Monday, June 30, 2008

Preschool Plan Pits Antiquities Museum Against Hasidim in Ritzy L.A. Enclave

By Rebecca Spence
Wed. Jun 25, 2008

Los Angeles — A brewing land-use dispute that involves a Southern California Chabad-Lubavitch branch, a powerful Los Angeles art museum and a host of outraged neighbors is stoking tensions between the Hasidic Orthodox sect and residents of one of this city’s wealthiest enclaves.
The fracas began when a Chabad group in Pacific Palisades — a tony L.A. community of some 25,000, nestled near Malibu — made plans to relocate its nonsectarian preschool to a warehouse that abuts the Getty Villa, an antiquities museum that is part of the J. Paul Getty Trust. The 3,000-square-foot warehouse, owned by a private
citizen and used for 25 years as a Getty storage facility, is also flanked by a Mormon church and rests in a canyon not far from a cluster of pricey homes.
In recent months, as Chabad made minor adjustments to the warehouse property — installing windows, placing tables and chairs inside, and putting up play structure equipment — the Getty balked at Chabad’s use of a service road that the museum claims is private. At the same time, a local neighborhood group raised hackles over
potential noise pollution and traffic problems, and both the Getty and irate neighbors have expressed concerns that Chabad acted without proper permissions from the museum or the City of Los Angeles, an allegation that Chabad officials staunchly deny.
This is not the first time that the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, a Hasidic sect of Judaism that sends emissaries across the globe to promote Torah learning, has found itself embroiled in thorny zoning disputes. A case in Hollywood, Fla., that began in 1999, when a Chabad group purchased two homes and started to transform one into a synagogue, erupted into a protracted, years-long legal battle that involved allegations of antisemitism.
While Pacific Palisades Chabad officials argue that neighbors have misunderstood their intentions in this case, and that they are planning to secure all necessary permits to operate the Palisades Jewish Early Childhood Center come September, some local residents say that Chabad’s approach has been brazen and cavalier.
“I’m embarrassed that it’s a subsection of my own religion that is behaving toward the community, of which I am a member, in this very aggressive manner,” said Mike Lofchie, who is a board member of the local neighborhood association, the Castellammare Mesa Home Owners Association, and a political science professor at the
University of California, Los Angeles. “Their style is to ask for forgiveness rather than permission. ” Lofchie said, referring to Chabad.
Rabbi Zushe Cunin, director of Chabad of Pacific Palisades since 1992, fiercely rebutted accusations that his group had acted inappropriately. Cunin, 38, also said he was disturbed that other Jews put such a negative spin on Chabad’s actions and that they were basing their conclusions on misinformation.
Much of the dispute centers on zoning technicalities. The Getty insists that the service access road is their private property, and in June, after forbidding Chabad officials from using it, the organization put up a fence.
A Getty spokeswoman, Julie Jaskol, also said that the institution was first and foremost concerned with safety issues. “It’s a heavily traveled narrow road that you can’t turn around on, and they’re proposing to have 50 to 100 preschoolers on it,” Jaskol said.
Chabad officials maintain that the Getty access road is, in fact, partially public property and that they’ve done nothing wrong. “There’s a right of way for 26 years to that building,” Cunin said. “There’s a city road to that
building. Any permission that needs to be asked is from the city,” he said.
A lawyer for Chabad, Benjamin Reznik — who has long represented the sect in its California real estate dealings — said that thus far, the Pacific Palisades Chabad has not given the building any adjustments that would require permits. “They have not occupied it, and don’t plan to until they’ve gone through the proper hearings,” he said.
Chabad, Reznik said, is initiating the permitting process with the City of Los Angeles for both a conditional-use permit and the required coastal development permit.
At least one local Jewish resident is defending Cunin and the Pacific Palisades Chabad. Laurie Rosenthal, whose son attended the preschool in its previous location in Temescal Gateway Park, said that she trusts Cunin.
“Chabad can be rough, and sometimes they come in and do what they want to do,” Rosenthal said. “But I don’t know that they’ve done that in this neighborhood.”

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Pool an attraction of new Chabad

For The Journal-Constitution
Published on: 06/26/08

Jewish residents in north metro Atlanta will celebrate the grand opening of a community center built by Chabad of Alpharetta to accommodate a growing children's program. The new facility will feature a swimming pool, a "kiddie" pool with water play area, a sports field and a Mikvah, a ritual pool.

"The emphasis is on the children. That's really our big draw," said Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz, Chabad's director. Camp Gan Israel, a summer day camp, will extensively use the new facility.

The upscale touches of the Mikvah include a spa-like environment, heated floor tiles and a high-tech filtration system.

"We teach Jewish traditions at each individual's level," the rabbi said of the Mikvah. "We try to make the richness of our heritage easily available and in a respectable way."

The event is set for noon on Sunday. Recently, Minkowicz responded to questions about the new facility and the Chabad organization.

Q. What should a visitor know about Chabad of Alpharetta?

A. Chabad is unique in that our aim is to reach all Jews regardless of their religious background or affiliation and help enrich their Jewish experience. We offer many educational opportunities for people in addition to synagogue services, so someone may attend another synagogue and come to us for an adult education class or for a holiday enrichment program for their children. One does not need to be a member to participate in Chabad programs.

Q. What is your most effective ministry or outreach program?

A. For the adults, our most effective outreach is education. We offer many classes on all levels for Jews to advance their knowledge. For the children, our summer camp has been the most effective. Last year we had 225 children.

Q. Is there something unique or unusual about Chabad of Alpharetta?

A. We have a Web site,, because we are a synagogue center that has a swimming pool. Our Chabad center is unique in that we have a wonderful blend of programming and services for Jews of all ages and levels of affiliation.

Q.What does the future hold for Chabad of Alpharetta?

A. Great things are in store. We expect to continue growing all our youth-related programs and the adult education offerings. And ... one day very soon we will have a new big educational center where we can continue serving the community in the best possible way.

Chabad Lubavitch in Michigan - sidebar

Chabad in Michigan

1958: Young Russian couple Rabbi Berel Shemtov and his wife, Batsheva, arrive in Detroit to start a Michigan chapter of Chabad Lubavitch.

1994: The Friendship Circle, a center in West Bloomfield to help physically and mentally disabled children, opens. Daniel B. Sobel Friendship House, a center for addicts adjacent to the Friendship Circle, also opens.

June 2008: More than 1,000 gather to mark the 50th anniversary of Chabad Lubavitch with a keynote address by one of Israel's chief rabbis.

December 2009: Estimated completion date of new Chabad building for Michigan Jewish Institute.

Source: Chabad Lubavitch

Orthodox Jewish group marks 50 years of outreach

"Hi, does anyone Jewish work in this office?"

Every Friday, that question is asked by 50 pairs of young men from an Orthodox Jewish group who fan out across metro Detroit to various buildings in a weekly mission to help nonobservant Jews get in touch with their faith. Marking 50 years in Michigan this month, the group -- known as Chabad Lubavitch -- has grown from just one center in Detroit to 18 institutions across Michigan, several schools and a network of emissaries who have brought alive Judaism in areas without any other Jewish centers such as Novi and Commerce Township.

And they do it in an affable manner that has endeared them to other members of the Jewish community.

Up to 40% of metro Detroit's roughly 72,000 Jews have taken part in some way in Chabad programs, say local leaders. The group is now in the process of building a new center for the Michigan Jewish Institute -- the latest addition to a $15-million plus complex in West Bloomfield that also features centers for disabled children and addicts of all backgrounds.

Chabad's efforts come at a time of concern among some American Jews that assimilation and intermarriage are decreasing their numbers and vitality. The group hopes to stem that trend with programs that reach out to Jewish people, no matter how out of touch they may be with their heritage.

"Chabad is nonjudgmental," said Jerry Beale, 65, of West Bloomfield, explaining the group's popularity. "They don't look at who's more religious, who's less religious; they look at everyone with dignity and respect ... there's a warmth there."
Chabad -- an acronym that contains the Hebrew words for wisdom, knowledge and understanding -- was a Hasidic sect started in Russia in the 18th Century that emphasized the importance of using the rational mind to control emotional instincts. Its 20th-Century leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, known as the Rebbe, expanded the group into a global movement. Based in Brooklyn, Chabad sends emissaries -- usually young married couples -- to communities around the world in up to 70 countries. The first couple sent to Detroit arrived in 1958.

On a recent Friday this month, two Chabad students were at Beale's real estate office in Southfield to distribute Chabad newsletters and to help men put on tefillin -- the leather straps and boxes containing sacred texts that are wrapped around the arm and forehead during prayers.

The Chabad movement puts a strong emphasis on laying tefillin, saying it's a potent part of Jewish tradition that links the mind, heart, and hands. And so during a break at the Southfield office, a group of Jewish men gathered in the conference room with the two students to put on the leather boxes and recite ancient prayers.

"They remind us how important it is," said Greg Newman, 36, as he got some assistance from a 19-year-old student dressed in the traditional black fedora and dark suit. "They bring awareness to the Jewish community."

That awareness changed the life of Matt Berke, 33, of West Bloomfield.

He grew up with Jewish parents, but was barely observant.

Berke ate bacon and shrimp -- both forbidden under Orthodox Jewish dietary laws. And he didn't even have seder dinners during Passover, a key holiday for Jewish people.

"I didn't practice the religion at all," Berke said.

But about eight years ago, a Chabad student visited his office.

"I was curious at first, intrigued," Berke recalled. And slowly he came back to his Jewish roots.

Step by step, he tweaked his lifestyle, adopting a kosher diet and then observing with his family the weekly Shabbat, or day of rest that starts at sundown Fridays. Today, he attends the Chabad's synagogue in West Bloomfield, known as the shul. Most of the members of the synagogue, including Berke, are not Orthodox.

"The idea is to make Judaism accessible," said the shul's head, Rabbi Kasriel Shemtov. "We wanted to have a place where Jews of all walks of life would feel comfortable."

Fifty years ago, it was Shemtov's parents who moved to Detroit to start Chabad's movement in Michigan. They were newly married and didn't know English well because they had grown up in Russia. Last Sunday, more than a thousand people gathered in Novi to celebrate the group's success, listening to a talk by the former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel, Yisrael Meir Lau.

"Lubavitch is different," Lau told the crowd, because of its willingness to reach out beyond the Orthodox community.

Berke isn't fully observant yet. But both his kids are enrolled in a Jewish day school, and he sees himself at the start of a long journey back home, thanks to Chabad.

"They teach you to find that inner spark inside," he said.

Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 248-351-2998 or

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Monument honors slain Ukraine rabbi

Published: 06/26/2008

A rabbi murdered during World War II was honored with a new monument in eastern Ukraine.

The opening ceremony for a monument built in memory of Rabbi Dov Ber Schneerson, a brother of the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, was dedicated June 22 on the outskirts of the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk.

According to the leaders of the local Jewish community, the memorial complex erected at the actual location of Schneerson’s shooting was dedicated on the date he was killed by Nazi soldiers in 1941. A witness helped local Jews identify the site.

Local authorities, Jewish leaders and members of the Jewish community took part in the opening.

Chabad welcomes new torah

June 26, 2008

Members of the Chabad of Glenview celebrated the completion of a new sefer torah for the congregation with music, singing and dancing Sunday.

Virutally all of the torah was written by a scribe in Israel. The scribe filled in the last 70 letters of the scroll, many of which were "purchased" through donations, at the dedication ceremony.

The scroll was then placed in a decorated cloth casing, and adorned with a traditional silver crown and pointer for reading. Congregation members, their families and friends marched, sang and danced around the 1800 block of Glenview Road with the torah.

The torah was made in the memory of Rabbi Nochum Yosef Ben Yerachmiel, grandfather of the Chabad's Rabbi Yishaya Benjaminson. Members of Benjaminson's family, including his father and grandmother, traveled here from New York and other states to take part in the celebration.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Chabad Wins Appeal Against the Russian Federation in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit

Landmark Ruling Clears Way for Chabad to Pursue Recovering Archive of Sacred Books Stolen by Nazis During World War II, Soviet Red Army in U.S. Courts WASHINGTON, June 13

WASHINGTON, June 13 /PRNewswire/ -- In a landmark ruling today, the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that Agudas
Chasidei Chabad of United States (Chabad) may pursue its claims in a U.S.
federal court against the Russian Federation, the Russian Ministry of Culture
and Mass Communication, the Russian State Library, and the Russian State
Military Archive to recover a collection of sacred religious books and

The D.C. Circuit held that a U.S. federal court has jurisdiction over
Chabad's claims to recover an archive of sacred books and manuscripts which
were stolen by the Nazis during World War II and then taken by the Soviet Red
Army to Moscow in 1945 in violation of international law. In addition, the
D.C. Circuit cleared the way for Chabad to pursue its claims against the
Russian Federation to recover a library of sacred, irreplaceable religious
books which were seized by the Soviets during the Bolshevik Revolution and
then retaken by the newly formed Russian Federation in 1992 after the collapse
of the Soviet Union.

"This is a landmark ruling," said Marshall Grossman, a partner in Bingham
McCutchen's Santa Monica office, who represents Chabad with Bingham partners
Seth Gerber in Santa Monica and David Salmons in Washington, D.C. "We hope and
pray that the Russian government will respect it."

In addition to the Bingham team, Chabad is represented by Washington
attorneys Nathan Lewin and Alyza D. Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, LLP, and Wm.
Bradford Reynolds of Howrey, LLP.

"The Court of Appeals' decision clears the way for the Russian government
to correct a historic wrong that its predecessors have committed against the
Jewish community. We can only hope that the current Russian authorities will
now fulfill the assurances that were made to Chabad representatives and to
United States officials after the Soviet state was replaced with the Russian
Federation. It should not be necessary to engage in extended litigation for
the Chabad community, headquartered today in the United States, to recover
what rightfully belongs to it," added Nathan Lewin.

"This is a historic victory for the Rebbe and for all people of faith and
freedom. These sacred books and manuscripts contain the souls of our Rebbes,
and of their countless followers who were persecuted and murdered by the Nazi
and Soviet regimes. We hope and pray the Russian government of today will now
fulfill its moral and legal obligations to return these sacred texts, " said
Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Eliyohu Cunin of Agudas Chasidei Chabad.

Chabad is headquartered in Brooklyn, N.Y., with more than 3,000
international branches; it is the largest Jewish organization in the world
today. On November 9, 2004, Chabad filed its lawsuit against the Russian
Federation, the Russian Ministry of Culture and Mass Communication, the
Russian State Library, and the Russian State Military Archive, asserting
violations of international law and seeking the return of its collection of
sacred, irreplaceable religious books and manuscripts.

Bingham McCutchen LLP -- -- is a national law firm with
global capabilities, with nearly 1,000 attorneys in 13 offices. The firm
represents clients in cross-border restructurings and insolvencies, high-
stakes litigation, complex financing and regulatory matters, government
affairs, and a wide variety of sophisticated corporate and technology

Based in Washington, D.C., Lewin & Lewin LLP specializes in Supreme Court
and federal appellate litigation and is available for consultation by lawyers
and clients in complex criminal and civil matters in federal courts. Lewin &
Lewin also represents clients and assists attorneys in relations with federal
legislative, executive and administrative agencies.

Founded in 1956, Howrey LLP is a global law firm with over 700 attorneys
and more than 50 economic, financial, and regulatory consultants. Howrey has
offices in Washington, D.C.; Northern Virginia; Houston, Texas; New York, New
York; Los Angeles, Irvine, East Palo Alto and San Francisco, California; Salt
Lake City, Utah; Chicago, Illinois; London, England; Brussels, Belgium; Paris,
France; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Munich, Germany; Madrid, Spain and Taipei,

SOURCE Bingham McCutchen LLP

University City named to list of best Jewish neighborhoods

University City, Mo., is one of the ten best Jewish neighborhoods in North America, according to Jewish Living magazine.

The magazine said University City, with 500 Jewish families within a few square miles, is one of the most visible and highly concentrated Jewish areas. The epicenter is the area around Washington University in St. Louis, a school popular amongst Jews thanks to its kosher kitchen and strong Hillel and Chabad programs, according to Jewish Living.

The article mentions dining options, such as Pumpernickel's Deli and Simon Kohn's, while also pointing out the abundance of Jewish learning centers like Aish HaTorah and Chabad's Jewish Learning Institute that the city offers.

St. Louis has 26 congregations and six Jewish day schools, according to the magazine.

Other neighborhoods mentioned on the top 10 list, which was presented alphabetically, not in order of preference, include Boulder, Colo., North Dallas, Texas, and SoHo/TriBeCa in New York City.

The magazine identified neighborhoods "that are growing, rebuilding, reinventing themselves, unifying their disparate parts, and exploring (Jewish) traditions in unconventional ways."

We're all right, Shmuley

Jun. 16, 2008
Dovid Eliezrie ,

Like many others, I wondered about the Chabad future after the Rebbe - Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn - passed away in 1994. I especially worried whether Chabad emissaries would attend their convention, scheduled for a few months later. Those fears dissipated when 700-strong showed up from around the globe.

Fourteen years later, the numbers are up again. Over 2,200 shlichim (emissaries) attended last year, reflecting a remarkable rate of growth.

One of the early challenges in the post-gimmel tammuz era (the Hebrew date of the Rebbe's passing) was Rabbi Shmuley Boteach's management of the Chabad L'Chaim society at Oxford University. He had involved large numbers of non-Jews in his programs, a radical departure from the Chabad norm, focused as it is on drawing Jews closer to their tradition. Some of his other activities also did not reflect Chabad standards.

During that confusing time, Chabad in the UK could have just turned a blind eye. Instead it made the decision that Shmuley's methodology did not meet Chabad policies.

No one doubted his creativity, his writing ability or his commitment to Judaism. Some said "it was nothing but politics - these older rabbis in London."

As Shmuley wrote in The Jerusalem Post last week (June 10), he feels to this day that he was in the right. In my mind, however, it was a turning point. Chabad in the UK took a courageous stand, insisting that our principles were sacrosanct. Coming shortly after the Rebbe's passing, it sent a strong message throughout the Chabad system that standards were not to be lowered.

THE LAST 14 years have been a period of both great success and serious challenge, internally and externally. The Rebbe had already laid the foundation for the transformation into a communal decision-making system by setting up an organizational structure guided by committees and boards. Rabbinical courts were appointed as the final arbitrators of policy and direction. More and more, Chabad become a consensus-driven culture.

Still the shift did not come without internal politics and dissension. When it comes to tough questions, the debate is, "What would the Rebbe have said?" or "What did he say?" in such a situation. There is debate and dialogue, and not everyone shares the same understanding of which precedent should apply.

CHABAD TODAY is the largest Jewish organization in the world, operating in 75 countries and 48 states. With over 5,000 rabbis and their wives on staff, there is no question that there will be issues. In such a large system there will be institutions that have financial or management problems. The Rebbe taught us to live up to high ideals, which, being human, we fail at times to reach. Chabad emissaries have the same frailties as anyone. At times those weaknesses trickle down to the institutions we are involved in.

There will be internal organizational politics. How many Chabad centers can we open, and who should run them? Who should be assigned to a suburb with great demographic potential? How do we resolve issues when there is internal conflict?

Chabad's expanding role in itself poses a new set of challenges. As Dennis Prager said recently to a group of Chabad rabbis, "For years Chabad was the outsider. Now you are becoming the establishment, and that demands a different type of responsibility."

Moving from the periphery to the mainstream must cause us to see our role differently.

INTERNALLY, CHABAD must address additional issues: How do we inspire our children to have the same passion and ideals that we learned firsthand from the Rebbe? How do we create viable communities of hassidim that meet the spiritual and educational needs of a more diverse and growing population in a wide variety of geographic settings? How do we live our lives to the high standards that the Rebbe aspired to?

How do we ensure economic stability for hassidim who do not enter into Jewish education or outreach? For instance, a leading Chabad rabbinical figure in Israel talked to me about the need to help his community develop more varied job skills.

None of these questions has an easy answer, and they cannot be debated in the pages of The Jerusalem Post.

Chabad is a culture of intense self-analysis. Be it in the local synagogue, in conventions both regional and international, or on the various Web sites, the dialogue and debate is real. Just this week members of Chabad rabbinical courts convened in New York to talk about many of these questions. What is striking about Chabad is the personal sense of empowerment that most of its hassidim feel, which enables them to express their opinions openly and strongly.

WITH ALL its challenges, Chabad is booming. The network of Chabad Centers is growing in many ways. In Russia, Judaism has been rebuilt from the bottom up. In Israel, Chabad serves as a bridge between secular and religious in a polarized society. In the US and other Western countries, Chabad centers are growing in suburbia, creating a new synagogue movement involving hundreds of thousands of Jews.

In campus and adult education there is phenomenal growth and innovation. Internally the hassidic community is learning to find solutions to different challenges with innovative yeshivas and seminaries. A new generation of Chabad rabbinical scholars is providing much-needed spiritual direction to hassidim.

There are problems. And there will be new ones in the future. Still, the system the Rebbe put in place is proving itself responsive and resilient, both in sparking a Jewish renaissance around the world and in creating a viable community for Hassidim.

The writer is a Chabad emissary in Yorba Linda, California.

Is Lubavitch losing its heart?

This is a column which I am certainly not the most qualified to write, but ringing in my ears are the words of the Mishna: "In a place where there are no men, stand up and become one." In the absence of anyone else speaking about an area in which Chabad would do well to improve, and because it needs to be said, here goes.

I came to Chabad before my 10th birthday, and it rapidly became the love of my life. By the age of 14, I had, much to the consternation of both my parents, left home to move into a full-time Chabad yeshiva. I married an outstanding young Lubavitcher woman, almost immediately moving to Oxford to become there the emissary of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn (the Rebbe), and named my kids after the great Chabad personalities who were my inspiration.

What was it that drew me? There was, of course, the Rebbe. There was also Chabad's commitment to educating Jews about their heritage, which drew me to the organization's sense of mission and purpose.

But I would be lying if I did not identify a completely different reason as the principal magnet that made me want to join the movement. Quite simply, Chabad were the nicest people in the world. I said to myself, any movement that could produce people this hospitable and selfless must be in possession of a great truth.

Back then Chabad was, for the most part, poor. You would see beat-up old jalopies roaming the broken streets of Crown Heights. Chabadniks' pockets might have been small, but their hearts were huge. You could be a hippie with long hair and tattoos. But as soon as you arrived at any Chabad center, you would not only be invited to spend the Sabbath but to join the family and move in.

I had grown up surrounded by the materialism of modern America; meeting people who cared little for their own egos and gave everything they had to strangers was magnetic. Sign me up!

BUT WITH Chabad about to commemorate the 14th anniversary of the Rebbe's passing, the time has come to reinforce this most central of Chabad values.

Chabad is by now the most effective Jewish educational organization in history, and no movement works harder for the Jewish people or caters to more unaffiliated Jews.

But success has brought the usual challenges. Chabad emissaries are becoming more ego-driven and territorial, too often bickering with one another. A seemingly incessant spate of court battles should serve as a wake-up call.

In Crown Heights, the official Chabad leadership seems engaged in permanent litigation with - mostly - Chabad messianic forces, for the soul of Lubavitch. Nearly all of it takes place in mainstream rather than Jewish courts, making them highly public affairs.

In London, an ugly public battle ousted one of the heads of Chabad UK of the past half-century. Sydney, Australia witnessed another ugly public battle for the control of Chabad institutions.

These are just a few examples. The press has reported on many more in places as far away as Russia, Ukraine and Israel.

WHY IS this all happening?

Whereas some mystical sects emphasize the abrogation of the ego and the abnegation of self, the genius of the Rebbe was to tap into the human desire for recognition, what philosophers call "the thymotic urge," and channel it into rescuing the Jewish people from oblivion. The Rebbe told his hassidim that they would go out into communities and distinguish themselves by becoming leaders. He took men and women with only yeshiva educations and made them believe in their capacity to transform great universities and whole countries.

This courageous vision led to an explosion of unused potential and transformed Chabad from a modest hassidic group into a global powerhouse of awe-inspiring proportions.

But harnessing the ego has its risks.

The model worked perfectly so long as the Rebbe was alive. Chabad had before its eyes an unequalled example of selfless devotion to a higher cause. There was not an ounce of materialism in the Rebbe's life, and his devotion to people in need transcended the saintly and bordered on the angelic.

The night the Rebbe died I penned an essay called "The Colossus and Me," where I related how the first thing I ever noticed about him were the holes on the bottoms of his shoes. The most powerful Jewish leader of the 20th century had next to no assets.

Now no one expected any of us in Chabad to be as selfless as the Rebbe. But there was an expectation that one be inspired by his example. Without the Rebbe as a living presence, some in Chabad are forgetting that ego is only redemptive when it is consecrated to a goal higher than oneself. Anything else runs contrary to the fundamental Chabad teaching of bitul hayesh, nullifying the self to become a tool of God's plan.

The sharp elbows and growing nepotism Chabad is exhibiting means that some are forgetting they are merely messengers and not the message itself.

SHORTLY AFTER the Rebbe's death in 1994, when I had my own battle with Chabad over the thousands of non-Jewish members of my Oxford organization and my appointment of my friend Cory Booker, an African-American Rhodes scholar, as our president, I thought perhaps I had indeed erred. So I placed myself in a self-imposed exile and lived through the disquiet of being isolated from my community.

But now, with Cory becoming one of America's most influential politicians and Chabad honoring him at dinners and appointing him to their prestigious boards, it is clear that a vision of inspiring all people with Jewish values - non-Jews included - has been embraced by Chabad.

I say this not to vindicate myself. The Chabad activists whom I am discussing are my superiors in sacrifice for the Jewish people and devotion to the communal good. They are the heroes of the Jewish people. I say it rather to point out that Chabad should create a fair and impartial mechanism by which young emissaries can come to discuss how they are treated by those above them and whether or not it is just. This would be true in any organization, and it should certainly be true in an organization as righteous as Chabad.

As any organization becomes more powerful, it must also become more self-critical.

CHABAD IS facing unique challenges. A growing number of Chabad youth are leaving the fold. The Chabad dating scene is beginning to exhibit some of the shallow mores of the secular culture, with money and looks playing a not-insignificant role. And gratuitous bickering among some in its leadership are undermining the morale of the young future emissaries they are meant to inspire.

When a Chabad rabbi sends away a family who has worked under him after an ugly dispute, he mistakenly conveys the belief that the ends of spreading Judaism justifies the means of doing so at any cost.

All of this can be reversed. But not if it isn't discussed.

Chabad is the last great hope for the Jewish people, and we are all in its debt. But an organization whose very name means "city of love," risks diminishing its light unless it remembers that it succeeded not only because of its rich mystical philosophy or the considerable charisma of its representatives, but because of the seeming ego-lessness of its adherents and the infinite love they bestow on all who knock on their door.

The writer, who hosts a daily national radio show in the US, is the author of many books including Judaism for Everyone and The Broken American Male and How to Fix Him.

A Young Man From Omaha, Who May Perfectly Represent Brooklyn

Moments before Yosef Abrahamson, 16, accepted an award for the essay he’d written in a competition sponsored by the Police Athletic League, an officer approached him to complain about his fedora. The hat, an essential wardrobe item for Hasidic men, was gaudy, the policeman told him, and what’s with all these kids today and their nose rings and their attitudes. A second police officer, overhearing the conversation, came over to steer away the first one, who reappeared a few minutes later to apologize. He’d never seen a Hasidic Jew, he told Yosef.

A policeman working in New York who’d never seen a Hasidic Jew? What he probably meant, Yosef theorized, was “that he’d never seen a Hasidic Jew of color. I think he was probably making some assumptions there.”

Thanks to his Egyptian father, who left the family when Yosef was young, and his maternal grandfather, who was of African descent by way of Panama, Yosef looks African-American (though his family prefers to describe themselves as Jews of color, believing their culture to be exclusively Jewish). Yosef moved to Crown Heights only a year ago, until then having lived in Omaha, where his mother’s maternal family, German Jewish merchants, had settled several generations earlier.

If Yosef, who attends the yeshiva Darchai Menachem in Crown Heights, ever finds himself writing a college application essay, his advisers would have a hard time choosing which of his compelling story lines would most dazzle those college admissions officers: The story of growing up in the only Hasidic family in Omaha? Or the story of being the only student of color in his yeshiva? Or maybe the story of being the only Hasidic person of color in Omaha’s competitive ice skating circuit?

Despite the friendships he made while ice skating, a hobby his mother encouraged to round him out, life in Omaha was “a bit lonely,” Yosef admitted last week while eating a Kosher hamburger on Albany Avenue with his mother and his older sister, Sarah, 22. His mother, Dinah, who joined the Chabad-Lubavitch movement after seeing videos of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson several years ago, home-schooled both of her children.

Yosef was obviously sheltered from too much scrutiny from the outside world, but the surprising combination of his race and his particular form of religious observance fazed no one in Omaha — for all the average person knew in Omaha, all Hasidic Jews were of African descent, his mother said. When friends from Nebraska first visited New York, they were fascinated to meet some white Hasids for the first time.

It was easier for Ms. Abrahamson to raise her children in Omaha than it would have been in Crown Heights, she said.

“People are laid-back in Omaha,” she said. “It’s different there.”

Omaha is not, for example, a place where race relations between Jews and blacks have exploded into days of riots, as they did in Crown Heights in 1991; nor have the police in Omaha ever deemed it necessary to set up mobile command centers to monitor simmering tensions between Jews and blacks, as the New York police did last month in the Brooklyn neighborhood in response to two unrelated physical altercations.

A young man like Yosef could easily start to feel like a powerful symbol, rather than just a kid, the human embodiment of that famously controversial Art Spiegelman New Yorker cover depicting a Hasidic man embracing an African-American woman.

But life in Crown Heights is somehow less complicated than that for Yosef, a tall, athletic young man who seems to have internalized Omaha’s easygoing ways (and its broad Midwestern accent). Beyond the misunderstanding at the awards ceremony — of which Yosef said, “It was a bit strange, but really, I understand” — he says he has felt comfortable in Crown Heights from the moment he came there to advance his education.

Through summer camps and occasional trips to New York, the Abrahamsons were already familiar to the Jewish community in Crown Heights when he arrived last fall (the community has only a handful of other black families). The response from the African-American community has been, if anything, amazement. “Now I’ve seen everything,” an African-American man said three or four times as he passed Yosef and his mother and his sister walking home from synagogue.

Some black neighbors recently asked Ms. Abrahamson questions about the meaning of some Lubavitch fliers they had received in the mail. The family sensed that the neighbors had long been harboring those questions but had felt a certain comfort level with the Abrahamsons because of their shared skin color.

If there have been resentful or disapproving responses from either side, they have apparently gone as far over Yosef’s head as the references his ice skating friends used to make to movies or television shows he’d never seen.

The ease with which both communities have received Yosef seems a little unlikely, but appropriate in the year of what some call the country’s first post-racial presidential campaign. Except that the Abrahamsons consider themselves “post-racial, for real,” said Ms. Abrahamson, a Republican delegate in Nebraska who is not a fan of Mr. Obama. To the contrary, the whole family strongly supports John McCain, and Yosef will be a page at the Republican National Convention in the Twin Cities in September.

One more item to add to that list of possible essay topics.

E-mail: susan.dominus

The Torah: A Moral Compass

By Rabbi Ezra Schochet

For the Jewish people, the Torah is the moral compass that guides us through all difficult personal and ethical issues. Indeed, the most intimate and private parts of our lives are also subject to the direction of the Torah.

In recent years we have witnessed a social revolution in Western culture: the validation of homosexuality as an alternate lifestyle. Clearly this is not in consonance with the teachings of the Torah. Sadly, this assault on basic moral standards gained a beachhead in the Jewish community as well. Some see it as an issue of equality and compassion. This argument, however, carries no moral weight. The Torah unequivocally condemns homosexuality alongside incest and adultery.Our Torah enjoins us to treat all humans with dignity and respect, as all are created by G-d in His own image. The very same Torah also prescribes a code of proper behavior that defines and reflects human dignity, the violation of which would diminish and marginalize it. Hence derives the concept of "hate sin but love the sinner."

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach attempted to do exactly this ("Dr. Laura Misguided on Homosexuality," June 16) when he fell into an intellectual abyss. He seriously twisted the classic Jewish teachings. His absurd argument that the prohibition concerning homosexual acts is just a religious instruction and not a spiritual moral imperative is a distortion of Torah. By equating the biblical condemnation of homosexuality with ritual laws and norms for proper character traits, he willfully ignores and maliciously distorts explicit pronouncements of the Torah.

Proper character traits and interhuman relationships in the Jewish faith are built upon Torah principles and not just human wisdom that changes in each generation. The student of pirkei avot (Ethics of our Fathers) would know from the very first mishna that all ethics and morals originate at Mt. Sinai.

The prohibition of homosexuality is not only a ritual law for Jews like the precepts of the dietary laws or the Sabbath. Any simpleton reading this chapter (Leviticus 18:3) must come to the conclusion that a moral statement is being made by the Torah - not simply a violation "on religious grounds."

This prohibition is a universal injunction for all mankind, part of the fundamental moral principles. It is an integral part of the Noachide Code (Maimonides, Laws of Kings 9) the basic laws of society given by G-d to all of humanity.

Dismissing this (as Boteach and others do) does not represent the Jewish point of view, does not reflect a religious Jewish perspective.

The argument that homosexuality was as common as heterosexuality in ancient times is an absurd non sequitur. Paganism and incest were equally popular. Sould we defend these, too, in the name of history?The fact that homosexuals are so vociferous does not make them normative. Are we to accept adulterous behavior, in the spirit of compassion, as another alternate lifestyle for those who can't control their desires for a married woman?

Indeed, quite a few bear the challenge of homosexual tendencies. As individual humans they are entitled to the same rights and dignity as all others, and perhaps even extra compassion. That is altogether different, however, than granting acceptance to their lifestyles as legitimate alternatives. To celebrate their sexual preferences, let alone to expose schoolchildren to it, or to have society sanction their unions on a par with normative marriage is an indefensible aberration that destroys the moral fibers of society.

The attack on Dr. Laura Schlessinger skirts the real issues and throws out unwarranted accusations of homophobia.

Unlike her critics, Dr. Laura's position does not follow the latest fads to gain transient popularity. She follows her conscience as a religious person. For this she deserves to be applauded by all, including those critics who put pursuit of truth before personal agendas.

I am saddened that a former yeshiva student failed to acquire the most basic principle of religion: G-d and His revelation transcend popularity contests and political correctness. The truth will prevail, and the word of G-d will stand forever.

Rabbi Ezra Schochet is the rosh yeshiva and dean of the West Coast Talmudic Seminary, Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon Chabad, in Los Angeles.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

After Settling Kosher Food Suit, California Prisons Get an Influx of Jewish Chaplains

By Rebecca Spence
Tue. Jun 03, 2008

Los Angeles — Mendel Slavin went to work as a chaplain in a San Diego prison in 2006. A Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic rabbi from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, he was one of about a dozen Jewish chaplains serving California’s fractional Jewish inmate population at the time. But in the two years since then, that number has
literally doubled. Today Slavin is one of two dozen full-time chaplains employed by the state of California to provide counseling and lead religious services for Jews — and interested non-Jews — who are doing time.
Why the sudden surge in the numbers of Jewish chaplains in the Golden State? Three words: kosher food supervision.
In 2003, the state of California settled a lawsuit with Victor Wayne Cooper, an Orthodox Jew serving a 60-year sentence for child molestation. Cooper had sued the state for not providing him with kosher meals. As part of the settlement, the state agreed to make good-faith efforts to have kosher food available to inmates in all of its 33 prisons by 2006.
As a direct result of the lawsuit, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has been scrambling in recent years, in conjunction with the Northern and Southern California boards of rabbis, to install a Jewish chaplain at every prison in order to oversee the preparation of kosher food.
A similar case in Texas is still pending. But that state’s answer to a lawsuit brought in 2005 on behalf of Max Moussazadeh, a Jew of Iranian descent, has been to consolidate all 23 of its kosher-observant inmates into one prison, bypassing the need for Jewish chaplains across the board.
The work extends far beyond merely vetting jailhouse kosher cuisine. According to one longtime Jewish chaplain, his niche is as close as a rabbi can come to performing missionary work.
“We work with the underbelly of society, the spiritually void, the morally empty,” said Rabbi Lon Moskowitz, the Jewish chaplain at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo. “It’s important to have chaplains so we can facilitate the Jewish Kosher Diet Plan statewide, but it’s a requirement so that the spiritual needs of incarcerated Jews are met.”
Moskowitz, 52, is a former pulpit and Hillel rabbi who has worked at California Men’s Colony — perhaps the most scenic of the state prisons, built on Highway 1 along California’s stunning central coast — for 11 years. Among the inmates with whom he has worked most closely over the years, he said, including those who have become his clerks and helped with paperwork, there is a 0% rate of recidivism.
Moskowitz also sits on the prison system’s Jewish Kosher Diet Task Force. He estimates that California Men’s Colony — which houses one of the state prison system’s only dedicated Jewish chapels — has some 35 inmates on the kosher diet plan. Since the phase-in of kosher meals several years ago, Moskowitz has been actively working to recruit Jewish chaplains. Still, he said, there simply aren’t enough chaplains to fill all the vacancies.
Moreover, the Board of Rabbis of Southern California — the ecclesiastical endorsing body for the state’s Department of Corrections — upholds high standards, according to Moskowitz. The “overwhelming majority” of Jewish chaplains are ordained rabbis, and those who are not have graduate degrees in Jewish studies and experience in chaplaincy work, he said.
California is one of several states, including New York, that have paid chaplains serving in their prisons. In many states, chaplaincy is a volunteer position, or one chaplain attends to all faith groups. California employs a total of 185 chaplains from five different religious groups: Protestants, Catholics, Native Americans, Jews and Muslims.
Jewish chaplains in California state prisons have a small pool from which to draw their congregants. Incarcerated Jews make up only one half to 1% of the state’s 170,000 inmates — a disproportionately low number.
The rabbinical board seeks to recruit rabbis who can work with Jews across the denominational spectrum, said Mark Diamond, board president. “If you’re a Reform rabbi, you’re going to work with Orthodox guys who want to put on tefillin, and if you’re a Chabad rabbi, you’re going to work with Jews whose Jewish identity is based on patrilineal descent,” Diamond said.
According to Diamond, the number of Chabad rabbis taking up the work is increasing. Currently, nine of the 24 full-time Jewish chaplains are from the Hasidic sect. Diamond explained that Chabad rabbis, who set up shop in far-flung corners of the globe as part of their overarching mission to reach Jews everywhere, are frequently those in closest geographic proximity to prisons built in remote locales.
Slavin, 30, is among them. Based in San Clemente, Calif., Slavin commutes an hour each way, twice a week, to San Diego’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility, which houses both low- and high-security inmates. His congregation numbers some 40 inmates out of a total prison population of 5,000. When the kosher diet plan was
first introduced two years ago, Slavin said, non-Jewish inmates began attending his services and claiming to be Jewish in order to get on the meal plan. “With the kosher diet, it became fashionable to be Jewish,” he said. He had worked to explain to the non-Jews that eating kosher was not a privilege, but rather a requirement for those who truly were observant Jews.
And working with Jewish inmates, Slavin said, is something of a privilege for him. “I’ll do it and help as much as I can until Moshiach comes, and there’s no more prisons.”

Torah vanishes from Bais Menachem



University City police are investigating the disappearance of one of the Torahs belonging to Congregation Bais Menachem — Chabad on Delmar. Rabbi Yosef Landa and the congregation discovered the Torah was missing during Shabbat services on May 24.

"When we opened the ark for the Torah service I realized one of the Torahs was missing," Landa said. "A big gasp went up throughout the congregation."

The synagogue keeps two Torah scrolls in the ark, said Landa. The congregation does not have a daily minyan so the last time he saw both Torah scrolls was the previous Shabbat.

"The Torah which was stolen is the only Torah we actually own," Landa said. "It is a very beautiful, tall Torah with a red mantle, with large letters in the script style of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Ari Zal. The other Torah we have is on loan to us."

Landa contacted the University City police department after Shabbat and officers arrived within a few minutes. They interviewed Landa, filed a report and told him he would be contacted by a detective during the week.

Further research by the Jewish Light has found three thefts of Torahs from Chabad congregations in other states in the past nine months. Asked about the other thefts, Detective Mike Gage who was assigned to the case said he would be looking into the other incidents.

"We will be contacting the other police departments to compare notes and look for possible connections," Gage said.

One of the Torah thefts occurred around the end of September 2007 from Yeshiva High School in Cottage Grove, Minn.

"A Torah scroll was stolen and a video projector," Rabbi Moshe Weiss, the school's director of development said. "The Torah scroll and projector have not been recovered."

In April, a Chabad House in Miami Beach, Fla., was burned down in an apparent case of arson being investigated by fire officials, the police and the FBI according to an article on It is believed the congregation's Torah scroll was stolen before the fire was set.

Two scrolls were discovered missing from Congregation Bnai Zedek Chabad in Kenosha, Wis., on April 15. The small congregation has only been around for about nine months, said Rabbi Tzali Wilschanski. The rabbi was giving a class in the social hall downstairs and closed the door to the sanctuary before he left for the evening.

"There was no sign of a break-in," Wilschanski said. "I am concerned somebody might have entered the synagogue and hidden in the sanctuary because the deadbolt lock was open in the morning."

The hazzan's oversize siddur, chumashim and the rabbi's laptop computer were also stolen, though the thief left behind the silver ornaments used to adorn to the Torah.

It is not clear whether any of the thefts are connected although there are similarities in some of the cases, such as the missing books. Landa had noticed a couple of books missing about two weeks before the Torah theft.

"I noticed the large oversized siddur used by the hazzan and a large oversized book of Haftarot were missing," Landa said. "We looked everywhere and thought perhaps someone had borrowed them and forgotten to return them."

Now Landa is wondering if the two incidents are related.

"My mind was racing when I saw the Torah scroll was gone though I don't know if the events are connected," Landa said. "All that was stolen were communal articles. They did not take the pushke which has about $30 to $40 in it."

The Torah scroll is valued at $30,000 to $40,000 according to the police report, though Landa said he would have to do additional research to assess the value of that particular Torah.

Landa said he e-mailed other rabbis to alert them to the theft so they could be more watchful at their own congregations.

"This is so disappointing," Landa said. "There was no sign of forced entry. We have an open door policy. People who frequent the congregation know the code to get into the building."

Barry Parnas regularly attends Shabbat services at the congregation and was there when the theft was discovered.

"I remember the Aron HaKodesh, the Holy Ark, being opened and only one Torah being in there," Parnas said. "The first person to respond was Rabbi Landa. I think he said, 'Sefer Torah missing.'"

Sometimes the shul will use the Torah someplace else but it is always back by Shabbat, said Parnas. He said the congregation was very shaken and surprised by the theft.

"A Torah doesn't seem like something that someone would steal," Parnas said. "It seems very odd to me that someone would take it."

Landa and members of the congregation checked around the community just in case someone had borrowed the Torah and other items for a shiva house or to study.

"This is very sad for me personally," Landa said. "I'm holding out hope that I will wake up from this nightmare and the Torah will be back. I assure whoever took it total anonymity. We just want the Torah back — no questions asked."

Chabad, UNICEF publish book

Chabad of Buenos Aires and UNICEF officials announced the publication of a book about treating child abuse.

More than 500 people, including judiciary representatives, Jewish leadership, educators and psychologists, gathered Tuesday evening at a downtown cultural center to welcome the book, "Mistreatment of Children: The Innovative Approach of Ieladeinu, The Comprehensive Response of a Community Committed to Children".

Supported by UNICEF, the book is based on the organization's two years of observation of Ieladeinu, the Jewish home for mistreated children opened in 1999 and run by Chabad. The aim of the book is to systemize Ieladeinu’s approach, which is modeled on Jewish ethics, psychology and human rights, so it may be replicated by other programs.

Karina Pincever, co-author and book coordinator, stressed the courage and hope she found in the Chabad-Lubavitch Argentina Director Rabbi Tzvi Grumblatt during the first uncertain years.

Bernardo Kliksberg of the United Nations Program for Development said that Ieladeinu proved mistreated children, given the proper care and love, can recover dignity and dreams of future.

"UNICEF has found Ieladeinu´s work not only valuable for the Jewish community’s children it cares for, but also as a model to be followed universally in dealing with this type of problem,” said Dr. Rivera Pizarro, UNICEF’s representative.