Jewish outreach leader declines invitation to light Independence Day torch

Chabad emissary Chani Lifshitz announced that she will not light a torch at Israel’s Independence Day ceremony, abiding by a rabbinical ruling from her sect forbidding participation in such events.

By World Israel News Staff

On Wednesday, Chani Lifshitz informed Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev that she was declining the invitation to light one of the 12 Independence Day torches, widely viewed as one of the top honors in Israeli society.

Lifshitz was selected as a torch-lighter in recognition of her outreach work in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she and her husband Chezki run a Chabad center that serves thousands of traveling Israelis and hosts one of the largest Passover seders in the world each year.

On Thursday, Lifshitz posted on Facebook, “I was required to cancel my participation at the Independence Day ceremony. And I can’t enter the fire of discord.” Lifshitz’s post referenced a letter from the Chabad-Lubavitch council of rabbis in Israel requiring her not to participate in the ceremony.

“I again thank you, the state of Israel and each and everyone for the blessings, the wishes and especially the gratitude … [m]aybe I didn’t get the chance to bear a torch, but the greatest honor there is in this world I received – a life of mission and mutual responsibility. There is no greater gift than this,” she added.

Lifshitz is not the first Chabad emissary honored with an invitation to light an Independence Day torch in Israel.

In 2011, Chabad member Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg accepted the honor and lit one of the torches three years after his daughter and son-in-law were murdered in an Islamic terror attack in Mumbai, India, where they served as Chabad emissaries in a city that is visited by droves of Israelis and other Jewish visitors. Rosenberg’s infant grandson Moshe survived the attack, which claimed 166 lives.

Rosenberg was also ordered not to participate in the Independence Day ceremony, but he chose to proceed, altering the traditional statement honorees recite while lighting the torch so that it referred to the “Land of Israel,” instead of just the “State of Israel.”

Israel and Chabad: A Complicated Relationship

The rabbinical ruling in Lifshitz’s case regarding participation in a Yom Ha’atzmaut event brings to the fore the complicated relationship between the State of Israel and Chabad, a Hasidic sect that also serves as one of the world’s most successful Jewish outreach movements, operating open-door community centers in far-flung corners of the globe where Jews can find holiday celebrations, prayer services, kosher food and opportunities to connect with their traditions and culture.

While Chabad members participate in almost all areas of Israeli society, including serving in the army, the movement rejects the concept of secular Zionism, and therefore does not officially support Independence Day celebrations or singing “Hatikva,” Israel’s anthem.

When Chabad’s spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994), was questioned on the topic, he reportedly responded, “If [Israel] is a state of the Jews, I am not a Zionist, but if it is a Jewish state, I am a Zionist,” reported The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Sholom Kesselman, another member of the movement, explained on his website Chabad Currents that the movement is “pro-Israel, but anti Zionism.”

“We support the country and its military and work [and] pray for its success but don’t sing ‘Hatikavah’ or hang any Israeli flags in our [synagogues]. We love Israel but we don’t mark or celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut,” said Kesselman.

Schneerson, for his part, enjoyed a close relationship with Israeli heads of state and dignitaries, who traveled to his Brooklyn office for counsel and blessings.

These visitors included Benjamin Netanyahu, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ariel Sharon. Israeli military leaders and intelligence figures also met with Schneerson.