ink on parchment by a highly trained scribe. If a single letter is missing or deformed, the entire scroll is unfit for use. Another important law regarding the Torah scroll is that each of its letters must be ringed by a blank strip of parchment. Should a letter touch its fellow even by a hair, thereby violating the “white space” between them, again, the entire scroll is disqualified from use until the error is corrected.
A community is a single, interdependent entity, but equally important is the inviolable “white space” that distinguishes each and every one of us as a unique individual. Often, a strong sense of community and communal mission obscures the differences between its members, blurring them to a faceless mass.
“Says” the Torah: true, my hundreds of thousands of letters spell a single integral message. But this message is composed of hundreds of thousands of voices, each articulating it in its own particular manner and medium. To detract from the individuality and uniqueness of one is to detract from the integrity of the collective whole.
This year on the Jewish calendar is a year of Hakhel (unity), and our activities are focused around this topic. One example is the CANorah. We collected food cans donated by the community and built a Chanukah menorah out of it. After Chanukah, the food was donated to the needy through the local organizations.
This weekend we hosted Shabbat100. Shabbat is the Jewish day of rest, traditionally spent in synagogue and with a festive Friday night and Saturday afternoon meal. Yesterday (June 10), over 100 residents of Roosevelt Island gathered at the Manhattan Park Theater Club for a huge, one-of-a-kind Shabbat meal.
Following Shabbat is the holiday of Shavuot, celebrating the receiving of the Torah, as mentioned earlier. This Sunday morning (June 12) we will be having a Shavuot Ice Cream Party as we hear the Ten Commandments for the 3,328th time. Please join us at the Cultural Center at 10:00 a.m. for Torah reading and 11:00 a.m. for Shavuot Dairy Kiddush and Ice Cream Party.
This is a good time to thank RIOC for the use of the Cultural Center. A real expression of “commUNITY” here on Roosevelt Island is how all different groups use the space simultaneously. I would also like to thank The WIRE for this opportunity to address the community in this section.