By Yehuda Ceitlin, COLlive.com
A gloomy but hopeful meeting took place today in the Jewish Children’s Museum in Crown Heights where one of Chabad’s biggest philanthropist George Rohr spoke publicly, for the first time, about the economic crises and its implication on future donations.
“Whatever was promised will be fulfilled,” Rohr told a large group of Shluchim from the Former Soviet Union who heavily depend on him and fellow philanthropist Lev Leviev for basic ongoing livelihood.
“But new projects are on hold for now,” Rohr specified.
In attendance were his close Lubavitch contacts Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and distributer of his funds; Rabbi Berel Lazar, Shliach and Chief Rabbi of Russia; Rabbi David Mundshain, Director of Leviev’s Ohr Avner Fund; and Shloimy Peles, Leviev’s personal assistant.
“After the shouting on Thursday, I’m hoarse,” Lazar said this morning, referring to a heated closed session he held on Thursday with FSU Shluchim as part of the International Kinus Hashluchim taking place in New York this weekend.
TAKING A PINCH
After attentively hearing speeches of Shluchim praising his generous support and even comparing him the Almighty’s assistant, Rohr greeted a long line of rabbis, each introducing himself and adding a word or two about their cities or coming over with a local supporter (Rohr told each one of them: “Thanks for bring my partner.”)
“Yiheyeh metzuyan,” Rohr told Rabbi Zelig Ashkenazi, Shliach and Chief Rabbi of Yekaterinburg in Hebrew, literally meaning ‘it will be great.’
In his first interview since the crises, Rohr was asked by COLlive what would be his message to Chabad donors around the world who’ve lately taken a financial hit.
“It’s my father insight, you know, he always said: during good times, when things are going well, it’s no kuntz to be a Baal Tzedaka,” Rohr replied.
“When it gets hard, that’s when it’s important. When everybody is in a pinch, trying to do everything to maintain the level they’ve been given before – if at all possible; that’s where we really get tested.”
IT’S BEEN WORSE
Rohr was careful, yet realistic in predicting the future: “We don’t know whether this is a test, what we are going to do or how long this is going to last. But we should do everything we can in a prudent way, not to cut or to eliminate – to reduce, yes – but for the purpose of coming back, healthier and better in the future.”
He then added: “Look, one thing I didn’t mention here is that many people in the room remember what it was like after 1998 in Russia. You know, it was awful. The big Chessed that… we don’t remember pain so much. It was horrible, just as bad as now.
“In many ways you can say that ‘98 was worse, because the whole system was hanging a by a fingernail at the time. We didn’t know if the whole place will fly back into darkness for another 70 years.
“Today that’s not on the table,” Rohr emphasized. “It could be hard and maybe long, but we will do everything we can to survive and hold on. We need to remember there were hard times before and we’ve overcome them.”