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Monday, July 31, 2006

Cooper City's zoning blocks Chabad center

Jewish congregation has lease for center in shopping plaza

By Thomas Monnay
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

July 29, 2006

COOPER CITY - Rabbi Shmuel Posner has a lease to open a Chabad Outreach Center in the Timberlake Plaza, but a city code won't let him operate in a commercial district.

"I've been trying to get my [occupational license]," said Posner, of the Chabad of Nova congregation. "They said it's not the right zoning."

After spending three years looking for a south Broward location for his congregation, Posner, 32, of Davie, says he's ready to fight Cooper City, and he's recruiting a lawyer who just successfully represented another Chabad congregation against another Broward County city.

Posner said his troubles started last September, when he placed window signs on a storefront at 8608 Griffin Road to announce the center's opening. Code enforcement officials at first told him the window signs were illegal and then said city codes ban places of worship in commercial districts, he said.

Although he had a temporary permit to provide high holy days services last year, "the city's position is there's no way we're going to give you a permit," Posner said.

Posner has enlisted the help of attorney Franklin Zemel, who earlier this month stopped Hollywood from shutting down a Chabad center in a residential neighborhood.

Zemel wrote to Cooper City Mayor Debby Eisinger on Wednesday and suggested the city retain an independent counsel to ensure its codes comply with the federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.

The law makes it illegal for municipalities to establish land uses treating religious institutions on less than "equal terms" with non-religious groups.

Eisinger said she forwarded copies of Zemel's letter to City Attorney John Naclerio and city commissioners.

She said she would be willing to meet with Zemel, but added, "I feel that the city's codes are not discriminatory in any way.''

The Hollywood fight started in 2003, after city officials canceled a special permit allowing the group to operate in two single-family homes.

The suit claimed Hollywood discriminated because it allowed other religious organizations in residential areas. The case was settled with Hollywood agreeing to pay the group $2 million.

Posner said a southwest Broward center is needed for nearby Jewish families because their religion forbids them from driving a car from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

Zemel said cities fear places of worship could take over commercial districts, depriving them of tax revenue because they are nonprofit organizations.

He said Cooper City should change its code, and he wants to meet with city officials to resolve the matter amicably.

"Unlike the situation in Hollywood, we are not looking for a fight with Cooper City," he said. "The last thing in the world we want is another Chabad fight."

Thomas Monnay can be reached at tmonnay@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7924.

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Change at the Helm

Dr. Linda Kelley is Taking Chabad Hebrew Academy to Uncharted Heights

By Karen Pearlman

It’s early July and there’s a healthy stir inside and a lot of high energy surrounding the sprawling Scripps Ranch home of the Chabad Hebrew Academy.

Kids are shouting, laughing, running around and having a blast at Chabad’s Camp Gan Israel, which is in full swing on the 27-acre ampus. (But that’s typical for every summer at Chabad’s high-energy day camp.)

What’s different, what the buzz is all about, is the change in direction Chabad Hebrew Academy is taking - and one big way it’s moving progressively forward into the future is in the hiring of one of its newest employees, Dr. Linda Kelley.

Kelley, 55, was brought on staff in February to be the Head of School and CEO at Chabad Hebrew Academy. This position is a first for the school, which has roots dating back to a small, crowded building in the late 1970s in the College Area of San Diego.

The growing movement of Chabad has taken a bold move to insure a bright future for the school that bears its name by hiring Kelley “to run everything on the school side,” as Director of the Academy, Rabbi Yosef Fradkin, says.

“Dr. Kelley excels at every aspect of education,” he adds. “She runs this school and she lives education.”

A striking woman who seems far taller than 5-foot-5, Kelley’s office is dotted with photos of her two daughters, Rachel, 25, and Erin, 27, on river rafting trips and other equally athletic endeavors. She reminisces about her East Coast upbringing, talks lovingly of her blessed 34-year marriage to Bill Kelley, and fondly recalls her college days playing basketball in the late 1960s at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y.

In the months since relocating to San Diego, Kelley, who is not Jewish, has been surrounded by Chabad rabbis, rebbetzins, hundreds of Jewish children and their parents, and has quickly been getting up to speed on Yiddishkeit. She even has the flag of Israel hanging in her office.

She speaks openly about some of what she’s learned about Judaism, and she knows she has a ways to go. She’s been in the Chabad Academy classrooms and says she was “blown away by the Judaic classes” and was impressed by the teachers and students in the Hebrew classes.

But what Kelley yearns to share is her vision for the school.

Her leadership style includes a belief in heterogeneously-grouped classes, in which all students ˆ from the highest achievers to those who are considered less apt - are given absolute equal opportunity to learn and grow and reach their full potential in every class. Kelley said this way of teaching is the best way to go, as proven by study after study across the nation.

She also believes in the importance of the primary years when children first learn, and first learn how to learn, that while ninth and 10th grade are important, the most important years of a child’s life start in kindergarten and the first few years after. She expects the school to continue its stellar teaching style and to grow even more.

“Chabad Hebrew Academy has a fabulous future,” she said. “This school is very open to a strong, strong secular education. And the celebration of the religion is joyous. The cup is always half full. The concern is to help every single child reach his or her potential as a human, not just as a Jew.”

Kelley’s credentials are stunning. She has a B.A. (from St. Lawrence) and an M.A. (from Middlebury College in Vermont) in Spanish Language and Literature. (She will also teach Spanish at the Academy.) She also has both a master‚s and a doctorate in education from Harvard in Administration, Planning and Social Policy.








Her background includes six years as head of school at the prestigious Winchester Thurston School in Pittsburgh and a top teaching position for 13 years at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H., an Episcopal school considered one of the top 3 independent college preparatory boarding schools in the United States.

She has taught in public and private schools, has been on myriad civic advisory boards and has worked with social services agencies throughout Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.

“Working for Dr. Kelley has been so rewarding,” said Marci Germain, the school’s newly-hired Director of Admissions and Marketing, and a former teacher from New York and Los Angeles. “I’m learning something new every day. She keeps me on task and continues to stretch me in all directions. I feel absolutely privileged to work with such a prestigious school and with Dr. Kelley.”

About two years ago, Kelley took some time off from teaching to take care of an aunt who had Alzheimer’s Disease. After the aunt died, she was yearning to get back into the education field, at just about the same time Chabad was looking for someone to direct the school.

“Before I came here, Rabbi [Yonah] Fradkin (director of Chabad in San Diego County) sent me a book, ‘Toward a Meaningful Life’ and I said to him, ‘Rabbi, there’s nothing in here I don’t believe in,’” Kelley said. “I came out here and interviewed with his search committee and I loved them. These are wonderful people and I really thought that this place is everything I want in a school. It believes, as I do, that any child can learn.”

Chabad Hebrew Academy probably could not have asked for a more perfect fit for their way of looking at things than in Kelley’s views.

“We saw many high-caliber candidates from across the U.S.,” Yosef Fradkin said. “One thing that struck the search committee is that other people were in the business of education. We’re a community school, a family school. This is not a school for elitists, but it’s a school with a mission and with a heart.

“One of her personal philosophies is of moral and ethical instruction. We all felt her empathy, her warmth and her sincere understanding. We have a beautiful campus and now we have a great head of school.”

Goal-creating and goal-setting meetings are the norm with Kelley, who has already had several with most of the school’s 15 teachers and other staff members. They have discussed everything from the teaching process to athletics, from fund-raising to admissions.

There were 232 children enrolled for the upcoming school year and most of the staff agrees that the time is soon coming when the school will have twice that number.

“Chabad Hebrew Academy has all the elements that a child needs to learn and succeed,” Kelley said. “They get all the subjects but with something extra. If parents are willing to invest for their children, they will get the best of both worlds here. We want them to have success in life after high school.”


For more information on the Chabad Hebrew Academy, please call (858) 566-1996 or email info@chasd.org

For feedback, contact editor@sdjewishjournal.com.

GO ASK MOSES

Thanks to AskMoses.Com, the answers to your spiritual questions are just a click away By Judd Handler

If the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, as John Lennon boasted back in the sixties, the website askmoses.com is bigger than, well, Moses.

Created under the auspices of Chabad of California and based in Los Angeles, the website is one of the most visited Jewish-themed online destinations. It is the only Jewish website offering live, one-on-one access to rabbis.

Users may log on anonymously any time except during Shabbat and chat live with a rabbi about anything under the sun, from matzoth to masturbation to mitzvoth.

Some people log on to ask out about certain Jewish customs and laws such as, “Why can’t Jews eat shrimp?”

Other people log on to receive counseling on forbidding issues like spousal abuse and drug addiction.

There are 40 scholars on askmoses, located around the world, from Argentina to Ukraine. The site, which is free of charge, has been live since 1999. Along the way, the rabbis have conducted more than 1 million live chats, answered more than 680,000 emails and written more than 6,000 essays.

Scholars often conduct live chats with five different users simultaneously. The site is easy to use. On the homepage, there are 15 categories of stored information to choose from, including holidays, Torah, philosophy, intimacy and Israel.

If you want to chat with a rabbi, simply click on the “live chat” icon.

One of the creators of askmoses.com is Rabbi Simcha Backman of Chabad of Glendale.

Along with a few other scholars, Backman heeded the advice of the late Lubbavitch Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, who directed his sect of Chabadniks to use every means of new technology to introduce the masses to observant and celebratory Judaism.

“I was initially shocked about askmoses’ popularity,” says Backman.

“But the site’s success is not surprising considering we’re the only website doing this. What kind of other Jewish institution has this amount of people from a wide variety of places and cultures and yet has the ability to help that many people?” Backman asks.

Backman says that the site’s appeal is its anonymity.

“People often times aren’t comfortable enough to seek advice from their spiritual leader in person,” says Backman. “This anonymous approach was not available before the Internet was available.”

Considering that several of the scholars have dealt with people contemplating suicide or dealing with an abusive relationship, people skills are critical.

Backman has counseled teens with unwanted pregnancies. One particular 16-year-old girl from Orange County told Backman that she was so grateful for askmoses because she didn’t have the courage to tell her parents about being pregnant.

Backman has even been engaged for months now in a chat with the head of the Ministry of Education of the United Arab Emirates.

“He wants to get a first-hand perspective on Judaism,” says Backman, of the minister. “Needless to say, he was getting a tainted picture most likely filled with propaganda.”

San Diego is home to three askmoses scholars: Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort, of Chabad La Costa, his wife, Nechama Eilfort, and of Chabad Scripps Ranch, Rabbi David Smoller.

Because of the time slot that Smoller is slated—Thursday nights—he gets lots of users from Australia.

“It’s crazy to think that it’s Thursday night in San Diego, and I’m getting questions from Jews in Australia who are preparing for Sabbath, which is only a few hours away in their time zone,” says Smoller.

Israel, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, England and Russia are some of other countries that Smoller chats with.

“I can chat with up to six people at a time, which people don’t realize can be very difficult. A few times, I have given an answer meant for someone else,” admits Smoller with a laugh.




Rabbi Eilfort was “recruited” by Chabad of California to be an online scholar when the site was in its infancy.

“Over the years, I have had the privilege to develop many great online relationships,” says Rabbi Eilfort.

“There was one young woman who was sexually abused by her brother. As a result, she was frightfully insecure and depressed,” says Eilfort. “Over the years, I was able to help her find her intrinsic worth.”

Eilfort reports that today, the woman is “happily married and a Rebbetzin in a growing Jewish community.”

Without the normal inflections of the spoken word, Eilfort says misunderstandings can occur.
Nevertheless, askmoses is a revolutionary concept in enhancing Jewish education and outreach.

“It uses the cutting edge of modern technology to make available the rich beauty of Torah-true Judaism to anyone with a thirst for knowledge and an Internet connection,” says Eilfort.

Eilfort’s wife often filled in for her husband’s online slot. Eventually, she was asked to take a position with her own sign-in and screen name.

“I guess I was getting good ratings,” says Mrs. Eilfort.

Each scholar is rated at the end of each month.

“We receive a report card based on guest ratings on a number of different subjects,” says Mrs. Eilfort, who mentions one of her most memorable live chats.

“The most touching story I ever had was a diabetic amputee in his fifties, who was close to dying. His father had been an American soldier liberating the camps in Germany, where he came across a concentration camp prisoner who was on the verge of dying.

“Say kaddish for me, my name is Avrum,” said the dying man to the soldier during the end of the second world war.

The dying diabetic’s father was not Jewish, and did not know what kaddish was, so he asked the chaplain, who then taught him how to recite it.

“My father from then on recited kaddish daily for this Avrum. And my father passed on the responsibility to me. For the last 60 years, kaddish has been said daily for Avrum, lost in the Holocaust.”

Mrs. Eilfort says that the man, now that he, himself was dying, did not want to pass the burden and great responsibility of saying daily kaddish on to his own son.

“He asked if we could make an arrangement to teach his son how to say kaddish,” says Mrs. Eilfort. “At that exact moment, the minyan was reciting kaddish in shul. I quickly gave him our shul phone number and brought a phone into the shul. He broke into tears as he heard kaddish sung by a minyan.”

Mrs. Eilfort occasionally has also had to deal with “nudnicks who come on to the site just to drive us nuts.”

“Can I do my own circumcision?” is one question on askmoses that Mrs. Eilfort could have done without.



For feedback, contact editor@sdjewishjournal.com.

Utahns who support Israel pray for peace

By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News

Scores of Israel supporters packed a local synagogue on Sunday night to offer bilingual prayers for 1.5 million people in northern Israel — one third of whom have evacuated their homes and businesses, fleeing rocket fire from southern Lebanon.

Orthodox Jewish rabbi Benny Zippel, left, and J. Laura Green hang an Israeli flag Sunday during a prayer service for Israel's safety.

Kim Raff, Deseret Morning News

Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah presided over a prayer rally at his synagogue in Salt Lake City, which drew about 150 Jews and friends of Israel. Offering prayers from the Torah in both Hebrew and English, he told of his recent trip to Jerusalem and a visit to a military base there.

The fighting broke out two days after he arrived. He wondered aloud how the hatred that initiated the Holocaust continues to brew in different ways.

"The question in all our hearts and minds here in Utah, 8,000 miles away, is what can we do?" Prayers of support cross geographic time and space, he said. "It doesn't matter if you live in Haifa or Jerusalem or Salt Lake City. We can all be gathered together with words of prayer."

A commanding officer at a military base near Ramallah said, when asked what it was like to be engaged in a war, "Rabbi, we have faith, we have faith."

Reciting Psalm 20 from the Jewish prayer book, he and those gathered joined in unison: "Some rely upon chariots and some upon horses, but we rely on the name of our God . . . Lord, deliver us."

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff also addressed the gathering, wearing a traditional Jewish skull cap. With emotion evident, he talked of his trip to Israel last year, including a stop at a hospital to visit an American Jewish child injured by terrorist gunfire that killed her younger sister.

As he talked with the grieving grandmother, she told him, "I can't believe the same hatred that took my family 60 years ago has taken my grandbaby."

During his visit, Shurtleff said he also met with Ariel Sharon, who wept as he talked of how tired he was of the killing.

"My heart and prayers and faith and love continue with you. I know you have friends and family there suffering. Thousands of bombs are being dropped on their heads. I pray for peace and strength for every man, woman and child," he said.

Laura Green, executive director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, also just returned on Friday from northern Israel, where she witnessed a rocket packed with 20,000 ball bearings hit a deserted playground, shredding everything within 100 feet.

She pleaded for those in attendance to talk with neighbors and friends about the situation to reinforce Israel's desire for peace, saying the tide of public opinion is likely to turn against the Jewish people as media report the suffering of innocents in Lebanon. She urged supporters to thank Utah senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett for their vote condemning Hezbollah.

"Israel will survive, but what will the cost be? What toll will it take on lives, what will the psychological damage be? Please pray for peace."

E-mail: carrie@desnews.com

© 2006 Deseret News Publishing Company

Rabbis Bring Timeless Message Into 21st Century With Chabad 'To Life' Telethon

Monday July 31, 8:27 am ET

LOS ANGELES, July 31 /PRNewswire/ -- After setting viewing and donation records for 25 years, Chabad is reaching out to a newer, broader audience with its 26th annual Telethon. Broadcasting live from Hollywood on September 10 from 4:00-10:00pm PDT, the revitalized Chabad "To Life" Telethon will air on TV across America and online around the world.

"We're embracing new technologies and new supporters to spread our message of helping others with goodness and kindness," said Rabbi Boruch S. Cunin, Director of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch. "The audience will see a contemporary, polished program that inspires them to aid those in need."

Chabad, a nonprofit organization, runs the largest network of educational and nonsectarian social services under Jewish auspices on the West Coast.

The Telethon has seen dramatic changes lately -- new music, set, logo, channels -- yet still honors its own great tradition. In the past it hosted legends like Milton Berle, Bob Hope and Bob Dylan, and now boasts appearances by President Bush, Magic Johnson, Adam Sandler and Matisyahu. This year's hosts are Shelley Berman (Curb Your Enthusiasm) and co-host, comedian Elon Gold.

A catalyst for much of the change is producer Michael Levin, who, along with producer Chaim Cunin, brings years of production experience to the rich Telethon tradition.

"Chabad's message of caring has a universal appeal that speaks to everyone," said Levin. "My goal is to create an entertaining show that makes more people aware of the range of Chabad's charitable activities."

Another contemporary twist is the Telethon's online simulcast on www.ToLife.com. Viewers can now watch the show anywhere with Internet access -- and video clips have become viral favorites that travel the globe through emails, sharing and website postings.

Chabad's nonsectarian programs assist the needy regardless of background or belief. They include a Drug Treatment Center, holiday meals for the homeless, The Friendship Circle for special needs children, and numerous youth and education programs. Last year, President Bush praised Chabad's emergency relief efforts for victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Telethon, which is picked up on cable across the U.S. and Canada, can be seen on www.ToLife.com and the following broadcast stations:

Los Angeles: KCAL 9
S. Diego: KUSI 9
S. Francisco: KTSF 26
Las Vegas: KVMY 12
New York/New Jersey/Connecticut: WLNY 55


Source: Chabad

Synagogue fills with prayers for Mideast peace

Bais Menachem: More than 100 gather to show support for Israel and to remember the innocent

By Jessica Ravitz
The Salt Lake Tribune

Salt Lake Tribune
A standing-room-only crowd of more than 100 people packed Bais Menachem, synagogue and home of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah, on Sunday night to pray for peace in the Middle East.
"Judaism teaches us . . . there's a time for everything," Rabbi Benny Zippel said. "A time for joy, and a time for tears. . . . Tonight, it is a time for prayer."
The people came to show solidarity with Israel in its battle against Hezbollah. They also prayed for the innocent lives lost in southern Lebanon.
Earlier Sunday, an Israeli airstrike in Qana killed 56 Lebanese, most of them women and children. Israel approved a 48-hour halt to air attacks in light of an international outcry.
Laura Green, director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, said there are many unanswered questions about what had happened in Qana, but she spoke of the pain she feels about the latest news and about the loss of innocent civilians. And she emphasized the value Judaism places on life.
"We are trained to value every moment on this Earth," said Green, who returned Friday from a trip to Israel. "When a horrific thing occurs like what occurred this morning, we can only hold our breath and pray."
Attorney General Mark Shurtleff also spoke, his voice cracking throughout as he remembered his trip to Israel one year ago.
He recalled his visit to a Jerusalem synagogue, his witnessing of an Israeli soldier sobbing at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial, and the words from then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who told Shurtleff of his yearning for peace and for an end to all killing.
"I had so much hope, rabbi," Shurtleff said, turning to Zippel, and then the audience. "My prayers continue with you."
jravitz@sltrib.com

Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Jewish Mother's Prayer

by Rabbi Shimon Posner
Jul 30, '06 / 5 Av 5766

A soldier, an Israeli soldier especially, standing in front of the Kotel meant something to me: pride, virility, bravado and all the good stuff a boy likes. It still means all that; but now, overwhelmingly, I look at one of them and all I see is his mother.


It is the paradox in pride of the army, of youth, really. Even when we were young, we knew how vulnerable the soldiers' position is; we grow up, after all, knowing the fallen heroes. And even as we age, we still cheer their pride and their ability and the work they do. And we know they are cool. But, but - Imma. And Savta. And little sister. And favorite aunt. And Abba, and little cousin. And can you just send him home already?

I meet soldiers; I talk with them, laugh with them, argue with them, agree with them, put on tefillin with them and, more often than not, when we take leave, cry with them. I will never forget the hug a guy from Acre gave me before his going back to duty.

Russian born, easy smile, with a swagger you could actually like. "I'm not religious at all," he insisted, "I just go to Chabad in Acre. And the rabbi there... the rabbi there, he's great!" He choked slightly and gave a nervous laugh. "When I came back from the front once, the rabbi stopped in the middle of services - he stopped in the middle of the service! - and came to give me a hug." He is smiling now, not really talking to me anymore. Then, he comes back. "I put on tefillin. The rabbi asked me to, and once I did it a few times, I started to like it. Now, I miss it if I don't."

This week, I got no less than four emails of a picture from FOX of soldiers davening. There is something about soldiers davening. It shows that prayer comes from a place of strength; it shows that prayer comes from a place of vulnerability. It shows that prayer comes from a place we don't want anyone to see; and from a place that we have a need to share.

Oh, the prophets! How they poured on fire and brimstone when they saw a tragedy happening and everyone else was looking the other way. We despised them, or if we were devout, resented them. They were wet-towel-party-poopers as they "jeremiad" around. We read their words in the haftorahs these weeks.

A smart old man once told me that he never told his grown children the words "I told you so." Neither did the prophets. Once tragedy struck, the prophet was there only to comfort. And cry. And sometimes, there were no tears left, so he just stood there. Silently. And some see silence and think the prophet harbors a I-told-you-so. But really he's saying, "Now you know why I was crying."

Every soldier knows that his mission stands above all else. And I don't doubt that. Their mission is vital, to everyone - every Jew, every free perso, every non-free person. The enemy must be defeated as conclusively as the Nazis were - and that can only be achieved through the military. I don't doubt it or belittle it for a moment.

But every time I start to pray for their success, I see their mothers. Moroccan women in scarves, Kurdish (yes, yes, there are Kurdish Jews in Israel; lots of them) without scarves, Ashkenazi women, standing there stoically, demanding inconsequential things that mothers always do when their kids are going to a dangerous place because they must. ("Keep your coat on!")

I hope I won't be called a troublemaker for making my way to Bethlehem, to the mother's grave; the mother who prays that her children come safely home. May her prayers be heard on high. They always are. I hope she'll let me listen in.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Prayers go out to Israelis, Lebanese

By Darren Meritz / El Paso Times
El Paso Times

An El Paso Jewish community gathered Tuesday to pray for Israelis and Lebanese as attacks continue between Israelis and Hezbollah forces inside Lebanon.

A group of about 30 members of Chabad Lubavitch gathered for an afternoon prayer, which Rabbi Yisrael Greenberg said harked back to a psalm that explains that true power is not in ammunition and weapons, but rather in spirituality.

“We have a spiritual and family obligation to get together and pray together as one nation, wherever we may be, in one voice,” Greenberg said. “Obviously there are innocent people in Lebanon who are suffering, but if you have a government that harbors terrorists doesn't do anything to stop them then obviously they are the problem.”

Chabad Lubavitch is one of several religious and community groups in El Paso that have had prayer vigils and services to promote a quick end to the violence in the region.

At St. Anthony of the Desert Maronite Catholic Church, which a large contingent of Lebanese attend, parishioners had a prayer vigil Sunday and were invited to speak about their experiences regarding the conflict.

The Islamic Center of El Paso has been hearing testimony from its members about the Middle East violence after Friday services. St. Pius X Catholic Community has scheduled a Mass of Peace and Reconciliation in an ongoing attempt to stop violence in the Middle East and elsewhere for 12:45 p.m. Sunday.

The latest conflict was sparked after an Israeli soldier was captured and two others were killed by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza, prompting an Israeli offensive there on June 28. On July 12, Hezbollah snatched another two other soldiers, prompting the incursion into southern Lebanon.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that fighting during the past month has claimed more than 400 lives.

Greenberg described Israel's actions as justified because the country long had sought to negotiate peace with Lebanon, including a withdrawal from the 9-mile-wide security zone in May 2000 originally carved out in 1982.

Lebanon nonetheless chose not to recognize Hezbollah's weapons buildup, which was discovered during the most recent Israeli incursion, he said.

Greenberg likened the warring Arab faction in the current conflict to a drive-by shooting: Both the driver of the vehicle, Lebanon, and the shooter, Hezbollah, are culpable.

“If (Lebanon) couldn't control Hezbollah, they should have turned to the United Nations about them building up,” he said. “We are not fighting for money. We are not fighting for property. We are fighting for rest for security.”

Moshe Bork, a former Israeli soldier who has lived in El Paso for 33 years, said at Chabad Lubavitch on Tuesday that he has a sister and brother still living in the area.

“I think Israel is going to come out on top, but in between you have too many people who are innocent, if it's Israelis or if it's Lebanese, who are getting killed,” said Bork, 54. “It's something that should have been taken care of in 1982 so we wouldn't have to worry about it today. It's too many civilians getting killed.”

El Paso educator Helen Goldberg said her daughter-in-law's family grandparents, aunts and uncles are now in Israel. Some have relocated from the northern port city of Haifa to near Tel Aviv to avoid the shelling.

“We all agree that Israel has to go in and wipe out Hezbollah,” she said. “We're saddened by the civilian deaths, but if Hezbollah didn't use people as human shields, the casualties would be a lot lower.”

Downtown merchant Rachelle Nedow said her niece, Blair Schlusselberg, a Coronado High School senior, began a six-week summer trip to Israel just before the hostilities began about a month ago. Despite the dangers, the tour group decided to stay in Israel, Nedow said.

“She said it was really scary. They were in the north and they got there just a few days before the bombing,” she said. “She chose not to come home. They did not cancel the trip.”

Darren Meritz may be reached at dmeritz@elpasotimes.com; 546-6127.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Friday, July 28, 2006

COMMANDED TO STAY: Why the Lubavitcher Jews Still Live in Crown Heights

October 2003

by Anthony Weiss


On Kingston Avenue in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, African-style hairdressers sit next to kosher butcher shops, and Lubavitcher Hasidim, members of a devout sect of Orthodox Judaism, shop alongside African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans in a colorful bustle of garbs and dialects. Bob Matthews, chairman of Project CARE (Community Alliance Revitalization Effort) and an African-American, says that the media “perceive [Crown Heights] to be a tinderbox. That’s not true. We work our issues out.” Daniel Botnick, executive director of the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council and a Lubavitcher, concurs: “It’s as integrated as any neighborhood could possibly be.” The perception of Crown Heights as a tinderbox stems from the riots that took place there in 1991 and serves as a starting point for most press coverage of the neighborhood. The Lubavitchers’ religious values receive scant mention, yet one cannot understand Kingston Avenue without them. In 1969, when most whites, Jewish and otherwise, were fleeing America’s cities in fear of rising crime and falling property values, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitchers’ religious leader, delivered a speech to his followers—translated from the Hebrew for the first time for this article—saying that Jewish values required the Lubavitchers to stay put. They complied, and found that their ancient values had landed them on the front lines of American race relations.

Hasidim are members of a Jewish sect that originated in 18th century Eastern Europe, one characterized by intense piety and exuberant prayer. Like most branches of Hasidim, the Lubavitchers were, until recently, led by their Rebbe, the spiritual guide of the community. Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, who died in 1994, was the subject of intense veneration; to this day, his bearded, beneficent face looks out from the walls of nearly every Lubavitcher household. He came to Crown Heights in 1941, following his father-in-law, the then-Rebbe Joseph I. Schneersohn. They escaped the Holocaust with a small contingent of Lubavitchers thanks to Irwin Steingut, Crown Heights’s Jewish assemblyman, who convinced President Roosevelt to allow them into the country. More survivors arrived after the war, settling around their Rebbe in Crown Heights and in the adjacent, poorer Jewish neighborhoods of Brownsville and East New York. Crown Heights was home to a large, middle-class Jewish population, though by the strict religious standards of the Hasidim, these Jews were not observant. Mendel Shemtov, a longtime community leader, recalls that when he immigrated in 1950, on Kingston Avenue “there was not one Shomer Shabbos store, not one store closed for Shabbos [the Jewish Sabbath].”

The Crown Heights that Shemtov moved to in the 1950s was almost completely white, except for a few black professionals living on Union Street. In the 1960s, however, the neighborhood changed rapidly. A spate of muggings, break-ins, and murders created a panic that predatory real estate speculators, known as blockbusters, moved to exploit. Gerson Jacobson, a Jewish journalist who moved to the neighborhood in 1965, remembers their pitch: “Look, this street, everybody is selling. Now is the time to get a good price. You’re going to have rapists, criminals, dope addicts.”

All across the nation, blacks were moving into urban neighborhoods and whites were moving out. In retrospect, the blockbusters’ predictions inevitably proved true: the neighborhood did go to pieces, but that was because white flight meant plummeting property values and destabilized communities, and because the blockbusters themselves would buy the buildings cheap, pack them with tenants, and then leave them to decay. Upwardly mobile African-Americans and Caribbean-Americans found themselves caught in the middle—the first to move into safer neighborhoods, their mere presence became the unfortunate catalyst for neighborhood collapse. The process could be rapid and destructive, as in East New York and Brownsville, where poor but stable Jewish communities became even poorer black slums.

In Crown Heights, “people started to run,” says former Crown Heights Jewish Community Council head Rabbi Yosef Spielman, and not only assimilated Jews. Another Hasidic group, the Bobovers, sold their bes medresh (house of study) and yeshiva (Talmudic academy) and moved, en masse, from Crown Heights to the burgeoning Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Borough Park. Some Lubavitchers made plans to move out to Flatbush, where there was already a Lubavitch yeshiva.

In the spring of 1969, Schneerson delivered a sicha, or discourse, in which he urged Jews nationwide to preserve their neighborhoods. In this discourse, translated into English here for the first time, the Rebbe grounded his argument in halakhah—Jewish law—and, as rabbis often do, interpreted the law in response to the new, modern problems he faced. Schneerson saw that abandoning neighborhoods threatened to harm fellow Jews and even weaken Jewish faith itself; halakhah demanded that Jews strengthen rather than abandon their communities.

The Rebbe observed that selling houses led to falling property values, and thus had harmed the income of fellow Jews. Even the act of selling was harmful because “the spread of the news itself, that a non-Jew [i.e., a black] is going to buy a house, causes the neighborhood real estate prices to fall, bringing confusion and fear.”

Migration also destroyed the synagogues, schools, and charities that constituted the essence of a resident’s Jewish life. “In the neighborhood where he lived for days and years, he also had a fixed spiritual inheritance,” said the Rebbe. For those who stayed, these communal institutions would be passed from generation to generation, ensuring a continuity of faith. One who left would tear adrift from these communal moorings, with the result that “this holy inheritance is diminished and lacking for him.” The loss would be even more acute for those who could not afford to move, and who depended on these institutions for support. These, said the Rebbe, were the most vulnerable, “the poor person, orphan, and widow in your midst” that the book of Deuteronomy requires the community to protect.

Beyond those injuries specific to the community, the Rebbe warned that mass exodus “sometimes also has ramifications of life and death.” He saw rising violence as part of an organized anti-Semitic effort to displace Jews. “The very act of selling and moving houses and neighborhoods from Jews to idolaters weakens (God save us) the strength of Israel [i.e., the Jewish people] and adds strength to the Haters of Israel, whose intention in buying houses in Jewish neighborhoods is to expel (God forbid) Israel from its inheritance.” The term the Rebbe applied to the neighborhoods—inheritance, or nachalah in Hebrew—commonly refers to the land of Israel, and its use implies a sacred bond.

Schneerson’s depiction of a tightly knit Jewish neighborhood, besieged by hostile forces, drew upon the idea of the shtetl, the small Eastern European Jewish enclaves where Hasidism originated. During World War II, the Rebbe had watched his own community destroyed by the Nazis. He was determined that such a fate would not be repeated.

The Lubavitchers accepted the Rebbe’s decree. Mendel Shemtov spearheaded an effort to keep Jewish institutions in Jewish hands rather than selling them to non-Jews. “Most of the rabbis from the synagogues cooperated with us, they sold it very cheap,” says Shemtov. When a rabbi would not cooperate, the Lubavitch took him to court, arguing that the synagogue belonged to the congregation and that the rabbi had no right to dissolve it. “Every synagogue was a fight for itself to keep. And from thirty synagogues, maybe we lost one or two.”

Concerns about rising crime led one Lubavitch, Rabbi Samuel Schrage, to organize a nighttime community patrol called the Maccabees. Some saw the rising crime rate as part of the anti-Semitic thrust described by the Rebbe. “Part of the game was to make crime to instill fear in the residents,” says Spielman. “I can’t point a finger at an individual. It’s just that this is the pattern that was happening—muggings, attacks, a couple of murders.”

The Rebbe’s stance might seem racist, but Lubavitchers insist that he was only referring to hostile elements, not to the black community as a whole. “The whole thing that we could live together with the blacks, this is what the Rebbe planted,” says Shemtov. “He said we have to live together. Running away is not a solution.”

Immigration and high birth rates swelled the ranks of the Lubavitchers, creating a housing shortage. The Lubavitchers responded by founding a non-profit organization called Chevra Machazikei Hashcunah [Society for Strengthening the Neighborhood]. This development came at a time when the Lubavitchers were becoming more politically sophisticated. They were one of the first groups to join the mayoral campaign of Abe Beame, one of the old Crown Heights Jews. In 1976 he returned the favor when he convinced the Board of Estimate to split the Crown Heights Community Board in two parts, one of which contained the entirety of the Lubavitch community. Chevra secured government funds for housing renovation and other community programs. Non-Hasidic tenants of Chevra-owned buildings, however, complained that Chevra was attempting to force them out, and the City Council investigated charges of fraud involving government funds. These accusations of fraud soon spread to the Lubavitch community itself, forcing Rabbi David Fischer, a Chevra employee, to flee the country under accusations that he had stolen over $100 million worth of assets. His name still draws rancor among some Lubavitchers.

The competition for housing, the Maccabee patrols, and the Lubavitchers’ growing influence in city politics stoked interracial tensions in the neighborhood. In Hasidic People, sociologist Jerome Mintz recorded the inflammatory rhetoric of some Caribbean-American and African-American leaders: Reverend Heron A. Sam, a frequent antagonist of the Lubavitchers, complained of “Zionist expansion” in the neighborhood; Reverend Herbert Daughtry took aim at the Maccabees, saying, “When the people of the long black coats meet our men, let us see what will happen.” They and other leaders repeatedly complained about the police car that the city kept stationed outside Lubavitch headquarters, which they interpreted as a sign of favoritism. They also complained that the Lubavitchers received a disproportionate level of city funding—although later newspaper investigations proved this claim unfounded. Ultimately, the tension between the groups hurt both sides. “The city fathers could get away with telling one side that the other side was getting everything,” says David Pollock, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council a non-Hasidic organization. “In reality, both sides were getting nothing.”

In spite of the confrontational atmosphere, some people built alliances that crossed racial and religious lines. In 1982, Joan Gil joined Rabbi Israel Rosenfeld to run on a coalition ticket for District Leader. She was interested in better race relations, but also saw the alliance as a means to improve the lot of the black community: “I look at someone successful, and I see they’ve got the jobs, they’ve got the housing. I said, ‘We’ve got to find out what they’re doing, so we can do it too.’” A number of black leaders criticized her as a sell-out, including Reverend Sam. Nonetheless, she and Rabbi Rosenfeld ran two successful campaigns in the face of opposition by powerful local Assemblyman Clarence Norman, Jr. But in 1986, Norman defeated Rosenfeld in a bitter race that trafficked heavily in racial loyalties. According to Mintz, a frustrated Rosenfeld was left to ask, “Who believes in integration?”

The tensions continued. “Every Monday or Tuesday night, black activists would march, saying ‘Our streets, our neighborhood,’” says Rabbi Spielman. “Basically, push the Jews out.” Yet the issues cut both ways. Some blacks, too, felt they were being harassed out of the neighborhood. In the late 1980s, a group of Lubavitchers made it a practice to go about the neighborhood on Sundays and knock on the doors of houses without mezuzahs—religious scrolls affixed to the doorways of Jewish homes—asking the occupants if they wanted to sell. South Crown Heights, where the Lubavitchers live, has long had a significant population of homeowners, not only among the middle class but also among poorer residents, including the Caribbean immigrants. According to Bishop Owen Augustine, a local religious leader and native of Saint Lucia, these immigrants place great emphasis on home ownership: “The first thing they do is get a job; the second is to buy a home.” The Lubavitchers “thought they were being nice,” says Pollock, but to local homeowners, “it was an affront.”

Hostilities exploded on August 19, 1991, when a Lubavitcher driver struck and killed Gavin Cato, a seven-year-old Guyanese immigrant. Enraged blacks spread out across the neighborhood, looting stores and attacking Lubavitchers. That night, Lemrick Nelson, Jr., an African-American resident of neighboring East Flatbush, stabbed and killed a Lubavitcher named Yankel Rosenbaum in apparent retaliation. For three more days, gangs of youths, some from other neighborhoods, roamed through Crown Heights, chanting “Get the Jews!” Rioters clashed with police and vandalized property—including many black-owned properties.

To this day, the Lubavitchers call the riots of 1991 “the pogrom” in reference to organized attacks by Eastern European Cossacks in the late 19th and early 20th century that killed thousands of Jews. The riots frightened many of the black residents of Crown Heights as well. “The newspapers focused on what it was like for Jews during the riots,” said the late Councilman James E. Davis. “They didn’t focus on what it was like for African-Americans and Caribbeans during those three days.”

In the aftermath, Lubavitchers and blacks sought to reestablish common ground. Richard Green, an African-American, and David Lazerson, a Lubavitcher, organized a much-publicized interracial discussion group and basketball game. The Jewish Community Council founded Project CARE as an umbrella organization for local community groups and as a conduit for better communication.

By all accounts, Crown Heights has become more peaceful. Recently, a car driven by a Hasid from another community struck a black girl in North Crown Heights. Project CARE’s leaders quickly met with the girl’s family, spoke to members of the community, and addressed the press. The incident passed without a disturbance, and the girl recovered.

Some Lubavitchers remain skeptical of the reconciliation. Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, chairman of the local Community Board, dismisses the basketball games as “social engineering.” Rabbi Spielman instead credits Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for calming the neighborhood. Under Giuliani’s administration, crime fell steeply in Crown Heights—the former Mayor often pointed with pride to the 89 percent drop in murders —and confrontational protests were kept under strict supervision.

Recently, white professionals have returned to Crown Heights, and housing prices have skyrocketed. Whenever Lubavitchers discuss the panic of the 1960s and ‘70s, they invariably refer to how much prices have risen since—one bought his for $25,000 and estimates its current worth at $350,000; another bought at $25,000 and estimates it would now fetch $600,000.

Despite stereotypes to the contrary, however, many Lubavitchers are poor. Because their community is in Crown Heights, they cannot move somewhere cheaper. The high prices, while a boon for homeowners, bring hardship to the rest.

The level of true integration in Crown Heights remains uneven. Botnick, who moved into Crown Heights on the day the riots broke out, says he has developed close friendships with several black neighbors. “The level of tolerance has increased tremendously over the years,” he says. “On Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year], walking along the street, I can’t tell you how many black people say ‘Happy New Year’ to me.” Richard Green points to a higher level of understanding in the black community. “Most people that want to be enlightened, they’re enlightened. Those that aren’t…you’re never going to get a hundred percent.”

Other Lubavitchers, however, aren’t interested in more than a cordial relationship with their black neighbors. “We don’t bother anyone, and we expect not to be bothered,” says Rabbi Spielman. Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, chairman of the Community Board, agrees: “We’re not intermarrying, we’re not going to social dances, we’re not going to church. What else is there?”

The Lubavitchers were not the only Jews who tried to fight the tides of racial change that swept through American cities—idealists who believed firmly in integration tried to stay in neighborhoods like Brownsville, but there were too few to counteract the social and physical decay that set in around them, and most eventually left. The Lubavitchers stayed because they were united behind the Rebbe’s decision. The religious institutions that the Rebbe spoke so passionately about preserving stabilized and nurtured the community.

In nearby decimated Brownsville, it was another religious organization, the predominantly black East Brooklyn Congregations, that revived that neighborhood in the 1980s by rebuilding housing under the Nehemiah program. In both cases, religious institutions proved powerful because they enabled their members to act collectively in a way that the logic of economics, geared as it is towards individual self-interest, does not accommodate. In the case of the Lubavitchers, though, their insular loyalty to one another has been one of the great barriers to integration with the surrounding communities. Though they may wish to be left in peace, peace ultimately depends on forming lasting bonds with those around them.

Crown Heights’s Councilman James E. Davis, who was assassinated by a political rival during the writing of this article, was a firm advocate of communication. Just as Rebbe Schneerson looked to Jewish law to respond to the white flight of the 1960s, Davis, too, learned to draw inspiration from unexpected sources. Seeking to emphasize the importance of a unified community, he recounted a conversation between Rebbe Schneerson and then-Mayor David Dinkins in the wake of the Crown Heights riots. “Dinkins said to the Grand Rebbe, ‘We have to get these two communities together.’ And the Grand Rebbe said, ‘No, it’s one community.’”

The Next American City Inc. © 2004

Archive: Jews on Hill digging into religious roots

Friday June 9, 1995

JAMES D. BESSER
Baltimore Jewish Times

Rabbi Levi Shemtov wouldn't draw a second glance in Crown Heights, but he cuts a distinctive figure on Capitol Hill: portly, relentlessly energetic and Chassidic down to his socks.

In the past two years, the Washington, D.C., director of American Friends of Lubavitch has become a familiar sight in the House and Senate office buildings, and his home on the Hill has become a magnet for congressional aides and the occasional legislator looking for something deeper than just the convenient, ephemeral answers of politics.

A pensive member of Congress wandered over one recent afternoon for a chat about how he could express his Jewishness in a more meaningful way while pursuing his legislative duties.

"My advice was that he should understand that to other members, he may represent their first and only interaction with a Jewish person," Shemtov said recently. "So he has many opportunities to allow people to see what a Jew is all about.

"A Jew represents the Jewish people to the rest of the world; if a Jew is ethical, it's good for the Jews."

Shemtov is part of a quiet revolution in Washington. More Jews in public affairs are tapping their religious roots for ways to ground their daily duties in something more solid than the often-sordid business of politics.

One sign of the trend is a proliferation of classes and other events for Jewish staffers and legislators. Shemtov's recent Purim party at the Rayburn House Office Building turned into a happy mob scene, with hundreds of staffers packed into a caucus room, a handful of Jewish members stopping by for appearances that offered no political gain.

Jews on Capitol Hill, in a sense, are coming out of the closet.

"Fifteen years ago, there were many fewer Jews on the Hill -- and they were much less visible," said Doug Bloomfield, the former top lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

"Congress didn't worry about scheduling votes on important Jewish holidays; that's not true today," he added. "There's a growing sensitivity clear across the political spectrum to the needs of Jewish members and staffers. Jews feel much more comfortable being openly and actively Jewish."

Despite a lack of statistics, there is no doubt Jews are disproportionately represented in House and Senate offices. Some 20 to 30 percent of the professional-level workforce is Jewish, according to some estimates.

Many younger staffers are seeking ways to use Jewish law and tradition to gain perspective on issues that seem resistant to strictly political solutions.

"Many of us feel a need to examine the moral component of issues, especially today, when we're re-evaluating all these government programs," said a Jewish staffer who works for a non-Jewish congressman.

The Lubavitchers, with their strong outreach to unaffiliated Jews, have been major players in this Jewish renaissance.

"I'm not a Jewish missionary on the Hill," Shemtov said. "I'm very sensitive to that. And I'm not a spiritual leader in a traditional sense. I do all this informally; I don't want to make a big deal out of it."

Shemtov's work mainly involves outreach to hundreds of Jewish staffers and Jewish employees of an alphabet soup of federal agencies around the Capitol, most of whom have only limited experience with Judaism.

"I think that people coming to Washington, especially those working on the Hill, are involved in a very intense phase of their careers," he said.

"Their religious identity and affiliation are basically on the back burner. I try to keep that back burner at least on warm, so when they come back to that identity, it just has to be reheated, not defrosted."

But the holiday parties are just one part of Chabad's work. Shemtov runs regular informal Torah study lunches and periodic formal lunches that feature well-known speakers from the religious world.

Many of the sessions take place in his home, adding to the informal atmosphere.

Though his primary targets are Jewish staffers, Shemtov said Jewish members of Congress have expressed an interest in their own sessions.

"My involvement with them is more one-on-one," he said. "It's not necessarily religious; they don't ask me what butcher to buy from. They have basic questions about the things they see in their lives and their careers, and I'm the closest rabbi."

Many observers see the growth of Jewish activity in the halls of Congress as part of a broader trend.

Rabbi Sidney Schwarz, president of the Washington Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values, said the growing interest is related to frustration with a brand of Judaism that substitutes social action for spirituality and observance.

Besides running Washington's Panim el Panim High School, which brings Jewish students to Washington for an intensive exposure to the intersection of Judaism and political action, Schwarz teaches classes in Jewish spirituality at the local JCC.

"Some of the people are coming to the class and saying, `don't give that social-action Judaism stuff,'" he said. "Part of my personal and professional agenda is to make people realize that they can fulfill much of their Judaism in the public realm. But it has to be connected to something rooted in history and tradition. They want something that's not just political."

Rabbi Jay Marcus is a pioneer in the rise of Jewish life on Capitol Hill, holding lively, wide-ranging discussions with members of Congress.

"We've been meeting for lunch and studying issues from Maimonides and the Book of Psalms to the Torah itself," Marcus said. "And we have been using that study as a way of looking at many different current affairs topics."

His outreach is sponsored by the Genesis Foundation, which was created to bring traditional Jewish teaching to the working world. Most sessions draw six to 10 legislators and top staffers; there is a hard core of about 20 who attend on a fairly regular basis.

"They do not always have a good basic Jewish education," he said of the participants. "But the discussion is very sophisticated, at a very high level."

Rep. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Jewish delegation in Congress, is one of the rabbi's admirers.

"Rabbi Marcus is an incredible individual who has the ability to bring contemporary meaning to our sessions," Cardin said. "One day you're talking about the Megillah, the next day you're talking about term limits. You never know what's going to come up."

The studying "helps me turn the focus away from the minute details of legislation and look at a long-term, historical perspective,"he added. "It doesn't tell me how to vote, but it gives me an additional, broader framework for analyzing issues."

Other Jewish teachers on Capitol Hill report a growing demand for their services.

Rabbi Barry Freundel has been holding regular classes on government ethics from the Jewish perspective for congressional staffers for about five years; before that, another rabbi from his synagogue, Kesher Israel, conducted Capitol Hill classes.

Recent sessions have faced issues like privacy, family values, poverty and welfare and health-care reform.

The American Jewish Committee has started a study group for staffers on "God, Judaism and politics," too; at a recent session, the topic was "the problem of evil," using the Book of Job for text.

Although the capitol's religious revival often seems largely an Orthodox phenomenon, it has touched the Conservative and Reform worlds.

The Conservative movement is considering a permanent Hill presence, said Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein, executive vice-president and chief operating officer of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

"We've found a great deal of receptivity from congressmen and their staffs," he said.

Part of the Conservative effort, he admitted, is a response to the Orthodox cast to most current Capitol Hill Jewish study.

"We want people to understand that there are nuances in the Jewish community," he said.

Through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the Reform movement is also finding new ways to bring religious teaching into training sessions for young political activists.

The RAC, an outpost of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, once had a virtual lock on Jewish activism in Washington from a religious perspective. Now, Orthodox groups are increasingly active, and the RAC is enriching its political activism with traditional Jewish study.

"All our sessions start with a text study," said Rabbi Lynne Landsberg, associate director of the RAC. "This is something we started a few years ago because we wanted to show people the rootedness of social action. That's why we call this the Religious Action Center, not the Social Action Center."

Other Jewish groups are asking the RAC for workshops and speeches on the religious foundation of social and political activism as well.

"All over the country, people are asking the question: Why do we do what we do as Jews?" she said. "That's happening in Washington, as well."

Archive: Tucson rabbi attends recent White House briefing

By Connie Marcovich, Special to the AJP

As the United States Marine band played Chanukah music, Rabbi Yossie Shemtov of Tucson waited in line with his wife, Chanie. They were about to be introduced to President George W. Bush and the first lady at a Chanukah event held in Washington last month.

Handshakes are a routine part of the protocol accompanying such momentous occasions, but for the Shemtovs -- Lubavitchers and spiritual leaders of Chabad of Tucson and Congregation Young Israel -- belief and custom trump political protocol. When the Shemtovs explained to a Marine that the couple would only shake hands with persons of the same gender, the soldier seemed flustered but assured them there would be no problem, Shemtov said in a recent interview.

Following the formal introductions and photo-taking session, the Shemtovs apologized to the Marine for "throwing a monkey wrench in the procedure." Much to the rabbi's pleasure, the soldier informed them that after he conveyed the Shemtovs' wishes, the first lady took the time to explain to him the Lubavitcher tradition.

As Rabbi Shemtov tells this story, it's evident how pleased he was that Laura Bush was aware of the custom. It's also clear that the rabbi was impressed with what he heard during the one-hour briefing that followed the Chanukah party, particularly relating to Bush's position on Israel and his policy on faith-based initiatives.

"He is totally committed to the security of everyone in Israel," Shemtov said, adding that the president made it clear he was not moving from the position articulated in the Rose Garden speech delivered in June. In that address, Bush called for a two-state solution, new Palestinian leadership and an end to support for terrorist organizations.

As for the president's support for faith-based initiatives, Shemtov believes this springs from Bush's vision of charitable programs providing more "warmth" for their recipients as well as allowing more "personal freedom."

This was the first time the Shemtovs met the president, and the rabbi has no idea why they were chosen to participate. "I cannot tell you. I must have been chosen from a Chabad group list. I didn't do anything special," he said. To the best of the rabbi's knowledge, he and his wife were the only Jewish leaders present from Arizona.

After accepting a written invitation to the Chanukah event, Shemtov received a telephone call inviting him to participate in the briefing. Approximately 300 guests participated in the party, but the briefing, held in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, was limited to only 15 or 16 people, Shemtov said.

Though representatives reflected the full spectrum of Jewish beliefs, the event was not limited to religious leaders. Members of the business and professional community also were in attendance. "I would say 50 percent of the participants were fund raisers, but I may be wrong," said Shemtov.

The president had prepared remarks for the briefing, but never referred to them, according to Shemtov. "We were able to hear whatever the president says in public, but from his core beliefs," he said.

From the Archives: Jerusalem Post

10/22/00

Janine Zacharia

Nestled into a hillside on Leroy Place in downtown Washington D.C., adjacent to the Embassy of Guinea and a few steps from the Nepalese and Colombian delegations, sits a diplomatic mission of a different sort.

The flag flying high outside this four-story, refurbished brick building could easily be mistaken for the mark of an African or Asian embassy, dozens of which dot the upscale, tree-lined area. But this particular flag is no country's emblem. It is the symbol of American Friends of Lubavitch - the dynamic Brooklyn-based hassidic movement also known as Habad.

The heart of Embassy Row might seem like an unconventional place for the Lubavitch movement's Washington headquarters, but Rabbi Levi Shemtov, the Washington director, is hardly a conventional guy. And given the nature of his job, the location could not be more appropriate.

For seven years the 32-year-old father of four from Philadelphia has carried out Habad's traditional mission of making Judaism available to the unaffiliated, especially to young, time-strapped Jewish congressional aides who, swept up in Washington's political whirlwind, frequently lose touch with their heritage.

"In political Washington, it's very easy to get caught up in your day job," says Ari Fleischer, Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush's spokesman, who met Shemtov while working for a Republican senator from New Mexico. "Your focus can wander from your religion. He made it easy for me to find even more of a Jewish life on the Hill."

Adds Thomas Kahn, House Budget Committee Democratic Staff Director and a frequent guest at Shemtov's Shabbat dinners, which famously bring together Jews who could be natural political adversaries on CNN's Crossfire during the week: "There's nobody who is more widely respected and warmly received in Congress, the administration, and the diplomatic corps. A large part of it is just his force of personality and also a tribute to Habad."

But beyond reaching out to staffers, spreading yiddeshkeit via construction of a succa and menora on the National Mall, hosting an annual Purim reading on Capitol Hill, or offering High Holiday services free of charge or membership fee, Shemtov has become known both as a fixture on the diplomatic circuit and one of the most savvy politicos in town.

"If he didn't have a faith-based calling," says Fleischer "he would be one of the premier lobbyists."

SHEMTOV'S FUNCTIONS seem limitless. Some days he can be seen in the halls of Congress, cornering a legislator on an issue of concern to one of the 560 Lubavitch centers spread across the US. On other occasions, he arranges meetings between legislators and Habad visitors from their home state, or helps a puzzled senator's aide draft an appropriate greeting to send for the opening of a new synagogue or yeshiva somewhere.

But even more often his eye, or, more precisely, his ear (his mobile and office phones provide a constant blare), is attuned to problems facing shlihim abroad, emissaries of the Habad movement, from Lithuania to Latin America, who were sent by the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to sustain Jewish communities in some of the most remote parts of the planet.

These troubles have led him to accumulate a Palm Pilot-full of contacts that have nearly exceeded the machine's two-megabyte memory capacity and to nurture relationships with dozens of ambassadors and State Department officials - and have turned him into a regular, if not obligatory, invitee to dozens of dinners, soirees, and ceremonies around town each week.

"In a certain sense he plays a role of quasi-diplomat," says Nathan Diament, director of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Until last year, Shemtov held most of his power meetings over a meal at home, or at the Jewish Community Center's dairy restaurant. Then the first kosher meat restaurant, L'Etoile, opened in D.C., where Shemtov can be seen four or five times a week at his specially-reserved table.

"Shmoozing," Shemtov says, "is one of the most important things you have to know how to do in D.C."

Talk to Republican and Democratic congressmen (both Jewish and non-Jewish), ambassadors, State Department officials, policy wonks, and Jewish leaders envious of his access to people of power, and they will all tell you the same thing: he is one of the best political operators in town. So good that Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Joseph Lieberman - who referred lovingly to Shemtov as a "younger brother" - quipped memorably at the opening of the new Chabad building last year, "As I watch you negotiate the various politicians, my gratitude is that you didn't move to Connecticut and decide to go into politics."

IT IS a typical Monday in Shemtov's office, only today he has asked his assistant to hold all calls, except one from his father Avraham. Before Levi moved to D.C. in 1993, his father ran the operation from his base in Philadelphia, visiting once or twice a week, sometimes accompanied by his son.

Inside his sun-drenched office, one finds a casual mix of the ethereal and the earthly. Jewish texts and writings of the rebbe are stacked neatly on a bookshelf that features photos of Shemtov alongside politicians including former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a close personal friend. On the walls are pictures of Shemtov and a bipartisan array of other VIPs including President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and former prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

A new super-slim Samsung computer monitor, a gift from his Australia-born wife Nechama, sits atop his beautiful, dark wood desk. Beside it lies a charger for the cell phone that hangs on his belt beside his pager.

Images of Schneerson abound.

Shemtov's assistant enters hurriedly and places a paper with a sketch on his desk.

"I think it has to have the honey dripping into a shofar," Shemtov points out, running his finger across a draft of an advertisement for Rosh Hashana services that will run in local newspapers - just one of the many details that pack Shemtov's days and nights.

One day in Shemtov's office illustrates the sometimes chaotic nature of his work.

Five minutes after he sits down, the phone rings. It is the Habad emissary in Uzbekistan asking Shemtov when he is coming to visit.

A few months ago the Uzbekistan government would only grant the Lubavitch a 30-day visa. Aware of the problem, Shemtov invited the foreign minister to a catered lunch when he was in town. At the meeting, Shemtov recalled his special fondness for Uzbekistan, through which his family had escaped the Nazi genocide. He brought up the visa problem, an issue about which the minister had gotten an earful during meetings at the National Security Council, the State Department, and the American Embassy in Tashkent.

THE FOREIGN minister promised to take care of it and the next morning the shaliah in Uzbekistan called Shemtov to thank him. He had received a visa for one year.

The next call is from Moscow, wondering if Shemtov will be coming to the dedication of the new Lubavitch community center with featured speaker, President Vladimir Putin. Shemtov pulls out a massive file on Moscow, and eyes a note to himself on his desk, a reminder to get a letter of congratulations from Republican Congressman Ben Gilman and Democratic Congressman Sam Gejdenson to take with him on the trip, a small but crucial detail, he says.

"They were there to condemn the Russian government when things were wrong, so now we should ask them for congratulations when things are right," he says.

From beneath the pile of papers, Shemtov pulls out a pamphlet on the October conference on looted assets to be held in Lithuania, which he is considering attending. But he has more than Holocaust-era property on his mind.

The Lubavitch rabbi in Vilnius is struggling with local authorities to reclaim a synagogue/school that was seized by the Nazis, which is now owned by the government. Roughly 120 Jewish children study in a different piece of prime real estate in the center of town, which the Lubavitch would happily trade for the old synagogue. Shemtov will lunch with the Lithuanian ambassador tomorrow to see if he really needs to make the trip.

Next up: Slovakia. Residents in Bratislava, which does not yet have enough children to establish its own school, want to send them to religious institutions in nearby Vienna while still receiving credit from the Slovak school system. To do so, the Education Minister needs to give a waiver. In a few hours, Shemtov will attend a reception sponsored by the Slovak embassy to try to sort things out, but a trip will probably be in order.

Next week's schedule is starting to take shape. Moscow on Monday. Tuesday to Ukraine for a separate yeshiva dedication. Wednesday night to Bratislava.

Thursday to Vienna and Friday back home in time for the Sabbath, complete with services and 20 guests for dinner. As the day progresses, calls come in from a different set of time zones. One from Chile, about an attempt by Latin American Habad branches to put together an anti-poverty network, is followed by another from Argentina, about the upcoming Argentine president's visit to Washington. Then a local matter - a New York rabbi wants to arrange a weekend for Jewish singles in D.C. after the High Holy Days.

WHILE intrigued by politics as a boy, Shemtov's interest in the intersection of religion and public life began in Australia, where he studied for his smicha, or religious ordination. At only 19, he organized a massive Hanuka celebration to coincide with Australia's bicentennial. He arranged for a 30-foot menora to be placed on the prime minister's lawn and chartered airplanes painted with a rainbow-colored "Air Hanukka" logo to fly Jews to the capital, Canberra, where few Jews live. Shemtov remembers the excitement of meeting his first world leader.

More than a decade later, he is in regular contact with a few dozen ambassadors. Twenty-five, he says proudly, came to the Habad building's dedication, which was also attended by Lieberman, other members of Congress, the mayor of D.C., and Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman. Habad had to move to the new location after outgrowing several others. He mulls a question about why diplomats, administration officials, and congressmen are so available to him.

"Probably they understand that it doesn't hurt for them to be seen helping," he says.

On the Hill, he adds, even the non-Jewish congressmen, "like it when they see a rabbi march in from Oklahoma or Texas or something. They say, 'I'm interested in knowing what you guys do.'" Two years ago, Shemtov hosted a model Passover seder for legislators, both Jewish and non-Jewish. But overall, Shemtov limits his outreach to Jews. "We're not here to educate non-Jews about Judaism unless they ask to know. We have enough work cut out for us as it is," he says.

"There are many times, however, when people who are not Jewish need explanations of why we do things, especially with all this Lieberman mania." The day Lieberman was chosen as Al Gore's running mate, Shemtov fielded 130 calls. The pace has eased, but the interest has not dissipated. Just yesterday, he says, The Washingtonian, a glossy monthly, called to find out what it would take to make the vice presidential mansion kosher.

OTHERS HAVE asked how Lieberman can be pro-choice and Orthodox, or why he can't let someone drive him on the Sabbath if it is okay for someone else to turn on the lights for an observant Jew. Shemtov adds his own curiosities to the mix.

"I just wonder whether they couldn't get an electric car that would have a constant current in it. Maybe if the car goes slower when he comes in, it would be like an escalator," which Jews are permitted to ride on the Sabbath, Shemtov wonders while deferring a decision to greater experts.

A registered Independent, Shemtov feels gratified at Lieberman's selection. The two are friends, but he admits he has not yet decided how he will vote. He adds: "I feel relieved that America finally broke the barrier, and I'm further relieved that they broke it with someone who is visibly and obviously very committed to Judaism."

American Friends of Lubavitch was founded a quarter-century ago under President Gerald Ford. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the rebbe's birthday, the 11th day of Nissan, "Education Day." And in 1995, Schneerson, after an exhausting push by Shemtov and others, became the first religious leader ever to be awarded America's highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

"I consider him part of us. If we could make him an honorary member of Congress, I would," says seven-term Democratic Congressman Benjamin Cardin.

"I've never met a person more upbeat, more uplifting than he is. He's a person who is always there, always reminding us how we can enjoy our religion, even on the most difficult days on Capitol Hill."

Asked if despite all of his recognition among legislators and diplomats he ever gets curious looks from pedestrians around town who are not as accustomed to seeing Orthodox Jews as New Yorkers, Shemtov says with a wink, "I try not to look like a schlepper. You have to remember you are an ambassador of your people wherever you are."

PDF of Rabbi Shemtov's prayer

THE GUEST CHAPLAIN'S PRAYER (Senate - September 17, 1998)



Mr. LOTT. Mr. President, on behalf of the Senate, I thank the rabbi for being with us this morning and for his prayer. We know this is a holy season for those of the Jewish faith, and we are pleased that you would join us and give us your prayer and ask for the Lord's blessings.

In D.C.’s political maelstrom, Chabad man makes his mark

By Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Chabad’s representative in Washington, bears certain similarities to the menorah whose lighting he engineers each year on the White House lawn: big, warm, and impossible to ignore.

What makes Shemtov remarkable is that in his 12 years of dealing with the world’s most powerful power brokers, few seem to consider him overbearing.

“We have nothing in common except love of Judaism and love of politics — and it’s not the same Judaism and not the same politics — but we’re still very good friends,” said Steve Rabinowitz, a former Clinton administration official and a longtime consultant to the Reform and Conservative movements.

Shemtov’s Washington profile is a clear mark of Chabad’s transformation in the past three decades from an insular Chasidic sect to a player working the Jewish spectrum.

Shemtov has parlayed goodwill into a powerful voice for Chabad’s interests — not all of which meet universal Jewish approval — especially in lobbying for Chabad’s entry in force into vulnerable Jewish communities in Europe and Asia.

Shemtov has assiduously cultivated Washington-based diplomats from those regions. A Washington ambassadorship often is a stepping stone to a top job at the Foreign Ministry in the diplomats’ home countries, so the ties Shemtov cultivates translate into greater influence for Chabad abroad.

At one recent event Shemtov hosted, a U.S. diplomat whispered to a German newcomer in Washington’s diplomatic corps, “Do you know Rabbi Shemtov?”

“No,” said the German, “but I intend to.”

The American nodded. “Rabbi Shemtov knows everyone.”

It’s not an advantage that Shemtov’s competitors enjoy, but at least in Washington, they cede the territory to him.

In the former Soviet Union, Chabad has “a presence on the ground in a way that no one else does,” said one lobbyist who works the same officials as Shemtov.

Not long ago, Shemtov pressed hard for a meeting between Chabad emissaries and State Department officers to discuss religious freedom in the FSU. The diplomats realized they were hearing new information and, one by one, pulled out their notebooks.

Mark Levin, the executive director for NCSJ, a group that works on behalf of all the Jewish streams in the FSU, says Shemtov’s advocacy has never rubbed him the wrong way.

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like him,” Levin said.

A measure of Shemtov’s popularity is the on-the-record praise from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the huge pro-Israel lobby.

“Rabbi Levi Shemtov is a Washington institution,” AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr told JTA. “At the White House, on Capitol Hill and throughout the Jewish and political communities, Rabbi Shemtov is a constant and valuable presence.”

Calling a 37-year-old an institution may seem extraordinary. Shemtov’s influence derives not from promises of votes or cash, but from an unerring instinct about whom to cultivate.

His best work is done at dinners he hosts at his residence with his Australian-born wife, Nechama. The couple has six children.

Shemtov inherited the job from his father Abraham, the movement’s Philadelphia-based envoy to Washington during the Reagan administration. Levi Shemtov established the Washington office.

Domestically, Shemtov’s influence means Chabad assumes a higher profile than its tiny fraction of the American Jewish population would warrant: Chabad rabbis are fixtures at meetings with President Bush, and though many Jews did charitable work in New Orleans during the past hurricane season, Chabad was one of the few to earn a presidential mention for it.

“One of those rescued from New Orleans put it this way: In the days after Katrina hit, ‘Chabad saved lives,’ ” the Republican Jewish Coalition said at its 20th anniversary event.

Big, bearded, and in Chabad’s black uniform, Shemtov is the most visible Jewish presence at non-Jewish events, from the presidential inauguration to the crowded little meet-and-greets that are a staple of Washington life.

“He is an extremely able and effective advocate who knows how to get things done on Capitol Hill and throughout Washington,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip, told JTA.

The exigencies of Washington have forced Shemtov to embrace even those with differing worldviews. One week he appears at a get-together for Jewish Democrats; the next he’s helping to prep an event for the RJC.

“I hang out at the intersection of Jewish life and the public square,” Shemtov told JTA “Most of the Jewish community doesn’t affiliate with anybody.”

That’s inevitable in a town where most folks have come from someplace else and are planning to stay only a few years.

“Most Chabad emissaries have their territory defined geographically,” said Nathan Diament, who heads the Orthodox Union office in Washington. “Levi exists more on a virtual geography.”

Chabad’s office — Shemtov calls it Chabad’s embassy, and the building even has its own flag — is on busy Dupont Circle. Shemtov realizes some worshippers drive or take the subway for holiday and Shabbat services, but he doesn’t ask questions.

“While I wouldn’t compromise on what Yiddishkeit is, I believe there needs to be an opening to wherever people are in their lives,” he said.

Other attempts to organize Washington’s transient political Jewish community have fallen by the wayside, Rabinowitz said.

“While they should be getting it from others more in the mainstream, the fact is they’re not — and at least they’re getting it from him,” he said.

Shemtov is close to Ari Fleischer, the former White House spokesman, though Shemtov was disturbed when Fleischer married a non-Jewish woman in 2002. That didn’t stop Fleischer from including Chabad as a part of an “Axis of Good” in subsequent speeches.

Bipartisan goodwill for Shemtov earned the last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a rare congressional gold medal in 1994, the year he died.

Earlier this month, the Bush administration turned to Shemtov and the Orthodox Union for its first-ever kosher Chanukah party.

Shemtov insists his primary concern is outreach to local Jews, but it’s clear he plays an important role in raising Chabad’s profile internationally. He and the German ambassador co-hosted a commemoration this month of 60 years of Germany’s post-Holocaust Jewish community.

Shemtov’s highest profile event is still the Menorah lighting on the White House lawn. This year the honors will go to Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who is Jewish.

It’s a brazen mark of influence, especially as the menorah lighting claims to speak for an American Jewish community that traditionally has been uncomfortable with displays of belief on public land.

Shem tov acknowledges that influence goes both ways, and suggests Chabad is becoming more open to other perspectives.

“My dream is that Jews from various influences and affiliations might find a more common language,” he said. “The biblical Menorah, with all its branches, was hewn from one piece.”

Rebbele giving Lubavitch credit

A pat on the back never hurt anyone, but there is far more to do.

May we soon be able to continue the Rebbe's worthy and necessary Mitzva campaigns OFF the battlefield after our complete and total victory over those seeking to slaughter us - hiding like cowards among women, children and UN "peacekeepers".

Shalom, Chabad

Bucktown’s first Jewish center opens with a Purim bash

By KATHARINE GRAYSON, Staff Writer

At first glance, the Moscowitzs’ home looks no different than any other of the town houses that line Bucktown’s quiet residential streets. But the home of Rabbi Yosef Moscowitz and his wife, Sara, is in its own way entirely distinct because it’s currently doubling as the neighborhood’s first Chabad center.

Chabad centers, says Mosco-witz, are geared toward serving Jews in communities where there may be few official places of worship. There are about 4,000 of them worldwide, but Moscowitz says his center will be the first in the West Town area, which, he says, most Jews often must leave to find a synagogue proper.

"There are lots of Jews, but there’s nothing much Jewish going on here," Moscowitz says, adding that many people in Bucktown and Wicker Park often head to Lakeview or the Gold Coast to worship, if not to the outer suburbs.

The Moscowitz family mov-ed into their home at 2134 Winchester just two months ago. But the Chabad center already held its first event this week, a celebration in honor of Purim, which Moscowitz describes as the most "joyous" of the Jewish holidays. Purim is based on the story of Haman and Queen Esther. In the story, Haman is the "bad guy," Moscowitz explains. He served as prime minister to the Persian emperor in 356 B.C. and devised a scheme to have all Jews killed until Queen Esther stepped in. Queen Esther, who is the heroine in the story, ultimately organized Haman’s downfall at a private wine party. In honor of the holiday, participants dress up in costumes, as "an allusion to the fact that the miracle of Purim was disguised in natural garments," according to a written description of the tale offered by Moscowitz. And, as the plot to hang Haman was devised at a wine party, alcoholic beverages are also imbibed as part of the celebration.

At the party this week, roughly 20 people attended, a turnout that Moscowitz sees as a promising start to his fledgling center—which he ultimately hopes will offer study and prayer groups, and numerous other events for families.

Though Moscowitz is an Orthodox Jew, he adds that the center is open to any Jew, regardless of denomination.

"A Jew is a Jew, and we’re welcoming to everybody," he says. "Everyone’s looking to connect to something."

Most Chabad centers, he says, begin in individual homes. If successful, they may raise funds to build or move into an independent building. For instance, he says, a $10 million center is currently being constructed at Chestnut and Clark. For now, though, Moscowitz expects that Bucktown’s Chabad will operate out of his home for some time.

The Moscowitzs’ house is filled with books—both in Hebrew and English—ranging from philosophy, to the more traditionally studied Kabala, Talmud and Bible.

For Sara Moscowitz, starting the Chabad Center has been a near lifelong goal. Both Sara and Yusef Moscowitz grew up in predominately Orthodox neighborhoods; Sara in Brooklyn and Yusef in West Rogers Park. But, Sara says, opening a Chabad is something she’d always considered to be a "privilege."

Ultimately, Sara Moscowitz says she’s hoping to begin a women’s circle program, which she says would often begin with a lecture and follow with discussion, as well as a "Mom and Me" group. The Moscowitz’ have a 5-week-old baby.

"It’s great for kids and to share practical tips on parenting," she says.

To build up its membership, Yusef Moscowitz says he’s currently relying on word-of-mouth. And as for funding, the center will receive dollars from the national organization for about 18 months.

"After a year or two, financing stops," he says. "We’ll rely on the community finding a void and that we’ll be doing a good job filling it."

The Chabad of Wicker Park and Bucktown is located at 2134 Winchester. For more information, contact Moscowitz at 773/851-5989, or via e-mail, at WickerParkChabad@gmail.com.

Wicker Park Chabad

A good sign that a neighborhood has gentrified is when the chains move in. Wicker Park, once a hipster and artist haven, now has Starbucks, Urban Outfitters and more than a few decidedly upscale retail establishments. And for years, hundreds, if not thousands, of young Jews have returned to a neighborhood where many of their grandparents once lived. You can see the old shuls on the side streets, and its especially true as you get further south and west into Humboldt Park. For 75 years, there’s been little organized Jewish activity on the near Northwest side…
But a hood really shows that it has revived is the arrival of a Chabad House.

Wicker Park, meet your new Shluchim, Yosef and Sara Moscowitz!

Tsfat bombing shakes counselors

Two young women counselors at Camp Gan Israel in Portland are living on tenterhooks, uncertain about the fate of their homes and friends and loved ones in Israel.

Chaya Ceiitlin and Devora Neeman both make their home with their families in Tsfat, Israel, which has come under fire by Hezbolla rockets in the ongoing fighting between the Islamic terrorist organization and Israel.

Both women said they were in shock.

"We didn't get it," said Neeman, describing her and Ceiitlin's attitude toward the violence before it struck their hometown.

"Bombs never fell there—maybe 30 years ago," said the young woman, who, like her colleague Ceiitlin, will mark her 18th birthday soon. "I told Mom bombs are never going to get there, and the next day they were bombed."

Both women's families have evacuated Tsfat, the city known as a center of Jewish mystical learning. Tsfat was first struck by Hezbollah on July 13.

Neeman said her family's home was slightly damaged, windows blown out and a palm tree in the yard destroyed.

Ceiitlin's family home was, at last report, undamaged.

The two women's families live in different neighborhoods.

Both families left Tsfat July 13 to go to Kfar Chabad near Tel Aviv.

Ceiitlin's family is staying with her grandparents. Neeman's family rented space.

At Camp Gan Israel, Chabad of Oregon's summer day camp for children where the two women will continue as counselors for about another two weeks, they have helped campers write letters of support to Israelis.

"We find ourselves in the position of doing for our own families what we used to do for others," said Neeman, referring to the practice in Israel of providing personal support to other Israelis facing challenging and uncertain times.

Ceiitlin and Neeman communicate frequently with friends and family by text messaging.

"A friend sent me a very scared message," said Ceiitlin. "I feel so bad for her, I can't say anything."

Ceiitlin has two sisters who are working as Jewish camp counselors this summer in Californian.

"They are also in shock," she said.

Ceiitlin and Neeman said their anxiety stays with them all the time.

"We try to get over it together," said Ceiitlin. "But we can't."

They said it keeps them awake at night.

"We want to go home. We miss the family," said Ceiitlin who urged people to daven for Israel.

"Everyone can do something," she said. "Pray or do mitzvoth to bring positive light to the world."

Salt Lake rabbi invites public to prayer rally Sunday

Deseret Morning News

Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah — a local Orthodox Jewish synagogue — announced that his congregants will host a prayer rally at 8 p.m. Sunday at the synagogue, 1760 S. 1100 East.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff is expected to attend, as is an Israeli army veteran who lost both his arms during Israel's Six-Day War in 1967.

"We're worried about our brothers and sisters in Israel, so we're getting together for the welfare of people in Israel as terrorists attack innocent citizens," Rabbi Zippel said in a press release.

When contacted by the Deseret Morning News, the rabbi said he recently returned from a nine-day trip to Israel, and he knows people whose homes or relatives have been hit by the fighting. He was still abroad when the fighting broke out. Many of those in his congregation also have relatives there, he said.

As for the rally, Rabbi Zippel said Thursday he had yet to speak with other rabbis along the Wasatch Front but planned to do so. "I don't know if they'll join in. It depends on what they have on their schedules, but we will definitely extend the invitation to them to participate."

He said he wants to make it clear that he's not trying to speak on behalf of the entire Jewish community in Utah but has organized the rally in response to a request from several of his congregants. "So, we're doing it as a Chabad of Utah event. It's not like I'm going out of my way to give the impression that I'm representing the entire community, which I'm definitely not."

The public is invited to the prayer rally.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Vying for hearts in the North

To paraphrase an old rabbinic adage, competition among do-gooders makes for a better world. That is exactly what is happening right now in the North.

The various streams of Judaism, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, are contending to see who can chalk up more good deeds. Breslav Hassids equipped with boom boxes dance with Artillery Corps soldiers while Conservative rabbis visit bomb shelters bearing toys and candy. Chabadniks bring food and clothing to the needy and invite men to put on tefillin while Reform rabbis provide spiritual comfort via a special hotline.

People from diverse backgrounds have converged on the North to perform mitzvot. Like businessman Arkadi Gaydamak, who has established tent camps outside range of the rockets, or the managers of Tadiran, who have decided to invest in a summer camp, they sense the opportunity presented by the present crisis.

Both spiritual leaders and businessmen know that this is the time to show the Israeli public who cares. No matter how eloquent, a commercial or a sermon cannot compete with a simple act of kindness in the face of danger. A unique opportunity has been created in the North. The best time to win the hearts and souls of our fellow Jews is when the missiles start falling.

But unlike businessmen, who can offer material assistance, rabbis have something else to offer - spirituality, and, perhaps, salvation. At times when our mortality is unmistakable, many turn to rabbis, those mediators between God and man.

If you believe there is a God, or you are placed in a life threatening situation and decide not to take your chances with atheism, it can be perfectly rational for you to engage with one of the streams of Judaism. Rabbis understand this intuitively. They know they have a product to offer.

The crisis in the North has created a sort of religious free market in which the various streams are competing for souls. None of these spiritual leaders know whether the good deeds they are performing will pay off later. Will the Reform and Conservative movements expand their ranks with grateful residents of the North? Will Chabad and Breslav gain supporters? It is too early to tell. Still, no one can take away the light they are bringing to Israelis living under the threat of Hizbullah.