We are all accustomed to the difference in feeling between the two cities. ירושלים is not just the holiest city in the world, but one feels the holiness. Holiness is often associated with difference—המבדיל בין קודש לחול—and this idea is consonant with either the Kabbalistic doctrine of recognising the spark of holiness within even inanimate objects and raising these to a higher appreciation, or the more ascetic misnagdic notion of dissociation with all things that are profane.
The highways between these two cities highlighted a transition that I was aware of from a earlier trip, but sensitised to on this trip. As one meanders through the challenging highways and approaches Tel Aviv, the visage of signs, mostly in yellow, on successive lamp posts, declaring the last Lubavitcher Rebbe as the משיח increases. In otherwise barren highways, sometimes punctuated by Arab Villages and cities on the side, the signs start to pop up in a seemingly ubiquitous fashion.
I felt sadness. It is so many years after the פטירה of the last Rebbe זי’ע and I wondered why his holy face needed to be plastered everywhere among the otherwise profane and colourless lamp posts. Would these signs encourage people to do more מצוות? It is a brave person who is able to make that conclusion. Would these signs encourage people to be inspired? I doubt it, given that they are everywhere as one approaches. להבדיל I work near the Trade Union at the top of the City near Carlton. There are always signs hanging from the building façade. They are provocative, and designed to be this way. Nevertheless, like the signs on the billboards across RMIT, one rarely gives them a second glance because they have become rote. Indeed, on this trip I noticed a series of poles which had signs of what looked like the רש”ב. R’ Shalom Dov Ber זי’ע, a previous Rebbe. The car was travelling too quickly for me to notice the wording below the picture. I noticeד these signs because they were different.
Have we reached a point where any semblance of usefulness of these signs has evaporated? Perhaps.
I interviewed a number of students in Ramat Efal, and when we spoke about University life in Melbourne at RMIT, I stressed the need to live relatively close to the Jewish community. After informing a very bright student that there was also Chabad on campus, I noticed the student resile. He went onto explain that he didn’t want anything to do with Chabad and their משיחיות. He wasn’t a visibly religious Jew, but I was still surprised nonetheless. After all, even the yellow flag waiving fringe of Chabad should still come across as warm and non-judgemental? Why would he be so turned off?
As I drove back from Ra’anana to Jerusalem that evening, I asked myself whether יצא שכרם בהפסידם. The Meshichist type, in my experience, are more pushy; they are more single-minded; they often do not display the type of understanding or social etiquette or intelligence required to influence the intellectual or materialistic élite that live in Tel Aviv. I couldn’t help but feel that the rarer old style, externally simple yet intrinsically sophisticated real McCoy Lubavitcher would be far more successful in increasing קדושה in this environment; especially in places like Tel Aviv.
I was left feeling quite sad. I felt sorry that such a great man was being promoted through posters and one liners. His legacy was surely much more significant and profound than that. The Israel-cum-Tel Aviv style approach to קירוב is very different to that outside of Israel. Does it need to be? I think not. Israelis need better than just “in your face” and shallow Meshichisten. Ironically, the Israeli who leaves Israel is more likely to be exposed to this type of Chabadnik and respond more positively. It need not be that way.
The Meshichist movement really needs to just go away and get back to first principles. I’m not sure the Breslovers even have first principles. That movement is almost as confounding.