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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Endless Light and Cobblestone: Myth #1: Lubavitchers wear black hats

Endless Light and Cobblestone: Myth #1: Lubavitchers wear black hats

read this!

"torah outreach"!? L'maan Yaidu

From Torah Outreach Program (these are the longest emails but they are full of good stuff)
Last week, we explored the claim of Exodus Raba (51:2) that there were 2 tabernacles- we explained that the tabernacle in the midst of the camp served as the center of ritual, the tabernacle outside the camp, Moshe's Tent of Meeting, as the bet midrash, where one went to "seek" God, to resolve his/her ?? and conflicts. Therefore, says Ruth Fogelman, Bilaam proclaims: "How good are your tents, Yaakov, your tabernacleS Israel!" (Num. 24:5). We might then also posit that there will be 2 future Temples- one, the center of ritual, near Bet El, site of Yaakov’s dream, and Har Chatzor, the highest peak, "the head of mountains", in the Jerusalem region. The other, the tabernacle of testimony, may be a great lehrhaus, a bet midrash, on the site of the previous temples, where all will come to "seek God"- "And the sons of the stranger, who join to God to serve Him, and who love the name of God, to be His servants, all who guard the Sabbath from profaning it, and strengthen My Covenant- I will bring them to My holy mountain and make them rejoice in the house of My prayer- their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be pleasing on My altar, for My House will be called a house of prayer for all peoples" (Is. 56:6f). Thus Jerusalem will earn its new name in the last verse of Ezekiel, "God is There", from the high spiritual quality of its populace, rather than from the sacrificial rites, confined to Bet El. Many folks so experience it today, if they are lucky enough to meet the right Jerusalemites. CHAREDIM are those very traditional Jews, who attempt to perpetuate life as it was hundreds of years ago, including its food and clothing, amidst the modern world; they somewhat resemble the Mennonites, who preceded them by 200 years, in this respect; but charedim have nothing against modern technology, per se. Per Rav JBS, they yearn to rebuild a narrow shtetel, which never existed.

They are not specially attuned to simplicity, handicrafts and nature, as are Menonite and Amish folks, tho early chassidic masters wandered the woods, while praising tobacco (see Gene Wilder's wonderful film, "The Frisco Kid", for the Jewish-Amish interface); they tend to take the strictest interpretations of ritual law, and stress family unity, outward behavior and conformity. Most learn lots of Talmud and Codes, but little else, e.g. Tanach, Science, Tanach, Philosophy and history. A group of returnee Chabadniks is forming an ecological rural community, Eretz HaChayim, in Sunderland, Mass. (JPMag, 3/7/03: The Frum Farm). The Chabad establishment, instead of praising and helping them, takes a dim view of their project, with far-fetched claims that Chabad is not compatible with such a life style (as their far-fetched justifications of males not sleeping in a sukkah!). Perhaps they just don't want to recognize and validate life-styles and creativity that do not originate in Chabad, or vodka-laden East European peasant culture, and are not party-line- cf. their rejection of their truly great Gafnian Chabad teacher, Shmuli Boteach. While I am happy to see Torah-true Jews living on a high level, well integrated with their environment, I am also upset by their lack of Zionism- they do not even express a desire to eventually make aliya and create their model village here; I was similarly upset, some years ago, by a Chabad Video (The Lamplighters) from L.A., in which their local leader sang 'This land is your land, this land is my land...', referring to the U.S., with no mention of Israel.

The traditional fierce haredi opponents of The Besht and chassidim are called "misnagdim" . See Eliyahu Yehuda Schochet's "The Hasidic Movement and The Gaon of Vilna" for a sensitive, balanced exploration of both societies, and their conflicts. His pragmatic conclusion is that chassidut was a good thing, despite the often valid critique and persecution of the misnagdim, for it worked! It kept many Jews enthusiastically Jewish, amidst terrible conditions in cursed Eastern Europe (See Prof. Menachem Friedman's Hebrew work on the old yishuv of Jerusalem, during

SHUL is a yiddish term for a synagogue, SHTIEBEL for a small informal shul. ALIYA is ascent to the Holy Land of Israel. YIDDISHKEIT denotes Eastern European Jewish civilization, a century ago, its religious culture only one of many equally valid interpretations and civilizations of authentic Judaism, e.g. Sephardim and Yemenites, who are, perhaps unconsciously, excluded from Judaism by use of this divisive term, instead of Judaism or Yahadut.
A PROJECT OF TOP, TORAH OUTREACH PROGRAM, ARARAT 2/5, JERUSALEM, TEL. (02) 628-7359, e-mail: top@actcom.co.il Visit our site: http://www.israelVisit.co.il/top Our recent e-mail studies are archived, with many others, at www.shamash.org

I'm actually struck by a history that is a BALANCED history of the fight between misnagdim and chasidim. Usually when I was in Crown Heights I heard the parables abotu the Evil Misnag (who mourned on Purim and celebrated on Tisha B'Av because he was a miserable bastard) who tried to kill the poor but happy Chasid and then turned around and became Chasidic himself. This is why I like to read stuff by the Gra (or Vilna Gaon) who publicly dipped matzah in a large vat of water during Pesach to rule that gebracht observance was nonsense

Nada Records: New Releases by Tizmoret and Nagwa

Nada Records is one of the more established Israeli labels documenting the fertile local world music scene, including prominent Israeli outfits as the already disbanded Bustan Abraham (including collaborations with Indian masters Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain and the Irish nomad master Ross Daly), Eyal Sela and his Dharma Ensemble, Isfahan Ensemble, the Black Velvet and many more.

In its thirteen years of existence, the label has released over thirty discs that encompass myriad Middle Eastern traditions as well as Persian, Indian and even Irish music--and many fusions of these genres. These new releases by Tizmoret and Nagwa are welcome additions to Nada's boundary-dissolving message.

Tizmoret
Tizmoret
Nada Records
2005

Quite surprisingly, there are no remarkable klezmer bands in Israel, as if the renaissance of this Jewish musical tradition during the last decade has passed over the Jewish state. Tizmoret--popular orchestra in Hebrew--may mend this situation. This outfit is led by double bassist and bowed Turkish tanbur player Naor Carmi, a veteran of the last incarnation of Bustan Abraham. It presents Carmi's musical vision, which borrows from the Eastern European klezmer tradition but transforms elements into a Middle Eastern context. In such a spirit, Tizmoret has played a klezmerized version of one of Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem's compositions in recent live shows.

This debut disc was recorded in 2003 with a lineup featuring soloists such as Daniel Zamir, formerly of Satlah, who has released his versions of alt-klezmer on Tzadik, the ever resourceful Gershon Waiserfirer on the baritone horn and oud, Jonathan Dror on saxes and the Armenian duduk, and Avishai Fisz on accordion.

The music draws inspiration from devotional Chassidic dances and the Lubavitsher Rebbe (who is quoted on the liner notes saying “be it through the keys of music, that man is being elevated and pulled spheres upwards”), Kabalistic theories (on “Back,” ”And Forth”), Jewish prayers, Iraqi and Turkish music, and of course, alt-klezmer groups like the Klezmatics.

Carmi managed to knit tight and economic arrangements that demonstrate the power of this octet and still leave plenty of room for each member of Tizmoret to express himself. Carmi's bass playing has the same melodic fluidity that you can find in great bassists like Norway's Arild Andersen, while his bowing of the tanbur is imaginative and contemplative. Waiserfirer is the second backbone of this outfit; his playing of the custom-made electric oud spices the music with funky overtones, while his soulful oud playing clearly reference American-Armenian oud player Ara Dinkijian and his now defunct band, Night Ark, mainly on such tracks as ”Palmtree Talk” and “On the Way.” Waiserfirer's humorous use of the baritone horn always pushes the music forward.

Since this disc was recorded, the lineup of Tizmoret has changed, and the outfit has enriched its experience as a wedding orchestra, still delivering the same passionate and soulful music with the same curious and open attitude. Warmly recommended.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Breaking The Munich Silence

A survivor of ’72 Olympic massacre, moved by Spielberg’s film, is speaking for the first time. Steve Lipman - Staff Writer

New Haven, Conn.

Dan Alon can give two reasons why for 34 years he never spoke about the 1972 Summer Olympics at Munich, where 11 members of the Israeli delegation were killed by Palestinian terrorists, where he was an athlete on the Israeli team, where he was among five Israelis who escaped by jumping to safety off a balcony in the Olympic Village.

First, no one asked.

“Nobody was interested in what happened to us, the survivors,” he said. “The media was concerned about the people who died, about the terrorists, about the Mossad.”

And if someone had asked, he still wouldn’t have discussed his experiences.

“It was very hard for me to talk,” Alon said, providing the second reason.

Today he’s speaking. Alon broke his silence last month at Oxford University in London, and last week told his story at Yale University.

The former world-ranked fencer can give a two-word reason for the change of heart: Steven Spielberg.

Alon, who lives in Tel Aviv and works in the plastics industry there, was invited three months ago to a private screening in his hometown of “Munich,” Spielberg’s cinematic treatment of the terrorist killings at the ’72 Games and the subsequent years of Mossad reprisals against the perpetrators.

Friends who had rarely broached the subject of Munich with Alon began asking about “Munich.” Alon began answering. He accepted the invitation from Chabad of Oxford University.

His March 23 speech at Yale was his first in the United States and the first in this country by any Munich survivor since Spielberg’s film was released.

Alon’s appearance, sponsored by the Chabad at Yale and the university’s Friends of Israel organization, drew a standing-room crowd of at least 200 mixed in age and ethnicity.

It was a respectful audience that came to a lecture hall surrounded by bronze relief busts of such figures as Shakespeare, Dante and Plato, with none of the hecklers or demonstrators that are common at university speeches presented by Israelis.

In a question-and-answer period following his speech, students asked Alon about the terrorist killings, about the bungled rescue attempt by the West Germans, about the murdered Israelis.

Few asked about the movie or its authenticity.

“It’s the event, not the movie” that brought people to Alon’s speech, said Daniella Berman, a Yale junior.

She called the terrorist attack, which was credited with putting the Palestinian issue on the world political map, “not beyond the frame of reference” of students born more than a decade after the Munich Olympics.

“It wasn’t that long ago,” she said.

Berman said Alon’s speech “put a face” on an international event, “it fleshed it out.”

Jared Levant, a Yale senior, said he had “a vague idea” about the events of September 1972 and that Alon offered details.

Alon, introducing his remarks, said “I will tell you only my own experiences. “I was born as a fencer with a sword in my hand,” he started.

His father, a championship fencer in Hungary who had come to Palestine in 1938, was Alon’s first coach. Alon began fencing at 12; within three years he was winning youth championships in Israel.

“I had some talent,” he said.

Alon is still fit at 61, slightly tanned, his hair a little grayer than in the photo on the poster that announced his Yale speech — “Reliving Munich ’72: A Survivor’s Tale.”

After his army service — he served in the 1967 and 1973 wars — he set his sights on Munich.

“I had a dream, like all the other athletes in the world, to take part in the Olympic Games,” Alon said.

He qualified for the Olympics during the summer of ’72, and joined another Israeli fencer in Munich in the middle of August, invited by the German Olympic fencing team to come two weeks early to train with its fencers.

A Room With A Balcony

As the first Israelis in the team’s Olympic Village apartment, he and his teammate had their choice of rooms. Alon chose No. 2, a room in the back of the second floor, because it had a balcony.

Housing for the Israeli athletes had five entrances and no apparent security, Alon noticed.

“No security at all,” he said.

His words are a veiled criticism of Israel, which he said has improved its security measures for traveling athletes post-Munich.

In those relatively innocent days, the athletes didn’t worry about their safety, he said. “We were thinking about other things” — their performances in the soon-to-start competition.

Then Sept. 5 came.

The Israeli delegation had attended a performance of “Fiddler on the Roof” in Munich the previous night.

“It was the last photograph of the delegation [together],” Alon said.

At 4:30 a.m., Alon woke up.

“I heard noises. I heard shooting. I heard explosions,” he recalled.

The eight Black September terrorists who had scaled an unguarded gate around the Olympic Village and broken into the Israelis’ apartment had begun their killing.

Alon didn’t know that yet. The noise subsided.

“Maybe it’s some other delegation celebrating,” he thought.

Twenty minutes later he heard the sound of machine guns and explosions. “My room was shaking,” Alon said. “We jumped out of bed.”

The violence had resumed.

Alon carefully looked outside his room. He saw two armed terrorists and the body of an Israeli coach on the sidewalk outside. He overheard one terrorist talking on the phone with German police.

Alon, who knows German, translated the terrorist’s words for his teammates: Israel had to release 200 imprisoned Palestinians or “the rest of the Israelis” being held by the terrorists would die.

The terrorists had not seen Alon. He quietly rounded up four of his teammates. They would try to escape.

“We were very afraid,” Alon said.

They moved slowly, inching their way to the balcony.

“We didn’t have any choice,” he said.

They jumped off the balcony to safety with the German police.

The five followed the day’s events on television: the negotiations, the Germans’ unsuccessful rescue attempt at a local airfield and, ultimately, the death of the nine Israelis under police protection.

“It was a long day,” Alon said.

The next few days were a blur. Alon and the other survivors went back to the Olympic Village apartment, gathered their belongings and the property of the murdered Israelis, attended the Olympic memorial ceremony and flew back to Israel “with 11 coffins.” Rosh HaShanah arrived.

“It was a very sad beginning of a new year,” Alon said.

He quit fencing.

“Emotionally I was shot,” Alon said. “I took valium every day.”

Besides attending an annual memorial ceremony in Israel for the Olympic martyrs, he put September 1972 behind him. He didn’t tell his wife or three children what he had seen.

The other four Israeli Olympians who had escaped — that does not include two female competitors who had been housed elsewhere in the Olympic Village and two sailors up north — also stopped competing or talking about their experiences.

‘Munich’ As Catharsis

About two decades later, Alon began teaching and coaching younger fencers. They persuaded him to start competing again. He did once, undergoing intensive training for two months. At 46 he won an Israeli fencing championship.

“Then I quit again,” he said.

Alon accepted the invitation to the screening of “Munich” because “it interested me to see” how Spielberg depicted that part of his life.

His review of the film?

“I liked the movie very much,” he said. “It gives a good message for Israel,” showing how Israel was a terrorist target.

Spielberg, who had not consulted any of the other survivors for the script, “did a very good job,” Alon said. “It was very close to reality.”

Too close, he added. “It was very painful” to watch the film. “I had déjà vu.”

Alon had not served in Israeli intelligence, but friends in the Mossad told him that the film’s version of undercover operations “is quite valid.”

A Yale student asked about the film’s implied “moral equivalency,” condemning both the terrorists’ murders and the Mossad killings.

There is no equivalency, Alon said. But in guarded terms, he said he disagreed with the Mossad’s targeted assassinations of the terrorists.

“I don’t believe in bloodshed,” he said. “That’s not the solution. There are other solutions.” He suggested that political pressure and economic boycotts “are more effective.”

When reprisal killings take place, Alon said, “the killings never stop.”

Alon cautioned that he is not a member of Israel’s peace camp; his politics are not liberal.

“I am not left-minded,” he said. “I am [on the] right.”

Kathryn Matlack, a Yale senior, said Alon with “his message against violence was very compelling.”

Watching the film was cathartic, Alon said.

“I was released,” he said.

When people started to ask questions, he started to answer. When Chabad of Oxford approached him, he agreed to go.

“They were so curious,” Alon said.

His speech would be good public relations for Israel, he thought.

Chabad at Yale, which sponsored Alon’s speech as part of a series of speakers on contemporary and not necessarily religious issues of Israeli society, viewed a firsthand look at the Munich killings as “an opportunity to help educate today’s Jewish students about the struggles of Israel,” said Rabbi Shua Rosenstein, its executive director.

Rabbi Rosenstein also arranged for Alon to speak at Princeton, Dartmouth and the University of Connecticut.

“As unfortunate as it is,” Rabbi Rosenstein said, “the Munich Olympics massacre is a major part of modern Jewish and Israeli history that must never be forgotten.”

At the Oxford speech, Alon said “it was very hard for me to talk,” that the words stuck in his throat.

Speaking at Yale, for the second time in public, was easier, he said.

Someone in the audience asked Alon why he had survived when 11 Israelis died.

“It was fate. It was a coincidence,” he said. “It was because I chose No. 2,” the room in the back with the balcony. “Unfortunately, Andre Spitzer didn’t listen to me.”

Spitzer, Alon’s coach and old friend, decided to stay in a room without a balcony. Spitzer, captured by the terrorists, was among the 11 victims.

After his speech, Alon was surrounded by students and older members of the New Haven community peppering him with more questions in English and Hebrew.

His speeches about Munich and “Munich” probably will not end after he returns to Israel this week, he said.

“If I’ll be invited, I’ll keep on talking,” he said. “Why not? It’s good for Israel.” n

THE DISPUTATION: One Love, One Chabad Heart

By david klinghoffer
March 31, 2006

Any group or movement with a strongly held viewpoint inevitably has to decide how to relate to outsiders who disagree or simply don't care. It can judge and dismiss them, or it can condescend and seek to instruct them about the dangerous error of their ways. The really radical approach, however, is to serve and to love them.

This last approach has come to be associated with Chabad, the Hasidic sect that is currently scoring a public relations triumph in the person of Matisyahu, the born-again reggae star with legions of fans among non-Jewish Americans. The majority of mainstream America never heard of Chabad until the former Matthew Miller began crooning to them about faith in Hashem and paraphrasing the Zohar about how to fight the evil one's impulse. He's currently No. 7 on the Billboard 200 music chart, a flabbergasting achievement.

For centuries, the role of the Jewish people as a "kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6) calling humanity to the worship of the one God was suspended. In our day, thanks to the growing interest of non-Jews in Judaism, that has started to change. Matisyahu may be the best example of a Jew ministering in this priestly role on a mass scale. His efforts, however, have won him Jewish detractors, who prefer that Jews remain anonymous or irrelevant.

Take, for example, the sniping from the peanut gallery coming out of the consistently sour but readable blog FailedMessiah.com: "What Matisyahu does is unseemly. Few, if any, significant poskim (rabbinic legal scholars who rule on Halacha) would approve. But what bothers me more is blatant trading on Kaballah and Hasidut to make money. That this does not bother mainstream Chabad may be because this is what mainstream Chabad has itself done for years."

Indeed, Chabad's efforts have earned the movement its share of enemies. The rabbi at the Reform temple where I grew up used to speak out against the local Chabad emissary; the competition made him nervous. And in the Orthodox world, a few can't forget the imbroglio in the 1990s in which some followers of Chabad's late spiritual leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, let it be known that they expected he would return and reveal himself as the Messiah. Thankfully, that fever dream has subsided.

More recently, Chabad has been criticized for not insisting on Orthodox practice from those who attend its synagogues. In a series of controversial essays, columnist Marvin Schick bemoaned the fact that a convention of Chabad emissaries had chosen Alan Dershowitz as a speaker, despite previous negative comments he had made about traditional Judaism.

In short, when Chabad is at the center of a controversy, the issue is likely to be the one raised at the outset of this column: How does an ideological community with strong opinions relate to those who don't share its views?

Among orthodoxies — be they Jewish, Christian, secularist or otherwise — Chabad's answer is unique. And it is that uniqueness which makes it the country's most valuable Jewish group: full of missionary zeal and true to authentic Judaism, but remarkably tolerant and loving.

Chabad is thought of as an "outreach" group, which is the Jewish way of describing the evangelization of other Jews. It would be more accurate, though, to call Chabad a service organization.

To be sure, its emissaries aim to bring Jews back to Judaism. But mainly they go out into the world to serve, to provide a positive Jewish experience to all comers including worship, fellowship and counseling.

Many a Jewish traveler would feel lost without the knowledge that wherever he or she goes, there will be a Chabad family waiting with a warm welcome in the form of community, kosher food and good cheer. In my experience of different religious communities, the good cheer of the Chabad emissaries is without equal.

The lack of censoriousness is no marketing ploy. It's written into Chabad's principal religious text, the "Tanya," which was completed in 1796 by the first Chabad rebbe, the Alter Rebbe Schneur Zalman.

In Chapter 32 of the "Tanya," the Alter Rebbe articulates the Chabad philosophy regarding those outside Judaism's spiritual precincts. He argues that it is only materialism that keeps one from seeing that no indication about a soul's greatness can be discerned from its observable "garments" — namely, its speech and deeds.

Far from contemplating non-observant Jews with a judgmental eye, "One must attract [them] with strong cords of love." The "Tanya" is relaxed about whether, in the process, the non-observant Jew turns to observance.

But very likely it is the dynamism of Chabad, rather than its religious ideas, that offends the critics. In human psychology, there is a comfort with stasis coupled with a resistance to high-energy attempts to shake things up. Indeed, in a nutshell this is the history of mystical Hasidism's confrontation with conventional Judaism.

David Klinghoffer, a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, is author of "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus: The Turning Point in Western History" (Doubleday).

Chabad of Sussex County to Move

By JESSICA SEDA

Herald Staff Writer

SPARTA — On Sunday, after more than three years, the only Jewish congregation in Sussex County's second-most-populous town will finally have a home.

Members of the Chabad of Sussex County spent Sunday moving furniture and books from its prior place of worship at its rabbi's home to its new location at the Sparta Plaza on Woodport Road.

Coming to Sparta 31/2 years ago, Rabbi Shmuel Lewis and others formed the congregation that met in his garage for most services.

"This will be the first synagogue in Sparta," Lewis said. "When we started, we had seven families and it has really grown."

The 1,000-square-foot room on the plaza's second floor is equipped with folding walls. They will be used to create separate rooms for Sunday Hebrew school and other programs. The room includes space for the congregation as well as an open room in the back, complete with a small kitchen area.

While the rabbi's garage held most services, classes and other programs had been held at multiple locations throughout the township. The new synagogue will eliminate the need to separate events, member Manny Volk said.

"It will pull everything together rather than scattered," Volk said. "It's a nice change ... a great change."

Volk said he is very excited for the new building and hopes it increases the group's membership. For his 11-year-old son, Michael, the new synagogue means a proper place to hold his bar mitzvah in two years.

"Sparta has a nice Jewish community and it's been supported well," Volk said.

Volk, one of seven members of the congregation who helped with Sunday's move, was among two of them from the original congregation that met in Lewis' garage. The other was Marvin Strauzer.

Lewis said he wanted to thank Strauzer, Volk, Volk's son and his wife, Connie, as well as congregation members Lee Cohen, Jay Zigler and Gary Burkson for their help in making the move possible.

The congregation will hold its grand opening on Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m.

People will dance and sing as the Torah enters the the room. Mezuzot, which are small scrolls of Scripture, will be hung in the doorway.

"It's very exciting," Lewis said of the move. "And we'll be ready for Passover."

Jacob Neusner reflects on the state of Jews and Jewish learning

On the rise of Chabad

"I'm told that Chabad is now the largest single Jewish institution in the world. Having said that, you wonder how stable and enduring are the affiliations that go with it. That is to say, Chabad can gather 300 or 600 or 1,000 college students in a room for a meal, as they do very often. Or they can gather 1,000 young Israelis in Nepal for a Passover seder. These are spectacular activities. But what happens then? Are the people changed? Are they absorbed into an ongoing community and program? Some are. But many are not.

"Chabad's central institutions are massive and they're raising and spending more money than anybody else as far as I can tell. But by what criteria do they measure their success?


"Chabad is the first major Judaic religious movement that lacks any kind of theology or intellectual program. And I say that knowing that they have their holy book, the Tanya. They repeat the sayings, or they quote, but they have no context or no intellectual structure. The upside is that they are reaching out to Jews who are neglected by everybody else. The downside is that until now they have yet to do something permanent and enduring with their massive turnout. What's the intellectual system that they are asking the Jews to affirm? The answer is really a mishmash of classical Jewish text, which they don't understand in context, and then their own very special traditions of their rebbes. Until the rebbe died and they had this messianic movement, they looked like a perfectly normal Judaic system within the larger framework of Orthodox Judaism. They then became sectarian...and that's why they raised questions in the minds of people who could accept them and admire them and respect them for their advocacy of mitzvot and ma'asim."

Shabbat 1000 unites Jews and non-Jews at traditional dinner

News | Jaisen Bell
Story Image
Deren Guler

Shabbat 1000 brought Jews and non-Jews together for dinner last Friday.

On Friday, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial ballroom was adorned with blue and white balloons and lined with tables filled to capacity as Jews and non-Jews alike gathered to celebrate Pittsburgh’s first Shabbat 1000.

Shabbat 1000 is an event that has been successfully held across the country and is generally catered to college students. The premise is to bring together practicing Jews and non-Jews alike for a traditional Shabbat dinner.

The Jewish Shabbat, or Sabbath, is an observance that stems from the Bible; it commemorates the day of rest taken by God on the seventh day of Creation and lasts from sundown Friday through Saturday evening. Many traditional Jewish families gather each Friday evening for a festive dinner.

“For Jews, this event will help them become more connected with their Jewish heritage,” stated electrical and computer engineering and math senior David Levitt via e-mail. Levitt, a member of the student board of the Chabad House on campus and Tartans for Israel, noted that the event is a “unique experience” for non-Jews to learn about Jewish culture.

“Shabbat 1000 gives people from all walks of life the chance to sit down together for a meal,” he said. “What could be a better step towards building unity between many different organizations than a nice dinner?”

Eric West, a senior in mechanical engineering and robotics, acknowledged this solidarity.

“The organizers have done an excellent job of making the event accessible to all sects of Judaism and non-Jews alike,” he said.

There were optional opportunities for prayer and washing of hands, catering to each individual’s level of observance.

“This event has really exposed me to the diversity present within Judaism,” said electrical and computer engineering senior Alana Frome. “I am glad I had the opportunity to share this experience with my Jewish friends.”

West estimated 30 percent of the crowd to be non-Jewish.

The first speaker welcomed all comers to the event with the aid of children flashing signs reading “cheer,” “sing,” and “quiet.” A responsive crowd actively listened and participated in the opening address.

Rabbi Shmuel Weinstein of Chabad House also spoke. He likened Shabbat 1000 to the community that gathered at the base of Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments over 3000 years ago — people gathered in fellowship as one body.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bob O’Connor then roused the crowd. He praised the event as a testament to the strength of the Pittsburgh Jewish community and the Pittsburgh community as a whole.

The energy he built in the room reached its zenith as he shed his blazer, revealing a yellow T-shirt adorned with “Shabbat 1000: March 24, 2006” on the front and “Be a part of it” on the back.

With the aid of the “cheer” and “sing” signs, the evening then transitioned to song with the singing of “Shalom Aleichem,” a song meant to request blessings of peace and happiness.

A rabbi then took the stage and, after quieting the crowd, blessed the food. A crowd ready to eat chanted “eat, eat,” and began the meal, which included the traditional foods of challah (yeast-leavened bread), gefilte fish, chicken, and noodle kugel.

The evening concluded with the Birkat haMazon, or blessings after the meal.

According to Levitt, the caterer estimated that 750 people were served at the event. While the event didn’t reach the goal of 1000, West saw it as a success in terms of numbers and overall message. “In Shabbat tradition, this event has truly embraced community.”

Monday, March 27, 2006

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Funny, you don't look ...

Photographers and video artists explore the question of who is Jewish, only to find the answer in a range of ages, races and backgrounds.

By Barbara Isenberg
Special to The Times

March 19, 2006

GROWING up in Beverly Hills, Jessica Shokrian often felt like an outsider at family gatherings. Her American-born mother was a convert to Judaism. And though English was the language spoken at home, the older members of her father's Iranian family would speak to one another in Farsi, a language she neither knew nor understood.

When she was 16, her father bought her a camera, and everything changed. "His family came from another place. They have this whole other history, this whole past I wasn't a part of," Shokrian explains. "Through photography, I was able to connect with my family in a way that didn't need words."

Today a professional photographer and filmmaker, Shokrian is one of 13 artists commissioned by New York's Jewish Museum to create photography, videos and multimedia installations on the topic of Jewish identity. Chronicling a panoply of Jews — young and old, native-born and émigré, black and white, Latino and Asian, assimilated and unassimilated — the artists ask and try to answer the question of who is Jewish.

Their investigations make up "The Jewish Identity Project: New American Photography," opening at the Skirball Cultural Center this week. "You cannot make easy assumptions about who anybody is in the 21st century in America," says Lori Starr, Skirball senior vice president and museum director. "The story of Ellis Island and New York's Lower East Side is, by and large, the overwhelming story that people have of Jewish emigration to America. But this show really turns those assumptions upside down, saying Jews are not a monolithic single culture in America but in fact a very heterogeneous mix of people."

Chris Verene's "Prairie Jews," depicts his family and friends in Galesburg, Ill., where he grew up and where Jews were already living within 20 years of the city's founding in 1837. Verene's subjects, Jews and non-Jews, clown for the camera, pose with their friends, live alone into their 90s and otherwise go about their lives.

*

An apparent otherness

BLENDING in far less are the Orthodox Jews of Postville, Iowa. Russian-born Lubavitch Jew Aaron Rubashkin moved from New York to Postville in 1987, bought a former slaughterhouse and turned it into a meat-processing plant that eventually employed 350 people. Many were other Orthodox Jews, which, according to the show's catalog, made Postville home to the largest number of rabbis per capita in the United States.

Postville's Hasidic Jews brought their culture with them, establishing a synagogue, yeshiva and ritual baths for men and women. But what photographers Andrea Robbins and Max Becher feature in "Brooklyn Abroad" are such scenes of everyday life as kids at camp or riding bikes. Yet the Jews' otherness is always apparent, whether by the yarmulkes on their heads as they fish or the black hat and fringed clothing of a man mowing his lawn.

Several artists explore the worlds of black, Latino and Asian Jews. Avishai Mekonen, an Ethiopian Jew, came to America via Israel, and documents the not-unusual occurrence of double journeys by many Jews fleeing persecution, hunger and other evils. Mekonen and his American-born wife, Shari Rothfarb Mekonen, incorporate many of his experiences in their documentary "Judaism and Race in America," and a 10-minute segment of their film is included in the Skirball exhibition.

Dawoud Bey photographed teenagers of multiracial or otherwise mixed parentage, and accompanying audio interviews offer insight into how these adolescents view their heritage. Claire Saxe, 16, for instance, sees more connection to her grandmother, who is part Native American, than to her Jewish ancestors. Jacob Goldstein, 15, says simply: "My father was Belizean, my mom is American, and I'm Jewish. So I'm one of a kind, you could say."

Staged Jewish wedding photographs by Nikki S. Lee, a South Korean living in New York, are in keeping with other photos in Lee's "Parts" series. Lee photographs herself here as a luminous Jewish bride, her groom absent but for an occasionally seen hand, arm or nose.

While Lee's bride may be Jewish only because of her marriage, observes Skirball associate curator Tal Gozani, "her photos also explore the phenomenon of Asian Jews by marriage, conversion and adoption."

Also theatrical is the work of Yoshua Okon, a Los Angeles-based photographer and video artist born and raised in Mexico City. Okon asked four San Diego women, all members of a Spanish-speaking Jewish community group, to head out for the desert for his videos. There, one by one, each improvises the biblical tale of Ruth, a widowed non-Jew who chooses to follow her mother-in-law, Naomi, across the desert and back to her Jewish homeland.

"I thought the story of Ruth would give them a parameter in which to improvise and also be a metaphor," says Okon. "In the story, a non-Jew decides to be Jewish, and for me, it's very telling of how identity responds to a deliberate choice. You're Jewish because you decide to be Jewish."

The Jews are, after all, a diaspora people, says Susan Chevlowe, a New York-based scholar and art historian who curated the Jewish Museum show. Changes in the 2000 census allowed people to check off multiple boxes, and in a way that's what this show is doing. Groups overlap in America and in this show. "We wanted photographers to look at Jews across racial, ethnic and cultural lines. People make assumptions about other people on the basis of how they see them, and visual assumptions often misrepresent people."

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More room for artists

SEVERAL years in the making, the Jewish Identity Project began when New Yorker Vivian Shapiro, who had adopted a Chinese daughter with her partner, was struck by the multiracial population of children at her synagogue. Shapiro urged the Jewish Museum to put together a photographic exhibition on the topic of Jewish identity, says Chevlowe, and initiated a series of meetings that developed the notion.

The Skirball exhibition includes the same artworks by the same artists but takes advantage of the venue's larger gallery space. Each artist or pair of artists is given a room within the gallery.

The only piece altered for Los Angeles is Shokrian's, says Tal Gozani, managing curator of the exhibition here. Rather than playing consecutively on just one monitor as in New York, the filmmaker's six videos now play on three monitors alongside one another. "Having it on just one monitor didn't do it justice in terms of presenting these stories and how they are interwoven," Gozani says. "Given that we have such a large Persian community in Los Angeles and the Skirball hasn't done anything that deals explicitly with that Persian Jewish population, it was so relevant."

Shokrian's three monitors depict her family at both happy and sad occasions, beginning with her sister's engagement party and concluding with the solitary Sabbath meal preparations of her recently widowed aunt. In one film, Persian Jews march down Los Angeles streets, clapping as they carry a Torah from one place to another, while in another, children throw flowers on her uncle's freshly made grave. Her widowed aunt is in the last frames, walking Fairfax streets as she buys fruit and vegetables, riding the bus home and, finally, being alone in her kitchen cooking and weeping.

"I'm shooting my family all the time, and they ask, 'Why are you always shooting us?' " says Shokrian. "They didn't understand, and I didn't understand either. Now I'm feeling a real sense of understanding about myself, why I'm doing this work and what I've been looking for. Sometimes I think they don't feel I care about them. I'm hoping that when they come see this piece, they will understand how much I do care."

Jews celebrate Purim by reading and drinking

Salt Lake Tribune

Wearing a beer keg costume Rabbi Benny Zippel gives a vodka shot to Sheila Gelman during Tuesday evening's Purim Mania, the 14th annual Purim dxtravaganza and Megillah reading at Chabad Lubavitch of Utah in Salt Lake City. Sometimes called the Jewish Mardi Gras, Purim is considered one of the happiest Jewish holidays. It commemorates the fifth century B.C. deliverance of the Jews of Persia from extermination, as told in the Book of Esther. To mark Purim, Jews are commanded to hear a full reading of the Book of Esther, commonly referred to as the Megillah, which means scroll. They also are commanded to be unabashedly joyous. Even getting drunk, within reason, is considered a good deed.
- Jessica Ravitz

From Rome to Jerusalem

From a respectful distance the daily details of our lives, which so consume us from close up, seem irrelevant. But from an even greater distance patterns emerge.

by Simon Jacobson

Excerpt from a Diary

And the Living Shall Take to Heart

When this one will rise the other one will fall ? Midrash and Rashi Genesis 25:23

Tuesday, March 15, Purim 2006 ? Milan, Italy

Land Monday at Malpensa Airport in Milan. The singsong lilt of Italian is warm and silky. In contrast to, say, the guttural sound of authoritative German. Yet, despite its soothing tone, this (or its root) may also be the language of Titus and the Romans as they destroyed the Holy Temple 1938 years ago.

Purim eve I hear for the first time the Persian version of the Megillah reading [the Purim narrative read in synagogues twice on the holiday, in the evening and the morning]. The Persians read the Megillah without the Ashkenazic intonations; and the end of each phrase is read out loud by the entire congregation, and then repeated by the leading reader ? more like an intimate story being read together.

Considering that the Persian Jewish community goes back in an unbroken chain to the events of Purim in ancient Persia, it seems likely that their tradition may be closer to the original than the Ashkenazic one. Fine with me; I do after all have some Georgian genes.

My thoughts travel back to heaven. From the sky there is no difference between Persia, Rome or Jerusalem; they are all little geographic dots on the Earth's landscape. The higher you go the smaller and more insignificant everything on Earth appears. All the wars and politics, all the differences and obsessions of mankind seem like irrelevant anthills in the backdrop of the grandiose galaxies.

No wonder philosophers of all sorts found it difficult to imagine that G-d would care about the minutia of this small speck of a universe. The higher they climbed, the greater the horizons, the less importance our lives became. Even to the extent of questioning whether there is a Divine Deity at all. Ironic indeed. One would think that the more one would experience the grand majesty of the universe, especially today with our sophisticated telescopes and outer space ventures, the greater would be the respect for the Cosmic Artist... Yet, the sheer magnitude of this gargantuan magnificence also diminishes the value of each detail, and the consequence of each individual life, which pales in comparison to the vast beauty of the cosmos. And thus one wonders whether G-d cares...

But back on Earth we care. And back on Earth we have Purim ? the celebration of the triumph of a minority against their oppressors, in this case a small nation surviving annihilation at the hands of the world's superpower. Purim celebrates that it does matter and we do care, and so does G-d. G-d's presence may be hidden (thus the Divine is not consciously mentioned in the entire Megillah), but His direction is not. When you study in perspective the details of the story and their conclusion, you see the Divine Providence at work. The dots may seem immaterial from close up, but when you connect them, a picture emerges.

Our lives are the same. From a respectful distance the daily details of our lives, which so consume us from close up, seem irrelevant. But from an even greater distance patterns emerge.

Contemporary Kabbalah, otherwise known as Chassidic thought, elaborates on the reconciliation of the paradox of the indispensable significance of every minute detail within the context of a great universe created by an even greater G-d. Three levels of perception exist: The first is called the "perception from below" (Daas Tachton), how we perceive the universe. On this level every detail matters. The second is the "perception from above" (Daas Elyon), and from this perspective the details do not matter, because the Divine is infinitely greater and completely transcends existence as we know it. Then there is the "perspective" (if you can even call it that) which transcends and (therefore) combines both perceptions, "from below" and "from above." It transcends even transcendence.

The Chassid, Reb Gershon Ber of Pahar would explain this paradox with an analogy. Three connoisseurs marveled at the beautiful painting of a field. The first one was intrigued by the elegant details of each stroke; the use of colors and tones; the combination of all the elements ? tilled soil, stalks of wheat, rows of stalks, a bird perched on a branch, surrounding flowers ? to depict the simple but profound beauty of nature as played out in the common field. "What a great farmer," he thought, "this artist must be." The second expert, who was a personal acquaintance of the artist, was amazed at the fact that this sophisticated aristocrat, who was infinitely superior to a farmer, was able to lower himself to draw a painting of something so inferior to himself. The third specialist was in absolute awe of something that the first two entirely missed: The artist had infused his entire personality ? which completely transcended the field ? into the d etails of the painting of the field!

All three were right: The field ? the universe ? is beautiful; the Cosmic Artist transcended His field; but He also imbued it, in all its infinite detail, with His Personality and Essence.

Wow, it's hard to believe that a simple Megillah reading Persian-style evoked these thoughts. Their personal, interactive way of telling this ancient story struck me as the capturing of eternity in an hour (which is approximately how long the reading took) in a most concrete way.

But maybe it wasn't just the reading. Purim day I participated in the celebrations of different families, and I movingly witnessed the depth of the Divine in simple acts, in just one city, on our small planet Earth, one speck of our mammoth universe, a mere echo of the cosmos and beyond, but this echo resounded with immortal music.

There is something about traveling away from home that allows you, if you allow yourself, to witness events in slow motion, almost like out-of-body, and see things in a new light.

My hosts Rabbi Moshe and Mrs. Judy Lazar, who have built a beautiful family spread around the world, are devoted as possible to their work in the Milan Jewish community for the past 46 years. Rabbi Lazar shows me his Viennese birth certificate stamped with a German swastika. He escaped Vienna in 1939 and arrived in America on the last boat out of Italy. Mrs. Lazar was born in Hungary, herself and her family Holocaust survivors. Now both of them are here dedicated to helping anyone they can reach ? a comforting presence in the Roman Empire. Tell me that this is not a mark of eternity.

My friend Izzy Namdar takes me around to visit some of his family. Originally from Persia, then London, they are now living in Italy. Refined, wholesome people of deep belief ? demonstrating the unwavering power of faith that has carried the Jewish people over millennia.

And then of course, Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik and his dedicated wife Bessie ? the first couple sent by the Rebbe to Italy in 1959, and have loyally served as his shluchim ever since. Their 47 years of total dedication in a foreign country has made an eternal impact on the people and the land. Their children both in Italy and around the world are involved in similar work. The Russian Born Rabbi and his American born wife, both from deep Chabad Chassidic homes, are now helping reshape Italian culture. (Even though the Rabbi tells me that when he speaks Italian people think he's speaking Hebrew or Yiddish).

The European children of Esau ? whether it be in Rome, Paris or Berlin ? have finally found their match. The children of Jacob are on the march, chipping away and making their mark on the Esau-saturated European gods.

I was watching myself watch the simple beauty of mankind, of Jews celebrating with their families, visiting friends, bringing gifts, sharing a drink ? nothing very dramatic, but eternity nonetheless.

People who care, who are committed, who would go out of their way to help another. People who are making a difference

I know G-d is watching and cares.

***

Wednesday, March 16, Shushan Purim 2006 ? Jerusalem, Israel

A 3½ hour flight takes me from Italy to Jerusalem, where Purim is being celebrated a day later than in the rest of the world.

Walled cities in Israel (walled from the time of Joshua) ? and those cities that are close and within eyesight of the walled cities ? are honored by celebrating Purim on the 15th of Adar, called Shushan Purim, the day Purim was first celebrated in Shushan, the capital of Persia, which was a walled city.

Jerusalem is such a city. Old Jerusalem was and is surrounded by a wall, which was first built in the time of Joshua (the present wall is relatively newer). [In Tzfat and Tiberias, also walled cities, Purim is celebrated both days because we are not sure whether they were walled in the time of Joshua].

So here I am celebrating Purim for the second time in two days. (Does that qualify me for the Guinness Book of World Records?)

This year, I guess, I needed a double dosage of Purim madness.

What a difference a wall can make.

Yet another paradox. Walls are confines, limitations. And yet these walls express the majesty of special cities, in our case Jerusalem. Within these confines infinity can be found. This small walled city is a Divine portrait. As G-d told King Solomon: "Yes indeed, heavens and heavens of heavens cannot contain Me, but this building," the Holy Temple, can contain my Essence.

And within the single day of Purim, just 24 hours long (in my case 48 hours), we experience that which is "beyond perception" ("ad d'lo yoda"), beyond the walls separating the curse of darkness and the blessing of light.

Yes, what difference a wall can make.

My mind wanders back to heaven and back to earth again.

And then there's Samach-Vav ? the Chassidic tour de force delivered a century ago this year. After several weeks of respite, the Rebbe Rashab resumes his discussion on the nature of light ? that elusive entity which straddles the fence between the existential and the non-existential.

Flying above the clouds ? with basically no telephone (cell or other) calls to disturb you ? is conducive to brushing up on your Samach-Vav.

Though the Rebbe Rashab does not make the connection, I think that Purim, like light ("la'yihudim hoyso orah...") bridges the two realities, the two perceptions, below and above.

Rome. Jerusalem. Purim. Shushan Purim. Unwalled citied. Walled ones. Ashkenazim. Sefardim. One people. Two worlds. One story. Two scripts.

Blake wrote, in one of the most eloquent phrases ever penned, "To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour."

Words are words. It's quite another matter to live these words ? to experience eternity in an hour. And indeed, we all are in need, from time to time, to have a taste of eternity; a feeling that you and your actions matter and have lasting impact.

To do so we often need to turn our lives upside down and inside out. Which in a sense is what Purim is all about.

I drowse off as I write these words. As my eyes close, overlooking the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, I think about the words of the prophet: "Jerusalem will sit open ; for I will be your wall of fire, says your faithful G-d."

www.meaningfullife.com

Purim News

Chabad's innovative "Mitzvah Tank" program, which uses a fleet of specially-outfitted recreational vehicles as part of its extensive outreach program, is about to get a very significant upgrade just in time for the upcoming Passover holiday. After extensive testing in the Chicago area and at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, new Mitzvah Tanks are ready to roll. Thanks to a generous donation by an anonymous benefactor, the first of these new, updated Mitzvah Tanks will come to a neighborhood near you sometime next week.

New Mitzvah Tank
In Chicago's Daley Plaza

Rabbi Almoni Riding the Mitzvah Tank
CLICK HERE FOR FULL-SIZE PHOTO

At a ceremony in Chicago's Daley Plaza, attended by members of the Jewish community as well as many public dignitaries, Chabad of Chicago unveiled its new Mitzvah Tanks to the general public. Speaking for the citizens of Chicago, Mayor Richard J. Daley proclaimed, "Once again, Chicago leads the way for the nation. We're proud of Chabad's new initiative to reach out to the citizens of this great city."

"We've outgrown recreational vehicles," said Rabbi Almoni, head of the local fleet in the Chicago area, as he proudly posed on top of the first of the new Mitzvah Tanks. "We needed larger, more capable vehicles with the power to really get our message across." And there's another benefit, says Rabbi Almoni. "With our new fleet, we won't have to take 'no' for an answer when we want to set up an outpost," he said with a smile.

Etrog Delivery


Jewdar Console

The new tanks are modified versions of the U.S. Army's M1A1 "Avi" Abrams main battle tank. The main gun has been upgraded to a 155mm etrog launcher. "The etrogim fit right into the shells," explained Reuven, the main gunner for the Mitzvah Tank. "They're padded against impact, and the shells fit into an automated loader right here. I can deliver 20 etrogim per minute over a range of 1.5 kilometers."

We were a bit surprised by Reuven's answer: after all, how could he see someone that far away? We asked Shimon, the Mitzvah Tank's commander, who pointed proudly to a console installed in the tank's main compartment. "The M1A1 uses a laser-based 'lidar' system to pinpoint targets," he explained. "Using special upgrades, we've transformed this into a 'Jewdar' system. We can find Jews in the dark, during rain storms, and around corners. Just crossing the street won't let you hide from us any longer."

More Mitzvahs, Faster and Easier

Some of the other custom modifications will have a direct and powerful impact on how well the Mitzvah Tanks will carry out their primary mission. All hatches have been fitted with special military-grade mezzuzahs, armored against impact. The camouflage netting was removed and replaced with roll-up "s'chach" to use during the Succot holiday. The mortar on the back of the tank is equipped with two new classes of shells. With the new pamphlet shell, a Mitzvah Tank can bombard a 5 square kilometer area with literature to "soften up" an an area before entering it. The other newly-developed shell can disperse liquids over a large area — an important consideration during Purim or Passover, when it can be used to provide wine or grape juice instantly to an entire neighborhood.

Another important modification is the conversion of the tank's standard missle launchers from RPG (Rocket Propelled Gernades) to TPB — Tefillin Placement Bola. The TPB fires a spinning "bola-style" projectile that wraps tefillin completely around a subject. "I can hit a target first time at 100 meters," says gunner Reuven, proudly. "Even if they're running away from me, which for some unaccountable reason seems to happen a lot lately."

Late Night
Kitchen Cleanup

Levi, who operates the auxillary systems of the tank, showed off his prize acquisition . "With this flame thrower," he said, "we can kasher an entire kitchen for Passover in under 3 minutes. Even faster, sometimes."

We asked Rabbi Almoni if he thought the new Mitzvah Tanks would make a favorable impression on the local Jewish community. "Absolutely," he said. "We used to get complaints from time-to-time from Jews who didn't want to be approached. Since we've deployed our new systems, we haven't heard a peep out of the public. I think they're overwhelmed with joy when they see us cruising down their block, pushing aside or crushing any obstacles, and clank up to their kitchens to kasher them. They're always happy to leave their homes immediately to let us proceed. Certainly absolutely no one has ever stuck around to complain."


Kosher Wine Review | Learn About Moshe's Book, The Pebble and The Avalanche | Copyright © 2006 by Moshe Yudkowsky | Chag Sameach!

Boxer 'looks Russian, prays Jewish, fights black'

NEW YORK -- The hometown fighter climbs into the ring to the thumping bass of Matisyahu, the Hasidic reggae singer. Orthodox Jewish men in black suits with long beards and unlit cigars bounce and chant to the rhythm.

"Dima!"

"Dima!"

"Dima!"

"Dima" is Dmitriy Salita, a 23-year-old super lightweight from Brooklyn, by way of Odessa, Ukraine. He is also a Hasidic Jew.

He is 5 foot 9, and officially 143¼ pounds, with close-cropped brown hair and an unscarred alabaster face. His robe is black silk with white lettering: "Dmitriy 'Star of David' Salita."

It's a Thursday night. There's more money in a Friday night fight -- live TV and bigger crowds. But Salita doesn't fight on the Sabbath.

The Manhattan Center is packed anyway. Fans from Brownsville, Brooklyn, and Spanish Harlem mingle with the Orthodox crowd. They all scream for Dima.

Following Salita to his corner are his manager, Israel Liberow, who is the brother of the boxer's rabbi; Hector Roca, a Panamanian trainer of world champions and Hollywood stars; and Jimmy O'Pharrow, a black trainer well-known on the amateur circuit.

"With me, Hector and Israel, we've got a league of nations," O'Pharrow says.

O'Pharrow, known to friends as "Jimmy O'," has been a mentor to Salita since he taught the young boxer to jab at the age of 13. Jimmy O' is 80 years old now.

"Dmitriy and I became very close friends," he says. "When he gets hit, I feel it."

Salita is the World Boxing Association's eighth-ranked fighter; his friend and trainer thinks that maybe, in a year or so, he'll be ready for a title fight.

It's been more than 60 years since Jimmy O' first strapped on boxing gloves and 30 since he started training kids. His beard and hair are gray and his long hands are wrinkled. But his jab is still quick. So is his mouth.

"Dmitriy looks Russian, he prays Jewish, he fights black," Jimmy O' likes to say. "I came up with that. Don't quote it from someone else."

Salita is focused on being a champion and Jimmy O' wants it for him. But he knows there is more to life than boxing.

In the unlikely relationship that began over 10 years ago when a smooth-faced kid walked into his gym, Jimmy O' has found a quest that gives meaning to his later years, and a second act in the sport he loves.

It sounds like a Hollywood story, and Disney has taken notice, with a screenplay in development and Eminem penciled in to play Salita.

Jimmy O's boxing story begins in the 1940s. After a brief amateur career, he hung up his gloves, got married and found a job at a corrugated cardboard factory.

But for 30 years, he never forgot his jab.

In the mid-'70s, he moved to Starrett City, a mostly white housing project in Brooklyn, where his family stood out "like flies in the buttermilk."

He wanted to start a gym and Starrett City's board gave him a modest space below a parking garage with "nothing but the four walls." He focused on giving poor kids purpose; many were brought to him by the police.

Jimmy O's four walls became one of the country's top amateur gyms, producing dozens of Golden Gloves champions and some notable professionals including heavyweight Shannon Briggs.

One day in 1995, four years after the Salitas moved to the United States, Dmitriy was led in by his brother Michael.

Young Salita would come home from Starrett City shadow boxing. He watched fight videos. He talked about nothing else.

His parents, particularly his mother, Lyudmila, were not pleased. They wanted a doctor, a lawyer, a nice Jewish boy. Not a boxer.

Then they met Jimmy O'.

"He's a gentleman," says Salita. "For my mother, the fact that I was around Jimmy brought her a certain amount of calmness, because she knew that Jimmy would look out for me."

So when Lyudmila got cancer, she came to talk with Jimmy O'.

"She said, 'Jimmy I want you to take care of him.' She knew she was dying, you see."

While visiting his mother in the hospital, Salita met an Orthodox man attending to his sick wife, and they debated the godliness of boxing. Salita, who had not been raised Orthodox, wondered how there could be anything immoral about the sport he loved. The man suggested he visit a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi.

The rabbi, Zalman Liberow, encouraged Salita to strengthen his faith -- and to box.

Salita was glad he found the Chabad synagogue. He was bereft when his mother died. But it helped to go say Kaddish, the Jewish prayer of mourning.

At first, it was enough to pray. Gradually, he took little steps toward Orthodoxy.

Jimmy O' encouraged Salita's spiritual development, though it complicated his career. At the New York Golden Gloves tournament, Salita was scheduled for Friday. Jimmy O', who carries weight in New York, spoke to the management. They rescheduled.

Salita won his weight class, but Jimmy O' told him to skip other tournaments.

"I sometimes think that God put him down here for another reason. I don't think it's completely boxing," Jimmy O' says.

My year in Haifa, Israel: Shabbat in Zefat

I spent a fascinating shabbat in Zefat, a holy city in the north of Israel that is home to a vibrant Hasidic community (for more information on Zefat, see my previous blog entry from September 25th). The Hasidim, who can be easily identified by their distinctive garb, are ultra-Orthodox Jews who emphasize Jewish spirituality and mysticism, as well as rabbinic leadership. The Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidim are one of largest Hasidic groups and are known for their widespread Jewish outreach efforts. Along with two dozen overseas students from the University of Haifa, I experienced shabbat Chabad-style through a shabbat hospitality program at the Ascent Hostel in Zefat.

On shabbat, observant Orthodox Jews do not work, write, turn on/off electricity, use transportation, bathe, touch money, carry heavy objects, rip things, etc. On Friday mornings and afternoons, in preparation for shabbat, people busily shop, cook, decide which lights/appliances to leave on, phone family and friends to wish them good shabbos, and even pre-rip toilet paper. I can’t say I was such a fan of every aspect of shabbat observance, but it felt great to turn off my cell phone, put aside my work, and unwind from the week.

On Friday evening we went to shabbat services at one of the many Hasidic synagogues in the old section of Zefat. During services the men daven (i.e. pray) on the ground floor of the synagogue while the women daven on an upper balcony, shielded from sight behind a mehitza (trans: “partition” or “barrier”), which in this case was a thin white curtain. The women, who stood in the packed balcony throughout the 1½ hour-long service, would intermittently push their way towards the mehitza to take a peak at the men singing, dancing, and praying vigorously below. The men sounded like they were having a pretty good time, but the women’s section wasn’t particularly lively. I was kind of jealous of the guys in our group, since they got to actually see what I could only hear.

After services, we went to Chabad families’ houses in small groups for dinner. I walked with four other students to our assigned destination, and when our hosts answered the door I assumed there must be other families in attendance given all the children darting around the room. But I was wrong; our hosts had seven (going on eight) children under the age of thirteen, and it took me several minutes actually to count them all since they kept appearing, disappearing, and reappearing in rapid succession. I don't know how the mother maintains her sanity amidst the chaos, but apparently she does, and I very much enjoyed talking with her. To my complete shock, I discovered that we have very similar backgrounds. She grew up as a Reform Jew in an East Coast suburb with which I am quite familiar, attended a small, rural liberal arts college, and came to study in Israel after graduation. I can’t even comprehend what it would be like to make such a radical life transition, but I’m certainly glad that I had the opportunity to meet her and catch a glimpse of such a different way of life. posted by Deborah at Sunday, March 05, 2006

Friday, March 17, 2006

A Simple Jew: Insight On A Chabad Minhag - To Klop Or Not To Klop?

Help a (simple) Jew out:

A Lubavitcher friend of mine pointed out that the Chabad minhag to only make noise at Haman's name where he has a title (e.x. Haman ha'agagi) was the minhag in Lithuania and White Russia. Interestingly, he also pointed out that the Rebbe said in a sicha that people should not be stopped from making noise at other mentions of Haman's name if they want to.

A footnote in Sefer HaMinhagim also indicates that the Friediker Rebbe did such:

"The compiler of the Siddur Yaavetz (R. Yaakov Emden) records that his father (the Chacham Zvi) used to stamp with his feet and clap with his shoes when Haman's name was mentioned; and I saw my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe, do likewise (in contrast to the views of the Acharonim cited in Sdei Chemed, loc. cit., sec. 10)."

Does anyone know the basis of the minhag in Lithuania and White Russia not to klop at every mention of Haman's name? posted by A Simple Jew @ 6:20 AM

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Sefer Tanya: Frontispiece

1.


The following fecund statement serves as Tanya’s frontispiece (as well as a précis of the entire book):

“(The ideas contained in this work have been) collected from holy books, and from eminent and heavenly authors whose souls are in Heaven; (they’re) based on the verse, ‘For the matter is very near-at-hand to you -- in your mouth and in your heart -- so that you can do (i.e., achieve) it’ (Deuteronomy 30:14); and (it's) meant, please G-d, to explain straight-forwardly and in both an extensive and abbreviated manner just how near-at-hand the matter is”.

So we'll start off by delving into all that.

2.


Now, few things tantalize the inner hem of the Jewish heart as much as the thought of drawing near to G-d, knowing Him, loving Him, and being close enough to Him to be jolted and transformed by that.

But who among us is bold enough to feel along that inner hem in fact and not pull back incredulously? And who’d dare say that he or she could ever hope to draw close to G-d once he'd owned up to the sensation? For can anyone alive today, who’s consequently impelled by the demands of the god-of-this and the god-of-that day after day, ever hope to engage with G-d Almighty Himself in fact?

Yet we’re assured by the Torah that we can, and easily so at that. For as the above verse indicates, drawing close to G-d (the subject of the verse, at bottom) is “very near-at-hand to you -- in your mouth and in your heart”. And in fact, when we examine the context in which this bold promise is made we draw even more solace.

For we’re told that once we “take (what G-d has offered us) to heart“ (Deuteronomy 30:1) and “turn to Him, and hear Him out... heart and soul” (v. 2), that He’ll gather us together from the farthest reaches (v. 3-4), bring us back home (v. 5), and “circumcise (our) heart” (v. 6).

That’s to say that G-d will then assemble us together once again (both as a people; and individually, by consolidating our disparate sides), He’ll sensitize our hearts so that we might truly love Him “heart and soul” (v. 6), and that we’ll then be able to serve and adore G-d without all the snags that the aforementioned demigods lay at our feet (v. 7-8). And as a consequence, we’ll prosper (materially and spiritually) (v. 9).

Thus the formula is clear: comply and prosper; resist and languish (see v. 18). The process is neither “hidden or far way” (v. 11-13), we’re assured, and neither more complex or abstruse than that. For indeed, as our original citation put it, drawing close to G-d will prove to be “very near-at-hand to you -- in your (very) mouth and in your heart”; truly, “you can do it!“ (v. 14).

Since Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (whom we’ll refer to as RSZ) did indeed set this as the very motto and theme of this work, it’s clear that Tanya will thus be a manual of sorts for getting close to G-d Almighty that’s rooted in profound Torah scholarship.

3.


It has been contended that the books that RSZ drew from are the works of Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon (known alternatively as “Maimonides” and as “Rambam”), Rabbi Yehudah Loewe (known as “Maharal m’Prague”), and Rabbi Yeshaya Horowitz (known as “Sh’lah”). And that the teachers he’d been directly influenced by include Rabbi Yisroel (the “Ba’al Shem Tov”), Rabbi Dov Baer (the “Maggid of Mezritch”) and his son Avraham (known as “The Angel”), and Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk [1].

Now, the truth of the matter is that aside from the Torah itself, every single book is an amalgam of material collected from other books and from statements made by the author’s teachers.

So what RSZ seems to be saying is that Tanya is indeed “not in Heaven” (v. 12), i.e., it’s not merely the words of those earlier, long departed great souls; “nor is it beyond the sea” (v. 13), i.e., nor is it the words of other great masters who, while closer to us in time, might as well be from the other side of the world, their spiritual climate is so unalike our own. For Tanya will prove to be “very near-at-hand to you” (v. 14), because it has been compiled by someone able to adduce the abiding and immutable spiritual needs of those of his generation and environs (as well as later ones, as RSZ’s adherents maintain [see Likutei Biurim ]) and to make it all accessible to us.

4.


And finally as to Tanya demonstrating how very near-at-hand closeness to G-d can be in both an “extensive and abbreviated” manner, it’s been pointed out that the extensive manner refers to instructions offered in the work’s Ch.’s 16-17, which involves reflecting and ruminating lovingly and reverently upon G-d’s infinite and boundless greatness, and fulfilling mitzvot and studying Torah fervently; and that the abbreviated one refers to instructions offered in Ch.’s 18-25, which involves drawing upon the “love that’s sequestered in every single Jew’s heart which is an inheritance from the Patriarchs” that we can all cull from at any time.

We’ll see that the abbreviated one is second-best in fact, because it’s rooted in a sort of indolent and passive dependance on one’s native gifts, while the extensive approach is preferable since it involves augmenting one’s own self and striving for a degree of spiritual excellence one didn’t know he had.

A descendant of RSZ’s, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber of Lubavitch, raised an interesting point about our trying the more extensive and challenging route to intimacy with the Creator. He suggested that some might diffidently back off from such a summons and think it’s beyond them. But he rejects that as being a “trick of the yetzer harah” and a “bitter dollop of false humility”, since drawing close to G-d is indeed “very near-at-hand to you” (citing the verse that heads this frontispiece) and “not hidden from you” (Deuteronomy 30:11), so it's not unapproachable [2].

_______________________

Notes:

[1] Nonetheless see RSZ’s fascinating declaration in Ch. 42 in the text that “The essence of knowledge doesn’t lie in knowing and in being cognizant of G-d from writers and books (exclusively). The essential thing is to immerse your mind deply into G-d’s greatness (on your own) and to affix your thoughts on G-d ... until your thoughts are attached to G-d”. For despite his reticense to say as much for himself, that's in fact what RSZ himself did; and Tanya is all and all the product of that.

[2] Kuntress Hatephilla, para. 6.


(c) 2006 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman posted by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Riga Synagogue sees new life ahead

Feb 22, 2006
By Paul Morton

RIGA - In 1904, a small group of wealthy Jewish merchants fought a maze of rules to open a synagogue in Peitavas Street in Riga’s Old Town. It would be far from the Moscow District where they lived, but close to the shops and markets where they worked. In Czarist Russia, synagogues were prohibited from being built too close to churches, so they had to get permission from the pastor of a Reform Church with which it would share the block.
The German architect Wilhelm Neumann (who had also been responsbile for the striking Museum of Fine Arts), a follower of the Jugendstil school, had been contracted and a total of 150,000 rubles had been spent. Finally, in the days before Rosh Hoshannah, they had gotten everything ready when the local government decided to forbid the synagogue’s opening.

A meeting between the wealthy benefactors of the synagogue and a local governor followed. An article in a Yiddish newspaper from the 1930s recounts a key speech:

“Young people are being led astray by the revolutionary movement. And with each day, the movement’s influence is stronger and stronger. So in order to restrain young people from these ideas, we decided to build a beautiful synagogue.”

The answer, perhaps goaded by fears of the incipient threat of 1905: “Go and pray.”

Forty years later, it was the only synagogue among hundreds in the country to survive World War II. An obscure Psalm was written atop the marble alter, “Blessed art you the good, for you did not allow teeth to tear me,” to remember the 80,000 to 100,000 Latvian Jews who did not. Michael Freydman, the synagogue’s guide, claimed that a pastor at that local Reform Church had instructed the Nazis not to burn the synagogue as it put his church in danger.

The Riga Synagogue still functions today and if you come by anytime from Sunday to Friday you’ll probably meet Freydman, a plump sardonic bachelor of 47. It’s the winter now and he’s receiving few visitors. In the summer, he gets a deluge of American and Israeli tour groups, “the allied forces” as he calls them. When I came by on a weekday afternoon, a repairman was fixing the hinge on the congregation hall’s green wooden door. Freydman: “It’s no great tragedy.”

Freydman grew up with the synagogue, and recalls its problems under Soviet rule in the 70s. “Jews were suspicious. [Russian authorities] thought Zionism and Judaism were the same thing.” Jewish holidays were celebrated in as integrated a way as possible. “We would be outside the synagogue drinking vodka, Russian-style.”

For as long as Freydman has known the synagogue, it hasn’t changed. It still has the same dilapidated brown-and-yellow pews, and the same splintery green door. Much of the synagogue will be renovated soon.

There’s an old black piano in the basement embossed with a Star of David and accoutred with two candlestick holders. In the back of the congregation hall is a bookcase of 19th-century Talmuds printed in Vilnius, which was once one of the great centers of Jewish learning. They survived only because the Nazis couldn’t find them. The bindings are peeling, and the pages are ripped.

Two palm fronds are etched atop the doorway and the pillars are stacked with lotus leaves. Freydman has what some others feel to be a dubious theory that the decorations are related to the era in which the synagogue was built. In 1904, Zionism was in its nascent state in Germany. “This was a time when Jews were trying to remember their roots [in Egypt],” says Freydman.

A few days later, I sat in the office of Rabbi Mordechai Glazman, an Israeli-American Hasid who first came to Riga in 1992 with his wife and son to start a Chabad service. He became the synagogue’s head rabbit in 2004. Now has 10 children – “a minyan.” He told me I had to take much of what Freydman had told me with a grain of salt.

He didn’t believe the story of the priest. “Of course, the Germans didn’t want to burn the synagogue down. It was in the middle of a crowded city.” The books Freydman honored were of course spiritually valuable, but in his opinion, no more worthy of study than any modern prayerbook. He rolled his eyes at the idea that the palm fronds could have any Zionist connection. (Glazman didn’t say so himself, but the Art Nouveau style that was popular in Riga at the time involved prettifying buildings with an elegant kitschy style, playing with strange decorations and patterns that meant absolutely nothing.) So much for guides.

Sabbath

Saturday, the Sabbath, is the one day of the week when Freydman doesn’t attend the synagogue. Riga’s Jewish community – approximately 5,000 strong – was represented in the main hall by a group of 50 or so men. In keeping with Orthodox tradition, the women and children sat in the rafters, sometimes peeking behind a blue curtain.

There were a few Hasidim dressed in black, including an American who was living in Riga and worked in marketing. The cantor, Zeev Shulman, a 33-year-old round-faced trained opera singer with glasses and some light facial hair, stood at the pulpit and sang out the prayers. The congregation was made up of old men in old fraying suits and ties, wearing yarmulkes, milling about through the service from pew to pew, casually socializing. There were some younger more devout members rocking back and forth in prayer. A few whispered casual conversation to each other. One man sat and read a Russian newspaper.

There were a few 90-somethings in the group, a few of whom, I had been told, were swept up by the Russians in the gulag system before they could be sent to a Nazi death camp.

When I looked up into the rafters, where in accordance with Orthodox Jewish custom, women and children sit far from the men, I caught the eye of a young redhead who immediately closed the curtain in front of her. During the torah reading, the more devout became impatient with the casual parishioners. They banged on the banisters and demanded silence, which they never fully received.

When I asked Glazman about this later, he said, “Do you expect 80-year-old men to learn and study Hebrew?”

At 12:30, we had the Kiddush meal. Long tables had been set up with theater seats from a failed movie theater serving as chairs. Plastic plates and cups. Radishes, gefilte fish and matzo bread. A bottle of wine and shots of vodka in plastic cups for all the men. The women and children still sat separately. But now, everyone was in the same room.

I talked to Shulman, the cantor. “Before the war, the synagogue had a very good children’s choir,” he said. “They played at the Latvian Opera House. ‘Carmen.’” With some foreign funding, he’s looking to revive the tradition.

Freydman had told me that he greatly disliked Prague’s Jewish Quarter, in which old synagogues had been converted to museums charging admission. “It was part of Hitler’s dream to turn Judaism into a museum.” The Riga Synagogue, in the time before its renovation, may feel more old than young. But it is emphatically not a cemetery.

Purim feast has a Mexican flavor

Joyous holiday for Jews draws crowd to town ballroom


March 15, 2006

The music, dancing and brightly colored decorations of this year's Purim festival made Irving Jacobson smile.

Watching as people chatted or lined up for food Tuesday night, the Wappingers Falls man said the holiday was a celebration.

When asked what Purim meant to him, Jacobson smiled and said "freedom."

Purim, which took place Monday and Tuesday, celebrates the Jews' ability to survive a plot calling for their extermination in ancient Persia. The plot was orchestrated by Haman, who was the king's adviser. The Jews were saved when Esther, herself a Jew and the wife of the king, told the king of the adviser's plot against her people.

On the holiday, Jews listen to a reading of the Megillah, or the Book of Esther.

"You never get tired of it," Jacobson said. "It just reminds you of freedom, and it helps being in a free country like this."

Hosted by Chabad of the Mid-Hudson Valley, this year's theme was Mexican. Hundreds of people gathered at the Best Western on Route 9 in the Town of Poughkeepsie to dance, eat and celebrate.

For Alice Wittels of LaGrange the holiday is a happy one.

"It's part of my tradition," she said, smiling. "Growing up, this was always the fun holiday. It's also a time for everyone to be together."

The event drew people from throughout the region including older folks and families with young children. Seth Levin and his family came from Newburgh.

"It's a joyous day, it's a day of freedom," he said.

Purim celebrations generally draw crowds, said Beth Tango of Walden, who made her first trip to the Chabad event.

"I think it brings people out, especially new people who are not in touch with their Judaism," she said.

Kathianne Boniello can be reached at kboniello@poughkeepsiejournal.com

Keeping the faith

Although fewer students attend formal services, campus groups continue to grow

By LAURA MISJAK

The State News



Deborah Irwin reached for not one, but two plastic noisemakers.

She listened. She waited. And then, she enthusiastically shook the toys.

The special education deaf education senior joined fellow Jewish students Monday at Chabad House in East Lansing in a century-old tradition of heckling Haman — the villain in the story of Purim. Rabbi Hendel Weingarten said he created Chabad House about two years ago to provide a haven for Jewish students to practice and grow in their faith.

Not only can Irwin continue to take part in Jewish holidays while she's in college; she eats dinner at Chabad House every Friday evening.

But she said sometimes it's a struggle to remain religious while in college.

"This is the way we were raised," she said. "It's difficult to stay as Orthodox when you grow up."

Religious group leaders on campus say membership is thriving. MSU has about 48 student groups affiliated with religion, compared to 15 at Central Michigan University, 23 at Western Michigan University and about 70 at the University of Michigan. The groups represent a wide range of beliefs from Christianity to Buddhism. Studies show religious participation among college students remains relatively high. About 80 percent of students attended religious services during a one-year period and a comparable amount discuss religion with family and friends, according to a study released last year by the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA.

But some say compared to decades ago, the pressures of college and the country's current social climate push religion to the background of many students' lives.

Link to REUTERS Photo At Ohel

Hassidic women pray and leave torn-up personal notes over the grave of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson in New York City February 20, 2006. Over 2,000 hassidic women from all over the globe were taking part in a conference to discuss their role as women within the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. REUTERS/Seth Wenig

LEAH GARCHIK

Nanook of the North Bay noticed last Wednesday's business section story that cremations are selling like hotcakes. "You get this argument that burial is big and ugly and corporate and fat and it's the Cadillac,'' said Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor of religion. "Cremation is hip and new and happening. It's the VW bug with the 'small is beautiful' kind of thing.'' But cremation's a no-no for Jewish people. Tattoos, too. So how's a person supposed to stay hip? Maybe it's relevant to know that Rabbi Joseph Langer, executive director of Chabad in San Francisco, celebrated his 60th birthday and Purim at Ruby Skye on Monday.

THE SUN NEWS REGIONAL SPELLING BEE

Winner floats on 'Mediterranean'


The Sun News

Tuesday was a joyous day for 13-year-old Hindy Naparstek.

After nine rounds, the Chabad Academy student won The Sun News' 18th annual Regional Spelling Bee held at Myrtle Beach High School Music and Art Center.

Afterward she was nearly speechless about her win on Purim, a Jewish holiday.

"I was nervous. I didn't think I would win," said Hindy. She correctly spelled Mediterranean to win after two final rounds, which were held because the finalists did not correctly spell their last words.

Hindy, who advances to the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee set for the end of May, competed against 53 other top spellers from Horry and Georgetown counties including last year's winner, Morgan Gilliam.

Morgan, who was 9 last year, was the youngest child to compete for the first time in a national bee. On Tuesday, she was knocked out during round 4 by the word calefactory, which means producing heat. Morgan offered some advice to Hindy when she represents the area at the national bee in Washington, D.C.

"The main thing is to take your time, think about the word, say it in your head, and you should always ask for a definition or sentence even if it's the word cat," Morgan said after Tuesday's contest.

Hindy's family crowded around her in celebration after her victory Tuesday.

"We feel like it was the day that gave her all her steam because it was the day of the year," her mother, Chanie Naparstek said. Tuesday was the Jewish holiday Purim, which commemorates a time when the Jewish people living in Persia were saved from extermination.

Cody Browne from Lakewood Elementary School almost won the competition but misspelled the word clavicle in the final round. The competition then reverted back to the final three, which included Cody, Hindy and Stephen Earnest from Carolina Forest Elementary School, before Hindy won.

A grievance regarding the pronunciation of the word oratorio was filed after round six, but the judges overruled it and proceeded with the competition. The pressure and intensity of the competition got the better of some students who cried when greeted by their parents afterward.


Contact TONYA ROOT at 248-2149 or troot@thesunnews.com

A group of about 10 gathered at Chabad, 420 E. Jefferson St.

Rabbi Avremel Blesofsky said Megillah, or the story of Queen Esther, is significant because it is the only book of the Torah in which the name of God does not appear.

"But we know that God, although his name is not mentioned in Megillah, was in fact behind all that had transpired, just as he is behind all that happens in the world," the teacher of Chabad, a University of Iowa Jewish group, said.

Tuesday night marked the end of Purim, the Jewish festival that marked the triumph of the Jewish Queen Esther of Persia and her uncle, Mordechai, over the evil Haman and his plans to kill the king of Persia and annihilate the Jews living in the Persian kingdom. A group of about 10 gathered at Chabad, 420 E. Jefferson St., to celebrate with a reading of the story of Esther, a meal and the giving of gifts to one another and alms to the poor.

Blesofsky said the holiday is a celebration of God's work in everyone's lives even if they do not know it.

"It's more of a concealed holiday in that everything seemed to happen in secret," he said. "We get to appreciate the miracle of life."

Blesofsky and the other members of Chabad marked the festivities with food, song and costumes. Following a Hawaiian theme, Blesofsky said the group picks a different country to celebrate.

"We get to dress up," he said. "For children, it's a very fun holiday. (But) this has a deep spiritual lesson."

Blesofsky also read the story of Esther in Hebrew, with the listeners chiming in with their own readings of blessings from the story. The listeners also booed and made noise by stomping their feet and banging on the chairs when the name of the villainous Haman was mentioned.

The home reading was a first for Marilyn Krachmer.

"This is new to me," she said. "It's wonderful and reaffirming to go back to the foundation."

Krachmer, a native of Houston now living in Iowa City, said she remembered as a child having contests as to who had the best Queen Esther costume. She also remembered homentaschen, a triangular cookie that traditionally is filled with prunes or poppy seeds to represent Haman's ears.

Others at the celebration looked at Purim as a way to mark the end of winter.

Charles Vernoff, a religion professor at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, said the holiday follows the theme of reversal in the saving of the Jews in the story and the reversal from winter into summer.

"The celebration is because the prominence of light is inevitable," he said. "It's about God's providence."

Iowa City resident Rebecca Rosenbaum said Judaism in itself is "in phase with nature."

"It's very organic," she said. "It's very logical for people in the northern hemisphere."

Reach Rob Daniel at 339-7360 or rdaniel@press-citizen.com.