Nearly 500 friends and supporters of Chabad of the Conejo came together on Monday evening, June 9, at the Four Seasons Hotel in Westlake Village, California, to celebrate the organization’s annual Dinner. The event – centered on the theme “One Person / One World” – was propitiously highlighted by a keynote address by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, delivered just hours before the release of his widely acclaimed new book, “REBBE.”
“This ideal that one person equals the world is not an isolated phenomenon, but an everyday occurrence,” said Rabbi Moshe Bryski, Executive Director of Chabad of the Conejo, after having related a powerful story of how Chabad’s efforts to reach out to a handful of Jews on Chanukah at a shopping center in Simi Valley resulted in literally saving a man’s life and directly affecting the course of future generations. At one point during this recounting, a photograph of the man’s newborn twin grandchildren was flashed on the screen in the banquet-hall.
“Each and every day, each and every one of us is presented with myriad opportunities to touch people’s lives,” said Rabbi Bryski, “perhaps in ways that seem rather simple and unremarkable at the time, but which later prove to have an enormous impact that could not possibly have been foreseen or even imagined.”
In a dramatic and emotionally-charged moment, the man who was the subject of Rabbi Bryski’s story stepped forward and the two interlocked in an extended embrace as the room erupted in a thunderous standing ovation.
Other highlights of the evening included the presentation of the “Champions of the Spirit Award” to the Feldman Family, whose three-year-old child’s brave battle with a rare form of sarcoma had inspired an outpouring of prayer and benevolence described by Rabbi Shlomo Bistritzky as a series of events that “elevated the entire community to a whole new level of spiritual consciousness and solidarity.”
Mr. Glenn Broder, who received the evening’s “Visionary Award” from Rabbi Yisroel Levine, spoke of how Chabad’s emphasis on unconditional love was a concept he had rarely been exposed to in his younger years while growing up in an orthodox community, and how the discovery of this perspective later in life brought him back to his roots and inspired him to want to share Chabad’s vision and approach with as many others as possible.
A memorial tribute celebrating the legacies of the late Harold & Evelyn Greenberg and Mickey & Faye Berger – parents of Stuart and Carrie Greenberg, prominent lay-leaders in the Chabad of the Conejo community – was presented in poetry form by Rabbi Yitzchak Sapochkinsy. The evening’s “Woman of Valor Award” was presented to Wendy Levenson by Matty Bryski and Chana Kahanov in recognition of her volunteerism as a musician, coordinator and organizer on behalf of Chabad’s various educational and social service programs.
With all of the evening’s presentations demonstrating how actions performed at the micro level can change the world on the macro level, the stage was set for Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s gripping account of his humbling, yet empowering, 5-year journey of researching and writing about the extraordinary person described in the subtitle of his book as the “Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.”
“The Rebbe set for himself a goal that no other Jewish leader with whom I am familiar had ever set,” said Rabbi Telushkin in the early part of his address, “and that was to reach every Jewish community and every Jew in the world. It is perhaps no coincidence that all of this occurred in the aftermath of the Holocaust. For, as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it: ‘If the Nazis hunted down every Jew in hate, the Rebbe wanted to hunt down every Jew in love.’”
Telushkin’s talk was informative and insightful on many levels, but above all, it portrayed how “One Person / One World” came to be the central creed of Chabad. “The Rebbe saw each person as having been created in G-d’s image,” he said, “and when you really believe that, you understand the holiness of every person. It is therefore not surprising that you then send out emissaries to the entire world… The Rebbe’s vision was to show people that there are those who love them, and that G-d loves them, and through that love, they could change the whole world.”