Monday, January 29, 2007

Myth #7: Chabad Goes to the Middle of Nowhere

I was visiting some friends from a non-Chabad seminary and found myself in a class on the subject of Jewish outreach. The teacher was dispensing a lot of struggling advice and inspiration on the topic. In all her explaining and descriptions, she aimed to encourage the young women in the class to be involved in outreach in some form.

Then, she said something that I had hear many times before, but, in this particular context, caught my attention.

"However you want to reach out, you can do it" she said, "you don't have to be like Chabad and go out to the middle of nowhere."

Everyone looked at me - the Chabadnik in the classroom.

I cracked a smile, partially for the sake of some response, but mostly because I love nothing more than the feeling of being a notable Chabadnik.

Of course, the Chabad mention got my attention - but, inside, the teacher's words had me thinking.

Chabad goes to the middle of nowhere, eh?

Why are people who believe in a place called "nowhere" giving classes on spreading Judaism to the world?


What the teacher meant to say is that she believes in a place called nowhere, and - never having visited a Chabad emissary herself - finds it very hard to suggest to her class to do such a thing.

But, the teacher is right.

Going to the middle of nowhere is indeed one of the most absurd things I've heard.

The truth is, I wouldn't suggest it to anyone myself.

I mean, if you are nowhere, you're going to have a pretty hard time reaching out.

So how, then, does Chabad do it?

The truth is, Chabad goes to places that everyone else thinks is nowhere, and shows the world how it truly is a somewhere .

Chabad does this because we can't tolerate that there is an actual place - not a "nowhere!" - without Jewish influence. It is our strong adversity to this nowhere concept that sends us into farm towns, ice worlds, and the seemingly empty spaces of the world.

It's like we have some insider information. While everyone walks around ignoring the reality of all kinds of hometowns by referring to them as "nowhere", Chabad just knows that there must be a house to buy, a building to turn int a shul, and Jews to invite for Shabbos - all in this place that everyone insists doesn't exist.

You refer to a place as "nowhere," and the Chabadnik doesn't get it. Nowhere just isn't in the Chabad language.

Nowhere is when you're lost in a car, and your friend asks you on the phone, "where are you?" You're completely lost and have to admit, "I'm nowhere."

Nowhere is the place you were when you walk in past curfew and your mother asks, "where have you been?"

But, really, nowhere is what you call other places when you think that where you are is the only place that is worthy of being on the map.


When the Rebbe sent emissaries to various places, he was saying, "There exists a place. A somewhere. Go there."

Because Chabad doesn't go to the middle of nowhere, the most barren cities have Mikvahs.

Because Chabad doesn't go to the middle of nowhere, Jews in Fairfield, Iowa have pictures of the Rebbe next to their Menorah.

Because Chabad doesn't go to the middle of nowhere, there is Kosher meat for a growing Jewish "hick town."

Because Chabad doesn't go to the middle of nowhere, you can be stranded anywhere in the world and still have a place for Shabbos.

Because Chabad doesn't go to the middle of nowhere, a Shliach has to tell his visiting ambassadors to take a left at "Conshohocken Rd."

Around the world, Chabad emissaries are uprooting the notion of nowhere, even among the cities own inhabitants.

Dave has been living in his small southern town for quite some time now. Although he likes the quiet life, he often things about moving to a somewhere, a city bubbling with more life - and certainly more Jewish life. One day, he walks into the local dry cleaners and finds a Rabbi picking up his suit. They get to taking, and - you know the rest of the story. Later, he reports how awesome it was to run into a bearded Jew in the middle of nowhere. He recalls that, at that very moment, he realized that his little hometown is a somewhere. He doesn't have to move to New York now. There is a Chabad house right around the corner - he aint goin', well, nowhere.

In Eugene, Oregon, a Rabbi teaches the Parsha to college students. In Bellingham, Washington, Jews are being treated to the most celebratory holiday parties. In Guatemala City, traditional parents are able to send their children to a fun Jewish camp. In Aiya Napa, Cyprus, Israeli's are hearing Kiddush for the first time. In Amersfoort, Netherlands, family purity is becoming a reality for many Jewish women. In Omaha, Nebraska, Jews are getting answers to their biggest questions.

Meanwhile, an uninformd teacher in Israel is referring to such places as "nowhere."

Someone needs to clue her in to the fact that there are thousands of these so-called-nowheres that have Chabad houses open for visitation 24 hours, 365 days of the year.


When our Rebbe sent the first Shliach to a place without a synagogue, without a Jewish school, and maybe even without a normal grocery store, the newly designated Shliach would pause in a moment of deep contemplation, unable to imagine the vacant scene in which he would soon arrive.

"Wow," he would think to himself as his eyes widened, "the Rebbe is really sending me somewhere."

From our own living rooms to the expanive fields in the south to the crowded streets in Bejing, the Rebbe's vision made every square inch of this world into a place where magic happens. He forced us to change the way we think of a happening place, a place worth being inhabited. He challenged us to spread holiness and give, no matter where we make our steps. The Rebbe saw a world where there was a home for every Jew - so that, when a Jew finds himself feeling like he is in the middle of life's nowhere, he will still find a Chabad house - somewhere.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

No Synopsis

Neverending sunray on the water outside the Bais Chana classroom

I’ve been back from my trip with Bais Chana in Key Largo for a few days now.

Or, at least, I’m kind of back.

I haven’t quite landed in Crown Heights yet.

I’m hanging in pendulum, my feet almost touching the ground.

I’m looking around, and can’t understand why everyone is rushing around and acting normally when I just went through something like this.

The pressure to write a synopsis about the experience is present, but for my own sanity – I just can’t. I still feel a little delicate, my insides are speeding every second to make more room to take it all in.

I want to say I’m a changed person, but the finality in those words leave out the reality that this new journey will continue onward.

I just need to be a little quiet.

I can’t spill this one out.

And besides, there’s no synopsis when it comes to capturing a soul journey.

There’s no synopsis when it comes to reaffirming the pressing need to teach truth.

There’s no synopsis when it comes to realizations of just how alive my people are.

In short, I feel as though I experienced something close to a revelation that took place on a humble desert mountain over 3,000 years ago.

In all my steps, my words, and my writing henceforth, these past two weeks will surely find a home.

It’s with me, wherever I go.

So let’s go.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Trauma Aboard Flight 1016

I, too, am a woman. Or so I thought.

He’s just your average college dude.

School team hat. Beaten jeans and sneakers. Blonde hair.

He sits to my right.

He is a boy.

I am a girl.

This girl and this boy are on flight 1016, both excited for their arrival in Miami.

They are sitting way too close for comfort, and this trip’s battle over the armrest takes an easy loss on the side of the girl.

We’re in the air.

The boy spreads out as much as he can, reclines his seat, and shifts his hat to cover his eyes.

Something’s holding me back from relaxing.

No, not something.

A boy is holding me back from relaxing.

I’m not accustomed to sprawling out and resting in such proximity to a college lad.

So this girl is sitting upright.

There is no plan of action when you're stuck in 5 square feet and thousands of feet in the air. She'll just have to deal.

Soon enough, the young mister starts moving.

Ever so nonchalantly, our young man pulls out a magazine from his stuff.

And, no, it's not Newsweek.

They call it "Men's Health Magazine."

Apparently, a tan and barely clothed model in an extremely creative position has something to do with men's health.

I glance over. I have to see the expression on his face.

Is he seriously about to peruse through this magazine with a young lady seated right beside him?

This girls cheeks are probably a little flushed.

So he opens it.

The flashy pages totally grab my glances in this empty, crammed, and temporary space.

And now, every time he turns the page, I naturally look over…almost against my will.

The pictures. The vulgar headlines.

This men's magazine is totally dedicated to the objectification of women.

Women - for men’s viewing pleasure.

I am utterly amazed.

Does this boy not realize?

I, too, am a woman.

I am a feminine being.

I have the same body parts

I may even wear the same lipstick.

And the boy sits beside the girl, turning the pages ever so casually.

This guy is acting as if I am a separate creation. As if I have nothing to take personally.

He is effacing my gender.

The lack of embarrassment is startling.

How could he not be uncomfortable?

I have within me all those things that put women in men’s magazines.

And, who does he think he is – making me aware of this?

Who does he think he is – exposing me to this?

Aisle 21 has never been the scene of so much squirming. I am cringing from within.
This girl wants to cry.

On a flight to Miami, I am forced to face the harsh reality of the nature of secular usage of the female body, the truths of our all-too-often shameless society, and the horrors of a world with no respect for boundaries.

As I sat in 21E, this girl realized that people have become all too comfortable with their own perversions.

There’s no such thing as “behind closed doors” anymore.

And not just that, but our young fellow has lost touch of the world. He doesn’t even realize he’s sitting next to a woman.

When he opened the magazine, I became an object.

That was the only way he could open the magazine without being guilt-ridden, without it feeling wrong.

After all, who opens a men’s magazine with provocative pictures while seated an inch away from a young lady?

This girl feels a little taken advantage of.

She feels a loss of innocence.

And all because of your average college dude.

School team hat. Beaten jeans and sneakers. Blonde hair.

He sits to my right.

He is a boy.

I am an object.