Was there a pivotal event in your life that got you into Mitzvot?
There were actually two – the first involved my Uncle Moish, whom I speak a lot about in my book. When I was 22, Uncle Moish dragged me to an Encounter with Chabad in Los Angeles where they persuaded me to put on Tefillin for the first time in my life. They said my putting on Tefillin would help bring peace to Israel. It didn’t make rational sense to me, but somehow it felt right. I put them on that day and have been doing so ever since.
The second event was a conflict with my parents over a young lady I was dating who was not Jewish. My Dad put his foot down and said, “No way are you marrying that girl, you’re the oldest in the family and we have to set boundaries.” You know what’s really funny is I went from thinking my parents were tribal and ethnocentric in those days to later on thinking they were assimilationist and too casual in their Jewish commitment. At that age, in your early twenties, no matter how wonderful your parents may be, they can’t do anything right in your eyes.
Your book mentions the idea of changing the world’s values and thereby changing the world. That sounds a lot like the vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Can you comment on that?
I think that the Rebbe has changed the whole world already! When my Uncle Moish first introduced me to Chabad, he said “They are the real McCoy,” but he was afraid they would not be around much longer. It quickly became obvious to me that far from being gone, this is arguably the most dynamic corner of Judaism.
What do you see as the rationale for Chabad’s success?
What the other denominations and institutions in Jewish life don’t see is that in order to attract young people, they don’t have to become trendy… just the opposite. It seems to me that young people today are drawn to the least trendy and most authentic. They are drawn to a place where they recognize that, “Hey, my great-grandparents would have related to this.”
Rather than changing gigantic institutions, Chabad sends out a young family with four or five kids and they proceed to change their little corner of the world. Multiply that by some 3,000 shluchim worldwide and that’s a much more reliable prescription for change than the U.N. I think the humble young shliach in a Chabad House in some remote area is making more of a difference than Kofi Anan. He’s doing it from the inside out, and isn’t that what this magazine and Chabad are all about?
How about one last parting thought?
I regret that the closest I ever came to meeting the Rebbe was a one time visit to 770 (Eastern Parkway) where I caught just a glimpse of the Rebbe in his car. But, incongruously, the flagship station of my radio
network-the home station from which we broadcast from Seattle to 187 other stations around the country-is on 770 AM and has the call letters KTTH. And several times a day… here’s how I identify our station: ‘You are listening to 770 AM KTTH... the Truth.’ And that is Emes!
Fay Kranz-Green interviewed Michael for Farbrengen Magazine. Kranz-Green is the former editor of the Richmond Jewish News. She currently lives in Florida with her husband, Joel.