By COLlive reporter
Photos: Shalom Maatuf
Can we still be connected to the Rebbe 20 years after Gimmel Tammuz?
The question, which many ask today, was addressed by a number of the speakers at the “Soul Encounters” day-long seminar, organized by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), on Sunday.
Over 1,000 people attended the single-day learning retreat at Queens College, coordinated by Boruch Cohen of JLI. It was billed as a journey of connection and reflection to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, two days before the 20th anniversary of his passing.
“How did the Rebbe change the life of thousands with a dollar? How did he influence cadres of teenagers – boys and girls – who knew exactly what they wanted to do with their lives at 15 years old?” asked Rabbi Mendel Kaplan, Director of Chabad @ Flamingo in Thornhill, Ontario.
He told a story of a man who is now an orthodox Jew because years ago he received a pamphlet with a photo of the Rebbe, whose smile he found mesmerizing, ultimately leading him to change his whole life around.
“The Rebbe gives us the energy to be Chasidim,” Kaplan concluded, “giving us the energy to turn on our own light. And if we could be connected back then, we can certainly be connected now.
“The Rebbe was a visionary who valiantly fought a battle. And like the Bible says happened in Jericho, the sun stood still until the battle was won. Today, the sun has stood still while we fight the battle. And we can all play an intrinsic role in winning.”
Participants, who came in from around the Tri-State area and even around the United States for the milestone in world Jewry, eagerly attended lecture after lecture, asking questions from speakers as well.
“Today is like an amusement park for the mind,” one participant was heard exclaiming at the conclusion of a talk about a woman’s role in Judaism with Mrs. Chaya Teldon, co-director of Chabad of Long Island, NY.
Mrs. Teldon, a lecturer and musician, gave a meaningful and entertaining talk about the role of women in Judaism, and at the forefront of the army to bring light into the world.
“The main question a person must ask is, ‘Am I a human being, having a spiritual experience or am I a spiritual being having a human experience?'” she said. “Our existence is a constant tug of war between body and soul. We are fighting a battle against darkness, bringing spirituality into a dark world. Women specifically bring goodness and light into the world in a practical way.”
Rabbi Yehuda Shemtov, Director of Chabad of Bucks County, PA, spoke about the widespread interest in the Rebbe and his legacy as evident from the recent influx of books being published about his life and teachings.
“The Rebbe was never about attracting followers or gaining awe in people’s eyes. The best way to connect to the Rebbe on a deeper level is to learn his teachings,” Rabbi Shemtov said.
Holly Wolf, a teacher and writer, came from Brooklyn Heights for the day.
“We heard lots of different and divergent voices,” she said, noting she was most impressed by the statement by Talmudic commentator Rabbi Adin Even Israel Steinzaltz that “the Rebbe was a teacher, a father and a king and set the groundwork, leaving us with marching orders.”