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"Tanks" against assimilation
Shortly before noon last Thursday, a “Jewish tank” crossed the crowded intersection of La Salle and Washington.
Miracle of miracles, the One who once parted the waters of the Red Sea created an open space near the curb at the southwest corner.
The tank commander, a bearded young man wearing a black suit black overcoat and black hat, skillfully guided into position the battle-tested vehicle which, before its conscription and conversion, was an ordinary camper.
Once stopped, the tank disgorged its crew-eight rabbinical students trained to do battle against the "forces of assimilation.”
One adjusted the loudspeaker. Soon the Eastern European songs of Jewish Hasidism were competing with the Middle Western chimes of the Chicago Temple in a noontime battle of the airwaves.
A second crewman inspected the tank's insignia - Mitzvah Mobile" — and the war cry emblazoned on its side: "Identify!”
Others filled their arms with the weapons of printed words and began their foray into the territory long claimed by mammon. Approaching a well dressed, middle-aged man, one of the students asked, "Excuse me, sir, are you a Jew?" When the man replied, "No, I'm not," he was sent on his way with a blessing: "Have a good day, sir."
The next man responded affirmatively to the same question. With polite persistence, the intense, black-garbed Torah student persuaded the somewhat puzzled pedestrian to enter the parked vehicle.
Inside, the dialog
The man then removed his overcoat and suit coat and rolled up the left sleeve of his shirt. The student helped him adjust the Tefillin, two small leather boxes containing scriptures that
Orthodox Jewish males over 13 wear during weekday prayers.
As the Tefillin with its leather thongs was put 5n place near the heart and the brain, the two men joined in prayer, the older repeating after the younger the Hebrew words: "Boruch Ado-noi...."
Moments later, the businessman was on his way again, his briefcase bulging with a "charity box" and religious literature. After he left, his young mentor expressed hope that the brief encounter might "kindle into a flame the spark of Judaism that is in every Jew."
The eight young zealots are Lubavitcher Hasidim, a sect of fervent Jews that traces its distinctive history to the 18th Century. Their commander in chief is Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. His current worldwide "Mitzvah Campaign” has grown out of his "Urgent Call to World Jewry."
The charismatic rabbi
has called on all Jews to "intensify their observance of five essential
precepts": Studying the Torah daily; putting on Tefillin; affixing
mezuzah to the door- posts of every Jewish home; giving to charity and
reading "holy books."
"All Jews," he says, "are responsible for one another. Their lives and destinies are intertwined wherever they are. A mitzvah performed by an individual benefits the entire Jewish people. The Jewish people must bolster their spiritual defenses to protect themselves from unexpected harm and dangers and to turn those with hostile intentions from foes to friends."
As a reporter left the La Salle St. battle scene, it was apparent that the rabbi's youthful warriors were well girded to do battle with everyone except Sgt. Anthony Janowski of the Chicago Police Department.
Their tank, it seems,
was parked in a no-parking zone, and Sgt. Janowski was threatening to
have it towed away to the city garage. Clearly it was time for another
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