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The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch Paperback – January 4, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This remarkable ethnographic profile goes behind the scenes of Lubavitcher Judaism to explore how the movement's enthusiastic young emissaries, or schlihim, carry the Rebbe's message throughout the world. Armed with pamphlets, Shabbos candles and the dream of making all Jews more observant, these idealistic young married couples set up shop in unlikely locales like Peoria, Ill.; Anchorage, Ala.; or Salt Lake City, Utah. There they will tirelessly teach and fundraise-not just for a year or two, but for the rest of their lives. Fishkoff, a regular contributor to Moment and The Jerusalem Post, draws upon dozens of interviews with these schlihim, their supporters and their detractors. Traversing the country to do her research, she attended Shabbos dinners, mikvah demonstrations, Friday afternoon street proselytizing sessions and even a star-studded Chabad telethon in Los Angeles. (The telethon, Fishkoff rightly points out, is the perfect symbol for the way these Hasids have simultaneously eschewed and engaged with American culture, using technology to further their outreach.) Most interestingly, she includes interviews with Reform and Conservative Jews who, surprisingly enough, are often the chief financial backers of local Chabad initiatives. Though Fishkoff makes an effort to include some individuals' critiques of the movement, this is by no means an expos‚; one leaves the book sharing her own tender admiration for the energetic dedication of the Rebbe's followers. Fishkoff writes robustly and engagingly, and her portrait of Chabad is not only profoundly respectful, but also poignant and full of joy.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Although most people have not heard of the Lubavitcher Hasid, a sect of Orthodox Jewry, many are familiar with the outreach programs the group runs, such as the Chabad Houses on college campuses. Their aim is to make Jews more observant, and their inspiration comes from their now-deceased rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, who some believed to be the long-awaited Messiah. Fishkoff, a newspaper reporter, explains that her book is neither a history of the movement nor an expose. Her focus is on Chabad's outreach programs and what motivates the many emissaries who are trying to bring Jews back to their roots. Eminently readable, rather like a very long New Yorker piece, this perceptive account explains the movement by introducing those who are a part of it: the L.A. rabbi whose star-studded telethon garners millions of dollars each year; the young rabbi at Harvard whose Chabad House is surprisingly popular; the Hasidic couples who have traveled to such unlikely places as Salt Lake City and Alaska to establish a religious foothold. Mostly positive in her comments, but no apologist, Fishkoff will draw in readers of many religious persuasions. Ilene Cooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; Reprint edition (January 4, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805211381
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805211382
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #245,503 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

47 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca of Amazon HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 28, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"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.
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70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Marc Ruby™ HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 31, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 19, 2003
Format: Hardcover
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.
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