I was born in Israel but my parents moved to Crown Heights when I was only four, and I had the good fortune of growing up in the Lubavitch fold, in close proximity to the Rebbe.
In 1983, my wife Rivka and I had been married for a year already and we were exploring options of becoming Chabad emissaries someplace in the world.
As a result, we set our sights on Columbia University and the Upper West Side of Manhattan. So we asked the Rebbe for his blessing and agreement. The Rebbe responded that this was a good idea, provided my wife agreed. Of course she did, and we went to work.
I started by setting up a hot dog stand at the gates of Columbia University, which was my outreach vehicle, and I also gave a class in Earl Hall on the Tanya, the seminal work by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, the 18th century founder of the Chabad Movement. Eventually we began expanding to other programs as well.
One year, when the holiday of Purim was approaching, I copied an idea from a fellow Chabad emissary by producing a Purim flyer which advertised a UPS (United Purim Service.) The flyer proclaimed “This is the whole Megilla” across the top, and which then went on to say that many Jews heard of Magilla Gorilla but most Jews never heard of the real “Megilla.” Magilla Gorilla was a popular kids’ cartoon in the 1960s, featuring a gorilla dressed in a bow tie, shorts held up by suspenders and an undersized derby hat.
It also said that, on Purim, Jews share in joy and revelry, and among many other things, it offered two kinds of Shalach Manot gift options — a $4.95 and $6.95, one was with grape juice, one was with wine — to be delivered by a clown on the campus during the Holiday of Purim.
I printed this flyer and, because I had a custom to submit everything to the Rebbe, I sent this also, never expecting any kind of response. But, within a few days, I was amazed to get a call from the Rebbe’s secretary that the Rebbe had edited my flyer. I went to Chabad Headquarters and saw that the Rebbe had made some significant changes.
First, the Rebbe crossed out “Magilla Gorilla.” I’m not sure why the Rebbe objected to it, but I suppose that he didn’t think it was necessary to mention pop-culture, especially in this context. Where the flyer said that “most Jews don’t know what a real Magilla is” the Rebbe crossed out “most” and substituted “not all.” He clearly didn’t want us making this kind of judgment about our fellow Jews. And where the flyer mentioned “joy and revelry,” the Rebbe crossed out “revelry.” Obviously, “revelry” has a negative connotation. (more…)