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Friday, July 27, 2007

Berlin Jewish Center Builds 1,000 Sq. Foot Replica of Jerusalem's Western Wall

by KRISTEN ALLEN


The Associated Press

BERLIN

The German capital's new $8.2 million Jewish community center will feature a replica of Jerusalem's Western Wall accurate down to the plants sprouting from its cracks, the center's leaders said.

The 1,000 sq. foot replica will be part of Szloma Albam House. The center's Sept. 2 opening will symbolize the growth and vitality of Berlin's 12,000-member Jewish community. Germany's Jewish community is the world's fastest growing, fed by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, according to the World Jewish Congress.

"This is a symbolic part of making Berlin a central hub of Jewish life again," the center's executive director, Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal told the Associated Press on Wednesday.

The project began when a team from the Chabad-Lubavitch organization traveled to Jerusalem to photograph a section of the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, famous for the tradition of inserting tiny prayers on paper into its many cracks.

Almost 19 tons of "Jerusalem Gold" sandstone quarried in the region arrived in Berlin on July 11, and has since been chiseled and installed to match the photographs. The complete replica, located in the center's entryway, will also include identical plants sprouting from the cracks.

The Western Wall replica is not meant to be used for worship, but as a symbol and reminder of the center's mission.

Teichtal told the AP that the center's architecture directly reflects center's philosophy. A large cobalt and light blue glass window greets visitors as a symbol of transparency. The sleek, contemporary design by Russian architect Sergei Tchoban, shows that Szloma Albam House focuses on the future.

"Within the transparency is tradition, and that's why we're building the wall," he told The Associated Press. "It's the strongest symbol of the survival of the Jewish people."

Rabbi Chaim Rozwaski, an orthodox rabbi from New York who serves at Berlin's Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue, said the replica has "no more meaning than a picture."

"But the wall itself has a tremendous attraction and obviously a deep-felt meaning for many people, so it's still nice to have a replica."

The Szloma Albam House, located on Muenstersche Strasse in Berlin's Charlottenburg neighborhood, has been under construction for three years. But its synagogue is already open for worship.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany says the Jewish community has some 110,000 registered members.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Flooding Severely Damages Mineola Synagogue

(CBS) MINEOLA, N.Y. For nearly 20 years, Rabbi Anchelle Perl had been rebuilding the once struggling Beth Sholom Chabad Synagogue in Mineola. When Wednesday morning's storm rolled in, he watched the synagogue's offices, library, and social hall disappear under more than four feet of water. He tried desperately to save anything he could."By the time I got to the second level, I just saw it literally surging up and up and up. And I was literally running for my life upstairs," Perl tells CBS 2 HD. Everything down in the temple's basement was damaged beyond repair and must be replaced, including all the appliances in the kitchen and the entire floor in the ballroom.The cost to rebuild is estimated to be more than half a million dollars."It's very sad because I've spent so many years building lives and communities, and now I have to turn and rebuild myself," Perl says. Priceless religious books, letters, records and even the temple's Torah found floating in water will be buried in a formal ceremony. Still, it's the broken heart of Rabbi Perl, known as a generous contributor to his community, that has drawn members and non-members to the temple to help."The damage here is all going to be fixed. This isn't about the structure of the building or the Torahs or the scriptures. This is about giving back to Rabbi Perl and be supportive of him," said congregant David Lerman."I'm not a member here, but I felt the need and the obligation to help out and give back," said volunteer Barry Heffron. And under Perl's spiritual leadership, there's no doubt the synagogue will be even better than before."It's sad, but I'm gonna take it as a sign that we have to work harder and turn this tragedy into a triumph," Perl said.The second floor worship area was not damaged. Services will continue to be held there.

Jungle Treks, Chabad Style

(IsraelNN.com) A Chabad emissary in Bolivia, Rabbi Yotam Klein, has begun offering Israeli backpackers in Bolivia the opportunity to participate in a jungle trek while learning about Judaism. Participants practice their survival skills while studying Torah and Hassidic philosophy.

Rabbi Klein, a former kibbutz member, said he came to Bolivia after his IDF service and later became involved in Chabad outreach. The idea of mixing wilderness treks and Torah study was inspired by a colleague in India, he said.

Cancun Gets Rabbi And Sees Revival Of Judaism

Rabbi Mendel and Rachel Druk, along with their eight-month-old daughter Mushka, have just made Cancun their new home. The family will service the needs of the 200+ Jews living in Cancun, as well those in as Mexico City, the island of Isla Mujeres and other nearby locales. They will also cater to the thousands of Jewish tourists who visit during spring break and year-round.

According to Samuel Rovero, past president of the local Jewish community, “We’re very excited. We truly believe that it is better for the community to have a spiritual and religious authority. Without a rabbi, it cannot be the same.”

Rabbi Druk, a 25-year-old native of Detroit, was most recently was the teen director of the Jewish Learning Institute, a Chabad-Lubavitch educational program that provides the curriculum for classes at hundreds of synagogues and community centers across the United States. Before that, he directed the Chabad-Lubavitch movement’s search-and-rescue response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; one year prior, he was doing the same thing, but in response to the 2002.

Tsunami that devastated Southeast Asia.

Before relocating to Cancun from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the Druks visited Cancun’s Jews, most recently during Purim, smack in the middle of spring break. More than 100 students showed up for the megillah reading and festive Purim bash that the Druks arranged. They also set up and have been regularly maintaining the website: www.jewishcancun.com.

More immediately, the Druks plan to hold community-wide Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services in a hotel this fall. Said Rabbi Druk before leaving New York earlier this month, “Already we have 30 reservations. Not a day goes by when I don’t get e-mails from people.”

For an American family of three to pack up all their belongings for a permanent move to a place that just 40 years ago was a jungle is unusual, to say the least. But such is the Druks’ devotion to reaching out to Jews wherever they may be found, and making them proud of their heritage.

Rachel Druk, 21, a trained educator who grew up in Crown Heights, plans to start a women’s monthly group and children’s classes. She remarked, “It feels like a whole new beginning. It’s exciting that this is what we’re going to be doing for the rest of our lives.”

The Druk’s move is seeded by a grant from prominent philanthropist Mr. Sami Rohr, of Bal Harbour, Florida, who funds projects worldwide that spur Jewish communal growth.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Chabad-Lubavitch west of Boynton honors slain Jewish soldier

By Chrystian Tejedor

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

July 12, 2007

West Boynton
Beth Agami received another American flag Wednesday night during a memorial at the Chabad-Lubavitch of Boynton Beach in honor of her son, who died fighting in Iraq.

This one flew over the capitol in Tallahassee.

"Daniel would want us to continue supporting Jewish soldiers," Beth Agami said, periodically taking deep breaths. "Daniel was all about helping others on a large scale or on a small scale."

Wednesday night brought the arrival of the siyum, or the completion of the Torah. It was the perfect time for a second tribute for Pfc. Daniel Agami, 25, who was killed with four other soldiers when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee about four weeks ago, said Rabbi Sholom Ciment, director of the Chabad-Lubavitch, which is west of Boynton Beach.

"He is one of heroism, patriotism," Ciment said. "His mission as a soldier in Baghdad was to bring freedom to every soul that he possibly could. No doubt he completed his mission."

During the hour and a half long ceremony, friends who gathered to remember Daniel Agami were brought to tears.

David More of Boynton Beach cut short a vacation in Orlando to pay his respects.

"When I saw him come off the airplane wearing his uniform with his name on it, Agami, I was so proud," More said.

During a previous ceremony in Coral Springs, the Army posthumously bestowed Agami with the Purple Heart, Army commendation medal and the Bronze Star.

Agami enlisted in the Army two years ago and was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, in Schweinfurt, Germany.

Because Agami was proud of being a Jew and because he taught fellow soldiers about his faith, friends on the battlefield affectionately came to call him "G.I. Jew."

The military even planned to have him appear on advertising material.

Agami was in Iraq for about a year and his unit was sent on raids to inspect bombs and other weapons.

In that short time, Ciment said Agami distinguished himself as a soldier, earning "no less than 15 medals, honors and awards from saving several soldiers' lives to classified acts."

Born in Ohio, Agami moved with family to South Florida at age 4. He attended the Hebrew Academy Community School in Margate and lived in various Broward cities, including Coconut Creek, Margate, Coral Springs and Parkland.

While on leave from his duties in Iraq, Agami spoke to the members of the Boynton Beach Chabad about his experiences during a Passover ceremony, Ciment said.

"He was an American patriot," said Haim Benzino, a longtime friend of Agami's father, Itzhak. "We had to pull stories out of him. He once shot a man who was coming at them with a grenade. He saved his whole unit probably from being killed."

Agami is survived by his parents, Itzhak and Beth, of Parkland, his sister, Shaina, 7, and brother Ilan, 23.

The family requests donations in Daniel Agami's memory be made to the Hebrew Academy Community School, 1500 N. State Road 7, Margate, FL 33063.

Chabad translating Jewish texts into Russian

The Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia announced a five-year project to translate 50 Jewish religious texts into Russian.

According to federation spokesman Baruch Gorin, the project, called The Library of Jewish Texts, is aimed at Russian-speaking Jews worldwide and non-Jewish Russian speakers interested in getting acquainted with Judaism.

"It is the largest-ever project for the publication of academically accomplished Russian translations of the fundamental book of Judaism," Gorin told the Interfax news agency.

The first title in the series will be "The Lamentations of the Ninth of Av: The Temple We Have Lost." Accompanied by an article explaining the history of the First and Second Temples, the federation, a Chabad umbrella organization, plans to print 10,000 copies.

Beckham to join Chabad?

Footballer David Beckham is set to be one of the star guests enlisted by Chabad to raise millions of dollars for its annual To Life Telethon to support projects aimed at helping those less fortunate.


The LA Galaxy player has been approached by the Jewish organisation to appear either live or pre-recorded for the broadcast - which is famous for its dancing rabbis - on September 9.

The six-hour show is transmitted from Hollywood and broadcast across the United States.

"As soon as we heard that David Beckham was coming to Los Angeles, we knew we had to get him involved," said a Chabad insider. "Over the past 27 years, the Telethon has raised many millions of dollars that have supported community projects and people of all backgrounds. We hope our ideals will appeal to him to get involved."

Celebrities who have shown support to the annual telethon have included Bob Dylan, Whoopi Goldberg, Adam Sandler, Anthony Hopkins and cast members from TV sitcom Friends.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

A logic of their own

Why is a religious group that is opposed to university setting up on campuses?
Nathan Jeffay
It is late afternoon on Friday. As if they had received some subliminal command, 30 undergraduates, postgraduates and postdoctoral researchers stop what they are doing and dash from their faculties at Cambridge University. There is nothing obvious uniting them. They span a variety of subjects, have disparate interests, and vary in appearance from the suited-and-boooted Darren Gower to the hippyish Pete Flemming, always bare-footed so he can "feel the texture of the ground".
They do, though, share a mentor, whom they are all heading to see. He is neither a cultural icon nor a political ideologue. And he is certainly not a revered academic; he never went to university. Rather, he is the local emissary of Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hassidic sect that is gaining unprecedented popularity on British campuses.
Hassidic is the term for the mystical and deeply devout form of Judaism, each sect led by a single guru-like rabbi, that was born in Eastern Europe in the 18th century. Most of its adherents take pride in the conviction that their practices, beliefs and language of choice (Yiddish) have changed little since then, and shun many aspects of modern culture.
This explains why the mentor in question, Rabbi Reuven Leigh, 28, an Essex boy who grew up in a non-observant home and became passionately religious in his teens, does not have a degree. But any Friday night at his home-cum-community-centre in Cambridge, you will find a sort of salon society under way, with the clinking of whisky glasses and rigorous discussion of every topic under the sun until the early hours of the morning. Some students will be back during the week, for study sessions or pastoral advice.
Campus confusion
Leigh admits it may seem incongruous that a sect that shuns university is among the fastest-growing organisations on campus. "Chabad does not promote attending universities as it argues that young people at the most impressionable time of their lives should devote their time to being well educated in their own heritage and culture," he says, adding that the campus atmosphere, with its marketplace of ideas and gender-mixing, creates "a confused environment that pulls young people further away from their roots'."
While the campus may not be Chabad's first choice for Jewish youngsters, it is determined to be there for them. If a marketplace of ideas exists, it will ensure that Orthodox Judaism is there, too, providing what Leigh calls "a place for intelligent people to ask challenging and intelligent questions about Judaism".
Leigh flatly rejects the idea that his group's objection to campus life means it should stay away from universities, or that its presence is somehow hypocritical. The fact that the group has concerns about campus life makes its presence all the more important, he believes.
This is why, with 85 centres at US universities and others around the world, it started establishing campus centres in the UK in 2001, and in the last academic year it has doubled its presence from three to six. In September it will open its seventh, at Leeds - the most popular campus for Jewish students - and is planning its eighth. This year in the UK, 2,000 students attended Chabad activities; worldwide the figure was 100,000.
What characterises Chabad's encounter with students is that both parties take each other at face value, and for this reason many of the students are open about their non-religiosity, and make no pretence that they intend to change.
Leigh is comfortable with this. The sect teaches that unfamiliarity with Judaism, rather than disaffection, accounts for low observance rates, and therefore representatives should give the faith exposure instead of trying to coerce people. "We give people the experiences; what they do with them is their choice," he says.
Tal-Chen Straussman, a 28-year-old from Jerusalem who is finishing an MPhil and starting a PhD in music, visits Leigh with her husband, Ithai, a postdoctoral researcher, and believes this other-worldliness is what attracts students.
"Everything else in this city revolves around the university. Chabad offers something fresh, a complete break," she says. "It offers something that is very definite in terms of religion, and is filled with spirituality, which is absent in the university setting. The fact that Chabad's Hassidim do not go to university is well-known and discussed among visitors, and actually helps create this popular sense of a visit there being a break. Students feel that if he had gone to university, he would be 'one of them'. Instead, he can offer something completely different."
This contrast between the lifestyles of the Hassidim and most of their visitors was one of the first things to strike 21-year-old Londoner Vika Evdokimenko four years ago, when she started attending Leigh's group as a fresher on her history degree. Her parents grew up in communist Russia where religion was forbidden. Chabad provided her first encounter with Judaism.
Evdokimenko is hoping to become both a film-maker and a musician. But encountering Leigh's wife, Rochel, made her recognise that "there is another way". At 25, Rochel is already a mother of four, as Orthodox Judaism places great religious value on having children.
"She is very happy with family life, not because she has abandoned a whole set of plans for this, but because it is what she wants to do," says Evdokimenko. "While I won't go out and have four kids, it gives a new perspective to the way I look at lifestyle choices. Also, while I don't plan to become religious, I now want to be part of the Jewish community."
Sarit Sivan, in her 30s, is a regular at Chabad's centre in Oxford, where she is a postdoctoral researcher in biomedics. She is keen to point out that the Hassidim may disapprove of university, but they do not shun intellectualism. "The Hassidic movement is very logical, and very challenging intellectually. It has a very sophisticated logic of its own," she says. "Visitors savour the encounter with a fresh mindset and novel lifestyle."
Open-minded
This encounter is what made Pete Flemming, 22, from Surrey, a frequent visitor to Leigh's home. His recently completed theology degree at Cambridge took him through many religious phases and left him "emphatically undecided". In a sense, Chabad served as an antidote to the endless questioning of the seminar room, and he enjoyed the Leighs' unshakable faith by proxy. "Given that I don't have a clear Jewish identity or position, it means a lot to go somewhere where I can participate in and enjoy a Jewish environment. I know that I will be welcomed wherever I am at personally," he says.
Joe Herman, a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, is deeply involved in undergraduate activities and has a hectic social life."In most Orthodox environments, you would be expected to leave behind all your views of the world and adopt a single way of seeing things," he says. "This is never the case at Reuven's, and that's why I go."
Chabad also has its critics. The most vocal is Professor Geoffrey Alderman, a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London, and prolific author on British Jewry. He believes that before Chabad's arrival, there was unity among Jewish students - those who got involved in Jewish activities went along to their local Jewish society, affiliated to both their university union and the Union of Jewish Students.
He is now "very aggrieved", considering Chabad's presence "an imposition" and accusing the sect of being "separatist". By establishing up its own centres, it is undermining the unity of the Jewish community on campus, he says.
"I am not just concerned with its infiltration on campus but concerned full stop," he says, citing the movement's lack of religious stability. He is referring to the fact that some members claimed their overall leader, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to be the messiah after his death in 1994 - a belief that endures in a small part of the sect.
But even an old foe of Chabad like Alderman does not accuse it of indoctrination, saying the sect's religious affiliations are clear to all.
It is rare for students to become Hassidim, but one of Leigh's followers, Darren Gower, a 20-year-old land economy student from Southend, is converting. Gower says that the apparent clash of cultures will not prevent Chabad's growth, because anything goes when you are at university, including an organisation that questions whether you should be there.
Even the sight of Gower, transformed over the course of a summer from a regular teenager to a Hassid in traditional dress, hardly raised an eyebrow. "In Cambridge there are so many odd people it makes no difference. One person came up to me and asked whether I was Jewish or just eccentric. I said 'probably both'."

Monday, July 09, 2007

Roving rabbis promote unity

BENNINGTON — Two young "roving rabbis" will be visiting town this week, reaching out to the local Jewish community to reinforce pride and enhance education.

Rabbi Eli Rapoport, 20, from London, England, and Rabbi Yaakov Raskin, 19, from Burlington, came here on Friday afternoon. They paid a visit to Rabbi Joshua Boettiger of Bennington's Congregation Beth El and visited and prayed with a Jewish veteran at the Vermont Veterans Home.

The two men are traveling around Vermont for more than three weeks this summer as part of a program often likened to a "Lubavatcher summer Peace Corps."

"Basically it's pairs of students traveling the world. Each pair takes a state or country — Florida, London, Idaho, Wyoming, North Africa, Vietnam," Rapoport said. "We go around visiting Jewish families, Jewish communities, just to spread Jewish unity, Jewish identity."

The pair spent the weekend in Montpelier to observe the Sabbath at a Jewish center and will return to Bennington this week.

Rapoport and Raskin are members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, one of the largest branches of Hasidic Judaism. Since June 21 they have been traveling around the

state with brochures, books, videos, programming ideas and even kosher food.

The program was conceived more than 50 years ago by the Lubavitcher Rebbe ("leader") Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who died in 1994. Part of Rapoport and Raskin's effort is to reach out to unaffiliated Jews to help them rediscover their heritage, and they have spent much of their time visiting people in their homes.

Both young men — each the son of a Chabad rabbi — are proceeding with their rabbinical studies. "We don't have rabbinical degrees yet, but we are getting there — soon, hopefully," Rapoport said.

"Learning never really ends," he added with a laugh. "We've just been together for five years. We were two years in Michigan, two years in Israel, and this past year we studied together in Brooklyn. Before that I studied in London, Yaakov studied in Montreal.

"And now we've come to the stage where they send us to other Jewish schools and Yeshivas to help out with younger students," he said. "They're sending me back to Israel and Yaakov to Chicago."

They reeled off a long list of Vermont communities they have visited so far. In the southern part of the state these include Rutland, Manchester, Wilmington and Brattleboro.

Besides visiting people in homes, they've also met many fellow Jews on the street. "Just on Main Street in Brattleboro we met many Jews. We actually met a Jew on Main Street who never had a Bar Mitzvah, so we made one for him," Rapoport said. "That was interesting."

They haven't gotten many questions from non-Jews so far, but were asked if they are Amish.

They explained what their religious movement means in terms of the Jewish religious spectrum ranging from Orthodox to Reform.

"What I say to people is our movement is just there to take away these things of 'Reform, Conservative, Orthodox,' and just (promote) Jewish unity," Rapoport said. "We're all Jews, and we don't need all these labels."

"I mean there are more observant and less and observant Jews," he said. "You can probably tell we are more observant."

The Lubavitch movement started more than 200 years ago. It is known for its centers around the world, known as Chabad Centers, essentially a Jewish community center providing education and outreach to all Jews, regardless of their level of observance.

Around the world there are about such 3,100 centers in 79 countries. Only a handful of U.S. states do not have permanent centers. There is a large Chabad Center in Burlington, which has been active for about 25 years, and another recently opened on campus at the University of Vermont, Rapoport said.

Raskin grew up in Burlington until age 11, at which time he left to attend a Jewish school in Montreal. "My father was sent as a Chabad rabbi in Burlington, and my grandfather was sent to Morocco as a Chabad rabbi."

This is the first summer as "roving rabbis" for both young men, and they hope to participate in the program again in the future.

"Hopefully the first of many (summers). It's a very nice place, Vermont, and who knows if I'll come back here — or, say, to Vietnam or to the Congo," Rapoport said. "Actually a cousin of mine was in the Congo three times in the summers. There are many Jews over there, believe it or not."

More information about the Chabad-Lubavitch movement can be found at chabadvt.org. Rapoport and Raskin can be reached at 917-825-9353.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Canberra to get first mikvah

The small Jewish community in the Australian capital of Canberra is building a mikvah.

Aharon Serebryanski, a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi from Melbourne, has pledged to fund Canberra’s first Jewish ritual bath. Approximately 600 Jews live in Canberra, whose lay-led community has no rabbi or kosher butcher. Orthodox and liberal Jews share prayer facilities at a Jewish center.

The motion in favor of building the ritual bath was passed Monday by a 61-14 vote at a general meeting of the community at Canberra’s National Jewish Memorial Center.

"The majority of younger women are very excited at the prospect," Anita Shroot, one of the leaders of the mikvah project, told the Australian Jewish News. "I think a mikvah is a starting point. I honestly feel that once we've achieved that, we will manage to get an educator, hopefully a rabbi and the community will thrive, and that is why we have pursued this so strongly."

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Jewish students visiting local Jewish community

By K. NANCOO-RUSSELL

Freeport News Reporter

The Jewish community of Grand Bahama received a visit from two of their brothers from New York this week. The two are part of a rabbinical group, Merkos Linyonei Chinuch, based in Brooklyn and are students of the Chabas Lubavitch Rabbinical Institute.

About 170 students of that school use their summer break to visit remote parts of the world to interact with the few local Jews who may live there and share with them some learning. Students are currently in China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

Mendel Kalmenson and Chaim Zaklos arrived in Grand Bahama on Sunday and will stay until Thursday. They will then go on to visit the Turks and Caicos, New Providence and Bermuda.

"The general idea behind it is that we focus on that which unites us as a people. So no matter how much the individual may know about their background, no matter how much they practice the religion, that is not relevant. We're just here to share the word, to give them a little bit of Jewish awareness, if they didn't have it prior to that, and just to fortify them because living out here in a far place it is hard for them to retain some of their identity," said Kalmenson.

He said that since the beginning of the program, the visiting students would make contact with the local Jews in an area and pass on those contacts to the next group of students visiting that region.

"We learn a little bit about the locals from our peers who were there in previous years, and the ones that are local and we call them up and ask for a visit if they are interested, sit down with them and have a chat and dinner or service. For the men we'll do a ceremony called the bar mitzvah, if they didn't have it previously," he said.

The students say they are willing to meet with non-Jews who may have an interest in the religion and who may want to find out more about it. They have brought with them literature and other items from the Jewish faith.

Although they've only been here for a couple of days, the students say they have met quite a few Jews who were able to introduce them to others.

"Basically we are bringing our warm regards from Jews who are in larger communities to Jews who are in smaller communities out there in the world who don't have a rabbi throughout the year and even though geographically we're divided, there's more that unites us than divides us," said Zaklos.

Persons interested in contacting the students can do so by emailing them at chabadfreeport@gmail.com.

VISITORS – Jewish rabbinical students Chaim Zaklos (left) and Mendel Kalmenson are visiting Grand Bahama this week to interact with the local Jewish community here on the island. They are students of the Chabas Lubavitch Rabbinical Institute in Brooklyn, New York.