Rabbi Eliezer Lyons managed this month to raise NIS 43,700 (about $12,800) through the Headstart website out of his NIS 100,000 ($28,500) funding goal for the establishment of a Chabad house in Queenstown, New Zealand.
According to Lyons, in recent years quite a few wealthy people who supported Chabad financially have stopped giving donations to the Hasidic movement, so most Chabad houses set up recently are extensions of existing centers, making the establishment of a new Chabad house a particularly difficult mission these days.
"We reached the conclusion that in order to establish a Chabad house, we need an initial sum of about NIS 100,000," explains Rabbi Lyons, who is originally from the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
"Contrary to what many of my secular friends think, the Lubavitcher Rebbe does not give us money to establish a Chabad house, the Foreign Ministry does not pay either, and the Jewish Learning Center in New York, which coordinates the emissaries' activity around the world, allots each emissary just $10,000."
The young rabbi, only 24 years old, began his career as an emissary at the age of 16. He studied in Chabad yeshivot in Safed and Jerusalem, and during his vacations he traveled to help at the Chabad houses in Amsterdam and Costa Rica. After the murder of the Chabad emissaries in Mumbai, India, he went over there too.
About two years ago he married Chaiky (Chaya), who was born in Kfar Chabad, and the two decided to establish a Chabad house in the city of Queenstown in south New Zealand, as the area is particularly popular among Israeli hikers.
Southern New Zealand had a Chabad house in the past, in the city of Christchurch, but after a strong earthquake which destroyed many of the buildings in the area, the local emissary decided to relocate the activity to Auckland in the north of the country.
But Rabbi Lyons still has a long way to go before he fulfills his dream. "Over the years I got to know hundreds of Israeli hikers and maintained a strong and ongoing connection with them even after they returned to Israel. I also travel abroad in a bid to get donations, and Israeli hikers I spoke to told me about the Headstart website, which allows fundraising."
"We now want to open the Chabad House for the traveler in Queenstown, south New Zealand," Eliezer and Chaiky Lyons write on their Headstart fundraising page. "It's a very strategic location in terms of the movement of travelers, departing to treks and coming back from them, and the Chabad house can give the travelers essential service.
"The Chabad House will be a warm home and open home to any traveler. Awaiting the traveler there will be an Internet corner, which will enable contact with home and friends. On the bulletin board you can find important messages. Coffee and cookies will be offered and also nutritious meals.
"On Shabbat and holidays we will dine together in a happy and uplifting atmosphere. On each holiday the travelers will encounter the holiday’s characteristics – a shofar on Rosh Hashana, a sukkah on Sukkot, a Hanukkah menorah on Hanukkah, matzoh on Passover.
"In the synagogue they will be able to pray with a minyan, to hear the Torah reading and join a small and knowledgeable class. If your passport is lost, or G-d forbid in the event of an arrest or a disaster – we will be there for you," they promise.
2 flight tickets to New Zealand
A short tour of the popular website revealed to the young Chabadnik that it's easier to raise funds for a real product, like a book or an album, than for a house of "Torah, prayer and charity," as the Lubavitcher Rebbe said.
Buy Lyons did not give up. He decided that whoever donates NIS 50 ($14) will receive a personal letter of gratitude, and whoever chooses to invest NIS 120 ($34) will get a fancy copy of the Tanya book which will be printed in a limited and numbered edition at the new Chabad house in New Zealand.
According to the website's rules, if the project does not reach its funding goal before the campaign time runs out, all donations will be returned to the investors.
And so for the 54 days left till the end of the campaign, Lyons is extending the range of donations: Whoever gives NIS 180 ($51) will receive a special tour in Kfar Chabad, including a meeting with senior officials in the Hasidic movement, a visit to an etrog orchard and Building 770, and matzo baking. Whoever donates NIS 360 ($103) will get to participate in a raffle for two flight tickets to New Zealand.
Eliezer and Chaiky Lyons conclude their request by saying, "Let's join together, each one will give a shoulder, and we will all be partners in establishing a new Chabad House at the other end of the world. We will be there physically for all the travelers, but we will always remember those who helped us build the place."