Machon Chana women’s institute in Crown Heights commemorated the 200th year yartzeit of the Alter Rebbe with a women’s farbrengen on Sunday evening.
The event was streamed live online, providing an opportunity for hundreds of women worldwide to participate and was part of a series of worldwide events marking Machon Chana’s 40th year anniversary.
The fabrengen provided an opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from Lubavitch women who grew up in orthodox, but non-Lubavitch homes, about why they chose a different derech in their avodas Hashem.
While Chabad’s accessibility might make it an obvious choice for a college student looking to connect to their heritage, less obvious is why someone already connected to their heritage would make this choice.
Gitty Rappaport, who grew up in Boro Park in a family of Ropshetz Chassidim, explained that growing up, her experience of Judaism and her own life experience didn’t seem to align.
“I’m a girl’, ‘I’m a dancer’, ‘I’m a daughter’ and number 17 on the list was ‘I’m a Jew’. Judaism wasn’t something that I felt defined me. I could imagine myself being ‘me’ in a non-Jewish environment.”
With too many questions and not enough answers, it was Chabad chassidus that bridged the seeming gulf between reality and Torah.
“The greatest gift chassidus has given me is that I realize that being a Jew is who I am; now it is number 1 on my list. This is not something I have to get myself to believe in, this is real; this is something I connect with.”
Chana Rosa Bogart also shared how her modern orthodox upbringing provided little solace for her as a schoolgirl.
She explained what most bothered her then: “My teachers would tell me that our tefillas are for our self refinement; if we said it was for Hashem, we were limiting him.”
It was a trip to Beis Chana that dispelled this notion and introduced a concept made novel by the Alter Rebbe: Dirah B’tachtonim. It was this staple of chabad Chassidic philosophy that brought her to an understanding that her tefillas and mitzvos mattered; that Hashem wanted and needed them.
Chana Itkin, whose Bobov education could not alleviate her young cynicism that the world was a hostile and selfish place, reiterated the sentiment.
She openly confided how, as an 11th grader, she covered a copy of Tanya is black paper and blackened out the side lettering in order that no one in her family should know what she was secretly learning. Learning from the black book liberated her from her self-focused thoughts and brought her to a realization that “it’s not about me; it’s about something bigger, much bigger.”
All three women spoke openly and honestly about their struggles and dilemmas, and about how Chabad chassidus changed their approach to ahavas yisroel, mesirus nefesh, the role of Jewish women and their relationship to tzaddikim. Most striking was how each of them questioned their upbringing at very young ages and how all it took was one close friend or relative to introduce them to Chabad teachings and to change the course of their lives forever.
The fabrengen closed with Rabbi Tzvi Homnick, whose wisdom and comical anecdotes from his own life kept the large crowd seated till the end.