It`s only natural that as time passes, our collective knowledge of situations and people becomes blurred until only crude, almost stereotypical forms remain. So it is that for non-insiders, Chabad has come to represent loving emissaries on the far ends of the earth who welcome anyone, while the Lubavitcher Rebbe is vaguely remembered as a solemn figure cloaked in mystery who distributed dollar bills to those who came to see him. In her book Beyond the Dollar Line (Kehot, 244 pp.), Chana Sharfstein succeeds in adding color and detail to the recent past, including the Rebbe`s vibrant personality, as well as Chabad`s growth and focus, and how it has had an impact on her family.
More intimate than an ordinary history book, Beyond the Dollar Line is like a nice chat with a friend over coffee. Now that coffee is more often drunk in paper cups while on the run, and tweets have replaced chats, we need more books like this. It keeps the connection alive and keeps the Rebbe from being a mere Wikipedia entry. Chana`s writing style is casual and easy to read, but her wisdom comes through easily and her messages will surely be treasured.
For those who never met the Rebbe, this richly detailed book makes that era come alive. The daughter of the legendary Scandinavian Rabbi J.I. Zuber, Chana has experienced the Chabad life overseas and at her home base in Crown Heights. A beloved grandmother, Chana has also enjoyed a career of teaching, writing, and serving as a guide and docent in various capacities.
With so much ground to cover, from Scandinavia to Boston to Crown Heights, the author chooses to linger over telling details, rather than zooming through her life. Mrs. Sharfstein also does not follow a linear chronological path, making the book seem more conversational and allowing her to delve into themes. In essence, she becomes an accidental ethicist, admitting her foibles and reluctance to take on new projects, yet sharing the joy that came from following through anyway. This makes her easy to relate to and someone who can serve as a role model for a generation which may be missing its bubbies.
In Section One, Encounters with the Rebbe, Sharfstein brings to life a Rebbe whose smile alone could brighten a community. Yet she clearly shows how his insight into human nature and vast wisdom made him a unique leader. In Section Two, she introduces us to the Rebbetzin, a modest yet strong counterpart for the Rebbe. In Section Three, we delve into the details of the dollar line and learn how much inspiration could be gleaned even from those few moments with the Rebbe. In Outreach, we go behind the scenes of some shluchim and see how these remarkable people are even more remarkable than we ever knew.
In Section Five, Special Days in Our Calendar, we see how great an impact we can have on those around us and how it is worth it to go beyond ourselves to reach out to those in our midst. In Section Six, Those Were the Days, we see how Sharfstein`s contributions to the Crown Heights community turned out to be bigger than she imagined at the time. In From My Travels, Sharfstein lets us tag along on her tours of Scandinavia and explains how these tours were not about Kodak moments but about serving the Rebbe in this added dimension.
A Walk Down Memory Lane lets us peek into Sharfstein`s photo album with the underlying message that we should look to previous generations to gain inspiration for our current challenges. Finally, Sharfstein shares with us the condolence letter the Rebbe sent upon the passing of her mother and we see a Rebbe who shares in the full spectrum of emotions with his people and whose messages continue to provide guidance for us.
An example of Sharfstein`s human focus can be seen in the charoses man. Chana tells of a harried mother who has little time to notice the lonely old couple next door. When the old man timidly asks for some charoses since his wife is too sick to cook for Pesach, the mother receives a wake-up call. Sharfstein warns us to observe and connect with the people around us, rather than just helping the official chesed cases.
There is much to be learned and enjoyed in this book.
--Michele Justic , 5 Towns Jewish Times.
Hardcover | 300 Pages | 5¾" x 8¾"