A look back at the year’s most formative stories
In the Jewish year 5778, Chabad.org/News covered hundreds of events that shaped the lives of individuals and communities around the world. We wrote about those who came together in aid of people and places devastated by natural disasters and man-made catastrophes. We gave our readers reason to cheer on new Chabad emissaries, and decry anti-Semitism and bigotry. Together, we were shaken by acts of senseless violence and hate, and uplifted by stories of triumph and resilience.
As Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (celebrated this year from Sunday evening, Sept. 9, to Tuesday evening, Sept. 11) has just passed, here are some of the past year’s most formative stories.
Jewish communities opened and expanded throughout the world, as Chabad opened in its milestone 100th country, Uganda. Montenegro got its first rabbi in a century, while Curaçao got its first in 366 years. The first-ever permanent synagogue opened in Iceland. Zanzibar got its first Jewish center, and Montana got its third. Barbados became the 11th Carribean locale with a Chabad center. A yeshivah opened in Tatarstan, and millenial Chabadniks started a community in Israel’s south.
Facing Down Evil
On Oct. 1, 2017, the deadliest mass shooting by an individual in U.S. history took place in Las Vegas. Chabad rabbis provided comfort to the victims and support to law enforcement, raised funds to aid a Jewish victim and helped the Nevada governor with a prayer for healing.
Seventeen students were killed and another 17 injured in Parkland, Fla., when a gunman opened fire in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. As the tragedy’s extent unfolded, the community gathered in an area-wide shiva for the fallen, many of whom were Jewish. A new Torah was completed in Times Square, dedicated to the memory of the victims.
White supremacists found their message of hate at the University of Florida countered by an outpouring of love, as Chabad held a “Good Deed Marathon” on campus. In Europe, Jewish communities in Sweden and Holland countered anti-Semitic bigotry and threats to religious liberty with light.
In Mumbai, India, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined Moshe Holtzberg in unveiling plans for a living memorial to the victims of the terrorist attacks that took the lives of his parents, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg.
Beyond the Synagogue
Chabad doubled down on efforts to expand the reach of Judaism far beyond the synagogue-going crowd. Rabbis took to public parks to sound the shofar and erected sukkahs in public places. Public menorah-lightings and menorah parades took place around the world. Jewish pride was celebrated at festivals and sporting events, as Super Bowl fans enjoyed a kosher tailgate party in Minnesota, Shabbat was celebrated by World Cup visitors in Russia and at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
Recognizing that every person has a G dly spark within, notwithstanding exterior appearances and abilities, Chabad continued in its mission to provide assistance to people with disabilities. An innovative after-school program focused on inclusiveness and integration. A rabbi with ALS got a unique birthday gift. A group of young adults with special needs were empowered by a trip to Israel. Boys with autism celebrated their Bar Mitzvahs in Munich and Las Vegas. Jews in the Deaf community connected to G d. Inclusive mikvahs provided access for women with disabilities.
Houston was devastated by Hurricane Harvey, as widespread flooding took the lives of over 80 people and caused untold billions of dollars in damage. In the days and weeks that followed, Chabad brought relief to the victims, trucking in supplies as 50 rabbis from a dozen states joined the cleanup and aid efforts.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria cut a swath of devastation through the Carribean islands and the southeastern United States. In the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys, Chabad emissaries picked up the pieces, organizing much-needed relief efforts and leading High Holidays services in the most trying of circumstances.
Remembering the Departed
We took moments to celebrate the lives of people who had made a difference. Dr. Yitzchok Block merged chassidus and academia. Rivka Korf inspired Florida’s explosive Jewish growth. Nechama Tzipah Goodman pioneered Jewish education in America. Rabbi Yeshua Hadad led Milan’s Sephardic Jewish community. Mindelle Feller fostered Jewish growth in the Upper Midwest with a special sense of caring. Rabbi Avrohom Cohen served immigrants in Beersheva. Rabbi Zev Dov Slonim was a leading Jerusalem rabbi. Rabbi Mendel Morosov personified Chabad history and wit. Elazar Kalman Tiefenbrun painted portraits of Torah scholars. Esther Bukiet was the matriarch of a large Chabad family. Alessa Wircberg opened her home and heart to those rediscovering Judaism. Zalmy Plotkin brought joy to everyone who knew him. Dr. Yehoshua (Evsey) Neymotin continued his family’s Chabad Soviet legacy. Rabbi Sholom Dov Ber Gutnick built Judaism throughout Australia. Devorah Groner was a pioneering emissary and educator in Australia. Danny Green was a model of positivity and inclusion. Milton Kramer was a third-generation pillar of Chabad in America.
Amid stories of pain, encouraging moments uplifted us all, perhaps none more prominent this year than the improbable rescue of 13 young people trapped deep in a Thailand cave. Thanking G d for the good news, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor of Chabad of Thailand put into words the thoughts of many: “This is the story the world needs.”
May this new year of 5779 bring only good news for the Jewish people and the world!
By: Tzemach Feller