Today I speak to the college student, the high school student, the Yeshiva student and the Jewish children around the world. It is you I wish to address at this very tumultuous and turbulent moment.
You must have many questions, many feelings of despair. I imagine, like us adults, you are questioning your faith and unable to comprehend and make sense of the most recent tragedy that Israel has been hit with. You wonder how this could have happened, what you will do with this tragic moment in our history and how you will get up after witnessing our brothers being slaughtered so vehemently.
I am a simple woman. Just someone who raises her children as diligent as I can, stands by her husband, burns a few dinners here and there. No one special, in fact as a child I didn't feel particularly special at all. I've spent years trying to figure out where I fit in and if and how I was relevant to my microcosmic and macrocosmic world. I spent countless nights wondering why I felt so powerless, sometimes so invisible. I wondered my purpose and figured at the age of 12, I'd get my answer. See, when I was 12, all my friends were receiving their letters from the Rebbe. The holy Lubavitcher Rebbe who taught me my Faith and gave me my direction as a Jewish child. Back in the 80's every twelve year old would write into to tell the Rebbe her bat mitzvah was coming, and within several weeks a beautiful letter would arrive from the Rebbe's office with a handwritten blessing for the new woman. Every single day I would go outside and check the mailbox and wait to see if the Rebbe's letter arrived. One by one every single one of my friends received their letters with blessings. Some of them even received direct directives of how they should embrace their personal mission. Everyone received their letters, everyone- except for me. No letter ever came. For years I wondered why I had not received a letter blessing me and giving me words to live by as I entered into adulthood. In my small simple and immature translation, I had concluded that it was probably because I was not really deserving of any sort of blessing. However, wanting to be close to a man and to a teacher whom everybody revered so much encouraged me to make the decision upon graduating high school to attend Seminary in Brooklyn New York where I would have direct access to the Rebbe himself. As my luck would have it the year that I was to go and study in Brooklyn, The Rebbe became extremely sick and was not engaging in teaching the young men and women in the same manner as his usual.
On June 12, 1994 correlating to the Third day in the Jewish month of Tammuz, and the last month of my tutelage in New York, the Rebbe passed away.
It was exactly two months later, I became one of the first brides to get engaged after he passed away, but as luck would have it, I became one of the first to not receive a blessing upon my marriage. Once again I had felt lost maybe even cheated for not having the privilege to receive a real live blessing to carry me through my next phase of life.
In some ways I had felt like a foreigner. I had become part of the fabric of the Jewish nation, I had the privilege of learning the very lessons that the Rebbe filled my generation with in a live manner, but I felt distant and insignificant. I was unsure of my footing based on my experience of feeling like I had been abandoned because the leader himself had not acknowledged me personally as one of his own, to participate in his collaborated mission to become a significant voice in the Jewish world. I was unsure of my mission confused by who I was and what I was meant to become.
As irony would have it, the night he died, I was one of a small handful of 3 female students who had come to 770, the Rebbe's famous Synagogue to pray on his behalf at midnight. It was there our small handful had been given the first news of his passing for us to pass on, a burden I still carry with me twenty years later. Once again, I felt like the abandonment was ever so potent. Even in his death, he was silent to me. And yet I was expected to retell this news. I was expected to use my small insignificant voice to share the report that our Rebbe had passed on to the next world physically. How could he expect me, small little un-special me, to do this grave thing?
Throughout the years I have lost many people who were extremely close to me that were my leaders. By the time I was in my early 30’s we had buried my father-in-law, my father, several uncles and grandparents. I've spent many years trying to figure out what my relationship has been with the Rebbe, but more than anything what my call of action is when I had such a complex emotional attachment to him as a result of his silence. How does one become her own leader in the country of no Kings to teach her leadership?
I spent a great deal of time pondering this odd quarry and it has been 20 years since the Rebbe's passing, and the first time I have ever spoken of this out loud. I realize that while I grew up in a time when the Rebbe was alive there was much that I did not know about him on a personal level and so much of my connection felt distant. As a result, I have found myself in the interesting position of understanding my generation's deep connection for having met the Rebbe in person on several occasions and at the same time understanding my children’s generation- your generation as well. A generation who only hears of the Rebbe's narrative second hand and who struggles to feel connected to a man you do not know, yet has become responsible for so much of your destiny.
Today a deep loss has burdened the Jewish world. Three Jewish boys were taken and murdered. Not just three boys, three Torah students. You my dear children are struggling with many questions. Questions like, “Why them?” “It could have been me on my birthright trip, on my year abroad trip, on my vacation, on my day off.” We do not know these boys, our connection is through their mere pictures but we feel their family's pain deeply. We watched as the UN heard their mother's pleas. We prayed on their behalf to G-d and we have been met with silence, having us questioning our ability to sustain our own leadership as a people when we are met with silence from the King on High himself. I can imagine you are feeling helpless and insignificant. You might even be feeling deeply angry and frustrated by your own faith tonight. And I imagine you are thinking, how can little me change this massive uphill battle?
That night on June 12th, 1994 when I walked through the silent eerie streets of Brooklyn with the weight of news burdened on my shoulders, I was lost wondering, who am I, I am but one small voice, one little voice who will have to echo one loud message that will change worlds to her friends and family. I stepped into my apartment and upon opening my apartment door a mirror came crashing down into a million pieces. I looked down and could see my fragmented reflection, and it was then I felt the deep sting of my loss. A loss, I almost felt unentitled to.
How many of our teenagers feel that same loss tonight? How many of you feel crushed by the abandonment of G-d himself in the wake of this most horrific tragedy, a tragedy you might possibly feel unentitled to as well for having not known the boys personally?
As I reflected that night staring at my broken mirror, I remembered the very first time I met the Rebbe. I was 8 years old and I had been taken to 770 escorted by the famed Eli Chaim Carlebach, Shlomo Carlebach’s twin brother, a dear friend and mentor. He told me to stand by the Rebbe’s office and wait for an incredible moment. Indeed an incredible moment arrived. The Rebbe came out to greet my brother and I. He handed me a penny and in my excitement to share this charitable moment with the Rebbe, I ran to the big wooden charity box on the wall and dropped in the coin. The Rebbe half smiled, and placed another coin in my hand. Again, I ran to the charity box and put in my small fortune. This went on 2 more times until the Rebbe smiled, gave up, and walked away. I was told later the Rebbe meant for me to hold the coin and keep it as our token together, replacing it later with a different coin to put in the charity box. The first time I met the Rebbe, and I realized I must have not gotten what was supposed to happen correctly. I have since realized that exchange was the very key to our relationship and to the message he left for me. A message I impart to you dear children tonight.
When I was a child, I believed the Rebbe when he said ours was the generation of bringing Mashiach, of changing the tide and infusing hope into a Godless world once again. I have wondered if that is true. After all, I am just a simple woman. Just someone who raises her children as diligent as I can, stands by her husband, burns a few dinners here and there. No one special. That night when I looked into that broken Mirror, I was forced to grow up, forced to grow up like you upon receiving the news that your friends were murdered in Chevron. Like you, I saw my past hurts and my broken spirit emerge. For when you gaze into a mirror you can see your reflection, but you can also see what's behind you. I saw my childhood and my innocence. I saw my naiveté, my hopeful spark all fly away like a bat in the still dark night. I saw my loneliness and my uncertainty. Sometimes yes, you must look at what could have been and what once was, but then you know what you are left reflecting at?
your simple lonesome self. Just someone who will one day raise your children, stand by your spouse, and who might even burn a few dinners here and there.
No one- yet someone.
The same someone who will know how to hold up your friends upon relaying difficult news of your friend’s passing, as I had to do upon relaying difficult news that my Rebbe passed on. The same someone who will know what to do when push comes to shove, and who will know how to respond and what to say when your mouth feels wordless. And according to the Rebbe- maybe someone special. The same simple self who can proclaim faith in the face of adversity, the same simple self who can remain steadfast in the ails of a broken heart, the same simple self who can glue the pieces back together and declare your very own personal leadership even without present Kings to show you the ropes.
That day when I was 8, the day I met the Rebbe for the very first time, his message was that every ounce of holiness, every ounce of spirit, every ounce of love and kindness and joy we have, we must give away again and again and again. For it is in the act of giving it away not necessarily receiving that we have the opportunity to receive it ten fold and to sustain it in this world.
Tonight when I reflect on the loss of my Rebbe I will not reflect on what I never received, but on how much I have gained from him for studying about what he stood for and how he lived. I will not reflect on how he died, but on what he lived for, a cue I am taking from your generation. A generation who understands what it means to feel deeply connected with one another, even another with whom you have yet to meet personally, a generation of innovators, master thinkers and negotiators, who can place acceptance before bullying, who can honor each other through never forgetting. A generation who cries for the loss of their brothers, whose innocence was stolen the minute those three young boys were taken in cold blood as my generation’s innocence was stolen that day in 1994 when we buried our Rebbe. A generation who has the power to pick themselves back up and remain steadfast in their faith and yearn to change this world not because of the evil but in spite of it, a generation who believes in what they can become not in who they are today. To that generation, to your generation I say, I believe in you! I believe in your simple selves YOU GREAT GIANTS- just as the Rebbe believed in me.