Sunday, July 20, 2008

Joseph Gutnick's a rock star in India

MINING magnate Joseph Gutnick has struck a $US100 million deal to supply Queensland phosphate to India's largest fertiliser company.

Under the deal, the Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative will invest $US100.5 million ($A102.9 million) over the next two years through shares and options in Mr Gutnick's US-based Legend International Holdings.

Legend, which was initially involved in diamond exploration, has phosphate interests in Queensland's Georgina Basin, near Mt Isa, and plans to produce a five million tonne per year phosphate rock mine.

Phosphate rock is a key fertiliser-making ingredient.

IFFCO represents 50 million farmers and supplies a quarter of India's fertiliser.

The cooperative has agreed to buy four million tonnes, or 80 per cent, of the concentrated rock phosphate Legend will produce.

It comes amid record prices for phosphate, in excess of $US400 a tonne, as global demand exceeds supply.

Mr Gutnick said he hoped the deal would also create opportunities to develop fertiliser products down the track and supply for Australian farmers.

But for now the man dubbed "Diamond Joe" is concentrating on having phosphate rock ready to ship to India within two years.

Mr Gutnick and the IFFCO delegation have been meeting with Queensland government representatives this week to discuss the development, which will also involve the construction of an on-site benefication plant and a slurry pipeline to Karumba in the Gulf of Carpentaria.

Mr Gutnick described the meetings as "encouraging" and was confident of securing mining leases to progress the project.

Legend will list on the US Stock Exchange soon, but Mr Gutnick said there were no immediate plans for a dual listing in Australia.

"Certainly in the long term we intend to come here because I'm an Australian and it's an Australian project, but at this stage our support came from (US investors) and that would be very hard to get in Australia and we will continue that route."

Legend last month raised $US105 million through a private placement in the US. Mr Gutnick said the fact that the project helped supply fertiliser to a country "that's in dire need of food" was a "positive from a humanitarian point of view".

Australia’s Unofficial Chief Rabbi Buried in Israel

Sydney, Australia - An American-born rabbi who has been hailed as “the greatest Australian Jewish leader of the past century” was buried July 11 on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, who was sent to Australia as the special emissary of the Chabad-Lubavitch rebbe, died July 7 after a long illness. He was 83.

Israel’s former Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Yisrael Meir Lau, officiated at the ceremony in Jerusalem in front of hundreds of mourners, including Groner’s younger brother, Leib, who was the personal secretary of the Lubavitch rebbe for more than 40 years.

Yossi Aron, religious affairs editor of the Australian Jewish News and longtime student of Groner, told the Forward, “Rabbi Groner did more to develop the Orthodox community than any other rabbi. He put Chabad on the map in Australia.”

Isi Leibler, a former Australian Jewry president who now lives in Jerusalem, said, “History will record that Rabbi Yitzchok Groner was beyond a doubt the greatest Australian Jewish leader of the past century.”

Born in New York in 1925, Groner was first sent on a pilot tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1947. He returned Down Under in 1953, and several years later, in 1958, the Lubavitch rebbe asked him to be his emissary there for a few years. Groner stayed for 50 years, building a thriving Lubavitch community of thousands as well as a network of educational and religious institutions, including two Jewish schools; a men’s kollel; a women’s seminary, and a clutch of Chabad houses around Melbourne, three of which are run by his sons or sons-in-law.

In a rare interview in 2004, Groner said: “My objective is to make my boys and girls a mensch. I want that they should be decent, moral, learned, observant young men and women, a credit to the community where they will live.”

At Groner’s 80th birthday party, which raised $1 million for Chabad, then-prime minister John Howard said he had the “enviable reputation as the people’s rabbi.”

On Wednesday, July 9, more than 1,500 mourners came to the memorial service, which was held at the Yeshiva Centre in Melbourne and streamed live on the Internet. Groner’s body was then flown to Israel for burial alongside his parents.

Succeeding Groner as Lubavitch chief will be Rabbi Zvi Telsner, who is married to one of Groner’s daughters.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Week in Chabad Land

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Anger and rebellion have been my religious companions ever since I can remember. As I traveled in the world of Buddhism for a couple of decades, dabbled in yoga and Hinduism, and even graduated from an interfaith seminary, there continues to be a nagging feeling. Who is a Jew? Am I a Jew? Is that enough? Ashamed? Yes. Angry? Incredibly so! I shout out, why as Jews where we not taught to learn about the Pirket avot, the biblical text that teaches moral and ethical strategies to be happy and successful? I am adamant that I want to know why we were not introduced to the Tanya as teenagers. I am told that it is an excellent psychological text that with guidance, can massively improve our lives and provoke us to step into new rivers of spirituality. I recently heard that men were asked to lay tifillin in the center of New York City! I can’t imagine. But somehow, deep inside, I say “Can’t we all stand and say who we are?” When we act as Jews and don’t hide, can we heal the horrors of just a generation ago, can we make a difference in the world, can we even help to fix the world? I ask the simple questions. Can I stand up? Is it simple to practice Judaism? After all, aren’t we all the same…just Jews. I heard a Rabbi express concern about this question: “Am I Jewish enough?” I thought we were all of the same value? When we drop the social dress code at high holiday services and look at each other, are we not all wanting the same things, are we not all of the same neshama, the same soul fabric?

But somehow the answers don’t come. It is July 4 weekend. I can’t believe that I am in Park City, Utah with Evie, my best girlfriend since nursery school and yes, living in the world of Chabad for five days. I know, it is the Rebbe Shneerson’s yartzheit. But I certainly have more important things to do than attend workshops and talk and listen with a lot of rabbis and yiddishkites. Evie and I were supposed to go to a spa to celebrate our decades old friendship. But then, she told me, “I don’t know much about my Judaism, but I have been attending Chabad classes with a very special rabbi.” I ask, what makes him so special that we have to replace our spa weekend for a conference in ski country, where I can’t even pursue my favorite sport! “Rabbi Bryski”, she gushes, “is a wonderful teacher and he accepts everyone into learning about our Judaism. He takes the ancient texts and makes them relevant to my life”. Oh geez…here we go. Well, as life takes us, my life was becoming a little confusing, shall we say.

Just three weeks before, I had conducted the unveiling for the father of my late husband. It was a beautiful service at a Jewish mausoleum in Florida. We cried, we prayed, we remembered and we consecrated his life forever and more. Then, the next weekend, I led Erev Shabbat services at our Reconstructionist Shul (that meets in a Quaker house) where we created a sacred evening of welcoming the Shabbat and creating a community of sharing about the Parsha for the week. And then, on Sunday, I served as the replacement clergy on Sunday at our Interfaith church. I couldn’t resist teaching the c ongregants “Alna, elna, refanalah” instead of the usual healing prayer, as we remembered and sent healing prayers to those in need. And as only Jews can only do, Rob, my significant other, jumped up and explained to the interfaith assembly about the Torah portion of the week and how G-d prayed for Miriam who suffered with a white rash using the healing words of alna elna.

Now, let’s fast forward to Park City two weeks later. Some of the most famous Chabad rabbis are here. People are arriving from all over North America. Many religious, some teetering between a secular life and more Judaism. And then, just a few of us, we counted ourselves as curious, at best. Jon Huntsman, the Governor of Utah ope ned the conference. He said that in his home closet, he has shirts, suits and a yamulka. The fourth governor of Utah was Jewish and introduced Judaism into the state. Governor Huntsman felt compelled to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps. He informed us that the Chabad Rabbi of Utah had recently spoke and prayed at the annual Mormom festival in Utah with over 18,000 people (?) in attendance. He said that there was a beautiful exchange and new understandings were forged. A nice conference beginning…

I was put in the corner in Talmud Torah for my various behaviors as a child. As an adult, I have certainly been shunned and mollified repeatedly for my spiritual choices. Thro ughout the weekend, we were all accepted. We were invited to Shabbat dinners in every part of the country, more than I could imagine. We were seen as a one Jew, one Jewish soul meeting another. No one cared that I was a reconstructionist. No one balked that I was ordained as an Interfaith Minister and was conducting interfaith weddings. Now that was a first. But here I am in a sea of Jews…we are all the same, they say. Can I stand a little straighter? They tell me I am finding my way. One mitzvah at a time.

Now, the most senior of rabbis is present. He was the translator for Rabbi Shn eerson and is famous I didn’t know he was such a big macher. But he gave an excellent first speech on Friday and recounted stories of Jews that were tortured, and how Judaism saved them. Hmmm.

Well, I asked myself, a long standing burning question (or three) that has been brewing in me. Maybe, I should speak with this Rabbi. Maybe, we can talk together. Well after his speech, a line of people stood ahead of me. Ok…I wait. I watch. I say to him. Wow. You are fortunate. You don’t have to move. You stand here and hold court=2 0and people just come to you. I am impressed. He smiles with his grey beard parting like the red sea…really! Then his eyes crinkle…just like Santa Claus…Now I am in trouble. I see Santa Claus. I say, I specialize in torture and I have a question that I need to ask you. He says, come with me to the lobby and let us talk.

We walk to the lobby. I ask him what I should call him? He says Rabbi would be fine. I promise to you that I did not say that he could call me Reverend Doctor Rhonda. I said simply, my name20is Rhonda. I implored him to speak to me unabashedly and with truth for the questions and confusions that I was experiencing. I could see he was pretty evolved and very learned in the way of the Torah and in understanding people. I asked him if the tortured souls that call out for their gods in the torture chambers is the same tortured souls of the Jews who call out for their g-d. Are we not the same, I ask? After a moment, Rabbi Manis Friedman, says definitely no. We are not the same. Our souls are different. We know we are Jews and we see differently. We have a unity in one G-d, and for G-d's unity to be fully realized, we need diversity. Only then can we learn from each other, as another's wisdom can enhance our relationships with each other and with G-d. And that when we call out already knowing we are Jews and that our cry is for deeper knowledge and Jewish learnings.

Rabbi Friedman’s answers are deep and I know so little. But we are seeking common ground together. I tell him about my interfaith activities, my car accident and how it all came together with horseback riding. He smiled and said I was on the right path. WHAT?? He didn’t say to find a Jewish teacher, he didn’t admonish me to find my one god, my Jewish roots and you know what I mean.

Then I tell him about my trip to Nicaragua last summer and how I helped bring a Torah to forty Jews in this small country. You see, they have not had a Torah in 27 years. Previously, they had borrowed the Torah from Costa Rica two days a year during Pesach and their Shul has long been destroyed during the Sandinista era. And I tell him that the US president called the Jewish community of Nicaragua to congratulate them on their new Torah and how the community is attracting Jewish scholars. The Rabbi listens. I tell him about my job opportunity in Africa and how the government accepted my proposal to aid one million women in the DRC. And I tell him about my family where Rob and I brought Judaism to the children, my step children. How we offered a lubavitch education to my youngest and had him Bar Mitzvahed and how my eldest step daughter went to Birthright. The Rabbi listens. Then he says, you are on the right path. There is a small inner voice I hear, maybe, you are doing the work of Chabad. No, I cry. I am just living a=2 0life. Trying hard everyday not to just exist, as the Rabbi suggests. And then we talk.

He tells me stories I ask him about his passions, his desires at this stage of his life. He tells me he wants to “fix the world”. We share a moment. His fixing and my fixing. Worlds apart. But are they? A mitzvah is a Mitzvah. If we help one more person to have an easier day, a lighter experience, a more purposeful life, a healthier body, a soaring spirit, are we not all looking to accomplish the same thing? After a few more exchanges, we=2 0part for lunch. What the heck just happened. I am informed, that I just met with one of the most famous rabbis in the world. I don’t think I really understood half of what the rabbi said to me. But were we not, just two Jews, meeting soul to soul? I walk away from our conversation a little straighter, slightly more aware that I could explore, yes, I could study Judaism and maybe add one Jewish ritual for now into my life . Might I be able to fix the world with a renewed sense of purpose? Will I have access to more wisdom, Jewish wisdom that is, when I sit with my patients? Within these wonderings, I feel quieter.

The stories and teachings continue. We spend time with the rabbis and the re bbetzin. We hear modern living ideas influenced by Jewish teachings. I see a light of knowing and contentment in their eyes. Rebbetzin Rivka is so quiet and humble. Yet, she is alive in her spirituality and in her studied and practical Torah knowledge. Her love for people and for Judaism is so palpable. She is honest in her struggles and in her joys. Yes, a light shines through her. A soul that is alit with life. I don’t recall meeting a fellow seeker that had this concert of life playing so beautifully all within a moment of time.

Somewhere within us all, we Jews know who we really are. Rabbi Friedman, says that us Jews are remarkable. We all know. We are all striving, searching20for something that will give us more tranquility, more purpose of why we are here and what we are supposed to be really doing. So I say to myself, maybe one mitzvah more wouldn't hurt. Maybe, if I allow myself to experience the yearnings, no arguments, no anger, no shame will be fed, for the hunger of my soul will be more transparent. And I can find clearer way to answer to its call. And so Evie and I will return to Chabad land, mountain air next year.

Thank you for reading. Thank you to Rabbi Hesh Epstein and his most capable team for offering us this week of learning and community.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Hamptons Diary

So what exactly am I doing in the Hamptons for a long holiday Shabbos weekend? I mean, I have never tied a light summer sweater over my shoulders or sat for a full day at a pool drinking a tequila sunrise or an apple martini. But still, there is something gravitational and intriguing about summer in these Hampton enclaves that is worth exploring.

First, it’s important to note that we were at a friend’s house very close to the Hampton Synagogue, which was founded 18 years ago by Rabbi Marc Schneier and is thriving in a place and a situation where such success was considered extremely unlikely. If you want to gain some insight into what an eclectic mix of modern Jewish men and women from very diverse backgrounds are doing these days, it’s worthwhile taking a look inside what Rabbi Schneier has built and developed here in the Hamptons.

Today there is definitely a hunger and a thirst in the world, and, as the prophet said, the hunger is not just for delicious challah and the thirst is not exclusively for just one more drink. That profound 21st-century desire is for much more than those mundane things. Out here you can clearly begin to see and feel that the hunger and the thirst transcends the obvious and is rather a desire to reach out and get involved in something greater, something that lives inside us all.

But it took some vision and a great deal of initiative—not to mention courage—to make what has happened here in Westhampton, New York, possible. There’s a lot going on here, and most of those activities in this Suffolk County community now revolve around the Hampton Shul. People are drawn out here for a variety of reasons. For many, it’s the change of pace from the usual daily routine that makes this place so interesting and attractive. It’s a summer getaway in a pristine and countrified setting.

Those involved in significant ways in Jewish life populate some areas of the Hamptons. Perhaps it has been like that for many, many years but only more recently—over the last ten years or so—has Jewish life made an imprint of sorts with a spirited and organized focus. This past Shabbos, the shul in Westhampton was jam-packed with an overflow crowd. Doors at both sides of the shul—leading from the men’s section and the women’s section—had to be opened and hundreds of chairs added to accommodate shul-goers who streamed in throughout the morning.

Earlier that Friday morning, I made stops to visit and survey the progress elsewhere in the Hamptons. Though cut out of what seems to be a small swatch of land at the other end of Long Island, Westhampton covers a rather large area—so much so that a second shul is presently on the rise. And that is the Chabad shul at the beach, currently run by Rabbi and Mrs. Eli Popack. The shul is located in a rather nondescript structure that resembles a bungalow. Speaking with the young rabbi, one gets the sense that the present setup is temporary, as the momentum and energy behind the shul is very much on the rise.

Needless to say, with the large crowds congregating in this part of the Hamptons every weekend, a second shul is exactly what is required. I stopped by the shul at the beach on Friday morning to drop off some copies of the Five Towns Jewish Times and to chat with the rabbi. Of course, he has come up through the Chabad system, but he did not come out here to be the rabbi of a shul. He is originally from Toronto and his wife from Brooklyn; they used to come out, like so many others, for an uncomplicated weekend away. Over a relatively brief period, Rabbi Popack emerged as a leader of the minyan in many ways, to the point where he is now the spiritual leader as well. This week, on Friday afternoon, the shul at the beach plans to host its first sefer Torah dedication ceremony.

About 15 miles further east, we rang the bell at the home and shul of Chabad of Southampton, where we’ve spent some wonderful Shabbos weekends together with fascinating people from far-flung directions of the world, weekends full of intense inspiration. The source of all this Hampton excitement is Rabbi Rafe Konikov, who, along with his wife and children, split their time between Southampton and Crown Heights.

The shul was quiet on this early Friday afternoon, but Mrs. Konikov appeared to be setting up for about 30 guests for Friday-night dinner following the services. What I have always found additionally interesting about Southampton in particular was that this was the only Jewish house of worship in town. If there were no Chabad here, there would be no shul, no synagogue, no temple, no nothing. Of course there are plenty of Jews who spend summers or summer weekends here, as well as many who live out here year-round. Where most of us come from, it would be unthinkable to live in a place where there was no shul for 20 or so miles. I suppose no one really gave it much thought until Rafe Konikov arrived.

We finally ended up in East Hampton, where we also spent a Shabbos last summer. I don’t know who is doing better in the Yiddishkeit department or who is cultivating more important and generous donors for Chabad, but there is definitely something extra-special happening out here in East Hampton. The rabbi, Label Baumgarten (who we wrote about last year), used to commute out here regularly from his home in Coram, where he was setting up a Chabad House. It quickly became clear to him that there was a great deal of work to be done in the Jewish community in East Hampton. When we were there last Friday, Mrs. Baumgarten and her children who were not in summer camp were setting up for about 50 Shabbos dinner guests.

There’s always something interesting and exciting happening on weekends in all of these shuls. Each in its own right is a hub of Jewish activity, which makes Shabbos something extra special for those who live here or visit. All have one thing in common—bringing Jews closer to Torah study and what it means to be a Jew in a way one can relate to and understand.

For those who have spent their lives in yeshiva or in Torah academies, some of what goes on out here might seem simplistic or even sometimes superficial. But it’s not. The effort and sacrifice involved in motivating and inspiring a Jew who has been distant or simply has no background in Torah study or even simple prayer is no minor matter. The point is that in all the shuls, they are here, and they are here to daven—to the extent they know how—and they are here to learn.

Which brings us back to Westhampton and the Hampton Synagogue, which is busy with interesting and innovative programs almost every day of the week. This year, Rabbi Schneier, with the assistance of Yeshiva University, has instituted a kollel-type program where people can gather once a week, on Tuesday evening, and partake in a Torah study program. There’s probably nothing like this nor has there been anything like it for tens of miles in any direction.

On Thursday night, when we arrived in Westhampton, we immediately put our bags down and went to the shul to hear a lecture from Madeleine Kunin, former governor of Vermont and ambassador to Switzerland during the Clinton administration. On Friday night at the seudah we heard stirring words from Rabbi Charles Klein of the New York Board of Rabbis. At seudah shelishis on late Shabbos afternoon, the guest speaker was former Hadassah president and now chairperson of the Conference of Presidents, June Walker.

There are wonderful, informative, and inspiring things happening out here in all corners of the Hamptons. In the near future, they are hoping to build impressive synagogue structures in both Southampton and East Hampton. Both Chabad organizations have purchased properties adjacent to their existing buildings and are ready to build. Of course there is resistance from the locals about what they are going to build, what the restrictions will be, and so on. In Westhampton—quite a few years ahead of the others—there is talk of an eruv in town. Local residents don’t like it, because—as the New York Times reported a few weeks ago—they are afraid the eruv will turn the Hamptons into another Five Towns.

I don’t see anything specifically wrong with that, but then again that’s just my opinion. The Hamptons are alive with the sounds of morning minyan, Minchah, Maariv, and a kol Torah that was once just an echo that originated from some other distant location. Now everything you can ask for is right here, and it’s a moving, important, and wonderful thing.

Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rabbi Yitzchak Groner

Posted on: Wednesday, 9 July 2008, 18:00 CDT

By Isi Leibler

Australian Jewry has lost one of its noblest personalities. History will record that Rabbi Yitzchak Groner was beyond doubt the greatest Australian Jewish leader of the past century.

His towering achievements and charismatic presence at all communal levels played a major role in transforming Australian Jewry into one of the finest communities in the Diaspora. The extraordinary expansion of Chabad educational institutions positively influenced the growth of Torah education and day schools throughout the entire Jewish community.

Although unyielding on halachic principles, he exemplified the best traditions of Chabad outreach and compassion. Despite his towering presence and erudition, Ha'Rav Groner was a modest man who spurned materialism and inspired a love and respect by all sections of the community, non-observant as well as religious.

His life represents a role model of spiritual leadership. May he be a Melitz Yashar to be emulated by rabbis all over the world, including Eretz Yisrael.

On a personal note I always enjoyed a special kesher, connection with him, regarding him as among the greatest Jewish personalities I was privileged to respect and love. He brought me on a number of occasions to meet the Rebbe, and I appreciated the high regard in which the Rebbe viewed him.

May Hashem comfort his rebbetzen, children and family among the mourners of Zion.

Yehi Zichro Baruch,

May his memory be blessed.

Originally published by Isi Leibler.

(c) 2008 The Jerusalem Post. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.

Mourners pay tribute to Groner

More than 1,500 mourners paid tribute to Australia’s most senior Orthodox rabbi.

Wednesday's memorial service for Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, the chief rabbi of Melbourne’s Chabad-Lubavitch community, took place outside the Yeshivah Centre that he built as his Lubavitch headquarters. The ceremony was streamed live on the Internet, allowing thousands around the world to watch it.

Groner died Monday after a long illness.

Police closed the main street outside the Yeshivah Centre to enable the mass of mourners to follow the coffin as it departed for the airport. His body was flown to Israel for burial Friday on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem alongside his parents.

Hundreds of messages from places such as Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa, Israel, America and England already have been posted on the Yeshivah Centre’s Web site.

“Australian Jewry has lost one of its noblest personalities,” wrote Isi Leibler, a former president of the Australian Jewish community, who now lives in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a rabbinical student in Australia in the 1980s, wrote: “It’s safe to say that there will never be another like Rabbi Groner. It’s also safe to say that if world Jewry could produce another hundred like him, we would instantly solve the global problem of Jewish assimilation. But that’s the problem with great men. They are so rare that they are not always appreciated during their lifetime, but are sorely missed once their fiery hearts are no longer present to illuminate our lives.”

Moscow recognizes Jewish projects

The mayor of Moscow recognized the president of a Chabad-led umbrella group for his efforts developing the city.

Alexander Boroda, the head of the Federation of Jewish Communities, developed a sprawling complex in the Marina Roscha district that includes the largest synagogue and Jewish community center in Eastern Europe, a medical and charity center, and an educational complex.

Plans call for a Museum of Tolerance in the district dedicated to Jewish history with a focus on Russia.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov noted Boroda's "great contribution to the development of the construction industry in Moscow and many years of dedicated work," according to the federation's Web site.

Luzhkov has deep connections to the booming real estate and development industries of Moscow. His wife, Yelena Baturina, Russia's only female billionaire, heads one of the largest construction companies in the capital.

Real estate analysts say it is nearly impossible to gain ground for any major development project without the city government's blessing.

Chabad to leave Temescal Canyon

Robert Garcia, executive director and counsel for The City Project, sent in a posting early this morning to our blog about the ongoing Chabad saga we mentioned last week and what happened at last night's emergency meeting.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Board voted 8-1, and the Advisory Board voted unanimously, to keep Tesmescal [sic] Gateway Park open for all. The Conservancy upheld the decision by the Executive Director and Staff not to renew a non-renewable lease for a private day-care center at the Park, denying the appeal by a private Palisades group. Several hundred people attended the hearing at the Park July 7, which went from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m.

Sandy Cooney, the state resources agency's representative on the board, was the sole dissenting vote in favor of renewing the lease, according to those at the meeting. We haven't been able to reach him today to ask about his vote, but we'll update this post when we do. *(Update: We were able to reach him Wednesday. His comments are at the end of the post.) His boss, Secretary for Resources Mike Chrisman, wrote that letter to Chabad at the behest of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. It includes guidelines on how to deal with the conservancy and suggestions (that Chabad took into account) on how to formulate an appeal for an extended lease.

Addressing the board last night, Chabad attorney Benjamin Reznik asked its members to be flexible with Chabad and allow the group five months to get its paperwork in order, noting that the conservancy for years has used Chabad's money to help pay for park upkeep. Today, Reznik was pretty matter-of-fact on the phone about the final vote.

"This is a lot of to do about nothing quite frankly," Reznik said. "I guess they’ll be looking for an alternative site in the interim."

He also said that whatever happened with the new Los Liones site for the preschool (which has riled the Getty Villa and a local Mormon church) will likely be "more exciting" and a "more interesting case." Reznik and Chabad plan to file paperwork (a conditional use permit) next week to allow them to use the site for the preschool. Meanwhile, they also are drawing up road plans to submit to the city.

"The city is not accepting dedicated roads these days because of a shortage of funds in some areas," Reznik said. "We’re going to offer to pay for it. So we're going through that process, designing plans -- Chabad is in the process of doing all that."

Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston, who denied the lease extension last month, was "gratified" that the board decided to keep to its word and not renew the lease.

"The board last year said no extensions under any circumstances, and they should adhere to what they said before," Edmiston said today. "We're not in the private rental business. We're in the public park area. How about five more months? Nobody believes they can do what they need to get done in five months. They're not going to leave in January ...

"And frankly in January, I'm just going to say it, there's not a highway patrolman born who will come in and evict the Chabad kids, holding a Torah in one hand and holding onto Rabbi Cunin's frock coat with the other. It's never going to happen."

Rabbi Zushe Cunin, who heads Chabad of the Pacific Palisades, said the organization would not appeal again and sounded resigned to the decision.

"The board did what it did," Cunin said. "It’s unfortunate. Our requests were very minimal. We will live with their decision, and we will immediately be identifying any other locations as necessary because we anticipate there may be delays in our CUP process" beyond Sept. 4, when the school's fall term begins.

"It would have been heartwarming to feel a sensitive partnership," he continued. "But it was not in the cards."

*New comments below:

Cooney, who was the lone dissenting vote on the Board at Monday night's meeting, said he'd voted in favor of Chabad's appeal, but had not made up his mind on whether the lease should be renewed.

"The item on the agenda put into motion in the discussion, and ultimately voted on, which was to grant Chabad an appeal, in effect overturned Joe’s denial of the lease extension, but it did not convey a new lease," Cooney said. "What it did was set into motion a new process through which a new lease could be potentially be granted."

He said the overarching conversation on public access versus private interest was not the "issue on the table to be voted"; especially since the Conservancy had previously allowed a non-renewable lease to be extended.

"Obviously I was completely outnumbered by the entire board …" Cooney said. "In the end, out of fairness and listening to all sides and trying to be as absolutely objective as possible, I felt that we should have moved to the next step, which is grant the appeal, then we should consider the remainder of the agenda and whether or not we should take those steps that would move toward a new lease."

-- Tami Abdollah

Photo: Rabbi Zushe Cunin, at the preschool's current site, is at odds with Getty Villa, state parks, the Coastal Commission and a Pacific Palisades neighborhood association. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times
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As an American and as a Jew whose parents survived the horrors of the Holocaust, I was in complete shock when I read Conservancy Executive Director Joe Edmiston's quote to the Los Angeles Times: "I'm just going to say it, there's not a highway patrolman born who will come in and evict the Chabad kids, holding a Torah in one hand and holding onto Rabbi Cunin's frock coat with the other. It's never going to happen."

It's 2008. As a public official, if Edmiston were to make such comments about a priest or a mullah, he would and should be called to task and severely reprimanded. Does the fact that Edmiston is Jewish give him a green light to make sinister and racist comments about a rabbi? I don't think so.

There is no place in our community for intolerance and racism, even against your own people. Period.

Posted by: Norman Sweetzer | July 08, 2008 at 08:30 PM

We appreciate the Times continuing coverage of Temescal Gateway Park.

Jane Ulman covers the July 7 hearing in the Jewish Journal:

"The vote upheld the unequivocal denial by Conservancy executive director Joe Edmiston on June 12 to extend Chabad's lease. It also confirmed the decision of the Conservancy in April 2007 to stop leasing the public parkland to private entities -- including Chabad's Palisades Jewish Early Education Center and Little Dolphins Preschool -- and to increase public access to the park, especially for underprivileged youth from congested urban areas. . . .

"And while Chabad supporters stressed that the school is using less than half an acre in a 140-acre park, the Conservancy's Edmiston said that the park is predominately covered by chaparral, while Chabad's site, which includes three trailers and a fenced-in field, occupies one of only two flat, grassy spots in the park that can accommodate large groups of children. 'It's a zero-sum situation. If you have trailers there, you're not going to be able to have kids playing there,' he said.

Amy Lethbridge, in charge of education for the Conservancy, told the group that more experiential programs have been planned for the coming year, including additional contracts with Los Angeles Unified School District to bring out more kids.

'I need space to serve the very programs the park was purchased to serve,' she said."

Posted by: Robert Garcia | July 08, 2008 at 08:31 PM

The most interesting part of this whole affair is the fact that Joe Edmiston must have gone through a major charachter change. Is this the same person that put up two fake stop sign violation cameras on the road of the "all access" park that he so proudly refers to in the article? Is this the same Joe Edmiston that is denying a tiny area of the park to a small school for a few months while continuing his crooked fund raising efforts via collecting $100 at least 5,000 times (by last count)from unsuspecting motorists whom are traveling legally close to a stop sign on the only road of his "open" park?

Posted by: Gary Solomon | July 08, 2008 at 08:46 PM

Joe Edmiston should be removed for his anti-semitic outburst.

Posted by: Commentator | July 08, 2008 at 10:14 PM

There is no justification for personal attacks here.

A board member emphasized at the July 7 heating that everyone was respectful and avoided personal attacks throughout the three hour hearing. This was true regardless of how one felt on the merits -- whether the lease should be renewed for a non-park use, or whether the parks should be kept open for all.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy board voted 8-1 against renewing the non-renewable lease. The Advisory Council voted unanimously against renewing the non-renewable lease. As discussed at length at the three hour hearing on July 7, the Palisades group promised not to seek renewal of the lease. What does that have to do with any individual?

Some children and adults did indeed speak about their experiences in the pre-school, including the religious, spiritual, and cultural aspects. Some children and adults spoke about their experience in hiking and playing in the park, including cultural aspects of being in the Palisades and coming from the inner city. The history of discriminatory access to parks and recreation in Los Angeles was explicitly. There have been no sinister, racist, or intolerant comments.

I suggest that people remain respectful and civil here.

Posted by: Robert Garcia | July 08, 2008 at 10:27 PM

I'm sorry but Joe Edmiston and his remarks are no different than Rev. Wright, only Edmiston is paid for by California taxpayers. How sad and shameful. I am sick to my stomach. Edmiston should publicly apologize and then he should resign.

Posted by: Jennifer Malsat | July 08, 2008 at 11:22 PM

In my view Mr. Garcia is being disingenuous. In my view it was clear at the Board meeting that many participants from the inner-city "anti" coalition were misled into believing that the issue was a permanent privatization, rather than a short temporary lease extension. Further, if they had taken the trouble to read Chabad's appeal, one of the conditions Chabad stipulated was that the meadow surrounding the temporary site was to be released from any restrictions that interfered with public use. It was falsely represented that access to this meadow, a key flat area, would be unavailable to the public.

In this writers opinion what we saw was a naked political power play by a largely Latino non-mainstream coalition that was economical with the truth to achieve their objectives, and cynically used little children in pursuit of those objectives. The experience provided a valuable lesson on the political tactics of the left.

The Board, despite that, decided on the merits to deny Chabad's appeal on grounds that it did not comply with the SMMC Act, rather than on any political grounds. To their credit they were dispassionate, listened to all points of view with attention, and then voted based on the law.

Posted by: Commentator | July 08, 2008 at 11:31 PM

i agree. edmiston and his outrageous remarks must be rejected and cannot be tolerated. it's a dangerous and slippery-slope when public officials engage in divisive rhetoric and religious intolerance. the entire community must stand united when it comes to combating hatred and divisiveness.

Posted by: marco binecca | July 08, 2008 at 11:46 PM

Joe Edmiston has secured his bully pulpit over the last 25 years without ever having to face a public election. His actions are directly responsible for the recent fires that burnt in the canyons of Malibu which left so many good citizens in disarray. Talk about "zero sum", his bully tactics, and secured position make Joe more of a mafia man then a honest public servant.

Joe Edmiston has a badge and gun, his own police force, direct control of hundreds of millions of dollars in state funds and lands. He serves at the pleasure of a Board of Directors, also unelected. He is not accountable to the public who pays his salary.

People with such power should be required to be elected. They should be required to answer to the public for the actions that they take.

Preserving open space is important but education to children should take priority. And if they need a bit more time to move into their new location, is there not enough public outdoor space to fill the need in the interim? Shame on you Joe.

Steve P. Weiner
Malibu, CA

Posted by: Steve Weiner | July 08, 2008 at 11:55 PM

This is the same Robert Garcia who appeared at the Malibu City Council meeting to support Edmiston in his quest to force overnight camping into our box canyons and parks where fire to cook would be allowed. The residents, in fear for their lives and homes with three fires last year to cope with, were incensed. I guess Garcia and Edmiston are BFFs and so where Edmiston goes, Garcia goes to do his Hispandering. Sounds incestuous to me. It should be investigated.

Posted by: Susan Tellem | July 09, 2008 at 08:34 AM

Joe Edmiston and Robert Garcia teaming up, that is eco-terrorism in my opinion. Garcia uses a lot of jumbled jargon to inflame his "peers" and garner public attention, Edmiston uses public funds to boost his own ego. Both need to go, neither of them are worth the paper they push to gain power.
This statement by Commentator in response to Garcia's mumbling puts it all in perspective, Garcia USES poor kids to push his agenda and tries to say he does it for poor people.
"In this writers opinion what we saw was a naked political power play by a largely Latino non-mainstream coalition that was economical with the truth to achieve their objectives, and cynically used little children in pursuit of those objectives. The experience provided a valuable lesson on the political tactics of the left."

Posted by: marko peer | July 09, 2008 at 09:11 AM

Where does Chabad get the money for all this real estate, just from the telethons? Seems like they have a site in every community in the united states with a population of 5,000 or more.

Fires in the canyons. Good jobs Garcia and Edmiston. You two are rocket scientists.

Shame on you, Edmiston -- torah and coattails. Shame on you, previous commenter, for wrapping yourself in the holocaust. Shame on you, Chabad, for not sticking to the strip malls.

Posted by: Uncle Billy Went to Washington | July 09, 2008 at 09:29 AM

Joe Edmiston has always treated his post like a throne and the park like his personal property. He is callous, and in the view of many who know him in the environmental community, he is a bourgeois elitist. And aren't we suffering from a lack of schools and school sites to begin with?? How exactly is this helping that situation or moreover, how is it benefiting the site? He most certainly should be removed for his anti-semitic outburst, or at least flogged in the parking lot of the school he is evicting.

Posted by: R. Mills | July 09, 2008 at 09:39 AM

Where does Chabad get the money? From many thousands of contributors, large and small, in every community where they are located, over the entire year, not just at Telethon time, In addition, the Chabad non-sectarian programs receive Federal, State and local funding, and are scrutinized closely and regularly by those agencies to insure compliance with both the U.S. and California Constitutions, and associated licensing, certification, and other regulations. Chabad of California is audited by an independent CPA firm; in fact many of its grants require such an audit.

But the question is a red herring with, it seems to me, unworthy implications.. This discussion isn't about sources of 501(c)(3) charitable funds overseen by the IRS and other regulatory agencies. The IRS code is both explicit and strict. Instead the discussion is about the hearing on the Temescal Gateway Park.

In fact, the question of Chabad funding was raised as a red-herring argument by those leftists at the meeting attempting to create a straw man of "rich" Chabad vs. the poor children of the inner city. In fact the "anti" coalition is perfectly free to appeal for charitable funds to the mainstream Latino and broader mainstream community if they are a legal tax-exempt organisation. If they have not been more sucessful that is certainly not the fault of Chabad's contributors, but rather evidence of lack of support by the mainstream communities.

Posted by: Commentator | July 09, 2008 at 09:53 AM

What most people don't know is that Joe's wife runs a little camp of her own called Happy Trails (yep, stole it from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, it is not affiliated with that organization or foundation in the least). It is the ONLY link on the website for Joe's little fiefdom and purports to provide camping opportunities for underprivileged children. I find it highly suspicious that taxpayer funds are used to provide promotions for a spouse's boutique efforts and thereby garnering even more of the tax base for the Edmiston household to feed off of. Remove special favors and non-bid contract awards to spouses, but also clean house by removing Edmiston himself so that we don't find favors being gifted to any other "groups" such as the City Project. The hungry foxes have definitely gotten into the chicken coop, time for us Farmers to hike up the suspenders and load the shotguns to clean our land of the marauding varmits feasting on our efforts.

Posted by: Smokey Joe Needs to Be Put Out | July 09, 2008 at 11:40 AM

Forget everything I wrote above, I just realized that I am an idiot.

Posted by: Jennifer Malsat | July 09, 2008 at 10:52 PM

I apologize for my ridiculous remarks which were posted earlier. I have a very low income and haven't accomplished anywhere near the amount of things Joe has in his lifetime, so once again I am sorry and I am way out of line.

Posted by: marco binecca | July 09, 2008 at 10:59 PM

Monday, July 07, 2008

Offering a toast to the kosher life

Scotland's Jewish population is small and in decline, but within the community are some dynamic ventures encouraging lapsed individuals to give their religion a re-think. Emma Cowing meets a Glasgow Rabbi doing everything he can to keep the faith alive.

IT'S A busy Tuesday evening at L'Chaims restaurant on the south side of Glasgow. A young waitress rushes between the tables, candles flicker invitingly, and a low hum of conversation accompanies the steady stream of plates arriving from the kitchen. Look closer, though, and all is not quite as you might expect in this popular eatery. All the male customers are wearing the traditional Jewish skull cap, the Kippah, every last item on the menu from the butter to the wine is Kosher, and the man presenting the credit-card machine is not a maître d' but a rabbi.
L'Chaims is Scotland's only Jewish Kosher restaurant, named after both its owner and a traditional Hebrew toast: "To life". Situated within the heart of Glasgow's Jewish area and run by local rabbi, Chaim Jacobs, and his wife Sora, it has become a potent symbol of rebirth in a community that is battling a slow yet steady decline.
Across the country Britain's Jewish population is falling. At the 2001 census there were 270,000 Jews in Britain, almost a quarter of whom were over the age of 65. The Board of Deputies believes this number has since dropped, and just 11 years before, in 1990, there were estimated to be about 340,000 British Jews. In Scotland there are around 6,400, compared to more than 8,000 in 1905. It is a subject that will be explored tonight in Vanessa Engle's BBC4 documentary Jews, which follows the efforts of one man – the millionaire Jonathan Faith, former owner of Faith shoes – to resuscitate interest in this ancient and often misunderstood religion.
Engle, herself a secular Jew, believes there are a number of reasons behind the decline. "People are marrying out of the faith, they're having fewer children, daring to be gay, living an alternative lifestyle. But society is
also becoming increasingly secular," she says.
It is still, she says, a misunderstood community. "When I started to research the subject I discovered there are many aspects of Jewish life that are still invisible. People have a lot of assumptions about Jews and Jewishness and what I found for myself is that people actually know very little about it."
Engle set out to document Faith – who was a secular Jew until the birth of his first child, 20 years ago, when he became what he describes as a "modern Orthodox Jew" – and his attempts to reignite interest in Judaism.
This he does primarily via the Jewish charity Aish, which takes non-religious Jews, many of them young men and women, on holidays to Israel in an attempt to reconnect them with their heritage.
Faith confronts his mission with the same techniques that made him a success. "Judaism is a product: I look at it as a product like anything else," he says. "For somebody to buy an idea, they've got to be shown the product in its best way possible. No-one likes the idea of Judaism being thought of as a product, but
sometimes you really need to look at it from a commercial point of view."
His plans are met with mixed levels of success. Some of the children who go on Aish's holidays seem more intent on drinking than attending Shul, and his own eight-week course on teaching the faith is not an instant success. By the end of the documentary he seems almost despondent about the future.
Those involved in the process admit it's not easy. As Glasgow-born Rabbi Malcolm Herman, director of another London-based Jewish educational initiative called Seed, points out in the documentary: "We're talking about applying ancient wisdom to contemporary living."
In Glasgow this same philosophy is being applied, not just at L'Chaims, but throughout the community. I meet Rabbi Jacobs, who as well as owning L'Chaims is a community rabbi in Giffnock and runs the Scottish arm of a Jewish educational organisation called Lubavitch, at his Giffnock home. In accordance with Jewish law
he does not shake my hand, but the warm welcome from both him and his wife Sora is genuine.
Rabbi Jacobs is on a mission to bring lapsed Scottish Jews back to their roots. Via Lubavitch, the New York-based Jewish educational initiative that is the world's biggest Jewish outreach organisation, he hopes to offer secular Jews who have abandoned their faith a reason to return.
"Formal practice of religion is on the decline, but there is still an interest in spirituality and Judaism within our community," says Rabbi Jacobs. "What we're offering is spirituality and we're offering it to people who no longer just want to go to the synagogue and read the prayers. They want to get some buzz out of it, and
spirituality that has some depth."
Was that, I ask, as they settle me in their cosy living room, while from the kitchen wafts the irresistibly comforting smell of chicken soup, why they decided to open a Jewish restaurant?
"There isn't really a Jewish community centre like there used to be," Rabbi Jacobs replies. "Because there are so many other things available, it's not a big attraction any more. So therefore, outwith the synagogue, the restaurant is probably the most active focal point where people can gravitate to and socialise within the
Jewish community."
There are around 5,500 Jews left in Glasgow's community, by far the biggest in Scotland. Walk through Giffnock today and you will see traditionally dressed Hasidic Jews, Kosher delis, a synagogue, a Jewish primary school and two Jewish care homes for the elderly. As a community it may be small but it is close-knit and, in its own way, still thriving. Rabbi Jacobs and his wife have lived in the area for 40 years
and say they've seen many changes over that period.
"It's swings and roundabouts," says Sora. "Forty years ago there were three or four Kosher butchers in the area. Now there's none. But, at the same time, I can go to Sainsbury's at 9:30pm and pick up a Kosher chicken."
The eminent Jewish-Scottish scholar David Daiches wrote in his autobiographical Two Worlds: An Edinburgh Jewish Childhood, that there are grounds for believing that Scotland is the only European country which has no history of state persecution of Jews. And indeed, the Jacobs family say they have been unconditionally accepted here since they moved from Manchester, four decades ago, to raise their children.
"We've never felt anything but warmth and friendliness here," says Jacobs. "Wherever we've gone, people couldn't do enough to accommodate us, whether it was with Kosher food or to generally make things easier for us."
I ask what sort of response a non-Jew interested in the faith would receive. "We don't seek non- Jewish people but we welcome them," Jacobs says. "If somebody comes and they want to convert, there are various laws to try and persuade them not to get involved, but if they are obstinate, so to speak, and they want to pursue being Jewish, of course we will welcome them."
Meanwhile, Lubavitch in Scotland grows from strength to strength. This year they held a Jewish Burns supper, complete with Kosher haggis, at L'Chaims, and there are regular 'Shul in the Park' services for younger members. There have been Kosher wine tastings on the calendar, and a children's birthday party with Kosher McDonald's-style food. Jacobs' son Mendel, also a rabbi, even launched a Jewish tartan in the Spring – made with Kosher non-wool linen of course.
"The way to get hold of people is to try and reach them at their level and then bring them to ours," says Jacobs. We can do that through food, hospitality – invite them to a Shabbos dinner and show them the beauty of the candle-lighting and the family atmosphere at that meal."
Apart from the obvious attractions of mealtimes, the food and the social life, though, I'm interested in why Jacobs feels people would want to return to a religion they have abandoned.
"People are looking for something," he says. "They've done everything in life. They've tried drugs, they've been around the block a few times and it's not given them any more happiness. Suddenly they look around and say, 'Where is happiness?'
"And that's when they give us a try."

• Jews: Keeping the Faith, BBC4 9pm

• L'Chaims Restaurant, 222 Fenwick Rd, Giffnock, Glasgow is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays. For more information call 0141-638 6116

An ‘Angel’ From Alabama

A Lubavitcher man desperately needed a kidney. A Pentecostalist woman answered the call, and ended up dancing at his only daughter’s wedding in Crown Heights.

by Sharon Udasin
Staff Writer

For Marisa Hester, a Pentecostal Christian from Prattville, Ala., choosing an outfit for an ultra-Orthodox Crown Heights wedding wasn’t easy. Sorting through her two sets of formalwear, she eventually opted for a knee-length floral skirt and a high-necked black chiffon blouse, embellished with sparkling beads.
She worried, however, that her slightly sheer sleeves were too revealing and would insult her newfound family. But at the June 24 wedding, the bride and her relatives could not have been less offended. A year ago, Hester, 26, gave an invaluable gift to the bride’s father, Hershey Fellig, 47, whose struggle she had read about on an e-mail list-serve.
With the slice of a scalpel, Hester gave Fellig — a perfect stranger — her
kidney, thereby saving his life.

“It took someone from Alabama who never met a Jew to come to my rescue,” Fellig said.
“There are only a few people out there who do reach out.”
Fellig, a school administrator in Los Angeles, first learned that he would need a kidney transplant about five years ago. By mid-2005, his condition worsened, and physicians told Fellig he could only survive for another five years on dialysis. Meanwhile, his only child, Chani, was quickly approaching marriage age, and he wanted nothing more than to be there for her wedding.
“I have one daughter and she’s the pride of my life,” Fellig said.
Desperate, Fellig said he placed an ad on the Web site, asking if anyone
would be willing to donate a kidney to him. Quickly, he received a response from Lauren Finkelstein, the founder of Save One Person, a New York-based organization whose purpose is to help those in need. Formerly a television publicist, Finkelstein decided that she wanted to save lives after she narrowly avoided a Jerusalem terror attack in 2001.
“I thought to myself, I’m not married, I don’t have any kids, I want to do something
meaningful with my life,” said Finkelstein, the single mother of a 2-year-old. She immediately made it her mission to find solutions for those in critical need, finding organs and bone marrow for those who would otherwise die.
Joining forces with her long-time mentor, Rabbi Simon Jacobson, a Crown Heights author and lecturer, she established the nonprofit Save One Person in January of 2002and hopes to eventually transform the volunteer-based organization into a fully staffed company. In one of Jacobson’s classes, she met entrepreneur Eric Targan, who decided to feature Save One Person notices in his Joke of the Day e-newsletter each Thursday.
Fortunately, Marisa Hester had been a Joke of the Day subscriber for several years, and as she was browsing her e-mails, a post about Fellig’s emergency situation touched her. “Just seeing that someone was in need, I thought what would it hurt to have a blood test done?” Hester said. “It was all God — he orchestrated it.” Hester and her family belong to the Church of God, a fundamentalist branch of Pentecostal Christianity that emphasizes personal connection with God through baptism with the Holy Spirit. Living in a predominantly Christian community, Hester had never met a Jew before Fellig, but she maintains that Christian and Jews believe in the same God who blessed her decision.
Fellig agreed, explaining that Christians, Muslims and Jews all worship the same God,
and he has no qualms with Hester’s religious beliefs.
“She decided to have a higher calling,” he said.
Due to her relatively rare Rh-negative blood type, Hester knew that she would never be a match for her children, if either one of them ever needed a kidney. During her own pregnancies, her blood type caused her body to develop antibodies against even her own children when she was carrying them.
“I knew that something could eventually happen to my kids one day,” she said. “I did it for him, just as I would want somebody to do for me and my children.”
Her initial blood test revealed that she was a match for Fellig, but initially doctors found another donor, Hester said. Soon after, however, the doctors called her again to say they needed her, and Hester agreed to give her kidney to a man whom she had never met.
“I wanted him to be able to see his daughter get married and have children,” Hester said.
With no compensation beyond flying costs, her donor preparations began with a series of urine tests back home in Prattville, a city of 30,000 in central Alabama. In October 2006, she flew to Los Angeles to endure eight hours of further testing at Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, where she remembers filling 23 vials with blood. Doctors maintained that she was an ideal candidate as long as she lost some weight, and after doing so, she flew again to Los Angeles in January 2007 to undergo more exams.
Six months later, Hester and her children arrived on the West Coast for the operation, scheduled for July 20. Reluctant to hide the truth from her children — now 4 and 9 — she explained to them exactly what was going to happen.
“They were worried that something would happen to Mommy,” Hester said. “Never in my
life had I had a surgery before.”
Her 9-year-old daughter Hannah, though proud, was also afraid. “I felt kind of scared because I was afraid she was going to get hurt or something,” said Hannah, who also attended the wedding. “She did the right thing because saving someone’s life is the best thing you could do.”
According to both Hester and Fellig, the two surgeries went smoothly, with minimal side effects. Following the transplant — which occurred on a Friday — Fellig stayed in the hospital for a week, where he experienced some initial organ rejection. After the early problems, however, his body ultimately accepted the organ, and he made it home in time for the following Shabbat, he said.
Since the transplant, Hester and Fellig check on each other regularly, and Fellig said that he now has his best test results — he currently sees the doctor only once every three months. When Fellig’s daughter Chani announced her engagement, he immediately thought to bring Hester to the wedding.
“I’m extremely happy to have him alive, dancing at my wedding, and I’m looking forward to many more years with him,” Chani said, smiling.
After the ceremony, Hester and her daughter left the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s library and crossed Eastern Parkway to join the party at the Ohelei Torah ballroom. Clearly new members of the extended family, the Hesters joined hands with the other guests on the
women’s side of the mechitza, bobbing to the live klezmer melodies. Hannah jumped in sync with the Lubavitch children, for whom such weddings were routine and whose feet
had memorized the dances. A bit more hesitant than her outgoing daughter, Hester dropped in and out of the throbbing circles, but was never abandoned by her chasidic
“They say that doctors are angels of healing,” Fellig said. “[The transplant] is a
miraculous occurrence, and she was the angel of mercy for me.”

Daughter of haredi tycoon launches musical career

Amidst controversy, limited female audience, Chabad-affiliated Rivkah Krinsky shifts gears from mother, teacher to acclaimed international singer

Yoav Friedman

You obviously haven’t heard of her, but she manages to fill concert halls to full capacity, be it New York, Moscow or Melbourne. Her debut album has been selling all over the world, even though she only launched her singing career after hitting 30 and giving birth to no less than five children.

Meet the new nightingale of Hasidic culture: Rivkah Krinsky, daughter of Chabad-affiliated diamond tycoon Joseph Gutnick.

Unlike Lev Leviev’s daughters, 32-year-old Krinsky never chose to go into her father’s business. She opted for the musical gene she inherited from her maternal grandmother, who was a soprano singer.

As a child, Krinsky told Ynet, she used to sing with her mother and sisters every chance she got. Even as an adult, she never thought of becoming a singer, and until recently, made do with teaching guitar lessons to kindergarten and elementary school children in New York and Long Island.

Until that one day, when Krinsky was invited to perform in a women’s event – and has not stopped singing since. It’s no easy task being a singer in an Orthodox world.

Even when a woman in this religious community makes such an unconventional career choice, half of her potential audience refrains from listening to her songs, since in Orthodox Judaism men are generally not allowed to hear women sing, a modesty prohibition called "kol b'isha ervah".

But Krinsky says she is proud to be a religious singer: “When I started performing and recording the songs I realized that this would be a challenge for me, surely in light of the significant financial limitations. Nonetheless, one can attest to the growing phenomenon of women gathering on specific occasions and that concerts for women have become more common today.

“There’s something special about singing to women only, a sense of unity and strength surrounding the space. It seems that women are looking for opportunities to bond and strengthen their common potential.”

Despite her optimism, an example of the obstacles placed on a religious female singer came in the guise her advertisement being eliminated from Chabad’s website after rabbis from Israel protested against it.

'Music is the soul’s quill'

Talkbackers on the Chabad site attacked Krinsky’s advertisement posting, saying it’s a disgrace and far from being modest. Krinsky prefers not to address the internet affair so as not to upset anyone.

She diplomatically responds, “The Chabad website personnel approached me for an interview, which did allow for added exposure to my new album and I am happy about that. However, I am not responsible for their advertising policy.”

Krinsky is the eldest of 11 Gutnick siblings. He father, the richest Jew in Australia, is known for his donations and contribution to Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu. She studies at Beit Rivkah in Australia and did her seminary studies in Canada and New York, where she met her husband.

A few weeks ago, Krinsky released her debut album "In Your Hands", which doesn’t follow the classical Hasidic style, but features modern music accompanied by a delicate voice with an Australian accent. Apart from containing biblical texts, some of the songs were written by Krinsky in an attempt to reach out to a wide audience.

“My music is deliberately intended for secular audience as well,” she says. “Some people in the religious community think it’s too modern.”

Krinsky recently came back from a concert in Switzerland and will soon be off to Melborune for another concert. She says performing gives her a sense of satisfaction. “Chabad’s founder, Rabbi Shneur Zalman from Lady said that music is the soul’s quill. In many cases, music can touch the soul in ways that no speaker or book can.”

Australia's Chabad rabbi dies

Australia’s most senior Orthodox rabbi has died.

Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Groner, the chief rabbi of Melbourne’s Chabad-Lubavitch community, died Monday following a long illness. He was 83.

The brother of Leib Groner, a personal secretary to the former Lubavitcher rebbe, he will be buried in Jerusalem -- alongside his parents -- later this week. A memorial service is currently being planned in Melbourne with Chabad officials scrambling to find a venue large enough for the thousands expected to mourn the spiritual giant described as the person who “put Chabad on the map in Australia.”

Michael Danby, a Jewish member of the Australian government and Groner’s local lawmaker, said: “No spiritual leader of the Australian Jewish community has had a bigger effect on the postwar generation, both in terms of the restoration of spiritual life and educational institutions.”

Over the last half-century, Groner built an Orthodox community of thousands of Lubavitchers and a network of institutions in Melbourne: two schools -- Yeshivah College and Beth Rivkah Ladies' College -- educating more than 1,500 pupils; a men’s kollel; a women’s seminary; several mikvehs; and a cluster of Chabad houses throughout the city, three of which are run by the rabbi’s sons or sons-in-law.

Born in Brownsville, N.Y., in 1925, Groner was first sent to Australia and New Zealand by the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, in 1947. He returned in 1953 before the rebbe requested he become his emissary to Australia in 1958.

Wheelchair-bound in the twilight of his life, the rabbi was renowned for his booming sermons. His flock would line up outside his door to ask religious question of their spiritual leader.

Groner is survived by his wife, Devorah, his brother Leib, his eight children and dozens of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Torah on Mount Sinai is celebrated at the Chabad Center

Published: Thursday, July 3, 2008 8:42 AM EDT

ROCKAWAY TWP. - An all-night study session took place at the Chabad Center of Northwest New Jersey starting at 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, June 8, to commemorate 3320 years since the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The all-night study session included a host of topics, ranging from history to philosophy to Kabbalistic and Talmudic thought. The program is open to the entire community and refreshments will be served throughout the night.

The Biblical holiday commemorating the Torah’s giving is called Shavuot. It started at sundown of June 8 and continues through nightfall of June 10. It is customary for Jewish people to remain awake in study during the first night of Shavuot. The Chabad Center is located at One Torah Way in Rockaway Township.

On Monday morning, June 9, a synagogue service, was highlighted by the reading of the Ten Commandments from a kosher Torah Scroll The synagogue service was followed by an elaborate dairy luncheon and an ice cream party geared especially for children.

“The all night study session is always a highlight of the year. Each person decides their own level of participation. Some will stay only for a short while and some will stay until 4 am, but the cohesiveness and inspirational atmosphere affects everyone who attended,” said Rabbi Asher Herson, Chabad’s Regional Director.

“The reason for the dairy meal goes back to the circumstances that existed when the Torah was first given. One of the Torah’s Commandments is the laws of kosher. Kosher preparation of meat, and meat utensils, is more involved than preparing kosher dairy. For the first duration of time after receiving the Torah, until they had time to prepare kosher meat, the Jewish people ate only dairy in observance of the Torah’s kosher laws,” said Herson.

“A beautiful aspect of the Shavuot holiday is the emphasis placed on children”, continued Rabbi Herson. “When the Al-mighty asked what guarantee the Jewish people would offer to assure the perpetuity of the Torah’s study and observance they responded ‘our children will be our guarantors’. It is therefore a time honored custom to bring even infants to share in the special reading of the Ten Commandments.”

The ice cream party that follows wa held in their honor.

This emphasis also reminds us as to the importance of educating our children with extensive Torah knowledge and values which will carry on for many generations to come”.

For further information or to learn more about Chabad, call 973-625-1525 x227 or visit

Copyright © 2008 - Recorder Community Newspapers

Rabbi seeks Jews who have fallen away

Mission is to show them the road back

Staff Writer

For a man who is constantly busy, Rabbi Yitzchok Tiechtel doesn't seem in much of a hurry.

Sitting at a table near the ark that houses the Torah scrolls in the Beit Tefilah synagogue on a recent Friday, Tiechtel holds a yad, or Torah pointer, in one hand as he talks. In the other hand, his BlackBerry chimes almost constantly.

In the background, Lee Becker, a volunteer, carries in brownies and helps set up for a dinner and Shabbat service. Once the setup is complete and his morning meetings are done, Tiechtel will leave the Bellevue office complex that's home to the synagogue and head downtown. An acquaintance has asked him to hang mezuzah, small bits of parchment with Torah verses inscribed on them, on the doorpost of the office.

It's all in a day's work for Tiechtel, a foot soldier in the Rebbe's Army.

He's one of more than 3,000 sluchim, or emissaries, sent out by Chabad (, a worldwide Jewish group with headquarts in the Crown Heights neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y. Followers of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, the fellow sluchim are an unusual kind of missionaries. Unlike Christian missionaries, who seek new converts, Chabad sluchim hope to persuade secular Jews to return to the fold.

There's been a Chabad presence in Nashville since the 1950s, when Rabbi Zalman Posner and his wife, Risya, arrived from Crown Heights as emissaries. The Posners became pillars of the Jewish community. They started the Akiva Academy Hebrew Day School, and Posner, a scholar and author, led Congregation Sherith Israel until retiring in 2002.

Tiechtel arrived nine years ago to become headmaster of the Akiva School. Not long after arriving, he left Akiva to start the Chabad Center for Jewish Awareness ( The center runs classes and a summer camp, puts out an annual calendar and lights menorahs in public spaces during Hanukkah.

The group is also raising funds to build a permanent home in Bellevue, which will include a kosher Internet cafe, a synagogue and a mikvah, or ritual bath.

Being an emissary runs in Tiechtel's family. The oldest of 10 children has six siblings who serve as sluchim in Berlin, Germany; Illinois; and Arizona.

All were inspired by their grandmother, an immigrant from Russia whose father was arrested and killed by the Soviet government for running a cheder, or Hebrew school, in Leningrad.

"I'm just carrying on the work my great-grandfather started," he said.

Tiechtel compares his mission to that of a lamplighter. "There's a light in every person that comes from God," he said, "but someone has to light the wick for that light to shine."

Missions are different

Rabbi Mark Shiftan of the Temple said that the local Chabad Center has a very different focus than synagogues. The Temple, like other congregations, serves those in the mainstream of Jewish life. Chabad, on the other hand, exists to reach those who have fallen off the radar screen.

"Most synagogues are engaging in outreach to try and find new and innovative ways to reach out to Jews who are on the outskirts of Jewish life," Shiftan said.

"They (Chabad) do have a long track record of very actively reaching out to Jews who no longer even know the road back into the community."

Becker, who relocated to Nashville about 10 years, ago, says she grew up in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in New York City.

When their children were young, Becker said, she and her husband took them to their synagogue.

Once the kids were grown, however, the Beckers dropped out of synagogue life.

They come to services at Beit Tefilah weekly, and say they enjoy Tiecthel's down-to-earth sermons.

"He really explains the Torah reading," she said. "It's like a family. We just enjoy coming. Our Jewish heritage has become more important to us now than it was in New York."

Joe Freedman, a Nashville businessman, also says he has reconnected with his faith after meeting Tiechtel. Freedman grew up as a Reform Jew in New Orleans, where he played baseball for a Catholic high school, and says he never considered himself religious.

"I am one of the most assimilated people you will ever find," he said.

For the past six years, Freedman said, he has met monthly with Tiechtel to study the Torah. The two also pray together.