WHAT IS CHABAD, AND WHAT ARE THEY DOING IN GUILFORD?

Rabbi Yossi Yaffe

 
When people meet me, they often ask a variation of this question: "Rabbi, why did you move here? Orthodox and Chasidic Jews don't live on the Shoreline! Did you get off the wrong exit on the 95?” I smile, and explain that I am exactly where I want to be and where I am supposed to be. Moving to the Shoreline nine years ago, my wife and I knew that we would be living and raising our children in a different kind of community. But this is nothing new to either of us. I was born and raised in Portland, Maine; my wife was raised in Toledo, Ohio—neither city is a Jerusalem-like bastion of Jewish living and observance. But the same way our parents were able to raise us as observant Jews—proud of our traditions, our heritage, and our differences—we look forward to raising our family in Guilford.
 
It is true that most Orthodox and Chasidic Jewish families live in tightknit communities with access to kosher food, synagogues, and Jewish schools for their children. Not Chabad. Chabad, a branch of Chasidic Judaism, has adherents willing to settle anywhere in the world where Jews can be found. In the wake of a Holocaust that decimated 6 million Jews, Chabad became a movement dedicated to searching out every Jew in love and connecting them to their heritage and their people as Jews had once been searched out and hunted down in hate. A young couple will move out to a community and work for the rest of their lives to help the local Jewish community grow and flourish.

  Today 3,200 Chabad centers service Jewish communities from Shanghai to Seattle and everywhere in between. And I am sure that when many of these centers started, people asked the same question: “Rabbi, are you lost?”
 
You may not know this, but one of your friends or neighbors probably has a connection to Chabad. They may join a Friday night dinner, enjoy a lecture, go to a concert or participate in holiday services. Maybe I visited their parent in hospice or counseled them in a crisis. They may not sport the same beard and head covering as me, but they feel comfortable at Chabad—and I am pretty sure you would, too. Why? Because a hallmark of any Chabad center is that even though the rabbi and his family lead a Chasidic Jewish lifestyle, with a distinct mode of dress and behavior, everyone is made to feel welcome and comfortable regardless of their level of religiosity or observance.    

  A random sampling of the people at any Chabad event produces a real variety of backgrounds, interests, involvement and knowledge. You will find everyone from members of the Madison and Chester temples, to unaffiliated families, people who have been studying and practicing Judaism their entire life to people who have never entered a synagogue before. Yet everyone is valued and accepted—and feels it.

Our goal is to help local people strengthen their connection to their heritage through study, worship, and good deeds.  Each day can bring spiritual and ethical growth—at our own pace and according to our unique abilities and strengths. Each deed stands on its own, helping to improve and ultimately transform the world as a whole. Judaism is a rich tradition that guides every aspect of life with its texts, ethical teachings, spiritual disciplines, rituals, customs, and prayers. Here at Chabad we try to provide appealing portals for people to better access this tradition: classes, holiday events, family programs and more.
 
Each Chabad center focuses on a specific region as a lifelong mission. It receives no outside funding—all funds are raised locally and spent locally. Chabad of the Shoreline, along with the more than 20 Chabad centers in Connecticut alone, serves the needs of the local Jewish community. We serve families from East Haven to Old Lyme, but the majority of the Jewish population is clustered around Branford, Guilford and Madison. A synagogue in Guilford will bring positive elements, education, charitable activity, good deeds, and blessing to the town. It is something that Guilford should welcome. Change is something to embrace, not fear. The next time a stranger approaches me, instead of "Are yo
u lost?" I hope to hear, "Have you moved in yet?"
 
Rabbi Yossi and Rochel Baila Yaffe run Chabad of the Shoreline. Any comments or questions can be sent to chabad@snet.net  or 203-453-5580.