A Real Shul


Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Center for Jewish Life

The CJL was established in Buffalo by Rabbi Laizer Labkovski, who came to the city with his wife and children, now numbering 12, in 1995, as an emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Schneerson. The Rebbe headed the Lubavitcher movement in Judaism, a movement founded in Lubavitch, Russia.

The principal and most important contribution to Jewish life by this movement is willingness to accept all Jews, whatever their background, whatever their belief. Even German Jews are welcome. Unlike our usual congregations, the CJL has no officers, no chairman of the board, no trustees, no president, vice presidents, secretaries, treasurers, or executive directors. This avoids the unfortunate condition of almost all of our congregations which promote an oligarchy (Greek for rule of the few) who have no real interest in Judaism but need to hold an office.  These oligarchs seldom participate in Sabbath or Holy Day events but are solely interested in holding an office. Almost none of these synagogue politicians are ever seen at any religious events, and drop out as soon as they have been president. This makes most of our Jewish congregations alternative status systems, thereby gratifying the needs of those who must be president or trustee or chairman no matter what the organization represents so long as they, the oligarchs, can hold an office.

It is of course evident that in any stratified group, those who are important are ipso facto in a position to shun anyone not to their liking. Shunning implies that some members are treated like skunks at a picnic, as no one talks to them. No one greets them. They are ignored, humiliated, insulted, demeaned, and discarded.  THIS NEVER HAPPENS AT THE CJL. Here everyone is treated in a friendly manner. All may come, no matter their finances or their occupations.  Friendship and acceptance are enjoyed by all who attend the many events provided by Rabbi Labkovski, who never ignores anyone, who talks to all who seek the company of other Jews, and all who follow the greatest commandment, “You shall walk humbly with your God and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Rabbi Labkovski is a true role model who, by his acts, teaches all of us what Judaism really means. He holds two degrees from the Lubavitcher Yeshiva and is a lecturer, teacher, consultant, and organizer of numerous activities. The rabbi is responsible for creating a Kosher Meals on Wheels, which feeds the poor and those who are unable to leave their homes because of illness or old age. Rabbi Labkovski has organized a volunteer group of drivers who drive food to those who need it and who cheer up those who would otherwise have no visitors. The rabbi also visits Jews who are hospitalized and actually drove all the way from Williamsville to Rochester to visit Dr. Balderman, who was then undergoing a major operation at a Rochester hospital. Dr. Balderman was a cancer patient. At intervals, Rabbi Labkovski invites all Jews to attend Friday night dinners at minimal cost. These dinners allow the participants to meet one another and to enjoy the welcoming and friendly association with other Jews. You are welcome because you want to be there. You don’t need a Cadillac to be admitted. Rabbi Labkovski has also created the Chabad Hebrew School, The Jewish Heritage Day School, and a school for children aged six months to three years. He also created a Passover matzo bakery and much more.

In view of our high (74%) intermarriage rate and the abandonment of Judaism by so many American Jews, the Center for Jewish Life acts as a wall, as a defense against the utter dissolution of American Judaism. That is the reason for the ever increasing participation of Jews in the work of the CJL.  This is the reason why in 1990 Conservatives were 43% of all affiliated Jews but now have declined to 15%.

Let us imagine any Jewish community which follows the teachings of the Rebbe Schneerson and whose followers act like Rabbi Labkovski. When that day comes, the Moshiach cannot be far, as all Jews will be brethren, as it is written, as it is said, “Kol Yisroel Chaveyrim.”

Shalom u'vracha.

 Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including The American Jewish Community in the 20th and 21st Century (2021).

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