“You want me to teach Chabadniks to fundraise? That’s like teaching the navy SEALs how to swim! They should be teaching me!” I said, astounded, when approached to lead a fundraising workshop for Chabad emissaries.
A couple of weeks before Rosh Hashanah, I waited for my suitcase at Munich Airport with other El Al passengers. The wait lengthened and passengers started to get impatient. Next to me stood Oren, a young Chabad emissary, with his wife and seven children. Seeing the “captive audience,” Oren pulled out a shofar and confidently announced, “We’re in the middle of Elul, the month of Slichot (forgiveness), the perfect time for tikkun (repair),” then blew a long, piercing tekiya. As the shofar blast echoed around the German airport terminal, I watched the faces around me. Almost every expression changed from irritation to tolerance, from short-tempered to smiling.
While he stuffed his shofar back in his bag, I asked Oren where he and his family were going. “We’re heading back to a remote area of Mexico.”
“How do you support yourselves?”
Oren glanced at his wife. The rebbetzin, smiling, answered that they almost starved for the first few months, eating only fruits and vegetables, then the miracles began and now they are fine.
That is one of the secrets of Chabad: each emissary is self-supporting, relying on work, business initiatives and donations. The parent organization provides virtually no funding. When a university, hospital or any other fundraising organization considers sending someone overseas, it must earmark money to support the fundraiser, whereas Chabadniks first fly to their destination (at their own expense), start their work and then … God will provide. And in most cases, God does indeed provide.
The thousands of Chabad emissaries constitute, by far, the largest fundraising organization in the Jewish world, motivated, for the most part, by a powerful faith, a sense of mission and trust in divine providence and miracles.
I did not always appreciate Chabad. Their “mitzvah tank” RV that would come to Hoshaya and blare “Mashiach!” down the street, irritated me. The Chabad passion for spreading Judaism everywhere and at any time did not always square with my secular kibbutz upbringing.
But over time, I learned to appreciate and even like them, largely thanks to family trips abroad. When we needed kosher food and a place for Shabbat or a holiday, we could always rely on Chabad. After a while, my children would ask to join them for a Shabbat. It was part of the vacation experience.
Chabad provides far more than just Judaism. When an Israeli is robbed in Argentina, Chabad helps. When an Israeli gets into trouble on a trek in the Himalayas, a Chabad emissary comes with the rescue helicopter. Chabad emissaries provides assistance in places where no other Israeli or Jewish organization is found – not the foreign ministry, Mossad nor a Jewish federation.
More than 4,000 Chabad emissaries worldwide, without institutional support, wrestle for every Jewish soul. One leader of a major Jewish community in the United States told me, “A few years ago, we built a beautiful Hillel (home on campus for Jews in universities) for $5 million. Today, the Hillel is half-empty, while Chabad has just built their fourth Chabad house in a part of the city with hardly any Jewish families. In a few years, there will be lots of Jews there.”
We cannot yet fully assess the influence of Chabad on the Jewish People, but it is clear that Chabadniks are at the forefront of the modern struggle to safeguard the Jewish spark around the world. Their way is warm and inclusive, and has proven itself successful – and of course, we can all learn a lesson or two from them about fundraising.