Leader of Reform Judaism Attends Kinus Banquet

Among the thousands of Chabad emissaries and lay leaders attending this year’s Kinus Hashluchim grand banquet was someone whose presence raised the eyebrows of those who noticed him. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, attended the banquet as a personal guest of Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky.

Ben Harris writes for the JTA:

Amid the dim lighting and sartorial conformity of Sunday night’s Chabad kinus, it’s normally pretty hard to find people. But after my table mate informed me that among the guests that night was the leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, it took only a quick glance across the room to locate the beardless Rabbi Rick Jacobs seated at a table near the stage.

It is almost certainly the first time that the leader of the Reform movement has attended a Chabad kinus. The event has been held for just 30 years, so only Jacobs’ two immediate predecessors — Rabbis Alexander Schindler and Eric Yoffie — could have attended. Yoffie never did. And the kinus was comparatively a tiny affair during Schindler’s tenure. (Schindler did, however, meet with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, according to Yoffie.)

When I approached Jacobs, who was standing alone by the stage as a sea of black-hatted men surged around him, he didn’t appear eager to probe the significance of his presence. He told me he had been invited by Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the head of Chabad’s educational arm, and had happily accepted. When I called the next day to inquire further, I was told Jacobs was in meetings all day.

“Rabbi Jacobs said that he was honored to be Rabbi Krinsky’s guest,” a URJ spokesperson emailed me. “He enjoyed the evening very much, and will leave further comment to his hosts.”

Chabad has been an object of both envy and criticism for Reform leaders.

In his installation sermon from 2012, Jacobs said that Reform Jews could “learn important lessons from Chabad about creating non-judgmental opportunities to experience Jewish practice and build sacred relationships.” He also vowed that his movement would no longer permit Chabad to operate on campus without competition.

Jacobs’ predecessor, Yoffie, also had some feelings on the subject of Chabad. In an article in Haaretz earlier this year, Yoffie noted Chabad’s obvious successes, not the least of which is the creation of a corps of devoted young rabbis unequaled in the Jewish world. But aside from their obvious parting of theological ways, Yoffie also took issue with Chabad’s rightward orientation on Israel, its strains of messianism, its cultivation of  wealthy individuals, and its promotion of what he called a “minimalist” Judaism with low expectations. (A Chabad official responded that there’s something a little rich about the head of a movement that has abrogated the commitment to many Jewish rituals to accuse an Orthodox group of lowering the religious bar.)

Mrs. Baila Olidort writes further on the subject at Lubavitch.com:

The Banquet Dinner: Chabad Draws Support From Unexpected Allies

With a guest list spanning the broad diversity of Jews from every denomination and political affiliation, at least 30% of the 5200 invited to Sunday night’s banquet dinner of the Annual International Conference of Shluchim were supporters and admirers of Chabad.

“Tonight was a unique event in the Jewish world, filled with spirit, enthusiasm and optimism,” said Michael Steinhardt. The financier and philanthropist, founder of Birthright Israel spoke pessimistically of the Pew study findings. By contrast, he told a lubavitch.com reporter, “When I look around here, I find this group to be a moment of spring in an otherwise depressing environment.”

Year after year larger venues are sought to accommodate the growing guest list of the now-famous banquet dinner. Planned specifically for Chabad Shluchim and their partners, organizers reluctantly cap the much coveted invites to this rare, larger-than-life experience. The event, observed Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, “gives us a glimpse of the vision of kibbutz galuyot [the ingathering of exiles]. Here you have people from every strata of Jewish life unified by an overriding force.”

Elazar Stern, a Knesset Member in Hatnuah, Israel’s political liberal party led by Tzipi Livni, noted the large number of guests who were not Shluchim. “I don’t know if the Shluchim recognize how much support they really have for the difficult work they do,” he said. Speaking on the record, he told lubavitch.com: “I believe that the State of Israel ought to formally recognize shlichut [the outreach activities of Chabad emissaries] as part of its national service, and I am working on this.”

The Emissary’s Narrative

In the face of current handwringing about Jewish identity and Jewish continuity, Chabad’s Shluchim offered a persuasive antidote, evidence of the staying power of yiddishkeit and the possibility of defying statistical odds when motivated by the vision and fierce passion for Jewish life that drives them in their day-to-day lives.

Dov Greenberg, Chabad representative at Stanford University who delivered the keynote address, shared the narrative of Chabad Shluchim and the results of their stubborn persistence even when there seem to be no takers. He told the story of Louis, a Jew who fled Russia in the early 1900s.

“On the ship on his way to America he threw his tefillin overboard” hoping to leave his Jewish baggage behind in his quest to assimilate. In 1970, Louis’s grandson Stanley, a student at the University of Maryland, was approached by the Rebbe’s emissary, Rabbi Sholom B. Gordon, inviting him to wrap tefillin.

“Stanley refuses. Rabbi Gordon knocks again. Stanley says ‘go away!’ The rabbi keeps knocking.” Eventually, Greenberg says, Stanley agreed, if only to be rid of the annoying rabbi. One thing led to another and Stanley began to study Torah. “He shares what he learns with Sherry, a Jewish girlfriend. They get married and raise a Jewish family.”

The kicker came when the Stanford rabbi revealed that “Stanley and Sherry are my parents, Louis, my great grandfather,” and that he is one of four siblings who are serving as “the  Rebbe’s ambassadors at Chabad centers at campuses around the world.”

Illustrating the dramatic impact of one rabbi back in 1970 who refused to give up on one individual, Greenberg observed that he and his siblings, each at their respective campus, “reached 392 students at our Shabbat campus dinners last week.”

But, he told his now fascinated audience, “What is exceptional about the story is that it is not exceptional. It is the story of Chabad in our time.”

The Power of One

If ever the Rebbe’s call that “no Jew be left behind” seemed an unrealistic fantasy, Chabad Shluchim are making a strong case for its plausibility. Last year, 86,000 Jewish students visited 200 Chabad campus centers around the world. There are about 4000 Chabad centers worldwide, and new ones open at a steady pace.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism shared a table with Rabbi Krinsky. “It’s inspiring to be with a group of Jewish leaders who feel so passionately about bringing the love of yiddishkeit and the life of commitment to the widest possible circle,” he told lubavitch.com. “It’s a privilege to be in this circle, and to talk with Rabbi Krinsky about what is really challenging the Jewish people.”

Nearly 20 years after his passing, the Rebbe, his inspiration palpably felt in the hall, continues to fire the imagination of his emissaries. He was on the mind of guest speaker Joseph Lieberman, former US senator (D) from Connecticut.

“This is probably the largest crowd I’ve had the honor to address since I accepted the Vice Presidential nomination in LA in 2000,” he said looking out at the 5,000-plus crowd that filled the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal.

Days before the banquet, the Terminal was revamped into an elegant space for one of the largest sit-down dinners anywhere. Crystal chandeliers hung from elegantly draped ceilings, and a rotating stage with 360 exposure and LED screens strategically positioned, gave guests sitting anywhere in the cavernous hall comfortable viewing of the speakers.

A Reason to Dance

Lieberman reminisced about his relationship with Chabad going back to his first forays into politics, and the direction and blessings he took from the Rebbe. “He was a leader with a mission who convinced people to bring the world as close as possible to perfection, by doing mitzvahs one at a time.” The former senator shared anecdotes about the Rebbe’s tefillin and Shabbos candle lighting campaigns during his many years in Washington, and the effect of these individual mitzvahs, ultimately on society at large.

“I believe that those candles that Chabad lit in the FSU are what helped bring about the collapse of the Soviet Union and brought about the end of communism,” said Lieberman, who began his career in the Senate during those tumultuous days.

Loathe to rest on their laurels, Chabad Shluchim take away new ideas to advance Jewish engagement. Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky announced an initiative focusing on Jewish youth empowerment through innovative programming geared to this demographic. Funding for the new initiative, he said, would be provided by an anonymous donor.

At the urging of his rabbi, Isaac Winer, an attorney from Palo Alto, stood up on a table when the 5000 guests took to the floor, dancing for joy at the privilege of being part of the Chabad phenomenon.

Winer was moved by the warmth that surrounded him. “I have never felt Jewish unity so powerful, so real. To see so many different kinds of people united as they were here, in genuine warmth and joy for yiddishkeit was an unusual experience.”

33 Comments

  • 2. very nice wrote:

    why do you call him a rabbi? i did not know he was one.
    is the fact that he is sitting there without a yarmulka, and the fact that being by the dinner probably gave him the opportunity to actually eat a kosher meal , what defines a rabbi by any chance.

  • 3. To #2- wrote:

    With a comment like that, I am not so sure you are even a fellow Jew. Why be so insulting? Rabbi Krinsky invited him. Open your heart and mind a bit. What do you think the Rebbe said about A Jew is a Jew?

    • 4. Milhouse wrote:

      As an individual, if his mother was Jewish (was she?) then he is a Jew, just like the former Catholic archbishop of Paris was a Jew; but he wasn’t there in his capacity as an individual, he was there in his capacity as the head of an organisation whose entire purpose is kefirah and waging war against Hashem and His Torah.

      Therefore it’s a mitzvah to insult this meisis umediach, and it is forbidden to call him a rabbi without scare quotes.

    • 5. very nice wrote:

      what does A have to do with B?
      no one is denying he is a jew. but since when does that give him official clerical status?
      what is worse is, that you legitimatizing the derech of the his denomination.

      or maybe you want me to open my mind to the extent that it falls out?

      he is not a rabbi.
      and he does not deserve the right to be recognized as such.

      to respect him as a individual yes, but as a clerical leader?

  • 6. what wrote:

    There was a shliach that could of solved the whole issue of mi yehudi. He met with the Head of reform at the time and worked things out. when he asked the rebbe if he should sign the agreement the rebbe responded “As long as you dont sign on a paper that calls … A rabbi”

  • 7. Ma Rabbi wrote:

    He should NOT have been invited. Not only is he the leader of a movement that denies the divinity of Torah
    but Rick Jacobs is a die hard leftist.
    He is a board member of both J Street and the New Israel Fund both organizations that want to see the creation of a Palestinian State R”L.
    He is so leftist that a group of reform jews took out a full page ad criticizing the reform movement for appointing him as leader.
    This is not something for Lubavitch to be proud of.

  • 8. Mottel wrote:

    #1&2
    Do you honestly think he wasn’t wearing a yarmulke? Really? I promise you he was.

  • 9. Friendship Only wrote:

    When I was growing up I questioned the Reform Rabbi at my parents’ synagogue why he attended the local church from time to time, especially when his attendance could be misunderstood. He answered that it was in his eyes merely as a sign of friendship, not as a worshipper, and to him it meant nothing more. Given that background it’s hard to read much into this attendance, as he very well might also attend a church the next night.

  • 10. unbelievable wrote:

    If i remember correctly the Rebbe did not meet with the reform leader at the time and to give him the same title as krinsky? Probably suits krinsky just fine.
    What a cherpa

  • 11. Kipa wrote:

    To those who were not there and don’t see a yarmulka on his head: In videos of him, only when he looks down or turns around do you see the small grey kipa on his head. The videos were not during “religious” services. When you were not there, It is ludicrous to claim he has no yarmulka in this picture, just because you can’t see it. Judge everyone favorably/ Give the benefit of the doubt. Even were someone to say he actually did not have one on, say it fell off without him noticing it. Just saying.

  • 13. noch a rabbi wrote:

    to call Rabbi Krinsky and Rick Jacobs a rabbi in one sentence is a travesty

  • 14. Amazing wrote:

    If any non-jewish person like a Politician would attend , they would have no problem out of respect to put on a yarmulke . Amazing truly Amazing.

  • 15. Amazing wrote:

    I bet when he goes to a Mosque he takes off his shoes and his wife covers her head .Amazing truly Amazing.

  • 16. Krinsky would never dare wrote:

    invite and sit with someone of this ilk in the times of the Rebbe. How can he lend any credibility at all to this man and what he represents which is the only reason he was invited and the #4 Rabbi allows himself to sit with this meshumad??

    No wonder shluchim these days don’t act much better. They have a very good role model to learn from.

  • 18. Please wrote:

    I can’t believe the vitriolic comments here which are devoid of Ahavas Yisroel.

    How many people were transformed from hating Torah and Jews, to becoming our greatest friends because of Chabad? How many shluchim today were once, themselves, ignorant or misguided Jews?

    Yes, his organization opposes Torah-true values and we must condemn and object to it. But it showed tremendous courage and respect for Chabad for him, as an individual, to attend – and we, in turn, should honor and respect that.

    A forty year old man once said – ‘if I saw a Torah scholar I would bite him like a donkey’ yet that man turned out to become Rabbi Akiva!

    • 19. very nice wrote:

      you already been answered too, in other responses.

      there is a basic difference between, being represented as an individual, or as a leader of a certain denomination.

  • 20. low expectations wrote:

    “Yoffie also took issue with Chabad’s cultivation of wealthy individuals, and its promotion of what he called a “minimalist” Judaism with low expectations.”

    This is unfortunately a true statement. kissing the tuches of rich and letting them drive to shul on shabbos for years and years without any growth expectation. A Bais Chabad sometimes feels no different than a reform shul.

  • 21. To all you Chauvinists wrote:

    Dear Chauvinists,

    You know who you are, those of you who think you are superior because of the breed of your baloney. With all do respect that is the foundation of a poor life. If you think that your answer is so right that you can disrespect others search for truth then you are a closed minded fool whose sum-total value is to troll the internet. Go home, learn to love, open your minds and in the process, say nothing.

    Your smug superiority is embarrassing to those of us who care about our fellow men, and Jews. You read that correctly, you can be the most pious, Hallachic Jew in the room and you are still a fundamental embarrassment if you mock the men and women of other denominations because you do not agree with them.

    So takes this as my request, and as my plea, go home. Stop embarrassing yourselves and me. Learn to have some humility, and to respect those around you, like Rabbi Krinsky. Then maybe you will be able to join the broader debate.

    With love in my heart,
    Voice of Reason

  • 22. Calm Down wrote:

    Alexander Shindler was brought by Rabbi Hershel Fogelman a’h to a fabrengen and the Rebbe was extremely pleased with his presence even commenting to Rabbi Fogelman by gan eiden hatachton “Naiye Birrurim”. The kinus is not the Rebbe’s fabrengen but it is most certainly an impressive way to show someone the global influence of Chabad. Rick Jacobs is a jew and last i checked we dont discriminate against any jew from any of our programs in Chabad Houses because we were sent by The Rebbe to positively impact every Jew we meet and bring them closer to yiddeshkeit.. so to those attacking Rabbi Krinsky for being mekarev a jew i say shame on you.. Thank you Rabbi Krinsky for leading by example as usual and showing us how no jew is to far from home.. in my humble opinion the Rebbe would have been and is most prob very proud!

  • 24. Yankel wrote:

    Alex Schindler who was a reform rabbi and leader of the reform movement he a attended as farbrengen as a guest.

  • 25. a bit of history wrote:

    In classic reform, no kippah was permitted. The concept was to be a Jew in one’s heart, minus any mitzos maasiyos. Today, reform has realized how much people love tradition, so they added it back. Men can choose to wear one, women can choose to wear one… but it’s still all up to the individual. whatever makes ya feel good, basically, is how they roll.

  • 26. #20 #22 wrote:

    #20 is a reform r-abbi 100%

    #22 I remember that farbrengen I was there. It is questionable if the Rebbe even ever looked at him. He stood there for quite a while and the word was that the Rebbe did NOT look at him. You can see the Rebbe looking at the other direction and quickly scanning his — I remember this like yesterday.

    The Nayeh Birurim comment was exactly the point made by the Rebbe — like — bug off with the “new type” of problem to my quarters.

    He asked for a private yechidus and was refused.

    and most important, what did Rabbi Fogelman accomplish with his friendship with that menuval ?? The Reform then and now is as far from real Judaism as ever. They do everything to undermine orthodoxy and befrat Chabad – so get your head out of the garbage.

  • 27. Reciprocity wrote:

    This kind of gesture can’t be reciprocated, because I doubt Rabbi Krinsky would accept an invitation to attend a Reform gathering.

  • 28. cht wrote:

    #2,
    that was just so shallow. if you can’t see beyond that, it makes me wonder if you have a gefil for the Rebbe’s inyonim in a full way, or not.
    I”m very excited that he was maskim to experience it, and that he did experience it!! This could really affect many reform type Jews Bezras HaShem

  • 29. ahavas yisroel to every Jew! wrote:

    As lubavitchers, of course a Jew is a Jew regardless of their affiliation and level of practice. And ahavas yisroel as defined by chassidus must apply.

    but inviting a reform leader who is invited and honoured because of his position (see the title of this article) goes beyond the pale of normative orthodox practice and the directives of the Rebbe.

    This is not just a Shaliach bringing a firend or mekurav. This gives recognition and credence to him not for being a Jew with a neshama, but to the group and their beliefs which he represents.

    The fact that he is referred to as ‘rabbi’ only further legitimises his standing as a leader of the faith and on equal footing with orthodox rabbonim.

    Our ahavas yisroel and open approach to all Jews, especially from the shluchim is a living example to all. but there are limits as to how this should be done and in what forum and manner of publicity. These are definitely shaalos one should ask a competent rov with halachic (as opposed to shlichus and people-skills) knowledge.

  • 30. It's close to Moshiach wrote:

    Today’s reform movement is more naive than hateful.

    We are so close to Moshiach and extreme kiruv is palpable.
    It is likely that Rabbi Krinsky knows something about the reform Rabbi, a soft spot he might have for us these days, and invited him with simple emunah that the Rabbi would be impressed with Hashem’s world.

    Let’s give Rabbi Krinsky AND his guest the benefit of the doubt.

  • 31. to #26 wrote:

    Your facts are off just look at the video and you will see.. following that fabrengen the Rebbe sent word to Mula Kaplan in Baltimore to get in touch with schindlers son who was at the fabrengen

  • 32. #31 wrote:

    what does kasha have to do with borscht?

    who mentioned this guys son or anything else.?

  • 33. Nosson wrote:

    Reform rabbis often visit churches and work with galochim. Maybe this one just saw the kinnus shluchim as one more interfaith event.

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