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On Becoming a Gold Medalist - In honor of 3 Tamuz

Friday, 7 June, 2013 - 3:40 pm

Published in OC Register - Rancho Canyon News, June 14, 2013

 On Becoming a Gold Medalist

 This Tuesday, June 11, commemorates the 19th anniversary of the passing of the legendary leader of the modern Jewish era, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (

 In January of 1994, Congress passed a resolution awarding him, posthumously, with a congressional gold medal, “for his outstanding and enduring contributions toward world education, morality, and acts of charity.”  He founded the Chabad network of over 2,000 religious, educational and community centers in countries around the world. 

 But his influence went far beyond centers: He tirelessly dispensed kindness, encouraged leadership, and campaigned for universal awareness of G-d and ethics. His humble care for humanity and keen insight brought to his door senators and strategists, professors and professionals, rabbis, journalists, and world leaders alongside multitudes of children, students, and regular people. Including me.

 A memory:

 The line stretched across a full city block and wound around the next street. Thousands of people from around the world had come this morning to 770 Eastern Parkway to get a personal New Year’s blessing.

 I, too, stood on line, my nose in a book of Psalms from which I prayed softly, oblivious to the honking cars, screeching tires, and sirens so endemic to this busy thoroughfare just down the road from Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Museum.

 The year was 1989 and I was 16. I had worked 10-12 hours a week in order to be able to afford the ticket from my home in Australia to spend the High-Holiday month here with the Rebbe. Today I stood on line for the first time, preparing, anticipating. The line moved forward, through the doorway, up the stairs, into the corridor and I was there.

 I don’t know who else came that day—the visitor list probably included dignitaries such as the mayor, an ambassador, a famous religious leader or two. But I came. And, in that chunk of frozen time that has remained unthawed in my memory to this day, for the few moments that I stood before him—seconds, really, because of the ever-growing line—I was the dignitary.

 The Rebbe treated me as he did every person who visited: as an honorable guest, a special gift to mankind deserving of his complete attention, care, and wonder. But being a dignitary came with a cost. His eyes, gentle but ever so alive and alert, radiated an urgency, a subtle demand, a jolt out of complacency. “You are so capable. A piece of the Divine. What are you doing to make your world a better place? How far have you pushed yourself beyond your comfort zone?”

 I have many memories and mementos of that month. But one thing in particular lives on: the implicit belief that I have what it takes, and the subtle request that, for my own sake as much as the world’s, I never become satisfied until the job is done.

 Let’s leave the posthumous awards for Congress. The gold medal that is you is ready to shine today.


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