I’m thinking of the night the Lubavitcher Rebbe died, which was exactly 15 year ago this coming Friday, June 12, 1994. I’m not Chabad — a fellow traveler at best, and that only pretty recently — but I have a vivid memory of being in Amagansett, New York, on a weekend beach trip with a friend. That night, which was a Saturday, we were both sticking our heads out of a skylight to catch the sound of the surf and the smell of the wind. Very strangely, we both suddenly had a feeling of being “spooked.” Did you ever have an experience like that? It was a strong intuition of loss, as we mutually confirmed before we knew anything about what might have called it up. Returning to Manhattan on Monday morning, we learned that the Rebbe had died the previous day.
Of all the Jewish movements going at the movement, I consider Chabad the most successful and on balance the most admirable and appealing. My wife asked me the other day, half jokingly, why we don’t put a picture of the Rebbe up somewhere in our house, as many Chabad admirers who are not Chabad themselves will do. Many, for example, is the Israeli taxi with a yarmulke-less driver and a picture of the Rebbe dangling from the rearview mirror.
Sorry. As I explained, that’s not for me. I’m not a joiner and never feel quite comfortable with groups of any kind. Maybe that’s why I’m a Jew. The word for Hebrew, in Hebrew, Ivri, has as one of its meanings being on the other side from something. A Hebrew is always in contrast and conflict with his surroundings. Abraham, the first Hebrew, is called that (Genesis 14:13) because he came from the “other side” of the Euphrates River. A Jew should always feel on the outs with the wider culture. When my spiritual and intellectual affiliations seem, superficially, at odds with each, that’s my comfort zone. Maybe that’s why the thing that initially turned me off liberalism, on arriving as a freshman at Brown, was the smug feeling shared by so many of my fellow students that only we, smarty-pants liberals, had it all figured out and three cheers for us.
But that’s all an aside. Going back to my wife’s question, I thought, why not put a picture of the Rebbe up on this blog? That I can handle. So here it is.