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Long After His Death, Rebbe’s Words Resound Among Washington’s Elite

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Twelve years after Menachem Mendel Schneerson died, his followers and admirers in Chabad-Lubavitch delivered his message to Washington’s highest echelons. The timeless themes of education, security for Israel and reaching out to other faiths still resound, organizers said.

Speakers including Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Talmudic scholar Adin Steinsaltz and radio host Dennis Prager interacted with top Bush administration officials at the Tuesday-Wednesday event marking the Lubavitcher rebbe’s yahrzeit.

The theme of the event, which attracted more than 300 Chabad officials from around the world, as well as diplomats and lawmakers, was education.

If that appeared broad, it was because “we’re here to convey a message and not press a particular opinion,” said Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of American Friends of Lubavitch.

In a closed briefing, Michael Chertoff, the Bush administration’s Jewish Homeland Security secretary, told the gathering that education was key in preparing Americans for the battle against terrorism.

“Education creates awareness, and awareness creates defense” was Chertoff’s message, according to those attending.

Wiesel said that shortly before Schneerson died, he had warned Wiesel that it was imperative for the West to engage Islamic religious leaders before Western and Islamic worldviews diverged too far.

The conference culminated in a White House briefing by Joshua Bolten, President Bush’s chief of staff, who also is Jewish. Bolten said Bush would never encourage Israel to give up territory without a Palestinian quid pro quo.

Administration officials attending included Gregg Rickman, the top anti-Semitism official at the State Department, and Edward O’Donnell, who deals with Holocaust restitution.

Other speakers included Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), the Senate majority leader.

“I’m a physician. I’ve dedicated the better part of my life to healing human bodies,” Frist told the assembled Chabad emissaries. “You dedicate the better part of your lives to healing the human soul.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) was scheduled to speak, but was caught in traffic generated by flooding. Also appearing was the Australian defense minister, Brendan Nelson.

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