By Dovid Zaklikowski for COLlive and Hasidic Archives
It was 1975, and Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht, the dynamic director of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Education (NCFJE), was preparing to travel to London for the wedding of his son Yossi to Raisy Adler. When he informed the Rebbe of his upcoming trip, the Rebbe gave him several missions to fulfill while he was in the city.
Rabbi Hecht was a warm, enthusiastic and loveable man. The English, on the other hand, were known for their reserved nature. “Try to internalize the American warmness, and remove the English coldness,” the Rebbe told an English student who asked how to fit in at the American school he was attending.
To encourage Rabbi Hecht in his missions, however, the Rebbe chose to focus on the positive attributes in the national character, recalling a story he had read in a report written by a Chabad representative in London four years earlier:
In 1972, Rabbi Aron Dov Sufrin, then-director of education at the Lubavitch House Schools, had a vision that the students should create an exhibit on Jewish history and life. He recruited many of the local Jewish day schools to participate, and the students put together a cutting-edge exhibition in the Lubavitch House hall.
As a guest of honor for the grand opening, Rabbi Sufrin invited Lady Margaret Thatcher, then minister of education and science, and later prime minister. For two hours, the minister toured and listened to the students’ detailed explanations of the exhibits.
The exhibit included a large screen with a slideshow depicting the daily life of a young Jewish girl. It started with the girl waking up, reciting the prayer thanking G-d for returning her soul, washing her hands and then getting dressed in modest clothes that covered her knees and elbows.
The minister, who wore a sleeveless blouse, immediately took note. She asked her assistant to get her jacket from the car and wore it for the remainder of the visit.
While one could dwell on their negative qualities, the Rebbe told Rabbi Hecht, what truly optimized the English was their respect for others.