By Dr. David Nesenoff
It’s easy to get there. I took American Airlines to Buenos Aires, a local TAM flight to Paraguay, a delayed plane back to Buenos Aires, a car to the river, a boat to Uruguay and then again down the river to Argentina. It’s just another Chabad speaking tour. But there’s never “just” when it comes to the world of Chabad.
I remember a couple of years ago when my wife and I drove up to Morristown, N.J. to see our son Adam for the yeshiva’s parent Shabbos. My old college roommate called and asked what I was up to. I told him that I was heading up to my son’s Chabad yeshiva. He then started yelling at me, “You got to get him out of there! They’ll brainwash him! They have bars on the windows! Are you crazy?!”
I tried to switch the topic, so I asked him what he was doing. He said to me, “My wife and I are flying out to California to visit our son for parent visiting weekend.” I asked him as to where his son was. And he replied, “He’s in Los Angeles at a drug rehabilitation facility.”
The irony, absurdity, and reality escaped him.
The Rebbe used to say, and I understand he said it only twice but it has been endlessly repeated, “Ker a velt heint.” And he didn’t say it softly. The Rebbe proclaimed it like a charge to his cavalry, “KER A VELT HEINT!” “TURN THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN TODAY!”
I had initially wondered why such a peaceful man would demand such a thing. He didn’t say it metaphorically; he was not a poet. When he said to go to Hong Kong or El Paso or Madrid or Dublin, he meant go. So when this Rebbe said to turn the world upside down today, he meant it and he meant “today!”
What could he have possibly been saying? If we turn the world upside down everything would fall out of its place. But as all of us look at this world of ours, we see mass hysteria over the child who wants to learn Torah and deep sympathy for the heroin user; our tender Jewish students are kidnapped and killed with a yawning world of apathy while the blood thirsty terrorists are exalted by the nations of the globe. Our world is not merely off kilter; it is not just a little unbalanced. No. Our world is totally upside down.
I think we have all come to realize that when the Rebbe said to turn the world upside down today, he wanted us to do so in order to turn this upside down world upside down …in order to make it right side up. Many liberal movements talk about Tikun Olam, repairing the world, as if there is a gentle tear that needs stitching. The world is completely in an opposite mode and the Rebbe knew very well that it will need more than readjusting; he demanded, “KER A VELT HEINT!”
And so for Gimmel Tamuz commemorations I traveled in this world to Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay coordinated by the very talented and capable shluchim Rabbi Levi and Etti Silberstein. I was the keynote speaker for a joint gathering of 20 Chabad houses with an audience of 2,000 at the Sheraton in Buenos Aires. I was honored to do so. Last year the Rebbe’s secretary Rabbi Yehuda Leib Groner spoke and the year before the presenter was Rabbi Avraham Shemtov. As a speaker, I endeavor to inspire and motivate my audiences. But I also personally need to be recharged; and I was re-zapped and re-jolted and refocused in a small shul in Paraguay.
I met 12 year old Chana Feigelstock in Asuncion, Paraguay, the daughter of the kind and calm Shaliach Rabbi Levi Feigelstock. Reb Levi is a man of patience with a generous smile and genuine humor. He explained with soft sarcasm, “The traffic signals here in Paraguay are just suggestions and recommendations.” His multi-talented wife, Miriam, during my visit was under the weather, and G-d willing she is fully recovered and back to all her good Shlichus and family work.
But their remarkable daughter Chana prepared, baked and looked after her siblings and was host to me all the while setting up for my upcoming audience’s buffet… AND substituted for her mother, almost single-handedly, running the community children’s program. Chana attended my presentation in the evening and asked thoughtful questions… and then after the audience left and went home, she continued her work and put all the remaining food away and helped clean up with her younger siblings under her care.
Chana didn’t need to be asked or told or instructed. She knew what to do. She speaks Hebrew and Spanish and English and some Yiddish and Portuguese thrown in as well. She smiles with such pure enjoyment while doing everything she does. She is aware, sharp and alert to all that is going on around her Chabad house and she breathes the mission of her parents.
Turning this upside down world around to make it right and correct certainly sounds like a huge undertaking, but the Rebbe’s Chana does it with ease and grace and holiness. Indeed I try my very best to inspire my Shluchim and their communities, but the children of the Shluchim continue to allow me to meet the Rebbe and understand the world he wishes to create.
En masse, the secular semi-comatose youth of the world are glued to the headset, television, twitter, Facebook, movies and magazines, while the Chanas and Mendels and Devorahs are resuscitating neshamas. And as teenagers are chauffeured off to the mall and college students loiter at the bar, all the while leaving their dirty dish on the table and socks on the floor, Chaya, Saraleh and Mendel are creating, producing and designing an environment that changes the very direction of the universe.
Every psychologist, sociologist, survey and philosophy claims that we are the product of our environment. You are who you are because of your parents, school, town, community, government and peers. But the Rebbe said, “A chosid macht a svivah.” “A Jew makes his environment.” The chosid enters and it becomes a chosideshe place. Peer pressure is replaced with independent initiative. Shmutz and beer transform into Shma Yisroel and Birkat HaMazon.
For sure, it takes a little more nerve and chutzpah and forwardness for anyone to go against the flow, especially for a young one to do so. But the Rebbe said to turn the world upside down and the way to do that is by our young ones creating an environment that is contrary to that which is being detrimentally dished out and dangerously slopped into society. Transforming the environment and turning around the world does not take place by conformity and comfort ability; mitzvos and mivtzoyim are needed.
Because of 12 year old Chana in Paraguay, the Rebbe’s hope for the world is in full force. During the Rebbe’s Yahrtzeit there is a desire and extra push to connect with the Rebbe’s life. We watch videos, read biographical books and gather together; we talk and listen to speakers like myself. But ultimately the children of Chabad are the holy conduits; they are the eternal living breathing kaddish that celebrates the Rebbe.
As the 20th year of the Rebbe’s physical passing passes and a new decade begins, we can rediscover his sustaining soul when we give extra attention and praise and care to our children; they are literally the children of Israel. For them we must strengthen our efforts to turn the world upside down in the only way we know how… we must make sure there are extra tfillin wrapped; we must strongly encourage all our women of valor to light Shabbos candles; and for all to do mitzvos and mivtzoyim.
And may Chana of Paraguay and all our children be blessed with health, safety and sanctity as they bring the coming of the Moshiach… after they’ve helped us turn this world right side up.
May Hashem bless the children of Israel… and the children of Shluchim.