Monday, October 31, 2005
Posted on Mon, Oct. 31, 2005
A spur-of-the-moment visit to Rabbi Menachem Schneerson's tomb brings unexpected and astonishing results
Special to the Observer
I make no apologies for my devotion to Chasidism, particularly to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, with its tireless outreach and nonjudgmental welcome to Jews of all callings and backgrounds. Moreover, it asks nothing in return.
Do I agree with every point of the movement's theology and lifestyle? No, but enough to make me an adherent. In fact, we often joke about how a rabbi so seemingly atypical, in a decidedly un-Chabad town like Greenville, is so devoted to the work of Chabad. Hence my title, "Closet Lubavitcher"!
Their most recent, now deceased, Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, is understood by all Lubavitchers as irreplaceable. Do they consider him a miracle-worker? Perhaps, or at least a great cosmic influence. Is he the Messiah? This is the subject of tremendous controversy, even condemnation, in the secular media and other Jewish movements. Let's simply say that many Lubavitchers openly declare him the Messiah, while for others the idea hovers as a distinct possibility.
Two years before his death, the Rebbe became my "savior." In a scant 30 seconds, he stroked my arm and offered me guidance at the most dismal time of my life. Those few words, I now realize, marked the beginning of my emotional and spiritual restoration and intervened in my imminent suicide.
A trip to the tomb
That was then. Now, let me tell you about my recent transcendent experience -- or spooky experience, depending how you look at it -- with the Rebbe:A few months ago, I spent a week in New York working on a project. By serendipity, my driver to the airport was a young Lubavitcher. At the sight of my yarmulke, he asked whether I had ever visited the Ohel (Rebbe's tomb). I told him I had not, but if we had time, I would certainly like to pay my respects. Knowing that people flock to the Ohel to ask for the Rebbe's intercession, and remembering his life-saving advice for me 13 years earlier, it was the least I could do.
Arriving at the Ohel, my driver recommended that I write a "pan," an acronym for pidyon nefesh, a "redemption of the soul," to place on the Rebbe's tomb. What could it hurt, I thought. So, I prayed for universal peace and for the safety of my family.
One extra request
Then, I asked for something out of the ordinary: Three years earlier, I had departed my congregation in Greenville under acrimonious circumstances. Many congregants were left angry and estranged. Little by little, some had forgiven me, and our relationships had slowly resumed. For others, the anger still burned.
But, the Goldbergs (name changed), with whom we were particularly close and whose friendship we cherished, stopped talking to us and refused all pleas of forgiveness -- would not even answer calls, notes, e-mails, coming to the door or responding to mediators.
So, I prayed on my pan that there would be reconciliation with congregants who were still estranged and particularly for forgiveness from the Goldbergs. I dropped the shredded pan, as is the custom, on the Rebbe's tomb and noted that it was 6:00, time to leave for the airport. Shortly thereafter, I called Linda to tell her that the plane was departing on time.
"You'll never guess who called," Linda announced. "The Goldbergs."
Astonished, I asked her if there had been any particular reason.
"No. An incredible surprise. They just wanted to say hello."
"And do you remember about what time they called?"
"It must have been around 6:05."
We never know
Please understand my purpose. My personal feelings aside, relating this wonder-story is not to convince anyone to believe in miracles, nor to believe that the Rebbe is the Messiah, nor that I was at all worthy of Divine intercession.
I have only one purpose: It is to tell people smug or doubting that we never know. We expect, and we never know. We are so often thwarted. Life wearies us, and we never know. The sun may yet shine from the abyss.
A serendipitous ride to the Ohel? I think not.
Marc Howard Wilson is a rabbi and syndicated writer in Greenville, S.C. A collection of his essays may be found at MarcMusing.com. Write him at MarcWilson1216@aol.com.
© 2005 Charlotte Observer and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.http://www.charlotte.com
Sunday, October 30, 2005
By Shoshana Olidort
October 21, 2005
'Joy shatters barriers," says a well-known Jewish aphorism. It's a phrase
that many Orthodox synagogues will take literally Tuesday evening with the
beginning of Simchat Torah, one of the Jewish calendar's most joyous days.
When the yearlong Torah-reading cycle comes to a close, all Orthodox
congregations will dance with their Torahs. But some will do so in a
sanctuary that's been altered temporarily. In some communities, the
mechitzah (the barrier separating women from men) will be taken down.
Miriam Hoffinger, 70, remembers the mechitzah coming down in the Hasidic
shtibl (prayer house) her family attended in Paris in the mid 1950s. "It
was the one time during the year when the mechitzah came down and we were
all together, celebrating in the same space," she said.
The tradition of removing the mechitzah when celebrating the Torah would
seem to stretch back at least a century. A YIVO archival photo (circa
1900) of a celebration in honor of the completion of a Torah scroll in
Dubrovno, Belarus, shows women and men in the same room looking on as the
rabbi dances with the freshly penned Torah.
But as with everything in Judaism, there are gradations. Among the more
stringent, women are not allowed to take part in the actual hakafot (the
seven circuits made with the Torah). But more liberal Orthodox communities
have found ways to accommodate women in the celebration of the holiday.
With the increased demand in recent years for greater ritual opportunity
for Orthodox women, rabbinic authorities have been pressed to examine the
tradition barring women from dancing with the Torah. Their findings showed
that "from a purely halachic point of view, there is no prohibition at all
preventing a woman from touching a Sefer Torah or even from reading from
it ? even while she is menstruating," according to Shlomo Riskin, founding
rabbi of New York's Modern Orthodox Lincoln Square Synagogue and chief
rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat. This position opened the way
for women's hakafot in many synagogues.
Those opposed to women's hakafot ? like Rabbi Herschel Schachter,
professor at the Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan
Theological Seminary ? argue that the movement to allow women to dance
with the Torah springs from the "impure motivations" of rebelliousness and
self-aggrandizement rather than a pure desire to connect with God. Another
issue of contention is the fact that according to rabbinic tradition, a
long-held Jewish custom attains the status of a halachic ruling.
Women's hakafot, along with women's prayer groups, have been performed at
a number of liberally minded Orthodox congregations for decades. But when
Riskin introduced them in Efrat, the move was accepted in only five of the
settlement's 28 synagogues. In one of these, the controversy caused a rift
that led to a part of the community breaking away and forming a
congregation of its own.
Rabbi Basil Herring of the Rabbinical Council of America, the primary
Modern Orthodox rabbinical union, said that the RCA "takes no stance on
the issue" of women's hakafot. The ultra-Orthodox Agudath Israel's Rabbi
Avi Shafran said that while the organization does not make policy, "it
would be safe to say that no Agudath Israel-affiliated synagogue has
women's hakafot." London's Beth Din thwarted efforts years ago to begin
women's hakafot in Anglo-Jewry's 65 Orthodox synagogues. Some have
persisted, but maintain a low profile. For those walking the tightrope
between a stricter Orthodoxy and greater openness, dealing with issues in
the gray zone requires finding compromises. In some Chabad synagogues
women dance around, rather than with, the Torah scroll. And while a few do
allow women's hakafot, most Chabad synagogues are more traditional in
Today, the notion of Simchat Torah as a man's holiday no longer holds
true. With a fairly wide range of options available, women from across the
Orthodox spectrum have found a way to make the holiday their own.
Shoshana Olidort is a freelance writer living in New York.
Copyright 2005 The Forward
For nearly eight years, he has devoted time to studying holy Jewish
writings with rabbi
Nashville resident Michael Doochin spent nearly eight years studying the
Tanya, a book that is central in the study of Kabbalah, with Rabbi
Yitzchok Tiechtel of Congregation Beit Tefilah in Bellevue. His years-long
journey is set to conclude today. SHELLEY MAYS / STAFF
By JEANNINE F. HUNTER
Published: Saturday, 10/22/05
Michael Doochin's 7-year quest to gain a deeper understanding of an
important Jewish text concludes today.
He studied the five books that make up the Tanya with Rabbi Yitzchok
Tiechtel of Congregation Beit Tefilah in Bellevue for at least an hour and
a half to three hours a week since March 1998.
The men met almost every week over the years to focus on a few pages at a
time of the text, which contemplates the metaphysical aspects of God,
creation, Judaism and the human soul, Doochin said. "Judaism has this
incredible heritage and all this time, I've rediscovered aspects of it,"
said the Nashvillian, adding that he gained deeper insight about purpose
and the meaning of life.
"More things speak to me that didn't before I started this process. ? We
are all connected with each other and we're all part of this divine unity.
With Kabbalah, you start feeling it not only intellectually but also in
your heart. It also changes your relationships with people."
Doochin, a married father of three who owns Interstate Packaging Company
in White Bluff, finds himself more patient with colleagues and others in
his life now.
Before studying the Tanya, a book central to Kabbalah, Doochin had no
experience with the text or the ancient Jewish mystical tradition. It's
recommended that scholars be at least 40, married and observant before
embarking on intense study of Kabbalah.
"When you're married, your soul is completed," said Doochin, 52. "When
you're over the age of 40, you have the experiences of life. This was a
process for me, and I learned that it was an important one."
Tiechtel was impressed with Doochin's dedication. "When Michael studied
Tanya, a basic book of Jewish mysticism based on the Kabbalah, he focused
on how one can live a life of fulfillment and satisfaction," he said. "It
is a gift for one to take the time to try to understand purpose of
creation, why they are created and God's understanding the world."
Congregation Beit Tefilah Chabad, one of five Jewish congregations in
Nashville, is a part of the Brooklyn-based Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The
writings of Russian Rabbi Shneur Zalman, who published the Tanya in 1796,
influenced the formation of this Jewish movement and organization.
Doochin wanted to grow stronger in his faith by immersing himself in holy
writings. He and his wife, Linda Kartoz-Doochin, live in the Forest Hills
area of Nashville. The family attends services at Beit Tefilah and
"Michael has a great mind and a great thirst for knowledge,"
Kartoz-Doochin said. "I think this has been as spiritually uplifting for
him as it has been for me."
Doochin's study concludes after the High Holidays ? Rosh Hashanah, the
Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar,
when time is set aside to atone for one's sins over the past year. "The
Tanya talks about living a life of fulfillment," Tiechtel said. "Yom
Kippur is a day that we look back at the past year, recall our actions and
how we may make amends and improve the world around us."
Doochin's study happens to be ending just as Jews around the world mark
the ending of the annual cycle of weekly Torah readings. His years-long
journey is an unusual one, Tiechtel said.
"I teach Kabbalah all the time, but no one has taken up this endeavor to
study with this commitment. It's been a growing experience for not only
him but for me, too. When you learn something yourself, you understand it.
But to really internalize it is to give it over and teach it to someone
else. It has been an enriching experience to study with a lay person who
has great interest in following up what he has learned."
Published: Saturday, 10/22/05
Friday, October 21, 2005
A good piece here about the re-emergence of Judaism in Eastern Europe.
Despite the doomsayers elsewhere, there is now a fresh growth in Jewish
worship and pride in this part of the world. Estonia is a place that's
very close to my heart and I'm glad to see stories like this,
unfortunately very few people get to here them.
The revival of Estonian Jewish life is gaining momentum, as demonstrated
by the Sukkot celebration hosted by the Jewish community of Narva. Jews
from the cities of Kohtla-Jarve and Ida-Virumaa also traveled here for
this special occasion. Rabbi Shmuel Kot, the Chief Rabbi of Estonia and a
Chabad Lubavitch emissary, traveled from Tallinn to lead prayers, bringing
with him a tent, kosher wine, the Lulav and calendars for the year 5766.
After erecting the tent in the yard of the Jewish Community Center, the
local community welcomed their guests with a delicious lunch and
The Sukkot celebration got underway in the yard near the sukka and was led
by Maria Tsikunova, the Chairman of the Narva community, and its former
Chairman, Doctor Alexander Spivak. The two leaders indicated how pleased
they were that the Jewish community now has the opportunity to mark Sukkot
in full accordance with Jewish tradition. The crowd heard how, just 65
years ago, Narva was home to a sizeable Jewish community, a Synagogue and
a resident rabbi.
"Today, we are reviving our Jewish traditions in Narva and we are creating
communities where there never historically was any Jewish community, such
as in Kohtla-Jarve," explained Rabbi Kot. "We are recreating Jewish life
in Tallinn, where 120 years ago, there were 700 Jews who funded the
construction of a 1000-person Synagogue. Just several years later, there
were already 2000 Jews residing in Tallinn," added the Chief Rabbi. Today,
all of these communities belong to the Federation of Jewish Communities of
the CIS and Baltic Countries.
Registered in 1988 by Samuel Lazikin, who founded the Jewish Community of
Estonia, the Narva community has gone through four chairmen, many of whom
have emigrated in Israel, USA and Germany. Apart from operating a library,
a community hall, and an office, the community runs a Discussion Club and
a Social Center. This latter institution, which constitutes the local
branch of the Tallinn Social Center, fulfills an important role in the
community's activity, especially given that most of the community's 70
members are elderly.
Alexander Dusman, the head of the Jewish community of Ida-Virumaa and Head
of the country's National Minorities Roundtable, also greeted the audience
on behalf of Jews from Kohtla-Jarve. The Jewish community established in
this industrial city, which is located in the north-eastern part of
Estonia, now has an estimated 100 members.
Participants in this joyful gathering separated into several groups in
order to enter the sukka. They recited a prayer over the wine and, holding
a Lulav next to their hearts, drank it faithfully. The enthusiasts engaged
in dances under the open sky, after which they returned to the Community
Center, where the gala continued in great Jewish spirit.
By Jim Davis
October 23, 2005
Congregations across South Florida pushed to keep their doors open this
weekend despite the threat of Hurricane Wilma.
"We have shutters for the church if it's Category 3 or higher, but we
haven't even put those up yet," said Criss Bertling, spokeswoman for
Spanish River Church in Boca Raton. If Wilma does come, she said the
church will serve as a shelter for its employees and regular members.
At First Baptist Church of Fort Lauderdale, the 35 deacons are calling 200
homebound seniors to learn who may need to be moved or need shutters put
up, said the Rev. Mike Jeffries, associate for the Rev. Larry Thompson.
Church leaders are also contacting young couples, families and single
adults, Jeffries said. "We want them to know what to expect and how to
prepare. Some have never been through a hurricane."
Christ Fellowship was planning regular services at its Palm Beach Gardens
home campus and at its satellite location at West Palm Beach's CityPlace.
But the Wellington services are canceled because the site, Polo Park
Middle School, will be closed.
"We have an outreach ministry for assistance, but it hasn't been activated
yet," spokesman Mike Anthony said. "That could change when the hurricane
Chabad of South Broward is planning its Simhat Torah dinner-dance for 7
p.m. Tuesday, although Rabbi Raphael Tennenhaus may shift gears if the
hurricane comes this way.
"In Jewish law, when something is doubtful and something is definite, you
stay with the definite," said the Hallandale Beach rabbi, who founded the
first Chabad Lubavitch center in Broward and Palm Beach counties. "Simhat
Torah is a definite. You can't cancel a holiday."
Beyond that, he said, his Chabad of South Broward is following normal
storm-time practice: calling on the elderly, delivering supplies, seeing
who may need to be moved. But Tennenhaus isn't planning for the worst.
In Fort Lauderdale, the Rev. Michael Hoyer has a simple storm-time rule:
Celebrate Mass if someone shows up.
"I tell people that if I can make it to church and you can make it, we'll
go with the schedule," said Hoyer, of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Catholic
Church. "With all the storms last year, we only canceled one Mass. On that
one, nobody came."
He also believes in prayer, of course, and the church publishes one in the
church bulletin every week during hurricane season. The prayer reads in
"God our Father, Creator and Lord of the universe, you have set the Earth
on its foundation and all the elements of nature obey your command. We
humbly beseech you to keep us safe from all dangers and calm the storms
that threaten us."
"We've come close, but since we've had that prayer, we've never had a
hurricane here," the priest said.
Copyright � 2005, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
By Charles Passy
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 23, 2005
When Bill Gralnick arrived in Miami in the early '80s, he considered Palm
Beach County a no-man's land for Jews.
"You couldn't even get a decent bagel in this county," Gralnick says.
Eliza Gutierrez/The Post
Lauren Manning, 10, reads from a Hebrew workbook at Temple Torah, west of
Boynton Beach, one of the county's 50 synagogues.
Today, Gralnick, the Southeast regional director of the American Jewish
Committee, sees a vastly different landscape.
He points to the "multiple synagogues" in such cities as Boynton Beach and
Boca Raton, where he established his main office in 1990. To a range of
Jewish organizations that provide "cradle-to-grave services." And to
nearly a half-dozen Jewish schools in Boca and West Palm Beach.
But the most startling evidence of Palm Beach County's transformation into
one of the world's leading centers of Jewish life will come next month,
when the county's two Jewish federations ? one based in Boca, the other in
West Palm ? reveal the results of a population study.
It's expected to show that there are 254,300 Jews in the county,
representing more than 20 percent of the overall population of about 1.2
That means one out of every five local residents is Jewish.
And that means Palm Beach County tops every metropolitan area in the
country by a wide margin. Even the closest rival, metropolitan New York
City, has a Jewish population that represents only 9.7 percent of the
"To find a more densely populated Jewish community, you'd have to go to
Israel," says Richard Jacobs, vice president of community planning for the
Boca-based Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.
The figures, of course, can be read in other ways. In terms of the sheer
number of Jewish residents, Palm Beach County still trails well behind New
York (with 2 million Jews) and Los Angeles (668,000).
But the population density speaks to the fact that the county has
developed a distinctly Jewish character ? from food to philanthropy. And
it's a trend that has wide-ranging implications for Jews and non-Jews
For Jews, it means more opportunities than ever before to express their
faith or partake of their culture ? the latter being just as important
since Judaism is defined as both an ethnicity and a religion.
Temples, Jewish life teeming
In Palm Beach County, there are now 50 synagogues, with new ones being
established and older ones expanding each year. Boca Raton, considered the
county's Jewish hub, has 16 temples, representing all the major branches
of the faith ? Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.
And the boom extends to northern Palm Beach County. A telling example:
When Temple Beth David, a Conservative synagogue in Palm Beach Gardens,
underwent a change in rabbis this past year, several members decided to
form a new congregation, Shir Hadash, with the departing rabbi, sensing
there was enough demand for both groups.
There's also the growing presence of Chabad, an Orthodox movement that
welcomes Jews at various centers throughout the county. In Wellington
alone, the Chabad group has grown from three families to more than 100 in
Indeed, some temples are finding they can barely meet the needs of the
thriving Jewish communities they serve. In Boynton Beach, Temple Torah, a
Conservative congregation, just started a religious school that attracted
more than 100 students in no time.
As for enrollment at the center's already established preschool? "We have
37 on the waiting list," Rabbi Geoffrey Botnick says.
But Palm Beach County's surging Jewish presence reveals itself in ways
beyond synagogue life.
Jewish day schools also are experiencing record attendance. Enrollment at
suburban West Palm Beach's Arthur I. Meyer Jewish Academy, for example,
jumped to an all-time high of 406 this year. And at Florida Atlantic
University's Boca campus, a once-fledgling Judaic studies program has
become a teeming center of Jewish learning, offering undergraduate degrees
in the field. The university also has a library of more than 80,000 books.
Other telling signs? Consider the ever-popular Palm Beach Jewish Film
Festival, which typically draws 8,000 attendees (or just a few thousand
fewer than the more heavily hyped Palm Beach International Film Festival).
Or the increased attention paid locally each year to Yom Hashoah
(Holocaust Remembrance Day). Or the numerous social groups for Jewish
And though the Palm Beach County School District does not officially
recognize religious holidays, it has a long-standing policy of closing on
important dates on the Jewish calendar ? Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Compare that to other school districts in Florida, from Escambia County in
the Panhandle to Indian River County on the Treasure Coast, that remain
open on those days. Or even to school districts in heavily Jewish cities
nationwide ? Baltimore, Chicago ? that similarly ignore the Jewish
And not only is it no longer difficult to find a bagel in Palm Beach
County, it's also increasingly easier to find kosher foods. There are more
than a dozen restaurants, bakeries and markets in the county that
specialize in kosher offerings. In Boca, the gourmet-oriented Eilat Cafe,
which even serves kosher sushi, is so busy that waits for a table during
season easily can extend beyond two hours.
Of course, non-Jews are just as likely to partake in a corned-beef
sandwich or a bagel with a "schmear" these days.
But that's only one way an expanded Jewish community has changed the face
of the county, especially given Judaism's traditionally strong emphasis on
culture, philanthropy and liberal politics.
Decisive impact on society
Local arts leaders say that without a Jewish presence, the county's
cultural scene would be a shadow of its impressive self. At the fore of
nearly every major cultural organization, from the Kravis Center to the
Palm Beach Opera to the Boca Raton Museum of Art, is a Jewish base of
customers and contributors.
"They are the lifeblood of all the arts, pure and simple," says cultural
philanthropist and former Palm Beach Opera chairman Bob Montgomery. (A
non-Jew who spends most of his time in Jewish circles, Montgomery jokes
that he's "got two or three Gentile friends.")
And in the political arena, there's little question of the Jewish impact.
Some of Palm Beach County's most prominent elected officials are Jewish,
including U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Delray Beach), County Commissioner
Burt Aaronson, State Attorney Barry Krischer and West Palm Beach Mayor
Lois Frankel. In Palm Beach Gardens, three of the five members of the city
council ? Jody Barnett, Eric Jablin and David Levy ? are Jewish.
More often than not, these politicians bring with them that left-leaning
Jewish sensibility. And though there are notable exceptions ? Boca Raton
Mayor Steve Abrams is a leading Jewish Republican ? it's obvious that the
county's liberalism and Jewish influence go hand in hand. Remember the
images of Jewish retirees rallying for the Democrats during the 2000
It wasn't always this way.
Palm Beach County's Jewish history dates back to West Palm Beach's pioneer
days ? Jewish merchants thrived on Clematis Street in 1900. Still, in
1923, when the county's first synagogue, Temple Israel, was established,
only 200 of West Palm Beach's 10,000 residents were Jewish.
Across the Intracoastal, the island of Palm Beach became famous as a WASP
bastion ? and became famously cool to Jews.
"When I came down, you couldn't go (to certain places) if your name was
Cohen or anything that sounded Semitic," says Sydelle Meyer, a major Palm
Beach Jewish philanthropist ? her husband is the one behind the Meyer
Academy ? who moved to the area 32 years ago.
Palm Beach's Jewish families established their own social center, the Palm
Beach Country Club, in 1954, after being denied entry to other country
The first major influx of Jews came in the late 1960s and early '70s, when
thousands of middle-income Jewish retirees from the Northeast began
flocking to sunny Florida, encouraged by developers such as H. Irwin Levy,
who founded Century Village in suburban West Palm Beach, still a largely
The next shift took place in the early '80s, when the Miami area, South
Florida's oldest Jewish center, began to take on a decidedly more Latin
and urban flavor. Jews moved north to Palm Beach County.
The county, in turn, welcomed them ? with safely ensconced gated
communities that, until the recent housing boom, were relatively
At some point, there was a mass of Jews large enough to send the message
that many more were welcome. The Jewish population snowballed.
"Jews will go where they think there are other Jews," says Andrea
Greenbaum, an assistant professor of English at Miami's Barry University
who edited the recent book, Jews of South Florida.
County's widespread appeal
Soon, Jewish professionals ? doctors, lawyers, financial planners ? moved
south to serve the Jewish retirees. And younger Jews moved to the county
to be close to their retired parents.
The result: The local Jewish population has gotten slightly less
geriatric. In the West Palm-based federation's service area (from Boynton
to Tequesta), the median age has dropped from 70 to 68, according to the
new study. (Such figures have not been officially released but were cited
in a recent federation publication.)
Although Palm Beach County is becoming more and more Jewish, it is not
necessarily becoming a place where Jews spend more time inside the temple.
If Jews can assert their heritage by going to a show at the Kravis
featuring a Jewish comedian or by enjoying a bowl of matzo-ball soup at
their local deli, they may not feel the need to join a synagogue, local
Jewish leaders say. Add to that the challenges the religion has faced in
recent decades from interfaith marriages.
That perhaps explains why the county's affiliation rate ? the percentage
of Jews who belong to a local temple ? is a paltry 18 percent.
"We have a lower rate than one would expect," says Bill Bernstein,
president of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County.
Yet the frenetic growth of the Jewish population means the county is a
place where newcomers, observant or not, can readily establish themselves.
Rather than being deeply entrenched, the county's Jewish community is very
much about the here and now.
This appeal helped lure Jonathan Marriott, an Orthodox Jew from London, to
Marriott, his wife and two children moved to Boca a year-and-a-half ago,
and in that short time, he has landed on the board of his temple ? the
Boca Raton Synagogue ? and his wife has become PTA president of the Jewish
school their children attend.
"You try and do that somewhere else, it would take generations," he says.
BY MELISSA GRACE
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
Thursday, December 16th, 2004
Nine members of the ultra-orthodox Lubavitcher Hasidic sect were arrested on a Crown Heights street yesterday after a violent dispute erupted over a plaque honoring the sect's holiest figure.
Seven men and two women were arrested as cops flooded the area outside the sect's synagogue and headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway at 11:30 a.m. in response to a report of a disturbance involving nearly 300 Lubavitchers. The charges included resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.
The violence erupted over the words "of blessed memory," which were inscribed on a plaque under the name of Lubavitcher Grand Rebbe Menachem Schneerson that had been affixed to a cornerstone at the synagogue's entrance.
The inscription goes to the heart of a long-standing dispute that has split the insular community. One faction believes Schneerson is dead. The other believes the grand rebbe is alive - and coming back as the Moshiach, or Messiah.
"He's alive - they are writing that the rebbe is dead!" said Gil Schwartz, 42, a Lubavitcher from Montreal.
The controversy dates to 1994, when Schneerson died. Shortly after Schneerson's death, the plaque was mounted on the cornerstone. The words "of blessed memory" were scratched out by those who believe that Schneerson lives on, and will one day return as the Messiah.
The new trouble started several weeks ago, when a group of Yeshiva students substituted the plaque for one that read, "Long live our Master, the Messiah," according to Lubavitchers outside the synagogue yesterday.
After several attempts to replace the plaque were thwarted, the organization that runs the headquarters, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, got a temporary restraining order barring any further interference. The synagogue's entrance has been guarded by barricades and cops since.
Meanwhile, Merkos had a new plaque - with the original inscription - put up, prompting the outcry and the violence.
Calling the violence "unacceptable," Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a spokesman for the main rabbi, Yehuda Krinsky, said, "We hope that they will soon learn the error of their current ways and become adherents of the rebbe's ways."
By JOSHUA COHEN
February 4, 2005
PRAGUE ? An ugly struggle for control of the Prague Jewish community ended
officially late last month when the Czech Federation of Jewish Communities
recognized a loose-knit opposition group as the legitimate steward of one
of Europe's oldest Jewish communities.
In fact, however, the fight goes on despite the January 20 decision. The
ousted community president, Tomas Jelinek, is vowing to continue the
bruising power struggle that has divided the tiny, 1,500-member community
since last spring.
A district court issued an injunction in early January, giving the
250-member Open Platform the right to occupy community headquarters, but
Jelinek has vowed to appeal and refuses to vacate.
The dispute is a combustible mix of religion, prestige and money. The
president oversees the religious and communal affairs of a tiny community
of mostly elderly Shoa survivors and 20- and 30-something post-communist
converts. The community is best known for its museum and the medieval
Old-New Synagogue, Europe's oldest functioning synagogue and home of
revered 16th-century sage Rabbi Judah Loew and his mythical golem. Perhaps
most significant, however, the president controls the community's
extensive real estate holdings, including millions of dollars in
restituted prewar properties in downtown Prague.
The fracas began last spring when Jelinek, a onetime economic adviser to
former Czech president Vaclav Havel, won election with the backing of a
group of mostly secular Jews. His platform called for construction of a
modern senior-care facility, greater financial transparency and an easing
of the strictly Orthodox religious policies of Prague's chief rabbi, Karol
In June, Jelinek moved to dismiss Sidon as rabbi of the Old-New Synagogue
and replace him with a New York-born Lubavitch rabbi, Manis Barash, head
of Prague's Chabad center. Jelinek accused Sidon, a former dissident and
playwright, of incompetence and mismanagement. Previously, Jelinek had
fired the principal of the main educational facility, Lauder Javne School.
Sidon's allies struck back at a November 7 community meeting, winning
Jelinek's ouster in a raucous scene of shouting and threats ? including
cries of, "You should have stayed in Terezin" ? at the height of which
Jelinek and his followers stalked out. Since then, the two sides have
faced off in a series of legal and media battles.
Sidon still holds the position of chief rabbi of the Czech lands, and as
such he had considerable influence over the January 20 ouster of Jelinek
by the national federation. His support is such that in a community barely
able to sustain one morning minyan outside the tourist season, Sidon's
followers ? including prominent journalist Jiri Danicek and Jewish Museum
head Leo Pavlat ? have broken away and formed their own synagogue in
Over the months the sides have aired a series of wild and mostly
unsubstantiated charges in the media. Jelinek's camp charged Sidon with
misplacing Torah scrolls that never were misplaced, and accused the Lauder
principal of having pornography on a computer, which turned out to be
someone else's. Jelinek's foes accused him of passing personal information
on community members to international consulting firm Ernst & Young, and
of filtering his often outrageous allegations through the public relations
firm Donat, whose local branch is headed by a former member of the
communist-era secret police.
Jelinek said that Ernst & Young had been hired to conduct an audit of
community finances, which he said had been mismanaged. His opponents
accuse him of wildly overspending on the audit and on other expenses.
The accusations have been accompanied by endless legal and procedural
maneuvers, including a mail-in ballot, organized by Jelinek but later
ruled in violation of bylaws.
"Almost everyone who works there is either a communist or a criminal ?
they need to be on someone's side" former rabbinate official Ivo Hribek
A new election is planned for April, and Jelinek has vowed to run again,
all but guaranteeing continued acrimony.
"I won the elections last April and the old guard just can't stand it and
is trying anything possible to ruin me, which in turn is disgracing the
community," Jelinek told reporters recently. "It's very unfortunate."
By Eric J. Greenberg
February 4, 2005
WARSAW Just before the sun set over Auschwitz on January 27, ending the international ceremonies that marked the 60th anniversary of the notorious death camp's liberation, President Vladimir Putin of Russia stepped forward to receive a medal from Rabbi Berel Lazar, one of the two men who claims the title of chief rabbi of Russia.
Lazar, a Lubavitch Hasid known for his close ties to Putin's Kremlin, awarded Putin the so-called Salvation medal as a symbol of "the Jewish people's gratitude" to Russia for liberating the camp. Lazar told a Moscow press conference beforehand that the medal would be given in the future "to people who saved and hid Jews during the war." A similar medal was given to the president of Poland, Aleksandr Kwasniewski, for hosting the ceremony.
In the days since, as Israeli and Jewish leaders have scrambled to distance themselves from the medal, Lazar's gesture has come to symbolize in some eyes the growing international debate over Putin's real intentions. Putin is under fire for growing signs of autocracy at home, warming toward radical regimes in Syria and Iran and a slow response to mounting Russian antisemitism.
At the Auschwitz commemoration, which drew leaders from 40 nations, Putin spoke passionately of the Nazis' "atrocities" and openly admitted for the first time that antisemitism was on the rise in his own country. "No one can remain indifferent towards the acts of antisemitism, xenophobia and racial intolerance," Putin told a forum in Krakow, before the ceremony at the death camp itself. He added, "Even in our country we sometimes, unfortunately, see manifestations of this problem, and I, too, am ashamed of that."
In the last week, however, Putin has come under fire for a series of actions and omissions that critics say belie his words. Eastern European leaders complained that he failed at Auschwitz to acknowledge the Soviet tyranny that replaced the Nazis. Numerous observers noted tartly that he was the only speaker at the camp to omit any explicit mention of Jews. Critics at home complain that he has failed to speak out directly against a recent antisemitic statement by a group of Russian politicians, leaving it to other government ministries to respond.
Meanwhile, Israel and its allies are voicing alarm over an apparent shift in Moscow's Middle East policy. Putin confirmed to reporters in Krakow that Russia intended to proceed with a planned missile sale to Syria, despite Israeli protests. This week Iran and Russia reached an agreement on disposal of spent nuclear fuel, clearing the way for Russia to fire up Iran's first nuclear power plant.
Israeli and Western analysts have been watching Putin's foreign policy with mounting distress for the last year or so. Partly as a result of the expansion of Nato and the European Union into Eastern Europe, Russia has been growing increasingly defensive and suspicious toward the West. Moreover, analysts say, the Iraq war has driven a wedge between the Putin and Bush administrations and spurred Russia to seek its own Middle East alliances.
Putin's appearance at Auschwitz did little to ease suspicions. Omitting mention of Jews, he focused on Russia's wartime suffering and on the role of the Red Army in liberating Eastern Europe from the Nazis.
The remarks caused widespread unhappiness in Eastern Europe. "Russia is celebrating the liberation," Alexander Rahr, a Russia expert at the German Council for Foreign Relations, told the International Herald Tribune. "But it was the beginning of a new tyranny in Eastern Europe and some parts of Western Europe."
Jewish community leaders took a cautious approach, praising Putin for attending the ceremony at all. "To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time that the president of Russia has attended such an event," said Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich. "This is a crucial first step in including Russia in those countries that actively remember the Holocaust." Still, he voiced disappointment at Putin's failure to speak of Jewish suffering.
At home, meanwhile, Putin "does just enough to keep the Jewish community and the international community off his back," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "What is missing is the will of his government to use the instruments of law and order to show these antisemitic incidents are unacceptable."
Lazar, the Moscow Lubavitcher, was named chief rabbi of Russia in May 2000 at a gathering of Russian Lubavitch representatives, who do not recognize the long-serving chief rabbi chosen in the 1980s, Adolph Shayevich, a Modern Orthodox rabbi. Since then Lazar and his allies have grown increasingly close to Putin's circle, while Shayevich and his allies are often identified with Putin's democratic opponents.
Speaking through an aide, Lazar told the Forward that he had decided to honor Putin in order to recognizing the Soviet army's role in liberating Auschwitz.
Lazar told a press conference that he would be presenting the Salvation award at Auschwitz together with the president of Israel, Moshe Katsav. But a Katsav political adviser, Avi Granot, said the Israeli leader had no knowledge of it and would not be a "partner to it."
The dismissive Israeli response was typical of those interviewed about the award. "Rabbi Lazar represents Chabad of Russia, not the Jews of Russia and certainly not European Jewry or world Jewry," one prominent European rabbi told the Forward, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Many people were surprised by this, as this was not on the official program the day before the event," Schudrich said. "While I certainly understand the desire to say 'thank you' to world leaders, the choice of place and time was simply not appropriate. This time and place was to remember and mourn and not to give out awards."
With reporting by JTA and Ha'aretz.
Sending Grace Weinberg to her final resting place nearly came down to a choice of breaking the laws of this world or those of the next.
Weinberg was 84 years old when she moved in with her daughter Sheryl in Juneau in 1995. Grace was an active member in the town's small Jewish community and even led an aerobics class three days a week.
But in spring 2003, the 92-year-old's health had diminished, and she and her daughter began to plan her funeral.
Grace's final resting place was to be beside her late husband in Arizona. But when Sheryl met with a Juneau funeral director about transporting her mother to Phoenix, she hit an obstacle: Bodies cannot cross Alaska state lines unless they have been embalmed.
"We're Jewish," Weinberg said. "When I told him she couldn't be embalmed, he told me that was impossible."
Jewish tradition prohibits the dead from being embalmed, according to several rabbis and religious scholars. That's because all the organs and fluids are sacred and must be buried with the body, and the embalming process removes them and replaces them with chemicals to slow decomposition.
"The reason it's not permitted is because we use the notion from dust to dust," said Rabbi Edythe Menscher of the Union for Reform Judaism based in New York. "As you are created, so you return."
Some other faiths, such as Islam, also prohibit embalming the dead.
In the Weinbergs' case, it became a matter of working around the law of the state to comply with the law of their faith.
Sheryl Weinberg spent six weeks talking to state officials and medical examiners, trying to get a waiver to transport her mother's remains. It was important that the paperwork be in place because once Grace died, Jewish law required she be buried as quickly as possible.
The waiver came through just weeks before Grace died in August 2003. Her body was sent quickly to Phoenix, unembalmed.
"Had we not had the waiver, it would have been impossible to have honored her wish," her daughter said.
Sheryl Weinberg has taken her fight to Alaska's Capitol, where she hopes to see the law struck down. She said she does not want other families to go through what she did as she prepared for her mother's death.
"The fact that I had a roadblock almost first thing and had to secure this waiver, it was not something I relished, but I had to pursue it to the end," she said.
The law that requires bodies be embalmed has been part of state public health regulations since Alaska was a territory.
"This could be an artifact from the time when the technology provided that dry ice would be packed on the body and be shipped on a freighter," said Sen. Kim Elton, a Democrat from Juneau and a sponsor of a bill to change the law.
Elton and the other sponsors say technological advances and daily jet service have reduced the health concerns the law was meant to address.
Allowing the law to stand now infringes on religious liberty, they say.
Deb Erickson, deputy director of the state Department of Health, said the issue rarely comes up in Alaska, where the Lubavitch Jewish Center estimates about 5,000 of the state's population of nearly 650,000 are Jewish.
Erickson said she can remember two cases in the past two years when embalming waivers were requested.
"We haven't hesitated to grant a waiver in the past when it's due to religious services," she said.
At least one funeral director doesn't think changing the law is a good idea. Bill Wilkerson, general manager of Alaskan Memorial Park and Mortuary in Juneau, said he believes transporting unembalmed bodies could pose a health risk or cause others discomfort, such as passengers aboard a plane that carries an unembalmed body not properly sealed in a container.
Changing the law also could cut into the bottom line of funeral parlors, which charge for embalming.
"It's not a big issue, but it could become a big issue if it came to somebody who didn't want to pay for embalming," Wilkerson said.
There is no public health threat in transporting an unembalmed body on a common carrier such as an airplane as long as the body is in a sealed container, Erickson said. The proposed law change would still require embalming for bodies carrying communicable diseases, she added.
An Alaska Airlines spokeswoman said the airline's policies follow state law. If the law in Alaska changes, the airline would adjust its policies, she said.
Rabbi Yosef Greenberg of the Lubavitch Jewish Center in Anchorage said the issue does not come up frequently now, but Alaska's population and tourism industry is growing. Last year, he said, he helped secure a waiver to return to Israel the bodies of two Israeli tourists who died in a car crash.
Greenberg said he fully supports changing the law.
"I think it's a very crucial resolution," Greenberg said.
MAY 6 - 12, 2005
by BEN MARCUS
Original Z-boy Allen Sarlo suggested we go to Malibu Chicken after a
couple of hours surfing First Point. After surfing, your body is screaming
for fuel that is good and wholesome. By my memory, Malibu Chicken was kind
of a greasy call, but Sarlo insisted, saying cryptically, "It's kosher."
We got there and Malibu Chicken was gone. Instead, we were greeted by a
new sign, clean and well lighted, with "Malibu Beach Grill" hovering over
the slogan "It's All Good." Next to the copyright logo, the name "Glatt"
was a little too prominently displayed. Jeez, even the sign painters have
big egos in Malibu.
Inside, a woman in colored dreads handed us printed paper menus,
apologized for them, explained that the new proper menus were coming soon,
apologized for the one typo on those new menus that were coming soon, told
us the specials, and asked us how we were and what we wanted to eat ? all
in the same breath.
The veggie burger looked good, but when I asked for cheese, she apologized
and said they couldn't serve cheeseburgers.
We ordered, then Sarlo and I sat outside on a fine Malibu night, the heavy
metal thunder of PCH interfering with the sound of crashing waves and our
view across the bay to the lights of Palos Verdes.
"I told you, it's kosher," Sarlo said. "This place, the food, the kitchen.
Big-time kosher. No BLTs here. No lobster burritos. But kosher means good.
It means healthy. The gnarliest Orthodox rabbi on the planet could come in
here and eat whatever and not fear the wrath."
The woman in dreads was Joyce Brooks Bogartz. She was simpatico.
She was savlanut, and for the next two hours, as the moon rose over Carson,
she introduced me to this secret society of kosher.
Turned out the copyright icon was a logo for Central California Kosher, a
certifier from Fresno: "Glatt is the highest level of kosher," Joyce said.
"The rabbi puts his hand inside the animal's lung and feels the lining.
Glatt means smooth. Smooth is good."
By now it was clear the restaurant formerly known as Malibu Chicken was
under new management, and the manager was He Who Cannot Be Named.
Joyce explained that Chabad of Malibu owns the building, and the current
rabbi/landlord, Levi Cunin, had wanted to open a kosher restaurant of the
highest standards for some time. After a brief struggle, Malibu Chicken
was gone, and Joyce, her husband Gary and sister Jacqueline came in to
meet a Higher Standard: "We had to strip the kitchen and rebuild it,"
Joyce said. "When observant Jewish people eat bread they wash their hands
first, and we had to have a sink for that. When the Health Department saw
that hand-washing sink too close to a cleaning sink, we got a B. I was
mortified ? we fixed it, and now we have an A."
I asked who was tougher, the County of L.A. Health Department or the
Torah, and Joyce smiled quietly to herself: "I'll get back to you."
I sat outside under the heat lamp with a laptop (they have WiFi), Googling
the All Knowing Internet for kosher laws and watching a steady stream of
Malibu hipsters, goyim and gangstas come and go.
Some of the crowd looked Jewish, some didn't. There was a continuous flow
of garumphy men wearing yarmulkes and loose clothes. You look at some of
these shape-challenged chaps and wonder, "How does Israel survive?" But
then there were others: lean, sharp-dressed, aware, coiffed and
bad-ass-looking, like Mossad officers. And then you think, "Okay, I get
it." They rolled up, ordered their food, then peeled down PCH in their
German cars, with their fine-dime shiksizzles by their sides.
The Malibu Beach Grill is open 16 hours, from 7 in the morning until 11 at
night, and I stayed until the last customer had left. Joyce ran her legs
off, smiling and kibitzing the whole time, bringing endless nosh: chicken
wings, tofu chili and chocolate-covered strawberries. It was, as the sign
said, all good, because kosher is all about attention to detail: "I clean
the lettuce on a light table," Joyce said, and she wasn't shticking.
I stuck around until Joyce said good night with a chocolate-chip cookie
the size of a land mine. As she and her crew cleaned the place with God
watching, I joked that He Who Cannot Be Named ordered the Sabbath so the
Jewish people would not work themselves to death. The restaurant, in
accordance with the Torah, is closed Saturdays, a potential gold-mine day:
"We close before sunset on Friday and open again Sunday morning, but we do
cater on Saturday nights," Joyce said, and smiled an eternal smile. "God
By ANGELA PACIENZA
Monday, May 9, 2005 Updated at 9:42 AM EDT
TORONTO What's up with matzo bread? What do you need for a Seder?
Passover traditions are explained in a light-hearted way in a new multimedia website devoted to Passover education.
It's just the latest example of how religious groups have taken to the web in droves to build community and share traditions among tech-savvy followers.
"We're trying to make Passover available to everybody," says Rabbi Mendel Kaplan of Chabad at Flamingo in Thornhill, Ont.
His synagogue launched www.chabadflamingo.com/passover recently based on material provided by the international Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
"Just about everybody is on-line today so whether it's a recipe you want, a deeper mystical understanding of these traditions or simply instructions on how one is supposed to perform the observance, we've got it."
Religious groups, like so many others, started launching websites in the mid-1990s shortly after search engines became mainstream, recognizing the public could now scout for whatever faith they felt like learning about, said Lorne Dawson, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo, in southern Ontario, who studies the sociology of the Internet and co-authored Religion On-line: Finding Faith on the Internet.
"It created a snowball effect. Every religion sees all its competitors going on-line and feels 'we can't be left behind,"' he said.
"Appearances matter in religion just like any other aspect of the world. It's public relations. It used to be done by building buildings."
Nowadays church groups e-mail daily inspirations, offer virtual prayer groups and even allow surfers to participate in pilgrimages from the comfort of home.
Carmelite nuns in Indianapolis, for instance, use the web to offer a School of Prayer to Roman Catholics at www.praythenews.com.
Last year, the Vatican began sending text messages of Pope John Paul's "Thought of the Day" to mobile phones.
The Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., offers radio-style podcasting, MP3s of Christian music and does live weekly webcasts of worship services and Bible classes as part of what it calls its "Internet ministry."
"After sex it may be the most pervasive topic on-line," says Dawson.
"There's practically not a religious group or orientation or viewpoint I can think of in the world that I haven't gone on-line and immediately encountered multiple sites dealing with it, even if it's something relatively obscure."
For Kaplan, offering his congregation, as well as other Jews, a place to learn about their spirituality on-line is vital to an evolving religion.
"As the world changes so does the medium of sharing the beauty and pageantry of our faith," says Kaplan.
The Passover site receives about 2,000 page views a day many from people who've never stepped foot in his synagogue or even live in Canada.
"We've never seen them before but they're regular visitors [on-line]," says Kaplan, adding that he believes his site is the "most comprehensive web-based source in the world" on Passover.
Using content from the main Chabad organization, the site offers printable colouring pages for young kids, recipes and a day-by-day planning calendar.
By NATHANIEL POPPER
May 6, 2005
Eloise is moving out of the Plaza, at least for now, and the Israelis are
moving in. On the last day of April, the Plaza Hotel ? mythical home to
the mischievous children's-book character ? closed until 2007 for
renovations. An Israeli owned-firm, Elad Properties, is planning to
convert the New York landmark into a combination hotel-apartment building.
Elad's American president, Miki Naftali, had assured New Yorkers at a
press conference in late April that Eloise will retain her dedicated room
in the new hotel. A few weeks before, however, it was an Israeli, the
billionaire diamond merchant Lev Leviev, who put in the first bid for one
of the planned penthouse apartments, a reported $10 million.
With residential real estate booming in New York, and a slumping market in
Israel, real estate experts say a flurry of moves by Elad and Leviev's
company signal a broader Israeli charge into the market.
Leviev, known for his massive support of Lubavitch Hasidic activities in
his native Russia, owns a burgeoning New York real estate business, which
he established after conquering the diamond world. Just two weeks ago,
Leviev's Africa-Israel Investments, which works in America with the
Hasidic real estate developer Shaya Boymelgreen, paid $210 million for a
single building on Wall Street. It was the duo's 15th project in New York
since Leviev entered the American market three years ago.
"Israelis are becoming a presence in New York," said Shimon Shkury, a
business professor at Yeshiva University and a partner at the real estate
firm Massey Knakal, who moved to New York from Tel Aviv six years ago.
Shkury said that population trends and financing deals had drawn a long
line of Israeli investors large and small. Dozens of Israeli firms are
believed to be currently active in the New York market. Also active are
large numbers of Israelis who have settled in New York in recent decades.
One of the most visible, Tel Aviv native Yair Levy, made an eye-popping
deal in early April with the purchase of the Sheffield apartment tower
near Carnegie Hall for $418 million, the most ever paid for a residential
building. His partner, real estate veteran Kent Swig, is the scion of one
of San Francisco's most prominent Jewish philanthropic families.
Not all the contacts between Israelis and American Jews have gone as
smoothly. Indeed, several of the most high-profile Israeli investments
have led to highly public Israeli-Diaspora disputes, so to speak.
Leviev and Boymelgreen came under pressure because of their plans to build
a hotel on a site along the Brooklyn waterfront where developer Bruce
Ratner was hoping to create a new cultural complex, known as Atlantic
Yards. Ratner is the scion of one of Cleveland's most prominent Jewish
Ratner's development has been hotly opposed by a crop of Brooklyn
citizens' groups, and Boymelgreen posed his plans as a responsible
alternative for the area. The tension between Ratner and the
Boymelgreen-Leviev partnership was smoothed over when the duo sold the
property to Ratner for $44 million in mid-April. That left many of the
citizen's groups angry with their fellow Brooklynite Boymelgreen.
A much more bitter dispute followed the purchase of the Plaza Hotel by
Elad Properties last September for $675 million. The company faced
emotional opposition as soon as it announced its plan to convert 655 hotel
rooms into 200 luxury condos ? eliminating 900 hotel jobs in the process.
The hotel workers' unions that led the public campaign, the Hotel
Employees and Restaurant Employees Union, is part of the traditionally
Jewish garment workers union, Unite, as a result of a July 2004 merger.
The union made some attempts to appeal to traditional sympathies in its
efforts to win backing in New York and Tel Aviv for its fight against the
Sources close to the negotiations say that Naftali, Elad's American
president, initially showed little interest in the union's concerns.
Naftali did not return calls for a comment.
Elad also ran into opposition from cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder, a
prominent art collector and preservationist and former chairman of the
Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. The exterior of
the Plaza is deemed a historical landmark, but Lauder has fought, as a
"concerned citizen," to ensure that important elements of the interior are
also preserved, such as the Palm Court and the ballroom where Truman
Capote's Black and White Ball was held.
Lauder and union leaders made separate trips to Israel at the beginning of
April in an effort to put pressure on Elad owner Yitzhak Tshuva, who built
his fortune on Israeli gas stations. Lauder met with Tshuva, while a
waiter and a doorman from the hotel visited with the head of Israel's
labor federation, the Histadrut. The Plaza employees asked their Israeli
hosts, "How would you feel if someone came here and bought the King David
Hotel and wanted to make it into a department store?" according to a union
A few weeks after these trips, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg called in
the unions and Elad for four days of negotiations. They reached a
compromise to save 350 hotel rooms of the original 805, and scale the
number of new apartments back to 150. The union has expressed satisfaction
with the deal, but Lauder has been less easily appeased. Lauder's
spokesman, Hank Sheinkopf, said he is waiting to see the final plans put
forward by Elad.
"If the integrity of the landmark is not protected ? if the Plaza Hotel
does not remain a grand hotel ? Mr. Lauder may take legal action,"
These disputes, though, do not appear to have slowed the Israeli movement
into New York. Elad, which was established in New York in the 1990s, has
focused much of its attention on converting old buildings into apartment
buildings, a popular practice given the high residential real estate
prices in New York. Leviev and Boymelgreen, on the other hand, have built
many more of their properties from the ground up.
The chief economist for Leviev's Africa-Israel Investments, Dan Avidan,
said the urge to expand into New York is natural for Israelis.
"In Israel, when you start a project of 100 units, you will be happy if
you sell it in two years," Avidan said. "In New York, we sell it in two
Shkury, the New York real estate agent, said that in the 1990s, Israel's
real estate market was booming with the influx of Russian immigrants,
Today, though, that growth has stalled, while immigrants keep coming to
New York. "If you look at Israel," Shkury said, "you see there is nothing
to invest in."
Avidan said there are also more psychological reasons for the interest in
"We have direct flights, and almost every Israeli speaks English ? it's
easier than working in Russia, where English is not enough," Avidan said.
"We feel like home."
Copyright 2005 � The Forward
By SELIM ALGAR
A group of Hasidic Jews have found themselves in a no-holds-barred battle
with ritzy Southampton residents as they try to establish the first
synagogue there on a mansion-studded street.
The religious uproar erupted after members of the Chabad of Southampton
Jewish Center began using the private home of Rabbi Rafe Konikov on tony
Hill Street as an informal synagogue in 1999.
The problem was the place of worship is in a residential area, a violation
of local zoning laws.
That prompted the Southampton Village Building Department to cite Konikov
for code violations last year ? and a group of neighbors to sue to try to
shut down the religious gatherings at his home.
The Chabad is now petitioning the Southampton Village Zoning Board of
Appeals for an exemption.
"There is really nowhere else to go [for the group to worship], especially
for people who want to walk there on Sabbath," said synagogue member Carl
Davis of Southampton.
Davis and others argue that the synagogue does not disturb the serenity of
the affluent area.
As for detractors, "I think some of the people opposed just don't
understand what we represent ? we are the first synagogue in the oldest
village in New York state," Konikov said.
The rabbi said he hosts about 20 people per weekend on the off-season and
around double that during the summer.
But some residents who live near the Chabad house have complained that the
synagogue's presence has a negative impact on property values and snarls
traffic in the area, especially during the busy summer season.
They filed a lawsuit in the hopes that a state court will shut it down and
order a halt to the current zoning-board appeal.
"I'm just not sure this is the right place," said Audrey Linney, whose
mother lives near the house during the summer.
"Look around. This is about as residential as it gets. Any time you have
people getting together in numbers on a regular basis, that's going to
annoy people, especially around here."
Another neighbor said the area's residential character should be
"Zoning is in place for a reason," she said. "You don't just throw it out
Still, others had no problem with the formalizing of the synagogue.
"To be honest, if this was another church, I don't think it would be a big
deal," said a neighbor who would not give his name. "It's not like these
people are throwing concerts in there."
9/19/2005 10:40 AM
By: The Associated Press
About 200 people from different Jewish congregations and affiliations turned out Sunday in Poughkeepsie to witness the completion of a handwritten Torah scroll.
They saw a rabbi from Montreal, Canada write the last of the 600,000 characters in Hebrew letters for the Mid-Hudson Valley Community Torah.
A police escort then led the Torah on a parade through Poughkeepsie's business district to the Chabad House where a celebration was held.
Hindy Borenstein of the Chabad House said the Torah, written on parchment, is the same unaltered text for thousands of years, regardless of Jewish affiliation.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
By Post Staff | Tuesday, October 25, 2005, 07:21 PM
The Chabad Jewish Center of West Palm Beach will celebrate Simchat Torah with food and dance beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday at the center, 2716 S. Dixie Hwy. A Hakafot, or dancing with the Torah, is planned for 11 a.m.
Students at Brandeis may have built the largest sukkah in the Boston area, at 1,350 square feet.
Local youth groups mark holiday with community events
As the community enjoys the holiday of Sukkot, synagogues, colleges and Jewish groups around the Greater Boston area are involved in an array of innovative festive programs catering specifically to young people.You won’t sit in a more eye-catching sukkah than the one currently attracting big crowds at Harvard Hillel. Jewish students there claim it’s the largest octagonal-shaped sukkah in the world. Michael Simon, Harvard Hillel’s director of programming, said: “We don’t know if there are any other octagonal sukkot, and we have no independent verification although I can verify that it is eight sided. We stand by that claim until proven otherwise.”
Elsewhere, the Chabad at Brandeis believes it may have errected the largest sukkah in the Greater Boston area. Rabbi Peretz Chein of the Chabad House at Brandeis says its temporary dwelling, which was 105 square feet in 2002, will be 1,350 square feet this year. He said: “We believe it may be the largest free-standing sukkah in Boston to host Sukkot dinner.”
Both organizations have the same goal with their large sukkot. Chein explains: “At the Chabad House we give students a ‘Jewish home experience,’ which is the most effective and relevant form of Judaism. The large sukkah is a place where all students from extremely diverse backgrounds come together and are at home.”
Brandeis students built the sukkah themselves. Emily Silbergeld, a Brandeis student who helped build the Chabad House’s sukkah, said: “It really shows the importance of student involvement in making things happen. There’s such a sense of family. Students get involved and stay involved because they see Chabad as a home from home.”
Besides its sizable sukkah, the Harvard Hillel is planning other events, including Sukkat Salaam, a joint dinner between Hillel and the Harvard Islamic Society to celebrate Ramadan and Sukkot. “A very important aspect of Sukkot is that you welcome friends, guests, and strangers into your sukkah,” said Simon. “We wanted to fulfill the meaning of Sukkot, which is really to open the flaps of your tent wide and expand our community.”
In addition to student events, programs for the entire community are being planned. A Sukkah-Fest in Downtown Boston at Faneuil Hall, organized by the Chabads of Swampscott, Andover and Lexington, will feature a large sukkah, live music by Pey Dalid and glatt kosher food. “It’s an opportunity to feel good about the holiday and also give people a sense of community,” said Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, spiritual leader of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore. “People can come together and give their children a sense that they can walk out into the world and still enjoy Sukkot.” Sukkah-Fest, which was organized with the assistance of Congressmen Marty Meehan, hopes to become an annual event.
Another concert open to all members of the community will feature Shotei Hanevuah, or The Fools of Prophecy, an Israeli Middle Eastern rock band and is being sponsored by the Harvard Hillel. Avi Poupko, the Hillel’s campus rabbi, has seen Shotei Hanevuah perform in Israel 15 times. “They are a new generation of Israeli musicians who are deeply connected to their Jewish identity, which is a new trend for Israeli musicians,” said Poupko.
Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles, is a seven-day holiday commemorating the 40-year wanderings of the Jews in the desert, during which they lived in huts, or sukkot.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 10/28/05
How do you get a 16th-century Jewish mystic out on the dance floor?
With Madonna — and kabbalah — anything is possible.
The Material Girl's newest release, due out Nov. 15, includes a tune called "Isaac," a paean to Rabbi Isaac Luria, a master of the arcane tradition known as kabbalah.
Madonna's name-checking of an obscure religious leader may seem an odd formula for a pop song — what's next, Wittgenstein set to a house beat? — but it demonstrates that kabbalah is creeping ever closer to the mainstream.
Other celebrities, including Britney Spears, Barbra Streisand, Paris Hilton and Demi Moore, have attended kabbalah classes or been spotted wearing red-string bracelets believed to ward off the evil eye. Moore recently married Ashton Kutcher at a "kabbalah wedding."
Philip Berg and his sons, creators of a chain of 40 kabbalah centers around the world, are credited with the recent upsurge in interest. They assert that kabbalah transcends Judaism and can give insight to people of all religions. A primer, called "Kabbalah 101," offers "What your rabbi, priest, guru, shaman, lama, shrink and aerobics instructor never told you!"
But not everyone is happy about the new popularity of the old secret knowledge.
Luria, or the "Arizal," was buried in 1572 in Safed, a "Kabbalistic" city in Israel, where his adherents operate a seminary and keep watch over his tomb. They're not impressed with Madonna's musical tribute, and they see her song as an attempt to cash in on his name.
The situation is slightly amusing to Rabbi Daniel Freitag, who teaches adult education courses on Jewish mysticism at Atlanta Scholars Kollel.
Kabbalah, he said is "simply the most deep and mystical teachings of Judaism. In order to incorporate it into one's living, one must be deeply familiar with Jewish texts." He finds it unlikely that a Catholic girl from Bay City, Mich., is adept at Jewish learning.
Study in the Middle Ages was often restricted to Jewish men age 40 or older. Those new to Judaism, Freitag said, are unlikely to grasp the subtleties. "It's basically like trying to understand advanced rocket science without understanding arithmetic."
The origins of kabbalah — the Hebrew word means "reception" and "tradition" — are mysterious. Legend holds that the tradition was handed down to Moses by God on Mount Sinai when the Torah and the 10 Commandments were imparted.
The word in such contexts implies the full range of Judaic tradition, according to Joseph Dan of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, who presents a cogent description of the subject in his book "Kabbalah: A Very Short Introduction."
Medieval scholars and mystics contributed their own "secret" writings, often based on visionary experiences, adding an "esoteric stratum" to the shared Jewish traditions, Dan writes.
Around 1280 a Spanish mystic and writer named Moses de Leon composed a commentary on the Torah called the Book of Zohar, one of kabbalah's earliest texts. In the mid-1500s Rabbi Luria contributed his own visions in which he claimed he spoke with Elijah and the prophets. His writings, compiled by a student, became the basis for a school of study termed Lurianic Kabbalah, and helped usher in the modern era of kabbalah.
Various versions of the Zohar surfaced and receded during the next few centuries, and kabbalah and its purported magical powers continued to influence both Jews and gentiles, including Isaac Newton and German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz.
The tradition of gentiles studying kabbalah continues in the present with adherents such as Shirley Chambers of Atlanta. Born and raised Catholic, she became dissatisfied with traditional Christian theology, and "I began to study every 'ism' in the world," she said.
Chambers began teaching a form of kabbalah in 1981, and in 1988 opened the Karin Kabalah Center on North Druid Hills Road. "Kabbalah to me at this point is a label that is put on a flow of understanding about God and life," she said.
While the study of kabbalah is ancient, using kabbalah to brand licensed products is relatively new.
The Bergs have trademarked the phrase "Kabbalah Centre" and attempted to trademark the phrase "Kabbalah red string." The application was rejected, according to the Village Voice, because the red string was only "indefinitely identified" as a religious object.
On the Web site, www.kabbalah.org., one can buy kabbalah water, kabbalah clothing and, for $26, a red string bracelet and book about it.
Rabbi Ephraim Silverman, who directs the congregation at Chabad of Cobb, said kabbalah does, indeed, extend beyond the boundaries of religion. "A lot of it is universal wisdom, universal truth," said Silverman. "There happen to be a lot of parallels between kabbalistic teachings and far Eastern truths."
Silverman includes kabbalah in his teachings, his sermons, and in the way he raises his children.
"If it goes hand-in-hand in inspiring people to grow in all areas of Judaism, that's a wonderful thing," he said. "But if it's just basically kabbalah only and not the rest of it, then I think there's something not right with it."
While pop kabbalah may appeal to a heterogeneous group also fascinated by New Age concepts, traditional kabbalah will continue to thrive in the synagogues, said Bob Menaker, an editor with the Atlanta Jewish Times. "Religious instruction is widely available in the Jewish community," he said. "The organized Jewish community does such a good job with Jewish education that people aren't looking for short cuts."
His only experience with the new "kabbalah" was at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, a holy site for Jews. "This old man is trying to wrap one of those red strings around my wrist and says, 'Give me $20.' "
Menaker's response was a dismissive Yiddish phrase loosely translated as "beat it."
By Justin Cohen - Friday 28th of October 2005
The holiday of a lifetime turned into a nightmare for three Jewish friends from London this week after Hurricane Wilma left them stranded in Mexico without food or water.
Bianca Weber and sisters Natalie and Nicolette Berg were confined to their resort room in Talum for four days as the devastating storm battered the country with 150mph winds, claiming at least six lives.The hurricane, which had been one of the most powerful on record as it approached the region, destroyed hundreds of houses in its path and left many holidaymakers living on the streets.
Speaking last night from Cancun, where the trio were still among thousands of stranded Britons waiting to fly home, Weber told the Jewish News of the group’s ordeal as Wilma swept through.
Insisting the roaring hurricane sounded like a train outside the hotel, where they were holed up ankle deep in water, the sales executive said: “From when we were confined to the room on Thursday, we had no food or electricity, and we only had two litres of water. That was all we had to eat or drink. I was doing nothing other than sleeping and feeling very weak. For the rest of the time, all I was thinking was please let me get out of here alive.”
The 28-year-old, who lives in Golders Green, had no contact with her parents in South Africa until she was finally told she could leave the dark room on Sunday. Then, she had a 40-minute journey to use a telephone, only to find a three-hour queue ahead of her . She said: “It was amazing when I got through. At least they knew I was alive. My family feared we could be dead because we had no contact with the outside world. When you haven’t heard from your children for that period of time you assume the worse.” Weber later got a lift back to the hotel on the back of a truck.
The three friends, who were due to fly home last weekend, still don’t know when they will finally be able to return to the UK. But they have been informed they will first have to travel to the Dominican Republic and won’t not be able to take any luggage.
Despite her ordeal 5,000 miles from her north London home, Weber acknowledged there were many others left in a far worse state by Hurricane Wilma. “Thank God I was in a five-star resort. It definitely increased my chances of survival. There were some people who moved here from the convention centre where they were sheltering who now have dysentery and other health problems,” she said. “I can’t wait to get home.”
Bianca’s dad, Maurice, said: “It was a living nightmare. There were moments when I had my doubts as to whether they were alive or not. I spent my time on the internet trying to locate where they were and looking for organisations that might be able to help.”
After contacting Chabad, he was told that they would have somewhere to stay and be looked after if they were able to get to Guadalajara or Mexico City.
Further east in Florida, there were reports of succahs being ripped out of the ground when the hurricane struck.
According to Chabad of Hallandale’s representative Rabbi Rephael Tennenhaus, telephone pole wires shook “like lulavs”. But the rabbi said he expected the hurricane to cause more people than usual to attend simchat torah festivities as many had been prevented from cooking.
Friday October 28 2005
SWAMPSCOTT – A Jewish-owned van was torched in the parking lot of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore last week, only two weeks after the synagogue had been the target of anti-Semitic vandalism.Days before Rosh Hashanah, the same Chabad congregation found that vandals had entered the building through an unlocked door on Sept. 30, destroying the interior of the property with obscene, anti-Jewish messages.
Rabbi Yossi Lipsker, spiritual leader of Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore, told the Advocate two weeks ago: “I was horrified beyond imagination. To bring that dimension into this sacred space was utterly horrifying.”
The van fire is under investigation by Swampscott Police. Because the incident took place at a house of worship, it was reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to the Swampscott Police Department.
The police are not saying whether the incident is being investigated as a hate crime. Rabbi Yossi Lipsker was unavailable for comment.
Merritt A. Mullman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore, called the incident “wholly unacceptable.” He said that this was the fourth anti-Semitic incident that has taken place against this congregation during the past six months. He also pointed out that Temple Ahavat Shalom in Lynn was recently attacked by vandals. “We will not be harassed,” wrote Mullman in a letter to members of his community. “Our best response is to stand tall and strong in the face of these and all vile acts.”
Mullman said: “I want to see my community be clear and make a statement by our actions. We’re in the middle of the season of holidays. Synagogues and temples should be overflowing this week. We will not be deterred from pursuing Jewish life, and there is no greater response that we can give than that.”
Rabbi Moishe Bleich, spiritual leader of the Wellesley-Weston Chabad Center, said: “If there is a connection, it turns into something that is horrific. “Rabbi Lipsker and his community are upstanding members of the community. They have only been giving toward the community, and I can’t understand or give any excuse for anyone to do something like this.”
Thursday, October 27, 2005
SWAMPSCOTT -- Officials are releasing few details in the investigation of Saturday's van fire at Chabad Lubavitch of the North Shore.
By Peter Reuell / Daily News Staff
Sunday, October 30, 2005
Cremation may be on the rise nationwide, but it's not a practice that is accepted in all circles.
Peter Reuell can be reached at 508-626-4428 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
Saturday, October 29, 2005
While it has been easy to make light of the peculiarities of Chabad, we can often miss the positives of Judaism's most colorful movement. In the soil of its Messianism, narcisistic fervor and fundamentalism grows some of the grass roots kindness and caring that changed the Jewish map over the past 55 years. Here are some of the things I like and respect about Chabad.
One of the most remarkable things about the Chabad derech is its emphasis on bringing Judaism to the uninitiated. It is rather refreshing to go to a shul that does not have "tickets" for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. Can you imagine what our forebears would have thought if they were required to buy expensive seats in shul? Many times, a person who gets an aliya in a Chabad House will stumble through the brachas, with several people guiding him word for word. He is tattered and bruised after the harrowing event, but beaming with acccomplishment. The Rebbe once famously said that the most beautiful books are those that have battered and worn covers and bindings, because it shows that they have been used for their purpose. Often, people come to Chabad shuls not knowing the rudimentary elements, and they find people ready to guide them in the mechanics and significance of what they are doing.
Wherever I go, there I am
Go to Thailand or Hong Kong on vacation, and you will find a Chabad House there. Wyoming, Vermont, South Dakota? If there is half a minyan, a Chabad House is sure to be their home. The Chabad derech is to bring the Torah to the Jews, wherever they are found. Why would a kid who grew up in Brooklyn want to spend his life teaching college students in Phoenix or Omaha to say brachas? The Rebbe's derech was full of military symbolism. There were "campaigns", "Neshek", "tanks, and "tzivos Hashem". And there were soldiers who were willing to go where no one wanted to be, to do a job that no one wanted to do.
The Chabad Rebbe
While I have discussed his derech in the past, I have never discussed what I think made the man a gadol. The burning dedication of the Chabad Rebbe could be seen in his conduct as well as his learning. He would speak every week, producing volumes upon volumes of new work on deriving an operative philosophy from the parsha, from the Pirkei Avos, from Rashi and from Chasidus. As well, a cursory examination of his work reveals that he was an expert in Rashi, in Mishna Torah, in Gemora, and in Chabad Chasidus. For hours on end, as an elderly man, he would stand without so much as a bathroom break, while thousands of people passed by. He would give dollars, Tanyas or some other keepsake, always with a purpose of making them aware of an idea (tzedaka or learning) and with making some personal contact with each one. It was rare that the Rebbe stopped before the line ended.
Nothing more illustrates what I admired about the Rebbe more than these exchanges. Once, after a project was completed, the gevir told the Rebbe that the work was complete and that he hoped that the Rebbe would be satisfied with it. The Rebbe told him that such a goal was useless, since he would never be satisfied with a past accomplishment. Once, a shliach reported with beaming pride that 60% of the Jewish students in his community attended his school, the only Jewish school in the area. The Rebbe made clear that he was not to be satisfied with anything less than each and every Jewish child in a Jewish school.
In fact, it is useless to deny that the modern stress on outreach to the nonobservant was initiated at 770 Eastern Parkway, even to the extent that they built yeshivas that strictly cater to the adult who did not learn as a child. A "beginner's yeshiva" like those in Chabad were not even necessarily considered a good thing before Chabad showed that it could work.
Foundation of Kindness
It is also undeniable that there are those within Chabad (few though they may be, we would all do well to learn from their example) who excel in kindness. Moreover, the chabadniks who excel in kindness do so out of a genuine personal caring for every Jew, regardless of belief level, background, affiliation or yichus. They are a lesson not just in how to be kind, but in why to be kind. The Chabad Rebbe also stressed that a person should be kind, not just to attract another person to Judaism, but simply because the person is created in the image of G-d. You know who you are.
So, as we approach Yom Tov, and we see Jews that are unaffiliated, Jews that are in remote places, Jews that do not a teru'a from a terabyte, know that there is a steady stream of Chabad stalwarts ready to blow the shofar for them, shake the lulav with them, sit and teach them, for no reason other than that the Chabad Rebbe's vision included everyone. There are those among them who are interested in the people, not in monetary gain or their own interests. They will spend this Yom Tov finding Jews and trying to connect with them on some level. A good and successful Yom tov to all of them.
posted by Rebeljew at 7:31 PM
Thanks for showing the other side. (If I had to show offense, I need to show appreciation as well, no?) btw, the pick on someone your own size was tongue in cheek. I know we do provocative things, and I can even laugh at some of the stuff written on that (theknish.com had a really funny piece once). It was just one too many, and you happened to be "it".
Ksivah Vachasimah Tova!
By hmmm, at 8:36 PM
It is really nice on erev Rh for you to post a defense of this wonderful organization to show the kind side of them that is a plant and a fruit of the great holy Rebbe who implanted in them the nice side.
At the same time it would nice if you and other bloggers show on Erev RH (or other times) the kind side of other frum-charedi yidden that many so often paint an ugly picture. Show their kind and nice side.
Many of them llive a life of gmilut chassadim and helping others (while at the same time living according to their inner convictions).
By Anonymous, at 1:02 PM
Wow..very nice...balance is good!
By Moshiachman, at 1:42 AM
gmar chatima tova.
ureaih betuv yerushalayim.
By daat y, at 8:25 PM
so true so touching so articulate thanks for the read and thanks for the laugh below :)
By Anonymous, at 10:33 PM
Thank you for that. It's EXACTLY what my experience has been. I too spend my shul time with my local Chabad. Though I'm not a Chabadnick myself, it's the closest thing to a community and religious home that I've yet to find.
By Tamara, at 1:05 AM