Beis Moshiach/Written by Nosson Avraham, Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry
It was early afternoon. The upholstered seats in the chamber of the Illinois State Senate were now filled as the final Senators entered. Sitting in the reserved section of the gallery were family members, prominent citizens, and close acquaintances, alongside many representatives of the local media. This was a festive day in Illinois state politics – the opening of the senate’s summer session. The invocation was made by none other than the Rebbe’s shliach in the state capital of Springfield – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Turen.
With measured steps and head held high, the young and vigorous shliach made his way to the podium of honor, as hundreds of pairs of eyes focused on him. Rabbi Turen began with a few words of blessing and then spoke about the importance of observing the Seven Noachide Laws, adding briefly the Rebbe’s prophecy of the True and Complete Redemption.
“Almighty G-d, I beseech you today to bless the Illinois State Senate, its participants, and the entire state of Illinois, in the merit of the spiritual giant of our time and our country, Melech HaMoshiach, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita, whom I have the privilege to represent here in Springfield. The Rebbe labored with great love, dedication, and self-sacrifice to make all mankind aware of Your sacred presence. May his inspiration be a blessing and shield for our government, state, and country.”
The shliach spoke proudly about the coming of Moshiach, quoting the words of the Prophet and encouraging his listeners to anticipate his imminent arrival. “May we experience now the fulfillment of humanity’s great future, as proclaimed by the Prophet Isaiah: ‘Nations will not lift the sword against nations, neither will they learn war anymore.’ With the coming of the Ultimate Redemption, through your True Messiah. Amen,” the shliach concluded.
SUCCESSES WITH DIFFICULTIES
Up until three years ago, Springfield, the capital of Illinois, did not have its own Chabad House. According to the registry of the local Jewish community, the city has no more than one thousand Jewish residents. Chassidim searching for a place to go out on shlichus prefer to work in locations with larger Jewish communities.
“In addition to the local community, hundreds of thousands of tourists, among them many Jews from throughout the United States and even overseas, visit the city each year due to the fact that this is where the martyred sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, began his public activities,” Rabbi Turen notes. “The city also runs museums describing the American Civil War, during which Springfield played a central role. Numerous Union soldiers were trained here and then went out to fight on the battlefield.”
Widespread activities take place with tourists, even though they come to the city only for a few hours. The shluchim focus on serving kosher food and Tefillin Campaign activities. Rabbi Turen is not deterred by the relatively small number of local Jews – on the contrary, he specifically chose this route. His great vigor and attention are primarily directed towards the members of the Springfield Jewish community.
“The secret to our success is our personal relationships and our work with individuals. We wanted to go out on shlichus in a small town with a limited Jewish community. The Reform and Conservative movements are present in Springfield and we are in contact with both of them. Each week, we discover more Jews not registered in the community records.”
Chabad of Springfield’s main motto is to look for the solitary Jew, invest in the needs of the individual – and here, there are already great successes alongside the difficulties that accompany the activities. Rabbi Turen provides a partial list: kosher food, friends, community, and raising financial resources.
“While we have our fair share of difficulties, I can safely say that we prepared ourselves well for our shlichus,” explains Rabbi Turen. “We bring in kosher food from Chicago. Regarding Torah study, I arranged regular learning partners for myself. Each day, we go out to visit private homes and offices. Since our arrival in the city, not a Shabbos has gone by without our having guests for the meals. Furthermore, with regard to raising contributions – we see revealed miracles.”
DIVINE PROVIDENCE FROM THE VERY OUTSET
The idea of going out on shlichus took form in Rabbi Turen’s mind at a relatively early age. As someone who was raised in a home of shluchim, it was clear to him that when he reached maturity he would go out to prepare another place on the globe for the revelation of the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach. “Throughout the period of my search, different ideas were proposed – until I came to Springfield, where I heard that there were no shluchim.”
Rabbi Turen was raised in Chicago, about a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Springfield. At the first opportunity, he decided to travel there on ‘Merkaz Shlichus’ to check out the possibility of permanent outreach activities in the city. “The decision was to plough the field and prepare to plant the seeds of Yiddishkait on the premises. Then, after getting married, I would know if this was an appropriate place for shlichus.”
A few days before the flight to his chosen destination, Rabbi Turen was in 770 where he met with R’ Shmuel Spritzer and asked him for some “tips” for success on shlichus.
“Rabbi Spritzer had been working for many years in various prisons throughout the United States and was most successful. I didn’t plan on telling him where I was planning to go, just the fact that the plan was shlichus. For his part, he gave me direction that has helped me to this very day. Two days later, in the early morning hours, I got a phone call from him. Rabbi Spritzer told me that he had just received a letter from a Jew from Springfield, a doctor by profession, and he was asking for help on a Jewish matter. The arrival of this letter from Springfield was a case of open Divine Providence. He gave me the name of the doctor, and this was my first contact with a member of the local Jewish community. It served as the opening of a window of opportunity for the tremendous activities taking place in Springfield today.
“When I arrived in the city, I called the doctor and he was happy to meet us. We replaced the mezuzos in his home, and he put on tefillin for the first time since his bar-mitzvah. He gave us the names of numerous Jews residing in the city, among them many of his acquaintances.”
SEARCHING WITH G-D’S HELP
Rabbi Turen was then a young man exploring the option of becoming the city’s local Chabad emissary. More visits to Springfield followed that one, mainly during Jewish holiday seasons and the summer months. He eventually got married and established a proper Chassidic home together with his wife Sara. Several months later, they moved to Springfield and began their shlichus.
According to Rabbi Turen, the initial period of his shlichus in the city was reminiscent of outreach work in the sixties, when bachurim would arrive in different towns looking for Jews through the telephone book, making contact, and coming for house visits.
Rabbi Turen has had numerous stories of Divine Providence during those house visits. “The Jewish doctor we met at the beginning gave me the names of several Jews with precise addresses. However, there were cases where I got to the address, but I didn’t find the family I was looking for. I especially remember the Eidelman family: I spent several hours searching for them and eventually left discouraged. The next day, I went out to look for another family and discovered that we had come to the same neighborhood where I had been the night before.
“While I was disappointed, I still made my way to the address. You have to understand that these are closed off, secluded houses, most of which don’t even have a doorbell. We were let in by a middle-aged woman. She wasn’t the person we were looking for, but when we asked her name, she said that her surname was Eidelman… It turned out that this was the woman that we had been looking for the night before. She was amazed to know how we came to look for her.
“This was an amazing example of Divine Providence, as we later realized that we had also made a mistake regarding our search for the family we were looking for that day. However, the Hand of G-d led us to find the person from our previous search. In fact, the Eidelmans weren’t even registered in the Jewish community records.” The shluchim family has maintained contact with the Eidelman family ever since.
In the entire city of Springfield, Rabbi Turen knew only about five families who kept kosher, including the Eidelmans.
Even today, three years after he arrived in the city, Rabbi Turen continues making house visits. This is the main way by which he operates. “I was certain that there would be people who might respond aggressively. However, almost everyone opened their doors to us, and most of them were quite happy to sit and talk at great length about Judaism.”
In connection with these house visits, Rabbi Turen tells about his first meeting with the Reform “rabbi.” “I called him and made an appointment to meet with him one Friday morning. I wanted to get an idea on how the wind was blowing. I also met that morning with the leader of the Conservative community; he said that he had received a call from the Reform ‘rabbi’ and the two of them met with me together. Based on a sound piece of advice someone gave me, I told them that I had bought a house in town so that they would realize that I was serious. It worked, and we reached an understanding not to quarrel with one another.”
Rabbi Turen is careful about organizing events that do not clash with those made by the other two communities. For their part, the Reform and Conservative leaders show great respect for the Chabad activities flourishing in their city. “The Conservative ‘rabbi’ has even mentioned to me on numerous occasions that he had been privileged to spend Shabbos with the Rebbe as a young man, and during a certain period, he even learned Tanya with bachurim in 770.”
The city’s local Jews are slowly being discovered. Almost every week, Rabbi Turen meets new Jewish residents. “One good approach for finding these Jews is to go out in the street wearing Chassidic garb. It ‘grabs’ their attention and arouses greater interest in Judaism. A fedora and kapote do marvelous work.
“One day, a man came up to me in the street, introducing himself as an attorney and a doctor. He told me that he only recently learned that he was Jewish, however, he didn’t know what this really meant as it pertained to him. I invited him to come to my house, and we even made him a bar-mitzvah celebration as he put on tefillin for the first time in his life.
“This Jew was so impressed by the Rebbe’s shlichus programs that he firmly resolved to put on tefillin every weekday morning. He bought a pair of stringently kosher tefillin, and not a day goes by without his putting them on.”
Every week, the Turens host numerous guests at their Shabbos meals. During the summer months they make one seuda at night, while in the winter, when Shabbos comes in early, the shluchim make two – one for those who want to eat early and another for those who can only come later. One winter Shabbos, they decided to make one meal at an earlier hour because everyone said that they would be able to come then. “At the end of the seuda, all the guests departed except for one young Israeli who worked in town. He got us into a long conversation, resulting in our staying at the Chabad House until very late.
“When he finished and got up to leave, we suddenly heard a quiet rapping at the door. Standing there was a young woman who asked if she could come in. She said that while she had been raised in a Chabad home, she had since left the path of Torah, coming to Springfield to learn at one of the medical schools. That Friday evening, she suddenly felt a deep longing for a proper Shabbos table and decided to come to us. My wife and I proceeded to talk with her for a good long while. I felt that Divine Providence had arranged for us to remain in the Chabad House until a late hour in order that this young lady should come and have someone there to open the door for her. She came back several more times, and today she is in constant touch with us. We hope and pray that she will soon return to the path she has temporarily abandoned.”
After the birth of their first-born son, Gershon, the shluchim celebrated his bris mila and pidyon ha’ben, together with the pidyon ha’ben of a local Jew whom the shluchim had met only a short while earlier. “One day, as I was visiting the local shopping center, one of the employees, a native of India, came over to me and started peppering me with a lot of questions about Jews and Judaism. I answered him patiently, although not with a great deal of pleasure. Then, he surprised me by saying that one of his co-workers was Jewish and he would be happy to introduce us.
“We got acquainted, and it turned out that while this Jew had been raised in a Jewish home, apart from the fact that he was a Jew, he knew virtually nothing about his heritage. We became close friends and his heart was open to listen and to learn. When I realized that he was an only child to his parents, we also redeemed him with a ‘pidyon ha’ben.’ Now, this young man is getting ready to join me for a trip to Beis Chayeinu – 770.”
A THOUGHT IN THE MORNING, A MEETING IN THE EVENING
At one point during our interview, Rabbi Turen stopped to tell us another story of amazing Divine Providence. “There was a young Jew we discovered during the early days of our shlichus. We got acquainted, but at a certain point, he moved across town and we lost contact with him. One day, I wondered to myself what had happened to him.
“That same night, after several months of not seeing him anywhere, I suddenly met him walking down the street. I was thrilled by this amazing display of Divine Providence, and this time I naturally took down his exact address. We maintained contact with one another and I even put mezuzos up in his home.
“As time passed, he got much closer to the path of Torah, to the point that I felt certain enough of his progress to suggest that he join me for a trip to 770. To my delight, he agreed and came together with another young Jew. For a period of one week, we were together for davening and farbrengens as we breathed 770. When he returned home to Springfield, he wrote a moving letter about what he had experienced with the Rebbe. Tears literally filled my eyes as I read it – how can a Jew neither raised nor educated in Lubavitch, with no knowledge about the Rebbe and 770, manage to internalize the most profound points by which we have been taught?
“In great detail he described the unique atmosphere prevailing in 770 and where it all comes from. He tells about the nagging question that had been eating away at him for a long time and the clear reply he received in ‘Igros Kodesh’ answering this very question. We publicized the entire letter at the time on the English Chabadinfo website, and it aroused a most enthusiastic response. This Jew continues to get closer to Yiddishkait and Chassidus, and we sit together each week to learn Tanya. I love to recall how the connection with him was formed – amazing Divine Providence.”
ACTIVITIES WITHOUT THE MATHEMATICS
According to Rabbi Turen, stories of this type don’t always come with bombastic fanfare; they sometimes occur as part of our daily lives. “In every Chabad House, Yom Kippur is one of the high points. Even Jews who don’t visit the synagogue all year round come on this day. In our case, many of them go during the year to the Reform and Conservative synagogues. During our first year of activities, we already knew that we had to organize our own minyan in the Chabad House.
“Starting from Rosh Hashanah, I began working on this. When Yom Kippur came around, there were twelve Jews who knew about our scheduled services. Nine promised that they would come, while another three said that they couldn’t make it due to various reasons. Among the nine were two young Israelis who had promised on numerous occasions that they would come for davening, but they never did. Despite all this, I decided to hold the service. As it turned out, all twelve Jews came and the minyan took place. For someone who lives in a city without even one shul, this is an incredible case of Divine Providence that gives tremendous satisfaction to those on shlichus.”
Besides the ‘one-on-one’ activities as required due to the nature of the city and its residents, is there also an extensive range of programs?
“There is definitely a wide selection of Torah classes. Shiurim take place in the Chabad House each week with a growing number of participants. There is also a series of shiurim on different subjects, as we periodically choose a certain topic and then hold several classes explaining and interpreting the topic from all sides. Thus far, we have covered subjects such as ‘The Essence of Chassidus,’ ‘Moshiach,’ and ‘Shleimus HaAretz,’ and only recently we did a series on the miracles of the Six Day War. From our experience, we see that the variety in class content is vital, as each person connects to a different part of Torah study.
“There’s a Jew in town who became very enthusiastic about the Baal Shem Tov when we started learning with him. He eventually bought all the s’farim on the Baal Shem Tov – his teachings, stories, etc. Every statement from the Baal Shem Tov that I mention arouses his interest.”
How do you manage with financial matters? I realize that you still don’t have an established community that helps and supports you.
“Every day when I open my mailbox, I’m curious to know if there will be more bills or contributions. Usually, most of the letters are bills,” Rabbi Turen says with a chuckle.
“A few weeks ago, I opened the mailbox and there was a letter with no return address. Contained in the envelope was a bundle of checks with a total amount of several thousand dollars. The sender made certain to do it in a way that I wouldn’t know who he or she was. I was deeply moved.
“As to the essence of your question, the situation is not always easy. Most of the city’s Jewish residents are middle class, and even when they give contributions, they usually aren’t in large amounts. Yet, even when times are hard, I don’t let this interfere with our activities. The amazing thing is that whenever we face a serious trial, the miracle comes. I see this clearly. There was a period when there was no money in the till. Six months earlier, someone had promised to make a one-hundred-dollar donation, but he disappeared. As it turned out, at the moment we needed a large sum of money, this person suddenly came and made a contribution of several thousand dollars. Mathematically speaking, there’s no explanation for our continued existence here.”
THE REDEMPTION IS JUST PART OF THE STORY
It’s almost unnecessary to ask about Moshiach after an interview filled with such emuna. Nevertheless, how do you fulfill the Rebbe’s instructions to publicize to this generation that Moshiach is coming?
“We speak about Moshiach in every imaginable way. A Moshiach flag hangs on our house, and I speak about the Rebbe as Moshiach at every opportunity. After every minyan, I make the holy proclamation of ‘Yechi Adoneinu.’ This makes people ask questions and I’m always happy to explain. I invest much time in an in-depth study of the subject of Redemption. For several months now we’ve had ‘Tefillin Club’ meetings each Sunday morning at the Chabad House. A group of Jewish men comes to put on tefillin, daven Shacharis, and then learn Torah together at breakfast.
“We’ve just completed several topics on the Geula, and people get a perspective on the whole subject of Moshiach throughout the generations until the Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach. Based on their reflective questions, I can see that we’ve already passed through the initial stages.”
Rabbi Turen has an interesting story that sharpened for him the whole idea of talking about Moshiach to Jews with no religious background. “About a year ago, several Jews approached me with a request that I give over a series of classes in Judaism. ‘We want to learn about your view of the world,’ they explained. When I asked if it made a difference to them what subject I chose, they said that it didn’t, so I chose ‘Moshiach.’ These were four very influential Jews in the community, including the ‘rabbis’ of the Reform and Conservative communities.
“I prepared myself appropriately for these classes – collecting all the Torah sources, numerous stories and parables, and the series got underway. About forty participants came for each shiur and they enjoyed themselves very much. When I came to the third class to speak about the Rebbe as Melech HaMoshiach, I thought that it might create a firestorm. However, I was surprised to see that this didn’t happen. It did occur when we learned about the holy sacrifices; only then was there a commotion. There were those who reasoned that this was ch”v some form of primitive ritual. I dealt well with the situation, and we concluded the shiur by deciding that this discussion would make a nice platform for a follow-up series on the Beis HaMikdash.
“For me, this was an amazing lesson in life. Moshiach drives no one away, and even if there are questions, it’s our job to provide a response. Furthermore, it’s possible to say the same thing about the sacrifices. If someone thinks the avoda of korbanos in the Beis HaMikdash is a symbol of primitiveness that might even drive people away, does that mean that we shouldn’t learn about the Beis HaMikdash?”
As we conclude this interview, I would like to return to the subject we began with – your invocation before the Illinois State Senate. Can you elaborate on your activities throughout the corridors of power in the Land of Lincoln?
“As I noted earlier, our main work is with the community. It takes up most of our time and is the primary objective of our shlichus. While we also work with Jewish tourists coming to the city and students here to learn at one of the universities, this is primarily at Shabbos meals and special activities. We also have programs with state and local government officials. They are quite aware of our activities and we periodically meet with Jewish Senators and other members of the Illinois state administration.
“A few months ago, as a direct result of these activities, I was requested to open the Senate session with an invocation. From the very outset, it was clear to me that the two central themes to receive special emphasis in my speech would be the Seven Noachide Laws and the subject of Moshiach. After receiving the Rebbe’s bracha, I agreed to accept the assignment. The responses from both Jews and Gentiles were numerous. The speech was broadcast live on media networks throughout the State of Illinois and the United States at large. People identify me in the street due to this ceremony, which made a tremendous sanctification of G-d’s Name and the name of Lubavitch on a very wide scale.”
Rabbi Turen recalls with a smile that there were also many responses from Chabad chassidim, who were strengthened by his words to publicize the announcement of the Redemption. This was a source of much satisfaction to him. “A few days after the event, I received a call from Rabbi Ben-Tziyon Cohen of Kfar Chabad, a native of Indianapolis. He said that he hadn’t known that there were shluchim in Springfield, and he then shared with me that he had a nephew who lived in the city. Thus, we learned about another previously unknown Jewish family, parents and child, that had not been registered as members of the Jewish community. G-d willing, our connection with them will continue.”
GIMMICKS ALONGSIDE ACTION
Anyone familiar with Rabbi Turen knows that he’s not the kind of shliach to rest on his laurels. The wheels in his mind are constantly turning with new ideas, while he is also a man of action of the first order. “We periodically come out with a campaign in connection with one of the Rebbe’s holy mivtzaim. The first campaign we started with was the Tefillin Campaign, and we succeeded in putting tefillin on about fifty Jewish men. Now, we are working on Mezuzah Campaign activities, and the idea is to reach a large number of houses and affix mezuzos on them. However, my big dream is to do a project on family purity and build a mikveh.”