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The Rebbeís Army
Shlomo ben Rokeach spent the day with the Shofar Factory along with Rí Michoel Albukerk of Tzivos Hashem. * He heard many amazing stories about the various workshops offered around the year and about their central theme: the imminent Redemption. *
Part 1 of 2
 

We were about to set out for a Jewish camp located in the mountains of New York. It was overcast and drops of rain began sprinkling the windshield, but inside it was nice and warm. Michoel jumped out for a minute and went into the Tzivos Hashem office to verify where we were heading, while I took the opportunity to schmooze with the two "soldiers" who had joined us, Michoelís ten-year-old son and seven-year-old daughter. They are their fatherís right hand men, real soldiers!

"How long have you been helping your father," I asked Mendy, the ten-year-old.

"Five years."

"Since you were five?!"

"Yes."

"Wow, and what do you do?"

"Everything. I help, I organize, I prepare the materials. We do all the small jobs. A few years ago there was a workshop and the children prepared lots of shofars, but for some reason they couldnít blow any of them. While they tried, we suddenly heard a long blast of the shofar coming from a corner of the room. We were so surprised when we saw it was my two-year-old sister who had found a shofar and was playing with it."

Michoel came back and we were on our way.

Start from the beginning. How did you get the idea for these workshops?

"It started over eleven years ago. I was hired by Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson to work for Tzivos Hashem. My job was to increase the number of soldiers in Tzivos Hashem and to establish the army like any youth movement with official clubs, etc.

"The goal was and still is to have an official Tzivos Hashem club in every city and as many children as possible involved. We work alongside the shluchim in implementing this goal.

"After some research was done, we learned that the most successful programs with children are those in which they make Jewish crafts. Until that point, a few shluchim were doing these kind of workshops, but they hadnít all succeeded in providing the necessary professionalism.

"We decided that this was perfect for us, so we opened various workshops. We added many professional details the schools couldnít provide, both as far as the materials we use and the content of the accompanying lectures.

"For example, we brought actual stalks of wheat, hand mills made of stone, and other special equipment the children can use and see during every stage of matza baking, from the stalks to the packaging. The baking equipment is highly professional, as is the background presentation, which includes slides, etc.

"Baruch Hashem, we quickly became very popular among the schools. The name Tzivos Hashem gets around and many schools want us to visit them with our workshops. Just last Pesach, we had four teams working for an entire month, non-stop.

"Not only schools, but even day camps and sleep-away camps want us, including the Boy Scouts. They heard of our organization and wanted us to provide a program for the Jewish kids.

"I remember the first time we went to a Boy Scouts gathering and they told us to expect fifty boys at our workshops. What actually happened was that our workshops were packed with hundreds of kids. It made such a tumult that even the local papers reported it."

Whatís next on the agenda?

"Our goal is for the workshops to be a peula nimsheches (an ongoing activity). Itís important that the workshop not be a one-time event. We want it to be something that accompanies the child for a long time to come. Thatís why we initiated more and more workshops: the Shofar Factory, the Olive Oil Factory, the Tzitzis Factory, etc. These workshops cover the calendar just about year-round.

"Since we come dressed in our official Scouts uniforms, the children identify us as part of the organization they respect, and our connection deepens.

"An important advantage is the quiz we give at the end of the program. We hand out a page with questions about the material covered in the workshop. By answering correctly, getting a high score, the child receives a badge for that subject. The children collect the badges and become Ďexpertsí in many topics.

"In order to receive the badge, the child has to mail the quiz to Tzivos Hashem. Thatís how he automatically gets inducted into the army and is included in other programs. Heíll get the Tzivos Hashem Newsletter delivered to his house (which his parents will read along with him) and do the missions, get prizes and go up in rank in the Rebbeís army."

* * *

The workshops have expanded in scope. The matza baking program used to take twenty minutes, whereas now itís an hour long. As the children grind the kernels of wheat, they learn about Pesach and the redemption from Egypt and, of course, about the final Redemption.

Each part of the program incorporates yet another little lesson. By the end of the workshop, the children feel good about the project and have gained a lot of knowledge without much effort.

When we weigh the flour on an old-fashioned scale itís a contest to see who ground more, with each bit of flour weighing the scale down further. We explain that if you do one mitzva, it has the same effect, for oneself and the world. Thus, we constantly apply what the children are doing to ideas related to Moshiach.

Are the new workshops run in the same way as the original ones?

We have three rules for all our workshops. The first rule is professionalism and attention to detail, which make every workshop unique. The second rule is that everything must be genuine. Tzivos Hashem received much guidance from the Rebbe MH"M, and one of his directives that he repeated on numerous occasions was that everything must be authentic. The pictures and all the details have to be realistic.

When we do a tzitzis or shofar workshop for example, the tzitzis and shofar have to be kosher, ready to be used for a mitzva. Although the matzos baked at the matza baking workshop cannot be used on Pesach, we give each child a kosher matza to take home for Pesach.

The third important rule is that every project incorporates inyanei Moshiach and Geula, appropriate for children, of course. On Chanuka they learn about the menora in the Beis HaMikdash (and they take home a menora with straight, diagonal branches). At the Havdala candle workshop they learn about the separation between the Jewish people and the nations of the world and the separation between Galus and Geula, and in general about the sin of Adam and its connection to Geula. The same goes for every workshop. In this way, the children begin to "live" with Moshiach and prepare for his coming.

What advantages are there in learning through a workshop?

Aside from the obvious advantage in experiential learning, thereís another critical advantage. The children donít look at us as rabbis who came to preach at their school, but as a team of men who came to teach them the secrets of the ancient craft of preparing parchment for a Torah, or the secret of how one fashions the tzitzis. They look at us altogether differently and are much more open to listening to us.

Everything we say is treated with respect, since itís not some old-fashioned rabbi saying it, but a fascinating person who knows mystical secrets. Itís altogether different.

* * *

We cross the bridge leading us outside the city. The cityscape fades away and we slowly begin to see browns and greens, for there are only mountains and trees now. The van quickly makes its way down the highway where the pastoral scene is peaceful and relaxing. Chani sleeps on the back seat and Mendy is busy, while I get back to the main topic of my interview.

How do you incorporate "kabbalas pnei Moshiach" into your workshops?

Since it was founded, the Tzivos Hashem organization has been an army to greet Moshiach. Our logo has the slogan "We Want Moshiach Now." By the way, this is the only logo the Rebbe practically designed himself. The Rebbe gave instructions for every detail of the logo, including the colors. Since the year the organization was founded was the year the Rebbe spoke so much about "We Want Moshiach Now," the slogan was added to the logo with the Rebbeís approval.

The official magazine of Tzivos Hashem is The Moshiach Times. The logo and slogans are not just phrases that appear routinely. The children look at our uniforms and tend to read the inscriptions out loud, "We Want Moshiach Now." They often come over to talk about it or to ask questions about Moshiach.

(Mendy jumps up from the back seat): "Tatty, remember what happened with the ĎYechi Adoneinuí in Boro Park?"

Michoel smiles as he relates what happened. "We went to a Chassidishe school in Boro Park wearing our usual shirts, and the children noticed the "We Want Moshiach Now" printed on them and figured out we were Lubavitch. They started singing ĎYechií and it lasted ten minutes! It was unbelievable.

"Of course it doesnít begin and end with slogans and songs. During each project we make sure to discuss Moshiach and how to properly prepare for Geula. After all, thatís the whole point of all mivtzaim today. We are the Rebbeís army and our only objective is to bring about the final Redemption."

Do you get any negative feedback?

As with every matter of holiness, we sometimes encounter opposition. It just shows us the importance of what weíre doing. It reminds me how Rabbi Benjaminson has received countless complaints and friendly advice to change the name Tzivos Hashem (the Army of Hashem) to a more gentle, refined name that isnít connected with war. (By the way, this issue is addressed in one of the Rebbeís letters.)

The same goes for the name of the magazine, The Moshiach Times. Many people have suggested that the name be changed to something else. It just shows us the importance of the inyan. The rule to remember is not to cave in but to stand strong for what we believe in. When people see you stand firm, they realize this is serious and they respect you for it.

Iíll give you an example from something that happened to me. It was a bit unusual but it definitely teaches us the importance of standing strong. I was invited to do a workshop at a Talmud Torah affiliated with Misnagdim. We explained to the children what a shofar is and how itís made, and we taught them the relevant halachos. Then we related this to preparing to greet Moshiach and we spoke about the identity of Moshiach. Nobody said a word.

The talk ended and the hands-on activity with the older children began. Meanwhile, I went over to the younger children, who were preparing to leave, and began distributing a pile of Moshiach Times magazines. Suddenly the principal noticed me giving out the magazines and he shouted, "Donít take magazines from him. Itís all nonsense!"

That wasnít all. He began taking the magazines away from the children. Nevertheless, I continued to give them out. I finished distributing the magazines and then I turned to the principal and said that he had to explain what his comment about the Rebbeís magazine meant or apologize in front of the children for what he said. He refused and I told him the workshop was over.

"What?!" he yelled, "donít be ridiculous. Continue. Continue with the workshop. Iíll pay you."

I said, "Iím sorry, but as long as you donít apologize for what you said or explain why you said it, I canít go on. We donít work for money and your offer wonít persuade me."

I explained this to the teachers who had come over to see what was going on, and that was that. We packed up our equipment and left. I thought that was the end of the story, but it wasnítÖ

Erev Yom Kippur I went into my office for a minute to get my tallis and tífillin, and the telephone rang. It was Rabbi Shmuel Butman, director of Lubavitch Youth Organization, saying that a woman had left her telephone number and asked that I get in touch with her immediately. I agreed to call her after Yom Kippur, but Rabbi Butman said I had to contact her immediately.

I called the woman and she thanked me for calling her back. It turned out that she was part of a committee of parents in that Talmud Torah. "I wanted to tell you that we all think the principal made a mistake. We all know that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is the leader of the generation. Before Yom Kippur it was important for us to apologize and to ask mechila for what happened, and to tell you that you will always be welcome guests at our school."

A similar incident happened at a camp when I spoke to the children about Moshiach. I called out, "We Want Moshiach," and the children, with no prior guidance, yelled out, "Now!"

Apparently all this talk about Moshiach didnít please the camp director, and after part one of our presentation, he said, "Enough with Moshiach. Iím warning you not to talk about it anymore. This is the deal: I sign the check and I say to stop talking about this now." We nearly left, but at the last minute other staff members got involved and apologized in front of the children, saying that the director was wrong.

The main thing to remember is that we are not in this for the money, nor are we businessmen who might concede important principles to appease the customer. We work in order to conquer the world and prepare it for the revelation of the Rebbe MH"M, and our workshops have to reflect that. Obviously, we canít conquer the world without that principle.

(To be continued.)

  

  

  
DIRECTOR OF TZIVOS HASHEM, Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson,
On the great impact of the workshops:

I recently had an experience that taught me the significance of the Tzivos Hashem workshops. It took place during an international educational conference - C.A.J.E. - which takes place in the U.S. for about 2,500 people in education. Tzivos Hashem was there and to everyoneís surprise, our booth was busier than hundreds of other booths! Nearly all the American kids who had accompanied their parents to the conference visited our booth and said, "We know you - you came to our school."

These were children who came from nonreligious families and Conservative and Reform homes, but nearly all of them knew us. It just goes to show you what an impact these workshops make on a child.

The workshops also provide us with a way to enter schools that never before allowed Chabad to cross their thresholds. They hear about the workshops and invite us to come, despite their thoughts about us.

Of course, the Tzivos Hashem team shows up in uniform with the Tzivos Hashem slogan emblazoned on it - "We Want Moshiach Now." This encourages the children to approach and ask questions about it, and gives us the opportunity to bring inyanei Moshiach and Geula into even these schools. The team explains what the Geula is all about and the workshops provide an opportunity to prepare these children for the imminent hisgalus.
 
 

THE SHOFAR DURING THE GULF WAR

It was Elul, and the end of 5750 Ė the year of miracles, one month after Iraq took over Kuwait. An American ship carrying a large medical team had been hastily sent to the Persian Gulf after America decided to intervene. Many members of the medical team were Jewish.

The two sons of one of the Jewish doctors were far away in Maryland. They had visited Tzivos Hashemís Shofar Factory and had left happily holding their own shofars, although one had become pasul. There was a telephone call from the U.S. army a few days later. "We want to inform you that a helicopter will be leaving shortly for the ship. Since the passengers left in a rush, you can send along a package for them."

Their mother packed a suitcase for her husband, and one of the boys (see picture) came over and said, "Mom, I want to send Dad the shofar I made."

"Youíre better off sending your brotherís broken one. Iím sure it wonít make a difference to Dad." But the boy insisted, and his kosher shofar was packed and sent to the helicopter.

Now back to the ship. The Jewish passengers were in an uproar. In their rush to leave, the law had been overlooked: there was no Jewish chaplain on board. This was doubly painful since they knew they would be spending Rosh HaShana on board ship and they didnít have a shofar.

The clattering of the approaching helicopter caught their attention, and the passengers received the packages their loved ones had sent them. The doctor took his suitcase to his bunk, and how surprised he was to see the shofar!

You can just imagine the emotions during that Rosh HaShana. With the waves pounding the ship in the background, the sound of the shofar could be heard piercing the air. It reminded the Jewish passengers (and even the gentiles who stood and watched in amazement) that even at sea, when there is no land to be seen, one can be calm in the knowledge that Hashem looks out for us.

When I heard this story, concluded Michoel, I got in touch with the shaliach who hosted the workshop. I warned him never to allow a child to leave the workshop with a pasul shofar again!

When I wanted to interview Rí Michoel Albukerk, program director of Tzivos Hashem, I inquired with one of his colleagues about how I could meet with him. "You donít stand a chance," was the answer I got. "Youíll never catch him."

Michoel was the one who figured out how I could interview him without taking up his precious time. "Why donít you join me at one of the workshops and see for yourself?" he suggested.

I jumped at the chance.
 

  

 

   

Michoel Albukerk (on the right) at a shofar workshop at a gathering of the Boy Scouts of America
"We are the Rebbeís army and our only objective is to bring about the final Redemption."
 

Children blowing shofars at the Shofar Factory
 

 

 

 

"This is the only logo the Rebbe practically designed himself. The Rebbe gave instructions for every detail of the logo, including the colors. The slogan, ĎWe Want Moshiach Now,í was added to the logo with the Rebbeís approval."
 

 

 

 

 

 

"Many people have suggested to change the name The Moshiach Times. But when people see you stand firm, they realize this is serious and they respect you for it."
 


YECHI ADONEINU MOREINU V'RABBEINU MELECH HA'MOSHIACH L'OLAM VA'ED!

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