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.


the friend uve been ignoring said...


Nemo said...

My favorite Myth Buster by far...

LubaGal said...

This is absolutely BEAUTIFUL!!!

I'm lovin it!!

Shkoyach Mimi!!

Chana said...

Thanks for the Yud Shvat inspiration.

chang said...

ditto on 'the friend uve been ignoring'.
(not the part about being ignored, just the response)
my thoughts exactly. couldn't have phrased it better.
note to 'the friend uve been ignoring':
she's not ignoring you. just busy and preoccupied on saving the world and bringing moshiach.
note to mimi:
why do i feel the need to resolve everyone else's relationships?

a freilechen yud shvat mini

Mimi said...

Wow, Nemo - quite the compliment, I'll take it.

Thanks Lubagal and Chana.

CHAVA, my ignored friend! How do I call Scandinavia? Or, wait...where are you again?! :)

As Chang hinted to, I've been busy with Bais Chana - but...wait, why am I writing this here? I can just e-mail you...

Estee said...

Incredible....and proud to see 2 of my somewheres!

chanale said...

you go mimi!

Asi Spiegel said...

Very Nice!

keep on writing. Kudos from Eugene, Oregon.

I guess I am somehwere after all!!!

Thank you for your inspiring words.


CHAVA said...

with capital letters, noch.

i forgive though i don't understand.

do i not have the same obligation to learn and teach? to inspire and be inspired?

ahem ahem???

and chang-i appreciate ur aharon hakohenness as well as ur appreciation of my intellectual response ;)

Rochel said...

wonderful aricle! left me inspired for yud shevat

keep it up

litzo said...

aharon hakohaness: great term! who ever coined that? i love it.

mimi, you give us strength to stretch ourselves to the max in Somewhere. I am impressed with your keen awareness, and perception. we definately are Somewhere. and proud. i'm going to print this for my over-worked, unacknowledged shlucha. boy is she turning reno into a Somewhere.

Mimi said...

Rabbi Speigel! Thanks for commenting on the blog! May Hashem grant you everything you want and need in your extraordinary Shlichus. And when the going gets tough, call my father - he's the best, ah?


Litzo: I am so glad this is finding its way to Shluchim, thank you! I keep on forgetting which "Mushky" you are...either way, thanks for being a regular.

Anonymous said...

Your site is fantastic, simply fantastic.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever consider adding a section where you "teach" a Sicha - a little bit more in depth?

I thing you'd be great.

Mimi said...

Wow, anonymous - that was a serious compliment. Thank you.

It's visions like that (and more) that make me really want to learn more, and more, and more...

Who are ya (same as the "simply fantastic" comment?)? Your tone sounds familiar.

Maybe I caught you while you're still here...e-mail me if you want!

Anonymous said...

Your last post reminded me of a Sicha from Yud Shvat (I think 5733 - not sure - they distributed the video a few years back).

The subject was Bosi Legani, but the Rebbe spoke just about the first two words. That this world - which can seem like a "jungle" is in fact a garden. And not just any garden but "MY- G-d's - garden". (It is worth watching - the Rebbe speaks about it for quite a while, this was a nutshell).

Anonymous said...

Isn't it exciting when it's anonymous? That air of mystery....I could be anybody...I could be the President ( though he probably would misspell more)...

Yossi from the South said...

(Annonymous, that was 5732).

Mimi, another great and creative piece. Especially how youmanaged to weave the "South" into it... You have some knack...

I do, though, have a correction to make. I believe that the Rebbe DID send us to "nowhere" so that he can turn it into "somewhere".

In other words, before the Rebbe arrived in "nowhere" in the form of his Shluchim, nowhere was, indeed, "nowhere." The Rebbe has turned it into "somewhere," and maybe even into "everywhere."

A non-Lubavitcher, therefore, has a legitimate point about the few nowhere's still left in this world waiting to be tunred into somewhere...

G-d bless.

Yossi, from the South

Mimi said...

Anonymous: YES, Bosi Legani, thank you for that connection, and sharing it.

[Ahem, by the way, you’re obviously from Crown Heights, only Crown Heightsers so fiercely maintain their anonymity]

Rabbi Yossi! So excited to see you up here again. Regards from your brother (him and Chani - the most amazing cook- joined us in Key Largo with Bais Chana. Great people).

I love your point, which is indeed very true. I wanted to find a way of weaving that into here, but decided to stick with the main premise. Indeed, although nowhere doesn't actually exist as a place, a place becomes MORE of a somewhere when the Rebbe sent a Shliach there.

So keep up the good work, building the south into more of a somewhere everyday. And, of course, thanks so much for visiting.

- M

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the date. Where in the South.

Couldn't we say that they're both accurate? Places that seem like "nowhere" need someone to come and reveal the somewhereness that's there because it is part of olamo shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu.

And that thing about me being from Crown Heights...not necessarily...for instance if I'm the President it might be a security issue. Not that I'm saying that I am the President. But I'm not ruling it out.

litzo said...

mimi its rochel litzman. the mushky with short hair, how else do i describe myself? after all, i did fall prey to the generalization of a mushkie. the burlap sack skirts worn each day, the feasting while we watched our sisters starve, and the good accomodations vs. a holy dilapidated hotel.
if there was one thing i could change in the land of altes it would be to find a level of equality.
where each student, regardless of the program she attends, has an equal share in the services and shelter offered.

Basya said...

why do you feel that chassidud is the only way to live? don't you believe that people can live Judaism the way you live it without calling it chassidus?

Mimi said...

This post doesn't say that there is only one way to live. There are many ways to live, of course.

Although, yes, clearly, I am a proud Chabadnik. And there's nothing wrong with being forward in that pride.

You say "the way you live it." - but I can only wish to be a shining example of what it means to truly live that way, I can try...

Basya said...

I was reffering to a different post (i dont remember which one it was) in which you told a little bit about yourself. I understood that you came from a chabad family, but went to a litvish (somewhat modern?)seminary- and didn't really "see the light there, or in frum jewry at all, until you came back to chabad and found the true light. I'm very happy for you- there's nothing bad about being proud about who you are. I just really want to know- there's this phenomenon of chabadnicks seeing chabad as the one truth- and not seeing any truth in any other form of judaism till they reach chabad. And me- Baruch Hashem, although my family is close to chabad, I wouldnt say that chassidus is what dominates my life, and yet, Baruch Hashem, I feel that Hashem is in my life, that my Tora and mitzvos are full, and most importantly I am aware of the need to always move forward in avodas Hashem, in being close to him, doing his mitzvos, etc. and of course being a light unto the world- in short- everything that chabad claims is a chiddush- I see in Yiddishkeit already.
What is your answer to this? I'm asking cause I really want to know and I never get a satisfying answer. Thankyou

Sheina said...

Mimi! Great job at the whole nowhere thing! I'm impressed. I think that the teacher in that non-lubavitch semenary was saying that don't go to "nowhere" until it has become at least a small "somewhere." (Usually by lubavitchers.) To make a potential somewhere into a SOMEWHERE, is not easy. You can only do it if you have a Rebbe! It's not a joke. No matter how far we are on shlichus we're still "plugged in." Without the connection, the somewhere really feels like nowhere.

Mimi said...

The post you're referring to is when I went to visit some friends in Har Nof, and found myself in one of their classes. Gotcha.

I will meditate on the question (as I have before and do everyday) and get back to you. I usually have people interested in more lengthy disscusion e-mail me, which you're definitely invited to if interested!

Anonymous said...

Basya, My favorite mashal about chassidus - Imagine walking into a beautiful building, with gorgeous pillars that are painted so beautifully, and someone strikes a match and holds it close to one of these beautiful pillars and you now can see that engraved in the stone of each pillar are even more detailed intricate moldings that you would have never seen before without that light held up to it. The pillars are the torah, and the match is chassidus which serves as a lense to see the torah.

Anonymous said...

Basya- no, please do not email it. It is a terriffic question, and
Mimi- we would love to follow this correspondence. It is a very common question- one that is not so simply answered...

Mimi said...

Anonymous, you are right.

Everyone should indeed follow this correspondance, but it's a topic that I can't approach without getting faily personal.

I fear not being able to get as involved writing about it as I would like.

However, I will try. It's a big question, but I'm going to try and condense all my thoughts and respond the best I can.

Thanks, all, for the enthusiasm.

Mimi said...


The quotes which you extracted are from letters home, not neccesarily something to be interpreted or analyzed. In fact, I thought I took them off the blog ages ago. Thanks for reminding me :).

The invitation to e-mail me was for more personal discussion. That's maybe where those quotes belong.
Therefore, I'm deleting your comments. No big deal, just personal. My mistake.

Meanwhile, lets try and get an answer to your question, yea?

Mimi said...

From Silverspring? Do I know you?

Sorry, I have a curiosity with anonymous folk that I can't seem to conquer (but thanks for at least putting a name!).

[Hmm, e-mail.]

Mimi said...

Litzo - Just re-read your comment. Sounds like a deal! Bring your pettition to the staff!

No, but really, there was nothing to complain about. And it's aaaall part of the incredible experience. Loved every bit. Even scrounging around your dining room for fresh milk...

Yossi Mandel said...

Hello from the nowhere of Snohomish County! I could use an essay like yours every once in a while. The honorable mention of my neighbor to the north was well-deserved.

Hatzlachah Bakol (shidduch non-dating wise as well)

Raizel said...

Mim, I love it.

Seriously, it is in these little comments that really shows the big picture of the vast differences between the way MANY Jews think and the approach of Chassidus.

It's incredible...there is no such a place as nowhere as long as there is potential for kedusha and a living Jew.

Love this one Mim, so poigniant.

a jewish mother said...

amazing article.!!!My daughter just introduced me to your sight.What a treat!! I wiil be following you. Keep up the great writing. Excellent piece on dating. Could not have said better myself.

Editor said...

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Hope you don't mind!

Email me if you do.

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someone else said...

I heard that chassidus was only revealed into the world when there was a need for it. The founder of all types of chassidism is the Baal Shem Tov (Reb Yisrael). Many say that just like when a person faints you say their name to wake them up, Yisrael is the name of the Jewish people and we needed an awakening then- we were at a low time in yiddishkeit. Just like salt brings out the taste in food (but we can't eat it without the food), Chassidus and Kaballah brings out the "flavor" of Torah (and that kaballah can't be learned without learning Torah). When someone is opened up to Chassidus, many times it is hard to go back to learning strictly pshat (basic understanding) of Torah without the flavor.
-As for being a chabadnik: each chassid should feel total oneness with their Rebbe, and the fact is that the Lubavitcher Rebbe has a connection to all types of Jews and non-Jews alike and has many many many unbelieveable things about him.

shlucha said...

I'm a closet admirer if yours, and as I live in a place that even other shluchim call 'the middle of nowhere' and can't manage to pronounce. - I just loved your piece.

So well put, and so true - because after, a Jew is a Jew, despite the letters after his name, his type of hat, or his zip code (or lack thereof). And every Jew is the center of our universe.

Well done!

Keep it up, please!