A few months ago, Channel 8 (Israel’s equivalent of PBS) broadcast a fascinating “reality” program on the life and times of a young Lubavitcher couple that went on shlichut to Vietnam in order to open a Chabad branch in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). During the past few years Vietnam has become a growing destination for both Israeli and American Jewish businessmen, as well as for post- army, backpacking and thrill-seeking young Israelis
The mission highlighted the young couple’s “fish out of water” experience, trying to build an oasis of Judaism under the watchful anti-religious eyes of the Communist regime. In this case, the element of danger wasn’t from Islamic fanatics but from a philosophy that had defeated American military prowess over 35 years earlier.
The dangers associated with opening a Chabad House in Ho Chi Minh City didn’t deter the enthusiastic couple from building a new life in a strange land. Shipments of kosher foodstuffs and religious articles from Eretz Yisrael would cushion the blow of being so far away from a Jewish environment. The young couple and their guests would at least be able to enjoy a heimishe meal cooked by the “rebbetzin,” providing a palate-pleasing reminder of home.
The initial adjustment for the young couple was not easy – but Chabadniks persevere. There are no such words as “giving up” in the Chabad dictionary.
In order to stretch their kosher food without always relying on the parcel from Israel, the young couple made their way through the aisles of local supermarkets searching high and low for products bearing a legitimate hechsher (kosher certification). At the local fish market the young rabbi diligently checked various species of fish, looking for the telltale kosher signs of fins and scales.
All in all, a great story about how adventurous young Chabad couples are willing to go anywhere on the planet in order to perform the mitzvot of hachnasat orchim and kiruv rechokim.
No one but Chabad has worked so diligently to provide a way station for Jews on and off the derech. Tens of thousands of secular Israelis have had their pintele yid rekindled by a simple act of kindness performed by smiling young Chabad couples that are always available with an open door policy. These couples represent the essence of what Yiddishkeit is all about.
Unfortunately the world has become a dangerous place – even for friendly Chabadnikim. Jewish businessmen and Israeli adventure-seekers need to start rethinking about where to do business and how to keep an extremely low profile when trekking through Third World countries.
As we went to press, Israeli security personnel warned Chabad officials in Israel and the U.S. to start revamping their global operations. The Israeli officials instructed Chabad to lower their profiles in countries where the dangers of terror attacks are high, and hire armed security guards to provide around-the-clock protection for each Chabad House. (There are at least two other Chabad Houses in India, scene of last week’s terror attack. One is in New Delhi and the other in Goa, the coastal “Pearl of the Orient,” where so many young Israelis tend to enjoy running amok, i.e. drug use, illicit behavior and, tragically, acts of avodah zarah.)
On many occasions, Chabad officials in places like Goa are either working hard to lure Israelis away from toxic substances or getting them out of jail. They will do almost anything to rescue a meandering neshamah.
Israeli entrepreneurs trying to make a quick buck from the thousands of Hebrew-speaking “landsman” who visit Goa and Bangkok, Thailand have opened stores featuring large Hebrew-language signs. Thailand, already enmeshed in political anarchy, is also trying to beat back an armed Islamic insurrection in one of its provinces. It is likely that the Thai Islamists will try to copy the Mumbai massacre on some scale in the near future – sowing fear and hatred.
The Jewish people tend to sometimes forget that they are in the midst of a global jihad, where interlocking Islamic terror groups are constantly monitoring our activities. One day it can be Al Qaeda in lower Manhattan, another day it could be Hizbullah in Argentina, a Pakistani terror group in Mumbai, Hamas in Jerusalem It’s a never-ending list.
The mitzvah to enjoy life and experience the wonders of the world must also be balanced out against the inherent dangers that lurk just around the corner. There will always be a need for a Chabad oasis somewhere in the world. The blessing of their holy work must be buttressed by physical as well as spiritual security.
Steve K. Walz