The Hungarian author, Frigyes Karinthy, is most famously known for his “six-degrees-of-separation,” the concept that through the friend of a friend each of us can connect to anyone else on earth in six steps or fewer. Jews like to joke that for us it’s more like two-degrees of separation. And there are some for whom no separations exist at all.
Today is the 17th yahrzeit (anniversary of passing) of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe OBM. The Rebbe was a giant in Torah scholarship, in piety and righteousness, and in leadership. And far from being abstracts, these achievements found constant expression through his connecting with politicians, rabbis, regular folk, and children. For the Rebbe, there were no separations.
Around the same time that my family moved to California from the East Coast, the Rebbe opened the first Chabad House on the campus of UCLA. Four years later, just as we were beginning our exploration of our Jewish heritage, a second Chabad House opened right nearby, in Berkeley, California. Under the guidance of Rabbi Chaim Zev & Mrs. Sterna Citron, and Rabbi Chaim Itche & Mrs. Leah Drizin, every Shabbat saw over 100 guests singing the prayers, gathering at each meal, and studying Torah and chassidut together. Judaism, which had been a cipher, suddenly blossomed into a vibrant living entity that filled our lives.
This event is the pebble dropped in the water, its ripple effect ever-widening as time goes on. Over the years, the little girl who played on the porch of the Berkeley Chabad House went on to teach Bible, Jewish History and Jewish Philosophy to hundreds of Jewish girls and women; many of them later opened Chabad Houses of their own.
The influence the Rebbe has on Jewish life is not a thing of the past, but an ongoing activity that touches more and more lives as the years pass, creating a chain of people linked across time and space, with no separation.
For more stories about the personal connections the Rebbe forged with people , see here and here.