Nearly 500 participants attended what was billed as a “Historic Evening,” featuring an open discussion with the Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Dovid Baruch Lau Shlita, on the topic of “Israel and American Jewry.”
Hosted by Chabad’s Conejo Jewish Academy at the Westlake Hyatt Hotel in the Conejo Valley, California, the event, held on Wednesday, January 7, was especially unique for the broad cross-section of Jews it attracted from what is a very suburban, and largely secular, region of Southern California. The Chief Rabbi and his wife, Rebbetzin Tziporah Lau, were also greeted by the mayors and councilmembers of the local cities at a pre-event reception at the hotel.
In his introductory remarks, Rabbi Moshe Bryski, Director of Chabad of the Conejo, hailed the new Chief Rabbi’s efforts to pick up where his illustrious father, Rabbi Yisroel Meir Lau Shlita – who held the same office from 1993 to 2003 – left off. Rabbi Bryski also spoke of the close relationship the former Chief Rabbi had with Chabad and with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who foresaw in 1992 that the elder Rabbi Lau, then Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, would soon be chosen as the Chief Rabbi of the entire country, and advised him to prepare himself accordingly.
In the evening’s panel and “Town Hall” style discussion, the first round of questions were presented by moderators, Moshe Bryski and David Suissa, President of the Tribe Media Corporation and a weekly columnist for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal. Questions from the audience were then fielded and presented by Rabbi Yisroel Levine, Director of Chabad of Oak Park. While the Chief Rabbi did not shirk away from any controversial questions presented on such issues as Orthodox serving in the army, conversion, marriage and his approach to non-orthodox movements, it was his emphasis on commonalities and his gentle demeanor that came across most.
When asked what he sees as his primary function as Chief Rabbi, Rav Lau answered that it was to teach; to engender awareness and a love for Torah amongst all Jews. In addressing the topic of the evening, and what message, above all, he wanted audience members to walk away with; the Chief Rabbi spoke of the deep and unshakable bond that exists among all Jews all over the world.
“You are my brothers, you are my sisters, you are my family,” he said. “We need each other. The Jews of Israel need the Jews America and the Jews of America need the Jews of Israel… It is only through the recognition and celebration of our unity that we have survived, and that we will continue to survive and also thrive.”
Rabbi Dovid Eliezri of Chabad of Yorba Linda helped organize the Chief Rabbi’s tour of Southern California. Rabbi Lau will be delivering a shiur on Sunday at the Bies Midrash of Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad and will be speaking at Chabad of Yorba Linda on Monday evening.