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I couldn't put this book down. It describes in excellent (without excessive) detail the origins of the Lubavitch/ Hassid movement, and follows several of the shlichim around the US. It slightly touches on the international aspect of the movement, but not from the author's experience which is a shame.
The book is written so well - it draws the reader into wondering how there could be a more kind and thoughtful way of life anywhere else, and then there's the twist at the end of the book (Messianism and divisions). I didn't know much about the Rebbe or Lubavitch before reading the book and now feel I have a good insight.
The book starts with the question "Why do observant and non observant Jews and non Jews like the Lubavitch so much?" and answers the questions very well.
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This fascinating book is about the Chabad-Lubavitch movement and its late Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-94).
This work is a well written account containing much interesting information. The writer has clearly put a lot of work into this book and traveled widely to visit the various Chabad houses dotted all over the USA.
I must admit, however, that I did find it a bit overburdened at times with narrative causing each chapter to be unnecessarily lengthy - but this may be just a male response! The disturbing thing about the book is that the writer was clearly overawed by the Rebbe's shlichim [emissaries] - and one can even see why. But this has resulted in an insufficiently critical perspective. For example, shlichim are very persuasive in their assurances that they are not out to hijack Judaism, yet a Google search for Orthodox synagogues brings up, among other things, the Chabad-Lubavitch website which siphons people off to various Chabad houses and does not give an overall listing of Orthodox synagogues.
Furthermore, the book barely touches on the theological aberrations of this movement (e.g.: God-in-everything [which is a distortion of the authentic Biblical teaching that God is everywhere or `omnipresent'] and reincarnation). Of course, it can be argued that such an analysis was not the author's intention. Nevertheless, as this is a book for lay-people, this would have been helpful.
There is somewhat more emphasis on the bizarre practices involved in trying to keep in touch with the Rebbe after his death. The question of whether some of this constitutes praying to the Rebbe is raised [pp.Read more ›
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47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Are you Jewish?28 Sept. 2003
Rebecca of Amazon
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"Chabad has a formidable infrastructure. It has an elegant and fascinating theology, an interpretaion of reality based on the Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism, that many Jews find intellectually and spiritually compelling." ~Sue Fishkoff
On a rainy November afternoon in 1993, Sue Fishkoff received a call from the Lubavitch headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. At the time, she was not fully aware of the Hasidic movement and had never met a "Hasid." Soon, Sue Fishkoff was traveling throughout America and immersing herself in the world of Chabad Houses. As she discovered the optimism and devotion, she started to admire their openness to the world. She was in awe of how Lubavitchers tried to consciously show love in every moment of their lives and noticed that while they did adhere to Jewish rituals, they were nonjudgmental.
The author does object to various aspects of Chabad in North America. She doesn't like the women's sheitels, sitting behind a mechitza, the aversion to modern culture and their refusal to consider concessions to the Palestinians. However, the author says her book is not about the political involvement, it is a comprehensive history of Lubavitch Hasidism and an exploration of basic human kindness. She also helps to shed light on the shlichim. These are young Luvavitch couples who act as Jewish missionaries to areas that do not follow Orthodox beliefs. They set up "Chabad Houses."
Most of the book focuses on the daily life and history of Chabad. She tells stories of how couples set up on a campus and then work their way into situations where they are feeding hundreds of students, holding campus celebrations for Jewish holidays and teaching classes in Bible, Talmud, Jewish Lawa and Hasidic philosophy. There is intriguing information on the "laws of mikvah" that govern a Jewish couple's sexual life. It interested me and I went to see the site they recommended and also found there were videos of the mikvah "the mysterious immersion in water" experience.
It was interesting to read about what the Rabbi Manis said about shaking hands. This religion has very strict codes of conduct that almost make it seem impossible to avoid offending people who are not aware of these religious beliefs. Although, I've always thought shaking hands was overrated. It would be nice to do away with some formalities so you could break the ice in a more natural fashion.
There is a sense of comfort in knowing there are people who are dedicated to their communities and who believe in a God who cares about us, protects us and gives us our very breath. I thought Vivi Deren from Connecticut made some excellent points about how society has elevated career, money and social position while devaluing home and family. I've worked in Jewish homes while working my way through college and what impressed me most was the commitment to family. Oh, and the chicken soup was pretty good too. I even learned to make Challah and I am thankful I was allowed to experience the beauty of Jewish culture.
While reading this book, you might almost start to feel homesick for a beauty so rare, I'm not sure I can even describe it. It is the feeling of being loved for who you are and of being cared for by loving people who are as concerned about your soul as your physical well being. Sue Fishkoff has captured this wonderful feeling in a book! The sense of connection and support is impressive.
~The Rebecca Review
70 of 74 people found the following review helpful
Waking the Talk31 Jan. 2004
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I grew up in what was probably a typical mid-century Jewish family - both parents raised in the U.S. and thoroughly Americanized. A secular conservative household. I received a fairly typical religious education for that time and culture - the minimum necessary. In retrospect, I probably learned more about Judaism after I left home than I did before. For Jews such as me, the world of Hasidism - intensely and often excitedly religious - is often something mysterious. As well as a source of guilt when we compare it to out own wobbly religious observance. Most of my acquaintance with the thinking of the Hasid, and with the Lubavitch movement in particular, is bookish, rather than experiential. Which is why I was delighted with Sue Fishkoff's "The Rebbe's Army," a close and honest look at the Lubavitchers as a social and cultural phenomenon. She is a well respected member of the Jewish Press who has taken the time to pick up the threads of this small but influential group who gently, but persistently work not to broaden Judaism, but to deepen it. In countless cities both here and abroad are the slichim - young couples who leave the comfort and shelter of their own religious center in Brooklyn to seek to re-establish the traditional core of Judaism. This is their story. While strictly ultra-orthodox, the Lubavitch have created an outreach program that manages to touch not only Jews of every religious bent, but the non-Jewish community as well. Most often, they arrive as stranger but stay to become dear friends. Fishkoff who has traveled extensively in this world writes more about their experiences and lives than about the specific tenets of their beliefs. She does so in a non-judgmental but sympathetic fashion, finding much to admire, but not shying away from the conflicts and struggles. Don't come to this book expecting a history or a critique. This is pure descriptive journalism. Deep in its coverage, but not burdened by excess analysis. The final judgments are left up to the reader, who has been given the gift of insight into a rich world of strong principles and a determination to live them out. As such, she has bridged the suspicion gap with a clear, accessible volume that will open far more doors than it closes.
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
A spirtual army fights for Jewish souls.20 July 2003
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In Sue Fishkoff's book, "The Rebbe's Army," the reader gets an insider's look at the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which derives its strength from the wisdom and teachings of the last Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. For forty-three years, until his death in 1994, the Rebbe was the heart and soul of Chabad, and even after his death, he is still a tremendous source of inspiration for his many followers. Chabad is not just a movement; it is a worldwide organization. Thousands of married couples act as emissaries throughout the United States and in sixty-one foreign countries. Their mission is to rekindle the spark of Judaism that they believe is present in all Jews. Fishkoff points out the apparent contradiction of Chasidic Jews who adhere to strict observance of Torah law, but who, nevertheless, seek out and live among non-observant Jews. This means that some couples, such as the emissaries who live in Thailand, are largely cut off from the support system of friends and family. Once a couple takes a position as emissaries in a foreign country, they are generally there for life. Although Fishkoff gives a brief background of how the Lubavitcher movement originated and grew, she concentrates mostly on emissaries in various parts of the United States, including Alaska. Fishkoff depicts the Chabad organizers as a savvy bunch. They are psychologically astute, great communicators and superb fundraisers. She also touches on how Chabad has used Hollywood celebrities to raise money and awareness. Although, in her preface, Fishkoff claims that she will not discuss Chabad's political strength, she includes a chapter explaining how the Lubavitcher Chasidim have become involved in Washington politics. They have become a force to be reckoned with on the national as well as the local political scene. Fishkoff tries to be evenhanded by pointing out the controversies surrounding the Chabad movement. Some Jewish organizations have felt that the Chabad emissaries who move into their towns are too aggressive. A more serious controversy surrounds the belief, still held by many Chasidim, that the Rebbe is the Messiah. Some Jews feel that this is idolatrous and that such talk has no place in Orthodox Judaism. These disputes have engendered rifts among Chasidim and have tarnished the image of Chabad in the Jewish community at large. I recommend this book for readers who are curious about what makes Chabad tick. Many questions will be answered in these pages. I must warn the reader that Fishkoff tends to be a little long-winded and repetitious at times, and this slows the narrative down a bit. However, most readers will be inspired by the spiritual strength of the Chabad outreach workers and emissaries. These are people who are willing to sacrifice their privacy and personal comfort for the satisfaction of helping others. They are, in the words of the Rebbe, "bringing Heaven back down to earth."
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Excellent look at the current state of the Chabad movement18 Mar. 2004
Michael B. Zand
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Through hillarious stories mixed together with explanations of Chabad mysticism, Sue Fishkoff takes the reader around the world to understand what Chabad actually does and why they do it. From spreading Judaism in Alaska, to attending to Jewish inmates, to influencing US government policy, the reader learns about the wide reach of Chabad. The book generally gives the reader a favorable impression of Chabad. I continually understood from all the stories and interviews that Chabadnicks genuinely want to improve the world we live in. They do this by bringing God into the public arena (with such controversial actions such as public Menorah's and advocacy for school prayer) and specifically by making Jews more aware of their heritage. Ms Fisckoff does an excelleng job in conveying to the reader the deep and passionate drive that Chabnicks have in carrying out these missions. Although I have my misgivings about Chabad(such as their interpretation of Judaism and messianism) I no longer feel that they have any hidden agenda. They simply want to brings Jews back to their faith and make our world more spiritual. They are not a cult but rather a truly philanthropic and loving branch of Judaism.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Book!15 July 2003
Nancy R. Katz
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The Rebbe's Army by Sue Fishkoff is an excellent exploration into the world of Hasidic Jews, specifically the Chabad Lubavitch. For over a year Fishkoff interviewed members from this group with wonderful reesults for her readers. The account she gives tells us what motivates the Chabad Lubavitch and also explains about their far reaching attempts to engage the greater population in their causes. From a somewhat small group of European Jews led by Rebbe Schneerson, today the Chabad Lubavitch are all over the world engaging and encouraging others to join with them How did they go from a rather small group to a billion dollar organization recognized by celebrities and even the White House. These and many other questions are answered in The Rebbe's Army which I found truly fascinating. If you have any interest in religions and especially this specific group, which has in the past been little understood, you owe it to yourself to read this book.