“One year of chemotherapy, of surgeries, of sickness, of pain… but one thing I never felt,” said 17-year-old Philip Potash from the podium, gazing around the room. I NEVER FELT ALONE. Here I am, a year later, healthy, happy and free. Thank you, CTeens!!”
Potash credited the “power of good and positivity” from a prayer chain of thousands of CTeen friends from around the world, plus the tireless efforts of his family and doctors with helping him make it through and — so far — win his battle against brain cancer.
He told his international circle of support, “Let us challenge ourselves. Don’t be afraid to go beyond your comfort zone. Let us bring light into the world together!” he urged. Both halls rocked with the applause, chandeliers swaying with the vibration.
Bringing light into the world is what the CTeen project focuses on, a reflection of its roots in the international Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic movement, which emphasizes the need to “bright light into this dark world,” as Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of CTeen and vice-chairman of the movement’s education arm, Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, put it. He recalled the first banquet held for the teen program seven scant years ago, with 40 participants and nine group leaders.
This year, they were overbooked and even had to wait-list participants. Next year, at least 2,000 teens are expected to attend, and “frankly I don’t know where we are going to hold this!” he smiled. The teens roared their approval.
“We look at you as the future leaders of the Jewish people,” he told them. “Those who will bring light to this dark world, where there are tragic attacks in Paris, in Copenhagen, where people are beheaded by those who hate others who do not agree with their beliefs. . . ” Kotlarsky’s face sobered, his eyes grim with sorrow.
“We have to choose what is good, and what is kind and what is right and what is just,” he said. “You will have to make the choices, to decide, to lead others. You are being educated so. So learn, learn, LEARN!” he exhorted. “Learn, so you can bring light to this world of darkness!” The teens burst into applause, some whistling their approval, vowing to lead the way.
Leadership in the Jewish world is not new to Chabad, but recognition of Chabad teen programs by the United Nations is. “This shows a policy change by the United Nations,” said well-known Chabad-Lubavitch activist Yaacov Behrman, the point man involved in arranging for the UN secretary-general to address the teens. “It is a new and welcome development for the UN secretary-general to realize that the Jewish leaders of tomorrow are today’s youth. It shows the CTeen program also has a pivotal place in the landscape of international Jewish leadership.
“Bringing light into a dark world has always been what Chabad is all about.”