All this because of the black power movement?
That, plus the Vietnam War and this whole counterculture movement. The Vietnam War was also responsible for making learning in yeshiva after high school a legitimate option since you suddenly had tons of young men attending yeshivas to avoid the draft. Prior to Vietnam, very few graduates – even of high schools like Torah Vodaath or Chaim Berlin – went on to study in a beis medrash. The war in Vietnam changed that.
The Six-Day War also had a big impact. Jews started coming out of the closets; they were proud to be Jewish now. Finally, the Lubavitcher Rebbe and the ba’al teshuvah movement also played an important role. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people’s lives were affected by the Rebbe’s message.
You mentioned that American Jews used to use their secular names. Did you – especially since “Zalman” sounds so “Jewish”?
I have an English name, but I always went by Zalman.
Did you ever consider dropping Zalman and using your English name?
Not in the last 30 years. But when I was younger, sure.
I was named after both the first Lubavitcher Rebbe and my uncle who was the rosh yeshiva of the Lubavitcher yeshiva in Nevel, Russia until the Soviets closed it in 1929. So there was a pride in whom I was named after, and it was important to me.
Who was your uncle?
Schneur Zalman Alperovitch, but in Lubavitch people refer to him after his hometown: Zalman Kurnitzer, from the town of Kurnitz. He later moved to Leningrad and died of starvation during the Nazi siege of the city.