During the past eight years hosting his foundation's annual Chanukah Telethon on WLNY Channel 55, Lubavitcher Rabbi Anchelle Perl has come to be known as the "Rockin' Rabbi" ¬ the Rabbi With a Cause, the emcee on the MC. Cynics may call his antics a bit corny, but few can resist the charm of Perl when he pulls up on a fully loaded Harley Davidson, donning a leather jacket to match his traditional black dress. His philosophy is, do whatever it takes to excite people about faith and charity.
The Man in Black: Rabbi Perl is not above silly gimmicks to excite and inspire people to give.
"It's different from the typical telethon," Perl said from the office of the National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE) in Mineola. "The entertainment we have and some of the things I do to be exciting and inspiring are geared towards making people feel good and sharing in our work."
The telethon, in its ninth year, will air on Channel 55 throughout Long Island, New York City, Westchester and New Jersey on Sunday, Dec. 5, from 7 to 11 p.m. The festivities will include performances by doo-wop stars Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge, The Renditions, a new "oldies" group, and will be co-hosted by the Prince of Long Island rock and roll, Mickey "B." Other activities include the lighting of a Chanukah menorah that survived an Auschwitz concentration camp, and holiday classics sung by children.
The funds raised will be divided among the many education and relief programs NCFJE coordinates, including Hebrew Schools for the Unaffiliated, the Children's Matzah Factory, Drug Prevention Outreach, Hospital Visitation to the Lonely and Good Deed Awards for Teenagers. Last year's telethon raised about $300,000.
The programs serve Jewish children who don't belong to a temple, as a kind of spiritual safety net for those who fall through the cracks with regards to their faith.
"We're providing people with resources they might not have otherwise," Perl said. "Not every typical Jewish institution meets every criteria. Our goal is for children to have a weekly Jewish education so they too can identify with synagogue life."
The Good Deed Awards for Teenagers program honors local students of all faiths who do good work.
"Each year we honor Jewish and non-Jewish high school students for their good deeds," Perl said. "I was frustrated by the problems we're seeing in public schools, with the shootings and everything, and I know there are good kids out there. The idea was to identify them and recognize them for the good things they do."
As for the Mineola synagogue where NCFJE is based, Perl said, "I'm a Chabad Rabbi. My philosophy is we are a traditional synagogue, but I don't go by labels. Labels are for shoes and shirts, not people."
Perl studied in England, Paris and New York for 23 years, and has lived and worked on Long Island since 1974, and around the time he helped found the local NCFJE chapter, which now boasts a network of Hebrew schools throughout the Island.
The philosophy behind NCFJE is based on the Lubavitch movement, started by Rabbi M.M. Schneerson, of which Perl has been an emissary since the age of 23. The idea is simply to promote the Jewish faith through charitable work and education of the less fortunate.
Through contacts Perl had made, he came to meet Marty Altholtz, a co-owner of Hempstead Harley-Davidson. The two eventually arranged a swap of a leather motorcycle jacket for a tefillin, the flat leather strip worn by some Jews in temple.
"I used to send out a weekly fax over the years and came to meet Marty," Perl said. "He said he wanted to give me a leather jacket. I told him I'd wear it during the telethon if he wore a tefillin at home and in synagogue. He would give me some of his leather and I would give him some of mine."
The two friends eventually coordinated to create a unique product ¬ Harley-Davidson yarmulke, which are given away as gifts to callers who pledge during the telethon.
Although Perl has been doing the live broadcasts for nearly a decade, he still admits to being nervous. However, he remembers some pearls of wisdom bestowed upon him by his father.
"I used to be nervous as a child and my father would tell me that to be nervous meant to care," Perl said. "I know it's a big responsibility and I want people to watch and be uplifted, to be more with their family, to care more. It allows people an opportunity to give charity, which is important, but at the same time I'm inviting people to be partners in my work, and that's a greater responsibility."
To contact Rabbi Perl or learn more about the NCFJE, visit the website: www.rabbiperl.com.