MID-LIFE CRISIS AND CAREER CHANGE
Settled with and continuing his dependence on his father-in-law, Schneerson no doubt experienced some anxiety about what to do next. Job prospects for a 40-plus-year-old refugee engineer with poor English language skills were not good. A temporary place was soon found for him, however, serving as his father-in-law’s financial emissary to Hasidim in Europe for the next seven years. Sometime during that period it seems to have occurred to Schneerson that he could compete for the plum position of rebbe of Chabad, now that the reign of his ailing father-in-law appeared to be nearing its end. Either that or he underwent an opportunely timed Hasidic born again-experience. Whichever it was, he needed to reinvent himself, to acquire the lingo and gravitas to compete against his brother-in-law, Shmaryahu Gourary, who was Yosuf Yitzchok’s apparent successor. Incidentally, Schneerson’s change of heart from secular to religious, if such it was, is not unusual in middle age. It is a common Jewish experience to identify with secular modernity in one’s youth and return to Jewish collectivism and commitment in middle age.
But first he had to evade the draft. As a legal immigrant resident Schneerson might very well have been conscripted during WWII. But Schneerson no more wanted to serve in the American army than Hasidic Jews in Russia had wanted to serve in the Czar’s or in the Bolshevik army. US law required all men between 18 and 65 to register, with those aged 18 to 45 to be immediately liable for induction. Though Chabad.org lists his date of birth as 1902, Schneerson reported 1895 as his birthdate on his draft card. He was therefore not subject to immediate conscription as he might have been. Chabad.org also claims that he worked as a civilian engineer at the Brooklyn Naval Yard to avoid the accusation that he, in the habit of orthodox Jews, had evaded military service. No documents have been found to substantiate this claim. (more…)