Backdropped by a huge poster showing Lubavitcher rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a group of Jewish Orthodox men pray during a ceremony marking the 10th anniversary of his passing in Yad Eliyahu stadium in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday June 21, 2004. Members from the Chabad Hasidic sect crowded into the stadium for the memorial ceremonies. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
It’s the week of Gimmel Tammuz and I miss my Rebbe.
I don’t have many personal Rebbe stories (just two). Don’t have any Rebbe dollars I was able to save (my little brother thought it was regular money up for nabbing.) I just have a heart and soul deeply penetrated with his teachings that continue to inspire me, move me to the core — even though he’s been physically gone for close to 21 years.
But that’s not why I miss my Rebbe.
At any given time, I’m reading about 5 books (I’m a slow reader with little down time). One of the books I’m traveling through is Rabbi Chaim Miller’s Turning Judaism Outward, a biography of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The author describes the Rebbe as a young person: utterly focused on his Torah studies, exhibiting remarkable depth, highly introverted and evading attention. And this totally grabs me — to assume the public position of leadership, the Rebbe completely transformed his nature, essentially broke himself, for the sake of a greater good. The Rebbe would never accept any complacency in his followers. How could he? If he pushed himself to his outer limits for something larger than himself, then so must we. What strength!
Still, that’s not why I miss my Rebbe.
The truth is, I’m lonely for a real leader- someone who measures up, even a little bit, to the greatness we were so blessed to behold.
I’m surrounded by charismatic pulpit Rabbis, authors, lecturers, Halachic geniuses and community activists– yet something is missing. I don’t feel like there’s anyone out there fighting for me.
About a month back, I attended a lecture by a well respected Rav. He was visiting my community from Sydney, Australia, where he sits on the Beis Din. His talk centered on the process of divorce in Jewish law and how to thwart the Agunah crisis (hint: the Halachic prenup). With passion and humility, he spoke about the pain of women who are chained in abusive marriages and the myriad of ways in which he, and his fellow Rabbis, help them. His solutions pointed to a community with an active, strong and central leadership- a compassionate Beis Din with real responsibility and healthy power.
To be honest, I left his lecture feeling frustrated– and even a little bit envious. The community I live in is not, in many ways, like the one this Rav hails from. There are so many people suffering around me. So many people with no where to turn. Where are the voices of those in leadership? Where are the ones who are willing to do whatever it takes to make something right? To take risks? To protect the underdog?
It feels like we’re on our own, stranded.
I don’t want to sound pessimistic or insensitive. I don’t want to disrespect those that work so hard in positions of influence, day in and day out. But I have to be honest — there is a part of me that’s disillusioned. That’s angry. That’s hopeless.
On some level, are we the blind leading the blind?
It’s true, the Rebbe created a model in which each one of us can, and should, emerge as a leader. Yes, we each have a unique gift to contribute to the world. Sure, we can’t always wait for someone else to get the job done- we have to be willing to get our hands dirty, too.
But it can get hard lighting our own paths. Sometimes, we all need someone to lean on. Someone who will hold the torch high, guts on the line, emblazoning a path toward Truth.
And sometimes, I don’t want to be a leader. I don’t want to feel like the world sits on my shoulders. I don’t want to figure it out on my own. I need someone to look up to. Someone I can see, who not only holds responsibility, influence and power, but who inspires me.
Someone who admits mistakes- and apologizes when they are wrong.
Someone who advocates for the weak- and unabashedly brings justice against those who harm.
Someone who is honest to the core- not swayed by greed or flattery or superficial markings of prestige and honor.
Someone who holds equal passion for Torah study and his or her fellow person- acting with integrity and respect of all beings.
I was fifteen when the Rebbe passed, just a high school student waiting with baited breath for him to reveal himself as my Messiah. I’ll never forget that day and the collective pain of a destiny shattered. And in all the years since that summer so long ago, we’ve changed– I’ve changed.
Six years ago, my life evolved. I went from a tichel-wearing, hippie-princess totally focused on my own little island of life to a public figure, responsible for the growth of an institution in a change-adverse community, suddenly vulnerable to judgments from a whole array of people in my community– and beyond.
As someone who attempts to lead, I’ve found myself trying to forge a path unknown to me, feeling my way in a dark room with not a flicker of light in sight. I’ve stumbled. Messed up. Realized that so much lies on my every decision, no matter how insignificant it may look.
When you’re forging your own path in life, who walks next to you, ready to hold your hand?
Now, I feel the loneliness even more. The pain. The sadness. Of a Rebbe gone. Of a community in desperate need of leadership. Of people hopeless to find their way, burdened with heavy loads of despair.
No one can ever replace our Rebbe. But in a generation riddled with questions, in many ways lost and broken, we need those in positions of influence to fully embrace their roles, ready to advocate for each one of us. And we, in turn, need to empower those leaders- with respect and healthy expectations.
So, will the real leaders of our Jewish community please emerge? Whether you’re hiding amidst us or within us, we need you. We’re tired. And lonely.