Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Million Word Site Soars Steadily Toward Its Goal

The Million Word Site is steadily attracting new users and repeat visitors as it eclipses pixel sites to become the leader of the next generation of grass roots low cost high impact advertising, marketing, SEO optimization and related sites.

Brooklyn, NY -- (SBWIRE) -- 01/30/2007 -- As pixel sites are losing their impact, interest is steadily turning toward The Million Word Site, which allows users to purchase the exclusive right to a word or phrase (for eight dollars, reduced from fifteen dollars during the beta period) and then to use it either to drive traffic to their own sites or to build a mini-site on the Million Word Site itself. In addition, as spring approaches, it will soon be possible to sell, auction, rent or trade words that have already been purchased. A social networking feature, consisting so far of a blog and forums that are in development stage, adds to the appeal of the site.

The Million Word Site owes its steady success to its originality, functionality, and the willingness of its creator and operator, Itzhak Schier, to assist users in making the most of the words they purchase.

In addition, Schier, a respected member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic Jewish community, is grateful toward the support which he gets from his community worldwide; many of the initial purchases came from businessmen, rabbis, and Internet enthusiasts within Chabad worldwide. But he has many users from all over the world and from all backgrounds, from a dermatologist in sunny California to a web hosting firm in frigid Russia (which Schier himself called home from 1992-2005). He looks forward to welcoming French, Spanish, German, Italian and Portuguese speaking users, as the site is set up to accept words in any Latin alphabet, as well as words transliterated from other alphabets such as Russian and Hebrew.

Now, according to Itzhak Schier, who is known as “ZiQui Million” on his site: “I am making yet another push both to my own community and to the wider Internet world tonight as I get further and further toward critical mass. Most every user who joins ends up loving the site, and many of my users end up making additional purchases a day or even a couple of weeks after the original purchase. It’s clearly only a matter of days, or even hours, before this thing soars.”

But today (1/29/2007), Itzhak Schier was actually only too happy for a quiet day on his site, as it marked “Yud Shvat,” one of the most important days on the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic calendar. He knows that very soon, he’ll be back to his enthusiastic handling of the stream, if not the storm, of new and returning users.

Contact: Itzhak Schier at 347 280 7897 or

New Chabad center launched in London

British Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks will be the guest of honor on Wednesday evening at the official opening of Friends of Lubavitch UK's new exclusive center, the Gaon Club, in the West End of London.

Situated in the prestigious Bond Street area of central London directly off Oxford Street, London's busiest shopping street, the Gaon Club will be a space for young professionals and business people to meet in a relaxed and stylish setting and conduct business or social meetings. Jewish community members from across the world who come to London on business will also be welcomed.

"The response to the concept of the Gaon Club alone has been phenomenal," said Rabbi Mendy Vogel, program director of the Gaon Club. "People have been phoning daily to find out when they can come and see the new center and we're delighted to tell that our doors are now open."

It will also serve as a hub for social and educational activities for Jews of all backgrounds, though it will focus primarily on the thousands of young Jews living and working in the greater central London area.

Gaon Club facilities include a beautiful and comfortable business lounge furnished in a modern, streamlined style, a library, a dining area in which a variety of food and drink will be available, use of a computer with Internet access, a Bloomberg terminal and a meeting room.

"We are honored that the chief rabbi will be opening the Gaon Club and regard his presence at the launch as most fitting for the new center," said Rabbi Yosef Vogel, director of the Gaon Club. "London has become the financial capital of the world and consequently has attracted many Jews. Because of the Chabad worldwide name recognition, we are their initial port of call and we have become a loose community for them. As a result of this great demand there has been phenomenal support to increase our activity, which eventually resulted in securing 3,000 square feet in central London to respond to the demand of young professional Jews."

Ukrainian Jews: Stop media incitement

Ukraine’s Jewish community called on authorities to end anti-Semitic incitement in the media.
Vadim Rabinovich, leader of the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, appealed Jan. 24 to Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to take measures that would suspend a Kiev university’s publication for continuously inciting interethnic hatred.
On Jan. 11, three newspapers associated with MAUP, a private school with a history of anti-Semitism, published an appeal by the Conservative Party of Ukraine that blamed the Chabad Lubavitch movement for Ukraine’s problems and called on authorities to deport members of the “Judeo-Nazi sect.”
The letter was published by Personal Plus, Ukrainian Newspaper Plus and For the Ukrainian Ukraine newspapers.
Rabinovich described the publications as libelous and aimed at creating a discord in Ukrainian society, which “can lead to unpredictable consequences.”
The Conservative Party of Ukraine, headed by MAUP President Georgy Schokin, ran in last year’s parliamentary elections but won no seats.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Day in History

1950: On the secular calendar the date on which Joseph Isaac Schneersohn (Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn or Friyerdikker Rebbe ("Previous Rebbe" in Yiddish) or Rayatz) passed away. "Born in 1880, he was the sixth Rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic Judaism movement. After many years of fighting to keep Judaism alive in the Soviet Union, he was forced into exile, which eventually brought him to the United States after spending some years in Poland. He was the father-in-law to the last and most famous Rebbe Rabbi Menachem Mendel Shneerson. Joseph Isaac Schneersohn was born in Lubavitch, Belarus (then Russian empire). He was appointed as his father's personal secretary at the age of fifteen. In 1897 at the age of seventeen he married a distant cousin Nehama Dina Schneersohn. He was appointed as the first head of the new Tomchei Temimin network of Lubavitch yeshivas in Russian empire. As he matured, he campaigned for the rights of Jews by appearing before the Czarist authorities in St. Petersburg and Moscow. During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 he sought relief for Jewish conscripts in the Russian army by sending them kosher food and supplies. With rising anti-Semitism and pogroms against Jews, he traveled with other prominent rabbis to seek help from Western European governments. He was arrested four times between 1902 and 1911 by the Czarist police because of his activism, but was released each time. Upon the death of his father Rabbi Sholom Dovber Schneersohn in 1920 Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn became the sixth Rebbe (paramount leader) of Lubavitch. It was a time of great social and political upheaval following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the First World War 1914 - 1918 as Russia was first defeated by Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm II and then succumbed to the Russian Civil War after the execution of the last Czar Nicholas II and the entire royal family in 1918. The victorious anti-religious secular -minded Bolsheviks, with Jews who had joined the Communist Party in their midst, were intent on uprooting and suppressing all religious life in the "new" Soviet Russia. Following the takeover of Russia by the Communists, they created a special "Jewish affairs section" known as the Yevsektsiya which instigated anti-Jewish activities meant to strip Jews of their Torah -centered way of life based on Orthodox Judaism and its ancient codes such as the Shulkhan Arukh and the Shulchan Aruch HaRav laws compiled by the first Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. As Rebbe of a Russian-based segment of the Jewish people, Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn was vehemently outspoken against the new aggressive Communist regime and its goals to establish atheism in the land. He purposely directed his followers to set up religious schools going against the dictates of the Marxist Leninist "dictatorship of the proletariat". Thus in 1927 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Spalerno prison in Leningrad. He was tried by an armed council of revolutionaries who repeatedly threatened his life waving guns in his face. He was sentenced to death. A world-wide storm of outrage and pressure from Western governments forced the communist regime to commute the death sentence and instead banished him to Kostroma on the Urals for three years. This was also commuted following political pressure from the outside, and he was finally allowed to leave Russia for Riga in Latvia 1928 - 1929. He then went to visit the Eretz Israel) and the USA where he was received by US President Herbert Hoover in the White House. From 1934 until the early part of the Second World War he lived in Warsaw Poland. Following the Nazi Germany attack against Poland in 1939 Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn refused to leave Warsaw. He remained in the city during the bombardments and its capitulation to Nazi Germany. He gave the full support of his organizations under Chabad Hasidism to assist as many Jews as possible to flee the invading armies. With the intercession of the United States Department of State in Washington, DC (at that time Germany was not at war with the USA) and with the lobbying of many Jewish leaders on behalf of the Rebbe, he was finally granted diplomatic immunity and given safe conduct to go to New York City where he arrived on March 19, 1940. Rabbi Joseph I. Schneersohn was already physically weak and ill from his suffering at the hands of the Communists and the Nazis, but he had a strong vision of rebuilding Orthodox Judaism in America and he wanted his movement to spearhead it. In order to do so he went on a crash building campaign to establish religious Jewish Day Schools and yeshivas for boys and girls, seminaries for women and rabbinical colleges for men during the last decade of his life, from 1940 to 1950 when he was often unable to stand up due to his past sufferings in prisons and interrogations. He settled himself in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in New York City. He established publications, printing houses for the voluminous writings of his movement, and started the process of trying to win over the Jewish masses world-wide to his cause. He began to teach publicly, and many came to seek out his teachings. He began gathering and sending out a small amount of his newly trained rabbis to other cities which was emulated and amplified by his son-in-law and successor Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson with phenomenal success. In 1948 he established a Lubavitch village in Israel known as Kfar Chabad near Lod. When he died in 1950, he was buried in the Borough of Queens in New York City. He had no sons, so his two remaining sons-in-law were left to run the Lubavitch movement. His gravesite became a central point of focus for his successor who would visit it weekly for many hours of meditation and supplication."

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chabad launches Hillsboro center

An influx of Israelis working for one to two years at Intel in Hillsboro has sparked the opening of a new Chabad Center to serve all Jews in the Hillsboro area.

"The Intel community was the push for us to come to Hillsboro," said Rabbi Menachem Rivkin, director of the new center. "Here we have an opportunity to take this push to make this operation for every Jew in Hillsboro."

Rivkin arrived in Oregon Jan. 9 with his wife Chaya and 7-month-old twins Shneur and Margalit. The couple will run a host of programs from their new home at 870 NE Caden Ave. in Hillsboro. As growth permits, a separate location will be added for some programs.

On Jan. 19, the couple hosted their first visitors for what will be weekly erev Shabbat dinner and services, and Shabbat morning services.

Chabad of Hillsboro has already established a Web site,, which lists the programs the couple plan to launch in the coming weeks including a Sunday School, preschool, women's club, lunch and learns, b'nai mitzvah lessons and holiday programs.

"Without one program, just through the Internet, we have requests from people already to get involved," said Rivkin. "I would say we are experiencing a very good beginning."

Rivkin said that he will add everyone who contacts him to his email list to receive updates as programs are finalized. For instance, he said he knows the center will host a program for Tu B'Shvat, but he will have to email people details once the event is finalized.

The Hillsboro Chabad Center is the fourth established by Chabad Lubavitch of Oregon. Under the direction of Rabbi Moshe Wilhelm, Chabad of Oregon is headquartered in Portland with additional branches in Ashland and Eugene, where the Chabad House primarily serves students at the University of Oregon.

Rivkin was born and raised in Karmiel, Israel, where his father was sent from New York to open a Chabad Center. While studying in Manhattan, Rivkin met Rabbi Motti Wilhelm, son of the director of Chabad of Oregon. The younger Wilhelm recruited Rivkin to come to Hillsboro to open the center since Rivkin would be a good match to connect with the Israelis at Intel.

Though this will be the first time Rivkin has headed a Chabad Center, he said he has a lifetime of experience to draw on.

"I was born into this idea," he said, noting he spent his childhood at the Karmiel Chabad Center his father directed.

Additionally, he said, "the average Lubavitch guy during the summer is getting exposure to all kinds of programs. I went for a couple of years to Eastern Europe to run programs."

Chaya Rivkin said that "Chabad girls, as well, work in day camps all over the world. In Long Beach, Calif., I was in charge of the preschool day camp."

The rebbetzin will draw on those camp experiences as well as her formal training as a teacher, to open a small preschool at their home in February. For children ages 2-4, the preschool will be open weekdays from 9:15 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Though her previous teaching experience has been at the high school level, she has observed and evaluated students training to be teachers at all grade levels.

She said she believes that "you teach all ages with the same theory. … Bring everything to their level and do it in a way that will catch them so they make it part of their life."

The Sunday school/Hebrew school also will open in February. The Sunday school is designed for children ages 5 to 11 "who go to public school and need some Judaism," said Chaya Rivkin.

For more information on Chabad of Hillsboro programs and events, visit the Web site at or call the center at 503-747-5363.

"Call anytime," said Rabbi Rivkin. "This is a 24-hour-a-day job. It's not really a job, it becomes your life."

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Other Side of the Tapestry

In 1947 the Lubavitcher Rebbe gave a promise to a Chicago businessman; 32 years later I discovered the meaning of his words. They changed my life forever.

By Shifra Hendrie

S. Paul, Minnesota, February, 1979

I sat in the hall waiting for the program to start. I felt alone in a room filled with hundreds of people. I had missed my ride to the country. Instead, I was here, in this hall full of chassidic Jews--a stranger in a strange land...

A World that Was

I grew up like any other middle-class American. I went to college, dated, had fun with my friends. Although I happened to be Jewish--and was proud of it--my Judaism didn't play a big role in my life.

My mother grew up in Chicago in an observant home. Her father, my beloved grandfather, passed away in 1973. When I was little he held me on his lap and told me stories of his own childhood--stories that seemed like fairy tales to me.

When he was six years old and his little brother only five, their parents left Europe for America to build a better life for the family. The two little boys--practically babies--were left in the old country. There, they lived and studied full time in a "yeshivah"--the kind of traditional Jewish school that didn't exist in America at that time.

The village they lived in was extremely poor, and their school had no budget for feeding the kids. The villagers helped out by opening their homes and sharing what little they had. Often that little was almost nothing.

At night, the children slept on benches in the school. They studied standing up so that they wouldn't fall asleep over the complex texts. All was for the purpose of passing the learning, the tradition, to the next generation in a pure and unbroken chain.

Although my grandfather's stories told of a life of struggle and sacrifice, when he spoke of his life in the old world it seemed filled with magic and beauty.

My great-grandparents worked hard, and by the time my grandfather was seventeen years old they were able to bring him and his brother to America. When he saw his mother for the first time in America, he was an adult. He didn't recognize her.

Nonetheless, the foresight and self-sacrifice of his parents saved the family's lives. Some years later, when the Nazis rolled into that very village, not one person was left alive. The pictures of my grandfather's lost village, Eisheshuk, now cover the tower of the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. They tell the story of a world that once was and is no more.

I loved my grandfather very, very much. But my grandparents had passed away several years before, and whatever little bit of connection to our Jewish roots my family still maintained was eroding. I was no longer an adoring little child. I was a hip college student, quite disinterested in tradition or religion.

And then, out of the blue, my fifteen-year-old brother suddenly declared that he wanted to be observant. My reaction was… huh??? That's for grandparents, not for you! Judaism is beautiful, yes -- in its place. In the past.

My Journey Begins

But my brother persisted, eventually introducing me to the vast mystical world of Kabbalah and Chassidut. Once I began to study, I was exposed to a profound and fascinating wisdom that was unlike anything I had seen or heard anywhere else. I sensed a truth that I couldn't deny. I began--tentatively--to eat kosher food and observe the Sabbath. But it still didn't seem to feel right. The problem wasn't with the observance itself. It was me. I felt acutely and painfully out of place, caught between two worlds without a solid foot in either one.

Hardly any of my friends were Jewish. In fact, I wasn't even sure that I believed in G-d--and I was sure that if there was a G-d He wouldn't particularly notice or care about me.

So when the opportunity came up to drive to the country that Friday night with some friends I was tempted to go. But at the last minute I decided to give the Shabbat one last try. I said no.

So there I sat, that Saturday night, feeling that I had very little in common with these odd people--but still curious to get one final glimpse into their fascinating, mystical world.

The Rebbe's Disciple

The white-bearded Chassidic rabbi at the dais was a disciple of a Rebbe--a great Chassidic Master--whose passing, some 29 years before, was being commemorated this night. The Rebbe was said to be a great tzaddik--a righteous and holy man on the spiritual level of Moses himself. He was said to have the power to do miracles and the Divine insight to see into a person's soul.

His successor, who was living in Brooklyn, was the spiritual leader of the global Chabad Chassidic movement and was said to have, if anything, even greater spiritual stature and powers than his predecessor.

The visiting rabbi, whose home was in Chicago, was known as an unusually talented speaker. Interestingly, the small chassidic community of St. Paul, Minnesota had been trying to book him, on and off, for the last ten years, but somehow it never worked out. But he was there that night. His talk began.

There Are No Accidents

"It's no accident that we're all here together on this particular night," began the rabbi in a deep, sonorous voice. "The Rebbe often quoted the Baal Shem Tov, first of the chassidic masters, concerning the principle of Divine Providence. He constantly emphasized that everything a person sees, he's meant to see, and everything that he hears, he's meant to hear. He taught that whenever something happens that makes a particularly strong impression on a person, that person needs to be aware that this experience was custom-created by G-d specifically for him, in order to give him direction and insight in fulfilling his Divine mission.

"The fact that I'm here tonight--together with all of you--is surely significant."

The rabbi continued speaking. He talked about the Rebbe, telling stories of his life--stories that illuminated his greatness, his genius, his holiness, his kindness.

Then he began a story that caught my attention. In fact, it riveted me.

"In the months and years after the Holocaust," he told, "we had a fund. We collected money to distribute to the desperate refugees left in Europe after the war.

"Among those there at the time was a man by the name of Mr. Samuel Broida. He was the owner of a kosher meat packaging company in Chicago. He was also the president of our fund.

"Altogether we managed to collect $180,000; a great deal of money at that time. Mr. Broida was delegated to take the money to Europe, to help a group of refugees who had fled from Russia to a suburb of Paris. When he returned home, he told us that something had happened to him; something he would never forget.

"'When I was in Paris,' said Mr. Broida, 'I met a little boy about eight years old. I asked him if there was something I could do for him. I thought the poor little boy would ask me for shoes, clothes, food, candy, a suit, a hat… but I was wrong. He asked for none of those things. Instead, he said to me, "I want to be able go to America and see the Lubavitcher Rebbe someday."

"'I myself,' continued Mr. Broida, 'am not a follower of the Rebbe--not at all. I've heard stories of the Rebbe, of his holiness and greatness. But I didn't really believe them. I thought to myself: How is this possible? How is it possible for any human being to leave such a powerful impression on his followers, that he is more real to them than their hunger, their devastation or their poverty? And this was a small child! His answer was completely spontaneous. How it is possible that a small child, a poor child, a hungry child, wants nothing in the world but to catch a glimpse of this holy man?'

"'If a Rebbe,' concluded Mr. Broida, 'thirty years after leaving a place, leaves this kind of impression, then it has to be because he truly is the kind of human being that the world knows nothing of. The kind of human being that I had assumed could not exist. The kind of human being that is head and shoulders greater than the rest of us...'"

The Rebbe's Promise

"After this," the rabbi said, "Mr. Broida asked me if I would take him to New York to meet the Rebbe for himself. This was 1947, just a couple of years before the Rebbe's passing. The Rebbe's health by this time was frail. He had been imprisoned and severely tortured by the Russians who found his powerful religious leadership a great threat to the communist regime. He was able to see very few people each day and there was a long waiting list--but I managed to get Mr. Broida an appointment. And he told me afterwards that it was one of the most profound and incredible experiences of his life.

"But then," continued the rabbi, "Something even more amazing happened. A Rebbe, like any person who receives the confidence of others, never repeats a word of what happens in a private audience between him and any other person. If a lawyer or a doctor is bound by confidentiality, how much more so a Rebbe! Nevertheless, after Mr. Broida saw the Rebbe, the Rebbe called me into his office to tell me about his meeting with Mr. Broida.

"'Mr. Broida came in to me today,' the Rebbe told me. 'I asked him about his business, his community work. We talked. And when we were done talking, I asked him: "And what are your children doing?" He burst into tears and told me that of his six children, none were observant anymore. I promised him,' continued the Rebbe, 'that he would have the joy of seeing his Judaism come alive again one day in his grandchildren.'

"I have often wondered since then," concluded the rabbi, "what happened to the Rebbe's promise. Mr. Broida passed away years ago and I don't know what happened to his family. But one thing I do know. The promise of a tzaddik, of a Rebbe, is never made in vain."

The speech was over. I sat in my seat with tears pouring down my face.

I knew what had happened to the Rebbe's promise.

Mr. Broida was my grandfather.

The Other Side of the Tapestry

The rabbi began that night his talk with a discussion of Divine Providence. That was no accident. Nothing ever is.

Though he was only in his fifties, this rabbi--Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Hecht of Chicago--unexpectedly passed away a short few months after that evening. If he had not been there at that time, if I had taken the Friday night ride to the country, if he had told a different story, if he had told this one and just not mentioned my grandfather's name… I would be living an entirely different life. And you would not be reading these words today.

Our lives are like the reverse side of a great tapestry. From the back, all we can see are the knots, the imperfections, some bumps, some smears of color. It all looks random and chaotic.

Only from the front side of the tapestry is it possible to see how it all fits together. From the front you can see that every stitch and every knot forms an integral part of a vast, magnificent picture.

In life, for the most part, we only see the back of the tapestry. We have to use our intuition, our knowledge, our wisdom, to try to fit the parts together, to guess at the picture that might be on the other side.

But on that night, I, the agnostic, was granted a rare privilege. I was given an open glimpse of it.

In that glimpse I saw many things. I saw the complex and awesome power of Divine Providence and the infinite care with which G-d weaves together the events of every person's unique and personal life. I saw the awesome power of a true tzaddik, his ability to see beyond time and beyond worlds, to reach into the reservoir of souls and empower a specific soul to fulfill its destiny, to make a promise and keep it.

And finally, I saw that G-d plants messages for us all, and those messages, if we allow them to, can change our lives. Sometimes they're big and blatant, sometimes small and subtle. But they are always there if we want to see them.

When I stumbled over my destiny I wasn't expecting it. In fact, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I wasn't even sure that I believed in G-d. But when I ran headlong into an alternate plane of reality, I saw clearly that it was vaster, deeper and far more compelling than anything I had believed possible before.

Racing Toward Destiny

That was in 1979. Since then, more than my own life has changed. During the past 28 years, the train of history has traveled many stops en route to its ultimate destination. And its speed is accelerating day by day.

We are living today in the times spoken of by sages and prophets. This is a time of transition between the old order and the new. It is a time of crisis and of awesome possibility. The potential of these times is unprecedented--both for good and ill. During these times we can choose to remain small, confused and helpless--or, instead, to embrace the G-d-given power that each of us has been given to change the world for good.

If we choose to turn our backs on our messages, we remain like wanderers in the dark, confused, isolated and disempowered. But if we choose instead to open our eyes, to see and hear those messages, to put the pieces of the puzzle together and see the picture as it actually is, it can make all the difference--not only for us personally, but for the world at large.

Shifra Hendrie is a Personal and spiritual Coach, living in Morristown, NJ. She is married with 11 children. Visit her website at:

Posted on January 24, 2007

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Miss South Africa's Journey To Judaism

Ellen Nester Peters was crowned Miss South Africa South in 1973, and later that year she came in ninth at the Miss World contest.

Today she is an observant Orthodox Jew known as Ilana Skolnik, married to Israeli businessman and chairman of Friends of Lubavitch of Tel Aviv Naaman Skolnik.
"I was born in Cape Town to what was called a mixed family," Ilana began her interview with The Jewish Press. "My ancestors came from Scotland and France, maybe from Indonesia, so I was considered in South Africa a person of color. I didn't have the same rights as the whites. I had more privileges than the blacks but I was not allowed to study at the same school as the whites and we had no restaurants to attend."

The Jewish Press: So how did you come to represent South Africa in a Miss World contest?

Skolnik: I represented the coloreds and the blacks. At that time it was still before the fall of apartheid, so there were two Miss South Africas in the Miss World contest. You had the Miss South Africa who was all white and you had Miss Africa South, who represented the coloreds and the black people.

When were you first drawn to Judaism?

When I was in a Protestant school at the age of ten, the teacher asked us to study Ruth, Chapter 1, verses 16-17, which we had to recite aloud. Ruth said "Beseech me not to leave thee for where thy goest I will go."
I have loved this since I was ten years old, and I used to recite this very, very often. Sometimes I used to be very sad and I didn't know why I was sad.

How did your family accept the fact that you became Jewish?

They loved it. I think they are half Jewish, and Rabbi Klein [the Lubavitcher Rebbe's secretary] told me that the Rebbe said there was [a] Jew in my family. I am sorry I never inquired about it, but my mother told me that my grandfather's name was Saul Solomon Jacob Simpson.

Do you still have contact with your family back in South Africa?

Oh yes, very much so. I heard later that the Lubavitcher Rebbe had told a certain convert he should always keep up the contact, but I naturally have it because I was brought up in a very warm and loving family.

When and how did you meet your husband?

I met him in 1980 in Athens, Greece. I then was working as a stewardess for TWA on the ground. I would be meeting groups who came from all over to visit Greece. One time when I came back from America I had gone to collect my car at a long-term parking lot. The man in the office there asked me to make a recording in English on his answering machine saying, "The office is presently closed," which I did.

A few days later, Naaman called there. He had been expecting guests who didn't show up, and he had bought flowers for them. He told his friend he needed someone to give away these flowers to. His friend said why not give them to me. said no, I can't do that. So Naaman himself called me and told me why I should come and collect the flowers. He said it with such humor. . . . He is very witty and sharp, and he caught me with his humor. I loved his humor and I said okay.
The following day he asked me if I could take him to various shops. I agreed and then I saw something in his suitcase which was crocheted. I asked him, "What is that?" He said, "It is my kipa." I said, "So put it on your head." That was my first instruction to him.

Did he?

Yes, he did. I was in absolute shock then. There is a Jew in front of me with a kipa on his head. Anyway, a bit of time later, he proposed marriage, but he was so far removed from religion that he didn't even condition it on my converting to Judaism first. He said "I would like you to marry me." So I said, "Okay, let's go get married in a civil ceremony."

He said "I can't. I am a Jew so I must get married under a chuppah." He did not say to me that I have to convert.

But since getting married under a chuppah meant I would have to convert first, I replied that I would pray to G-d to give me the answer whether I should or not convert, because I didn't know anything about conversion, I just knew it was something spiritual.

He asked me where I want to live – Israel or Australia?
I had never been to either Israel or Australia, but I grew up in a home where we knew my father fought against the Nazis at Alamein. He was wounded and was taken up to Jerusalem. So I grew up with the stories of Jerusalem, and my father had in a glass cabinet a stone with the word "Jerusalem." I therefore preferred Israel.

Once in Israel, I opened a file at the rabbinate in Tel Aviv, and received two years of tears. Rabbi Frankel [then chief rabbi of Tel Aviv] did not accept me; he kept pushing me off for two years.

You see, I suffered racism in South Africa, so for me his rejection meant he didn't like my color. I didn't know then that this is the procedure when someone wants to convert – halachically you're supposed to discourage and push him off. I was brought up with racism so I didn't know any different then. Of course, today I understand it and I think it is absolutely important to do that, because you are playing with fire when you convert someone.

So I met my husband in 1980, I opened a file in the rabbinate in 1982, converted in 1984, and married a bit later.

In 1986 we traveled to New York and met with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and since I had a problem – I was unable to conceive – I asked the Rebbe for his blessing. Two weeks later, after we returned to Israel, we received a call from the Rebbe's emissary in Tel Aviv, Rabbi Joseph Gerlitzky, that a letter had arrived from the Rebbe with a blessing that I would have children.

Then within no time I became pregnant, and between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the same week that I had become a beauty queen, I gave birth to a baby girl.

Two months later, I got up one morning and found that my baby daughter's soul had returned to Hashem.

This was a turning point in my life. I knew that nothing happens without a reason, and if G-d had given me such pain there is something I need to correct in my life. After that we went to the Rebbe again. When we went out of 770 I said to my husband that if such a tzaddik like the Rebbe spoke to me I must start observing the holy Sabbath (until then we had not yet observed the Sabbath).

He said "I'm not ready yet."

Then I went to a bookstore on Kingston Avenue and there was a book of recipes for Passover. I opened it up and saw a letter printed there from the Rebbe to Chabad women in which he explains that the atmosphere in a Jewish home depends on the Jewish woman.

As I stood reading this letter I knew that I am this Jewish woman the Rebbe was referring to and that the atmosphere in my home depends o me.

I bought this book and came outside, and my husband was waiting for me. I said: From the 11th of Nissan (which was only a few days away), I am going to start observing the holy Sabbath.

We traveled back to Israel and informed everybody that we were going to observe the Sabbath.

Full-Court (Olive) Press

Residents of the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life in Horsham and kindergarten students from Temple Judea of Bucks County celebrated Chanukah with stories, songs and an olive-oil press demonstration given by Rabbi Zushe Gurevitz of the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center in Abington. From left are students Sarit Held and Jay Pogach of Doylestown, and Abramson resident Hedwig "Inge" Siegel.

Montreal Beit din installs new chief rabbi

Staff Reporter

Rabbi Yonasan Binyamin Weiss, the new chief rabbi of the beit din of the Jewish Community Council of Montreal (Vaad Ha’ir), pledged to serve as a unifying force for the city’s Orthodox communities while rigorously overseeing the traditional issues under the Vaad’s purview, including kashrut, conversions and family law.

However, Rabbi Weiss, who is only 58, said in an interview that he also intends to affix his own personal stamp to the position. He said he will be open and accessible to individual members of the public, and as a recognized halachic authority in the field of medical ethics, is organizing a new group under the Vaad, the Rabbinical Medical Ethics Committee of Montreal.

“I am not a lone wolf,” he said. “I see myself as not only serving the public, but individuals, with dignity and compassion. I try to encourage people to work together.”

The Vaad’s medical ethics committee, Rabbi Weiss said, will consist of rabbis representing the “spectrum” of Orthodoxy and provide confidential religious advice and guidance on issues ranging from fertility and end-of-life questions, to organ transplantation, contraception and medical negligence.

The committee, he said, is being formed as the result of inquiries made by the Jewish General Hospital indicating the need for such a structure. The Vaad has already hosted a series of shiurim (study sessions) on medical issues for physicians.

The Royal Victoria Hospital, he said, will also consult with the new committee and he expects other medical care institutions will follow suit.

“Sometimes it can be something as simple as a female patient not being comfortable sharing a hospital room with a man,” Rabbi Weiss said.

Representatives on the committee will come from the Vaad’s beit din, the Rabbinical College of Canada and the Outremont chassidic and Sephardi communities, Rabbi Weiss said.

Rabbi Weiss was installed Jan. 9 at a special session of the Vaad attended by its entire leadership and representatives of other Orthodox communities. He became chief rabbi only a little over a month following the Nov. 30 death of his predecessor, Rabbi Avraham David Niznik, who was 85 and had served for nine years.

Born in the United States Rabbi Weiss lived in Bnei Brak, Israel, for 35 years, but is fluent in English. He arrived in Montreal from Bnei Brak about a year ago to serve as a deputy head – or sgan av – of the beit din, and to be groomed as Rabbi Niznik’s eventual successor. A statement issued at the time by the Vaad’s executive director, Rabbi Saul Emanuel, said it took “a search of many years” to find a suitable candidate.

At a welcoming event held upon his arrival, Rabbi Weiss expressed the hope that Rabbi Niznik, then 84, would continue to serve as chief rabbi for many years.

In Bnei Brak, Rabbi Weiss oversaw shchitah (ritual slaughter) and was the rabbinic authority at an infertility institute in Ranana. He is also the author of thousands of halachic responsa on medical questions issued on CD-ROM, called Nehorai and described by the rabbi as sort of a “halachic Medline.”

Rabbi Weiss is a member of the Klausenberg chassidic dynasty whose rabbis date back to early 18th-century Transylvania. In the Holocaust, the Klausenberg rebbe lost his wife and 11 children, and only 15 per cent of the dynasty members survived, with most now living in Netanya and Borough Park, N.Y.

Rabbi Weiss is here with his wife, Freda, and two children. He also has children in Israel, Switzerland and England.

Rabbi Weiss, who said he is also taking French lessons, considers his appointment in Montreal a matter of “divine destiny” and is grateful to a community that “received me with open hearts.” He expressed special affection for Rabbi Harry Kaufman, the senior dayan (religious judge) on the Vaad’s beit din, for his support.

He said in addition to the medical ethics issues, kashrut will be an abiding priority in the effort to ensure the “integrity” of the kashrut process and to demonstrate to the entire community “in the right way” how an “authentic Jewish lifestyle” is of true value.

At Rabbi Weiss’ installation, two other dayanim were appointed to the beit din: Rabbi Yoel Chanan Wenger and Rabbi Berl Bell of the Lubavitch community.

Rabbi Weiss said since his arrival, he has come to appreciate not only the vital Orthodox community, but also Montreal itself for its part North American, part European character. “I must tell you I like it very much,” he said.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Moni Ovadia, star of Italian theatre, discovers “Yiddishkeit”

....“One day” says Ovadia, “the wife of the Milan Chabad rabbi called me. ‘I won’t change an iota of this show’ she told me. ‘This isn’t an orthodox play, not at all, but it helped people working with our school better understand us. In just two hours, this show accomplished what we have not been able to accomplish in two months: to clarify who we are, where we came from, why and how.’”

Minyan before the Pats game

Fans of both teams daaven before kickoff

To a football fan, the hours before a game are sacred. Those hours are a communion for the fraternity of fans, a time when backseat coolers and portable grills transform stadium parking lots into a tailgate party.

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Last Sunday’s Patriots game was no exception. The New York Jets were in town – a division rival – for the first time since defeating the Pats 17-14 on their home turf. Adding to the drama was the win-or-go-home urgency of the playoffs.
Yet while most fans bonded over cold beers and grilled meats, a group of fans – supporters from both teams – met in a small corner of the Foxboro lot for quieter purposes: to say Minchah.
“It shows that if you really want to, you can find God wherever you are, under any circumstances,” said Rabbi Chaim Wolosow of the Chabad Center of Sharon. “We felt like the luckiest people in the universe to enjoy the game and still be able to pray. I would guess this was the first time a minyan was done at a Pats game.”
Earlier in the week, a group of New York fans contacted Wolosow to see if he knew enough people going to the game to form a minyan. Because of daylight restrictions, Minchah had to be said between 12:30 and 4 p.m., leaving a small window before the 1 p.m. kickoff. Planning on attending the game, Wolosow reached out to Sharon residents and found four other men with tickets – just enough to give them the required 10 for a minyan.
“They had the Jets shirts on and they got a few looks, and a little more than that from Pats fans,” said Wolosow. “We were OK, I guess, because we were on the right side. But for the service we all joined in together.”
As for the game, the Patriots won by 21 after letting the Jets hang around for the better part of four quarters. One would imagine that the ride home was especially deflating for those Jets fans. It’s a long ride back to New York before Ma’ariv.

European Jews searching for an assertive voice

...The Chabad-Lubavitch movement gained influence across the continent, in some places setting up or sponsoring activities and institutions that paralleled those run by established Jewish communities. In Budapest, a Chabad-backed congregation was officially registered by the government as the revived incarnation of a prewar stream of Hungarian Jewry.

Is Orthodoxy Confronting Abuse?

Eugene L. Meyer and Richard Greenberg
JTA Wire Service

JANUARY 17, 2007
New York

Within Jewish circles, much of the focus on sexual predators has centered on the Orthodox community, particularly its more fervently religious precincts, where some contend that clergy sex abuse is more hidden -- and possibly more widespread -- than elsewhere.

Whether or not those contentions are true, the problem in that community was spotlighted by two recent episodes. They are among several incidents, emanating from across the denominational spectrum, that JTA examined in this five-part investigation of the Jewish community's response to clergy sex abuse.

The first of two episodes that JTA tracked in the fervently Orthodox, or haredi, community involved a fierce debate over remarks by a haredi rabbi who reportedly suggested that his community sweeps the issue "under the carpet." The second involved the arrest of a haredi rabbi and teacher, who was charged with sexual abuse and endangering the welfare of a minor.

On Thanksgiving, at the annual national convention of Agudath Israel of America, a haredi advocacy organization, Rabbi Matisyahu Salomon, a featured speaker, ignited a controversy with his discussion of the haredi response to clergy sex abuse.

Salomon, a dean of Beth Medrash Govoha in Lakewood, N.J., one of the world's largest yeshivas, said, according to an Agudath Israel spokesman, that haredim are indeed guilty of "sweeping things under the carpet."

What he meant was open to interpretation. Salomon declined comment, but according to the Agudath Israel spokesman, Rabbi Avi Shafran, Salomon meant that rather than ignoring or covering up sexual misconduct, as detractors maintain, haredi officials deal with it discreetly to protect the dignity of the families of perpetrators and victims.

The response to Salomon's remarks was swift and often heated, with several Web site and blog contributors arguing that the rabbi's comments should be taken literally -- that is, haredi officials often look the other way when clergy sex abuse takes place in their midst.

Shafran, who accused the online detractors of making glib and sweeping generalizations without corroborating evidence, termed the comments "abhorrent."

Other communities were criticized as well on one Web site.

"Denial, secrecy, and sweeping under the carpet are not unique to charedi, Orthodox, or Jewish institutions," wrote Nachum Klafter, a self-described "frum psychiatrist," in a Nov. 26 posting on the Web site "They are typical reactions of well-intentioned, scandalized human beings to the horrible shock of childhood sexual abuse."

Eleven days after those remarks were posted, a haredi rabbi, Yehuda Kolko, was arrested and charged in connection with the alleged molestation of a 9-year-old boy and a 31-year-old man, both former students of his during different eras at Brooklyn's Yeshiva-Mesivta Torah Temimah. Kolko, 60, had long served the yeshiva as a teacher and an assistant principal.

Kolko, meanwhile, is named in at least four civil suits filed over the past eight months by his alleged victims, including the 9-year-old boy. The most recent litigation, which seeks $10 million in damages from Torah Temimah, was filed in New York state court the day before Kolko was arrested. It alleges not only that Kolko molested the 9-year-old during the 2003-04 school year, but that the school administration covered up the rabbi's pedophilia for 25 years.

The suit charges that Rabbi Lipa Margulies, identified as the leader of Torah Temimah, knew of many "credible allegations of sexual abuse and pedophilia against Kolko," yet continued to employ him as an elementary school teacher "and give him unfettered access to young children."

Avi Moskowitz, the attorney representing Torah Temimah, said: "The yeshiva adamantly denies the allegations in the complaints and is sure that when the cases are over, the yeshiva will be vindicated."

Another one of the lawsuits brought against Torah Temimah was filed in May by David Framowitz, now 49 and living in Israel. In that $10 million federal litigation Framowitz, who was joined by a co-plaintiff also seeking $10 million, alleged that he was victimized by Kolko while he was a seventh- and eighth-grader at Torah Temimah.

Although the lawsuit, which named Kolko as a co-defendant, referred to Framowitz only as "John Doe No. 1," he has since dropped his anonymity and gone public with his story.

"That's the only way that people would believe that there's actually a problem, if they knew that there's a real person out there who was molested," Framowitz told JTA in a recent telephone interview. "There are many other victims out there, and I want people to know that this really exists."

Framowitz grew up in part in fervently Orthodox communities in Brooklyn where rabbinic sex abuse, he said, is rarely reported. And when it is reported, he added, rabbinic courts seldom have the expertise or the inclination to deal with it effectively.

After his own reports of abuse were met with disbelief and inaction, Framowitz said he chose to "deeply bury" his painful memories of the alleged incidents.

"I never really got over it," he said, "but I was able to get on with my life." An accountant by trade, Framowitz made aliyah several years ago, and now lives in the West Bank community of Karnei Shomron with his wife and four adult children. They have one grandson.

Framowitz said he decided to speak out publicly about his experience after he learned through the Internet in the fall of 2005 that Kolko was still teaching young boys. He said he is relieved that Kolko has been arrested and charged, although in connection with reported incidents unrelated to his alleged victimization.

"It's a relief knowing that the story is finally out there," Framowitz said, "and that maybe Kolko will be prevented from being around other kids."

JTA tried unsuccessfully to reach Kolko, who along with Framowitz was the focus of a May 15 New York magazine story that said "rabbi-on-child molestation," according to several sources, "is a widespread problem in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community and one that has been long covered up."

Attorney Jeffrey Herman, who is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuits stemming from Kolko's alleged misconduct, was quoted in the New York magazine piece saying that the clergy abuse situation in the haredi community "reminds me of where the Catholic church was 15 or 20 years ago. What I see are some members of the community turning a blind eye to what's going on in their backyards."

Hard numbers are not available to determine if clergy sex abuse is more widespread in haredi communities than in other Jewish locales. However, several insiders said there is anecdotal evidence that abuse often goes unreported there. The reason, they said, is that many individuals in those communities, which are noted for their insularity, resistance to modernity and reverence for religious leaders, are loath to confront rabbis for fear of being publicly shunned.

Shafran said he doubts that clergy sex abuse is more prevalent in the fervently Orthodox world than elsewhere. Asked whether victims there are afraid to report abuse, he said, "I hope it's not true. But it's easy to see how someone would be reluctant to publicly report such an issue."

He said modesty, which is prized by many haredim, might preclude the open discussion of matters "that are part of the average radio talk show agenda."

Others believe that underreporting of clergy sexual misconduct may in fact facilitate abuse.

"Offenders have learned to hide behind" the reluctance of victims to speak out, said Brian Leggiere, an Orthodox Jew and a psychiatrist in Manhattan who has treated both perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse. He added, though, "The situation is changing for the better, but very slowly. Each community is different, so it's hard to generalize."

In some neighborhoods, Leggiere pointed out, public safety is beginning to gain traction as an ideal worth defending, as is the notion that professional therapy or other forms of treatment for sex abuse victims, as well as for perpetrators, should not be stigmatized. Judging the judges Among many Orthodox Jews, the preferred forum for adjudicating communal disputes is a beit din, a rabbinic court. But critics say such panels often try to dissuade sex abuse victims from pursuing their complaints, a charge vigorously denied by Shafran. But, he added, "In cases where there is some degree of doubt, the beit din has a responsibility to counsel against going to authorities until there is proven criminal activity."

Mark Dratch, a modern Orthodox rabbi who chairs the Rabbinical Council of America's Task Force on Rabbinic Improprieties, said that if the beit din "is used to make the community safer, that's appropriate. If that relationship is used to bypass the justice system, I think that's wrong, particularly in cases of suspected criminal activity.

"The problem in the ultra-Orthodox community is people go to the beit din and not to civil authorities. There is a very complicated relationship between rabbis and civil authorities," he said. "It doesn't always work appropriately."

Dratch, who now directs JSafe, a nonprofit organization addressing abuse in the Jewish community, said he has "pleaded with members of Agudah to expose the dangers of clerical and familial abuse. I said if you don't expose, victims have no place to turn."

Agudath Israel has not promulgated anti-abuse policies for its affiliated congregations, Shafran conceded, "nor have there been complaints" of sexual misconduct at Agudath Israel-affiliated congregations. But he added, "I wouldn't rule out that one day there would be such guidelines. The Talmud teaches us that we should stay away from even the appearance of impropriety."

Agudath Israel does have binding behavioral guidelines that apply to its youth groups and its five summer camps, which serve about 2,000 youngsters, according to Shafran.

Yehuda Kolko worked at one of those camps, Camp Agudah in Ferndale, N.Y., decades ago, according to Shafran, apparently long before the behavioral guidelines existed.

The federal lawsuit filed in May states that while Kolko was at Camp Agudah, he repeatedly molested Framowitz, who was a camper there in the summers following his seventh- and eighth-grade years at Torah Temimah.

Framowitz's co-plaintiff -- "John Doe No. 2," an adult male living in the United States -- alleged that he also was abused by Kolko, but only at Torah Temimah. The lawsuit contends that the administrations at both the camp and the school knew Kolko was a pedophile and did nothing about it. Shafran declined comment on the litigation, which is being divided into two complaints, one for each plaintiff, according to attorney Herman. The complaint initiated by Framowitz has been dismissed on the plaintiffs' initiative but will be refiled, Framowitz and Herman said.

An attorney representing Kolko in the federal litigation declined comment on behalf of his client. The modern Orthodox community was deeply scarred by the sex abuse scandal involving Rabbi Baruch Lanner, a former regional director of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, a branch of the centrist Orthodox Union. Lanner was sentenced in 2002 to seven years in prison for sexually abusing two female students during the 1990s while he was their principal at a yeshiva high school in New Jersey.

However, a 2000 report by a special O.U. commission found that Lanner had also sexually abused women and teenage girls, and physically abused boys and girls while he was a leader at NCSY. The case attracted widespread attention, in part, because the report said some O.U. and NCSY leaders had failed to take action for several years to halt Lanner's misconduct.

Ultimately, according to organization insiders, O.U. Executive Vice President Rabbi Raphael Butler resigned under pressure in the wake of the scandal.

Both the O.U. and the NCSY have upgraded behavioral guidelines and enhanced anti-abuse training programs, according to officials at both organizations. The NCSY policies, which cover 17 pages and were revised most recently in October, are binding on at least 25,000 individuals, including NCSY professionals, volunteers and program participants. The guidelines spell out prohibited conduct in detail, and include step-by-step instructions for filing an abuse complaint.

Both O.U. and NCSY officials said they are not aware of any complaints of sexual misconduct toward youths since the NCSY guidelines were upgraded a few years ago.

The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has no written conduct guidelines applying specifically to its estimated 4,000 global emissaries, known as shluchim, or its approximately 3,000 multi-use facilities that double as synagogues and are usually referred to as Chabad Houses.

However, many Chabad Houses have adopted behavioral policies originally formulated for the movement's schools, according to movement spokesman Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin.

In addition, according to Shmotkin, shluchim must strictly abide by the Shulchan Aruch, the 16th-century code of Jewish law that prohibits non-married or unrelated adults of the opposite sex from being secluded with each other.

Some of the denominational policies examined by JTA are designed to guard against situations that could result in inappropriate contact with minors, regardless of their sex. They mandate, for example, that at least two adults be present when a child is receiving private religious instruction. A non-seclusion requirement is among many anti-abuse provisions included in mandatory school behavioral policies adopted by Chabad about five years ago. The policies cover approximately 2,000 personnel at some 350 Chabad schools attended by about 24,000 students.

The policies also instruct school officials to consult two recognized rabbinic authorities -- one Chabad-affiliated and one not -- regarding the centuries-old Jewish legal injunction known as mesirah, which in some instances prohibits Jews from reporting Jewish perpetrators to non-Jewish authorities. Mesirah has been blamed for the reticence of some Orthodox sex abuse victims to go public with their complaints. In a spring 2004 article in the anti-abuse publication Working Together, Dratch of JSafe said that in cases of child sex abuse, "the consensus of contemporary Jewish religious authorities is that such reporting is religiously mandatory."

Three years ago, several safeguards were adopted by Torah Umesorah-The National Society for Hebrew Day Schools, a service organization -- the largest of its kind in the United States -- that provides religious educational materials for nearly 200,000 Orthodox students spanning that denomination's ideological spectrum.

The Torah Umesorah guidelines, which were presented to school principals, warn teachers and other staffers to refrain from sexually immodest behavior or speech and from inappropriate touching. They also prohibit school personnel from being secluded with students.

But the guidelines are nonbinding because each of the hundreds of schools served by Torah Umesorah are self-governing.

"We're a service agency, not a governing agency," Rabbi Joshua Fishman, the organization's executive vice president, told JTA.

Elliot Pasik, a New York attorney and children's rights advocate, said the way in which the guidelines were distributed calls into question Torah Umesorah's commitment to protecting students from sexually predatory teachers and other staffers.

The guidelines were accompanied by a Sept. 24, 2003, cover letter signed by Fishman that said in part: "This document should be maintained with a sense of confidentiality. It should only be shared with your educational administrative and teaching staff."

Perhaps as a result of that directive, Pasik said few, if any, parents he knows with children attending schools serviced by Torah Umesorah were told about the rules unless they called the Torah Umesorah national office in Manhattan. Pasik's children have attended yeshivas affiliated with Torah Umesorah.

Furthermore, he added, "I have personally spoken with several teachers and they knew nothing about these guidelines."

Asked to respond, Fishman declined comment, except to say, "We believe that molesters should be reported."

Pasik said the situation shows the need for a centralized governing body -- perhaps a state or federal agency -- that can hold schools accountable for the safety of students.

"It's hard for people in any organization to govern themselves," he said. "We're not being patrolled or governed by anybody."

Pasik recently lobbied for passage of legislation in New York that authorizes non-public schools to require fingerprinting and FBI background checks for prospective employees. The measure was enacted Aug. 16.

The larger issue of child molestation in the Orthodox community was addressed in a one-page statement accompanying the Torah Umesorah guidelines.

Issued by the organization's rabbinical board, the statement says in part that "a small number of individuals have caused untold pain to many children. In addition to the sins which they have committed, they have created painful memories in the minds of their victims, memories which can have a devastating lifetime impact."

The statement urges "everyone to use every means to stop these violations of children, including, at times, exposing the identities of the abusers and even their incarceration. At times, our primary intent may not be to punish the perpetrators, but rather to help them. Therefore, it is preferable, wherever appropriate, to force them to undergo appropriate professional therapy."

Renewal Wants to Keep Same Spirit While Standardizing Rabbis' Training

BOULDER, Colo., Jan. 15 (JTA) -- Karyn Berger, a slight, dark-haired woman wearing a royal blue prayer shawl, steps up to the microphone to introduce herself and her four colleagues. All are about to be ordained as Jewish Renewal spiritual leaders -- two rabbis, two rabbinic pastors and one cantor.

"We were born in Austria, Budapest, the Bronx, Toronto and Oklahoma," she begins. "We grew up atheist, Reform kosher, socialist-Zionist. Two of us went to Orthodox yeshivas. Our average age is 49, and collectively we've been married for 75 years."

When the laughter dies down, Berger, a doctoral student of medieval Arabic and Hebrew poetry, continues more seriously.

"All five of us got our call to serve, and here we are," she said. "Our calling is to heal souls -- the souls of the Jewish people."

The candidates' teachers and mentors are then called up to stand behind their former students, who literally lean back into the arms of those who taught them, receiving ordination via hands-on transmission.

This very personal, emotion-filled ceremony on Jan. 7 -- the highlight of the annual Ohalah convention, the professional association of Renewal rabbis -- is in keeping with the mission of Jewish Renewal.

It's an egalitarian, neo-Chasidic Jewish practice that is reaching for greater internal consistency and standardization of its rabbinic training.

Often derided or acclaimed as "New Age Judaism," Renewal focuses on environmentalism and direct spiritual connection to the Divine. It's part of the burgeoning world of transdenominational Judaism -- the growing number of synagogues, rabbis and prayer groups that eschew affiliation with a Jewish stream.

Renewal rabbis share the same cross-denominational sensibility.

"I've prayed and worked in all the denominations," said Rabbi Alicia Magal, ordained in 2003. "Wherever I am, a part of me is very comfortable and a part of me says this could be different. I'm a bridge; I never completely fit in any place."

Renewal is "not a denomination," but an attempt to revitalize Jewish practice by emphasizing its spiritual depths, says Rabbi Marcia Prager, dean of the rabbinic program for Aleph: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. The approach was developed four decades ago by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a former Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi who is still the movement's spiritual head.

Renewal today claims 40 affiliated congregations. Since 1974, 112 Renewal spiritual leaders have been ordained -- 98 rabbis, three cantors and 11 rabbinic pastors. Sixty are graduates of the Aleph rabbinic program, created in the late 1990s to bring greater consistency to the course of study and relieve the pressure on Schachter-Shalomi, who had been personally overseeing each student's progress.

The Aleph program differs from other seminaries in that it is completely off-site. Each student has an individualized program developed and overseen by a mentoring committee. That can include classes at other seminaries, synagogues and universities, independent reading and traditional hevruta, or Torah study in pairs, as well as teleconference courses led by Aleph teachers.

In addition to Hebrew, Jewish text, history and philosophy, and professional development courses, Renewal students study Chasidic literature and philosophy, meditation and prayer, and are each assigned a mashpia, or mentor, who guides their personal religious journey. The mashpia system is a staple in the Chasidic world.

Other seminaries offer electives in spiritual direction -- 75 percent of the students at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College take it each year -- but Aleph requires it.

"They have to know Bible and Talmud, of course, but we have made spiritual direction the core," said Rabbi Victor Gross, a former Conservative rabbi who is now on Aleph's central teaching committee.

Whereas other seminaries have carefully structured five-year rabbinic programs -- six if a preparatory year is required -- an Aleph course can take from two to 10 years or more. Few students are full-time; most are older and cannot leave family and career behind to attend a traditional seminary.

"Many of the people we ordain do not work as full-time rabbis," said Aleph treasurer David Rafsky. "They do it for the love of it. It's a midlife, mid-career add-on to already successful careers."

The 2005 class of 10 rabbis, for example, included a physician, two lawyers and three people with doctorates. One of the lawyers was Eli Cohen, a former public defender in Santa Cruz, Calif., where he now serves as a Renewal pulpit rabbi.

When Cohen's interests turned to Jewish studies, he felt Renewal best matched his spiritual leanings.

"How could I best serve God?" he wondered. "For me that meant following my heart, and that meant Renewal."

Laura Kaplan was a philosophy professor at the University of North Carolina when she received her Renewal ordination two years ago. Leaving her safe tenured position meant "there was something very compelling to me about moving from academia to the world of spirit and serving people," she said.

Daniel Siegel, the first Renewal rabbi ordained by Schachter-Shalomi in 1974 and now an Aleph teacher, says each seminary has its strengths: Aleph's focus is pastoral care.

"We're trying to train people who are drawn to the service of other people," he said.

Leaders of other seminaries raise concerns about Aleph, not for the quality or sincerity of its students or faculty, but for its lack of standardization.

Rabbi Dan Ehrenkrantz, president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, notes that Aleph has not sought accreditation, and he questions its reliance on distance learning.

"Our program is five or six years for a reason," Ehrenkrantz said. "We want people to have certain socialization experiences that are crucial in the development of a rabbinic identity."

"If someone is called 'rabbi,' it presumes piety and a deep knowledge of Jewish text and Jewish tradition, as well as ethics, integrity and leadership," said Rabbi William Lebeau, dean of the rabbinical school at the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary, noting that he is describing what his school offers, not what Aleph may lack. "If other programs are giving that to their students, I have no argument with them."

In fact, when prospective students approach Aleph, if their goal is to become a pulpit rabbi they are encouraged to enter another seminary to increase their job opportunities. Many have done so, ending up with double ordination.

Magal was already well along in her Aleph studies when she decided to seek concurrent ordination from the Academy of Jewish Religion, a nondenominational seminary founded in New York in 1956 that has a new Los Angeles branch. She says she missed "rubbing elbows with other students."

Part of the lack of standardization is intentional.

"The key to Renewal is autonomy," Schachter-Shalomi told the Ohalah gathering. "We bring heart to the situation. We bring compassion."

But it's also something Aleph's leadership is working hard to change. The establishment of the school in 1995 was itself an attempt to bring greater consistency to the preparation of Renewal rabbis, a process that continues. There's an extensive application process, course work is continually evaluated and two years ago a stable curriculum was created with courses that rotate.

The creation of Ohalah was a second step in the same direction, says Aleph board member Rabbi Pam Frydman Baugh, immediate past president of Ohalah. "In the early days a person who was ordained was out on their own," she said. "Now we have Ohalah to provide things rabbis need as they move forward in their profession."

But she acknowledged that Renewal is still fighting for acceptance. That's nothing new: When Reconstructionism emerged in the early 20th century, the other denominations looked askance.

"Then Renewal came around, and Reconstructionism became part of the establishment," Baugh said.

One day, Renewal, too, could be supplanted. But for now, she admits, "we have that chip on our shoulder that comes from being the new kid on the block."

The Rebbe and the rocket scientist

Yocheved Miriam Russo,
Jan. 10, 2007

My life is a series of footnotes," says Velvl Greene, 78, now retired as professor emeritus from both the University of Minnesota and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. "I was at the right place at the right time. Big things were happening, and I took advantage to be involved."

Greene, a biologist, earned his first national reputation under fire when a devastating outbreak of Staphylococcus took place in Louisiana, where he was teaching. He earned his second reputation as a principal scientist for NASA in the 'man on the moon' project. Today, he travels internationally to speak on the topic of science and religion, a career that began when he became a close associate and emissary for Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Greene was born into a secular but staunchly Zionist family in Winnipeg, Canada. "I went to a Jewish day school - $3 a month, which was hard for my parents to raise," he says. "I learned Yiddish, not Hebrew - Hebrew was for davening, which we didn't do. We studied Jewish holidays, but only in modern terms - Pessah was a festival of Jewish liberation. But the overriding goal for us as kids was to move to Israel. So I studied agriculture when I enrolled at the University of Manitoba. That would be useful in Israel."

Greene earned a masters degree in dairy science and bacteriology, then joined the flow of Manitoba students to Minnesota for his doctorate. "The joke was, we were going to Minnesota to get warm," he says.

The first footnote appears in 1956. "The president of a small college in Louisiana called, saying he was looking for professors. Gail and I were newlyweds and I'd just received my PhD. There was a crisis at the college - the courts had just ordered it desegregated, and half of the faculty resigned. I was young, idealistic, Jewish and qualified, so we decided to go. We drove to Lafayette, and I began teaching bacteriology to students with little academic background, and all of whom - black and white -spoke Cajun French."

Greene also became the 'rabbi' of the small Jewish community. "I didn't know how to read Hebrew, I didn't know much about kashrut or Shabbat. I couldn't read the Torah. But I was the only one who knew the Hebrew alphabet and I had an academic gown. That was enough."

The next footnote appears in 1957, with Lafayette's deadly outbreak of Staphylococcus infection. "Staph infections were almost a thing of the past," Greene recalls. "After the development of penicillin, most infections could be wiped out with an injection. But then the bacteria began to be resistant to penicillin - before, 100 units would stop an infection, then it took a thousand, then a million wasn't enough. Infectious diseases of all kinds were taking a toll - babies, surgical patients were dying. And I was the only bacteriologist within a hundred miles."

Greene was called in to advise. "I wasn't a physician, but they asked for help so I advocated a return to the old protocols of Semmelweis and Nightingale: wash your hands, wear gowns, isolate patients. It worked, so we published a paper on how we'd handled the crisis."

While initially the Staph outbreak occurred in Louisiana, it quickly spread across the US. "Hard to say it, but the Public Health Service wasn't interested until the disease began to spread to 'real' people in the north, not Cajun blacks in the south. Then they panicked and began throwing money at it, hoping for a solution. At the time, I was a 28-year-old kid, but I had experience no one else had. When the University of Minnesota got a million dollars for research, I got a job offer to come back as a professor. We accepted and moved back to Minneapolis."

NASA was next.

In 1961, Congress practically gave the National Aeronautic and Space Administration a blank check to implement President John F. Kennedy's pledge to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade. "Maybe 10 people in the US knew anything about space," Greene says. "All our rocket scientists were German emigrants, after the war. They started with basic questions - what is the moon made of? Is there life? The concern was that 'life' in space might be dangerous microbes we'd bring back to earth, so NASA came to me with a proposal. Would I head up a project to see if there were microbes in the stratosphere? I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I could find microbes on earth, so maybe I could find them in space. NASA set up a lab in Minneapolis and from there we began launching balloons, sampling air from miles up. Other projects followed - Mars, then the Apollo and Viking missions."

Outer space may have been Green's profession, but his own inner space was evolving, too. "Gail insisted on a solid Jewish education for our kids, so we found a very small Torah day school in Minneapolis. It was a great school, so it wasn't long before the kids knew more about Judaism than we did. They were pulling us along. That's when we met Rabbi Moshe Feller, the Chabad shaliah [consular emissary] for Minneapolis. Everything else began with him."

Greene and Rabbi Feller became fast friends. "Rabbi Feller challenged me personally and I was curious. I wanted to explore all aspects of Judaism," says Greene.

His first sight of the Rebbe was at a 'Farbrengen,' a lively hassidic event where the Rebbe would speak. "I was in New York on business and Rabbi Feller called to say a Farbrengen would be held at Chabad headquarters. He said I should go, so I did. The Rebbe spoke in Yiddish, so I understood the words, but I didn't have enough Jewish knowledge to comprehend most of it. The whole event amazed me: There was the Rebbe - educated in math and science himself - who spoke of the 'soul' as something real, not just an idea. And listening to his every word were a thousand Chassidim, working guys, just like me. But for them, everything the Rebbe said had critical importance for their lives today."

As the Rebbe spoke, Greene recalled a Bialik poem he'd memorized as a child. "In one of his poems, Bialik wrote about standing on the threshold of existence, looking into the depth of the Jewish soul. That's what I did at that Farbrengen. It was my epiphany."

Nothing changed quickly. "I was still Velvl, working at NASA. Gail was still singing opera. We were still shrimp eaters, because in Louisiana we'd learned to love shrimp and crawfish. That was the tension in our lives: We wanted both the Rebbe's teaching and the shrimp."

A NASA conference was scheduled for Warsaw, Poland. Velvl met with the Russians. Gail set out as a tourist. "Gail wanted to see the old ghetto but found nothing but rubble, beams and concrete. There was no map, but she had a copy of 'Mila 18' that had a street diagram in front. So using the book, she could see where among the piles of debris the main streets had run and where the Umschlagplatz had been. When she came back to the hotel, she sobbed uncontrollably. 'I don't care what you say, Velvl,' she said. 'When we get home, I'm going to have a kosher kitchen!'"

Greene was not enthusiastic. "No one had kept kosher in my family, but she insisted. 'If we don't have a kosher kitchen, our kids won't grow up to be Jewish, and we're the last ones left. This was the center of Jewish life before, and now it's graves and ashes. Our kids will grow up in a kosher kitchen.'"

"So we flew back, exhausted and jet lagged, but before we even unpacked, Gail phoned Rabbi Feller. We got a kosher kitchen - but I still ate lunch at the campus club. It was a slow process."

Greene's first personal audience with the Rebbe took place in 1963. "My appointment was for 10:00 p.m. I wasn't nervous, more awed. The Rebbe was so warm and welcoming he seemed more like a loving uncle than the spiritual leader of the Jewish world. He asked if I was familiar with the Chassidic principle of hHashgocha protis - Divine Providence: Everything that a person sees or hears is designed by G-d to bring us closer to Him. I didn't quite believe that, but the Rebbe said that for me, it was especially important. 'You work in the space program,' he said. 'You're a professor in a medical school. You travel, see and hear things most people don't experience. Why don't you keep a journal, just a few notes at the end of the day, and see if you can find the Divine message. If you need help, bring it to me.'"

With that began the decades-long friendship between the Rebbe and the rocket scientist, one that lasted until the Rebbe's passing in 1994. In time, Greene became an emissary for the Rebbe, traveling to Russia, ferrying in dangerous contraband in the form of religious books and objects. The Greenes sought the Rebbe's advice on every issue that arose, including aliya.

They had longed to make aliya since the 1960s. "The time was never right for us," Greene says, "Every year we'd write the Rebbe, asking, but the Rebbe's response was always the same: 'I need you here,' he'd say. 'The work you do here is important. At NASA and with your students, you show both Jews and non-Jews a scientist who wears a kippa, who observes Shabbos. In Israel, it will take years to learn the language and acclimatize yourself, and even then you'll be looked on as an American living in Israel, not taken seriously. Here, you'll be missed.'"

From 1976 on, each annual request was met with a shorter reply: "My answer is the same as before."

Then in 1986, something different happened: They received no answer at all. "It seemed like the right time for us," Greene says. "Gail's elderly father had passed away. Our three daughters were already married and living here. We had a great offer to buy our house, and I'd been offered the directorship of a new medical ethics program at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. But in 1986, the Rebbe didn't answer. We wrote again, still no answer. So we packed up and made aliya."

Two weeks after arriving in Israel, the Rebbe's letter arrived, having followed them around the world. "The Rebbe apologized for his secretariat, saying that his original response had been returned, after having been misaddressed several times. Then he said his answer was the same as before. 'If you think it over, you'll see that I am right.'"

But the Greenes were already living in Israel. "I immediately phoned New York and explained to the Rebbe's assistant what had happened. 'What should we do now?' The next day, Rabbi Groner called me back. 'The Rebbe says: If you're already in Israel, then you must stay. But you should visit America frequently. It may be that your influence in America will be even greater as a visiting professor from Israel.' Then he gave us his blessing."

In retrospect, Greene says, the Rebbe was right. "We live in Israel, we love it here, it's our home. But in my heart of hearts, I know we shouldn't have come. The Rebbe was right - my effectiveness here in Israel has been negligible. It may be true, however, that in the US and Europe my reputation is enhanced by my living in Israel. But the Rebbe was entirely right."

Today, Gail and Velvl Greene live in Beersheba and recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. "In Israel we have three daughters and 20 grandchildren. Both our sons are Chabad shlihim in the US, with more grandchildren there. We're a very close family. My most lasting memory of the Rebbe was on our 10th anniversary in 1966, when we went for his blessing. 'My bracha, blessing, for you,' the Rebbe said, 'is to remember that there's an old man in Brooklyn who thinks about you and invites you to come back on your 20th anniversary for another bracha.'"

"That was the Rebbe," Greene says. "He cared deeply for us, as he did for everyone. But for us, he was the old man in Brooklyn who thought about us."

Lvov Jews: Give Back Judaica

Vladimir Matveyev
JTA Wire Service

JANUARY 16, 2007
Lvov, Ukraine

Testifying to a rich Jewish past, museums in the western Ukrainian city of Lvov hold hundreds of Jewish artifacts that once belonged to local synagogues and Jewish institutions.

Now the few practicing Jews here say they need the artifacts back to reinvigorate their community. "Our congregation is trying to bring Jewish tradition back, and we need these Torah scrolls and religious objects," said Valentina Zamichkovskaya, 67, a member of the Lvov Reform Jewish congregation.

Ukrainian authorities seem open to the possibility.

"We are ready to transfer some items to the Jewish communities upon their request," Roman Kurash, a representative of the Lvov Regional Administration in charge of religious affairs, told JTA. "Ukrainian authorities are ready to resolve the issue on the condition that these objects are used for religious community purposes," said Alexander Sagan, a senior adviser to President Viktor Yuschenko.

Lvov at one time was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and, between the world wars, was part of Poland. The city was incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1939.

When World War II began there were 1.5 million Jews in what is today Ukraine, or about 3 percent of the population. Lvov itself had more than 200,000 Jews, nearly half of them refugees from German-occupied Poland.

The Germans subsequently occupied Lvov after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. More than 6,000 Jews died in pogroms carried out by local residents in the summer of 1941-- even before the Nazis set up a Jewish ghetto in Lvov in November 1941.

In March 1942, the Germans began deporting Jews from the ghetto to the Belzec extermination camp. By August 1942, more than 65,000 Jews had been deported and murdered. Thousands more were sent for forced labor to the nearby Janowska camp.

In early June 1943 the Germans destroyed the ghetto, killing thousands of Jews in the process. Remaining ghetto residents were sent to Janowska or deported to Belzec. Only a few hundred Jews survived the Holocaust in Lvov.

Artifacts such as Torah scrolls and ritual objects were confiscated from the Jewish community during the communist era. Lvov's Museum of the History of Religion and the Museum of Ethnography and Crafts each contain about 1,000 Jewish artifacts.

"We have a good collection of Jewish manuscripts and over 420 Torah scrolls and fragments," said Maxim Martyn, curator of the Museum of History of Religion's Judaica collection. Its holdings date from as far back as the 15th century; more recent objects are from the prewar Jewish community.

Lyudmila Bulgakova, chief curator at the Museum of Ethnography and Crafts, said her institution has an extensive collection of valuable ancient Judaica items, from Torah scrolls and velvet scroll covers to silver pointers and antique Jewish headwear.

Some of the artifacts are included in the museums' permanent exhibitions, while some were shown at exhibitions in Israel and Poland. But many more remain unseen by the public.

Martyn said most of the Torah scrolls were transferred to the religion museum in the 1970s from a Lvov academic library after Soviet authorities shut down one of the city's major synagogues in 1962. Not all of the museum's Judaica objects arrived there after being confiscated, he said: Some were donated by individuals who could not or were afraid to keep them.

For years the objects were used mainly in exhibitions, but with state-sponsored atheism and religious persecution mostly in the past, the revived Jewish community in Lvov wants the religious objects.

Lvov now is home to some 2,000 Jews. Aside from the Reform congregation, there's a large Orthodox shul run by Rabbi Mordechai Shloime Bold, a Karlin-Stonliner Chasid. The synagogue was confiscated by the Bolsheviks but was returned to the community in 1989, shortly before the fall of communism. Another Orthodox minyan, or prayer group, is run by a longtime Jewish community and human-rights activist, Meilach Sheichet.

Members of these groups acknowledge that many of the scrolls and Judaica objects may never be returned to proper religious use, given the small size of the community. But they insist the city should help the community transfer Judaica from municipal museums to a new Jewish museum that Jewish organizations want to open.

One of Ukraine's chief rabbis was more categorical.

"Museums must return all Torah scrolls to the communities," Rabbi Azriel Chaikin, a chief rabbi of Ukraine and the main Chabad-Lubavitch authority in the country, told JTA. "Religious silver and some other objects we can discuss separately, but Torahs must be returned."

Even before any real negotiations have begun, at least one religious group in Lvov is using a scroll that belongs to a local museum. Sheichet said his Orthodox minyan borrowed a scroll from the Museum of History of Religion on a long-term loan.

Sheichet said many of the objects in the museum's Judaica collection should be moved to a future Lvov Jewish museum, but another Ukrainian chief rabbi disagreed.

"Jewish religious objects were taken from synagogues during Soviet times," Rabbi Yakov Dov Bleich, chief rabbi of Kiev and Ukraine, told JTA. "In independent Ukraine they should be returned to community property."

Some of the Judaica artifacts were damaged or desecrated. Others are so ancient and valuable that synagogues and communal institutions may not want to keep them because of poor security.

One activist in Lvov said it would be wiser to split the Judaica holdings in local museums.

"Some of the objects can help the revival of Jewish communities," journalist Boris Dorfman said, "while others will be better preserved in a future Jewish museum where they can tell incredible stories about the great Jewish past in our region."

This story reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Sunday, January 14, 2007


We also had a fabulous time visiting the Chabad restaurant in Bangkok, which has been primarily set up to cater for the enormous numbers of Israeli backers in Thailand. The prices are set at local rates and you can chose between local-style cuisine as well as a range of Western or more traditional Jewish types of food.At lunch on our second day in Bangkok we met Rabbi Tuvia Bolton who had been brought to Bangkok to perform that evening at a Channukah dinner being held jointly by the Israeli Embassy and Chabad. Rabbi Bolton invited us to come along...and so we did. We found ourselves at an amazing barbeque filled with 100 or so Israelis, most of whom were residents of the city (either working with the embassy or involved with business in Thailand). The event seemed, to us, to signal the beginning of our journey inside the various guises of the Jewish world as they are manifest around the globe. It was a heart-warming beginning.

Scandals and disputes plague ultra-Orthodox circles in the U.S.

Lubavitch Hasidism (Chabad), on the other hand, in contrast to its great influence during the lifetime of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, has become mainly an organizational framework that is represented by the thousands of shluhim (emissaries) who operate under its auspices all over the world.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Orthodox religious demographics that are more technologically advanced than I am, as demonstrated by their possession, and my lack, of cell phones

1. Amish teenagers
2. Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic rabbis.

My meeting with the Lubavitcher rabbi this afternoon went wonderfully. Longer update forthcoming!

106-year-old survivor of czarist pogroms, Nazis dies in New York


"Bubbe" Maryasha Garelik, who lived through the entire 20th century, surviving the pogroms of czarist Russia, Soviet anti-Semitism and Nazi terror and then dispensing her wisdom to thousands of Lubavitch Jews, has died. She was 106.

She died Wednesday night in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood and was buried Thursday at the Old Montefiore Cemetery near the grave of the ultra Orthodox sect's revered "rebbe," Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

"She was small in size - less than 5 feet tall - but a giant in stature,"

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky said.For decades, the bubbe (grandmother in Yiddish) dispensed wisdom to thousands in her Brooklyn neighborhood who came seeking her guidance. Her advice came from decades of trial by fire.

According to a Lubavitch biography of Bubbe Maryasha, her father was killed in a pogrom, or organized massacre, in Czarist Russia when she was 5, and her grandparents, with whom she and her mother lived, were subsequently executed.

Years later, under Soviet rule, Garelik, her husband and their small children were evicted from their apartment into the deep snow because he refused to do factory work on the Jewish Sabbath. As a Jewish underground
operative, he was arrested in the 1930s during Stalin's rule, then shot. (His wife did not know exactly what happened to him until 1998, when his fate was revealed in an unsealed Soviet secret police file).

"She was a lone person who stood up to a regime that shot her husband in cold blood in a field," Kotlarsky said. "She was left with six children, ages 1 to 14, and she persevered and raised them by herself, with ethical and moral integrity."

When authorities warned her against lighting the Sabbath candles, Garelik fled with her children. The family moved six times in three years due to harassment from Soviet authorities; one home was a stable.

But she was resourceful, growing potatoes in back of a synagogue to feed her family - with enough left over to pay for the dilapidated synagogue to be fixed.

When an acquaintance tried to persuade her to send her children to the Communist public school, she said emphatically: "Stalin will be torn down
before my children are indoctrinated that way," as quoted by her granddaughter Henya Laine, who is now herself a grandmother in Brooklyn.

By 1941, when the Germans advanced onto Soviet soil, Garelik and her brood escaped to Uzbekistan, where she made and sold socks to survive. In 1946, they ended up in a detention camp in Germany.

After the war, she moved to Paris, where she established a Lubavitch Jewish girls' school that still exists. She immigrated to the United States in 1953, helping to start a Brooklyn organization whose members visited the sick, and a boys' school for which she collected money into old age.

God gave her "two healthy feet," she would say. "I can walk, I can take care of myself and help others."

The Lubavitch Hasidic movement follows the teachings of Eastern European rabbis, emphasizing the study of Hebrew scriptures while spreading its faithful worldwide. Some of Garelik's more than 500 descendants are Lubavitch emissaries in Australia, China, England, France, Panama, Poland and South Africa.

Lubavitch bubbe

Established girls’ school in Paris
NEW YORK – They called her Bubbe Maryasha – a 106-year-old Jewish grandmother who survived the pogroms of czarist Russia, Soviet anti-Semitism and Nazi terror.

Members of the Lubavitch Jewish community yesterday announced the death of Maryasha Garelik, the grandmother – “bubbe” in Yiddish – who survived milestone moments of the 20th century, including the Soviet execution of her husband for helping to keep Judaism alive.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Ban the Web? Not Lubavitch Jews

Jan, 19, 2000

BROOKLYN, New York -- Despite a recent Internet ban by a group of prominent Israeli rabbis, Brooklyn's Lubavitch Hasidim have no plans to scale back their extensive presence on the World Wide Web, a presence that now includes 700 Web sites in 52 countries.

But the Lubavitch, the largest Jewish outreach group in the world, are concerned about a conflict with the ultra-orthodox rabbis and deny any contradiction between their decade-old Internet presence and the ban.

"We're very sympathetic to [the rabbis'] concerns," says Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a Lubavitch spokesperson.

These concerns revolve around the Internet acting as a conduit for pornography, particularly to Jewish children. But, unlike the ultra-orthodox, the Lubavitch emphasize the use of physical objects as tools to spread their word.

"It's not the medium itself that is kosher or not kosher," Shmotkin explains. "It's how it is utilized."

On a recent afternoon in Brooklyn's Crown Heights, Jewish men dressed in black and sporting the trademark fedoras and long beards of the Lubavitcher Hasidim rush in and out of the main synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway.

Inside, dozens of men sway and chant prayers while off to one side dozens of young boys enthusiastically sing religious songs. Two exhausted Yeshiva students sleep with their heads resting on open books of Talmudic law.

In a small room upstairs, the Lubavitch Internet team sits around a table, oblivious to the din below. These men and women are at the vanguard of harnessing the technology to promote evangelical Judaism. This effort has resulted in a worldwide network of virtual Jewish centers at

"We're trying to create a marriage of new technology and 3,000-year-old ideas," says Rabbi Yehudah Krinsky, a Lubavitch leader.

To this end, a dozen part-time designers, writers, and editors work six days a week to create pages on topics ranging from proper kosher dietary restrictions to the popular "Ask the Rabbi" feature.

Team members create stand-alone Web sites that offer translations of Passover and Hanukkah texts in a dozen languages. They scan and post books of Talmudic law for reference and online Torah studies.

The Lubavitch team includes an editor in Israel and a programmer in the Ukraine, but the content decisions are made at Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn. Once Web content is created by the team, they upload the material onto servers housed in New Jersey, and mail a list of available pages to Lubavitch communities on every continent.

"We give the rabbi in each community his own domain name," explains Shimon Laber, a Web programmer and key member of the team.

A user-friendly template is also provided, enabling rabbis or community Web masters to decide which pages to post on a site.

The Lubavitch see two kinds of benefits from their increasing Internet sophistication: First, in a religion where the rabbi stands at the center of community life, Web site visitors can feel as if they are visiting their spiritual leader. Second, as programmer Moshe Berghoff points out, "If the rabbis had to learn HTML, this would never happen."

Aside from the yarmulkes and beards, the meeting is no different from any other. HTML codes, budgets, and software glitches are discussed; Motorola Star Tacs litter the table. Team members discuss efforts to get pages up for a New Hampshire congregation before the primaries, and a new Hollywood page up before the Oscars.

But a more unique challenge comes from another community: "It's dark in Alaska 23 hours a day right now," says Chani Benjaminson. In a religion where many laws are structured around sunrise and sunset, the team must come up with an Internet solution to reconcile Jewish law with the geographic obstacles of the Anchorage congregation.

One of the most popular Lubavitch sites is Mitzvahs, or small acts of everyday kindness, are central to the Lubavitch philosophy. Under a headline reading "Practical Acts of Kindness," visitors can choose from "general kindness," "kindness towards children," "kindness towards spouse," and "ideas for everyday kindness." Visitors choosing "everyday kindness," are encouraged to "talk to strangers," "smile," and "resist road rage."

The Lubavitch community settled in Brooklyn in 1941 and grew quickly in the years after World War II, the result of an influx of concentration camp survivors, a high birth rate, and aggressive outreach efforts. Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitch leader who died in 1994, developed a huge international following as well. Even today there is fierce debate among his followers as to whether he is indeed the Messiah.

That question aside, the Rabbi embraced technology early on. Rabbi Schneerson's position was that God created everything for a reason, and the material things God created should be used to spread His word. Accordingly, the Lubavitch seized on cable TV and live phone hookups to deliver the Rabbi's five-hour talks to a rapt audience in nearly 50 countries. Today those efforts have been supplanted by

But not all of Brooklyn's Hasidic communities have embraced the Web. Just a few miles away from Lubavitch headquarters is Lee Avenue, the busy strip frequented by Williamsburg's Satmar Hasids. Businesses here still use manual cash registers; a peeling sign over one store reads "Dry Goods." Williamsburg's 50,000 Satmar Hasidim are prohibited from using the Internet.

As early as 1950, Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, the Satmar leader who shaped the community after World War II, decreed technology a threat to the Satmar way of life.

Satmar journalist Albert Friedman says, "In the 1960s we were lucky. With the hippie generation, and LSD, it didn't touch us. Now the 1990s, I am afraid -- the walls can be broken down much easier because of the Internet. The temptations are much worse than in previous years."

In a community where boys and girls are strictly segregated and marriages are arranged, Satmar elders have gone to great lengths to prevent teens from exposure to chat rooms or sites where they might be bombarded with invitations to X-rated Web pages.

But the technology ban has come at a cost for the Satmar, leaving the impoverished community out of New York State's boom in tech jobs. Males study Talmudic law as much as 14 hours a day, but don't graduate high school; the community is focused on turning out rabbinical scholars.

Rabbi Glanz of the United Talmudic Academy explains, "we are turning out very well-educated men according to our priorities. Whether the education they receive is useful in today's economy, I can't say."

The Lubavitch are also concerned about sites they deem objectionable, but they view the Internet as an ideal tool for Judaism. And as Shimon Laber explains, "The Torah jumps around. It is the original hyper-linked text. Nothing can bring it out like the Web."