By COLlive reporter
Photos by Elliot b. Siegel
250 people came to the Sabes Jewish Community Center in Minneapolis last week to draw inspiration from the Lubavitch Rebbe with the help of a politician and a Reform Rabbi.
The event on Wednesday, July 9 was organized by Upper Midwest Merkos – Lubavitch House of Minnesota to commemorate the 20th yartzeit of the Rebbe.
Guests were warmly welcomed by the state’s Chabad Shluchim, headed by Rabbi Mosher Feller and his wife Mindelle. The program was emceed by Rabbi Mendel Feller and coordinated by Rabbi Mordechai Grossbaum.
At the center of the event was a conversation with 73-year-old Burt Siegel, the beloved leader of the Reform Shul of New York in Manhattan who dropped anchor at Chabad of the Upper East Side as part of a life-long spiritual quest.
While he continues to lead the popular liberal congregation he founded 14 years ago, Siegel davens with the daily 7:30am Shacharit minyan at Chabad. After wrapping his newly purchased tefillin, he joins the Kollel of young Chabad rabbinical students where he studies Talmud, Tanya and Chumash.
As he told Mrs. Baila Olidort of Lubavitch.com in an interview, which was reprised on stage, he found a tradition that has given him “a sense of the depth of Jewish spirituality that I only knew about vaguely.”
Before the conversation, Mrs. Olidort spoke about the Rebbe and his mission. The assembled were mesmerized as she read a letter to the Rebbe from a non-Jewish acquaintance of a Jew who had passed away, thanking the Rebbe who was the only one to care about her friend and share some Yiddishkeit after being rejected by her own family for straying from Yiddishkeit.
The Rebbe’s love for each and every Jew, no matter the circumstance or situation, had brought her friend to light Shabbos candles and have a mezuza on her door and ultimately to be buried as a Jew. Mrs. Olidort explained the Rebbe’s pioneering of kiruv and the Mitzva campaign, comparing it to the fulfillment of the fundamental mitzva of Hashovas Aveida – to return a lost item to one’s fellow. The Rebbe, in the face of criticism for working with Jews on every level was following the dictum described in the verse commanding the Jew upon finding a lost object, “When you see the lost item belonging to your brother…it may not be ignored – it must be returned.” The Rebbe returned Yiddishkeit to the generation.
Participants also heard from Minnesota icon Rudy Boschwitz, Home Improvement businessman and 6-term U.S. Senator who had a close and unique relationship with the Rebbe.
“As a senator, I was received by kings in palaces and prime ministers in ornate offices,” he said, “but no one made an impact on me as the Rebbe did from the small cramped quarters in Brooklyn.”
The evening opened with the recitation of Tehillim led by Dr. David Brownstein for the safety of the Jewish people in Israel and a reception followed the program.
“The people were mesmerized with the program,” Rabbi Mosher Feller told COLlive.com. “Yet, you know what was the greatest? the Rebbe!”
Rabbi Feller said that JEM’s recent short video about the Rebbe’s legacy titled Marching Orders was screened in parts at the event and deeply inspired the crowd.