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West Coast was a challenge to Chabadniks and they defied odds to rekindle faith
Chabad of California
By Velvel Greene
LOS ANGELES has achieved a "new look - posters, banners and smiling chassidic faces claiming, "Help me celebrate my Bar Mitzvah." Indeed, it is a celebration. For the first time in its history a kosher French service dinner is being served in the elegant facility in Los Angeles, the Music Center. Jan Peerce, the international opera and star is singing the praises of Chabad; the Neginah Ensemble and Michael Tinman and chassidic dancers from New York will entertain: and thousands of people are participating in the Bar Mitzvah celebration with contributions ranging from $18 to $1800.
Why all the hoopla??
IT WAS just 13 years ago that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. head of the international Chabad Lubavitch Movement had sent Rabbi and Mrs. Shlomo Cunin to Los Angeles. Most people felt that this time the Rebbe had over reached himself. A Lubavitcher Chasid with instructions to disseminate Torah and Chassidic warmth on the West Coast? An impossible mission if there ever was one.
IT WAS reasonable to maintain a permanent fund raiser in Los Angeles. After all, there's lots of money in the West and Lubavitch deserves its share.
AND IT was reasonable to send a "one-shot" firebrand who could stir up some Jewish kids and who would then fade away like the hundreds of firebrands who came before. After all, California is the origin and home of so many way out kooks and cults. Lubavitch could also get a piece of the action.
IT WAS even reasonable to consider Los Angeles as a site for a potential Lubavitcher "shtibel." It might provide a livelihood for a newly, ordained rabbi and maybe later, even for a chazzan. There are a lot of "three day a year" worshipers in every large city and there are never enough seats on those three days. After all Jews need a place to pray and Yeshiva graduates also need to make a living.
ALL OF these possibilities are reasonable. Not reasonable, however, was a regular Lubavitcher emissary with instructions to establish a permanent base, to go out and-find people-instead of waiting for them to come in in. and lo bring Jews closer to Torah-true- and authentic Judaism The Rebbe wants nothing less than a real and a significant and a permanent breakthrough. his emissaries can undertake nothing less
But this was California.
This was Los Angeles - the very antithesis of significance and permanence and reality of breakthroughs. This was Hollywood where prophets line up for jobs at the booking office and where G-d shares equal credits with the special effects director. This was San Francisco the sophisticated, San Diego the conservative, Santa Barbara the complacent, Venice the squalid, Berkley the ultra-liberal. This was to quote the well worn cliché "no job for a Jewish boy"
But in addition to the environment, which was bad enough the sheer magnitude of the task added to my pessimism.
California statistics boggle the mind. Hundreds of thousands of Jews comfortably placently distributed over hundreds of thousands-square miles. Chabad didn't know it but California is home to more learning and they enroll more than one and a quarter million college students - more than New York and New Jersey and Massachusetts combined. The number of Jewish students can only be imagined or guessed at. Who really knows? Who really cared?
But if Shlomo Cunin wanted to find out, just one visit the public state colleges and to spend only one Shabbos at each would take him more than two years.
a good thing that Rabbi Cunin didn't ask my disnt ask my advice. Come
to think of it he didn't ask anyone's advice other than the Rebbe's. We
could have told him how hopeless his task was.
Today Chabad Lubavitch speaks for itself in all areas of West Coast Jewish life. Borrowing on the Rebbe's strength; emulating the Rebbe's personal concern with individual and community simultaneously; sharing with the Rebbe the Mitzvah of Ahavas Yisroel - love of a fellow Jew; and exhorted by the Rebbe to workand action and deeds and results.
FROM THE humble beginnings of a garage office, Chabad has now become the largest network of religious and social welfare services. Its staff of over fifty Rabbis Rabbis and hundreds if teachers, psychologists and social workers have touched and rekindled the lives of thousands of Jewish families throughout the state.
They have taught by our educational network, consoled by our hospital chaplaincy, contacted by our Chabad house campus outreach, comforted by our senior citizens project, and rehabilitated by our drug program.
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