Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau visited Morristown for the first time on Sept. 9 for the ordination of a record 278 new rabbis at the Rabbinical College of America.
His trip to the United States lasted just one day and included no other stops.
“This trip is so fast, there is no jet lag,” Lau joked before the ceremony at the RCA, which serves as the training ground for Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis. He arrived in New Jersey from Israel early Sunday morning, and departed the same evening.
And yet he undertook the trip, he said, “so we can promise the continuity of the Jewish nation according to the Jewish heritage. That’s what I’m here for: to promise that the chain will be unbroken.”
The theme of the persecution and resurrection of the Jewish people was woven throughout the ceremony, which saw the ordination of students from 14 countries and 23 states.
A majority of the newly ordained rabbis will serve as shluchim, or emissaries, at centers affiliated with Chabad’s Jewish outreach efforts around the world.
In his speech to a standing-room-only audience at the college’s Berger Auditorium, Lau spoke of his own survival during the Holocaust and expanded on his theme of continuity.
Lau suggested that the Jewish gift for survival was forged in adversity. While other peoples assimilated when new rulers came into power, Jews did not accept the religious ways of new regimes.
“They said, ‘No. Not here, lo po. You want to desecrate Shabbat? Not here. You want to cancel circumcision? Not here.’” He continued, “This day in Morristown, New Jersey, you are part of this unbroken chain of spiritual leadership. This is what brought me here today.”
Lau, who was born in Poland into a rabbinic dynasty, is not affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, but said he holds the movement in high esteem for its outreach to unaffiliated and disengaged Jews.
“If you take care of one Jewish child and you bring him on the right way, you guide him correctly, you show him the way of Torah, you teach him the concept of Jewish life — one person, one child, one girl — it’s not just him. It’s never just her. It’s all the generations created from this single one,” he told the new rabbis. “If you educate one Jewish family, the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great-grandchildren — everyone will be [Jewish] because of you.”
Lau told reporters that he first learned about Chabad from a friend who was with him on the boat when, at 14, he was among the first survivors to arrive in Israel after the Holocaust. Lau said he was proud to have had two private audiences with the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, in 1974 and in 1982.
The ceremony marked Lau’s second ordination of Chabad rabbis; the first was in Warsaw in 2008.
“It’s a great pleasure and a great privilege to have a person of the caliber of Rabbi Lau and what he stands for,” said RCA dean Rabbi Moshe Herson. “He is an inspiration to us all for his accomplishments and for his life.”