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The Rebbe's Army
Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch

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The Rebbe's Army

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The Rebbe's Army
Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch

By Sue Fishkoff
Schocken Books, New York: 2003
ISBN: 0-8052-4189-2

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - July 14, 2003

Shlichim are emissaries that joyfully 'sell' Judaism around the world. The shlichim are Hasidic Jews who belong to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. These emissaries were originally sent out by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to help direct non-orthodox Jews back toward an Orthodox, torah-centered lifestyle. From a few young couples who set out to pursue a lifetime of kiruv (Jewish Outreach) in the 1950's, there are now thousands of Chabad-Lubavitch couples serving as shlichim around the world.

In The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch, Sue Fishkoff presents readers with an intimate and far reaching look into the lives and efforts of various shlichim throughout the United States. In the process Fishkoff also provides insights into the history and ideology of the Chabad-Lubavitch, and the effect that they have had on American Jewry. Fishkoff also discusses the cult of personality that developed around Reb Schneerson, and the theory that arose which stated that he was the Messiah. This is a claim that Reb Schneerson fiercely denied. Fishkoff also discuses the reasons why many felt that after the Rebbe's death that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement would disintegrate. The Rebbe passed away in 1994, since then the movement has continued its robust growth and new shlichim set out every year, continuing the Rebbe's mission to bring as many Jews back to orthodoxy as possible.

Numerous Lubavitcher youngsters prepare to become shlichim by doing outreach part time. Many older school children can be found standing on street corners after school asking people if they are Jewish. If the answer is yes, they will try to provide them with information on Judaism, answer any questions they have, and encourage the passerby to engage in a Jewish activity such as putting on tefillin (for men), or lighting the Shabbos candles if the passerby is a woman. These young people will also serve in other capacities such as by working as counselors at summer camp, tutors, or by visiting the sick. Many of these school children decide to make kiruv their lives work, and once married, many couples will apply to become full-time shlichim.

Fishkoff is not Hasidic, nor is she an orthodox Jew, nonetheless her overview of the Chabad-Lubavitch is unbiased and concise. While it is clear that she genuinely respects the Lubavitchers that she met while researching this book, she does not fanatically endorse orthodox Judaism nor endorse all the actions of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

Throughout the pages of this book, Fishkoff highlights the tremendous sacrifices that these shlichim make to carry out their work. In The Rebbe's Army, Fishkoff shows how shlichim are chosen, and how it is decided where they will go to begin their work. In this gripping account, she illustrates what it is like for an insular religious couple to leave the protection of their family and community to move to a town where they might be the only orthodox couple, and the pain they feel when it becomes necessary to send their children off to family or boarding schools in order to ensure that they have a proper Jewish education. Yet despite these difficulties, the men and women who serve as shlichim work enthusiastically, and seemingly non-stop, to 'sell' orthodox Judaism to other Jews.

Their stamina, dedication, sincerity, and the effectiveness of their message is awe inspiring. Throughout this book Fishkoff offers a faithful picture of what shlichim life is like, and what motivates them to pursue such a line of work. Fishkoff also provides an overview of the history of the Chabad-Lubavitch and the influence that they have had in the lives of not only other Jews, but also the political landscape of the United States.

The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch is an approachable and compelling book about Chabad-Lubavitch and the Rebbe's emissaries. Fishkoff has provide a window into a Lubavitch world that allows readers to understand the motivations and goals of the thousands of shlichim that have dedicated their lives to helping their fellow Jews become more religious.


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