It’s Chabad vs. a congregation near you

Many times in recent years, I’ve heard rabbis or synagogue officials express concern over the growth of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect in the northern suburbs.

The concern is always the same: Chabad offers cheap religious programming — holiday celebrations, schools for youngsters, etc. — that is very attractive to unaffiliated Jewish families that don’t want to pay pricey synagogue dues.

That don’t want to pay pricey synagogue dues.

That’s the key.

Something like half the Jews in Westchester don’t belong to synagogues. Therefore, synagogues are always plotting how to attract a small percentage of all those available families.

The biggest obstacle for many — not all, but many — is the dues. We’re talking several thousand dollars a year.

For many families that could go either way, then, Chabad presents an attractive and affordable alternative.

The Chabad movement, based in Crown Heights and located around the world, is committed — in an existential way — to bringing home Jews who have lost their way. In numerous New York communities, Chabad rabbis and their wives work fulltime to provide accessible programming for Jews who might otherwise stay home and watch Seinfeld reruns.

So I was fascinated to read a long piece in The Jewish Week that teases out one such showdown between Chabad and established Jewish congregations.

It’s in Oceanside, Long Island, where a weekly Chabad school for Jewish youngsters has taken a lot of kids away from more traditional synagogue programs.

The ironic part is that the synagogues say that Chabad offers a less intensive, less well-rounded Jewish education — just so it can get Jews through the doors.

One “competing” rabbi explains: “Chabad has led to a diminution of Jewish education in this community. I still have a two-day Hebrew school and I’m under attack from my members [to cut back to one day a week]. … I’m not blaming Chabad for everything bad in the community, but Chabad was a catalyst.”

Chabad Rabbi Levi Gurkov did not mince words: “When I came to Oceanside I placed a phone call to every rabbi here. Some were receptive; some were not because they felt I was coming to shake up the community. They had had a great run, and now someone new was coming and they couldn’t do their job and their sermons by rote anymore.”

Ouch. This could get ugly.

Should have seen that dancing rabbi

Did you catch any of the Chabad Telethon yesterday?

I was between football games when I came across the annual telethon, at least a portion of which was hosted by Larry King. It was on Channel 9, I think.

I’ve seen bits and pieces of the telethon before, which the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic sect uses to raise money for a variety of social programs. The interesting thing is that they are able to attract lots of big name talent to the cause.

I always get a kick out of seeing people like King introducing acts and working the phones with black-hatted, long-beared Chabad rabbis (who always seem so energetic and excited).

According to Chabad: “Past participants include Bob Dylan, Martin Sheen, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Dennis Franz, Anthony Hopkins, Howie Mandel, Jimmy Kimmel, Matisyahu, Edward James Olmos, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bernie Mac, and Mike Piazza.  The casts of numerous television shows, including ‘Friends’ and ‘Everyone Loves Raymond,’ have also made appearances.”

Yesterday, they had a dancing rabbi who danced for six straight hours while he answered questions about all the good work that Chabad does. Rabbi Yossi Cunin told that he trained with a celebrity trainer who is said to be responsible for LL Cool J’s physique.

Cunin said he was trying to demonstrate “joy in the extreme.”

Watch him train:

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‘Yes, we are all Chabadniks today’

I just came across a short but engaging column by Beliefnet’s Michael Kress about what those Chabad Lubavitch folks were doing in Mumbai, anyway. (The AP picture is of a funeral procession today near Tel Aviv.)

Kress explains:

Their mission is to bring Jews to Judaism; that is, to turn unaffiliated and non-Orthodox Jews into Orthodox Jews, or at least introduce to their lives some elements of Orthodox practice.

Most often, however, that mission is lived through keeping small Jewish communities alive and providing for Jews — residents and travelers — in far-flung places around the globe. Thousands of young Jewish families from Chabad spread out throughout the globe, live uncompromisingly traditional lives where there is little or no Jewish community, and provide food, education, sometimes lodging, and other assistance to the Jews around them — and hope to touch some souls in the process.

Kress is not an all-out Chabad fan, especially when it comes to the movement’s “fervent messianism” regarding their late Rebbe.

But he ends his thoughts by stating: “Yes, we are all Chabadniks today.”

You know what he means…