Saturday, March 12, 2011 Recently Restored Footage of Rebbe’s 1973 Gathering Offers Challenging Message
In time for the upcoming holiday of Purim, newly restored footage of a historic 1973 Chasidic gathering presided over by the Rebbe, RabbiMenachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, is offering people around the world an inspiring and challenging message of utilizing their full potentials.
Released by Jewish Educational Media, the Chabad-Lubavitch organization charged with preserving and disseminating audio and video recordings of the Rebbe’s teachings, it will be aired on Chabad.org’s multimedia clearinghouse Jewish.TV on Sunday, 6 p.m. Eastern time.
According to Rabbi Shais Taub, Jewish.TV’s creative director, the importance of watching and internalizing the teaching in this particular video cannot be underemphasized.
“It’s impossible to calculate just how many people have been exposed to the concepts the Rebbe taught our generation,” explained Taub. “They read articles, and study adaptations of his teachings. Overall, the Rebbe’s unique approach has long entered the collective Jewish consciousness, but there’s really no substitute for the original source material. We want to give people a look behind the scenes.”
At this particular 1973 gathering – a joy-filled assembly featuring song and camaraderie and heartfelt words ofTorah teaching known in Yiddish as afarbrengen – the Rebbe focused on the biblical Book of Esther’s opening description of Persian KingAchashverosh’s feast. He asked why no detail, even as mundane as the look of the palace’s tapestries, was spared given that the Torah generally uses the most concise language available. The Rebbe concluded that just as this king spared no expense in order to throw the most lavish feast of all time, so too each and every person, no matter their status, has unique talents and opportunities he or she must employ to the fullest in bringing G‑dliness into the world.
The Rebbe emphasized that be it a rabbi, lay leader or writer – the famed author Chaim Potok happened to be in the audience – each person must maximize those G‑d given gifts.
“It’s a very unique farbrengen,” offered JEM director Rabbi ElkanahShmotkin. “One of the Rebbe’s foundational concepts is to never be satisfied with doing something good; he wanted you to keep going and do something great. That’s on full display here.”
Another teaching imparted at this gathering was the notion of a Jewish identity unbounded by circumstance. The Rebbe emphasized that even a Jew who had lapsed in their observance or was born into a fully assimilated family retained his or her Jewish identity; a Jew is always a Jew, he taught.
“The whole point of a Purim farbrengen,” said Taub, “is that when the Rebbe talks to you, the story comes alive. Purim becomes immediate and relevant in your personal life. It’s no longer just an event in history. It’s you and your life. That’s how people feel at a farbrengen, and that’s what we want everyone to experience.”
According to the rabbi, Chabad Houses around the world will be gathering members of their communities to watch the online broadcast.
Released as part of the ongoing work associated with JEM’s Living Archive Restoration & Preservation Project, the footage of the 1973 gathering was almost lost to time.
“We are truly lucky this exists on video,” asserted Shmotkin. “It’s a true blessing.”
Although the Rebbe’s Purim gatherings were generally known to be of exceptionally high spirits, the overwhelming joy displayed during this farbrengen was extraordinary. At one point, the Rebbe instructed his followers to sing, and then sprung from his seat, breaking into a vigorous dance, clapping and encouraging everyone to join in the Purim joy.
To quote Rabbi J.J. Hecht who was present that evening and broadcast a live commentary of the event over radio station WEVD: “The assembled find themselves in a state of unimaginable excitement […] each attempting to dance while standing in their places. In the background you hear the crowd whistling. … One simply will not be able to forget it!”
This is one of the earliest recorded farbrengens of the Rebbe, and was filmed by a video crew hired at the time by Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, a member of the Rebbe’s secretariat and now chairman of Chabad-Lubavitch’s educational and social service arms. The original video, however, had degraded over the years to the point where it had “numerous problems,” said Shmotkin, and the audio was useless.
To produce this release, JEM technicians paired audio retrieved from the donated collection of Rabbis Yossi and Aaron Goldstein, who had recorded the Rebbe’s addresses between 1951 and 1977. Synching the audio with the original video took more than 50 hours of work by video editor Yossi Margolin.
The entire editing process took several weeks, said Shmotkin. Margolin, together with Rabbi Yanky Ascher, painstakingly reviewed every second of the footage, removed the unusable portions, and replaced them with still photos and video footage of the gathering from other sources.
The Rebbe’s speeches were also translated and subtitled in six languages. This herculean task was overseen by Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, who described subtitling the Rebbe’s talk as “an art and a challenge.”
After the editing process was finally complete, the farbrengen was recorded onto DVD, and shipped to more than 1,000 communities around the world. It is now available for order through JEM’s website.
“There is tremendous power in the learning experience through listening to and watching the Rebbe,” said Shmotkin. “Now that this farbrengen is out, the experience can in some way be distilled and re-experienced, or experienced for the first time, by every individual in their own community or home.”