by Adam Dickter
In the weeks since the Mumbai terrorist attack, the Chabad movement has directed contributions from supporters primarily to two campaigns: One to aid the child whose emissary parents were slain, and another to rebuild the badly damaged outreach center and re-establish operations there, which could cost as much as $1 million, according to a Chabad estimate.
But at the same time, some Chabad leaders are acting on their own to secure funds and resources to make dozens of Chabad houses in far-flung outposts safer.
A group of emissaries in southeast Asia, led by Rabbi Yosef Kantor, who is based in Bangkok, Thailand, has launched a campaign aimed at improving security at their centers, and distributed donation cards at Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, last week.
“Security has to be the No. 1 priority,” said Rabbi Shea Hecht of the Lubavitch-run Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education. “If you are not alive, it doesn’t make much difference if you can put bread on the table. One you stay alive, you can worry about the bread.
The spokesman for Chabad, Zalman Shmotkin, would not comment on any fundraising for security. “It is still, unfortunately, too early to discuss these efforts,” he said.
Since the tragedy, the Chabad movement has conducted an orchestrated marketing and public relations campaign. Chabad officials in New York and emissaries around the world are conducting media interviews, and constituents who have been touched by the movement are reaching out in droves to local and international publications to extol its praises.
Chabad handpicked emissaries to speak with the media that officials believed would best represent the movement to a general public that may have had little or no knowledge about it.
The message was twofold: Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, the emissaries killed in Mumbai, would have wanted their deaths to inspire and bring Jews closer to Chabad and Judaism, and the movement’s late spiritual leader, Rabbi Schneerson, taught that it was a religious obligation to take a dark moment and turn it into a positive.
The strategy is to help the audience to “become a continuum of the holy world of Gavi and Rivkah so that they have a way to channel their own personal grief in a manner that makes this world a better place,” Shmotkin told JTA. “A shaliach has to be able to sensitively and articulately convey the basic messages of urging people to increase their own acts of goodness and kindness” in response to tragedy.
Within a week of the attacks, Chabad had raised about $1 million through mailboxes it had opened on Chabad.org.
“[The fundraising] is an opportunity to connect more and more Jews to the mission, and to the Rebbe’s mission of getting every Jew involved. And part of that is channeling the empathy people are now feeling,” said Rabbi Kantor, the director of the Chabad of Thailand, who helped establish the movement’s presence in Mumbai prior to the Holtzbergs’ arrival.
“I see this as being a big package or opportunity to be able to inspire and direct Jews on how they can channel their outpouring of support and sympathy, their emotion, rage, outrage and frustration,” he said.
While the immediate fundraising was geared toward helping the toddler and rebuilding in Mumbai, the stepped-up publicity may also prove to be a boon for Chabad houses. Chabad emissaries usually receive minimal seed money to start their outposts, but each house is responsible for raising its own budget each year. Though Chabad does not keep a formal database on how much each outpost raises, officials estimate that the emissaries combined take in more than $1 billion per year.
The NY Jewish Week