Longtime Tucson resident Jennifer Schneider donated “Der Rebbe,” a painting by local artist David Montefiore of the late Chabad-Lubavich leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to Chabad of Oro Valley on Monday, March 9, the eve of Purim.
Schneider, who was born in Israel, is a physician certified in internal medicine, addiction medicine, and pain management, and the author of 15 books. She is currently an adjunct faculty member at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in the department of pharmacology.
With her father, rabbinically trained cultural anthropologist Raphael Patai, she authored “The Myth of The Jewish Race” (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1975), which traces the historical, psychological and genetic footprints of the Jewish people. This background, plus her personal spirituality and professional understanding of our fragility as humans, says Montefiore, left Schneider “poised to understand the mysticism and allure of this great 20th century human being — Der Rebbe,” who was the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement for more than 40 years.
Born in what is now Ukraine, Schneerson, known simply as “the Rebbe” to his followers, escaped war-torn Europe in 1941. From Chabad-Lubavitch’s new headquarters in Brooklyn, New York, he transformed the remnants of the once-insular Hasidic sect into one of the most influential movements in religious world Jewry, with an international network of over 3,500 educational and social centers.
Montefiore recalls going to Lubavitch headquarters as a boy to hear Schneerson speak. After evening prayers, he says, the Rebbe “took my hand, gently stroked my cheek and looked into my eyes and said, ‘Nu, yingele — tziz shpeit — nu nem deim dollar and gai ahaim — und zai a gut yingele!’” (Well, it’s late, take this dollar and go home [by subway] — and be a good boy.”)
Schneider met Montefiore at services at Congregation Bet Shalom and quickly became enamored of his work. Together, they decided that Montefiore would reproduce “Der Rebbe” and Schneider would give the painting to Rabbi Ephraim Zimmerman of Chabad of Oro Valley, who Montefiore has known since the Zimmermans came to town in 2012.
Schneider told the AJP that now she is semi-retired, she has more time “to meet people and go back to my Jewish roots. I feel I’m sort of, at retirement age, going back to being my father’s daughter.
“I’ve met all kinds of interesting people” since joining Bet Shalom, she adds.
Having retired from direct patient care over 10 years ago, Schneider has been traveling the country for the past eight years teaching a course for a medical education company, “primarily to physicians who have been disciplined by their state medical licensing boards regarding their prescribing of opioids.” A year ago, deciding to take it easy, she trained four other pain specialists to teach her course, which she will continue to manage and update.
Montefiore’s art, she says, can be “so valuable, especially for people in the Jewish community.” She acquired two of his paintings for her home, “9-11 Resurrection Alpha,” which has deep meaning for her, having grown up in New York, and “Psalm 23,” which has led her to read more about what is perhaps the most well known of the psalms.
The portrait of “Der Rebbe,” she says, “shows such an insight into the person,” and has prompted her to learn more about Schneerson’s remarkable career. “Chabad just seemed to me a very good place for this work, where people would really enjoy it,” she adds, and being able donate it helped “make this a very happy time in my life.”