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November 15, 1985 - Image 23

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1985-11-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS Friday, November 15, 1985

23

71" 1

4

0N SURV1VAL...AND LUBAVITCH'

EXCERPTS FROM THE REMARKS
OF
THEODORE BIKEL

At the Home of Sam and Carole Sobel

Monday, November 4, 1985

(Responsibility for accuracy of transcription
is that of the transcriber alone.)

I wear a number of Yar-
mulkas. Tonight I am wearing
the Yarmulka of trying to
speak with the tongue of
angels. The reason why I am
moved to travel on behalf of
Lubavitch to address groups
of supporters, would-be-
supporters, or the uncommit-
ted ... is that I am
passionately devoted to
exploring avenues of survival
in Jewish life.
We overwork the notion of
survival in everything we say,
do or write. Whoever wants to
build an annex to something in-
vokes survival and/or the
Holocaust. But survival that is
not tied to bricks and mortar is
far more important than build-
ing "things." Building minds,
building souls, building alle-
giance, restoring faith in Faith
. is far more important than
building houses in which, often,
very little lives after they are
built.
We have been wooed and
seduced by the world around us
to try forcing ourselves into a
copy-cat mold of "everyman"; we
try to be like them, to become
one of them, to look like them,
to speak like them, to work like
them. Far be it from me to as-
-sert that we are better than
others; but we are different —
and in our differences lies some-
thing unique and extraordinary.
America held out for us a
promise of freedom from perse-
cution, a promise of equality.
What it did not force us to do
(and yet lot of us felt that it did)
is to become like our neighbors.
On the contrary, this is the one
place where we felt that, with-
out fear of reprisal, we could be
without being
different
threatened in life and limb.
What happened, however, was
that our grandfathers and
grandmothers came over from
the Old Country, and they
looked funny and dressed funny

and sounded funny. And their
sons and daughters wanted to
get away from those funny-
looking birds as fast and as
furiously as possible and drown
in the mainstream of American
culture — forgetting that
America was not a melting-pot,
but a kaleidescope, where each
particle is clearly delineated,
and clearly contributes to the
beauty of the whole. A
"melting-pot" is a mish-mash
that has no shape and no color;
an amorphous grey blob. It re-
duces everything to the "lowest
common denominator," which in
cultural and ethnic terms (and
certainly in religious terms) is
indeed low and common, We are
better than that.
This attitude robs our chil-
dren of something very precious
— their heritage; their inheri-
tance is being squandered by
this illusion of sameness that
has seduced us in America. It
was easier when people roamed
the streets yelling for Jewish
blood, but you will forgive me if
I don't relish the notion that
Jewish identity can be preserved
only when there are anti-
Semites around. Because, if that
is so, it will permit the anti-
Semite to be the determinant of
our Jewishness. He will deter-
mine when we choose to be
Jews, when we proclaim our-
selves to be Jews, and how
loudly and how proudly we do it.
This cannot be. There must be a
positive attachment to what we
are. We have become "reactive"
Jews. We react to stimuli —
usually, the stimuli of the
threat of the goyim.
Some more thoughts on our
children: there are thousands
upon thousands of young Jews
who, out of apathy, have opted
to do nothing. Pure apathy.
Judaism? It is not their "thing,"
it is "not their bag." They have
nothing to do with organized
religion of any kind. They are

LUBAVITCH FOUNDATION

not interested. Of those
thousands upon thousands,
many go off in search for mean-
ing. Thus, you have the appear-
ance of the Raji Neesh in Ore-
gon, of the young Jews who are
Buddhists, the "Jews for Jesus,"
etc. Of all the non-Orientals
who believe in quasi-Oriental
modes of worship, the largest
portion of them are Jews; the
largest single group! Why is
that? It is our failing; because
we have become obsessed with
membership drives and with
buildings and with structured
things.
Young kids hanker for
ecstasy. When was the last time
any of you heard "ecstasy" men-
tioned in conjunction with
Judaism? Some of the kids go
crazy on the dance floor with
the rock bands, because it whips
them into a simulated ecstasy.
Others seek ecstasy in drugs,
and wherever ... not knowing
that we Jews also have corners
where ecstasy has never died.
Lubavitch is exactly that
corner. Anyone who has ever
been to a farbrengen (hassidic
gathering) at 770 Eastern
Parkway in Brooklyn knows
that we take a back seat to
no-one when it comes to ecstasy
— Jewishly expressed. In song,
in dance, in movement ... and
in philosophy — because in be-
tween the singing at the far-
brengen is when the Rebbe
(Head Rabbi of Lubavitch)
speaks. By now there are
thousands of young Jews who
have become baalei teshuva (re-
turners to Judaism) precisely
because they caught that
ecstasy for Judaism from
Lubavitch.
The Rebbe's wisdom under-
stood that, no matter how big or
small the "Chabad House," how
luxurious or austere, locate them
on the campus or at the edge of
campus . . . and don't close it's
doors. Kids want counsel, then

give them counsel; if they want
to "davven," let them "davven;"
If they want to eat kosher, let
them eat kosher. But KEEP
THE DOORS OPEN. Jewish in-
stitutions close; Lubavitch
doesn't close.
I know that there has been a
great deal of controversy of late
and a polarization of the Jewish
community here because of cer-
tain injudicious statements pub-
lished in the press. Apparently,
certain extremist groups had
said (or had been understood to
say) that some conservative and
reform Jews are not really to be
considered Jews at all.
Lubavitch happens to be
diametrically opposed to that
kind of view. I have never
known Lubavitch not to reach
out to a Jew — no matter what
he or she is, whether conserva-
tive, reform, or a Jew who never
does anything religiously. To
them, a Jew is a Jew; he is
entitled to be touched, to be ap-
proached, to be engaged in a
dialogue, in a heart-to-heart
talk.
I cannot tell you my thoughts
on Lubavitch without sharing
my feelings about the Rebbe. He
is the most extraordinary and
charismatic person you might
ever hope to know or know ab-
out. A man not only steeped in
learning, possessing deep wis-
dom, but also one — and I don't
know when, if ever, he sleeps --
who finds time to give incredible
attention to details. I do not
think there is anything that
happens within the entire
purview of Jewish life with
which the Rabbe is not inti-
mately concerned. Not just
about Lubavitch (which alone
might occupy a person full time
but everything in the Jewish
world. A man who has as much
secular knowledge as religious
scholarship.
The Rebbe has understood
that the future has to be looked

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 20, 1985

to, rather than the past alone.
Too many Jews today have no
vision for the future. Lubavitch .
does. You may not agree with
them in all facets; after all,
"three Jews — four . opinions!"
but I am not talkirig to you to-
night about opinions, but about
saving lives ... figuratively,
and sometimes, literally! I know
that in this community, as well
as in practically every Jewish
community in America, there are
individual stories of chidlren's
lives having been saved because
of Lubavitch. That alone de-
serves attention. And it deserves
your looking into it.
Now, the fact is that I am still
not "there." I am not a chassid.
But I have a hankering after
the purity of those who know,
after the calm inner "certain-
ness" that they radiate — and
with which I know they can
survive the storm better than I.
I know where my failing is; I
cannot change the nature of
theatre, and I cannot change the
nature of film — although I do
try. What I will not do is change
my reverence and my respect for
those who have understood to
preserve what I am able to ...
(not well enough, anyway).
And if you ask, from where do
I inherit this hankering, this
passion?1 guess from my very
name, if you will allow me to
close on a personal note. I am a
kohain. My great, great grand-
father, when forced to take a
family name, did not want to
call himself "Cohen" because
there were already two on the
street. So he opened the Torah-
book he was studying at the
time, and placed his finger on
the page at random. It landed
on a phrase that said Beit Yis-
ra'el Kadosh Lashem, "The
House of Israel is holy to G-d."
He strung the first letters of
each of those four words to-
gether ... and that's my name,
"BIKEL."

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