By R. C. Berman, lubavitch.com
How much is silver lining going for these days?
As 401 Ks plunge, attendance at Chabad center programs across the United States is surging. So are the calls for counseling and the requests for help paying the heating bills. From Florida to Delaware, Arizona to California, Chabad representatives are helping their communities cope with uncertain times.
Tough times in Fort Myers, Florida’s foreclosure capitol, have brought radical changes to the community served by Rabbi Yitzchok and Nechamie Minkowitz at Chabad of Southwest Florida.
“People are asking more questions now,” said Rabbi Minkowitz. “Anyone whose faith was in the almighty dollar is shaken to find that it not as almighty as they thought.”
The Dow’s latest dives have jolted up attendance at Chabad SWF by 30%. Their latest Jewish Learning Institute “Soul Maps: Kabbalah to Navigate Your Inner World” class has grown from one small class of five into two packed courses of twenty. Questions have taken on a different tone now too, according to Mrs. Minkowitz who leads both classes.
“Because it is a global crisis, they are not asking ‘Why do bad things happen to good people?’ but ‘Where am I in life? Now that they are not wearing the mask of materialism, they’re asking, ‘Where are my values?’” Mrs. Minkowitz said.
After missing the first course night Linda Idelson requested a private catch up session because “Nechamie is open to questions of all kinds,” Idelson said.
Fort Myers’s Jewish entrepreneurs are turning to another Chabad resource, the Jewish Business Network, to weather the crisis. Stu Silver, president of the JBN, has seen attendance at the monthly meetings double this year over last.
“JBN will triple because of what is going on right now,” predicted Silver, a real estate auctioneer and author.
Other business pundits have predictions that are direr, centering upon the forthcoming credit card crisis.
In Wilmington, DE, home of credit card processing, the footsteps of the crunch have been creeping closer in the form of layoffs among executives, late night phone calls for help to Rabbi Chuni and Oryah Vogel’s home when the heating bills arrived with the first snow. And yet new people are registering for Chabad programs, said Chabad of Delaware’s Rabbi Vogel.
“They tell me, ‘Rabbi, I’d rather spend money on Torah class than go to a show because Torah is something of substance, more concrete, it lasts,’ ” said Rabbi Vogel. “Values are changing.”
With much of the economic bad news centering upon those in the corner offices, the value realignment has even reached executive suites. At Chabad Jewish Center in Scottsdale, the “Beverly Hills of Arizona,” the new faces at Chabad programs are members of the local business elite. Those who used to sate their Jewish conscience by writing a check are now showing up to Chabad to invest in gaining greater Jewish knowledge.
“Even when the Cardinals are playing on Monday night, 70 people have placed coming to a Torah class on top of their priorities,” said Rabbi Yossi Bryski, director of Adult Education at Chabad of Scottsdale, under the direction of Rabbi Yossi Levertov.
As more people turn to Chabad for assistance, Chabad centers, which are funded by local supporters, are getting ready to tighten their belts, reconsidering renovations and other extras. In Calabasas, an upscale suburb in Los Angeles county, Rabbi Eliyahu Friedman has been surprised by his community’s reaction to hard times.
“It is very humbling to see that people who have lost so much still remain strong in their commitment to tzedakah,” said Rabbi Friedman. “They tell me, ‘Rabbi, charity is the last the last thing to go.’”