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Sunday, December 30, 2007

A Lifestyles Exclusive: Lev Leviev The Benefactor

Lifestyles
BY GEORGE EDELSTEIN

NEW YORK, USA - For many, the name Lev Leviev is synonymous with the most beautiful and rare colored diamonds in the world. Lifestyles Magazine was granted an exlusive look recently at the man behind the image. What we saw was that Leviev, 51, is an active philanthropist, donating more than $50 million annually with a special and passionate commitment to Jewish causes and heritage, which has provided the spiritual compass in his life. "A lot of very rich men wait too long to give their money away," Leviev told The New York Times Magazine recently. "Bill Gates is a young man, and he's already giving to help the world, That's the right way to do it."
Leviev's philanthropy is an extension of who he is and what he can do, representing the art of the possible. Growing up as an impoverished immigrant in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, Leviev attended a yeshiva but only stayed for a few months; he readily admits that it wasn't in his destiny to become a rabbi like his father. He wanted to start a business. Soon after leaving yeshiva, he traveled to the headquarters of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Brooklyn, New York, for guidance on whether to leave home and set out toward his goal.
"I spoke to the rebbe in Hebrew. I asked him, 'Should I go or not?' recalled Leviev in the Times. "He answered me in a kind of antique Russian. He said: 'Go. Go to Russia and do business, but don't forget to help the Jews. Remember your family tradition.”
More than three decades later, Leviev - a member of the Lubavitch community-has followed that advice.
As the chairman of the Leviev Croup of Companies, he heads a fast-growing multibillion-dollar global group of companies that encompasses diamonds, real estate, construction and infrastructure, energy, industries, financial services, tourism and leisure, telecommunications, fashion, and high-tech. He is ranked among the wealthiest men in the world and he is admired as the leading Israeli entrepreneur. But Leviev is also making a name for himself for his generosity.
Like his business ventures, Leviev's philanthropy is global. He is the president of the FJC (the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS (Common-wealth of Independent States)), which supports Jewish communities in Russia and the CIS, Israel, Germany, and the United States, funding Jewish schools, synagogues, orphanages, as well as an international group of 10,000 employees and collaborators around the world. Leviev's philanthropic activities have also touched U.S. cultural institutions, such as the Musei of the City of New York, and U.S. char ties, such as the annual Angel Ball (which raises money for cancer research;, the Carousel of Hop Ball (one of the most prominent and influential charitable even of its kind), and Oxfam America.
Guiding Leviev's charity is a belief that philanthropy should build communities. In Queens New York, which is home to thousands of immigrants, Leviev has brought this community closer by founding educations ventures, inter alia, a school for 1,000 students. "All I want is for people in these places to know they are Jewish and to learn about their history," Leviev said in 2003. In the Ukrainian village of Zhitomir, Leviev rebuilt the area's only synagogue, restoring pride for the residents. And in Dresden, he established a school to educate nonreligious Jewish emigres about Judaism.
As one of his earlier philanthropic missions, Leviev established the Ohr Avner Foundation in 1992 in memory of his father Rabbi Avner Leviev, a leader ir the Bukharan Jewish community in Uzbekistan and Israel. The foundation, which has started over 100 schools, universities, kindergartens, and camps in former Soviet states and Easts European countries, is the largest supporter of the Jewish communities in the region.
Supporting the cultivation of Jewish culture has also been the aim of his work as president of the FJC. The group formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union to restore Jewish life and culture to Eastern Europe and represents 500 Jewish communities in the former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries. Like Ohr Avner, FJC funds schools, public kitchens, and orphanages in these communities. The schools, in particular, have helped to revive the Jewish community in an area where anti-jewish restrictions were prevalent prior to the fall of communism.
Leviev is also a generous giver to the Chabad-Lubavitch community, supporting the work of their shluchim (missionaries) who are sometimes sent to the farthest corners of the globe to establish communities where there is little or no Jewish life.
Lev Leviev’s career as a leader in the diamond industry started when his family escaped the yoke of Communism in Uzbekistan and moved to Israel in 1971. Leviev, then 15, took a job as an apprentice diamond cutter through a family friend. Although it was an industry tradition never to teach anyone all 11 steps of the diamond-cutting trade, Leviev was driven to learn and persuaded colleagues to teach him each step. Within six years of starting as a diamond cutter, he achieved his goal of working for himself. He set up his own diamond-cutting business and grew it to a dozen small factories. His success over the next decade caught the attention of De Beers, which invited Leviev to be among its 150 sight-holders—an elite group of individuals who have access to De Beers's diamond supply. Though considered a privilege to join the group, Leviev had bigger ambitions. In 1989, he seized an opportunity to purchase state-owned mines in Russia, It was the first of many mines he has purchased over his career.
With his own stones from his mines, he was no longer dependent on De Beers. Leviev streamlined the diamond process under his company— from "mines to misses" as he has been known to say. In 1995, he broke off from the De Beers Group and has since expanded his holdings in the industry. Leviev owns mines in Russia, Angola, Namibia, and other countries, and has the distinction of being the largest diamond cutter and polisher in the world, supplying several of the world's luxury jewelry brands with thousands of diamonds. In his own words, Leviev has said that "nothing is stable unless you own your own mines." When he spoke to Women's Wear Daily recently in a feature story announcing the new Leviev diamond boutique on Madison Avenue, he noted the importance of the diamond structure he has created; "We feel that our complete control from production to retail, entailing an unsurpassed inventory, coupled with extremely high levels of design, workmanship, and service, will place us in a unique position to market directly to serious diamond buyers."
The "crown jewel" of Leviev's work in the diamond industry has been Leviev diamonds. The brand has been chosen by celebrities like Drew Barrymore, Salma Hayek, as well as by cognoscenti. As a rigorous supporter of the U.N.-mandated Kimberly Process, which ensures that rough diamonds are not obtained from war-torn regions, Leviev has also upheld the industry's top standards. When the first Leviev store opened on Old Bond Street in London last spring, it caused a sensation. Newspapers called the store a blazing "fireworks display of colored diamonds." This fall it opened its 6,200-square-foot New York store with more than 4,000 carats of diamonds ranging from the purest whites to the deepest blues, and the most precious of all colored diamonds, green and red. According to Thierry Chaunu, the president and chief operating officer of Leviev, as in London, it contains more carats than all the other jewelers on Madison combined. "It's like building an extraordinary art collection," says Chaunu. "Just as you can't have just one beautiful painting, you can't have just one beautiful diamond, especially when it comes to colored diamonds."
The stores have been designed to have the feeling of a private salon, with a soft pink, cream, and platinum decor accented by crystal chandeliers. Other Leviev store openings in cities such as Dubai, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, and Beverly Hills will follow, but at a pace consistent with the brand's hyper-exclusivity.
All of this has made the public focus on Leviev and his diamonds. But Leviev continues to focus on the work his groups have done to improve communities and help them realize their Jewish heritage and faith "I am a believer; I believe in G-d. I believe that we, as people, have to do good acts." Indeed, in the Jewish community, there is a tradition that whatever charily one gives will be rewarded in multiples.
Leviev prefers to keep a low profile even as he is so active, attending global roundtables, like the World Economic Forum last year in Davos. He grants few interviews and though he circulates among world leaders like Russian president Vladimir Putin - whom he calls a "true friend"- he stays close to his home in Israel, where he lives in a modest house with his wife, Olga, and nearby their nine children and several grandchildren. Leviev likes to be the force behind change rather than the face of it. But there are times when Leviev can't escape the appreciation. He has been described as being in "a class by himself" when it comes to supporting the Jewish community. In 2004, when the government in Baku, Azerbaijan, threatened to close down all private schools – including a local Jewish school - because a growing number of madrassas were becoming influential in the area, Leviev flew to the city to speak with the Azerbaijani president and convinced him to keep the school open. It's actions such as this that have made Leviev a hero in many communities. When he returns to communities in the Ukraine, Kazakhstan, or anywhere else to visit philanthropical projects he funds, he receives a warm welcome. Last month, Leviev traveled to New York City to receive the Partners for Democracy
Award from the America-Israel Friendship League. The award recognizes individuals who have worked to develop the U.S.Israeli relationship.
Leviev works to transform the communities he reaches out to like the many stones he has transformed into jewels. He has stayed true to his faith and to the advice given him by the Luabavitcher Rebbe as he develops his businesses and expands his philanthropy. "In the Holy Book, King Solomon said a man is born to work hard, to maximize himself, and to achieve something," Leviev told the London Times last year. "I believe that if I can work hard, as the Holy Book says, and do good things for others with my money, that's my mission in life."

Cash crisis tears apart Lubavitch

The Lubavitch movement in Britain has been plunged £1.5 million into the red, forcing it to close an expensive West End of London club for young Jews which had been open less than a year.

The funding crisis has left teachers at Lubavitch schools unpaid since April and caused splits in the leadership of the movement that pioneered Orthodox outreach in this country.

Rabbi Faivish Vogel, principal fundraiser of the organisation, is understood to have tendered his resignation last Friday, following the departure in November of his sons Rabbis Yosef and Mendy Vogel, who ran the Gaon Club off Bond Street, a prime Central London location.

Supporters of Lubavitch were told in a letter that “by far the largest proportion” of donations secured by the movement’s fundraising arm in recent years had been spent on the club, including “almost all” of this year’s £750,000 yield.

As a result, the movement had amassed large debts “in unpaid teachers’ salaries, bank loans and unpaid PAYE”, wrote Rabbi Shlomo Levin, recently appointed as a trustee of the Lubavitch Foundation to help plug the financial black hole.

Rabbi Levin confirmed to the JC this week that the movement’s debts now amounted to £1.5 million, although donors had stepped in to pay the teachers’ wages. If further funds could not be raised to cover the shortfall, the movement would probably have to “sell off an asset”, he said. “It’s early days yet.”

Differences between the Vogels and the Lubavitch Foundation culminated in a hearing at the London Beth Din, which issued a ruling two weeks ago. Rabbis Yosef and Mendy Vogel were barred from conducting outreach activities for six months without permission of the dayanim and from using the names “Lubavitch” or “Gaon Club”.

According to the rabbinical court judgment, a “rift” opened between Rabbi Faivish Vogel and his then fellow-trustees of the Lubavitch Foundation, Rabbis Nachman Sudak and Yitzchok Sufrin, who reported complaints from Lubavitch donors “alarmed by the lavish expenditure on The Gaon Club in its glitzy new premises”.

But Rabbis Yosef and Mendy Vogel felt undermined by “backstabbing emanating from the very highest echelons of the Lubavitch establishment” and a “whispering campaign” accusing them of “excessive expenditure and accounting irregularities”.

They maintained they had been “scrupulously honest” and had been “forced out of an organisation which they loyally served”. The Beth Din is due to hear a claim from the brothers that Lubavitch had “constructively dismissed” them.

The Gaon Club began some years ago as a series of ad hoc events, mainly for young professionals and business people, before moving in January into its elegant new home, the floor of an Adam building equipped with plasma TV screens and internet terminals. The premises, according to the Beth Din papers, had been offered rent-free by a businessman, Colin Gershinson.

Rabbi Sudak, the foundation’s principal, said: “The activities of the Gaon Club are laudable, but contrary to our expectations did not raise the necessary funds to support the ongoing Lubavitch commitment to schools and other activities.”

The Lubavitch network, which comprises schools, Chabad Houses and other outreach ventures, runs to an annual budget of £6.5 million. Rabbi Levin wrote that it was “obligated to close the Gaon Club in its present form”.

Rabbi Yosef Vogel said a statement would be issued in due course.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Van crash kills Sydney Chabadniks

The bodies of a Lubavitch couple killed in a car crash Dec. 20 were buried in Sydney on Monday.
More than 700 mourners joined 19 immediate family members for the burial of Zev and Rochel Simons, who were killed when their van veered across the median strip on a major highway and plowed into a truck. Their deaths have stunned Sydney’s Orthodox community.
The couple, who have 10 children, were traveling to Melbourne for a wedding. None of the children were with them at the time.
The 39-year-old driver of the truck was thrown from his vehicle and died at the scene.
The truck was carrying 50,000 liters of gas, prompting emergency personnel to close the highway for more than 12 hours for fear of an explosion.
Zev Simons was a former director of Jewish studies at the Yeshiva Primary School. Rochel Simons was a teacher at Kesser Torah College and also worked at the local mikvah, or ritual bath.
Kesser Torah College’s president and principal sent a letter on Friday to the school community grieving over the “terrible tragedy took the lives of two of our beloved. We are all in varying stages of shock,” they wrote. “At KTC, we are trying to digest the monumental proportions of this heartbreaking loss.”
The couple's son-in-law, Rabbi Yossi Cunin, the co-director of Chabad of the Hills in Beverly Hills, Calif., told the Chabad.org Web site: “They gave their lives to the community.”

Chabad messianists lose court ruling

The leadership of Chabad-Lubavitch has won the right to eject a messianist congregation from the movement’s main synagogue. New York State’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday in favor of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Agudas Chassidei Chabad, two of Chabad’s three main bodies, giving them the right to eject Congregation Lubavitch Inc. from the synagogue located in the basement of 770 and 784-788 Eastern Parkway, in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. The sites represent the worldwide headquarters of Chabad-Lubavitch.Although the defendants have the right to appeal within 60 days, the ruling gives legal backing to the 15-year struggle to stifle the movement's messianist wing.
The suit involves a conflict that began in 2004, when Merkos and Agudas sued individuals connected with the messianist congregation for defacing a plaque Merkos installed outside the synagogue that used the term “of blessed memory" to refer to the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Chasidic movement's longtime rebbe. The phrase offeneded those associated with Congregation Lubavitch Inc. who believe that Schneerson was the messiah, and thus is not technically dead.
In that first case, the court ruled in favor of Chabad’s leadership, declaring in June 2006 that Merkos and Agudas are the rightful owners of the entire property. The current suit was brought by Merkos and Agudas in order to give them the authority to physically remove the opposing congregation, and its four gabbais, or trustees, from the premises.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

"Watch," she whispered, "he'll talk about the Holocaust."

A Tangle Of TensionsMood In Litchfield Grows UglyAs Religion, Historical IntegrityCollide Over Synagogue Plan
[Editor's Note: Historical Integrity???]
By ELIZABETH HAMILTON
Courant Staff Writer
December 20, 2007
When Rabbi Joseph Eisenbach stood to address the Litchfield Historic District Commission this week at the final public hearing on his congregation's plans to put a synagogue near the town green, a woman in the audience turned to the person sitting next to her."Watch," she whispered, "he'll talk about the Holocaust." The rabbi did not mention the Holocaust, but some people — including the woman who suggested he would — didn't stick around to find that out. They left the minute Eisenbach said, "When my family moved into this town, people from around the state told us we were crazy. Litchfield, they said, has a history of hate and bigotry toward Jews.""This is ridiculous," said one audience member. "I'm not staying to listen to this," said another. And about 10 people scraped back their folding chairs and left. As a result, they didn't hear Eisenbach's next statement, which was, "Well, we proved them wrong … we found most of the people in this town to be loving and caring, unbiased, sweet, really a community as good as it gets." Maybe.But the angry scene at Monday's public hearing is emblematic of an unraveling that has taken place in the last two months over the proposal from the orthodox Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County to convert a 135-year-old home on West Street into a synagogue and community center.Simmering tensions over religious tolerance and historical integrity are converging as the commission nears tonight's vote on the application. The historically tough commission's beef with the plans center around the size of an addition and some of the changes that would be made to the original structure, such as the construction of a clock tower. The Deming House, as it is called, was once a private home, but was renovated and gutted of much of its historical integrity in the 1980s so it could be used as a commercial property.The Chabad's plans call for a 21,000-square-foot building that would include, among other things, the synagogue, a swimming pool, living space for the rabbi's family and an apartment for staff. It would also function as a community center for the Chabad, which provides education, special events, children's programs and worship services.
Special Protection?
The dispute, in one sense, is about whether the intended religious use of the building affords the application special protection under the First Amendment that trumps the historic district's regulations. Those arguing from the Chabad's side, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union, both of which joined the fray this month, say it does. "Denying this application, because the mass or the size of the addition is, in your opinion, too large, substitutes your opinion for that of Rabbi Eisenbach as to what is necessary to fulfill the Chabad's religious mission," the group's lawyer, Peter C. Herbst, told the commission Monday. "The federal and state constitutions prohibit you, the government, from imposing that secular judgment upon a place of worship." On the other side is a group of residents opposed to the project who hired their own lawyer and an architectural historian to fight the plans. They have argued that the Chabad is "hiding behind" the U.S. Constitution and federal laws. They say the historic district commission should base its decision solely on the merits of the application and whether it conforms to the regulations. "Do not be distracted by the building's purported use," said Patricia Sullivan, a lawyer for the opponents. The dispute has gone way beyond the legal arguments of the case, however. It's gotten downright nasty. Since the application was filed, the chairwoman of the commission — who was quoted widely as having questioned whether a Star of David was appropriate for the town center — recused herself from the proceedings. But that didn't stop an online blogger from depicting her on his website dressed in a Nazi uniform, which prompted some angry residents to cry foul and demand that First Selectman Leo Paul Jr. enter the fray, which he declined to do. As the veiled accusations of anti-Semitism have grown on one side, charges of bullying and zealotry have been levied against the Chabad by residents who feel they have been unfairly painted in the media.It didn't help when residents turned up at Monday's public hearing and found on each chair copies of letters from the ADL and ACLU supporting the Chabad, along with a reprint of a 1943 article from the "Nation" magazine. The article, by author Willson Whitman about traveling to Litchfield on Christmas Eve, states point blank that Jews were not allowed to own property in town. It was "just a sort of general agreement — yes, you could call it a Christian unity among Litchfield people on that point. No, they didn't realize it was Hitler's party line," a local minister told the author in 1943. Needless to say, that didn't calm down anybody at the public hearing in 2007."You know, I'm a simple person, and this confuses me," said Laurel McKewen, who looked more distressed than confused.Resident Zeus Goldberg, who is Jewish, stayed to listen to the rabbi speak Monday. Goldberg didn't comment on the Nation article, but had some pointed criticisms for the Chabad team. "By now, it is abundantly clear that the application by the Chabad Lubavitch group … has turned from its original purpose into an enormous public relations struggle and pseudo-religious freedom issue that will benefit no one, drag on for years and be tremendously costly to all parties involved," Goldberg said. Like others at the hearing, Goldberg opposes the size of the project because he believes it will not "merge" with the historic district. According to Goldberg and Eisenbach, both of whom attended a subsequent meeting of the commission Tuesday night, the panel appears ready to deny the application as is and wants the addition scaled down dramatically before it can be approved. Commission members proposed a motion Tuesday that would give the Chabad an opportunity to revise the plan and bring it back to the commission, Goldberg said. That motion is expected to be approved tonight. "Sadly, we're expecting a denial," Eisenbach said.Historical IntegrityA denial wouldn't be all that surprising, given that Litchfield has a well-deserved reputation for closely guarding its pristine historic character.Highlights of that effort include a 1996 showdown over whether a menorah could be placed on the picturesque town green, a crackdown on a the unfortunate bed and breakfast owner who wanted to put window boxes on the front of her house and a pitched battle over whether to allow a chain store — in this case, a respectable, tweed-filled Talbot's — to take up residence on the green.But the commission's view on this project has also led to accusations of inconsistency. Other religious institutions in the historic district are larger than the proposed synagogue, and its next door neighbor, the United Methodist Church, would be roughly the same size. There is also controversy over whether the Chabad should be allowed to build a clock toweron the roof of the house — a change that was opposed by James Sexton, the architectural historian hired by opponents, because, he said, it would alter the historic character of the original house and because it doesn't comply with the federal Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation. Sexton was even more critical of the proposed addition, because it would be 18 feet wider and more than twice as long as the original home — another violation of federal standards, he said. Experts for the Chabad, however, recited a list of buildings in the historic district that wouldn't comply with this standard, including the town library and a proposed renovation of town hall, which is currently 7,884-square-feet and would jump to 20,000-square-feet under current plans. The town hall is located almost directly across the street from the proposed synagogue."I have to ask why, when the Historic District Commission is dealing with a constitutionally protected use such as the Chabad, rather than a nursing home … or town hall, which are not afforded similar protection under the Constitution, why would a different and more-difficult-to-meet standard be applied?" asked Herbst, the Chabad's lawyer.The commission might be forced to answer that question in court in the coming months if the project is denied — just as Goldberg predicted. "As a resident in this town and almost a Yankee rabbi, and someone who cares dearly for every resident, and every aspect of this community, I ask you not to make the mistake of denying us our certificate," Eisenberg said Monday night. "It will sadly make Litchfield look like something it really is not, and it will not bring closure to this historic chapter in our community's history."

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

An unexpected partnership

On November 29, a deal was signed in Deerfield Beach, Florida, which saved Temple Beth Israel, the giant Conservative congregation, from extinction. And the lifesavers were none other than Chabad Lubavitch. How an ultra-Orthodox group came to form a partnership with a Conservative shul is an compelling story for our time.

Founded in 1977, Temple Beth Israel had about 2,000 member families in the early 1980s, when my parents and in-laws were living in Century Village, a huge retirement community. Beth Israel was so popular that there was a waiting list for those wanting to join. Whenever we visited, my father-in-law would take my wife and me, and one, two or three of our sons with him for Shabbat services, where the presence of youngsters brought wide attention from the hundreds of bubbies and zeidies. My sons were puzzled by the majestic and bilingual services, so different from the wrap-'em-up Shabbat prayers we knew in Israel.

Right up the street was the storefront Young Israel Orthodox congregation, where a few dozen families staunchly rejected Beth Israel's family seating and microphone. Sometimes I would daven in Young Israel, where the services (apart from the Ashkenazi accents) were much closer to the Israeli model.

Way back then, Century Village was, as my father would say, "99.9% Jewish, and I know the one Italian family."

But the only constant is change. In 2007, the only one of our parents left in Century Village is my mother. The demographics have changed completely. For more than a decade, the new people moving in have been either Orthodox Jews or gentiles.

On a recent trip, I couldn't help but notice this in the clubhouse gym and pools. In the past, these locations looked and sounded like a Jackie Mason skit: old Jews shvitzing, kvetching, bumping into each other and shouting in dialect, "Hey Morty, I see you're still alive this morning."

"Sophie, where didya go eat yesterday?" "Stop yer splashin'. Lady, yer grandson's gettin' my hair wet."

Today, you're more likely to see large gold crucifixes hanging around necks.

Young Israel outgrew its storefront and built a huge synagogue rivaling the Conservative one, filled with worshipers every Shabbat. Members of the Young Israel now populate the condos in walking distance to their shul.

MEANWHILE, over in Temple Beth Israel, a few dozen people gather for Shabbat services. Membership has plummeted to some 200 families. There isn't enough income to employ a rabbi, and there was talk that even the salary of Cantor Charles Segelbaum, the acting spiritual leader for the past three years, would have to be cut.

"Our days appeared to be numbered," says the London-born Segelbaum."The few dues-paying members weren't providing us with enough income to continue functioning as a congregation."

Then, a few months ago, Ken Barnett, Beth Israel's new board chairman, had an inspired idea. Alerted to the nearby Chabad Lubavitch group of North Broward and South Palm Beach Counties, which was looking for a permanent place to pray, he thought that perhaps they could be the answer to Beth Israel's prayers. The Chabadniks had no place to daven but they were giving classes and what they call "Lunch & Learn" sessions.

Barnett made a shiduch between the Chabadniks and the Conservatives, between those with a big building and a shrinking congregation - and those with a growing population and no building.

"We were invited to a members' meeting at Temple Beth Israel," explains Rabbi Yossi Goldblatt, the leader of the Chabad group. "I told the members that we don't want to make any changes in how they do things. I said we can give classes, lectures and other activities that will bring people into the building, and life back to the congregation. I was received very well, and with a lot of interest."

However, some members were suspicious that once "inside," the Chabad group would try to change the nature of Beth Israel, which prides itself as being "Conservative, traditional and egalitarian," having mixed seating and calling women to the bima for the Torah reading. Eventually, they were convinced that Chabad would do nothing to interfere with the Conservative way of prayer services.

Ken Barnett adds that Beth Israel's members, who include Holocaust survivors and other immigrants from Europe, may have a special positive feeling for the Chabadniks, with their old world dress and customs. This, he believes, may have also helped to soften their opposition to the partnership.

Within a short while, a deal was hammered out. In return for yearly cash payments which would give Beth Israel a comfortable operating budget, the Chabadniks would receive use of the building and other Beth Israel assets. At this stage, they will use the small chapel for daily and Shabbat services - after installing a mehitza. The Conservatives will continue to use the main sanctuary for their Shabbat services, while sharing the chapel with Chabad for the daily minyan. No one has objected to the mehitza - and since women do not regularly attend the daily minyan, its presence is largely irrelevant.

The cash inflow from Chabad is allowing Beth Israel to hire a rabbi and an executive director, after being without either for several years.

When the congregation met to vote for the partnership agreement, over 90% were in favor.

Cantor Segelbaum expects that as the Conservative congregation continues to shrink and the Chabadniks grow, the latter will eventually take over the huge sanctuary, and the Conservatives will move to the little chapel.

"What can you do?" he shrugs. "That's reality. But I figure that this arrangement will give us at least another five years of life."

Ken Barnett believes that these years will be filled with nachas for his congregants, "thanks to the financial support and sensitivity of our Chabad partner."

As Rabbi Goldblatt put its: "It's a deal that's good for the Jews."

The writer does advertising and direct mail in Jerusalem. He has been visiting Century Village in Deerfield Beach, where his mother now lives, for over 25 years.

Jewish House fundraiser draws 250


JEWISH House raised more than $200,000 at its annual fundraiser, which was attended by 250 people at The Westin in Sydney last Wednesday night.

Jewish House, a 24-hour crisis centre for people with stress-related conditions including, anxiety and depression, will use the money to continue the upkeep of its accommodation and counselling facility.

Co-president Roger Clifford said he was proud to see the community supporting his organisation and was pleased with how much money was raised.

“I think anyone can see, by the number of people that attended, that there is a tremendous support base for the Jewish House in the community,” Clifford told The AJN after the function.

“The reason the community supports us is because they recognise the unique work that we do and see it as something that is absolutely vital for the Jewish community.”

Executive director and rabbi at Jewish House Elozer Gestetner echoed Clifford’s comments.

“It was very gratifying to see the support we received. I’m proud to be able, as a rabbi, to lend my support and assistance to those needing emergency help”

Rabbi Kastel to leave the Great

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Russian army gets 1st chief rabbi since 1917 revolution

For the first time since the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, a chief rabbinical chaplain is servicing the spiritual and religious needs of Jewish soldiers in Russia's armed forces and various security services.
Rabbi Aharon Gurevich, 34, was appointed after being asked to fill the role by the chief rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Russia, Rabbi Berel Lazar, who had received official permission from the Russian government to establish a military rabbinate.
Upon accepting the post, Gurevich was granted the rank of colonel by Russian authorities and was given permission to visit military bases freely. While his status as a military rabbi has yet to be fixed by law, Gurevich has effectively been functioning as chief rabbi of the Russian Army since the beginning of the year.
In a recent interview with The Jerusalem Post, the soft-spoken and cordial 34-year-old Moscow native was full of praise for the cooperation he has received at all levels of Russia's military establishment.
"I work closely with the General Staff and its education department, and a number of army and police generals have shown great interest in my initiative to teach about the basics of Judaism in Russian military academies," Gurevich says.
Earlier this year, he was invited to deliver a lecture at a special seminar for top police commanders from across the country.
As a member of the Russian Defense Ministry's Public Council, Gurevich advises the military and the police forces on various matters relating to Jewish life.
"I visit military commands on a regular basis and determine the estimated number of Jews in the locale, speak with their commanders and explain the need for a spiritual component in the motivation to serve," he says.
Shortly after his appointment, Gurevich visited Israel to consult with the IDF's military rabbinate, as well as the chief rabbi of the Israel Police, to learn more about the role and functions his office should fulfill.
Thus far, Gurevich has succeeded in arranging for High Holiday services to be held on Russian military bases throughout the country, organized the distribution of ritual objects and newsletters among Jewish servicemen and provided pastoral counseling to soldiers, some of whom had previously been reluctant to openly admit their Jewish heritage.
"There are an estimated 40,000 Jews serving in the various Russian security forces, including some generals. But the Communist past left a permanent mark on their consciousness, and many do not speak about their Judaism among their colleagues out of concern for their careers," Gurevich notes, adding that "a lot depends on their position and the location of their service.
"But I am often approached unexpectedly by senior officers and regular soldiers who had hidden their Jewish origins until now, and I try as best I can to help them feel Jewish," he says.
While there is currently no option toarrange for the regular supply of kosher food throughout the Russian military, Gurevich makes sure to send care packages containing kosher food to Jewish soldiers prior to holidays and festivals.
"Before Passover," he says, "we distributed over 1,000 kilograms of matza and other kosher-for-Passover products."
Gurevich views education as a main component of his mission, and he has gone to great lengths to raise awareness about Judaism throughout the Russian military, among both Jews and non-Jews alike. To this end, he has worked closely with Russian officers to arrange for classes and periodic day-long seminars on Judaism and Jewish culture at Russian military academies.
On the first day of Hanukka, he notes proudly, a military newspaper published by the Russian Defense Ministry printed a lengthy article explaining the history and meaning of the holiday.
When necessary, Gurevich also intervenes with commanders on behalf of Jewish soldiers. "For example, there are soldiers who prefer not to shave during the counting of the Omer period between Passover and Shavuot, or those who run into issues of Shabbat observance, so I speak to their officers and explain the situation," he says.
Born into a secular home, Gurevich was initially drawn closer to Judaism through his reading of Jewish literature, as well as the knowledge that distant relatives had made aliya prior to World War II and settled on a kibbutz near Tiberias.
He says he was also influenced by the general atmosphere of the 1980s, when opposition to the Soviet regime simmered among many Jewish youth in the capital.
"Toward the end of the '80s, we started to receive more books and materials from abroad on Jewish national history and tradition on a regular basis," he recalls. "This would all come to play a role in influencing my growing interest and later embrace of Jewish observance."
At the age of 16, Gurevich was surprised when he was accepted into Moscow University's Faculty of History, particularly since he had told his interviewers that he was interested in studying the history of the Jewish people.
"In those years, it was still considered bold or even defiant to say such a thing," he recalls somewhat mischievously.
Alongside his university studies, Gurevich enrolled at Moscow's Yeshiva Tomchei Temimim. Upon completing his degree, he continued his religious studies at a hassidic yeshiva in Jerusalem and later received his rabbinical ordination. After a two-year stint as a rabbi in Frankfurt, Germany, he returned to Russia eight years ago to become involved in Jewish outreach work.
While issues such as anti-Semitism and the reluctance of many Russian Jews to identify Jewishly present Gurevich with some formidable challenges, he is nonetheless keenly optimistic about his work.
"The creation of a Russian military rabbinate has helped many Jewish soldiers to feel a greater sense of pride about their identity," he insists. "As much as possible, I travel around the country, going from base to base to awaken within them a stronger sense of connection. There is still a lot of work to be done."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jewish support for Putin as premier

A chief rabbi of Russia came out in support of Vladimir Putin as prime minister.

Rabbi Berel Lazar of the Chabad-led Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia called the possibility a “great present” in an interview with the Interfax news service.

Anointed presidential successor Dmitry Medvedev went on state television Tuesday to ask Putin to head his government following elections in March.

“When president, Vladimir Putin has showed that he is equal to any task,” Lazar told Interfax. “If Putin considers the scenario offered by Dmitry Medvedev realistic, it will surely be a great present if the government is headed by the most efficient statesmen in Russia.”

Lazar's remarks stand in contrast to a statement he made Monday about the role of religion in politics. Following an endorsement of Medvedev by Putin that virtually guaranteed him the presidency, Lazar told Interfax that it is not "the matter of religious figures to agitate for any candidate."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Celebrate Festival Of Lights With Radio Hanukkah

24-hours of Hanukkah programming
Plays throughout the 8 nights of Hanukkah

Tune in to XM-108MIAMI (CBS4) ―
Amid hundreds of all-Christmas radio stations, one has gone Hanukkah for the second year in a row. XM Satellite Radio has created Radio Hanukkah which can be tuned in to XM-108. XM's Hanukkah-themed station is touted as the first radio station of its kind and one celebrated by the satellite network's Jewish clientele, who've long known December's airwaves to be filled only with the holly-jolly, bell-clinging sounds of Christmas. XM-108 will run throughout the Festival of Lights, which begins Tuesday at sundown, not only with Hanukkah songs, like "I Have a Little Dreidel," but also candlelight blessings, Jewish-themed specials, comedy, and Israeli music. There's even some Jewish-themed programming for the kids. If you don't have XM Radio, you can sign up for a free trial at www.xmradio.com. You can also download the Radio Hanukkah schedule. Radio Hanukkah will wrap up at midnight December 12th.

Monday, December 03, 2007

World's Largest Chanukah Menorah on Fifth Avenue

Menorah Designed by Yaakov Agam

NEW YORK, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire/ --
The World's Largest Chanukah Menorah will be erected at New York's most fashionable plaza, Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, by Central Park, between the Plaza and the Pierre Hotels. The Menorah will be lighted on all evenings of Chanukah. The first candle of Chanukah is lighted on Tuesday, Dec. 4th and the last (eight) candles of Chanukah will be lighted on Tuesday evening, December 11th, at 5:30 pm.
The Menorah certified by the McGinnis Book of Records as the World's Largest, sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization was specially designed by world renowned artist Yaakov Agam. Yaakov Agam's design was inspired by a hand drawing by the Rambam (Maimonides) of the original Menorah in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.
The 32-foot high, gold colored, 4,000 pound steel structure will be lighted nightly with genuine oil lamps. Specially designed glass chimneys will protect the Chanukah lights from the Central Park winds.
"The Menorah stands as a symbol of freedom and democracy, strength and inspiration delivering a timely and poignant message to each person on an individual basis." said Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman, Director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, who will light the Menorah nightly together with special dignitaries.
Due to the height of the Menorah, it will be lit nightly with the help of a Con Edison "cherry-picker" crane that will lift the lighters to the "Menorah Heights."
The lighting of the World's Largest Chanukah Menorah is always the central event of Chanukah for the millions of residents of New York and visitors to the Big Apple. It is also a favorite with the International media who put the World's Largest Chanukah Menorah in the center of their "Chanukah story," bringing the World's Largest Menorah into the homes of hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.
On Sunday evening, December 9th, special Chanukah celebrations will take place at the World's Largest Chanukah Menorah. The celebration will include live music, singing and dancing, "Chanukah Gelt" for the children and hot "Latkes" (potato pancakes), the traditional food of Chanukah, will be distributed to everyone. "We want people to 'taste' the tradition," said Rabbi Butman.
A campaign for millions
New York's most popular radio stations, WCBS and WINS, will carry a steady Chanukah call to millions of people to "Come light the Menorah." The message of Rabbi Butman is for every one to light the Menorah in their own home, "It's exciting, it's triumphant. It's many voices as one cheering light over darkness, joy over sorrow, freedom over oppression."
"The prominence of the Menorah carries an additional message," adds Rabbi Butman. "The Rebbe teaches that soon there will be another light, an eternal light, the eternal light of Moshiach, the eternal light of the Great Redemption."
The lighting schedule for the Worlds Largest Chanukah Menorah is as follows: Tuesday, December 4 - 5:30 PM
Wednesday, December 5 - 5:30 PM
Thursday, December 6 - 5:30 PM
Friday, December 7 - 3:45 PM
Shabbos (Saturday) evening, December 8 - 8:00 PM
Sunday, December 9 - 5:30 PM
Monday, December 10 - 8:00 PM
Tuesday, December 11 - 5:30 PM
For more information call 917 287 7770