yahrtzeit for the moshiach

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson

So.  The moshiach died on this day.  He actually died on June 12, 1994 — but that’s the wrong calendar.  On the Jewish calendar, it was 3 Tammuz, 5754. Which this year works out to July 5th — today.  I got an invite from Chabad of the East Bay to come to their Farbrengen and BBQ in memory of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson — who transformed Chabad from a small Brooklyn Lubovitcher outpost to a worldwide messianic outreach movement that is vibrant, active, and growing by leaps and bounds.  I’ve seen different estimates for the number of Chabad houses — from 1300 to 3500, in 65 or 70 countries around the world.  Whatever the number, it’s big, this Chabad.

Rabbi Schneerson was born on 11 Nissan (April 12th) 1902 in southern Ukraine.  His (“brilliant”) studies in mathematics and the sciences at the University of Berlin were interrupted by the rise of the Nazis. He transferred to the Sorbonne in Paris, but escaped German occupied France in 1941. He settled in Crown Heights, Brooklyn — the domain of his father-in-law, R’ Yosef Yitzhak Schneerson — and then, he pretty much stayed put. From Crown Heights, he transformed Judaism.

The growth of the Chabad movement has been such that numerous indigenous and longstanding Jewish communities, from North Africa to South America have ended up with little or none of their original forms of ritual practice and prayer.  Instead, what they’ve got is Chabad. And sometimes Chabad is just all the Judaism left in a community at all.

Despite my ambivalence about the Chabad takeover of ancient localized Judaisms, I still thought to say a kaddish on the yahrtzeit of R’ Menachem Mendel Schneerson’s death — even if I’m not exactly comfortable going to a Farbrengen / BBQ at the Berkeley Chabad house.  And I thought, too, that my Sephardi accent and pronunciation just wouldn’t quite be right.  So I looked on the Chabad website, and lo and behold, I found the Interactive Kaddish Trainer, which claims to be able to teach you to “say kaddish like a pro.”  Wow.

I tried.

I shouldn’t have tried.

Of course, according to Chabad, I shouldn’t be saying kaddish at all.  And certainly, neither should Erin.  In fact, WTF is she doing, doing this project at all?  And how on earth did she send me of all people on this kaddish road, anyway?  But I guess we’ll have to answer those questions some other time.  For now, let me say that according to Chabad, a) women should not recite kaddish, b) shikses for sure shouldn’t be saying kaddish, and c) you need a minyan to say kaddish.  That would be a real minyan. A minyan of men. Chabadniks,  would be the preference, of course.

But I’m stubborn, I guess.  And I’ve seen films of the rebbe in action, and watched the joy he could put on people’s (okay, men’s) faces (there were no women in the films that I’ve watched).  The rebbe apparently claimed that “just one good deed could usher in the era of the moshiach” — the messianic era.  Maybe my saying kaddish for the rebbe could do it?

No? You don’t think so? Well, I can try.

The rebbe thought that the downfall of the Soviet Union, and the invasion of Iraq were signs of the coming of the moshiach. Somehow, some of his followers decided that what he meant was that he himself was that moshiach.  The real live messiah himself.  As you might imagine, there’s a bit of debate over this issue.  Part of the debate focuses on whether the rebbe himself actively accepted the role and appellation of messiah, or whether it was merely attributed to him by zealous followers. There’s good evidence for the former point of view.

Either way, I think a kaddish here at kaddish in two-part harmony (even in this outpost of gynocentrism) is in order.

So. I set out to “learn to say kaddish like a pro” and booted up my Interactive Kaddish Learner.

Given the proscriptions against me to begin with, I think I did a somewhat decent job of it.  No disrespect intended.  The rebbe himself would approve of someone (okay, a man, a Jewish man) trying to say this kaddish for him.  After all, he received a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal for his “benevolence, ethics, leadership, and scholarship…” So. That’s what outreach is all about. I get to say kaddish. For him, no less.  And I think he’d be okay with my laughter, as I was close to tears at how hard it was to get those Ashkenazi twisted vowels to come out of my Sephardi mouth. Rabbi Schneerson could move energy like nobody’s business.   He’d have the shabbos crowds singing at those farbrengen events.  Joyous occasions — that’s what he was after.  And there’s Berkeley Chabad having a farbrengen on the anniversary of his death. I’m happy to attempt an Ashkenazi kaddish for him.

So. I think a joyous attempt at a Chabadnik kaddish, and my own laughter at all my own mistakes, is exactly what the rebbe was after.  A little laughter is a powerful thing.

I’m even likely to maybe try it again.

For more on the Lubovitcher Rebbe, take a look at [amazon_link id=”0691138885″ target=”_blank” ]The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson[/amazon_link], by Samuel Heilman and Menachem Friedman, published by Princeton University Press.  The rebbe’s blurring of the boundaries between this world and the world to come is very much worth the read.  And you don’t need a minyan to pick up and read a book.  I think.

About mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.
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5 Responses to yahrtzeit for the moshiach

  1. Pingback: daily kaddish: for r' schmeerson

  2. erin says:

    I can’t remember when I had quite this much fun recording a daily kaddish. Thanks, Mira!

  3. mira says:

    Agreed — that certainly was the case for me. The thing is, that’s the point of Hasidut, isn’t it?! That prayer should bring joy, that congregating should feel like resonance not resentful obligation. That it’s okay to be learning. More than okay. ‘Just’ learning is what it’s all about. And that ללמד / ללמד [lilmod / lilameid — to study / to teach] are part of the same cycle of joyous interaction.

  4. Pingback: Kaddish, Pain, and Ascension

  5. Pingback: daily kaddish: what a difference a collaborator makes

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