Initially it was meant to be a pre-Rosh Hashana whirlwind four-day speaking tour and a yartzeit commemoration. Yet, it turned out to be much more than that. Rabbi Simon Jacobson traveled to Sydney this past weekend to inspire the community for the Yamim Nora’im (Days of Awe). Just as he arrived, the entire city was left reeling by an aborted terrorist plot and pre-dawn raids in north-west Sydney. With a shaken-up community seeking answers and clarity, Rabbi Jacobson’s visit and talks took on another dimension.
The visit was hosted by Rabbi Yanki Berger, Director of Chabad of Doublebay, to honor the first yartzeit of his father, Rabbi Mordechai BergerO.B.M., on the 27th of Elul. The untimely passing of Rabbi Berger days before Rosh Hashana last year unsettled the entire Chabad world. “Since my father dedicated his life to his community in Ottawa, Canada,” Rabbi Berger said, “I wanted to honor him by inspiring the entire community and lift their spirits to another level. Rabbi Jacobson fit the bill perfectly. I knew he would bring chizuk to all facets of our community, from educators and Rabbis to the students and Baali Batim.”
Over the course of three days, Rabbi Jacobson delivered fourteen passionate talks and farbrengens, addressing the personal relevance of these special last days in Elul – interweaving it with the global upheavals in the Middle East which have been brought to the shores of Australia. The powerful effect it had on the shaken community was tangible.
Upon landing, Rabbi Jacobson began his tour by welcoming the new shluchim to Sydney Yeshiva at a dinner. He used the Rebbe’s words, citing talks from when the first group of students was sent to Melbourne in 1967. Jacobson echoed the Rebbe’s message, “The Rebbe is here with you. You can envision his face and access his power.”
Rabbi Jacobson gave two talks at Kesser Torah High School to the teenage boys and girls. His message spoke to their hearts, leaving a profound impact on the students: “Don’t lose your special voice”. He reminded the students that in a world of conformity, each of them needs to have confidence in themselves and in their unique voice. Many students and their parents marveled at how empowered they felt by these talks – his words were exactly the words that they needed to hear.
Friday night Rabbi Jacobson addressed Nefesh, a shul in Bondi Beach led by the charismatic Rabbi Aron Moss. Opening with a talk, “Has The World Gone Crazy? The Torah’s Message of Hope in These Turbulent Times”, Rabbi Jacobson presented a fascinating birds-eye view of the history and roots of today’s conflicts between militant Muslims and the Western world. “The only way to vanquish the enemy is to understand the enemy. Once we recognize the religious and ideological underpinnings of this war, then we can not only fight it but prevent it,” he said.
Drawing parallels between recent events and 9/11, Rabbi Jacobson addressed the recent rise of anti-Semitism, and called upon Jews everywhere to rise to the occasion and serve as a guiding light to people everywhere in these confusing times. “We need to lead a spiritual revolution with more passion than the nihilistic passion of the Muslim terrorists.”
Shabbos day was marked by a powerful pre-davening Chassidus shiur at Yeshiva College about “the King in the field” and our ability to access the Divine everywhere we go, followed by a stirring sermon about the secret of Jewish survival (unity and spiritual relevance described in Parshat Netzavim) and its lessons for the world today.
All Shabbos afternoon Rabbi Jacobson presided over a fabrengen with close to seven hundred people in attendance. He captivated the crowd with stories about shlichus and inspiration for the High Holidays. One of the main themes that evening was drawing from the sichos from 1967 when the Rebbe spoke at length about Australia. “Although you may be down under, Australia reaches the highest of levels.” “Australia is physically distant, but spiritually close.” “When a Jew walks with tzitzis on Bondi Junction, it reaches higher than the angels in the worlds of Briah and Yetzira!”
Motzei Shabbos, Rabbi Jacobson delivered a mesmerizing talk on anti-Semitism in North Shore, led by Rabbi Nochum Shapiro, followed by a pre-selichos farbrengen.
On Sunday, Rabbi Jacobson spent the day in Doublebay to honor the first yarzeit of Rabbi Motti Berger. Jacobson opened with a sweeping anthology of the Rosh Hashana themes covered in Chassidus. He summed them up in these four central concepts: (1)The new and unprecedented energy of the New year? (2)The central role of man to transform the universe. (3)The meaning of “coronating” G-d as King. (4)The significance of the Shofar.
This was followed by two talks, one addressing how to find harmony in a fragmented life, and how to balance work, home, material life and Yiddishkeit: The Fusion of Two Worlds. The second was Fear and Faith in Times of Crisis: Understanding Todays World and Acquiring the Necessary Tools and Mindset to Deal With It.
The day culminated with a highly charged talk on the yartzeit of Rabbi Motti Berger O.B.M. In an emotional address, Rabbi Jacobson spoke about the mysteries of life and death, the continuing journey of the soul and our inability to see it, losing a father, and how to harness grief and sorrow into enormous forces of strength and power to change the world.
“In just a few days Rabbi Jacobson transformed many lives,” said Rabbi Mendel Itkin. “I personally know of a few people who were without exaggeration changed forever after the Farbrengen on Shabbos day.”