Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Israel sends aid to China

Alison Klayman

Israel is sending dozens of tons of aid supplies to China to provide relief for the earthquake there that killed tens of thousands. Two Israelis injured in the quake said they were touched by Chinese rescue efforts.

Published: 05/26/2008

BEIJING (JTA) – In a gesture of support, one of the world’s smallest countries is sending aid to the world’s most populous nation in the form of $1.5 million worth of equipment for earthquake relief.

The first three tons of Israeli supplies to earthquake-ravaged China included sleeping bags, blankets and personal water purification units. The supplies arrived in China May 22 on an El Al flight to Beijing.

Israel will send the remaining 70-90 tons of equipment on a cargo plane directly to the city of Chengdu in the coming days. The Israeli government is working from a list of needs drawn up by the Chinese government.

Israelis and Jews in China are also helping with the relief effort in Sichuan province.

Dini's kosher restaurant in Beijing is donating 10 percent of this month's sales toward the earthquake relief effort.

The children of the Chabad-run day school in Beijing, Ganeinu, assembled 180 relief kits with supplies such as toothbrushes as well as handmade drawings and notes.

The president of Chabad's Shanghai Jewish community, Maurice Ohana, is working on plans to have a Jewish-sponsored rebuilding of a devastated school in Sichuan.

Dani Yaacobi, an Israeli living in Chengdu, says the city's Israelis are collecting and buying supplies, and delivering them to areas where newly homeless people are arriving from outside the city. They also are helping build shelters.

The death toll from the May 12 earthquake, which registered 7.8 on the Richter scale, is more than 65,000. It is expected to rise above 80,000.

Besides the larger gift of supplies, the Israeli government also will give an additional $10,000 directly to the Hongkou area.

Some of those involved in the relief effort said they were touched by the story of the two Israeli students injured near the quake’s epicenter and rescued through grass-roots efforts by Israelis and Chinese after a two-day search.

Anat Bilu and Maayan Segev, both in their mid-20s, were on a backpacking vacation. Both were studying Chinese medicine in Chengdu through an exchange program with Israel's Reidman College of Complementary Medicine.

Just before the earthquake hit, they were relaxing over lunch in a small cafe inside the Hongkou nature reserve in Dujiangyan. When the ground began shaking, the two women ran outside. Just as they reached a low wall barrier around the cafe, the cafe collapsed. They were struck by the falling rubble and their bodies smashed into the barrier.

Segev took the impact on her jaw, while Bilu suffered severe damage to fingers on her left hand.

Helped by several Chinese people along the way, the women found temporary shelter in the mountain village of Hongkou. Like many Chinese in this remote location, the two Israelis did not realize the full scale of the disaster.

Some of the Chinese translating for and helping the women had just lost their own homes and families.

Spearheaded by a friend of the students, Yael Arnon, Israelis in Chengdu formed a search party headquartered in an apartment. Arnon told Israel Army Radio that because the missing students were on the phone moments before the earthquake struck, she knew approximately where to find them. She assumed that communication difficulties were the only reason they had not called.

The Israeli Embassy in Beijing shared the same assumption. Consul General Alon Shoham, a press officer and a Chinese staffer boarded one of the first flights to Chengdu two days after the earthquake.

A Chinese construction magnate named Zhang was leading the rescue efforts in Sichuan. When the Israelis arrived in Chengdu, Zhang offered them three of his cars and two drivers – Zhang himself drove the third car -- for the search effort.

By then, Segev and Bilu had decided to leave Hongkou and spent more than six hours descending to the main road. Eventually they crossed paths with two Israelis from the rescue party. That evening, the students reached the embassy staff and boarded an ambulance, arriving that night at an inundated Chengdu hospital.

"In Israel we know about crisis events with lots of casualties," said the Israeli Embassy spokesman who traveled with Shoham, Guy Kivetz. "The medical teams were really angels. They acted bravely, quietly and professionally."

Segev was operated on immediately in Chengdu to repair multiple fractures to her jaw. Bilu underwent surgery in Israel to repair nerve damage to her fingers.

"It was very Israeli to independently organize their own search party," Kivetz told JTA. "But from the story of the girls' rescue we learn that we are the same, that as much as Israelis do for each other, so do the Chinese."

Chabad preschool plan has Pacific Palisades in an uproar

Pacific Palisades neighbors and others object to plan for a site next to Getty Villa.

By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
May 28, 2008

Residents of Pacific Palisades began buzzing in early April when the local newspaper ran a blurb about a fundraiser for the Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center.

What got them talking wasn't the news that 10 tons of fresh snow would be trucked in for the April 6 event at the public Temescal Gateway Park, where the preschool operates out of three trailers and a fenced playground. No, it was the mention that the Chabad preschool would maintain its "natural setting" come fall when it moved to a location in the Castellammare area of the Palisades.

"The new facility will be open for community visits on or about May 5. Enrollment is now underway," the item read.

"What preschool?" residents of the quietly exclusive coastal enclave wondered.

Thus began a saga with more twists and turns than "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," as one resident wryly calls it. How else to refer to a controversy, now coming to a head, that involves a branch of Judaism often characterized by ecstatic piety, the Mormon church, the Getty Villa, the state Department of Parks and Recreation, the California Coastal Commission, a city councilman, and a bunch of his affluent and highly agitated constituents for whom money is no object?

It all started, residents say, when Chabad of Pacific Palisades went looking for a new preschool site after the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy evicted it from Temescal Gateway Park, just north of Sunset Boulevard. After Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that Topanga State Park might be closed as part of a cost-cutting push, Chabad spoke with state parks officials about using a portion of Topanga in Los Liones Canyon. Parks officials were cool to the idea.

Chabad officials spotted a structure on the other side of Los Liones Drive at the back entrance of the nearby Getty Villa, next to a Mormon church. They learned that it was a warehouse at the rear of a Bellino Drive residential property owned by Gene Gladden, a longtime resident. Gladden agreed to lease the building to Chabad.

Under the direction of Rabbi Zushe Cunin, who heads Chabad of Pacific Palisades, workers installed windows, playground equipment, and pint-size tables and chairs. Chabad said it also planned to install three bathrooms.

Lori Fox, an attorney for the J. Paul Getty Trust, wrote to Cunin and Gladden, explaining that the warehouse was partly on Getty property and that Chabad representatives had been entering the property via the Getty service road, without permission. Fox expressed concern about whether the warehouse was safe for dozens of preschoolers. And she asked whether Chabad had sought all necessary permits and consulted with neighbors.

Chabad had not sought permits and has yet to formally apply, although Cunin said it planned to do so.

In a May 9 letter to neighborhood leaders, Fox said several men drove through the Getty's Los Liones gate April 24, "ignoring our security officers' instructions that they stop, and entered the warehouse."

By then, neighbors were in an uproar. How, they asked, would parents, children and staff gain access to the building? The only easy way in was the service road, and the Getty, citing its conditional-use permit and safety concerns, declined to give permission.

Chabad next looked to Bellino Drive on the hilltop above Gladden's warehouse. That entry point was problematic because it meant using a driveway shared by other residents, including actor Bo Svenson, who were vehemently opposed to the idea. From Bellino, the drive briefly descends before taking a sharp left turn. There is no convenient turnaround space. From Gladden's house, children, parents and staff would have to walk down a steep trail. The fact that Chabad would even consider it irritated some Bellino residents.

"To me, as a Jew, this is chutzpah, and I'm offended that a community within my own religion would be behaving toward a residential neighborhood in this manner," said Mike Lofchie, a member of the Castellammare Mesa Home Owners Assn.

The controversy is shining a light on the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a controversial branch of Orthodox, Hasidic Judaism. Chabad is an acronym from the Hebrew for wisdom, understanding and knowledge.

Many mainstream Jews regard the movement's outreach as evangelizing, a practice they frown upon. In California, Chabad is perhaps best identified with its annual star-studded telethon, which raises money for charities.

Chabad is also known for zoning conflicts with neighbors as rabbis seek to establish gathering spots -- known as Chabad houses -- in residential areas. Over the years, zoning battles have raged in Florida, New York and New Jersey.

With the Getty road and Bellino effectively out of the picture, Cunin, 38, said Chabad is seeking permission from Mormon Church officials in Salt Lake City to use the Los Liones church parking lot. "We're very hopeful, and we believe that our access will be through the church parking lot," he said.

Keith Atkinson, West Coast spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said "the common practice of the church is not to encumber church property."

"We want to be good neighbors and certainly help other faith groups where we can, but we need to be sensitive to all of the neighbors," Atkinson said.

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl met Friday with Cunin and got his assurance that Chabad would follow the city's conditional-use permit process.

The school would also be required to have a coastal development permit, said Jack Ainsworth, deputy director of the California Coastal Commission. The panel is taking about six months to process applications, Ainsworth said.

Chabad, which will be leaving Temescal Gateway Park in June, has said it plans a September opening for the preschool, with as many as 70 children.

The school isn't the only issue causing friction. A couple of miles east of Los Liones Canyon, Cunin is embroiled in a controversy with neighbors over plans to dramatically enlarge his house.

Cunin and his wife, Zisi, have seven children. And that, he says, is why they are seeking to expand their residence on Bestor Boulevard, in an area of the Palisades known as the Alphabet Streets. Neighbors say the current house is 1,698 square feet.

The Cunins, who regularly welcome members of their group to the house, intend to enlarge it to about 8,400 square feet. About 6,300 square feet would be above ground, with the rest a basement. The above-ground portion would be 47% larger than allowed under neighborhood rules, opponents contend.

The Pacific Palisades Civic League, which reviews architectural plans for new construction and remodels, has been talking with Cunin, who has already secured city permits. The league's opinions are not binding, but its board is pressuring the rabbi to abide by neighborhood guidelines.

"We hope to resolve this matter with the homeowner through discussion," the board said in a statement to the Palisadian-Post, "but if that fails, we are looking at our litigation options."

Monday, May 26, 2008

For Jews, Snohomish County can be a lonely place

A Seattle rabbi considering a move to the area would be the only rabbi here.

By Krista J. Kapralos, Herald Writer

EVERETT -- As far as ultra-Orthodox Jews are concerned, Western Washington might as well be the end of the Earth.

"It's very, very lonely," said Zevi Goldberg, a Chabad rabbi who moved to the region a year ago from Brooklyn, N.Y., where he was born and raised among this country's largest Orthodox Jewish community.

Goldberg lives in Seattle now, where he at least has the company of other rabbis in the Chabad movement, which sends rabbis throughout the world to open Jewish education centers and synagogues in underserved regions.

Now, Goldberg is considering another move, one that would land him in a place that, for an Orthodox rabbi, may be even more isolated: Snohomish County.

"The philosophy of Chabad is to reach every single Jew, no matter where they are," Goldberg said. "Rabbis will open up centers in the most remote places in the world, as long are there are Jews there."

If Goldberg comes to Snohomish County, he'll be the only rabbi here. Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman, who was based at Temple Beth Or, Everett's Reform synagogue, left a year ago for a new assignment in North Carolina. Rabbi Yossi Mandel, a Chabad rabbi who opened an Orthodox center in south Everett two years ago, left town in recent weeks to be with his extended family in Pittsburgh for personal reasons.

Mandel left behind a congregation he said numbers about 250 people. The congregation grew quickly because there are few opportunities for Jews in Snohomish County to get religious education, he said.

"Snohomish County is almost entirely uncharted territory as far as Jewish communities," Mandel said.

It's impossible to know for sure how many Jews live here. According to a recent report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 1.7 percent of all Americans are Jewish. The same number of Americans are Mormon. There are more Jews in the United States than Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, Orthodox Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.

About 1 percent of Washington state's population is Jewish, according to the same report. The state has higher percentage of Jews than many Midwest and Southeastern states but lags behind California, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New Mexico.

Still, parts of the state boast thriving Jewish communities. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, the Zionist founder of the American Alliance of Jews and Christians and a frequent television talk-show guest, lives on Mercer Island. Bellevue is home to a handful of temples and synagogues.

It's not Brooklyn, but it's not South Dakota, either, where, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, a branch of the American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, the community numbers just 295 people.

Karz-Wagman led Temple Beth Or for six years before leaving a year ago for North Carolina. He said when he left that a larger Jewish community there was part of his reason for leaving Snohomish County. The temple's leaders said then they didn't expect to hire a new rabbi for a year or more. To fill the void, the congregation has borrowed teachers from rabbinical schools to lead sacred ceremonies. Otherwise, the temple's members are on their own.

When Mandel first arrived in Everett, he said he believed there to be 3,000 or more Jews in Snohomish County.

With enough work, he said, the Chabad congregation could grow far beyond the 250 people it currently claims.

"I'm sure that with enough work, it will grow to much more," he said.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

© 2008The Daily Herald Co., Everett, WA

More than 100 Chabad rabbis gather at New City conference

Ben Rubin
The Journal News

NEW CITY - Before a packed room of fellow rabbis, Avremel Kotlarsky told the audience that they had made huge strides as an organization, but that it would take far more effort to continue growing.

"There is no free ride, this does not come easily," said Kotlarsky, executive director of the Chabad Lubavitch of Rockland center.

His remarks were part of a gathering of more than 100 rabbis from across New York and New England, who came to the center yesterday for a regional conference.

The goal Kotlarsky spoke of was the central mission of the Chabad movement - to provide and expand religious experiences for Jews around the world.

The meeting was the first time that the New City center has hosted the conference in more than 15 years, or since the facility opened in the early 1990s. The building houses a day camp, a Jewish day school, a synagogue and a Hebrew school.

"I think the fact itself that we are getting together shows we have a tremendous energy," said Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, director of community outreach and adult education at the local center.

At the conference, the rabbis discussed contemporary religious questions, ways to strengthen the Chabad organization and basic tips on fundraising, networking and growth strategies.

The Chabad movement has more than 2,000 centers around the world and holds a global conference every fall in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where the organization is headquartered. The conference usually brings in more than 5,000 rabbis.

The movement was started about 250 years ago by Rabbi Schneur Zalman from Russia. The organization does not do missionary work or attempt to convert non-Jews.

Although the movement is considered a part of Hasidic Orthodox Judaism, Goldberg stressed the importance of not labeling it because Chabad seeks to be inclusive to all Jews.

"Our sole purpose is to bring people closer to Judaism," Goldberg said.

Rabbi Aaron Konikov from Long Island said the local conference was an important way to reinvigorate the Chabad leadership, especially rabbis who live in communities where they are the only observant Jews.

"It brings motivation and friendship and recommits us to the mission and it continues to instill in us the fact that we're in this together," Konikov said.

"I think it's a wonderful turnout," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, a representative from the Brooklyn headquarters. "It gives inspiration to each one of our shluchim (emissaries)."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Lubavitch Rabbi Given Sizable Grant for Project of Choice

Rabbi Menachem Schmidt said that he had no idea he was even being considered for a fellowship from a major foundation. But several weeks ago, the founder of the Lubavitch House at the University of Pennsylvania learned that he had been awarded a $225,000 grant to a project of his choosing.

At a March 12 press conference at its New York offices, the Avi Chai Foundation, dedicated to promoting Jewish education and identity, announced that it was handing out $1.5 million over the course of three years to four individuals and a team of two.

The recipients were selected from an initial pool of more than 40 nominations. Throughout the process, the identities of the nominators, as well as the selection committee members, were kept anonymous, said the foundation.

"Obviously, it's not something we expected. [But] it's nice to know that somebody thinks you are doing something right," said Schmidt, 54, who has spent roughly 30 years in Philadelphia as a rabbi affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitch movement.

Schmidt said that he plans to use the money to bolster two organizations he's created: the Old City Jewish Art Center and the Jewish Heritage Programs.

The art center opened in 2007. It hosts rotating exhibitions and, on nights corresponding to the first Friday program -- when Old City galleries remain open until well after dark -- Chabad hosts a Shabbat dinner in the space.

Schmidt envisions a lot more happening there, from regular lectures and classes about the intersection of art, personal expression and Judaism, along with a series of musical performances.

"Whether or not a person is in services on Friday night or not is really immaterial. There are many opportunities to connect Jewishly, as well as portals of engagement," noted Schmidt, who also plays guitar for a group called the Baal Shem Tov Band.

In 1993, Schmidt started the Jewish Heritage Programs in order to facilitate peer-to-peer programs that would focus on Jewish identity. Begun at the University of Pennsylvania, it now holds events throughout Philadelphia, as well as in New York and Florida.

Specifically, Schmidt is hoping to upgrade JHPs mentoring program, which pairs college students with young professionals who offer both career and life guidance. He said that the mentoring program has existed as a kind of side project; he wants it to become more formalized.

He acknowledged that $75,000 a year is not nearly enough to pay for all the programs he'd like to put together. In fact, he said the recognition may be at least as important as the monetary award.

The other, nonlocal recipients were: Betsy Dolgin Katz, North American director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Rabbi Elie Kaufner, co-founder of the New York-based Mechon Hadar: An Institute for Prayer, Personal Growth and Study; Rabbi Dov Linzer, head of academics at the Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in New York; and Ariel Berry, the current editor of Presentense magazine, and Aharon Horowitz, who along with Berry co-founded a group called the Creative Zionist Institute.

A new home, a new life

Rabbi Mordechai Weiss, who made aliyah from Teaneck, is now a tour guide as well as a religious guide.

Ronda Israel, a New Jersey school administrator turned Israeli chocolate-maker, encourages anyone contemplating aliyah to think outside the box.

"If your heart is here, you will say, I can live here and be a productive Israeli. I can take the skills God gave me over a lifetime and do something with them that doesn't have to be the same thing I did before," Israel says.

While many new Israelis choose to commute or telecommute to their diaspora jobs, others make major career changes in order to earn a living in the Middle East.

Black, Jewish Crown Heights Leaders Seek Unity

Upswing In Recent Violence Has Communities At Odds
Fears Of Riots Similar To 1991 Grip Residents


Police are mobilizing a massive presence in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn in the wake of increased tension between African American and Jewish communities.
Leaders from both communities have come together recently to preach cooperation among residents of the neighborhood where African
Americans and Hassidic Jews live side by side. But recent violence has shown that religion and race don't always mix.
"I definitely feel [like there's unrest] because I see it everyday. I'm around here a lot and that's what I'm hearing," said Crown Heights resident Anthony Rios.
Another resident, Joe Morgenstein, agreed, saying he hears "a lot of racial slurs all day" in the community.
Since 1991, when riots broke out after a 7-year-old black boy was killed by a Hassidic driver, and then a Jewish man was murdered by a group of African-Americans, Crown Heights has been hurt off-and-on by periodic tension.
In the past month, 20-year-old Andrew Charles, who is black, was beaten up, and the suspect is Jewish.
Then last week, 16-year-old Alon Sherman, who is Jewish, had his jaw broken while being allegedly robbed by two black teens. The attackers were arrested Thursday. Namor Clarke,17, and Basean Parker, 14, will be charged as adults for last Friday's assault on Sherman, officials said.
Inside a Jewish museum dedicated to tolerance and understanding, black and religious
leaders pleaded for the public to write a new history of race and religious relations.
"We are one standing together yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Forever," said Jewish
Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn).
Added Councilman Mathieu Eugene (D-Dist. 40): "We may have arrived on different ships, but now we are all in the same boat."
It's a boat some don't want to see sink under the weight of ignorance and intolerance.
"It's a bad thing. I hope it doesn't escalate," one black resident told CBS 2. And if it does, there will be a quick response. "It's scary what's been going on, but I'm happy police are taking it seriously," said Chana Levine, a Jewish Crown Heights resident. Police admit their presence there is a temporary fix until tensions drop, but some fear once police leave, what's happened here will be repeated.

(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Afghan German jailed for knife attack on Frankfurt rabbi

Frankfurt - A Frankfurt court jailed a German man of Afghan origin for three-and-a-half years Tuesday after finding him guilty of a knife attack on an Orthodox rabbi in the city last year. The court found that Sahed A, 23, had caused grievous bodily harm to his victim, a 43-year-old rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch, a Hasidic movement within Orthodox Judaism, on September 7.

The court found that the assailant had drawn back from an initial intention to kill his victim, Zalman Gurevich.

The prosecution had called for a four-year sentence.

During the trial, Sahed A acknowledged stabbing Gurevich but said he had been acting in self-defence.

But he strenuously denied shouting racist insults as he stabbed the rabbi in the abdomen.

Higher yearning

by Sue Fishkoff and Johanna Ginsberg
JTA and NJJN Staff Writer

May 22, 2008

For Hillel and other campus groups, outreach to Jewish students begins even before orientation week. When Arielle Walzer, a Livingston High School senior, was applying to colleges last fall, she was thinking not only about academics; she was also thinking about Jewish life on campus.

She pored over a Web-site set up by Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, particularly its on-line guide to Jewish life on campus, which provides data on more than 500 North American colleges and universities.

Walzer is one of an estimated 75,000 Jewish graduating seniors who in recent weeks have made their final decisions about where to attend college. This fall, they will be part of the largest incoming freshman class in American history.

Many of them will not consider their Jewish needs on campus until their first Jewish holiday rolls around or a friend drags them to a Shabbat dinner at Chabad or a Purim party at Hillel.

But that’s too late, said Jeff Rubin, Hillel’s associate vice president for communications, and many of the campus newcomers recognize that. “Jewish students often make decisions about what they’ll be involved in during the first week or two on campus,” he said.

To aid such students in this process, Jewish student organizations are now reaching out to incoming Jewish freshmen even before they hit campus after having spent much time and money in the past decade beefing up their campus programs, Rubin said.

“By reaching out to them ahead of time, we increase the likelihood of their being involved,” he said.

Do high school students care? It’s a “significant criteria” for kids at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Essex and Union, according to head of school Dr. Joyce Raynor. “For different kids, the emphasis can be on different things, but most are looking at the number of Jewish kids on campus, whether or not Hebrew or Jewish studies classes are offered, and whether or not there is a Hillel or other extracurricular Jewish activities center. Some are looking at more than one criterion. And for some, the ability to eat kosher food on campus matters. But it is very important for students in this school,” she said.

Walzer, who was an elementary school student at Solomon Schechter in West Orange and attended Jewish summer camp, said, “I feel very culturally connected to Judaism. That, combined with the fact that I live in Livingston, means I’m used to being with Jewish people. I have non-Jewish friends, and I look forward to making new ones, but it’s important to me to stay connected to the Jewish community.”

Walzer will attend Emory University in Atlanta, which has a Jewish enrollment of 33 percent.

Her mother, she said, encouraged her to look for schools with Jewish populations of over 10 percent, “so I wouldn’t feel awkward being Jewish and would be able to find people to celebrate holidays with.”

“As long as the community was active enough to have events for holidays,” Walzer said, “I didn’t need a huge population.”

Not all Jewish high school students are as motivated to stay connected, educators say. And not all of them go to colleges that have a strong Jewish student life.

“There are 12 to 15 universities where the most active Jewish students go, and after that it’s hit or miss,” said Richard Moline, the director of Koach, the Conservative movement’s campus organization.

Two years ago, Hillel launched a major effort to bridge the gap between high school and college in partnership with the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization; the Jewish Educational Service of North America; and the Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox Jewish youth movements.

In 2006 Hillel began publishing an Internet e-zine, Chai Wire, filled with information about Jewish life on campus, which it sends quarterly to 50,000 high school juniors and seniors. Last year it held focus groups and sent out a survey to 20,000 Chai Wire readers to find out what those teens wanted.

Six hundred readers responded, Rubin said. Three-quarters said Jewish life on campus was an important factor in their college choice. Nearly 40 percent said they had consulted Hillel’s on-line guide to Jewish student life during the application process.

Last summer, Hillel began to collect names of Jewish high school seniors and pass them to Hillel directors at the schools they would be attending, so those directors could communicate with the students over the summer.

By the fall of 2007, Hillel had 5,000 names. This year it hopes to collect even more.

Rubin said the process is arduous. Some names are provided by high school youth groups or, less often, by synagogues. Some can be accessed through lists of incoming freshmen at private universities; public universities don’t collect such data.

Hillel also solicits names through Chai Wire, asking students to e-mail their contact information and where they are attending college.

Andrew Getraer, Hillel director at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, with 5,400 Jewish undergraduates, said the project really just started last year.

“There’s a bigger, more aggressive push this year, but we’re not relying on that for our efforts,” he said. “About 1,250 Jewish freshmen will come to Rutgers this year. Until we have all of them, we need to increase our efforts.”

He uses Facebook, e-mail, flyers distributed on campus, students trained as peer recruiters, staff recruiters, and massive efforts during the first few weeks of school, “when students are the most open to checking everything out and getting involved,” Getraer said.

He said he wishes local communities were more involved in identifying Jewish students coming to campus. “Synagogues don’t send names. Youth groups don’t send names. Camps don’t. I wish they did, but most are understaffed and underfunded. It’s a difficult thing for them to do, on top of their own work, although it makes sense.”

Orthodox connections
Tova Diamond, right, studies with Shoshana Porath of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program at Rutgers

Tova Diamond, right, studies with Shoshana Porath of the Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus program at Rutgers.

Outreach efforts have intensified in the past two years with the introduction of Chai Wire and with JESNA asking the heads of its 55 community Hebrew high schools to send the names of graduating seniors to the Hillel directors on the campuses to which they were headed.

Devorah Silverman, who heads that project at JESNA, said the Hebrew high schools sent about 350 names last year.

Also last year, the Orthodox Union launched an internal effort to funnel Orthodox high school students to appropriate Jewish groups on campus.

“For 15 years I’ve been telling the OU they need to do this,” said David Felsenthal, who heads the OU’s new alumni department of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth.

Some 6,000 high school seniors are involved either in NCSY or in Jewish Student Unions, the OU-sponsored Jewish clubs in public schools. Felsenthal said he had gathered 300 names by May 1; his goal is 1,000 by the end of the month.

Chabad does its own outreach to incoming freshmen, said Rabbi Hershey Novack, the codirector of Chabad at Washington University in St. Louis. Community Chabad emissaries tell campus emissaries about incoming freshmen via an internal Chabad on-line system, and the 125 Chabad college representatives do personal outreach to the new students when they reach campus.

Collecting and passing on names is only part of the overall effort to involve Jewish students in Jewish life on campus, however.

“Honestly, even if a Hillel director follows up, that doesn’t mean the kids will be meaningfully engaged,” Silverman of JESNA admitted. “But it’s a start.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Hasidic Jews: Finding joy in piety

May 19, 2008

Despite the severity of their dress—black from skullcap to shoes for men, ankle-length skirts and head scarves for women—the Hasidim are not a somber people. The founder of the movement, the Baal Shem Tov, taught that God wants his creatures to approach him with enthusiasm and joy. His followers (Hasidim means "the pious") put singing and dancing at the core of their ultra-Orthodox worship.

Disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, who lived in the 18th Century, spread his message in little villages, shtetlach, of Eastern Europe where the bulk of Jews then lived.

Wherever a rabbi settled, a dynasty was founded bearing the name of the village—Lubavitch, Satmar, Belz—names that survive in the movement's branches. The communities vanished in the Holocaust, though some rabbis escaped to refound dynasties in Israel and the United States.

Copyright © 2008, Chicago Tribune

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rabbi to open NZ's first kosher restaurant

The New York-based Chabad-Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Judaism – one of the largest Jewish movements worldwide – plans to set up a kosher restaurant in Christchurch.

The Chabad's rabbi in New Zealand, Mendel Goldstein, of Wellington, told the Jewish Telegraph Agency that the restaurant will be open by the end of the year at the group's premises in Christchurch.

He viewed the restaurant as a first step in building a future for New Zealand where "Jewish living is convenient and enjoyable" for travellers and the local Jewish population.

"It pains us to see people eating non-kosher because they have no other choice," the rabbi's wife, Sara Goldstein, co-director of the Chabad in NZ said.

The agency reported that about 20,000 Jews visit Christchurch each year, and that there is a population of about 10,000 Jews spread through New Zealand.

The restaurant will serve food prepared according to a set of often complicated rabbinical and biblical dietary laws which ban some foods such as pork or shellfish; do not allow meat and dairy products to be prepared in the same dishes, and require animals to be slaughtered on their backs, without stunning.

Rabbi Goldstein was arranging four ritual "seder" feasts for 500 Israeli travellers in New Zealand last month to mark Passover, when he rushed to Queenstown to join the search for Israeli backpacker Liat Okin. She was found dead last week.

History, hard work realized in new Jewish center

Staff Writer

ORMOND BEACH -- To this day, Rabbi Morris Esformes seems awed by twists of fate that connect him to the Jewish community of Ormond Beach.

The Chicago philanthropist bought Woodland Towers retirement village in DeLand two decades ago partly to help a friend out of a business bind.

On a visit to DeLand about 15 years later, he learned of an orthodox Jewish community in Ormond Beach through what seemed a happenstance meeting with a woman who was part of it.

The rest is history -- and hard work.

Both were on display Sunday, when Esformes joined more than 200 people for the dedication of the Esformes Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center of Greater Daytona Beach.

Esformes gave more than $4 million to help make the 25,000-square-foot synagogue, community center and school on Granada Boulevard a reality, he said.

"It's probably destiny," Esformes said in an interview before an often emotional ceremony in the ornate synagogue, where speakers stood beneath tablets bearing the 10 Commandments in Hebrew. "It's probably God's infinite wisdom and his hand that brought us all together.

"All my life I have attempted to enhance Jewish education -- in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, Israel. This was surely was something I never had dreamed about, and it happened by a fluke."

While the center couldn't have happened without him, Esformes -- whose next project is a Jewish school in Alaska -- praises Rabbi Pinchas Ezagui and his wife, Chani, for their years of work nurturing the community it serves.

The couple came -- or, rather, were sent -- to Ormond Beach 15 years ago to open a center as part of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. Chabad is a Jewish acronym that stands for wisdom.

They first held services and Hebrew school classes in their living room before the community was eventually able to build a synagogue on the same land where the gleaming new center now stands.

Ezagui said the couple came to Ormond Beach when his rebbe -- a head rabbi over other rabbis -- sent him from New York.

The purpose: to establish a center of Judaism for people from all walks of life, he said.

"You don't have to be a member to be part of the club, so to say," Ezagui said. "It's an open house policy to all Jews, whenever, however they want to come through and be part of their own heritage, their own roots, their own essence."

At Sunday's celebration, the diversity of the community was reflected in attire that ranged from blue jeans and T-shirts to austere black hats and suits with white shirts meant to show humility.

"I will tell you the honest truth, from the moment I came to this town, I dreamt about this day," Ezagui said.

The school, set up for about 120 pupils from prekindergarden through middle school, follows the Sunshine State educational standards followed by public schools, while also focusing on such things as study of the Torah and the Hebrew language.

"The general education studies are as important as the religious studies here," said Marcia Shook, a language arts and social studies teacher at the school.

It's a blessing, as far as Yehuda Morali is concerned.

He immigrated from Israel in 1986 and helped build the community, and his youngest son, Netanel, is in fifth grade at the school this year.

"If you plant good seed now, you're going to see the flower in the future," Morali said.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Newsweek Publishes Annual “50 Most Influential U.S. Rabbis” List

Newsweek has published its second annual list of the “50 most influential rabbis in the U.S.” As was the case last year, the first time the list came out, the top 50 is destined once again to become the subject of intense debate surrounding the names on the list, the criteria for selecting them, and the identity of the selectors. Setting aside petty rivalries and the squabbling about why so-and-so made it into the top 10, why he (or she) is absent, and how they could have him on a list of rabbis to begin with, the most pertinent observation that has been made about last year’s rankings, and again now, is that the obvious prerequisite for making it onto the list is an effective public-relations operation and high-visibility media presence.

The three who compiled the list are all major players in the American media market, and besides being quite obviously warm Jews who enjoy calling themselves machers, it is difficult to say what other expertise they have that enables them to assess a rabbi’s influence. And the criteria they put together for grading the rabbis says as much.

A total of 30 points is awarded depending on how well they are known nationally and internationally and whether they have a media presence. Another 30 points are available for political and social influence and having a greater impact beyond the Jewish community. In other words, 60 percent of their ranking is based on factors not usually connected with a rabbi’s traditional role. Their Jewish leadership, their influence on Judaism, their work with their own communities, and the size of those communities counts for another 40 points.

The compilers took this observation to heart, and this year, while keeping the main list more or less the same (with changes in the rankings, of course) added a second list of the “Top 25 Pulpit Rabbis in America,” those with the ability to inspire and lead communities and individuals.

However, this column is not going to be about what makes a rabbi influential in America; you can read about that in dozens of blogs.

What really interested me is that when looking at this combined list of 75 influential rabbis of one of the largest and richest communities in Jewish history, none of them have any significant influence in that other major Jewish community, Israel. Almost none of them are even known in Israel, outside a very small group of people concerned with Israel-Diaspora relations. Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, appears at the top of the list for the second time. He might be one of the best-connected Jews in Hollywood, but I’m willing to bet that 99 percent of Israeli Jews have never even heard of him or the Wiesenthal Center, or else they think that it deals with Nazi-hunting.

Number two on the list (up from 12 last year), Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, might have been interviewed twice over the last few months in Haaretz, but his influence on anything that happens in Israel is less than negligible. Even within the small Israeli Reform community, his power is limited due to the independent positions taken by the Israeli Reform movement and the uneasy relationship it has with its American “parent organization.”

Last year’s number two, down to four on the current list, Yehuda Krinsky of Lubavitch, and arguably the most powerful figure in the Chabad establishment in the U.S. following the Rebbe’s death, while not being a household name, is probably the only rabbi on the list with some kind of influence outside America, due to the international character of the Lubavitch movement.

But since the whole Lubavitcher structure is based on strong shlichim (emissaries) running their own show wherever they’re based, and anyway, even when the Rebbe was alive, it was already seriously factionalized, Krinsky would find it hard to overrule the Israeli leaders. Besides, Chabad has a lot less influence on Israeli politics today than it did a decade ago, when it had the ear of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Another Lubavitcher on the list, Shmuley Boteach (number nine), enjoyed in the 1990s a brief period of notoriety in Israel for his books on sex, but that has long since passed. Number 11, Kaballah guru Yehuda Berg, gets a brief mention in the Israeli press whenever his acolyte, Madonna, comes for one of her visits, but that’s it. Number 16, Zalman Teitelbaum, leader of the Satmar chassidim (well, at least some of them) has a middle-sized community also in Israel, but their radical anti-Zionist ideology renders them entirely irrelevant outside the charedi world. The rest of the list are total nonentities in Israel, and indeed almost anywhere else in the Jewish world outside the U.S.

A list of the most influential rabbis in Israel would read like this: Yosef Elyashiv, Ovadia Yosef, the Gerrer Rebbe, Mordechai Eliyahu, and so on—elderly ultra-Orthodox leaders of chassidic sects, Litvak yeshivas, or their Sephardi counterparts and groups of radical young settlers. These rabbis command the allegiance of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of followers, control political parties and whole government coalitions, who with one word can launch huge demonstrations, block the entrance to Jerusalem, ruin businesses, build or dismantle settlements, and decide the fate of peace treaties between Israel and its Arab neighbors. (Haaretz)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Day Of Healing For Two South Florida Synagogues

See links at source for video.

I did not get a chance to watch, but it looks worth watching.


It was a day of healing and moving forward for two South Florida synagogues on Sunday; one was hit by hate and the other was damaged by fire.

A fundraiser was held at the Turnberry Jewish Center in Aventura to buy a new Torah for the Chabad Jewish Center of Miami Beach, which was damaged nearly two weeks ago in a fire. At the same time, the Torah, a religious scroll of Jewish laws and customs and a centerpiece of its religion, was taken.

"We have everyone joined together and give some donation towards it [Torah] and everyone is like joined in one Torah," said Rabii Zeb Kats of Habad Shul. "It's kind of like United Funds coming together and we are all going to have a community Torah, something that we did together."

At the Chabad of Parkland, located at 7170 Loxahatchee Rd., the Rabbi showed Hebrew school children the last of three swastikas and hateful words spray-painted on the synagogue's walls last week. Sunday, they painted over the hateful symbols.

"It's very important to show the children that not only is it relevant, not only is it something that still exists," said Rabbi Mendy Gutnick."It still exists in the world and we have to know how to deal with it, and how to overcome it."

Both of the cases are still under investigation to determine if they are hate crimes.

(© MMVIII, CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Rudd sees the light

KEVIN Rudd is back in the good books with the Jewish community. The PM copped some flak last month for scheduling his two-day 2020 Summit on the same weekend as the religious festival Passover, leaving practising Jews unable to attend. But on Friday he was welcomed with open arms at Bondi's Yeshiva Centre, the HQ of Chabad NSW. In front of 600 people, including Jewish community leaders and more than 40 rabbis, Rudd was presented with a menorah (Jewish candelabra) by Yeshiva's dean and spiritual leader, Rabbi Pinchus Feldman. Chabad is the largest Jewish outreach movement in the world, operating in more than 100 countries. Its aim is to encourage acts of goodness and kindness. So maybe we can expect tax cuts in Tuesday's budget.

FBI asked to probe area hate crimes


The same day Chabad of Parkland members scraped spray-painted swastikas off the temple's walls, U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler called on FBI Director Robert Mueller to investigate the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks in South Florida.

Wexler, who represents much of Broward County in Washington, sent the FBI a letter Thursday asking Mueller to look into both the vandalism at Chabad of Parkland and the suspicious fire at a Miami Beach synagogue last week.

''I am deeply concerned about this string of anti-Semitic crimes in the South Florida community, and strongly believe that the disturbing hate crimes committed against Jewish Americans deserve proper attention from the federal government,'' Wexler said in a statement.

Wexler's request comes a week after Mueller agreed to look into a series of fires at South Florida religious centers, including the blaze that torched The Chabad Shul in Miami Beach during Passover. A fire in October damaged the sanctuary of a synagogue on Chase Avenue in Miami Beach.

Wexler's congressional district does not include Parkland, but it nearly surrounds the bedroom community. Parkland is represented by Ron Klein, who also forcefully denounced the incident, deemed by Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti a hate crime.

'If we are to live up to our mantra of `never again,' we must not sit by silently in the face of any anti-Semitic attack,'' said Klein, who is co-chairman of the Congressional Taskforce Against Anti-Semitism. ``It is our solemn responsibility to speak out against such hate speech.''

Meanwhile, at Chabad of Parkland, 7170 Loxahatchee Rd., Rabbi Josef Biston went about the business of cleaning the swastikas. The vandals also scrawled ''4 Hitler'' on a stop sign.

The desecration has gained attention around the world, with BSO fielding calls from as far away as Israel.

Broward sheriff's deputies went door-to-door handing out Crime Stoppers fliers in an attempt to find those responsible.

Authorities will not have the help of videotape to find the vandals. Chabad of Parkland did not have surveillance equipment set up, and no cameras from nearby business captured the desecration, said Alesia Russell, a BSO spokeswoman.

FBI asked to probe area hate crimes

Insight as a service.


Rudd gets Chabad rabbi's blessing

Published: 05/04/2008

The chief rabbi of Sydney’s Chabad-Lubavitch movement blessed Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

U.S.-born Rabbi Pinchus Feldman presented a menorah to Rudd before more than 600 people Friday at the Yeshiva Center, Chabad’s headquarters in Bondi.

In blessing the prime minister, Feldman recited a prayer for the nation’s leaders. Feldman, a Kohen, also bestowed the priestly blessing on Rudd.

“The menorah is a symbol of light,” said Rudd, who was making his third public address to the yeshiva. “It is about the Jewish people’s tradition, in the words of the biblical prophet Isaiah, of being ‘a light unto the nations’ and illuminating this world with acts of goodness and kindness."

Chabad has a longstanding tradition of presenting a menorah to political leaders.

After his address Rudd, who also baked challah during his visit to the Yeshiva Center, received a standing ovation.

Eli Feldman, one of Feldman’s sons, told JTA: “The menorah is a symbol of the yeshiva, a symbol of Jewish life."

“Rudd’s outdoing John Howard,” he said, referring to the extraordinary support Israel and the Jews received under the 10-year rule of Howard’s now-opposition Liberal Party. In March, Rudd led a bipartisan parliamentary motion congratulating Israel on its 60th anniversary.


Lyubavichi (Russian: Люба́вичи; Yiddish: לובאוויטש, Lyubavitsh) is a village in Rudnyansky District of Smolensk Oblast, Russia. In the days of the Russian Empire, it was a shtetl in the uyezd of Orsha, in the guberniya of Mogilev. The place is primarily known worldwide as the namesake and former headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Hasidic Judaism.


Lu·ba·vitch·er (lʊ-bä'vĭ-chər, lū'bə-vĭch'ər) pronunciation

A member of a Hasidic community founded in Russia in the late 18th century that stresses the importance of religious study.

[Yiddish Libavitsher, from Libavitsh, Jewish town in Russia where the movement originated.]
Lubavitcher Lu·ba'vitch·er adj.
Chabad Lubavitch
Providing Jewish Communities With News, Support, Charity & Education.

Did you mean: Lubavitcher (member of a Hasidic community), Lyubavichi, Chabad

Where Warhol meets the Rebbe

Full-time Rabbi Yitzchok Moully expresses his faith through bold, vibrant pop art.

IT’S 9.30pm at a Chabad House in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, and artist Yitzchok Moully is putting the finishing touches on a piece for an exhibition in Dumbo, a hip suburb in Brooklyn.

Unsurprisingly, he’s the only rabbi exhibiting.

The 29-year-old father of three says he finds it hard juggling between his life as a full-time rabbi and youth director and his fledgling career as a working artist – but he doesn’t mind straddling both worlds.

“As a Chabad rabbi there are certain truths that you want to adhere to, but at the same time we are living in the YouTube age. And we’re part of that. It would be disingenuous to pretend that we’re not.

“It’s about living in two worlds and the harmony between those worlds, rather than disparity,” he explains.

Born and raised in Melbourne, Moully’s work has been attracting the eye of local collectors since his first exhibition in New York’s artistic hub, Chelsea. His pieces have since sold for upwards of $6000.

Moully describes his style as Chassidic pop art. He works in rich, vibrant colours and is “in love with repetitious images”. While his earlier pieces reflected a deep appreciation for the late Andy Warhol, Moully is eager to branch out. He’s working on a new series of images which are both “kosher and funky”.

“On the left hand side I’ll have a piece of gefilte fish and on the right hand will be a piece of sushi,” he explains. “On the left, I’ll have a kiddush cup and on the right a martini glass. I’ll have Shabbat candles and a Zippo lighter.

“That really is Chabad philosophy,” he says. “There are different ways to approach an item ... Sushi is no less kosher and no less holy than gefilte fish.”

Moully, however, is not a trained artist. An avid photographer, he first dabbled in the medium three years ago after discovering silk-screening on the internet.

“I had this expression within me that was brewing. I can’t draw, paint or sketch freehand, so photography was my voice.

“But sometimes the photos were too crisp, too perfect, too photo-like. I bumped into silk-screen and thought, ‘I could do this.’”

Growing up on a commune in northern Queensland, Moully later moved to New York with his parents at age four. Those years as a child in New York’s Lubavitcher community changed his life.

“Without those years I would’ve been a damn good surfer,” Moully jokes. “The Rebbe really instilled within me a love for my Judaism, which I may or may not have gotten on my own.”

The globetrotting family later moved back to Melbourne, where Moully studied at Yeshivah College. He was ordained in Venice in 2001, working at Chabad Houses in Israel, Russia and South Africa, before moving back to the States with his Canadian wife.

“She’s very supportive,” Moully says of his wife Batsheva. “She enjoys it. Together, we have a message. On deadline, she’s out there helping me out moving the canvasses around.”

Moully still maintains close ties with Melbourne. His parents – Moshe and Nora Elkman – are well-known in the community through their Caulfield shop, The Coat Man, and he is currently creating a piece for Rabbi Laibl Wolf’s Spiritgrow centre in Caulfield North.

“I love Melbourne, I just wish it was a little closer,” he says.

Yitzchok Moully’s work is available in Australia through Pollock Gallery, 270 Church Street, Richmond. Inquiries: (03) 9427 0003 or

To view Moully’s work visit