Rabbi Sholom D. Lipskar is the rabbi and co-founder of The Shul of Bal Harbour. Together with his wife, Mrs. Chani Lipskar, they serve as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
Jewish American Warrior (Warrior): Rabbi Lipskar, tell us how Aleph was founded, and of its connection with the military.
Rabbi Sholom Lipskar (RSL): In 1981, I had a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. During that conversation, he told me, “G-d will give you a machshava tova—a good idea—what you should do.” That Shabbos, the Rebbe spoke publicly. He made a parenthetical comment among his various talks that day, which, incidentally, was never published; because no one else remembered it in the review session afterwards besides me. After the fact, it seemed like it was a comment aimed directly at me. But the Rebbe said, “It’s quite remarkable, and I have mentioned this several times, and no one has done anything about it: there are people in prison, waiting for someone to come to them and bring them Tefillin and teach them Torah! Why is no one doing anything about this?” On Sunday I wrote to the Rebbe that I was undertaking to create an organization for the purpose of serving those in limited environments in order to fulfill the directive he mentioned on Shabbos. The Rebbe responded quickly, “Warm, warm thanks!”
Shortly thereafter, we began a test program, and expanded “all people in limited environments” to include Jews the military and chronic disease hospitals. As we did so, we informed the Rebbe, and he again responded, “Warm, warm thanks!” We knew that the Rebbe had particular affinity for Jews in the military, as serving them was among one of the original responsibilities listed under the Rebbe’s own organization, a list mandated to him by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe.
We eventually decided to call the organization Aleph—because as the Rebbe noted many times, that letter is the single difference between the Hebrew words gola (exile), and geulah (redemption). Our mission was to play the part of the Aleph for those “exiled” from home for any reason.
After a few years, we hired a young guy who was a former chaplain in the army, and that really helped us get a handle on the military side of things. We began sending Judaica materials: books, holiday needs, and more out to the troops. Before long, we had gained a reputation that we’d respond quickly to needs, no matter where they were. For example, chaplains wrote to us that they need machzorim for the High Holidays, and they couldn’t get them in places like Hawaii. Other channels they’d applied to told them it was too late, and they wouldn’t be able to get them there in time. So we got a courier to send them. The chaplains were really appreciative of the fact that we were responding so quickly. This caused the program to grow and expand from year to year. We became an official, DoD-recognized, ecclesiastical endorsing agency in 2007, added the Military Training and Shabbatons in 2008, and haven’t stopped there.
Warrior: Did the Rebbe provide you with any specific instructions as to how Aleph was to work?
RSL: Generally, he wanted us to keep him abreast of developments. The main thing he wanted us to concern ourselves with was practical mitzvot. Even though learning Torah is very important, he urgently wanted us to focus on the practical side of Judaism. He also stressed that we should have personal interaction to whatever extent possible. And another interesting directive was to send niggunim, Chassidic, wordless tunes, to the people we were dealing with. These are soul tunes that uplift the soul, and he felt it was important to give them that level of spiritual encouragement.
Warrior: What led to deciding to become an Endorsing Agency for chaplains?
RSL: The Chiefs of Chaplains were enamored with the program, but we realized that as a volunteer organization we were missing an element of acceptance and access into the military. The Endorser responsibility created a formal relationship with the military, which gave us additional credibility and acceptance.
Warrior: As the founder of Aleph, what would be your mission statement to all Chaplains and Lay Leaders associated with Aleph?
RSL: They are representative of the free world, and they are responsible to bring a level of spiritual value to the system. I once spoke with General Sidney Shachnow, and he said that the value of the chaplain is in the following: in the regular army, there’s a pecking order, a chain of command. But a chaplain transcends that, because even the commanding general needs spiritual motivation. That motivation in the military is necessary and is key to the success of the mission. Sustain a spiritual reality that transcends the physical world, and it will affect the morale, the motivation and the behavior of the soldier, on and off the battlefield.
Originally printed in the Tishrei 2021 issue of the Jewish American Warrior.