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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Who knows four?

Ashkenazi Jewish Founders Traced
By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

Jan. 27, 2006— Four women who lived 1,000 years ago somewhere in Europe are the ancestral mothers of some 3.5 million Ashkenazi Jews alive today, a genetic study has concluded.
Part of a small group who founded the Ashkenazi Jewish community, each woman left a genetic signature that shows up in their descendants today, Karl Skorecki of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel, and colleagues reported in the online edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics.
Estimated at around eight million people, the Ashkenazi Jews account for the majority of the current Jewish population.
The term "Ashkenazi" refers to Jews of mainly central and eastern European ancestry, as opposed to those of Iberian (Sephardic), Near Eastern or North African origin.
"Most historical records indicate that the founding of the Ashkenazi Jewry took place in the Rhine Basin, followed by a dramatic expansion into eastern Europe. However, both the origin and size of the maternal ancestral deme remain obscure," wrote the researchers.
To shed light on the beginnings of this Jewish community, Skorecki's team sampled DNA from more than 11,000 people representing 67 populations.
For each subject, the researchers recorded "the birthplace of their mothers, grandmothers, and, in most cases, great-grandmothers."
Comparative analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) — DNA passed down only on the mother's side — showed a mutation which could be traced back to four women.
These ancestral mothers carried "distinct mtDNAs that are virtually absent in other populations," said the researchers.
Non-Ashkenazi Jews also carry low frequencies of these distinct mtDNA types, providing evidence of shared maternal ancestry of Ashkenazi and non-Ashkenazi Jews.
"We conclude that four founding mtDNAs, likely of Near Eastern ancestry, underwent major expansion(s) in Europe within the past millennium," the researchers said.
The European Jews expanded dramatically from 25,000 people in the 13th century to about 10 million just before World War II. The Nazis killed about six million Jews.
Today, the total Ashkenazi population is estimated at around eight million people, while the world Jewish population is about 14.5 million.
"I have seen the paper and it certainly looks interesting. On a first reading it seems to me that the data is consistent with a major founding event," Mark Thomas, of the Center for Genetic Anthropology at the University College London, told Discovery News.
Indeed, previous findings based on studies of the Y-chromosome, which is passed from father to son, have pointed to a pattern of shared paternal ancestry of global Jewish populations, originating in the Near East.
The study is "vital to understanding the mechanisms of genetic health and disease in human populations," said the researchers.
The Ashkenazi Jews are known to display 20 recessive hereditary disorders.

Monday, January 30, 2006

First review, so why not a double?

No introductions, let’s just get right into it.

Okay, so maybe I’ve jumped onto the bandwagon a little late on this one, but then again, word travels slowly to Hiram.

I was a bit perturbed when I kept hearing all this hype about a “Hasidic Jew rapper”. What? Say again? Hasidic Jew rapper. I avoided listening to it because I was sure it had to be just a gimmick, a joke. I ignored it until a couple of my friends told me about him again, and I still had no intention of him listening to him. Then, on a whim, I searched down some songs by this guy named Matisyahu that everyone was talking about. I didn’t expect much.

Sometimes, I absolutely love being wrong.

Matisyahu, who is actually a Hasidic Jew dancehall artist (which is a form of reggae music that incorporates rapping, hence why my friends called him the Hasidic Jew rapper) is exactly what popular music needs. In this day and age of ours, when musicians are too lazy to name their songs properly and can only play the same derivative music with only enough innovation to make the music press fawn over them, Matisyahu is a breath of fresh air. God bless his rabid and devoted fanbase, of which I seem to be becoming a member.

So here’s the deal. You’ve got this Hasidic Jew from the Lubavitch Hasidic Community in Brooklyn, he looks the part, speaks the part, he’s the real deal. Now, he decides to make music, with that image, and the kind of music he wants to make is reggae rapping. There’s no profanity in his lyrics, no wild and suggestive themes, nothing that shocks you into listening (other than being different), he sprinkles his singing with Hebrew and Yiddish, and in fact, his music’s main focus is on religion and spirituality from the point of view of a Hasidic Jew. Now here’s the kicker:

It works.

On his debut, the mystically titled Shake Off the Dust…Arise, Matisyahu, born Matthew Miller, storms out with his own musical battle-cry that, while being distinctly Jewish, would no doubt be endearing to even those who aren’t religious and don’t care about religion. The reggae music is vibrant and keeps the beat going, but it’s Matisyahu’s singing that really shines. His voice isn’t just a vehicle for delivering lyrics, it is its own instrument. Even when he doesn’t seem to be singing any words, you can hear and feel hope, humility, prayer, and yearning in his words.

“Warrior” feels like it sounds; epic, as Matisyahu sends his message to each and every one of us, that “You’re a warrior fighting for your soul”. “Tzama L’cha Nafshi (Psalm 63:2-3)” is that song you’ve always wanted to hear, the moving religious song that doesn’t sound trite or saccharine. It is, as the title suggests, the 63rd Psalm, but it’s never sounded more beautiful. It is a song of religious yearning from one of G-d’s chosen people. The song segues into “Got No Water”, a rousing reggae song that nonetheless recounts to us the truths of the Torah. It’s hard for me to find fault with the debut, but if I were to make any complaints about it, it would be that the interludes feel more like an interruption and can mangle the flow of the album. However, thanks to Matisyahu, Old Testament study has never been this much fun.

That’s the key word: fun. As spiritually heavy and an absolute gem for the ultra-literate and Religious Studies majors that this album is, it still retains the most important element. It’s just fun. It’s a joy to listen to. This isn’t an album for music snobs that like to appreciate the technicality music, this is an album that reminds us that music has the power to move us to intense feelings of joy and sadness, to life us up from where they are, and just be an absolute blast that anyone can love.

Which brings me to Matisyahu’s second album, Live at Stubb’s.

Wow.

The performance starts slow, with a new song called “Sea to Sea” before it goes into “Chop ‘em Down”. There’s nothing impressive at first, because while it has the same essence as the debut, it sounds like how it would sound live, nothing much to write home about. Then things pick up with the live version of “Warrior”. It’s just as epic, but being live gives it a greater sense of urgency, and it’s here that you begin to hear the power of Matisyahu live. That culiminates when he starts speaking to the audience, talking theologically, but never talking down to them. That’s what makes Matisyahu so great. Being utterly earnest in your music, you can touch people, especially when you’re not trying to tug heartstrings or anything like that. Matisyahu creates some of the most spiritual music I have ever heard because you can hear the mysticism behind his words and the utter honesty with which he sings and speaks them.

And we’re only on the third song. It just keeps getting better, escalating in energy. “King Without a Crown”, while still a great song on the debut, gets a whole new life on the live album, and blows away any doubts I’ve had about him. It’s punchy, endearing, moving, and completely energetic. The song, the live rendition, has been climbing the charts, and with good reason. The message one is a good one too, one that music could use more of, as Matisyahu extols us to check our egos and make room for the healing powers of God’s love. If only music was as rousing as this is.

While this is the album’s high point, it never lets go of the energy that “King Without a Crown” establishes. Another standout is “Beat Box”, when Matisyahu plays a song that he learned from his neighborhood, and beatboxes to it. Yes, a Hasidic Jew beatboxing. File it under ‘Now I’ve heard everything, and I’m glad I did’.

I’ve praised these two albums a lot, and I mean it, they are that good. The hype is right, and we can only hope that Matisyahu continues the steam he has generated for his next album, due out in March.

Jesse’s rating:

Shake Off the Dust…Arise - A+

Live at Stubb’s - A

Hurricane Harbor: Story on New Orleans, Post Katrina and Rivkin Family (old friends of mine)

A good article online about the ordeal of the Rivkin family that stayed in New Orleans during Katrina and were one of the first people on hand to help with the clean up and aftermath.

They are old friends of mine... stayed there by them years back with my ex-husband a few times passing through New Orleans with the babies. Brings back lots of memories of a couple first starting out in a city..knowing few people with a big job to do and looking for ways to make contacts in a town very different from any that they had lived in previously.

Mrs. Rivkin is a Gordon... my ex-husband and I were very close with her family.

They are speaking at Chabad of Lomita on this... my oldest son first went away to Day Camp..the first time I ever let him out of my sight lol for "school" to Chabad of Lomita... brings back such memories.

so.. posting this article because well...it's good and personal in ways still... my daughter goes to Chabad of F.I.U. that is run by her nephew... or second cousin maybe..who knows... so hard to figure who is related to who in my world. I'm getting confused sometimes as to who my kids are related to lol... who is dating who... living where... I have a big family... a lot of friends but when I see something that says South Bay... it takes me back ...

Katrina was life altering for all who lived there...and for all of us who watched on TV.

Bobbi...
article below...
Originally published Friday, January 27, 2006Updated Friday, January 27, 2006
"[Katrina] just showed us that no matter how powerful we think we are, it's God's world"
Armed with faith, hope and a community perspective, Chabad rabbi from New Orleans offers light in dark days of disaster.

By Kate McLaughlinDAILY BREEZE

When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin was forced to close Chabad New Orleans, where he serves as director, and evacuate to Houston with his wife, Bluma.

It was a trying ordeal, but Rivkin embraced it as an invaluable learning opportunity.
"If someone were to pay me millions of dollars to go through this experience, I wouldn't accept it," the rabbi said. "But if someone were to pay me a million dollars to give up the experience, I wouldn't do that either."

For Rivkin, Katrina offered an opportunity to do good by helping people in need.

It also presented a chance to put life in perspective.

"It just showed us that no matter how powerful we think we are, it's God's world. It's best if we live in consonance with nature and God's will, rather than try to fight it," he said. "I am not going to try to figure out why God does things. I am not going to assume that we're evil people or the city is bad or whatever else people have said has any validity whatsoever."

Rivkin will be sharing his story tonight at Chabad of South Bay in Lomita, where he also will present a video produced by Jewish Educational Media documenting the Chabad movement's disaster response to hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, as well as to the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia.

Members of the 250-year-old Chabad movement, a dynamic force in the Jewish community, are known for their hospitality, intellectualism, optimism and emphasis on religious study.

Founded in Russia, Chabad-Lubavitch, the group's full name, is a branch of Hasidism and is now the largest Jewish educational outreach program in the world, dedicated to the welfare of the Jewish people worldwide.

Chabad of South Bay has a special place in Rivkin's heart. His daughter, Hinda, and her husband, Rabbi Sholom Pinson, are the program directors and organized the evening.

"The main idea behind this event," said Sholom Pinson, "is bringing out the idea of faith and hope in the face of devastation.

"When something like Katrina happens, it's natural to ask how God can do this," Pinson said.

"But something like this makes our faith stronger. Our part is to do what we can do, to rebuild and make the situation the best that it can be, leaving the rest to God."

That is exactly what Pinson's father-in-law has been doing since the hurricane struck two weeks before Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

"It was Saturday when we got the word about the hurricane," Rivkin recalled. "I got on the computer and saw the projected area of landfall. We immediately started debating staying or leaving."


With the holiday so close, the Rivkins stayed.

Their house and the Chabad House both made it through the storm with relatively minor wind and water damage. The tough decision came a couple of days later, after the levees broke.

"We always feel torn between the obligations to take care of ourselves or to fulfill our role as people who take care of others," Rivkin said. "But we were told that if you can leave you should leave. So we did. I have to admit, there was a lot of apprehension."

Rivkin and his family made their way to Houston, where they were received by friends.
On their first day in Houston, the rabbi and others from local and national Chabad organizations began drafting plans to help their community move forward.


In the days that followed, they rented several apartments in Houston and Memphis for people who had no place to go. They went to the Astrodome, an evacuee center, to see who needed help, and they set up a Web site as an online information clearinghouse for the Jewish community. They arranged for several hundred self-heatingkosher meals to be shipped to those in need, and they organized two search-and-rescue teams.

Although Rivkin's efforts initially focused on restoring the Jewish community, he soon broadened his efforts to include all who needed assistance.

"People heard we were doing search and rescue and we got a number of hits on the Web site," he said. "Word spread very quickly. People were asking, 'Can you go look here, can you go look there,' and so we started going to the addresses that people gave us."

The search-and-rescue teams entered the flooded Gulf city and managed to evacuate 70 people who were stuck in their homes, many of whom were sick and/or elderly. Rivkin's group also assisted storm victims who managed to get out of the city but were left with nothing.

"People sent in money and clothes and things that were needed," Rivkin said. "Trailers came in loaded with brand new things. So we rented a house with a garage and filled it with these things. We advertised in the Houston area and then people came and picked up stuff. These were people I'd never met, people from New Orleans who were evacuated."

Watching the massive outpouring of good will and togetherness made an impression on Rivkin.

"We learned about a tremendous amount of kind and generous people out there who helped in many, many ways, financially, with moral and emotional support, who exhibited a tremendous amount of caring," he said. "Seeing how people responded is a tremendous lesson for all of us, myself included."


In addition to providing material supplies, Rivkin and others also rented a hotel in Monroe, La., and hosted a community Rosh Hashana. More than 140 people came and spent the 2½-day holiday together in what Rivkin said was "one of the most positive and difficult times" that many in attendance had ever experienced.

Rivkin's efforts did not go unnoticed. In a Dec. 6 speech, President Bush commended him and Chabad for their work in the aftermath of the hurricane.

"He [Rivkin] said, 'Let's take it right to the middle of the storm area to help people,'" Bush noted. "They [Chabad] cleaned up and helped salvage homes; they provided spiritual support for those who lost loved ones. And one of those rescued from New Orleans put it this way: 'In the days after Katrina hit, Chabad saved lives.'"

Rivkin brushed off any notion of heroics.

"We just did what we could to help others," he insisted.

And though Rivkin said meeting with the president was inspirational, he prefers to focus on issues of greater significance.

"The important part we have to focus on is how we respond to the situation," he said. "Do we become selfish and self-absorbed and worry about ourselves, or do we open up to see what we can do collectively for a community?"

In the months following the disaster, Rivkin and others have maintained their focus on restoring the Jewishcommunity in and around New Orleans.

"It's not over," Rikin said. "Things are not back to normal. They're getting better, but not normal. Many people still need different kinds of help, some financial, some emotional. Some need jobs. The people of New Orleans need the country's patience and encouragement, because they're still going through it."

Rivkin said he's hopeful that people everywhere will focus their attention on helping the victims of Katrina in direct and indirect ways.

"The whole world and all the people in it are interconnected," he said. "We can strengthen each other if people, wherever they are, would commit to improving themselves and making themselves better, and dedicate that effort towards New Orleans.

"I don't mean necessarily doing anything in particular for New Orleans or the Gulf region. I mean that in their minds they're thinking we're all one big body and if part of the body strengthens itself, it's going to help all the rest.


"People have the ability to strengthen themselves, make themselves better and realize that they're not alone. And improving things in one place is going to improve people in the other place as well."

Want to go?

•Presentation: Rabbi Zelig Rivkin will share his story of hope, faith and survival in the face of hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, at 8 tonight at Chabad of South Bay, 2173 Lomita Blvd., Lomita.
Find out more
•Go to:
www.chabad.org, the official Chabad-Lubavitch Web site; and www.chabadneworleans.com to see what Chabad New Orleans is doing to help storm victims.
posted by BobbiStorm

Stacey's Shmata: Chanukah with Chabad

Stacey's Shmata: Chanukah with Chabad: "On Monday, we spent the entire day partying with Chabad at Chanukah Over Six Flags. It was such a good time! Thousands of Jews from all over Dallas, Fort Worth and everywhere in between were on hand -- so many more than were expected. A kosher food pavilion was set up. We all ate together and went on rides together. The weather was 81 degrees and sunny with blue, blue Texas skies. I love and support Chabad because they do such good works and respect every Jew, regardless of observance level. What a fabulous time we had!"

Some Jews fret over tone of prayer breakfast

WASHINGTON (AP) — The annual National Prayer Breakfast will be co-chaired by Sen. Norm Coleman on Thursday, the first time in memory that a Jew will be leading the annual religious gathering. But Coleman's leadership comes at a time when some rabbis have expressed misgivings about what they see as the event's overtly Christian tone.

Coleman, a Minnesota Republican, raised some eyebrows himself at last year's breakfast when he said, "I have a profound respect for the tangibility and accessibility of God that my colleagues find in Jesus."

A New Jersey rabbi in attendance, Shmuel Goldin, was so taken aback by that and other Jesus references, such as registration material that said "Jesus Christ transcends all religions," that he wrote to Coleman to express his concerns. Coleman invited Goldin to meet with him last spring, and agreed to make some changes for this year's breakfast, according to both men.

Jews reject the Christian belief that Jesus is God.

"He raised some concerns that I as a Jew was sensitive to," Coleman said in a telephone interview. "He was concerned about proselytizing literature; we're going to try to make sure that that isn't the case."

In addition to Coleman and Goldin, the meeting also included the other co-chairman of this year's breakfast, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Douglas Coe, leader of the Fellowship Foundation, an evangelical Christian group that puts on the breakfast.

Goldin said he asked the participants why, if the breakfast was truly non-denominational, it had so many references to meeting "in the spirit of Jesus."

"That was one area we couldn't come to terms on," said Goldin, an orthodox rabbi at Congregation Ahavath Torah in Englewood, N.J.

"At a non-denominational event, there should be a recognition that different religions worship differently and believe differently," said Goldin, who is on sabbatical in Jerusalem this year. "And the assumption that everyone benefits from being under the spirit of Jesus really runs counter to this concept of diversity."

Although the breakfast has historically been a Christian event, Jews have had more of a presence in recent years — including a speech by Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., an orthodox Jew.

Conservatives from different religions have made common cause in recent years over issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and public funding faith-based programs. However, theological differences, like the ones at issue at the prayer breakfast, remain.

The Foundation declined to make Coe available for an interview. In a rare interview in 2002, Coe told the Los Angeles Times, "Religion is divisive. The ideas of Jesus are cohesive."

The Fellowship Foundation puts on the breakfast every year without government funding, although presidents from Dwight D. Eisenhower to George W. Bush have attended, along with members of Congress and world leaders. This year, King Abdullah II of Jordan will give the keynote speech at a lunch following the breakfast.

Foundation officials referred questions to former Rep. Jim Slattery, D-Kan., who has worked with the foundation on the breakfast. He conceded that the "spirit of Jesus" could be offensive to Jews.

But he said it was significant that a Jew was co-chairing the event. "It makes a statement that this is an event for Jews and Muslims and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists," he said.

Some prominent Jews don't see it that way.

"The prayer breakfast is judenrein — the German word for Jewish-free — it's not the neighborhood we're accustomed to visiting," said Rabbi Kurt Stone, author of the book The Congressional Minion: The Jews of Capitol Hill," a collection of biographies of Jewish members of Congress.

"It's more the home for fundamentalists and evangelical Christians," Stone said, adding he was uncomfortable with Coleman's references to Jesus in last year's speech.

Coleman made those references while discussing the weekly Senate prayer breakfast meetings that he also co-chairs. "We meet around the person and principles of Jesus," he said at the 2005 prayer breakfast.

In the interview, Coleman called those comments "an honest reflection of the fact that for many of my colleagues in that weekly prayer breakfast, there is a lot of focus on Christ. What I've gotten out of that is a respect for my colleagues' belief.

"On the other hand, when I have a chance to give a prayer, I give the Hebrew blessing. And I think my colleagues appreciate that."

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the Washington office of American Friends of Lubavitch, said that if the breakfast was more ecumenical, more non-Christians would feel comfortable attending.

"On the other hand, I don't know of anyone who has been forced to attend this event," he said. "Freedom of religion means freedom of religion for everybody. So as long as I can express my faith freely, I can't really find a problem with other people doing the same."

Added Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism: "To the extent that Senator Coleman's co-chairing signifies a more inclusive approach, I think that's a positive development. Whether it represents a shift in tone remains to be seen when the event occurs."


Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Heichal HaNegina - Alter Rebbe on "Nigun" - Hasidic Song

Again, I feel we would be remiss if we didn’t include some of Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi’s words about Negina, his music “theory,” as well as some of his niggunim, on his yahrzeit – which is today. Since he was the first Rebbe of Chabad/Lubavitch Chassidim, he is affectionately known in their circles as der Alter Rebbe, or Admor HaZaken – which translates as the "The Elder Rebbe", meaning the first one in their dynasty.
from the chabad.org website:The founder of Chabad Chassidism, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), passed away on the eve of the 24th of Tevet, at approximately 10:30 pm, shortly after reciting the Havdala prayer marking the end of the Shabbat. The Rebbe was in the village of Peyena, fleeing Napoleon's armies, which had swept through the Rebbe's hometown of Liadi three months earlier in their advance towards Moscow. He was in his 68th year at the time of his passing, and was succeeded by his son, Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch.
What follows are some sayings by the Alter Rebbe about Negina, and then a listing – with links – of some of his niggunim.
The tongue is the pen of the heart, but melody is the quill of the soul.
A Niggun can pull one out of the deepest mire.
A Jew is a human being in touch with his inner essence and possessed of the ability to unveil it, and bring it forth. How does one connect with one's inner self, one's highest levels of soul, above all, wisdom and comprehension, and then reveal it in a mundane, finite world? This can be accomplished through song.[thanks to A Simple Jew for this quote]
Rabbi Dov Ber, the son and successor of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, often used to say, 'My saintly father could penetrate into the innermost recesses of a Chassid's soul by either a word of Chassidus or a niggun.'" Worth mentioning is another story of the rhapsodic fame and simplicity of niggunim, again involving Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. A man of unconventional ways, he filled his homilies with folk tales and wise sayings of the Jewish People. One day, as he preached in the shul, he noticed the bewildered look of an old man who was trying hard to get the drift of his words. After he had finished his sermon and the congregation was departing, he said to old man: "I saw by the expression on your face that you did not understand my sermon.""Yes, you are right, Rebbe," confessed the old man.The modest Rebbe apologized, saying, "It may have been my fault. Perhaps I was not clear enough. At any rate, I'm going to sing to you now, for melody goes right to the heart and the understanding where words fail." And so he threw his head back, and closing his eyes, sang with ecstasy a niggun, the song of return. As the old man listened his face lit up."I understand your sermon now, Rebbe!" he exclaimed happily.
CHABAD MUSIC THEORY For Chabad, Niggunim were not only an integral part of Chassidism – the songs are a complex philosophy unto themselves. The Chabad system, as first formulated by Rebbe Schneur Zalman of Liadi, strives for the same goal as the other branches of Chassidim, namely the attaining of Divine bliss. But it had, and still has, a unique approach to that goal. Chabad contends that it is impossible to leap immediately from extreme melancholy to extreme joy. It is impossible for a human being to rise from the lowest to the highest state without proceeding through the whole scale of the intermediate sentiments of the soul. Great stress and care is laid upon each progressive stage of development, as significant for the education of the soul and for the improvement of the spirit. It is, Chabad Chassidism contends, as of someone who had never seen the interior of a palace suddenly stepped into its bewildering splendor without first having passed through its corridors. Such a person will never be able to sense fully the glory of the palace. The approach to joy, therefore, is extremely important, and each and every step must be achieved through deep meditation. The various stages in the process of elevation according to Chabad philosophy are:1) “Hishtapchus Hanefesh”, the outpouring of the soul and its effort to rise out the mire of sin, out of the Klipa, the evil shell.2) “Hisorerus”, spiritual awakening.3) “Hispaalus”, the stage in which the individual is possessed by his thoughts.4) “Dveykus”, communion with G-d.5) “Hislahavus”, flaming ecstasy.6) “Hispashtus Hagashmius”, the highest state, in which the soul completely casts away its garment of flesh and becomes a disembodied spirit.Many of the Chabad songs are analyzed according to these steps of elevation. A system such as this could with much less success than the Beshtian School seek tunes from the outside, because no such program underlay the folk songs of the gentiles. True, one can find among Chabad Niggunim many songs of Russian and Ukrainian origin, often sung verbatim in these languages. By and large, however, these are the shorter and happier melodies of their repertoire. For the achievement of the goals as outlined above, Chabad was compelled to create original tunes which could express the meanings and thoughts of the various stages of elevation, tunes to be used as a means for the attainment of its purpose. Every Chabad tune aims to voice either all, or some, of the stages of elevation of the soul.
The following are attributed to “Sayings of Chabad,” so they are not necessarily from the Alter Rebbe – although they might be:

A person sees himself as he truly is through a Chassidic Niggun.
Song opens a gate from the mind to the heart.
If you sing a Niggun correctly without mistakes then the Niggun speaks for itself.
Every locksmith has a master key with which he can open many doors. Negina is such a key, for it can unlock all doors.
Comparatively of slower movement are the cadre of ten Chabad niggunim [link is in Yiddish] with a distinctive character and temperament of their own, created by Rabbi Schneur Zalman. Although he didn't write the first niggun nor did he write the last one, his ten are greatly revered as the classics of Chabad niggunim the world over.
Niggunim from the Alter Rebbe:
Niggun Three Bavos – from the Baal Shem Tov, the Maggid of Mezritch, and the Alter Rebbe.Niggun Four Bavos – sung at all Chabad chuppos [weddings].Keili Ata – from Hallel; I have heard that the Alter Rebbe sang the entire Hallel with this tune. Can anyone verify this?Tze'ena u'Re'ena; Kol Dodi; Avinu Malkeinu; Niggun Dveykus in Tefillas Shabbos; Niggun Likras Shabbos; Niggun Dveykus Rosh Hashana; K'Ayal Ta'arog; Tzama Lecha Nafshi; Niggun and Bnei Heichala.
A Niggun from the times of the Alter Rebbe; From the Chassidim of the Alter Rebbe
All of these can be found here. You will need the RealPlayer to hear them.
And finally, Shoshanas Yaakov - From Chassidim of Alter Rebbe, with aYiddish commentary.
UPDATES: You can find more Chabad niggunim on other locations on the World Wide Web. Among them:
1. There are many Chabad niggunim here. They also have the notes and history behind many of the nigunim. For example here. [from our Anonymous commenter].
2. Another place to find Chabad niggunim is at the Kesser website. Here you will find them in RealPlayer and MP3 formats.
3. Also visit Paul Kornreich's audio gallery of the Rebbe ZT"L singing some Chabad niggunim.
4. Finally, if anyone knows the composer of this Chabad Rikud [Dance tune], please answer in the Comments or e-mail me. Thanks!

# posted by yitz

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Learn More

Did You Know?

This year, February 12 marks the Jewish holiday Tu B'Shevat, the New Year for Trees. The holiday celebrates the fruit tree, with special emphasis on wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, and dates—the seven "fruits" of the Jewish Holy Land and symbols of the land's fertility.

Its history is tied to the tradition of fruit tithing—paying 10 percent of one's fruit harvest to the temple for consumption by the priests and the poor—and was recorded into Jewish tradition as part of the Mishnah around A.D. 200. In the modern-day context, the holiday has become the equivalent of a Jewish Earth Day. Planting trees and eating special fruits are popular past-times connected to Tu B'Shevat, a holiday popular with Chabad-Lubavitch children.

In recognition of Tu B'Shevat, the Jewish Children's Museum in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, houses an interactive Jewish holiday exhibit, which includes a talking tree that offers a lesson on Tu B'Shevat to museum visitors. The creation of the Jewish Children's Museum (www.jcmonline.org), the first of its kind in the world, was inspired by Tzivos Hashem, an international children's organization founded under the guidance of the late Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

—Sean O'Connor


Related Links

Chabad.org
www.chabad.org
Possibly the largest Jewish website, it contains information on all aspects of Jewish traditions and customs. Read about the rebbe and his community, spread throughout the world.

Rebbe's Gravesite
www.ohelchabad.org
Learn about the rebbe's gravesite, and perhaps plan a visit. Guidelines for dress and conduct are available at this site.

Lubavitch News Service
www.lubavitch.com
Access news and reports on the Lubavitch.


Bibliography

Feldman, Jan. Lubavitchers as Citizens: A Paradox of Liberal Democracy. Cornell University Press, 2003.

Fishkoff, Sue. The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch. Schocken Books, 2003.

Hoffman, Edward. Despite All Odds: The Story of Lubavitch. Simon and Schuster, 1991.

Kilgannon, Corey. "A Ritual Bath, the Mikvah, Makes an Elegant Return." New York Times, May 31, 2005.



NGS Resources

Yoffee, Emily. "Iowa Kosher." National Geographic (June 2005).

Hall, Alice J. "Brooklyn: The Other Side of the Bridge." National Geographic (May 1983), 580-613.

Arden, Harvey. "The Pious Ones." National Geographic (August 1975), 276-98.

Field Notes From Author and Photographer Carolyn Drake

I come from a relatively small family and don't have any kids of my own. So it was quite refreshing to be able to spend time with a very family-oriented group of people. There were always kids running around and babies to cuddle, which tended to lighten up daily life a bit. The Lubavitch are serious about their work and following the laws of the Torah, but they also know how to let loose and have a good time once in a while.
I wanted to photograph a lot of things while working on this project, but I couldn't because of my gender. For example, I wasn't permitted to photograph in the men's section of the main synagogue in Crown Heights, New York. I also went to a bar mitzvah, and although the boy's parents allowed me to take pictures, I had to do it from the "women's only" side of the room. These rules weren't always easy to accept.
Once a woman gets married, she covers her hair with a wig as a sign of modesty whenever she goes out in public. The sight of a woman's natural hair is only for her husband's eyes. A wig is called a sheitel in Yiddish, and women usually have more than one, including a fancier one for special days like Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest.

A movement embracing old-world Orthodox Judaism is alive and thriving in New York City.

To outsiders, Chabad-Lubavitch Jews with their black fedoras and symbolic trappings can look very strange. But for onetime outsider Sheila Bar-Levav, they changed her life.

Raised Catholic, Bar-Levav converted to Judaism, her husband's religion. She enrolled their children in a preschool in New York run by Lubavitch Rabbi Aaron Raskin and his wife, Shternie. Because of their influence, Bar-Levav and her husband are now observant Jews—a transformation that embodies the Raskins' life's work. Believing that a holier world will hasten the Messiah's coming, Rabbi Raskin speaks passionately about bringing Jews back to their faith: "We have to renew that spark."

The late Lubavitch rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson lit that fuse for thousands. A small, vocal faction of Lubavitchers believe that Schneerson is the Messiah and revere him as such. But most simply honor the memory of the man who helped energize a religion devastated by Hitler and Stalin.

Born in Ukraine in 1902, Schneerson arrived in the United States in 1941, devout and driven. He belonged to the Orthodox Chabad-Lubavitch group—Chabad from the Hebrew words for wisdom, comprehension, and knowledge; Lubavitch for the Russian town where the movement was based in the late 1700s.

Now headquartered in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the group was relatively small and little known when Schneerson became rebbe in 1951. During his 43-year tenure he pioneered a system of shluchim, or emissaries, charged with going out into the world to open Chabad centers, spreading knowledge of the Torah and Judaism. Some feared that the Lubavitch movement would dwindle after the rebbe's death in 1994. But today there are more than 3,000 centers in 70 countries—nearly half of them founded after Schneerson's death.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

FLORIDA CONGREGATION REACHES OUT TO DIRECTOR STEVEN SPIELBERG FOR HELP

(I-Newswire) -

CALIFORNIA CLUB, FLORIDA - A small Jewish congregation in California Club, Florida is reaching out to one of Hollywood’s greatest directors of all-time to help make a film commemorating their late Rabbi whom, congregants say, was one of the greatest tzadiks ( the Hebrew word for ‘righteous men’ ) the world has ever known.

“Oscar Schindler saved 1,200 Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis. Rabbi Dovid Bryn saved tens of thousands of Jews from physical and spiritual death and did so while he himself was dying a slow and agonizing death,” said Rabbi Moishe Kievman, spiritual leader of Chabad Chayil in Broward County Florida.

“It is as compelling a story as any ever told; a character-driven tale of epic proportions encompassing the triumph of the human spirit and the ultimate redemption of body and soul. He was one of the world’s true tzadikim,” said Rabbi Kievman.

With a working title of The Tzadik of the California Club, the screenplay chronicles the life of the late Rabbi Dovid Bryn, an orthodox Lubavitch rabbi whose life was cut tragically short at age 40 by Marfan syndrome, a condition that affects the body’s connective tissue. For over a quarter of a century, Rabbi Bryn – the son of Holocaust survivors - courageously battled the fatal disease that decimated his heart, yet managed to minister to, counsel and save tens of thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike.

“He fed the hungry and poor, counseled the sick and the troubled - all with great courage, fortitude and self-sacrifice,” said California Club congregant, Dr. Stuart Lukowitz. “He arranged marriages, taught Torah and ethics to thousands, bridged the interfaith gap by working closely with peoples and clergymen of all faiths … he was the living embodiment of kindness and bravery.”

Congregants say The Tzadik of the California Club is a powerful, compelling story replete with drama, comedy, sexual tension and countless plot twists that will have moviegoers riveted to their seats. And they can think of no other Hollywood director than Speilberg who could do justice to the story of their beloved rabbi.

“Mr. Spielberg is a man of conscience; a Jewish soul committed to preserving the fabric of Jewish life, both religious and cultural, on film and in reality,” said Rabbi Kievman. “I have no doubt Rabbi Bryn’s story will be yet another jewel in the crown of this great Jewish filmmaker.”

Marfan syndrome affects men, women and children, and has been found among people of all races and ethnic backgrounds. It is estimated that at least 1 in 5,000 people in the United States have the disorder.

For more information on The Tzadik of the California Club contact Margaret Schorr at 954-243-1454 or email her at californiaclubtzadik@hotmail.com.

###

Margaret Kessler
954-243-1454
californiaclubtzadik@hotmail.com

Kol HaKavod: Batzap

Wow. The last week has been intense. From the last time I wrote, I was heading into a Chabad Shabbat in Tsfat, the center of Jewish mysticism and one of the four holy cities of Israel."

Chabad, Thai princess memorialize tsunami victims

CAPTION: Chabad of Thailand's chief rabbi, Yosef Kantor, presents Thai Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya with a silver menorah during Chabad's Tsunami memorial ceremony in Bangkok. Credit: Courtesy of Chabad of Thailand

FOCUS ON ISSUES
By Tibor Krausz

BANGKOK, Jan. 18 (JTA) -- A member of the Thai royalty joined Bangkok's handful of resident Chasidic Jews at a recent event memorializing the victims of the 2004 tsunami.

And although they may not have understood the words of the prayer said by the Chabad rabbi at the event, millions of Thais were privy to the historic encounter between and Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya because all four national television channels broadcast the event taking place in the Shangri-La Hotel.

At the Dec. 18 event, Chabad of Thailand chief rabbi Yosef Kantor recited a rarely used blessing that thanks God for bestowing grandeur on a royal.

Seated on a golden chair inside an enclosure made with bamboo shards, an exquisite flower arrangement laid at her feet, Ubolratana sat facing members of Thailand's 250-strong resident Jewish community -- entrepreneurs, lawyers, consultants -- and watched a short documentary playing on a projection screen, detailing Chabad's myriad aid and reconstruction projects for tsunami victims in Thailand's south.

The princess then viewed a photo exhibit, ``A World of Good: Compassion in the Wake of the Tsunami."

She saw snapshots of Jewish volunteers handing out sacks of rice to impoverished locals in tsunami-ravaged villages on far-flung islands in the Andaman Sea; of young Chabad emissaries on three-month stints from New York helping rebuild homesteads in the devastated fishing community of Baan Naam Khem village;
of hundreds of Thai children whizzing down slides, cavorting around bouncy castles, and receiving their share of the 2 tons of toys Chabad collected during a massive toy drive in Jewish schools across North America and distributed to young tsunami survivors at a daylong event in Phuket in May.

``We received feedback that Her Highness had appreciated the toy fest," Kantor said, ``and I was made to understand that if I'd invited the princess, she would graciously accept."

Ubolratana is the eldest daughter of King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit, and her presence lent an aura of majesty to Chabad of Thailand's ``Tsunami Yizkor: Remember, React, Rebuild" memorial event. More so than in other monarchies, the royal family in Thailand is revered: Portraits of the king and queen adorn nearly every home and office in the country.

The event served to remember the thousands of people, including 18 Jews, who perished in southern Thailand in the Dec. 26, 2004, tidal wave.

Kantor presented her with a silver menorah, made by a craftsman in Israel in the diagonal style of Second Temple candelabras.

The princess ``asked me how many synagogues we have in Thailand and was surprised to hear we have six -- three in Bangkok, and one each in Chiang Mai, Koh Samui and Phuket,'' Kantor, 36, says, recalling an exchange he had with the princess as he joined her entourage in escorting her back to her motorcade.

Chabad's memorial event served to remember the thousands of people, including 18 Jews, who perished in southern Thailand in the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami.

Ubolratana's son, Bhumi Jensen, was one of the victims. The 18-year-old American-born prince, known affectionately by Thais as Khun Poom, had just finished riding his jet ski at Khao Lak Beach when the giant waves crashed ashore, drowning bathers and obliterating seaside communities for over a mile inland.


Posted: 1/23/2006

The Unity of Opposites

By Jay Michaelson
January 27, 2006

Learning From the Tanya: Volume Two in the Definitive Commentary On the Moral and Mystical Teachings Of a Classic Work of Kabbalah
By Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Jossey-Bass, 384 pages, $24.95.

We Jews: Why Are We and What Should We Do?
By Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Jossey-Bass, 224 pages, $24.95.

Why has the Chabad-Lubavitch sect become so successful? On the surface, the group would seem like a strange candidate for world prominence: One of the more intellectual strands of Hasidism, Chabad was once regarded as a sect of philosophers as compared with some of the other, more populist, Hasidic factions. Today, its arcane customs, strict observance of Jewish law and, of course, the notorious messianism of the last generation, all should deter newcomers. And yet, today Chabad is among the most successful Jewish outreach organizations in the world. What is going on?

If you ask a skeptic, Chabad's success has everything to do with luck and marketing. Luck in that, unlike many other sects, Chabad survived the Holocaust more or less intact. They suffered grievous losses, of course, but other sects were completely wiped out; Chabad was not. And marketing: as chronicled in two recent books, Sue Fishkoff's "The Rebbe's Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch" (Schocken, 2003) and M. Avrum Ehrlich's "The Messiah of Brooklyn: Understanding the Lubavitch Past and Present" (Ktav Publishing House, 2005), Chabad is unique in its organized, hierarchical and sometimes ruthlessly efficient structure. The late Lubavitcher Rebbe, whatever we may make of those who would deify him, was an expert marketer and a genius at organization. Take these two factors together, add in some messianic zeal, and you have the burgeoning Chabad-Lubavitch phenomenon, mitzvah tanks and all.

Other, more critical voices — including, behind closed doors, many Jewish communal leaders — simply regard Chabad as a cult. They see its "outreach" rabbis as missionaries, and its messianic, mystical ideology as dangerous. These are not new criticisms; in fact, they are the exact same accusations that were first leveled at the sect more than 200 years ago. But as the messianic elements within Chabad gain prominence, the opposition seems to be growing as well.

Surely, though, Chabad must be doing something right. There are a lot of well-oiled bureaucracies out there in the religious world, and plenty of cults, but they don't all have Chabad's success rate. An army of missionaries can spread the gospel, but if the message doesn't click, people won't listen. Just look at the millions of Jewish philanthropic dollars being spent on trying to convince younger generations not to intermarry — and how little the efforts are working. Maybe there really is something too Chabad's brand of Judaism that is responsible for the devotion of its adherents, and the number of newcomers the sect attracts.

Naturally, that's what a Chabad rabbi would tell you, and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz is no exception. Of course, Steinsaltz is exceptional in just about every other way. A certifiable genius who is nearly finished with a massive translation and commentary on the Talmud — a life's work for any scholar — Steinsaltz has also recently embarked on writing a multi-volume commentary on the primary book of Chabad Hasidism, the Tanya, the second installation of which was published last fall. In his spare time, Steinsaltz writes books like "We Jews: Who Are We and What Should We Do?" also recently published; not to mention "The Thirteen Petalled Rose" (Basic Books, 1980), one of the most widely read introductions to Kabbalah; four volumes of discourses on Hasidic thought, and guides to Jewish prayer, the Sabbath and the Passover Haggadah. Recently Steinsaltz has also been making a bid as a Jewish public figure, attending interfaith conferences, appearing on television and even trying to re-found the Sanhedrin, the ancient Jewish court of law. One wonders if the man ever sleeps.

Steinsaltz may be an unusual human being, but in many ways he is not an unusual Chabadnik. Unlike many other sects of Hasidism, Chabad tries to speak to all Jews, not just its own, and embraces technology, business and much of contemporary society in general. (Indeed, this outward-turning face of Chabad has sometimes had surprising consequences: Within the immediate families of more than one Lubavitcher Rebbe, there have been those who left religious life, and even converted to Christianity.) Chabad.org, the sect's Web site, was one of the first in cyberspace, and is today ranked among the top 10 visited Jewish sites on the Internet. There are Chabad professors at universities, scientists at biotech firms and businessmen running dotcoms. Grounded in a theology that sees God everywhere, Lubavitch Hasidim seem to be everywhere.

"Opening the Tanya: Discovering the Moral & Mystical Teachings of a Classic Work of Kabbalah" (Jossey-Bass, 2003) and "Learning From the Tanya" are, on the surface, straightforward books: they are word-by-word commentaries on the Tanya, a text first published in 1797 by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi. The founder of Chabad, the rabbi was an outstanding member of the third generation of Hasidism. The Tanya is a challenging book: it is dense, and steeped in Kabbalistic psychology and philosophy. Yet, today one finds copies of it (and "Opening the Tanya") in the homes of many liberal Jews, and on the bookshelves of major chain stores — and Steinsaltz hasn't even reached the best part: the section titled "The Gate of Unity and Faith," which contains some of the most beautiful systematic theology of the Jewish tradition.

What "Learning From the Tanya" and its predecessor chiefly address is Chabad's distinctive psychology, which sees most people as, literally, In-Betweeners, neither good nor evil but somewhere in the middle. The duality of the self, the Tanya explains, reflects the dual structure of existence — which from one perspective is nothing but God, but from another perspective is the normal world we all inhabit, with cars and trees and people. This is the essence of Hasidism, as explained by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe in a fascinating small volume called "On the Essence of Chassidus" (Kehot, 1986): the paradox that God is everywhere and yet it can seem like God is nowhere. Theologically, an infinite God is as present in the moment of disbelief as in the moment of faith, as much in the laundry as in the synagogue. But practically, the early Hasidic masters explain, it doesn't feel that way. Sometimes we're in touch with what matters, sometimes we're not; sometimes we're acting generously, sometimes we're not. This is the nature of life, and the nature of the Beinoni, the in-betweener. The question is how to live in the vacillation.

Though more than 200 years old, this psychology can be very appealing to Jews who find themselves variously attracted and repelled by Jewish religious practice. Few Jews are either wholly "religious" or wholly "secular" — most of us are, indeed, somewhere in between. The Tanya says that this is a basic condition of humanity.

Well — almost. Notoriously, the Tanya reserves its psychology for Jews, who, the book says, are possessed of both divine and animal souls. The other 99.7% of the world either lacks a divine soul, or doesn't know how to access it. In both "Learning From the Tanya" and "We Jews," Steinsaltz maintains this acute ethnocentrism but tries to explain it by saying that religiosity, faithfulness and an impulse to monotheism are "almost biological" traits of the Jewish people. In the Tanya, this supposed trait is expressed as a distinct soul that is turned always toward the Divine. In "We Jews," Steinsaltz says that a Jew is just "geared to think this way."

Perhaps this view — found in most of the world's religious communities — might be dismissed as merely the product of persecution. After all, the Tanya is a product of its times: Rabbi Schneur Zalman spent time in prison, and suffered at the hands of non-Jewish oppressors; one might forgive his seeing the non-Jewish world as being the realm of evil. However, "Learning From the Tanya" and, even more so, "We Jews," is a product of our times, and the idea that Jews are more "naturally religious" than everyone else has serious consequences. For non-Jews, of course, it is offensive. But for Jews, it's over-determinative. Steinsaltz writes, for example, that the secular, assimilated Jew "can emerge only when he consciously and deliberately decides to stop acting and to try again to be himself, returning to the original essential design of his own being." Once one posits an essential character trait, it's easy to make judgments about those who appear to deviate from it.

Steinsaltz is a prodigious scholar but a very conservative thinker. In other hands, the anthropology of the Tanya might be translated to all people, and the Jewish thirst for unity might be expressed in a variety of forms. But especially in "We Jews," it is clear that Jews are special and that the only quintessentially Jewish path is that which leads through the traditional understandings of Torah and commandment. Fair enough: Steinsaltz is, in the end, a Hasidic Jew, and he has the courage of his convictions — a steadfastness that probably has a lot to do with Chabad's ideological success. But is there anything in "Learning From the Tanya" — or Chabad Hasidism in general — that can speak to those unable or unwilling to swallow this view of Jewish particularism?

It depends. For some, the enthusiasm, messianism and nationalism (which, of late, has expressed itself in far-right Israeli political activism) may be too much to set aside. But for others, there is, in "Learning From the Tanya," in Chabad theology and in Hasidic prayers, parties and tisches (festive Sabbath gatherings), a consciousness that transcends parochialism: a spark of mysticism united with an engagement of the everyday world. Chabad's distinctive embrace of the everyday comes from its unique theology, which seeks the unity of opposites. On the one hand, Chabad's masters say, that which seems to be real is actually only real from our perspective; that which seems to be invisible is actually all there is. On the other hand, it is precisely in the apparent, material world than God is manifest. That apparent world can appear alienated, and peopled with isolated, separate selves who find it hard to connect with one another. Or, at times, it can appear wholly Divine. Or — and this is the critical point — it can be both at the same time. Thus the mystical path is neither running away from the material world nor denying the spiritual one. Rather, it's a"paradoxical ascent to God," as described in the book of the same name by Rachel Elior, a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (and one of my teachers). It involves a constant vacillation between being and nothingness, Divine perspective and human perspective, transcendence and immanence. For the writer of the Tanya, and his disciples, the gift of Moses was not so much seeing God in a thorn bush as seeing God in everything else.

Steinsaltz is at his best in "Learning From the Tanya" when he expresses, in a personal way, how these theological ideas operate in real, messy life. On suffering, for example, Steinsaltz observes that it can be seen merely as the "concealment of the Divine countenance," and a "gift" from God. On the other hand, he says, to deny the reality of one's pain in favor of clever theology is to miss the point, because "a person who has never been challenged has never engaged in a dialogue with God; and his connection to God, if indeed it exists, occurs on a much lower level. The mind may know oneness, in other words — but the heart still knows duality, and suffers as a result. To deny the reality of that experience, in favor of some higher "truth," is to miss the point of creation itself, which is present in the manifest world.

Ultimately, "Learning From the Tanya" and "We Jews" are works of an insider. Elior's work and that of Naftali Loewenthal (himself a follower of Chabad) and Louis Jacobs are better academic introductions to Chabad. Fishkoff's and Ehrlich's books are better for behind-the-scenes looks at the Chabad organization. And the many disciples of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi — both early missionaries for Chabad who never fully left the fold — may be more appealing for those seeking the anarchic, mystical spark without the traditional theology, lifestyle or gender roles. Yet it is Steinsaltz who, more than anyone else, embodies the genuine face of Chabad: outward looking, yet holding fast to traditional, often troubling, ideas; erudite, yet Orthodox; mystical, yet material, and perhaps, finally, paradoxical.

Jay Michaelson is a doctoral candidate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, studying Lubavitch Hasidic theology.



Copyright 2006 © The Forward

The next Jon Stewart… has a beard and is a puppet

Today’s Moment of Zen: The Parsha Report , Chabad’s wacky online puppet show, starring Rabbi Itchy Kaddozy, his sarcastic, apathetic friend Jonno, and the lovable G-fish (gefilte fish), presents the parsha in Jon Stewart’s Daily Show news format, which makes for one darn good diversion from doing work and paying bills. If you do check out the parsha, be sure to also see the one-offs like the Koshermentary - 2 thumbs up to creators Dovid Taub & Jonathan Goorvich - for bringing humor and creativity to the next generation of gen-y Yids (read: weird guys who sit online looking for weird stuff)

Bloggerai: Marvin Schick

At the risk of dragging on with a point that has been belabored ad nauseam mamash, I will add my two kilobytes to the ruckus.The omnipresent shallowness behind the response to Schick's article betrays one of the problems confronting us today. It is not only the profound am haaratzut, simple ignorance that characterizes our religious youth across the board; it is the institutionalization of this ignorance. Asking hard questions these days is more uncommon for a yeshiva bochur today than it ever was before. Things have come to the point that stagnation is formally encouraged. The form dependes on the sect; the responses to deviance range from bookbanning to excommunication to cries of "Nifrad!". The concept of emunah lema'ala misechel, as explained in Chassidut, has nothing in common whatsoever with what I am writing about: nowhere was this doctrine used to abolish Talmudic debate, works of the caliber of the Kuzari, and so on. Any attempt to connect the one with the other is lack of depth at best; at worst, it is willful falsification and distortion. The Lubavitcher Rebbe did not produce 200 volumes of brilliant discourse just to have it parroted blindly the world over.I just read Marvin's two articles again: whether I agree with him or not, his article was well-written and expressed genuine admiration tempered real concern. The tone reminded me of Pat Robertson's reaction to Ariel Sharon's condition; the reactions to both bore a striking resemblance.Manis Friedman's response is not new; he has been espousing this idea for a while. There is certainly some merit to it. That said, King Solomon said many thousands of years ago (Proverbs 21:30): אין חכמה ואין תבונה ואין עצה נגד ה.Let us hope that we will wisen soon. More than we imagine depends on it...
posted by Nathan

Alan Dershowitz Fires Back at Marvin Shick

Marvin Schick's mother was a wonderful woman who baked great challahs, but Marvin didn't learn anything from her about the Jewish prohibition against lashon hara. Everything he says about me in his "privately sponsored" opinion piece is totally wrong ("Where is Chabad Heading To?" Jan. 6).If I had "written nastily about religious Jews," I don't think Yeshiva University would have given me an honorary doctorate. Nor would Bar Ilan University. Nor would I have been invited to speak to numerous Orthodox synagogues and organizations. These institutions recognize that I have devoted much of my professional life to defending the rights of Orthodox Jews at Harvard and all over the world. I have argued for the right of Orthodox Jews to put up eruvs.I have opposed holding classes and graduations on Jewish holidays, even those observed exclusively or primarily by Orthodox Jews. Virtually my entire family is Orthodox, as are many of my oldest friends. Moreover, only a self-righteous Jew would imply that only Orthodox Jews are religious. I attend a Conservative synagogue where my daughter was bat mitzvahed. It is a religious institution conducting religious events. I'm sure there are some haredim who do not regard Marvin Schick as sufficiently religious.I will contribute $1,000 to Marvin Schick's favorite charity, probably those who pay for him to have a column that no one else will regularly publish, if he can provide any documentation that I have "exalted marrying out." Schick just made it up as he has the rest of his attack on me. It is precisely this kind of internecine personal attack that weakens the Jewish community at a time when it is under so much external assault.Marvin, learn from your mother. She was a tolerant and wonderful woman who would never accept your kind of intra-Jewish bigotry and sinat chinam.
Alan Dershowitz

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Google Video

I wonder if JEM stuff will be on here anytime soon.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Hanocho of 1928 sicha on Ebay

It says "mugah" on it.
Can someone check if this has been printed?

Matisyahu videos on "You Tube"

Use this link to see Matisyahu on "you tube"

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The next generation

Posted by a young chabad blogger:

Posted by a young chabad blogger:

I've been thinking a bit about what the Lubab world will be like in another 20 yrs.

The fridiker Rebbe was adamant that 'America iz nisht anderish' when he came to the US some 60 years ago, but he was one of very few. Indeed, American jewry has vastly assimilated, paradoxically under democratic governments and their call for egalitarianism. When the jews were finally allowed to be themselves, they decided to be like everyone else. In another 20 years, what will be?

Unfortunatley, in the past few years, Chabad has similarly been grossly influenced by western civilisation. Its taken about 60 years, but the cons of freedom are slowly catching up. Before Shlichus, the shtetl's of Russia were closeted and held their own structure, mini 'autocracies' complete with 'Rebbe' and holy Chassidim who were not influenced by other ways of life. Ordinary jews looked up to these father figures and emulated them. They saw a direct connection to G-d. Therefore, even when Lubavitch headquarters changed to New York, because Chabad still had a Rebbe and the Tzaddikim of that generation, the doctrine of the old world continued to hold sway.

All that has changed now. The people who believe that the Rebbe is here with us are few and far between. Those people are you, of previous generations. But to us, the Rebbe is some distant figure, we can't figure him out, all those miracles belonged to a bygone era. The majority of Lubavitch are in g-d forsaken or totally westernised cultures. It sounds apikorstic, but the Rebbe sent us and then left us. He thought we had so much potential, that we could withstand the bad of the world, but we have not lived up to his dreams. Slowly, the boundaries which were once the baselines are being reworked and changed. I have seen TV's in many a Chabad family house. The internet is the norm. Skirts are slowly getting higher, and Kapota's are swapped for tshirt and jeans.

Its interesting that the Shidduch process is still very much the same, but I believe that in a few years time even those age old guidlines will be rewritten. Who will care about Yichus if you don't have a business degree? A Rabbi is great, but a lawyer is even better. Girls nowadays are going to college, and to tell you the truth, if if I was a bit younger and thought I could get away with it, I too would go to a mixed college. But as of yet, the guidlines haven't changed, and the repurcussions will be too great at least for a few more years. But after those years, the Chabad world will be a different place. Girls will be doing Graphic Design (my desired profession) and we all know what Graphic Design and the world of Advertisement is about. The music industry, business, accounting, we are doing it already. And the numbers just keep growing. Boys going to university instead of Smicha and the Rabbinate. Shlichus for so many of us is already ! a no no, with all the politics and undercover blackmail that it involves.

The new generation isn't a bad one, we are just different, more 'modern'; products of the society which in which you brought us up. There is no deeply rooted hiskashrus, because we don't remember the Rebbe. The elder Chassidim have long since passed away, but even with those who are still alive, it is so difficult to relate! What does it mean, to give up your life for religion, when many of us will easily eat chalav akum when no one is looking! (Just because it tastes better.) Why would someone spend 18 years of his life in the gulags of Russia when he could be sunbathing on Bondi beach? In our heart of hearts, we know that there is something so deep and spiritual and totally unexplainable, but those feelings aren't attainable to us.

We are missing the faith.

I don't like to think what will happen if we don't regain it soon.

posted by Dilemma

New Chabad center coming to Mansfield

By Meredith Holford/ Staff Writer
Friday, January 6, 2006

Rabbi hopes to relocate here from NYC
Mansfield's growing Jewish population has not gone unnoticed. While everyone of the faith must now leave town to go to services, activities or Hebrew school in Easton, Attleboro, Brockton or Sharon, that may not always be the case, because a local Chabad House community center in Milford thinks Mansfield needs a center of its own.
Rabbi Yossi Kivman of New York is hoping to make Mansfield his new home.
Kivman's brother, Mendy, said this week that Yossi intends to move to Mansfield with his family within the next six months and is now deciding what kind of services Mansfield will need.
Mendy Kivman is also a rabbi at the Chabad House community center in Milford.
Yossi Kivman has already visited Mansfield twice recently, once for a sparsely attended session on how to make challah, the traditional holiday egg bread, and last week to a Hanukkah celebration at the library that drew more than a hundred area residents.
"There's never been an event like this in Mansfield," Mendy Kivman said. "The Jews are all still in the woodwork."
Mendy Kivman, who lives in Milford, said the Chabad tradition "makes Judaism accessible to Jews."
Although the Chabad is originally an orthodox movement, he said the center would offer all kinds of activities and services that every practicing Jew could take advantage of.
"In some places there would be synagogues, and sometimes there would be a Hebrew school. The Chabad rabbi is an emissary - he makes the decision," Mendy Kivman said.
Mendy Kivman said his brother, Yossi, will be back to Mansfield "a couple more times," looking for both a location for the center and a place to live, before the family makes the move from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. It will be a cultural leap, he said, recalling his own move to Milford.
"I like it here," he said. "But I like to go back too."
The Milford Chabad house is exploring building a synagogue in that community, and holding Saturday services as well as the high holiday services. The big crowds move out of the Cedar Street location to a hotel for space.
In Mansfield, the rabbi will wait to assess what the community needs before beginning anything.
Resources come from the New-York-based Chabad organization, but each community decides how resources are to be delegated, and the members raise funds for the center.
The Chabad movement, according to the Milford center's Web site, "teaches understanding and recognition of the Creator, the role and purpose of Creation, and the importance and unique mission of each Creature."
The Chabad movement is 250 years old, and is related to the Hasidic strain of Judaism.
Kivman said the typical community center offers services, book clubs, women's groups and Hebrew schools for youngsters.

Jewish food bank in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA,

Jan. 20 (JTA)

— Andrew Klazmer had an important delivery to make, but he couldn’t find apartment B11. Toting a heavy box of canned goods, the 12-year-old scanned hallway after hallway, peering at faded apartment numbers in vain.

Then he spotted the mezuzah.

“Mom, it’s over here,” Klazmer called out excitedly, tapping the door.

In addition to acting as an ad-hoc navigational device, the mezuzah pointed to the bond that giver and receiver share — their Jewish identity.

The Jewish Relief Agency, a Philadelphia-based food distribution outfit organized by Chabad-Lubavitch, helps the Jewish community address the poverty in its own backyard.

According to the agency’s director, Rachel Dunaief, 57,000 Jews in the Greater Philadelphia area are impoverished, based on Federal Poverty Guidelines.

The issue is present in other cities as well. A 2005 Jewish Federation of Los Angeles study found that roughly one in five Jews there, or 104,000 out of 520,000, earn less than $25,000 annually.

Another study, conducted by the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and UJA-Federation of New York, concluded that poverty afflicts 21 percent of people in Jewish households in New York City and three nearby suburban counties. The poor in this region include larger Orthodox households and Russian immigrant families, the report found.

Dunaief says such numbers come as a surprise to many.

“People have stereotyped notions about who is poor,” she says. “We think of Jews as having money, but really, it could happen to anybody.”

In 2000, Marc Erlbaum and Rabbi Menachem Schmidt decided to start the project. Schmidt says the pair first considered missions abroad, but quickly shifted gears.

“We said, ‘We have enough poor people in Philadelphia, we should really start with that,’ ” Schmidt recalls.

The relief agency’s first effort drew three volunteers and provided food for 19 families. Five years later, the warehouse packs in between 400 and 600 volunteers a month, boxing enough for nearly 4,000 families.

While other organizations, such as the Los Angeles-based Mazon project, offer hunger relief to the wider community, the agency sticks specifically to Jews. Schmidt said the two ideologies are not at odds.

“We’re not shirking the responsibility we have to the world by taking care of ourselves,” he explained. “This doesn’t alleviate our responsibility, but it means we start here first.”

Those on the receiving end aren’t the only ones to benefit from the arrangement. For many, the project offers a chance for different kinds of Jews to meet and mingle. On any given Sunday, members of a fraternity rub shoulders with Chabad rabbis, young professional singles chat with synagogue presidents, and kids pitch in as well.

“We’ve managed to build an organization that spans all party lines,” Erlbaum said.

Some, like Laura Yatvin, 52, cite a sense of Jewish camaraderie.

“I work with the Latino population,” Yatvin explained. “But this is different — this is my people.”

Others praise the organization’s positive role modeling.

“It’s important for the kids to see it,” says Gary Klazmer, Andrew’s father.

Still, the operation offers only a partial solution. In addition to significant economic barriers, Dunaief says poor Jews in Philadelphia, many of whom are Russian immigrants, face linguistic and cultural challenges. Others are elderly, disabled, sick or unemployed, and many are geographically isolated.

She said the agency is working to build network of “gatekeepers” in the Russian community through which volunteers can reach out to needy Jews. The organization already collaborates with social workers and local rabbis, who run package pickup centers for recipients who prefer a bit of anonymity.

Chabad Center draws Gators for spiritual and cultural activities

By Boaz Dvir
Special Correspondent

January 20, 2006

Gainesville · Every Friday night during the fall and spring semesters, 250 Gators trade chicken wings and Miller Light for chicken soup and Manischewitz at Rabbi Berl Goldman's house near the University of Florida.

Most of them are not religious; nor are they the geeks you'd expect to find at a rabbi's house on a Friday night. They look more like fraternity brothers hosting a group of sorority sisters, or vice versa.

A few years ago, this scene would have been a mirage in the Jewish culture desert. Young Jews wanted little to do with Judaism. But today, they show a growing appetite for spiritual and cultural connectivity.

The students say they feel a sense of belonging as soon as they enter Goldman's house, which doubles as UF's Chabad Center.

"There's a home atmosphere here," said Effi Paris, a finance student who serves as a cultural liaison at the university for the international outreach organization Jewish Agency.

On a recent Friday night, the rabbi holds up a copy of a local club-scene magazine featuring photos of scantily clad women, and asks the students why they chose Chabad over other social options.

As if to answer his own question, Goldman then speaks passionately about a central Judaic tenet: that every Jew, regardless of level of observance, stands equal before God and the Jewish community. When he finishes, he wipes the sweat from his forehead with his prayer shawl and the students jump to their feet to applaud.

They chant Hebrew prayers with more passion than linguistic precision, then sing Ain't Gonna Work on Saturday. They also wash their hands ritually before eating, using an embossed silver Judaica mug. And they don't speak until the rabbi blesses the wine and challah.

Goldman has one of the most successful college programs by Chabad Lubavitch, a movement of Hasidic Judaism. The Brooklyn-based organization follows the motto, "Wherever there's Coca Cola, there's Chabad."

Chabad Lubavitch runs thousands of satellites around the world, including more than 40 centers at American universities. And UF has 6,000 Jewish students, the most of any state school in the United States.

Besides connecting to their Jewish roots, the students get involved to have a good time, make friends and maybe meet potential romantic partners.

"People come back because they realize this is a nonjudgmental environment," said Myriam Kramer, past president of Chabad's student-run board.

The rabbi is 33, but his thick beard and jolly demeanor make him seem like the students' grandfather. He makes sure everyone is eating, drinking and having fun. He urges them to mingle with the opposite sex and offers to hold free weddings for those who meet under his roof.

He periodically holds all-you-can-eat sushi buffets at the center. He orders kosher seaweed from New York.

He also stages Stop 'n' Go Jew Date Nights, during which students bid on each other to raise money for the center.

To run the center, Goldman raises $210,000 annually, most of it from South Florida Jews, he says. Even during the High Holy Days, when most rabbis raise most of their funds, he avoided asking the students to give.

"With students," he says, "I never know who can afford it."

Goldman always dreamed of starting a Chabad center; he just never imagined it would be in Gainesville. Two other Chabad shlichim, or emissaries, had turned down this post. And when he visited the city six years ago, "there was not one observant Jew in sight," he said.

But he liked the Jews he met and decided to give it a try. His efforts have not only helped create a growing center, but jump-started Jewish activity in Gainesville.

Leaders at Hillel, the national Jewish student organization that recently built an $8.5 million center across from UF's basketball arena, credit Goldman's efforts and success with helping to boost participation in their programs as well.

Many of the students at Chabad will become successful doctors, attorneys, politicians, filmmakers and business people. Their experience here is bound to influence their cultural and even political outlooks.

So in coming decades, expect a shift to more conservative values in the Jewish community. But don't expect these students to become ultra-Orthodox.

After Friday night dinner, they leave the prayer books and yarmulkes behind. They return to their secular lifestyles, eat non-kosher food and, despite what they sang earlier, work on jobs or school assignments on Saturday.

Goldman knows this; yet he remains upbeat, repeating his slogan, "We're bringing Judaism out of the closet."

Boaz Dvir is a freelance writer in Gainesville.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

CNN Feature

On the leaving the faith" book..

Orthodox Rethinking Campus Outreach



Following on the heels of Chabad-Lubavitch's successful campus programs, other Orthodox groups are now reaching out in new ways to college students of every Jewish denomination.

Non-Hasidic, ultra-Orthodox Jews — or mitnagdim — have adopted an approach that is startlingly similar to the one presented by Chabad, the Hasidic sect whose outreach efforts have made it a growing presence at universities across America, according to Bar-Ilan University sociology professor Adam Ferziger.

In a paper that he recently presented at an academic conference at New York University, Ferziger described what students experience at campus Chabad houses: "The individual who enters is given the opportunity to interact with a knowledgeable Jew on a level that is rare in a large, established congregation.... Questioning is encouraged and the tenor of the discussions, often peppered with raucous Hasidic melodies, is motivating, but generally nonjudgmental."

In response, Ferziger said at the conference, other ultra-Orthodox groups have developed a similar outreach apparatus, in which community kollels (groups of rabbis who traditionally devoted their entire day to learning) that previously had provided learning opportunities to the Orthodox changed their mission, with a greater focus on "outreach" to the non-Orthodox instead of "inreach." Students are a specific focus of this outreach effort.

In Atlanta, kollel member Rabbi Ahron Golding serves local campuses in a way that is reminiscent of approaches typically taken by Chabad. "The message that I am trying to impart," he said, "would be one that Torah is relevant to the life of a modern-day college student, each in his own way."

Chabad, which operates at more than 80 schools full time and more than 100 others part time, is renowned for having charismatic campus emissaries who treat students as a sort of extended family, inviting them to participate in specific rituals or events — laying teffilin, building a sukkah, sharing a Sabbath meal — without requiring them to make a wholesale lifestyle adjustment to Orthodoxy. Ferziger sees this developing in the mitnagdic outreach, as well.

Rabbi Sam Bregman arrived at Columbia University last semester with the aim of launching an on-campus presence for Aish HaTorah, a worldwide outreach organization famous for programs like its Discovery seminars, in which the authenticity of Judaism and the Bible is taught. Bregman told the Forward that his approach is to provide "quality Jewish programming to help students appreciate how special is their heritage," building off the fact that "these students have never had a young rabbi whom they could deal with." He develops very close relationships with his students, virtually none of whom are Orthodox. He hosts Sabbath dinners and one-on-one Torah study sessions with dozens of students every week; he even had a "huge party" for his own son's upsherin — a boy's first haircut at age 3 — in which his students were invited to "clip a little hair." Bregman also joined students recently for a 14-day Israel tour and study program.

Trips and retreats are a premier attraction for many of the mitnagdic outreach groups. That's how the Maimonides Leaders Fellowship program got started. The MLF is an offshoot of the University Heritage Society, which runs "Heritage Retreats" of a week or longer at California ranches.

The MLF also invites student applicants to participate in a semester-long program of Orthodox education and immersion, with a cash stipend as incentive. Students meet every week for classes in Jewish leadership and literacy, and for breakout discussion groups focusing on such issues as "dealing with relationships with family, with girlfriends," according to the program's founder, Rabbi Mordechai Kreitenberg. The students also spend weekends in Orthodox communities as part of the program.

The MLF's Web site, where students can apply, shows no indications of the program's Orthodox foundation. Indeed, it serves a population that is almost entirely non-Orthodox on entrance. But that isn't to say that these students aren't Orthodox when they leave the program. The MLF maintains statistics based on student surveys, in which 77.4% of last year's graduates said they have taken or have plans to take "steps to increase your personal observance," and 38% "attended programs in Israel or the United States that allowed them to further explore their Judaism," such as those provided by Aish HaTorah.

For their part, all the organizations contacted for this story said they have a good relationship with Chabad, and Chabad spokespeople agreed.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Israel's 'Mystical City' Opens Its Doors to Outsiders



The bus ride from Jerusalem to Tsfat takes three hours... but it can be a long three hours. On my most recent trip to the mystical city — a former backwater that, in the 16th century, became the most important center for Kabbalah in the world — I was stuck in the back of the bus between a very large man in a white-tassled yarmulke "reciting" (actually, shouting) psalms at the top of his lungs, a Chabad messianist trying to convince anyone who would listen that the Lubavitcher rebbe is the messiah (and is still alive, in hiding, in Brooklyn), and a half-dozen schoolgirls chattering in a mixture of English and Hebrew. It was the bus to Tsfat, all right.

Until recently, it was difficult to penetrate beneath the bizarre surface of this insane, beautiful, littered and seemingly perpetually-under-construction small town. Visitors to Tsfat — sometimes spelled Safed, a transliteration of the city's Arabic name — would snap photographs of ornate synagogue walls, or browse through the artists' colony in the city's former Arab quarter. A few might venture down into the ancient cemetery, gazing at the candle-covered grave of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the mysterious kabbalist also known as the Ari Hakadosh, or The Holy Lion. And a brave soul or two might even dip into the icy waters of the Ari Mikva, fed by a mountain spring. But those seeking to engage with the town's community of mystics, or learn some Kabbalah themselves, usually found the city to be a closed book. The mystics kept to themselves, and while you could hear them singing — or even, in the middle of the night, howling and crying in hitbodedut, or solitary "conversation" with God — it was difficult to get a glimpse of them, let alone learn more about their lives.

Today, Tsfat is opening up. There are dozens of opportunities for "outsiders" to come to know the community's spiritual lifeblood. And while many doors remain closed, many more have opened within recent years.

As in many places, the most prominent outreach organization is Chabad-Lubavitch, the Hasidic sect associated, in America, with menorahs, mitzvah tanks and messianism. Chabad's Tsfat outpost is a 12,000-square-foot learning center, hostel and library known as Ascent. Founded in 1983, Ascent runs weekend and weeklong seminars on Jewish mysticism and meditation, with the distinctive Chabad enthusiasm familiar to anyone who's ever been stopped on the street and asked if he'd like to put on tefillin. When I visited, Ascent was running a three-day kabbalistic meditation seminar in English; the following week there was a pre-Rosh Hashanah weekend for Israelis.

But Chabad is not the only game in town, even if it remains the most obvious starting point for an individual's spiritual journey. As Yehudit Goldfarb told me, "There's a lot going on for 'Westerners,' now more than ever." Goldfarb should know: She is the silver-haired creator of "Otiot Chayyot," ("Living Letters"), a yogalike practice in which one moves one's body into the shapes of Hebrew letters. She teaches the art in Tsfat as well as on trips to America. Goldfarb pointed me to the "Western Settlers" e-mail list, an electronic newsletter of all events spiritual, mystical or just plain Tsfat.

David Friedman, a kabbalah-inspired artist whose work is ubiquitous in Jewish Renewal and Reconstructionist circles, agreed. "I have groups coming through all the time," he said. Including, to my surprise, a group of Reform rabbinical and cantorial students, not the crowd one would most expect to be learning kabbalah in the "mystical city." Friedman offers crash courses in the kabbalistic Sefer Yetzirah, or The Book of Creation, an ancient text that purports to describe the deep structures of the universe, from the signs of the zodiac to the shape of the human body. And of course, he sells his artwork, like dozens of other Tsfat artists hawking everything from micrography to mezuzas.

One of the new entries in the Tsfat-for-Visitors roster is "Experience Tsfat," run by the Nachal Novea Tsfat Fund, a New York-based foundation affiliated with the Breslov Hasidic sect. "Experience Tsfat" is something new for Breslov, a sect that, historically, has not been as active as Chabad in attracting new members and which, in marked contrast to Chabad, is not a centralized, hierarchical organization. But reclusive they're not: One phone call asking about the program's activity resulted in an invitation to Sabbath dinner at the home of Jonathan Lipschitz, the violinist in the popular Jewish band Simply Tsfat (the group's albums have titles like "Be Happy" and "Fresh Air") and the husband of one of the program's organizers. As we walked to Lipschitz's home from Tsfat's enormous Breslov synagogue — imagine 500 black-clad men all shouting, dancing, singing and waving their arms in prayer and supplication — I asked whether this was the first time the Breslov sect had made this kind of an effort to reach out to newcomers. "This isn't Breslov — this is Tsfat," Lipschitz told me. "It's for every Jew who wants to reconnect."

Of course, Tsfat is still not for everybody. The Jewish quarter's population is overwhelmingly Orthodox, and predominantly Hasidic. There are more than 30 active synagogues — but none offers an egalitarian prayer option. And because of Judaism's prohibition on proselytizing, non-Jews may not feel especially welcome. Then again, in a quintessentially Tsfat moment, one yarmulke-wearing, apparently Sabbath-observing guest at one meal revealed that he was not a Jew but a "Ben Noach," a gentile who observes the seven Noachide laws. He explained that he keeps the Sabbath, but starts either five minutes early or five minutes late in order to differentiate his practice from "real" Jewish observance. I thought to myself: "Only in Tsfat...."

The most serious option for English-speaking spiritual seekers in Tsfat is probably the Shalom Rav yeshiva, which combines the seriousness of traditional learning with a character that is, well, very Tsfat. For example, its Web site includes a "Jamming and Chilling" page. It's easy to spot the Shalom Rav boys on the street, playing drums or guitars, and sporting scraggly beards and large, hand-knitted yarmulkes. Shalom Rav and its women's counterpart, Shaarei Bina, have a distinctively Hasidic flavor: They are as much about cultivating love and enthusiasm as about learning text. "Many young people today experience a full yeshiva education, yet feel uncommitted and uninspired," said Shalom Rav's Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Rafael Weingot. "The foundation of their faith needs strengthening, both intellectually and emotionally. Something deep inside must be stirred, to make Judaism real and meaningful for them."

Another Tsfat option for those willing to make an extended commitment is Livnot U'Lehibanot (To Build and Be Built), which, since its founding 25 years ago, has grown from a small project intended to rebuild Tsfat's crumbling old city to a huge, UJA-Federation-funded enterprise with Birthright Israel trips, five-month programs in Tsfat and Jerusalem, and even "national service" options for Israelis. Livnot is one of the rare Jewish organizations whose programs focus not on college students but on 20- and 30-somethings, and as such it tends to have a different flavor from the tie-dyed atmosphere of Shalom Rav. Yet even as Livnot has expanded far beyond the boundaries of Tsfat, it still has that emotional, spiritual tinge to it: It advertises one program as being for those who "would like their spiritual side to catch up to their professional career side."

You don't need to spend five months, though, to catch a whiff of the rarefied Tsfat air. There's something immediate, and universal, to the place. I was sitting in a cobblestone plaza one night, when a tour group of entirely secular Israelis began singing "Lecha Dodi" (written in Tsfat by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz) and meandering through the city's narrow alleyways. Maybe this is because Tsfat, more than other holy places, is tied to its natural features: You don't need to be Jewish to gasp at the awesome sunset over Mount Meron, and you don't need to read Hebrew to feel the power of the mikveh. For all the abstruse texts written here over the generations, perhaps the most enduring one is the place itself — a city built into a mountainside, gazing out over the Galilee. The spirituality is, literally, in the air. Arguably, Tsfat's appeal isn't entirely sensible, or even rational — but then again, neither is beauty, or art or love.

Jay Michaelson teaches Kabbalah and spirituality at synagogues, schools and online at learnkabbalah.com.