February 11, 2009

We're All Lubavitchers Now

2009 1504 page6 capHE NOVEMBER 26, 2008, TERRORIST ATTACK IN MUMBAI, INDIA, A city also known as Bombay, left hundreds dead, including at least six Sabbathkeepers. That they were Hasidic Jews, members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, is of some note, though perhaps less unique when you consider that in the summer of 2008 Seventh-day Adventists were attacked and killed in India’s Orissa state.
It’s sad to say, but those who keep the seventh-day Sabbath, Adventist or not, are under scrutiny and even violent attack now in many parts of the world. You might argue that the sectarian violence in Orissa, in which Christians of many denominations were harmed or murdered, was directed against Christianity as a whole. You might also suggest that the Lubavitchers, as the Chabad members are colloquially known, were targeted because they were highly visible as Jews, not because they are Sabbatarians. And you might be right in each case.
2009 1504 page6Yet as I pondered the senseless murder of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka, who leave behind two young children, I couldn’t help noticing that they were clearly people who observed the Sabbath, and in the best way their tradition (and ours) would call for: having a house filled with friends and strangers, sharing food, fellowship, and the Torah, or the Word of God.
According to Benjamin Holtzman, a writer for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service, Gavriel and Rivka “were wonderful people: warm, inviting and engaging. [Gavriel] would get visibly excited to have so many guests for Shabbat; you could tell it really made his week. He would have a grin on his face almost the entire meal.”*
I know less about the Adventists killed earlier in 2008 in Orissa, only that they endeavored to maintain a Christian witness—and a Sabbathkeeping lifestyle—in what must have been challenging circumstances. There are, after all, parts of the world in which respect for Sabbath observance is far less than that with which we are blessed in the United States. It’s not easy keeping the Sabbath in a society where doing so could cost you your job, your business, or even your family.
Just ask the Adventist World Radio staffer from a certain nation—we can’t use names here—who was kidnapped by extremists and badly beaten and tortured. There was fear he would be brought before a sharia law court for “apostasy” from his former religion of Islam. Forget that article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which every United Nations member-state is supposed to subscribe, emphasizes the right to change religions and practice one’s faith in peace. This brave worker is another Sabbathkeeper who stared down death for his faith.
That’s the connection here: people who practice what God tells them in Exodus 20 to do are under fire. There is a fight against faith in much of the world today, and some of it—too often—leads to violence and death.
These must be matters of prayer, the kind of fervent prayer we read of in James 5:16. That the Holtzbergs were not Adventist shouldn’t matter; they and we are joined in the fellowship of Shabbat and that’s important in and of itself.
But we also have a call to political action, I believe. We have the right to “petition Caesar”—whoever “Caesar” might be these days—for civil rights for all Sabbathkeepers; indeed, for all who choose to worship peacefully in a society. A good example of this is the way Adventists in the United States have worked with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim groups to lobby Congress for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which has yet to pass, but for which we still have hope. The freedom of a Jew, a Catholic, a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Muslim is my freedom, too.
Indeed, after the events in which a few terrorists sought out and systematically killed people who were living and worshipping in peace, it’s difficult not to conclude that every Sabbathkeeper is a Lubavitcher now.
*Benjamin Holtzman, “Remembering Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, November 28, 2008; tinyurl.com/5zv4hs, accessed online Dec. 1, 2008.

Mark A. Kellner is news editor for the Adventist Review.