When attending the annual conference of Chabad emissaries in New York, I am frequently tempted to contrast it with similar conventions whose attendees are mandated with securing the Jewish future. Particularly the Jewish Federations’ General Assembly comes to mind as it often takes place around the same time.
Last year, following the Chabad conference, in an article entitled ‘Why Donors like Chabad,’ I pointed to a structure that secures almost immediate ROI for venture philanthropists free from red tape and bureaucracy. This year, surrounded by over 4000 emissaries at the grand banquet, I was inspired to expand on this idea from a different angle.
Chabad’s rapid growth and unbridled success is undeniable, as Britain’s Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks expressed in his keynote address to the gathering, “You, the Shluchim (emissaries) are among the most important people in the Jewish world today.” Even for many of the other successful Jewish outreach groups that have emerged since the era of Chabad dominance, admittedly or not, it has been through a borrowed page from Chabad’s book. So what is the secret to Chabad’s success?
Since as early as the Israelite slavery in Egypt, the greatest threat to Jewish continuity hasn’t been physical, but spiritual. Today, it is well known that far more Jews are lost to assimilation and out-marriage than to Islamic terror or any other threat.
In dealing with this crisis, two divergent groups emerged among activists. One group, pioneered by the founders of the Haskala movement argued that Judaism had to be brought to the people. The laws needed to be loosened, and the rituals modified to suit the more cosmopolitan zeitgeist. For the Orthodox, the opposite was true. The only way to secure the Jewish future they argued was to double down, expel all external influences and distractions, and create closed communities of Jewish observance and tradition.
The founders of the Chabad movement recognized the strengths and weaknesses in both schools of thought combining the ideologies in a winning formula. The Jewish principles of faith could never be diluted; after all, the process of dilution never ends. As such, Chabad maintains absolutist principles of authentic Jewish traditionalism. For some adherents they are practical, for others aspirational, but the core ideals are sacrosanct.
However, Chabad vigorously opposes isolationism, and endeavors to hand-deliver its messages to every single Jew on whatever level of practice they are comfortable with. The flexibility is within the Jew, not within Judaism.
Chabad has got it. Chabad has categorically answered all the questions and has understood the secret to guaranteeing the Jewish future. Now, their only focus is on the task at hand, getting the job done.
It is interesting to note, that at most grand Jewish conventions, the vast majority of attendees are donors. Conferences and banquets are peppered with organization staff. At the Shluchim convention however, donors are by far in the minority, illustrating the centrality in Chabad of the mission over the means.
Last Friday, commemorating three years since the horrific attacks on Mumbai that left a Chabad emissary and his wife dead, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed by Warren Kozak. He wrote, “In another community, the violent deaths of such a young and promising couple might have sent shivers through the leadership, prompting them to pull other emissaries from the field. But Chabad’s leadership did the opposite, immediately sending another couple to take their place,” This bold act demonstrated yet again the degree of commitment and dedication that the movement’s followers have ascribed to their mission.
Investor Warren Buffett famously said, “Wide diversification is only required when investors do not understand what they are doing.” Chabad donors understand exactly what they are doing.
The Author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.