While many organizations are reorganizing and downsizing due to COVID-19, Chabad has only grown, with over a hundred new couples and families joining the ranks of shluchim this year.
By Aharon Loschak for Chabad.org
The coronavirus pandemic has brought many venerable institutions to their knees this year, and many organizations and corporations are reorganizing, regrouping, and downsizing—waiting for better and healthier times.
Not Chabad-Lubavitch. Not by a long shot. Chabad is growing.
The thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries who are gathering online for the annual International Convention of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries (Kinus Hashluchim) this weekend will be welcoming into their ranks more than 100 new rabbinic couples who are taking up posts in many different capacities and locations, in scores of new Chabad centers around the world.
Each new emissary is facing his or her own individual challenges, and all are following the direction of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory to meet every challenge with a steadfast faith in G‑d, and positive commitment to instill a love of Torah and the joyous performance of mitzvahs. Every one of these couples is determined to overcome those challenges, and help the communities they serve deal with the pandemic, and grow in their Judaism in the face of it.
“Chabad’s continued and expanded efforts in this pandemic are very much in keeping with the Rebbe’s philosophy that nothing is insurmountable,” said Dr. Mark I. Rosen, Associate Professor in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. “The desire to keep on growing and view as an opportunity what others would see as an obstacle is very much Chabad’s approach.”
Moving to Paris Amidst Growing Anti-Semitism
Rabbi Aharon and Chaya Mushka Mergui are one such couple. Natives of France, they long grew up with the dream of joining the Rebbe’s army of shluchim to the The Republic. To that end, Aharon started scouting the village of Ville-d’Avray, a small community to the west of Paris in the beginning of last year. Not known to be a place with a large Jewish representation, every Jew he met told Aharon of how they were the only Jew around, without any infrastructure to serve them.
After meeting enough Jewish residents with the same story, Aharon and Chaya Mushka felt that it was time to bring Chabad’s presence to Ville-d’Avray permanently. After arranging all the necessary components with the central Chabad offices of France in Beth Loubavitch, they young couple began searching for a place to live.
And then the pandemic hit. What should have been a quick search turned into a months-long quest, and finally, the Merguis found a place this summer.
With lockdowns and at best, strict guidelines of social distancing, Aharon and Chaya Mushka were faced with a tall task: to establish and grow a brand new community of Jews in a remote location with little to no in-person interaction.
They have taken up the challenge with gusto. Thanks to his ground game last year, Aharon has maintained constant contact with the people he met then, establishing connection over Zoom and some good old phone calls. So much so, the Merguis are running a full Hebrew School over Zoom.
“In a strange way, the coronavirus has brought new people to our virtual doors,” Mergui told Chabad.org. “For example, for some Jewish people who live here, the holiday of Passover is the only time they will purchase kosher food. Stuck at home, many of them have turned to Internet searches in their quest to procure kosher food. We’re the local Jewish show in town, so they find us that way—and new connections are made.
“People have told us that while all other public services are downsizing or closing, we are creatively expanding more than ever. So many others are going into sleep mode, and we’re awakening ever more.”
Uplifting Neighborhoods From Tel Aviv to Texas
Mergui’s story is repeating itself in various formats all over the world. New shluchim have paved the way in various townships of Pennsylvania, while two others—Rabbi Chaim and Ofra Tverya and Rabbi Menachem Mendel and Miryam Matusof—have established new outposts in the rapidly gentrifying and uber-artsy neighborhood of Florentin, in Tel Aviv, Israel.
All told, the Rebbe’s army continues to surge, with the number of new soldiers willing to heed the call and venture forth never waning.
Rabbi Mendy and Rikki Hertz have this in mind as they chart new waters in South Austin, Texas. Billed as the “fastest growing city in the United States,” the needs of the Jewish community are growing along with it. One who naturally enjoys a good conversation, Rabbi Hertz was looking forward to meeting people in his new place of living and stewarding a fledgling Jewish community into fruition.
Corona hit and upended much of those plans, but the basic goal remains the same: to reach as many Jews as possible and be there in any which way he can. All it takes is a little creativity.
“With social media and so much of our lives now on the Internet, we have been able to meet new people and actually connect with them in a real way,” Hertz said. “And of course, the tried and tested method of calling people still works, and it has enabled us to operate despite the challenges. This pandemic has been a curveball, but we’re navigating it as best we can.”
Taking advantage of the naturally warm weather in Texas, Hertz and his wife Rikki are looking forward to setting up socially-distanced, limited, outdoor events that can further their goal of bringing Jewish life to their corner of the Lone Star State.
Of course, Hertz was looking forward to sharing experiences with fellow shluchim at the kinus this year. But, as he told Chabad.org, “We are all collectively inspired. The reality is that we’re all part of one gargantuan army, and our force lies in the similar inspiration that motivates us all.”
The pandemic has challenged us all, throwing one proverbial curveball after another at a world reeling to keep up. But the Rebbe’s inspiration that no challenge is insurmountable, and in fact, every challenge is simply a springboard for even greater growth rings truer than ever.
It’s the clarion call to which these 100 or so young couples have hearkened.
Reprinted with permission from Chabad.org