Under orders by rabbis of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement, a popular member of the community who runs a center for Israeli backpackers in Kathmandu, Nepal, has relinquished the state honor of lighting a torch at Israel’s Independence Day ceremony.
Chani Lifshitz, 43, was chosen by Culture Minister Miri Regev to represent her and her husband Chezki’s contribution to Israelis abroad, during next week’s holiday.
But after a Chabad rabbinical court warned her not to take part in ceremony, Lifshitz on Thursday informed Regev she was turning down the honor.
“It’s not up to me!” she wrote on Facebook. “I was asked to cancel my participation in the Independence Day ceremony and I cannot wade into the fires of controversy. ”
Thanking the government and all Israelis for the gesture, she added: “I may not have the honor of lighting a torch, but I have already received the greatest honor on this planet — a life of mission and mutual responsibility. There is no greater gift!”
This year, due to the coronavirus restrictions, the torch-lighting ceremony will be pre-recorded on Tuesday, with no audience permitted at the Mount Herzl military cemetery where it is held. It will be aired Tuesday night, as Israel’s 72nd Independence Day begins.
The cabinet on Wednesday imposed a lockdown over Memorial Day and Independence Day to prevent the spread of the virus.
In the letter to Lifshitz by members of the Chabad rabbinical court, the rabbis said it was in their purview to decide whether members of the Chabad community could accept such honors and no decision on the issue was to be taken individually.
The rabbis did not give a specific reason for not allowing Lifshitz to light the torch.
The community, whose members in Israel are more integrated into the broader society than those of other ultra-Orthodox sects, perform IDF service, and are supportive of the state, nonetheless has a fraught relationship with Independence Day and continues to refrain from joining the state celebrations under the rulings of its late spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Schneerson was also said to have taken specific issue with the formulation of the torch-lighter declaration at the state ceremony, “For the glory of the State of Israel,” preferring instead to refer to Israel as the Jewish homeland.
In 2011, another member of the community, Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, was granted the honor of lighting a torch. Rosenberg’s son-in-law and daughter, Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg (Lifshiftz’s best friend), who ran a Chabad house in Mumbai, were murdered in the 2008 terror attacks in the city. Their baby son, Moshe, was able to escape the scene of the massacre with his nurse and is being raised by his grandfather.
Despite an order by rabbis to back out, Rosenberg went ahead with the rite, but improvised, saying: “For the glory of the state of the land of Israel.”
The Chabad Lubavitch movement runs hundreds of facilities worldwide to offer religious services to Jews and Israelis abroad.
The Lifshitz-run Kathmandu Chabad house is one of the most popular, hosting thousands of post-army Israeli backpackers each year and what is believed to be the world’s largest Passover Seder.