Mordechai Lightstone – Lubavitch.com
Before 2006 David Gavsie, a massage therapist from Montreal, Canada never dreamed he would spend a Friday night around a Shabbat table in a Chasidic home, let alone a weekend by a convention with some 3,000 Chasidic rabbis.
But after meeting Rabbi Ronnie Fine, director of Chabad Queen Mary in Montreal, he felt inspired to do something more. Seeing how the Chasidic texts he studied seemed to bring out the duality of body and soul and define their united mission, he too sought to find such symmetry in his personal relationship with his rabbi and community.
Gavsie is but one of growing numbers of laymen who join their local Chabad representatives at each year’s International Conference of Chabad Emissaries.
Sunday, lay leaders participated at a series of workshops and presentations hosted in the New York Marriott Downtown Hotel exploring the role of both the individual and the community in the work of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Partners in the growth of Chabad, lay leaders typically bond with the families of the shluchim and form deep and mutually meaningful friendships.
Dr. Michael Glassner, head of the Pennsylvania based Mainline Fertility clinic, describes the evolution of his relationship with his shliach, Rabbi Shraga Sherman of Merion Station, PA. A self-described “High Holidays” New York Jew, Glassner began his spiritual search and quest for meaning after the tumultuous days following the September 11 attacks. Eventually his search brought him to the Shermans’ home.
An expert on infertility and IVF procedures, Glassner sought to help bridge the gap between in vitro treatment and the strict requirements of Jewish Law, enabling Orthodox Jews suffering from infertility to access modern treatment. This quest culminated in 2007, when his clinic became the one of only thirteen organizations in both North and South America to join the auspices of the Puah Foundation, an Israeli organization that insures that all procedures comply with Jewish halachic standards.
The tragic events of the Mumbai attacks last November would prove to be a catalyst in Glassner’s role as a lay leader. Looking to respond to the destruction of life last year when six Jews were murdered in the Mumbai Chabad House, Glassner sought to help bring new life to the world.
Reaching out through Chabad’s extensive network to Shluchim and other members of the community suffering from infertility, Glassner successfully treated three couples. All three couples were blessed with twins, and so six new souls came into the world. The process of IVF, while highly successful, comes with a price tag of possibly as much as $15,000 per cycle of treatment. Knowing that these are prohibitive costs for most Shluchim, Glassner has vowed to personally finance all future cases within the family of Chabad representatives. In this way, says Glassner, he sees his actions as deepening the role of a lay leaders in society.
“If we take personal charge of an initiative we will not just walk in the footsteps of, or stand beside our Shluchim, but rather we can help lead as well.”
The economic recession provides other opportunities for the lay leaders to take new leadership roles. Business acumen can provide valuable advice in the market of investing in the soul. Mark Sessel of Orange, CT, president of a life insurance carrier based in the tri-state area, sees the current finical crisis and the collapse of the housing market as an apt parable to Chabad’s current role in the realm of Jewish education and leadership.
“Just as in any down market, a time of recession is an optimal time to gain market-share despite the inherent difficulties of spending when it is tight, now is Chabad’s opportunity to capitalize on gaining new ground by branching out and finding new people to become involved in philanthropic work.”
In an address to the general session of the event, Mr. Guma Aguiar, energy industrialist and owner of the Beitar Jerusalem football team, spoke about the life altering effect Chabad’s work had on him. Raised in a home that did not practice Judaism, Aguiar did not know that he was Jewish until he was 26 years old.
On a chance encounter with Rabbi Moshe Meir Lipszyc of Ft. Lauderdale, Aguiar began to deepen his spiritual connections and has become an active philanthropist supporting Jewish outreach in Israel and the Diaspora. Mr. Aguiar admits to drawing influence from the Shluchim he so admires.
“It is our duty to reach out on all levels,” he said. “From the community to the individual, we must bring the message and the legacy of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to fruition.”
In his concluding remarks to the session, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the educational division of Chabad-Lubavitch, noted the power of the partnerships forged between Chabad representatives and the lay leaders. Despite the hardships of the past year, both those physical and spiritual, the Chabad movement has continued to grow with the partnership of the community members who have taken to its cause.