The Commentator/Written by Yosef Wildes
The annual YU Chabad Shabbaton in Crown Heights held on March 1st drew 70 YU students and 30 Chabad shluchim. After an incredible experience at last year’s Crown Heights Shabbaton, I was super excited to join again. I stayed at a wonderful family, ate fantastic food and most importantly, enjoyed some nice l’chaims! I instantly bonded with both the YU and Chabad guys, feeling a connection simply because we are all part of one family, the Jewish people.
The feeling at the Shabbaton was one of joy and spiritual energy. I could see how members of this community not only practiced but breathed Judaism. My experiences with Chabad have shown me strong Jewish leaders who spread their light with power and devotion in all parts of the globe. This is demonstrated by the thousands of Chabad Houses all around the world, even in places that we may find difficult to pronounce. The moment Chabad learns that there are even a few Jews in a certain part of the world, they immediately go there and set up shop. In fact, during this past winter-break when my family and I were vacationing in the Bahamas, it was only due to Chabad that there we had a place to pray and eat. The sacrifice and kindness Chabad does on behalf of the Jewish community is unfathomable.
What breeds this sense of commitment, which leads people to devote their whole lives for the Jewish people? In my opinion, it is the sense of pride and love for Judaism and the Jewish people that cuts deep into the hearts of Chabad. For the Chabad community, Torah and Judaism are treasures meant to be shared with all of Jewry. To Chabad followers, the precious teachings of the Torah can be compared to fire, possessing the capacity to light up the darkness, lift the low hearted and bring the Messiah. Given their appreciation for Torah and love for all Jews, it becomes obvious why so many members of the Chabad community sacrifice themselves for both Torah and the Jewish people.
Why, for example, if someone sees a movie that he loves, does he wish to share the film with his lover? This is simply because he loves both the movie and his lover. It is only due to a love of another that one will desire to share and give to another. To me, this describes the Chabad community. They are so proud and in love with their Judaism that they wish to share this love with those they care about. This is precisely what I experienced at the YU Crown Heights Shabbaton, a community of people whose religious commitment comes from a place of love and pride.
Before the Shabbaton, I was asked to say a few words at Shabbat lunch. I told a story which took place in Israel one Friday afternoon. There were hundreds of cars held up in traffic. As Shabbat was approaching, approximately one hundred Shabbat observant Israeli’s left their cars on the side of the road and began walking to the nearest Jewish community. The community responded with open arms, taking all the wandering Jews into their homes, giving up their food, beds and otherwise private Shabbat to help others.
Over the duration of Shabbat, every one of these otherwise homeless Jews was not only given a place to sleep but even food to eat. After sharing this story, I spoke about how relevant this was to the Chabad community. The Chabad community not only accepts, but loves all Jews, so many of which are willing to make enormous personal sacrifices by traveling across the world to establish new Jewish communities. It is the sense of pride and love towards both Judaism and the Jewish community that propels Chabad to be such a powerful force for the Jewish people.
I continued my talk and transitioned from speaking about the Chabad community to the general Jewish community and how lucky we are to be Jews. After sharing this point, I banged on the shtender and started up the song “Gishmak to be a Jew,” which means “it is pleasurable to be a Jew.” As soon as the melody drifted from my mouth, the room exploded in song and dance! We danced for over 20 minutes, singing again and again, how pleasurable it is to be a Jew. How appropriate this song was in Crown Heights at this Shabbaton, at this special weekend highlighting the pride and love we all have for simply being a Jew.
After experiencing this YU Crown Heights Shabbaton, I was overwhelmed by the joy and pride embedded in this community. I was reminded of all the good Chabad does in the world and became inspired to give more of myself to other Jews, out of this same sense of love. I look forward to further developing this sense of pride and love for the Jewish community, seeing the Jewish people not only as a nation but ultimately, as a family.