5781 in Review: A Year of Overcoming Adversity, Rebuilding & Recovery

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Thousands of mourners gathered at the resting place of Avrohom Daniel Ambon, a yeshivah student from Argentina who died in the tragedy in Meron on Lag BaOmer. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The stories that shaped the past 12 months

By: Tzemach Feller

As the Jewish year 5782 is ushered in with the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—the second High Holiday season of the pandemic—here is a look back at some of the stories that helped define this year, as featured on Chabad.org/News.

It was a year that saw unity in the face of adversity; regrowth and rebuilding in the face of destruction, illness and hatred; and significant steps towards a better time for all of humanity.

As the High Holiday season began a year ago, the Jewish world faced the prospect of an almost unrecognizable Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Simchat Torah. With a devastating fall wave of Covid raging, many synagogues had to remain closed, and holiday observance seemed challenging, if not outright difficult.

But for Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries the world over, guided by the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—who taught that every circumstance encountered must be turned into an opportunity for growth and the furtherance of Judaism—the road ahead was clear.

Because there have always been people who can’t make it to synagogue on Rosh Hashanah. And in 1953, the Rebbe launched the Shofar Campaign, encouraging people to bring the central observance of Rosh Hashanah to the streets—and to hospitals, prisons or wherever else Jews found themselves.

What was different this year was that for the first time, the campaign was replicated by the entire Jewish world, as millions heard the shofar in public worldwide. This guiding principle to make Judaism and Jewish practice accessible to every Jewish person continued to drive the activities of Chabad emissaries throughout a year filled with ups and downs and constantly changing circumstances.

The holiday of Sukkot once again saw creative measures to bring the observances to all safely as Chabad emissaries helped people build their own sukkahs—many for the first time—obtain their own lulav and etrog set or safely observe the mitzvah in a traveling sukkah-mobile. They even brought holiday supplies to Jews isolated in the NBA’s bubble as professional sports resumed during the pandemic.

There was remembrance, too, of the many lost to Covid. Especially poignant was a pre-Yom Kippur Yizkor broadcast on Chabad.org that remembered more than 1,200 Jewish victims of the coronavirus.

 

Innovation and Expansion Amid Adversity

Innovation in the face of adversity continued as the International Conference of Chabad emissaries moved online amid the pandemic. The virtual nature of the event did not dampen the enthusiasm of the attendees, however, as a virtual Chassidic gathering that began during the conference became the world’s longest Zoom event. The conference also made clear that the pandemic had not slowed the dramatic growth of Chabad around the world, as more than 100 new emissaries joined the ranks of Chabad from the United Arab Emirates to Lagos, Nigeria, as well as in Newcastle, Australia; Paris, France; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Austin, Texas. Later in the year, Chabad women emissaries united online for their conference and envisioned a better year ahead during a virtual gathering that felt uniquely in-person.

Chanukah saw the proliferation of car menorah parades—the latest Covid-safe Chanukah experience as Chabad saw its largest Chanukah campaign yet reach 8 million people as hundreds of thousands of Chanukah kits and Chabad.org’s Chanukah booklet helped families celebrate at home, a Zoom Chanukah celebration united Jews in the U.S. military, and Chanukah celebrations adapted to the pandemic and lit up the world from Washington,D.C., to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.

Purim saw more outdoor events with some Chabad centers embracing the cold for “Purim in the Arctic” parties while some places were able to celebrate Covid-free. And in California, amid rising Covid deaths, the Los Angeles Jewish Burial Society faced its holy task with loving determination.

Passover approached as the long-awaited coronavirus vaccines began to be available, and Chabad vaccination programs helped seniors spend the holiday with family. As many prepared for a second Passover at home, Chabad.org’s Haggadah was launched, providing an inspiring guide for contemporary Seders. As cases spiked in Europe, Chabad worked around the clock to prepare for the holiday, and as demand increased for shmurah matzah, the specially-supervised matzah was baked in Fort Worth, Texas, for the first time and 20,000 Passover-to-go boxes were distributed despite a national glue crisis, as Passover ushered in a season of hope as the pandemic receded.

A Minnesota school for Jewish women marked 50 years with a tribute to the Rebbe, and U.S. President Joe Biden proclaimed “Education Day” for the Rebbe’s date of birth, bringing focus to re-energizing moral education after a pandemic year. Florida’s passage of legislation for a Moment of Silence in public schools did the same.

Jewish people carefully stepped out for the spring holiday of Lag BaOmer, but the holiday was marred by tragedy as 45 people were crushed to death at a Lag BaOmer event in Meron, Israel. Chabad.org memorialized their lives as thousands attended their funerals.

Then, as Shavuot approached, hostilities flared in the Holy Land as Israel fell under attack, the artillery barrage of more than 1,000 missiles killing six and injuring scores more while mob violence targeted Jews in mixed Arab-Jewish cities such as Lod, Bat Yam, Haifa and elsewhere. A worldwide call went out to join together on Shavuot at synagogues in support of Israel, Israeli kids under attack received gifts from the United States, and Chabad in Sderot inspired a city under near-constant attack.

The world marked the 27th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing as “Unfazed,” a virtual program attended by thousands, highlighted the Rebbe’s message of resilience.

  (www.Chabad.org)