Judaism: For the Alter Rebbe's Yahrzeit: A Little Light
These are tense times for all who care about Israel and the future of the Jewish people. Challenges that seem to grow by the day await resolution in the unknown that lies ahead. How can Israel act to stop the Iranian nuclear threat? Will American Jewry be able to stem the tide of apathy and assimilation? Will Israel stand by its best interests in the face of the pressure campaign being waged by the Obama Administration and the International Community?
The first Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Shneur Zalman, famously taught that in life “A little bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.” The narrow perspective through which most of us view matters makes it too easy to leave opportunity to waste. In times such as ours, it is important to remember that no act is without meaning and no effort is too small. The Rebbe’s teaching exhorts us to fulfill whatever potential we have, especially in times such as this, with the understanding that it’s the little things that often make a difference.
Recently, I received an inspiring lesson that I would like to share. My work on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people often brings me into the heart of darkness – the college campus. The negativity and challenges that await our children as they enter institutions of higher learning is no secret. Many American universities, including the most elite among them, have become the new ghettos where anti-Israel/Jewish activism and propaganda is aimed to browbeat young Jews into silence.
Our responsibility to the young is to confront universities that silently tolerate anti-Israel/Jewish activism, and to consistently deliver whatever measure of education and encouragement students are willing to accept. This task can often prove more frustrating than rewarding.
Several years ago I lectured at a university that was experiencing problems with anti-Israel/Jewish activism. As a part of my lecture I often recommend to students that they obtain a copy of "Myths and Facts: A guide to the Arab-Israeli conflict". (Ed. Note: The author often sends op-eds to Arutz Sheva). The book is an essential tool for anyone who may make the brave decision to stand up for Israel, and a primer for any layperson who simply cares to learn a bit more.
Knowing that many college students don’t follow through with things in the face of any inconvenience, I am in the habit of buying used copies of the Myths and Facts guide on Amazon.com for just a few dollars so that I can give them away after my campus lectures. In the fall of 2010 I gave a copy of the book to an inquiring young woman who was finishing her first semester of college. Thank Heaven I did so. There was nothing particularly memorable about the brief exchange I shared with her. She was just one of an untold number of students whom I have encountered over the last decade. I thought nothing of the act when I gave her the book.
In the spring of 2013 I received an email from the young woman. She reminded me of our brief meeting and the fact that I had given her a copy of the book. She was writing to thank me, and to share a moving experience she had. She was now a junior, and had made her way into more advanced studies. She found herself enrolled in a class with a professor who had a significant hostility toward Israel that was repeatedly aired in the course of class discussion. The professor was using his academic authority in the classroom to sell false information about Israel in order to manipulate unknowing and unsuspecting students.
The young woman quickly had enough, and she brought the Myths and Facts guide with her to class. The next time the teacher launched into slanderous statements about Israel the young woman immediately used the book to challenge the professor and refute his assertion with a concise statement of fact and an academic quality citation. The exchange exposed the bias of the professor, who was forced to admit in front of a class of more than 50 students that his statement about Israel was incorrect. The professor did not bring up the subject of Israel again during the remainder of the course. The young woman had used the light of truth to dispel darkness.
After class the young woman was approached with gratitude by some of her peers, not all of whom were Jewish. Many of them had been too intimidated or unprepared to do what she had done. They thanked her for taking the initiative to stand up to the professor’s falsehoods with such intelligence and credibility. She had set a fine example and directed all of them to obtain their own copy of Myth and Facts.
In her email to me, this young woman described her experience in spiritual terms that would move any caring Jew to tears. She said it had been “the single most awake moment of [her] life” and that it had “overwhelmed [her] with an immense desire to become more vocal and more Jewish.”
The young woman has since taken a leadership role in her campus’s pro-Israel student organization and is learning to keep Shabbat and Mitzvot at the Chabad Student Center. She is arranging to spend a year in Israel after obtaining her degree this coming spring. Most importantly, she makes a point of emailing every interested student she encounters a link to the online version of the Myths and Facts Guide. In her email, she traced all of this this back to the $3 book I gave her.
This young woman had reached out two and a half years after we briefly met, by which time I could hardly recall my encounter with her. She wanted to thank me for having helped to created a defining moment for her and others, and to encourage me to continue my work. How could I have known that such a small and rather thoughtless act for my part could have led to such a profound moment? Baruch Hashem.
It is needless to say that the Alter Rebbe, whose yartzeit is this coming Friday, was entirely right. We must place a much greater emphasis on doing all we can for the sake of Eretz Yisrael and every Jew. I now object when I hear people say: “what difference will it make?” Don’t be so quick to think that one must have a plan of action, or great resources, or invest tons of time in order to make a difference. Your small light may dispel a lot of darkness.