I never met the Rebbe. Characteristically, I came late to the party. My first introductions to Judaism were through Chabad, both a local Chabad house and through family, so I knew of the Rebbe very early on, but I wasn’t sure what it had to do with me, personally. The Rebbe always seemed to belong to those who already were Lubavitch and was a distant figure, in grainy video or pictures on walls.
For a conversion candidate, many choices are made based on what will be most likely accepted by a Rabbinical court. A lot of advice is given to stay away from any controversial topics and also to appear to be as “middle of the road” Orthodox as possible. Chabad also has a tradition of not involving itself in conversion, so it can often be difficult to convert in a Chabad community.
And so, because we really wanted to be Jews, it seemed we couldn’t be Lubavitch, so we moved to a Ashkenazic shul, putting away our blue siddurs and taking out black ones, we traded Amein for Baruch hu. It was a good community and a wonderful shul, but we never quite felt like we fit in. I felt guilty “sneaking” away to Chabad classes or holiday functions, but I found that keeping that connection helped me keep a connection to the warmth that had originally drew me to Judaism. I didn’t know why, but I just felt more uplifted by that particular flavor.
And yet, I still struggled with the Rebbe. I listened to the stories of those who followed him and I also listened to the criticisms. I read books. It felt presumptuous, though, for me to claim any connection to him, even though I have family who are Lubavitch. I’m not Jewish, not yet, and I never met the man. I’ve never been to Crown Heights.
Finally, this summer, a few events had me feeling like I couldn’t keep up with the punches. I was davening and doing my best to trust in Hashem, but I felt so alone. I wished I had a Rebbe to talk to, someone with that ability to see through a situation and tell me exactly what I should do, like in the stories I’d heard. It was the week of the parsh of the spies, where we talk about Calev going to pray at the tomb of the Patriarchs and I found myself wondering if it might be ok if I asked someone with a voice more powerful than mine to join my prayers, to add to my own voice.
And so, feeling a little out of place, I wrote my letter.
I poured out my heart onto the page. I re-wrote it several times. It felt presumptuous to ask the Rebbe to pray for a non-Jew, but I did it anyway. Just the act of writing it all out was a comfort, like journaling. I felt relief as I sent it, but I wasn’t sure if anything would change. I kept my part, praying and doing what I could.
I can’t say for certain if it was writing the Rebbe that changed things for us, but I do know that about a week or so later, the situations I’d been facing all eased and my prayers for clarity and a clearer path forward seemed to be answered. I like to think the Rebbe somehow did read my note and prayed for me. He was known for his kindness toward non-Jews as well.
As the Rebbe’s yahrzeit approaches, I still don’t know for certain where we fit in and…I think that’s actually a good thing. I know I enjoy davening with Chabad more than anyone else and I really love the warmth which they bring to Torah study. I know I hope to have my children in Chabad schools and to keep on learning and growing in a Chabad community.
And that will just have to be enough for now. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to call myself one of the Rebbe’s Chossids, but for now that seems to big of a jump, too presumptuous. I’d be happy to work on being Jewish first and leave the rest in Hashem’s hands.