Op-Ed: Why Expanding 770 is Close to My Heart (and Should Be to Yours)
by Rabbi Chanan Krivisky
In 5759, just shy of my 23rd birthday, I came to 770 for the first time in my life.
Despite living in the long shadow of 770, growing up in Metro-NY, and seeing the Rebbe repeatedly on TV (as well as the Rebbe publicly living in my secular Jewish, New Yorker, American consciousness) I had never been to 770, nor met the Rebbe.
I didn’t get connected to Chabad “through a Shliach” or other conventional methods, so the first time I came to 770, I had no idea what to expect. Perhaps because I was so open and unconventional myself, I was not overwhelmed by the experience.
I do remember being welcomed warmly by Kabbalas Shabbos, and I definitely recall the close quarters teeming with Yidden. One funny yet poignant anecdote was when my Shabbos host (a friend’s father) who was definitely not a Mishichist, pushed me into the Yechi dancing during Kabbalas Shabbos, back when they used to go around the bima. I guess he thought it would give me chayos as a young baal teshuva dude. As we danced, and I noticed the faces of some of the older, more stoic baale battim impatiently waiting for the dancing to end, my host suddenly whispered in my ear, “This is the most controversial song in the Jewish world right now!” And here I am, thrown right in the middle of it! I was somewhat nervous, but thought that if he was doing it, it’s gotta be okay with everyone else here. In retrospect, it was quite hilarious.
Who would have thought that I would have the zechus to learn smicha there four years later?!
Everyone deserves to experience Beis Chayeinu as a model for growth in connection to Toras Chayim.
Fast forward to 2004.
Newly married, my father-in-law, a not-yet-frum Jew and no real fan of “Orthodoxy”, came to visit my wife and me in our first one-bedroom apartment three blocks from 770. I invited him to come with me to Kabbalas Shabbos in 770, and surprisingly, he agreed. I prepared him as best I could for the scene. After an especially hot and pushy davenen, we walked outside and I broke the silence with the question, “So, what did you think?”
His reply shocked me.
In his plain, matter-of-fact style, he sincerely said, “What can I say? These are my people.” He said it with a sense of simplicity and contentment, almost as if he had returned home.
770 should be a home for all Yidden, of all backgrounds, a true Kibutz Galuyos!
Fast forward 18 years.
As Shluchim on Long Island, one thing is for sure: New Yorkers outside of Crown Heights have such a diversity of impressions of Chabad, Lubavitch (often pronounced Lubavitch), Crown Heights and 770. They run the gamut from “a run-down old shtetl in Brooklyn” to “the center of world Jewry.”
(I even met a guy from Vilna in his late 80’s who had never even heard of the Rebbe; he only knew the Frierdiker Rebbe. When I showed him pictures of a leibedik “new” Rebbe in 770, filled with Chassidim, he almost plotzed!)
Over the years, we’ve heard it all.
We heard impressions from our college students from Rockland County on our previous Shlichus, when we attended the 2nd Annual Chabad on Campus Shabbaton with 27 kids.
We’ve also heard varied impressions from our annual trip with our current baalei battim or on our recent Tefillin Club trip to 770 and Crown Heights.
Our Tefillin Club was in the famous WLCC room; 11 guys from Long Island on a tour by Rabbi Halberstam. One of my baalei battim, an engineer from Plainview, was looking closely at the equipment. On one of the telephone connections to the Rebbe’s farbrengens, he noticed an old plastic label-maker label strip that said “Plainview, NY”! How’s that for a 770 connection?!
Every Jew has a connection to 770 through the hafotzas hamaayanos of all the Shluchim and Chassidim of the Rebbe. We need to make it an expressed reality.
That brings us to Lindsay*. Her children went to our backyard camp during the summer of Covid, and they have attended many events at Chabad House over the years. It turns out that she works in a special-needs children’s school in Crown Heights that mostly services the non-Jewish population. She drives in from Syosset to Crown Heights (mirroring our own commute for the last 14 years) and had never stepped foot in 770! She had done some food and Judaica shopping on Kingston Avenue, but never went into the center of it all—for no apparent reason she could put a finger on.
So my wife took her to 770 one day, and she was shocked!
Lindsay said that she was expecting some regal synagogue and to be overawed by its splendor, as well as to feel wholly uncomfortable as a fish out of water as the only secular Jew (even though she dressed modestly for the occasion). She told us that she was wrong on both accounts, for good reason. She said that she loved the understated humility of the place, and also felt extremely comfortable, without judgment, and could pray with clarity. She jokes, “Did it need a few upgrades? For sure!”
Needless to say, thanks to this trip to 770, she now feels more connected to the Rebbe and to our Shlichus than ever before.
Imagine if 770 already had the upgrades, and more people could have this experience?! Imagine if you and your family could have this experience?
I am sure that all of Anash, and even mekuravim, can relate to these experiences and have many of their own.
I’m sitting in my Chabad House and see this new campaign: Expand 770. At the time I thought it was a great idea—it was about time! I planned on making a donation when I would get my credit card in my office. During that busy day, it slipped my mind. It bothered me that I didn’t pull the trigger on the donation immediately, as I like to do when I have the opportunity.
My wife and kids came in from an especially long commute where they got home at 6:30 p.m. In the early evening, my wife told me that she took one of my eldest daughters to 770 for Mincha, and my wife shared her heavy heart with me.
She was so conflicted because, on the one hand, my wife considers 770 to be the Holy of Holies and feels the Rebbe so deeply there—and wants to share it with her girls. On the other hand, she sees it through their eyes. They get it, but they don’t like it. It feels rundown, smelly, and filled with all manner of “characters” and “character traits”—and my wife empathizes with their discomfort.
So I immediately turned to my wife, opened up my phone… Baruch HaShem! There is an answer! Here… Expand 770 online had launched that very morning!
We all felt as though the Rebbe was answering us and is with us.
I showed the campaign and our donation to our children; not to boast, but to lead them by example. Our home went into full farbrengen mode about 770 with youngest to oldest asking questions, giving ideas, and with Chassidishe excitement and anticipation. It was palpable.
They know the value of 770, as Chassidim having grown up in Crown Heights moisdos. They know the value of 770 to Mommy and Totty as baalei teshuvah (and acquired in our own yeshiva days.) They know the value of 770 to our baalei battim and the powerful impression it leaves on them. Most of all, they know the centrality of 770 in their lives and in the Rebbe’s vision for Beis Rabbeinu ShebeBavel! May it not remain in Bavel one more moment!
P.S. That’s not the end of the story; more revelations awaited us the next morning. There’s a connection between Expand 770 and expanding your own Chabad House.
At 5:00 a.m. that morning, I received an exciting email from a community member about our own project that had been a long time coming. We had been working for years on securing our own “cheilik” of 770—a central building for our community. We’ve had our eye on a certain building that would be ideal, and the email joyously stated that a major obstacle that had caused a three-year delay had been overcome! Not to say that anything is guaranteed, but let us just say that now the race is on between our moisad and “Expand 770” as to which gets built first.
May the Beis HaMikdash HaShlishi be built first and immediately!
*Name has been changed