An Open Letter to the residents of Crown Heights by Rabbi Moshe Bleich:
Next weekend, Shabbos Parsha Lech Lecha, over 800 students and 100 Shluchim and Shluchos will be coming bez”h to Crown Heights for the largest Pegisha of its kind in history.
As Shluchim on campus, many of my colleagues deal with great mesiras nefesh with a constant uphill battle, inspiring and serving hundreds of Jewish students each and every week. Around this time each year, though, we are reminded that we’re not alone.
Seeing the unbelievable Hachnosas Orchim with which the residents of Crown Heights open their doors, take care of our students, and put up with all of the tumult that goes along with such an endeavor – especially knowing that this comes so closely on the heels of an already very taxing month of Tishrei – is the greatest reminder that Chassidim Ein Mishpocha, that we are part of a family of Chassidim who are true partners in our work.
Indeed, the students who come, year after year, walk away inspired. They are touched by the exposure to a Chassidic community, by the Farbrengens and meals, by the visits to 770 and the Ohel. But as often as not, what they are most affected by are their hosts. By the thought that families would so open their doors to complete strangers, show them such warmth, even –in most instances – lend them their keys! That expression of Chassidus lived, in a practical sense, makes the biggest impact. Seeing the smiles on so many greeting faces, knowing that people will stop and offer them help on the street when they’re walking around looking confused, the feeling of being welcomed. It makes them realize that their Rabbi and Rebbetzin don’t exist in a vacuum; that they’re not just who they are because “it’s their job”, but that this is truly a way of life open to everyone. So before we descend on your homes and lives for a couple of days, I wanted to take this opportunity – on behalf of Chabad on Campus International Foundation and on behalf of each and every one of the Shluchim and Shluchos – to thank you for your hospitality. To thank you for taking us in. And to thank you for the impact you will have on our students’ lives.
A note about the date: Had there been any option, we would have avoided having the Pegisha at such a busy time. So many people have already been overextended by Tishrei. The Shluchim and Shluchos themselves have served thousands of meals each in the past month, and would like nothing better than to leave this for a quieter time of year. Unfortunately, after looking carefully through EVERY possible alternative, this was the only weekend in the year that could be made to work. We apologize for the inconvenience.
At the same time, I have been asked to make the following request:
The students you will see on the streets, in almost all case, have a long-standing developing relationship with the Shluchim and Shluchos on their campus. In almost every case, the Shliach and Shlucha have prepared the student to the extent possible, highlighted behaviors that are acceptable or are not, etc. What these students gain most from the people they meet is the simple and straightforward Ahavas Yisroel that Crown Heights is built upon.
If they are doing something inappropriate – smoking, taking a picture, or carrying an umbrella on Shabbos, to name but a few possibilities – please remember these people are still on a path towards Frumkeit. Past experience has shown that positive and uplifting experiences help them grow in their Yiddishkeit while well-intentioned instructions about Hilchos Shabbos – or anything else for that matter – have sometimes had long-lasting negative effects.
Along the same lines, times have changed drastically in the attitudes most campuses have towards alcohol. We respectfully ask that people be very careful about serving mashke at all, and especially to underage students, as there have at times been negative results in the past.
Again, Thank You! May all of our efforts be met with Hatzlacha, may they achieve their goal of bringing Nachas to the Rebbe, and may we immediately all together celebrate the ultimate kibutz goliyos with the coming of Moshiach Now!
Rabbi Moshe Bleich on behalf of the Chabad on Campus International Shabbaton Organizing Committee.