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Op-Ed: Chabad is Not a Humanitarian Organization

“The other day I heard someone say Chabad was ‘a humanitarian Jewish organization.’ I cringed” writes Baila Olidort, the Director of Communications at Chabad-Lubavitch Headquarters. “Today we speak of social good and humanitarian causes as if they are millennial values. We are uneasy talking about things that aren’t politically correct, like G-d, chosenness, intermarriage, or the rituals and practices that identify us as Jews.”

by Baila Olidort – Lubavitch.com

There is no remembrance of former things . . . And I hated all my labor wherein I labored under the sun, seeing that I must leave it unto the man that shall be after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Ecclesiastes 2:18

The other day I heard someone say Chabad was “a humanitarian Jewish organization.” I cringed. She had just come from an event promoting a “groundswell of transformative social good.” One of the stage props was a larger-than-life photo of the Rebbe.

The Rebbe was being honored on a platform of social goodness. Many know his emissaries as the rabbis who run “relief centers” around the world. Who hasn’t seen photos of them wading through floodwaters, throwing out lifelines and handing out water bottles when tornadoes and tsunamis strike. Why carp?

It’s true that among everything else they do, the Rebbe’s shluchim do these things too. The preponderance of goodness and kindness that Chabad has generated around the world cannot be gainsaid. It’s made Chabad a household name, and its representatives the go-to people for anyone who needs help anywhere in the world.

Maybe it rankles because those of us who experienced the Rebbe in his lifetime feel protective of his vision, and to think Chabad a humanitarian organization seems a misunderstanding of his legacy. It’s now 22 years since the Rebbe’s passing, and as Chabad evolves its model to meet Jewish life in the 21st century, we want to ensure its integrity and prevent misconceptions about our core identity.

When I was growing up in the 1960s, most of the Chasidim were Russian immigrants. (Back then we all called it “Lubavitch” after the town in Russia where the movement had begun. We called ourselves “Lubavitchers,” and the first centers that opened—in London, Melbourne, and Minnesota—were named “Lubavitch Houses.” Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters was simply “770.”)

The people in our neighborhood were mostly survivors. We could see that their suffering and loss were personal to the Rebbe. When he alluded to the world that had gone up in flames, his Chasidim felt his pained breath. We sensed pathos in his desire to revive from the smoldering ashes. Things would get better for the Jewish people, he promised. He would would stop at nothing so that Jews no longer hide in fear. We will be proud. We will even sing.

As the second generation adapted, it lost some and gained some. But the Rebbe taught us to hold fast to our Yiddishkeit—a word that had precious resonance. He made us proud to live as Jews. He even taught us to sing about it. As Elie Wiesel said in an interview (Lubavitch International June/July 2012), the Rebbe did more than anyone else to make it better for the Jews.

Today we speak of social good and humanitarian causes as if they are millennial values. We are uneasy talking about things that aren’t politically correct, like G-d, chosenness, intermarriage, or the rituals and practices that identify us as Jews. And now, with the possibility of reaching so many so quickly—a dream come true for Chabad—we have to be careful not to sanitize our mission statement.

Because for all the Rebbe’s universal appeal, it needs to be said that his agenda was to strengthen Jewish observance among Jews and to refine the world for all humankind through the dissemination of the seven Noahide Laws. In his words, our objective is “To make our world a dwelling place for the Divine.”

For all its success adapting to modernity and the new communications, Chabad is not a New Age invention. It grows out of a long tradition of Jewish piety that sought to deepen our spiritual experience and elevate our existence. It spans more than two hundred years, and thousands before that, going back to Sinai. Trends will come and trends will go, but this, we believe, will remain forever.

On the third of Tammuz (June 12) 1994, many thought Chabad’s best days were behind it. But today, a different story unfolds. It’s a story about the Rebbe’s inventive project that hit its stride in the last two decades. It’s a story about the Rebbe’s shluchim, the carriers of his vision, and the mitzvahs they do to make the world better. More holy. More G-dly.

Baila Olidort is Director of Communications at Chabad-Lubavitch

21 Comments

  • 2. Chaim wrote:

    As an anash member i am shocked at how low shluchim will go for $. Yes they need it to fund the chabad- house, however its gone too far for too long. Accountability is needed, mentors, mashpiyim, should be assigned to shluchim like any other corporate structure. Being free-spirit is great in the modern lubavitch world, not for lubavitchers. Yes i do mivsoyim every week, i pay my way through doing the rebbers holy work with out asking a dime.

    • 3. Reply wrote:

      I’m so impressed you go on Mivtzoyim and don’t ask for a dime. Myself & most Shluchim I know work hard for every dime & have to go far (of course without going against halacha and the Rebbe’s hadracha) Show potential supporters what we do & eventually supporters become part of our family. They are not supporters but they are our partners & the Rebbe’s partners. They know that the support helps us do functions & put bread on our table.

  • 4. Yasher Koach wrote:

    Simple and straight to the point, yet written out so eloquently. We aren’t “humanitarian millenials”, rather our efforts are an OUTCOME of our Ahavas Yisroel, Ahavas Hashem and Ahavas HaTorah which all lead us to trying everything we can to make a Dirah Betachtonim.

  • 5. Confused BT wrote:

    I was lucky enough to become religious in a city that had a big frum anash so I had several positive role models. The many of the shluchim were poor, eirliche and had true mesiras nefesh. But what struck me was in their humble homes they served feasts for anyone and everyone who stopped by. They seemed regal in their tattered clothes. They lived to help community.
    Fast forward 15 years later. somethings changed with the younger shluchim, it’s all about money and fundraising. Bigger grander Shuls and loads of cookie cutter events. Chabad has turned into a billion dollar corporation! In my new south Florida community all the shluchim wear the latest fashions not up to tznius standards, interior decorated homes but no guests, many of the shluchim have other careers to pay for more of their lavish lifestyles. I even heard a local shaliach complain at shul that the shul doesn’t pay him enough. Is shluchos now a career? One local shlucha repeatedly describes herself as a community center director, now that’s millennial for you.
    Chabad does great social work and holds great events but it feels like watered down Judaism. I wish they could get back to their roots and not worry so much about PR and fundraising

    • 6. Pedant wrote:

      “I wish they could get back to their roots and not worry so much about PR and fundraising.”

      They can’t, that’s their role. BT need to look into where they are coming from and cleave to *that*

      A BT needs to outgrow the Chabad house.

      The problems you describe have nothing to do with an over-focus on fund-raising. Many Shluchim focus the lion’s share of their time on fund raising and manage to maintain their sense of purpose. The problems you’ve described are because there are in fact numerous modern shluchim who do not well carry the mantel.

      They aren’t that numerous, but they are out there, especially in places where every young couple would love love love to do shlichus, even if they could not care less about shlichus, lol, don’t look for mesiras nefesh in Florida…

      In this darkest time of night before the dawn, you need look deeper.

      The Shluchim just maintain the supply lines — you need to look upstream for your motivation.

      Rebbe and Torah are the inspiration.

  • 9. Original wrote:

    I often differ from this author and her employer, “Lubavitch News”, but this is a valuable piece that needs reiterating.
    This is excellent.
    Thank you

  • 10. no one special wrote:

    I don’t understand what this article is intended to convey.

  • 11. best mashpia wrote:

    south florida is the armpit for shluchim….
    they lower the standards of lubavitch chasidishkeit

  • 12. Moshiach!? wrote:

    The Rebbe’s agenda was MOSHIACH. Say it! no need for avoiding it with New age phrases. Lubavitch.com and Mrs. Olidort can do it

  • 15. Ariela Treviso wrote:

    Confused BT hit it right on the nose. I am speaking only for myself and from personal experience. When the Chabad House started up in my local area it was GREAT!!! but the bigger it got the joy somehow went right out the window; I was very involved but not anymore. Don’t misunderstand me–I get the fact that organizations need money to operate as we live in a cash based society but do we really need to see a plaque with the name of the person who gave the Mechitza? What ever happened to modesty? Is it necessary to commercially broadcast our mitzvahs like an advertisement in the newspaper? The impression I have now is that only gantze machers truly count–the rest of us are just prost yidden and are merely tolerated.

    • 16. Pedant wrote:

      Right. You need to outgrow the shul. It is sad, but if a silly plaque is what it takes to have the right mechitza then you need a stupid plaque.

      BT outside the Jewish centers tend to look to the shul as a place for inspiration, and I suppose it can be, especially when the focus of the shul leaders is on getting people simply to come, but after some point, some shuls become an established piece of infrastructure that requires a life time of dedication just to maintain, after which point the shul stops being a place for inspiration. The true inspiration is between covers of your siddur and the covers of those books gathering dust on the shul library.

      The truth is that right about the point where managing the shul and fundraising becomes the shliach’s full time occupation is where another shliach should be brought in. That shliach should *not* necessarily be related to existing shliach but should be someone qualified to act as mashpia.

      The community should create a fund and take responsibility to hire this person and commit to paying him a living wage, which means that his salary along with his wife’s should provide an home and tuition and health care and basic necessities. If it’s truly a living wage, that accommodates inflation and the growth of his family he can be forbidden from fund-raising and be dedicated to nothing other than learning and teaching torah.

      Until that happens, and the shliach needs to beg to keep the lights on, you can expect more and more of his time to be dedicated to the ‘machers’ of the community. It’s a shame but golus is shver.

  • 17. SoCal shliach wrote:

    BT and others have missed the excellent point entirely.

    I am a diehard career lubavitcher. I am more thaan that but I won’t identify myself further.
    I’ve been around the world. And seen the amazing work of the amazing family of shluchim.
    But, the fact (and it is a fact) that we are constantly being identified and labeled a social org. Is very painful
    Last summer I spent shabbos in a certain city in Europe known as being a popular sighseeing destination.
    I called the shliach (slightly related to my wife) and asked about minyan times and kosher etc.
    He begged me to come eat in chabad house Friday night.
    I agreed and asked how much? He said “free” (I ended up leaving a very nice donation)
    Against my better judgement I went and the place was packed with Jews from all over the world
    He gave a nice meal and asked me to say a dvar torah which I did.
    The people there rudely asked me to sit down so they can get on with the meal.
    They were not at the minyonim – not shabbos and not Sunday.
    They were for the most part ungraicious and there only for the food.
    I’ve seen this dozens of times.
    Some chabad shluchim (ie venice @ gam gam) at least are smart and opened a kosher rest and charge and it is takeh a nice thing.
    But ask people who travel the world what they think of chabad?
    They will invariably mention the food and other services we provide
    It sickens me and disgusts me
    Yes- this is a way to make some sorely needed funds.
    Yes- having Israeli and American tourists eat kosher and a shabbos meal is really nice
    But is this why these dear precious shluchim go three time zones away from civilization?
    To give a modern ortho west side ferd a piece of chicken???

  • 18. just a jew... wrote:

    “….To give a modern ortho west side ferd a piece of chicken???” You might be a “diehard career lubavitcher”, whatever that is. But anyone who refers to a Jew – any Jew – in the manner you do, hasn’t integrated the Rebbe’s chasidus yet. Maybe the problem is that you see yourself as a “career Lubavitcher”.

  • 19. A Mendel wrote:

    Maybe the reason there is not one sensible comment, is because shluchim are busy doing the rebbe’s work and have to time for this idiocy.

    Have you learnt any of the rebbe’s sichos?
    what does making this world a dwelling place mean?
    do you know what is the common theme of the 7 noahide laws?
    does fundraising not equal tzedakah/building a connection?

    The point is that people see what they want to see, so if youre seeing so much negativity, maybe you should focus on strengthening your beliefs, actually wanting to live according to them.

    Go spend a week with a shliach, or take a shliach over for a week, maybe you’ll get a better understanding of what’s really happening.

    I wish us all to be in tune to our rebbe’s wishes and directives

    • 20. Pedant wrote:

      Lol I am a shliach, get over yourself.

      There are absolutely shluchim about whom everything said here (and more) is true (to put it lightly).

      There are ‘farmers’ in Crown Heights superior in avoidas Hashem to many vaunted shluchim, take a look at who is going into chinuch vs who is going to work for shverrr running the teen program (when he isn’t doing hashgocho..)

      Not every shliach is living a life of mesiras nefesh nor is everyone who didn’t get a place a grub yung farmer.

      To put it bluntly not every jobnick who moves in with schver or tatty in Cali or Florida a magical oived automatically in line with our Rebbe’s directives. Save the hype for the kinus.

  • 21. SoCal wrote:

    A “farmer” ?
    A “grub young farmer”?
    A jobnik ?

    Plz see following comment ( sure to come) re learning the Rebbes mamorim.

    This wasn’t a discussion about shluchim. And the nepotism/regal -relaxed life that is so pervasive. Although I see everything right with children coming back to help their what their parents worked so hard to build.
    The article brought to light a sore point in our core philosophy
    Are we out there to merely
    (note the word merely – because, of course a Jews gashmutis is important so is Seudas Shabbos – the issue is to what level)
    Offer tourists and travelers a kosher kitchen or is it more than that
    Why is it that whenever there is a discussion of shluchim and Chabad half a world away it’s always about the meal they provided and not about the mikveh they built with such difficulty or the families they inspired.
    It’s always about the food or the bed.
    Why when these same writers talk about other “outreach” organizations it is invariably about the shiur or the shabbaton or the ruchnuyus??
    Maybe someone can answer that?

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