Interview With Journalist and YouTuber Shloime Zionce: “In a Perfect World, I Too Would Be A Shliach”
Shloime Zionce is a renowned journalist, YouTuber, and travel writer who works for Ami Magazine. He is presently in the process of releasing a new video series on five Shluchim spread across the globe.
Q. You have become perhaps one of the only Orthodox Jewish traveling journalists, can you give our readers a quick overview of your journey and how you got here?
A. My world travels began long before I began working for Ami Magazine.
Traveling has been a hobby of mine for over ten years, and my original goal was to visit fifty countries. But I soon realized that it’s a little too easy these days to reach that number, so I had to raise the goal.
Shortly after I got married, I met someone by the name of Jake Turx, who also works for Ami Magazine. He made introductions, and I began working at Ami as a regular writer, not as a travel writer. I was writing local stories in Israel where I live.
Eventually, I took a vacation to Thailand and wrote about it in Ami. It was received so well that Ami began sending me on trips.
So although I didn’t go into the job as a travel journalist, that is where I ended up.
Q. Your most recent series, which is still coming out in installments, is focused on Chabad Shluchim around the world, can you give us some background on it and how it came to be?
A. For a long time I have been fascinated by the Rebbe’s Shluchim and the work they do. Especially since they are spread out across the entire world.
A while back I had this idea that I should visit every Chabad House in the world. Then I realized that there were hundreds if not thousands in so many different countries, that even if I somehow found the time and the funding to visit every Chabad House in the world and document it, by the time I finished, there would be a bunch of new Chabad Houses that weren’t around when I started. So I would be back to square one and basically, it would be an impossible goal to reach.
So I pretty much gave up on that. So instead I thought maybe I should visit a Chabad House in every country, maybe one in every continent. I wanted to do something online to show people what Shlichus is all about.
This past summer I got a call from Nachi Gordon who runs Meaningful Minute. He is a great guy running a great organization. He said he wanted to do some collaboration with me.
We were making small talk, seeing where we could go with this, and I mentioned my idea of visiting every Chabad House in the world. He said, it’s not really possible, but how about you start out with five and see where it goes.
So last month, Boruch Hashem, we launched the Endurance of a Jew. We did Mumbai India, we did Montana, and we still have Dubai, Russia, and Morocco. A lot of exciting stuff coming down the pipeline.
Watch: Episode #1, Episode #2 of “The Endurance of a Jew”
Q. So what is your connection with Chabad?
A. The truth is that I did not grow up with Chabad.
My first memory of Chabad was spending Shabbos at 770 Chabad Gate in Thornhill Ontario, where I grew up and where my parents live.
My grandparents live in Thornhill, while my parents live in another area called “down south”. At least once a month we would go to Thornhill for Shabbos where my father liked to – and still likes to – daven by Chabad shabbos morning.
We wouldn’t daven with the upstairs main minyan, instead davening downstairs with Rabbi Yosef Simcha Gansburg. and the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of Chabad is Rabbi Gansburg’s minyan in the basement of 770 Chabad Gate.
A very special yid and Geshmake Chossid, Gansburg was my first interaction with the whole concept of Chabad.
Later, when I got married and started traveling a lot, I ended up in Bangkok, Thailand by Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm for Shabbos. After Shabbos, my whole perception of Chabad and Shlichus changed.
I always had a good perception of Chabad, but then it was taken to a whole new level where I understood what it means that a person trains their entire lives to go to a place and spread Yiddishkeit. Then they get up and go, and never come back. They are out there 24/7, 365 days a year spreading the word of Hashem and interacting with Jews of all different stripes, colors, shapes, and sizes.
I can honestly tell you that after that shabbos I wanted to drop everything I was doing and become a Shliach.
I realized that it was not going to be possible, so I decided to become a Shliach in my own way.
Q. As a traveling journalist, you really get to see so many different views than we see from Crown Heights, or whichever first-world country we may be in. So from your perspective, how is Chabad viewed differently in other places? Is there the segregation that we see here in New York between Chabad and others?
A. In my experience and in my opinion, Chabad is very much accepted and appreciated in New York City, in the tri-state area, and in all established Frum communities.
In the past, since the founding of Chasidus till today, there have always been periods of difficulty between people who are Chassidim and people who are not Chassidim. But I believe that it is something that is going away, and we are seeing much more unity in Klal Yisroel.
But as much as Chabad is excepted and loved in New York City, for example, I feel that outside in other communities, they are even more loved and accepted. I think honestly that the further away you go, the more love and acceptance there is for Chabad. I think the reason is that in New York City Chabad is a very big community, but it is just one of the big communities. In many places across the world, Chabad is the Jewish community, that’s all there is.
There is a ton of love and appreciation for Chabad, and I want to see all of Klal Yisroel united.
Q. I know you are not that old, but have you seen a change in how Chabad is viewed among other Jewish people? And if yes, what do you think is the driving force behind the change?
A. As I mentioned before, the way Chabad is viewed is just getting better and better.
Today we live in a world where anyone can go anywhere at any time, very easily and very cheaply.
In the old days, from the beginning of time, travel was a complicated thing. If you wanted to go somewhere, you basically walked or went on a horse or a camel, and it would take weeks, months, or years.
Today, it takes a few minutes. You book yourself a ticket on a bus or plane, and it takes maximum 18 hours, you are on the other side of the world.
What that has done is allow many Jewish people to move and travel, and any Jewish person who travels a lot has no choice but to love Chabad. Where else do you find a Shul, Kosher food, a Mikvah?
Chabad is there for every yid, and at this point, I am sure that every yid knows that Chabad is there for them. This brings out a lot of Ahavas Yisroel.
Another thing I am trying to change is misconceptions about Chabad through the “Endurance of a Jew” series. I want the work of the Rebbe’s Shluchim to be recognized once and for all even by people who stay home and have never traveled. They should understand what it means to be a Shliach, to be helped by a Shliach, and to have a Shliach in their area. Knowing that having a Shliach means someone is there who cares for you and will help you with whatever you need.
I want to spread that message across the world because I feel that the shluchim deserves more appreciation.
Q. With many young Lubavitchers looking to head out on Shlichus across the globe, is there any advice you would give them? Any chizuk that you want to share?
A. I don’t think I am qualified to give advice, these people have been training for this their entire lives.
The only thing I would say is to keep doing what you are doing and follow in the footsteps of those who have done it before you. There are so many great Shluchim all over the world. Keep it up as Klal Yisroel really needs you.
As for Chizuk, I have been all over the world to so many different Chabad Houses, meeting so many amazing Shluchim and Shluchos. So many amazing experiences I have had there, so much inspiration.
As I mentioned before, I had a moment in my life where I wanted to be a Shliach, although it was not possible at least in the traditional way. My Chizuk would be to say that they give me Chizuk, I was inspired to emulate them, and in a perfect world, I too would be a Shliach.
Very iinspirational! I am so glad that a non Chabadnik is spreading the truth and light of our overworked understaffed and underpaid Shluchim. Hopefully he wll also encourage the vsitors to Chabad Huses to leave a GENEROUS check! There is no money tree in their ackyards