Thursday, October 30, 2008

Expanding The Circle Of Friendship

by Sydney Rae Appelbaum

“Teach a child according to his needs and even when he is old, he will not depart from
Proverbs 22:6

How is one to define the word special? Is it merely a term that helps to segregate one entity from another? Does the word illustrate a preference or an entitlement? If this is how the word special is commonly understood, what does it mean to have special needs? As Gov. Sarah Palin stated at the Republican National Convention, “Children with special needs inspire a special love.”
A child with special needs refers to someone that requires routine, adjustment of
expectations, special accommodations and around-the-clock care. However, my
heartwarming experience working with the Friendship Circle has taught me otherwise.

The Friendship Circle is an international nonprofit organization started in 1994 under the auspices of the Chabad in West Bloomfield Hills, Mich. At that time there were only eight volunteers. Today over 100 circles are providing love, care and inspiration to thousands. Like a stone cast into a pond, the ripple effect continues.

The circle is based on the biblical commandment, “To love your fellow as yourself.” This organization is like no other. While other groups offer therapy and counseling or raise funds to help find cures, the circle is simply about the fun and love that friendship fosters. God could have created a perfect world, a world free of suffering, poverty, illness and injustice. But He created the world imperfectly and us flawed so that we could improve it ourselves and grow spiritually. Devora Wilhelm, director of the Upper East Side Chabad, explained to the volunteers that these special souls are sent to this world for a very specific mission and they have positive effects on the people around them.

Friendship Circle pairs special needs children with a teen volunteer. Some volunteers experience trepidation at first but everyone participates at the level that is comfortable for them. There is no pressure. I participate in the Friends At Home program at the Chabad of the Upper East Side and have worked with the same friend for the past four years. Brocha, my adorable

5-year-old friend who has Down syndrome, jumps on me excitedly every time we see each other.
As much as I give of myself, it doesn’t measure up to what special needs children feel they are receiving. Brocha has a very busy calendar fraught with many therapy dates but few play dates. However, during our outings to Carl Schurz Park I am inundated by parents often wanting to introduce their children to Brocha, to teach tolerance at a young age. People fear what they do not understand.

It had been years since I rode a tricycle, stuck my hand in a fish tank, played with glitter glue and said prayers over grape juice and a plastic challah. Brocha and I focus on what we share rather than on our differences that divide us. Our friendship fosters equality. There is something very tranquil about working with Brocha. There are no judgments; my young friend does not care what I look like. She doesn’t look at my shoes and notice that they aren’t the newest Tory Burch quilted flats that everyone has at school.
Some families gain more than friends for their children. “The Friendship Circle has brought Judaism into our home,” explains Rhonda Miller, a Maryland Friendship Circle parent of 15-year-old Jamie. “After my daughter Jamie and her friend made decorations for the Chabad sukkah, she insisted that we build our own sukkah.”

My work with the Friendship Circle has taught me about facing adversity, overcoming obstacles, personal triumph, love and the true measure of a human being. I am inspired by Brocha and am humbled by her accomplishments. Brocha has taught me the true value of friendship. Volunteering for the Friendship Circle makes a difference but what people do not understand is that it is the children with special needs who make a difference in our lives. I have learned that one hour a week is enough to change a lifetime forever.
Working with children with special needs teaches you to live; every moment is special to them. The Friendship Circle has taught me how important it is to spend time with people who truly care about you. Through Friendship Circle, unconditional love blossoms.

For more information on the Friendship Circle and upcoming events

Sydney Rae Appelbaum is a senior at Abraham Joshua Heschel High School in Manhattan.

GUILFORD-The night after Tuesday's election will see another chapter written on whether or not Chabad of the Shoreline synagogue will be built at 181

The proposal - hotly contested by area residents led by Dr. Donna Criscenzo but supported by a number of shoreline men and women - is unlikely to be approved or rejected by the Planning and Zoning Commission Wednesday.
The 7:30 p.m. meeting at the community center will see a continuation of the previous two public hearings.
Opponents of the synagogue have cited increased traffic, noise, a drop in surrounding property values and a dramatic change in the quality of life in the neighborhood as reason for their opposition. They also claim the 17,000 square foot project is not appropriate in an R-5 zone.
Chabad and its Rabbi, Yossi Yaffe, have said none of the neighbors concerns are based on fact. Chabad insists its studies show the synagogue would not cause any appreciable increase in traffic, no drop in property values, little noise and no change in the quality of neighborhood life
Experts hired by both sides have debated these and other issues.
The controversy has raised considerable interest.
Town Planner George Kral has pointed out that religious institutions are permitted in all zones if they meet special permit requirements.
Whether the synagogue proposal meets those requirements will decide the issue.
Chabad is a Hasidic Jewish organization now operating out of a small office in Branford.

Chabad to establish presence in Frederick

An international Jewish organization is looking to establish a new presence in Frederick in order to reach out to local, unaffiliated Jews.

Boruch Labkowski, a New York-based rabbi, has started a local chapter of Chabad in Frederick and is also the group's director.

Chabad-Lubavitch is a philosophy, movement and organization that is rooted in Hasidism, a religious movement in Judaism.

The word "Chabad" is an acronym for the Hebrew words for wisdom, comprehension and knowledge. Lubavitch is the name of a Russian town where the movement was based for more than 100 years.

According to Labkowski, the Jewish community in Frederick County is large and interested enough to support the Chabad of Frederick. The organization held its first event in September, when nearly 70 people fashioned rams' horns into shofars, used to celebrate Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year.

"People are interested … and they're thirsty for more Judaism," Labkowski said earlier this month.

Labkowski said Chabad's purpose is to deepen Jews' understanding of their faith through an array of different events and programs from adult lectures and children's workshops to Kabbalah classes and holiday programs.

The group has yet to find a permanent meeting space in Frederick; Labkowski said he is planning to move to Frederick soon with his family.

Chabad of Frederick is open to Jews of all backgrounds, and specifically targets Jews who are unaffiliated with a local synagogue or congregation, he added. Chabad also has locations in Gaithersburg, Potomac, Germantown and Bethesda.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Story

Over Sukkot I had the honor to sit in a Sukkah with a distinguished Chossid, Rabbi Zalman Posner, who shared with me the following moving story. As a young man he was once summoned by the previous Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. The year was 1949, and as Reb Zalman told it to me, it was hard to understand all the words of the Rebbe, so it was crucial to also watch his hand gestures.

The Rebbe began dramatically (in Yiddish): When a neshomo (soul) has to come down to Earth, it doesn’t want to go. Why? Because heaven is warm and comfortable, while life on Earth is cold and dark (“kalt un finzter”). What happens? In heaven the soul is ordered: “You must descend below.” And to demonstrate the point the Rebbe took his index finger and repeatedly pointed downward in a deliberate motion, “you must go down below into the dark and cold world, and there you must bring light (“machen dort lichtig”).

The Rebbe then continued and instructed Reb Zalman to travel on a mission (shlichus) to a certain city, which may not be as comfortable as staying home, with the objective of beginning some spiritual light to the city.

“To this day I never forget,” Reb Zalman told me, “the Rebbe’s finger pointing downward, ‘you must go down and illuminate the dark and cold world.’”…

Ultimately, Reb Zalman would settle in Nashville, Tennessee, where he is a Rabbi and educator until today.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Rosh Hashana Sermon

ROSH HASHANA AND Yom Kippur come around every year with predictable consistency and it is sometimes hard to motivate ourselves for another round of synagogue attendance, sermons, dinners etc. Perhaps if we recognized that each year possesses its “mystical karma” and carries its own unique message, we would be energized anew and open our hearts to the soul stirring inspiration of this year’s High Holy Day season.

This year is called the year of hachel — gathering. In the times of the Temple, on the Sukkot following the shmita — the sabbatical year, the Torah mandates that the entire Jewish people, men, women and children gather together at the Temple for a massive assembly at which the king would read passages from the Torah before the assembled and inspire them to rededicate themselves to God and the Torah.

The eternity of the Torah leaps over the bounds of time and place. Hence, even those mitzvot that are restricted to the Temple precincts, such as the mitzva of hachel, also have a spiritual content which may be applied at all times.

The mitzva of hachel represents the strength that we have when we gather together as one community and encourages us to humbly recognize the inherent Godliness in our fellow and to nurture our own spark of Godliness, creating a sense of unity and harmony within the community and ourselves as well.

Just as individual Jews can be brought together to form cohesive communities, every individual can organize his own personal hachel – by marshaling and harmonizing all the diverse faculties within his own spiritual personality. An individual’s leadership qualities, his receptivity, his ability to learn from others – all these inner thrusts can be mobilized and directed toward the goals of hachel. With best wishes for a happy, healthy & blessed new year.

Rabbi Levi Block
Union County Torah Center, Westfield

From the Pulpit — Messages for the New Year

ROSH HASHANA is the Jewish New Year, when we celebrate the creation of mankind. We are the “chosen of all creations” and it is, therefore, incumbent upon us to lead by example in bettering the world we live in.

Rosh Hashana 5769 begins a year of hachel, which means “gathering and unity.” At the time when our Holy Temple was still standing, all Jews – men, women and children (even infants) — would gather in Jerusalem every seven years and the king would read selections from the Torah to them. These words of Torah helped to strengthen their faith in God and their dedication to His commandments.

Although we have no Holy Temple, the Lubavitcher Rebbe encouraged us to organize hachel gatherings to strengthen and deepen our relationship with God and the Torah. As our connection with God grows, so does our connection with each other. Any differences between us begin to seem trivial and insignificant. Regardless of each person’s strength or weakness, we are all united as one, with a greater awareness of God and his presence in our daily lives.

We can accomplish this on many different levels – in our homes, in our workplaces, in our communities. We can sit down with our families on Shabbat to share a d’var Torah or sing a Shabbat song together. We can periodically get together with our coworkers to do a good deed.

The harmony that will grow from our active participation during this year will hasten the arrival of Moshiach and, thus, bring the ultimate fulfillment of hachel with complete and joyous unity.

May God grant us all a joyful, prosperous, and sweet New Year.

Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky
Congregation Shomrei Torah Ohel Yosef Yitzchok and Bris Avrohom, Hillside

Welcoming the New Year in a Different Paris

October 23, 2008 - Mara Sokolsky, Jewish Exponent Feature

This past erev Rosh Hashanah found my husband and I scurrying through the streets of Paris's Jewish quarter. Hours earlier, those streets pulsed with the sounds of schmoozing and shopping. We, along with local Parisians and a gaggle of tourists feasted on Mi-va-mi's falafel l'authentique and Sacha Finkelsztajn's Viennese strudel.

But now the streets were quiet, the shops closed. The new year was at hand.

More than 30 years ago, I spent my junior year abroad in Paris. Young, eager and fluent in French, I soaked up the beauty and culture of that city like a happy sponge. Now, on our first big empty-nest vacation, I wanted to share some of that long-ago magic with my husband.

And magic it was. We glided on a boat under the magnificent bridges traversing the Seine. We climbed the hills of Montmartre; we sat with our espresso and watched passers-by from a string of outdoor cafes.

As Rosh Hashanah approached, we finalized our holiday plans with the local Chabad rabbi. He directed us, in Yiddish-tinged French, to a shteibel, a small house of prayer on the second floor of a nondescript building in the heart of the Jewish quarter. That's where my husband and I were hurrying as the old year fell away.

Lubavitch Chasidim are wonderfully hospitable, but they aren't known for their decorating style. The shteibel had all the makings of a beautiful, old Paris apartment: delicate moldings, chandeliers, hand-painted designs along the tops of the walls. Yet, mostly what you saw was a crowded, makeshift shul, with chairs, benches and tattered prayerbooks strewn next to a small women's section.

I sat alone in that section. Of course! The Lubavitch wives were home preparing dinner. Ultimately, three young women with various nose and lip piercings joined my ranks. They were traveling together from Australia and, like us, had invitations to go home with one of the families after the davening.

Our host was a warm, chatty dentist who had become Lubavitch in his early 20s. His cultured wife spoke excellent English. Only five of their 10 children were at home, but they had guests around their table from Algiers and Berlin. In a lively polyglot of languages, we chatted, gorged ourselves, and dribbled enough honey to help ensure a sweet new year.

But we needed to hear the shofar. In the morning, we went to the Synagogue des Tournelles, which we'd heard was beautiful and was within walking distance of where we were staying.

Tickets weren't required, but our admission depended upon a convincing argument to the guards posted outside. When they finally accepted that we were wandering Jews looking to be with our brethren, they opened the doors to the most- breathtaking house of worship I'd ever seen, much like a lavish European opera house.

I climbed the stairs to the balcony. Few women were listening to the service; most were chatting amiably. Occasionally, I'd hear a line in Arabic. So many Jews in France have North African roots. The Sephardic melodies were mesmerizing, so distinct from our Ashkenazi ones at home.

My husband remarked later that the men occasionally davened, but mostly kissed each other (four times on the cheek in true French fashion) and chatted as much as the women.

But when it came time for the shofar, the shul became still. All the men raised their tallitot over their heads. The women whipped out scarves and held them over their heads. It was a bit like watching everyone go under his or her own chupah.

I marveled at this ritual. Although far from home, it felt entirely natural to experience a connection with fellow Jews in heeding the call to be awake and centered as we entered the promise of the new year.

Mara Sokolsky is a freelance writer living in Providence, R.I.

The Dragon's Yarmulke: Jewish Communities in China

Though small, these are some of the newest and fastest growing Jewish communities in the world.

Release Date: 10/24/2008


When Israeli Dvir Bar-Gal arrived in Shanghai some seven years ago, there were roughly 300 Jews in the city.

That community is now seven times larger. Jewish communities in China are expanding in a way that matches the frenetic expansion of the enigmatic land in which they live.

"The Jewish community of China is one the fastest growing Jewish communities in the world," said Bar-Gal, who today runs a Jewish history tour of Shanghai.

As China has opened itself to the outside world, Jewish communities are being reborn in China. Shanghai is home to the largest Jewish community, with upwards of 2,000 people, followed by Beijing at 1,500 to 2,000. Jews have migrated to work or study in China from Europe, North America, Australia and Israel. Many of those now residing in China are drawn by business pursuits, but there are also many Jewish students as well as Jewish families connected with the various diplomatic missions posted in China. Most of these migrants see China as a new land of economic opportunity, though not necessarily a permanent new home. Historically, however, Jews saw China as offering a different opportunity: the chance to escape persecution.

The history of Jewish communities in China dates back more than a millennium with the storied community of Kaifeng. In the modern era, however, the most important communities were in Harbin, Tianjin, and Shanghai. These were seen as places of tolerance in a hostile world. The emergence and resurgence of Shanghai's Jewish community illuminates the interplay between global trends and Chinese policies.

Shanghai's Jewish community began in the mid-19th century with the immigration of mercantilist Sephardic Jews from the Middle East, but the Russian turmoil of the early 20th century brought thousands of immigrants to China. Many Jews fled the Russo-Japanese war, the outbreak of pogroms, and disorder associated with World War I, the Russian Revolution and the Russian Civil war and found haven in China. After the Russian Revolution, Jews came to Shanghai and settled in the Hongkou neighborhood. As European-style tenement houses were built and Jewish-owned shops, cafes and kosher delicatessens multiplied, residents and others began to call the area Little Vienna.

With Europe's descent into war in the 1930s, Shanghai again became a haven for Jews seeking refuge from Nazi persecution. As doors, including American ones, closed for European Jewish , Shanghai was one of the few remaining places that did not require papers or a visa for entry. From 1939 to 1941, 20,000 to 30,000 Jews immigrated to Shanghai to escape Nazi persecution.

With the 1937 Japanese occupation of Shanghai, the Japanese authorities designated the Jewish migrants as "stateless refugees" and restricted their habitation and commerce to a somewhat benign ghetto in the Hongkou neighborhood. The Hongkou neighborhood was also home to many displaced Chinese, who were refugees from the Japanese occupation.

Today, few of those Jewish refugees or their descendants remain in Shanghai. After World War II and the the Communist victory in China's civil war nearly all of Shanghai's Jews migrated to America, Canada, Australia or Israel.

The new Jewish communities of businesspeople, students and diplomats are growing and members are working together to create the infrastructure necessary to support the community and foster connections to the faith. Chabad, one of the largest Orthodox Jewish movements that runs thousands of outreach centers around the world, plays a major part in the Jewish life in China. In total, Chabad runs seven Jewish centers throughout China: Beijing, two in Shanghai, Guangzhou, two in Hong Kong, and Shenzhen.

Chabad set up shop in Beijing in 2001, and since then has built the foundations of Jewish communal life in China's capital, including a Jewish day school, community center and even a Chinese pagoda-style mikvah (Jewish ritual bath). Despite these familiarities, the Jewish lifestyle still faces challenges in China. Given the complexities of observing Kashrut—Jewish culinary law—in a land as gastronomically diverse as China, the ability for religious Jews to eat in a kosher fashion remains a constant challenge.

However, Western import grocery stores often help. "Thank God for the Western supermarkets," Rabbi Freundlich said. "It is possible to get some kosher foods in the form of Western products that happen to be kosher."

In addition, once a year, the communities in Beijing and Shanghai receive from Israel a container of dry goods, kosher wine and long-lasting milk. As for kosher meat and chicken, the Rabbi has a kosher slaughterer flown in either from South Africa or Australia. In addition, in March 2007, the Chabad Beijing opened Dini's, the only kosher restaurant in the city.

The situation in Shanghai is similar, with Chabad maintaining a Jewish center in both older city center and the newer Pudong area. The Jewish center at the Chabad Shanghai is complete with children's school and weekly Shabbat service, and a kosher café, as well as a kosher meal delivery service to hotels and offices.

But there are still obstacles. Judaism is not one of the five recognized religions in China, but the government has largely ignored it. The recent developments of these new, non-refugee communities coupled with their relatively miniscule population hasn't yet drawn the attention of the government.

"The Jewish community has a good relationship with the Chinese government," said Rabbi Shimon Freundlich of Chabad Beijing. "The Chinese government understands that the Beijing Jewish community respects the Chinese culture, and the wishes of the government and the Chinese people." Yet currently, Rabbi Freundlich's home serves as the temple, as the Jewish community is not permitted to build freestanding places of worship.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community is pushing for status as a non-recognized Western minority community, which will offer the Jewish community status as an official community in China. Currently, the Jewish community is prohibited from performing conversions of local Chinese people, and local Chinese are not allowed to participate in rituals unless they are married to a Jew. Despite the red tape, there is local interest in the faith.

"Chabad gets a call at least once a week from someone in a distant province who wants to convert to Judaism," Rabbi Freundlich said. "We counsel them that if they are serious, then they can do a conversion in Hong Kong or Australia, but not in Mainland China."

Given the minute size of China's Jewish community, and the relatively few Jews worldwide, in many ways the concept of "the Jewish people" has an outsized stature in China. Interestingly, the Jewish image in popular Chinese culture has a rather fascinating position. According to the Washington Post article "Sold on a Stereotype," there is even a field of self-help books in China dedicated to "the Jewish way of making money." This genre includes such titles as The Legend of Jewish Wealth and The Eight Most Valuable Business Secrets of the Jewish. Despite the somewhat anti-Semitic undertones of such literature, the Washington Post article observes that Chinese also perceive the Jewish community as having a great deal of intelligence and business acumen.

"We are attracted by Jewish wisdom, intelligence, success and survival," said Professor Xu Xin, director of the Glazer Institute of Jewish Studies at Nanjing University. "These are qualities the Chinese feel they can learn from. Both the Chinese and the Jews have a tradition of education and respect learning."

This sentiment has translated into a unique relationship in local populations, where Jewish residents are subject to no more discrimination than other foreign faces.

"[The sentiments] are the opposite of anti-Semitism, but rather appreciation," Bar-Gal said. "The majority of Chinese people don't know what ‘Jews' are—they have no concept. In big cities, some Chinese people know Jews, and view them as ‘smart' and ‘rich.' In China, there is positive thinking regarding business: if you are rich, you have achieved a goal. The Chinese want to copy and learn from the Jewish people—this is a compliment, not negative thought."

When asked about the future of the Jewish community in China, Bar-Gal had an intriguing, albeit tongue-in-cheek, answer: "I see the whole Jewish people's future here in China. With rising anti-Semitism in Europe, instability in Israel and financial troubles in the US, the entire Jewish world will come to live in China. You have a country that has a history free of anti-Semitism, and a culture that deeply respects the Jewish people. What is 12 million in a land of 1.3 billion?"

While this scenario is unlikely, the future for Jewish communities in China is indeed promising. The Jewish community in China is one of the fastest growing Jewish communities in the world; the increase in Jewish communal institutions in China ensures that Jewish communities can continue their extraordinary growth, and that over time Chinese will have a more realistic knowledge of the religion and its adherents in China.

Paul Rockower is a journalist who spent six weeks traveling in China. He writes a column for the Jerusalem Post on Jewish communities in far-flung places. Paul is currently pursuing a Master's in Public Diplomacy at USC.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Rabbis agree with IRS rules, say shuls shouldn’t endorse candidates

By Leon Cohen and Andrea Waxman
of The Chronicle staff

Some 33 Christian pastors in 22 states — including one in West Bend, according to an Associated Press report — recently attacked what they believe to be restraints on freedom of speech in religious institutions during elections.

But their effort receives little sympathy from a group of Wisconsin congregational rabbis interviewed by The Chronicle last week.

The pastors participated in a project of the Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund, which the AP described as a conservative legal group.

The pastors devoted their sermons on Sept. 28 — which they called “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” — to endorsing candidates in the coming presidential election.

They did this to protest Internal Revenue Service rules instituted by Congress in 1954. These rules strip tax-exempt status from non-profit organizations, including religious institutions — and organizations like The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle — that endorse political candidates.

ADF contends, according to a release on its Web site, that these rules violate First Amendment freedom of speech rights of clergy; and the Pulpit Freedom Sunday project seeks to provoke a legal challenge to the rules.

“I think they are wrong,” said Rabbi Shaina Bacharach, spiritual leader of Congregation Cnesses Israel (Conservative) in Green Bay.

The IRS rules help to preserve lines separating church and state, and “I don’t like to see those boundaries crossed,” she said.

In fact, “I think Congress is doing us a favor” with these rules, said Rabbi Shlomo Levin of Lake Park Synagogue (Orthodox) in Milwaukee.

“Politics is polarizing and the clergy’s role should be to tone down the debate,” he said. “We should be humble and admit that it’s difficult to make good decisions.”

Rabbi E. Daniel Danson of Mount Sinai Congregation (Reform) in Wausau added, “When religious institutions move in lockstep with a party, they lose their voice.”

Moreover, just as certain Talmud rulings “build a fence around” Torah laws, so do these IRS rules “build a fence around the Constitution,” Danson said.

Moreover, at least one rabbi would maintain silence about candidates even if the IRS rules were changed to allow religious institutions to endorse them.

Rabbi Shmaya Shmotkin, spiritual leader of the Chabad Lubavitch-affiliated The Shul (Orthodox) in Bayside, said, “It’s been a long-standing policy of Lubavitch, instituted by the Rebbe, that as an institution we are not to be involved in politics.”

“The reason is the way we view our role: to enhance and serve every single Jew, regardless of ideology or political leanings,” he said.

“Anything that could potentially deter from that mission or make someone with a different view uncomfortable is in our view detrimental.” Therefore, “even if by law we were able to, we wouldn’t do it.”

Addressing issues

That is not to say that all local rabbis ignored the election when they spoke from the pulpit during the autumn holidays season.

Rabbi Jacob Herber, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Israel (Conservative) in Glendale and president of the Wisconsin Council of Rabbis, said he has spoken “about issues related to this campaign and specifically about the harmful and dangerous rhetoric that is taking place.”

“I put [these messages] in the context of the charged political rhetoric [in Israel] that preceded the assassination of [Prime Minister] Yitzhak Rabin [in 1995],” Herber said.

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Shamayim (Reconstructionist-Renewal) in Madison, also has spoken about issues relating to the elections.

In fact, on Yom Kippur, she discussed why immigration reform should be considered a Jewish issue, and “from now until the election, I will talk about the economy,” she said.

Rabbi Joseph Prass, associate rabbi at Congregation Shalom (Reform) in Fox Point, reported that his synagogue sponsored a Yom Kippur study session about the elections with Mordecai Lee, former state senator and now professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The idea, Prass said, was to talk about the issues through a Jewish lens. “People were allowed to discuss this election, but … it was not meant to lead to one candidate or another.”

However, some local rabbis did try to avoid even dealing with political issues in their High Holidays addresses.

Rabbi Benzion Twerski of Congregation Beth Jehudah (Orthodox) said, “All my sermons were personal growth-oriented” during the holidays, ranging from the Jewish people’s “mission to the world” to repentance and how sinning is “beneath the majesty that is our souls.”

Rabbis for Obama

Some of the rabbis differed on whether they should publicly endorse candidates on their own, as rabbis but not as spiritual leader of their synagogues.

Rabbi Joshua Ben Gideon of Beth Israel Center (Conservative) in Madison did not address the election in any of his High Holidays sermons.

But he is one of eight Wisconsin signers among the 500 rabbis nation-wide who have signed onto a public letter from a group called Rabbis for Obama in support of Democratic presidential nominee Barak Obama. (The others are Rabbis Renee Bauer of Madison, Marc Berkson of River Hills, Jonathan Biatch of Madison, Dena Feingold of Kenosha, Michael Remson of Kenosha and Roxanne Shapiro of Fox Point, as well as Herber.)

However, as one can see on the Rabbis for Obama Web site, the rabbis are listed by name and locale, not by their institutional affiliations.

“I am expressing support for a candidate,” said Ben Gideon, but not in the name of a congregation, and “that is different than preaching from the bimah about a candidate.”

But Bacharach and Danson both refused to sign onto this. “I don’t believe I should publicly advocate for either candidate,” said Bacharach.

And although Danson said that “people I have respect for” signed onto the Rabbis for Obama letter, he declined because “this is one hard disconnect, supporting somebody officially even if not as rabbi of whatever congregation, from how it is publicly perceived.”

At present, there is no similar group of rabbis announcing support for Republican nominee John McCain

Jewish org provides new options

Chabad GW held inaugural event last week

by Ben Echitelle
Hatchet Staff Writer

Chabad GW, an organization dedicated to supporting orthodox Jewish life on campus, held its inaugural event last week, drawing more than 300 students to Kogan Plaza for a celebration of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

Nationally, GW has the eighth largest percentage of Jewish students on a college campus, according to statistics gathered by Hillel. Chabad aims to reach out to these students.

"The dream is to create a home away from home that will always be available to students," said Rabbi Yudi Steiner, who co-directs Chabad GW along with his wife Rivky. "My wife and I provide a welcoming, nonjudgmental, relaxing place for Jews to come and feel appreciated where they feel that they have a brotherhood that they can kick back with."

Chabad, an international Jewish organization, established a chapter in D.C. 10 years ago. The group organizes holiday celebrations for Jewish students at GW, Georgetown and American, including the annual Sukkot event and the lighting of the national Hanukkah menorah.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, Chabad's D.C. representative, said an increase in student interest in Chabad over the past few years spurred the need for the organization to expand, but it took two years and countless interviews for him to find the right people for the job at GW.

"Chabad has had an ongoing presence on campus for over a decade, but with the arrival of Rabbi Steiner and Rivky, things are going to go to a whole new level with more visibility, consistency and quality," Shemtov said.

Last Friday's event was held inside a sukkah, a traditional temporary structure that represents God's protection of the Jewish people that has been in use since biblical times. Students shook the lulav - a bundle composed of the leaves from myrtle, willow and date palm trees - along with an etrog, the fruit from the citron tree. This tradition represents the concept of Jewish unity, Steiner said.

Holding with the theme of unity, the Jewish Students Association, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority co-sponsored the event.

Steiner said that in order to attract Jewish students for their programming, Chabad must work with all GW Jewish organizations.

"Traditionally we work with Hillel, but really we like to work with every Jewish organization on campus because we are an umbrella organization for the entire Jewish population at GW," said junior Josh Abrams, president of the Jewish Students Association.

Several students at the event, however, felt that there may be some unspoken tensions between Chabad and Hillel, since Hillel has an established presence on campus and Chabad is a newcomer.

"Now that Chabad is here there is a stigma that there is a conflict with Hillel," said Alex Sasson, a junior who has attended Chabad services in the past. "Chabad doesn't want to tramp on Hillel's turf."

Other students are eager for another avenue to learn about their Jewish faith.

"I'm involved in Hillel, but I'm interested in exploring all my Jewish options," said freshman Alex Wartman.

Steiner said the difference between Chabad and Hillel is a "matter of style."

Rob Fishman, executive director of Hillel at GW, agreed with Steiner.

"We use different methods to achieve the same goal: supporting Jewish students on campus," Fishman said. "There is enough room on this campus for us both, but at the same time, it is sensitive."

Chabad GW is currently located at the intersection of 22nd and N streets in the Steiners' apartment, but there are plans to move into a much larger facility on or near campus within the next year.

Current programs are limited to dinners and study groups with about 15 students at a time. In the last several weeks, however, Steiner said at least 100 students have attended some type of Jewish program at his apartment.

Grapes crushed for 'Cuvee Chabad'

New York rabbi makes kosher wine from St. Helena vineyard
By David Stoneberg
Thursday, October 23, 2008


When most grapegrowers talk about history, they talk about a time nearly 150 years ago when the first vines were planted in the Napa Valley.

Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum, the director of Chabad of Napa Valley, connects with history, too — only it is ancient history, when Orthodox Jews tended vines and made wine for the temple in Jerusalem.

According to Genesis, Noah was the first one to plant vines, grow grapes and make wine. Today Tenenbaum is tending the grapevines and making wines much the way Noah did thousands of years ago.

At 6 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 16, Tenenbaum and Jonathan Hajdu met at the Pratt Avenue vineyards owned by Naomi Glass, and spent four hours harvesting about a ton of grapes from the head-trained, 30-year-old zinfandel and younger syrah and carignane vines.

“We wanted to beat the heat,” Tenenbaum said. “It was a great experience: We would go through the bushes and make sure the grapes were ripe enough, although the Brix was lower than anticipated.”

The grapes were destemmed and Tenenbaum said the fermentation is happening naturally in open-top bins. “We’re leaving it up to God,” he said. Afterward, the must will be hand-pressed and the wine will be aged for a year in used oak barrels. Tenenbaum said his methods are a blend between modern winemaking techniques and ancient ways that may be unorthodox.

Make no mistake about it, the rabbi is a man of God and the field blend he is making follows kosher protocols and is able to be used in Jewish rituals. It will be bottled and released in December 2009, in time for Hanukkah, the celebration of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem.

The wine, the first “Cuvee Chabad” made in thousands of years, will not be for sale. “We’re leaving it up to a higher authority and it will be used for ceremonial purposes,” Tenenbaum said. “It goes a bit beyond money, because the wine is priceless.”

The rabbi said the experience of making the wine and the holiness associated with it makes each bottle of wine unique. “I look at it very differently,” he said, than just a commercial transaction. Tenenbaum said Judaism is the blending between the spiritual and physical and by making wine he is increasing his faith and realizing how Judaism is connected to agriculture.

Tenenbaum, a New York native who was educated in Judaism in the concrete jungles of Brooklyn, says simply that two years ago he was directed by God to come to the Napa Valley. He founded Chabad of Napa Valley, which is a center open to all Jews.

Last year, Tenenbaum and Jeff Morgan, a St. Helena resident and co-owner of Covenant, made a case of cabernet sauvignon wines from grapes grown in Oakville. The two were tasting the developing wine and Morgan mentioned he had had a conversation with Naomi Glass, who owns a small vineyard on Pratt Avenue. She was looking for someone to take care of her vines. Morgan told her, he knew just the person.

In February, Tenenbaum and Jonathan Hajdu, the associate winemaker at Covenant, started pruning the 400 vines on the Glass property. Afterward, the two sprayed the vines for mold, fertilized and watered the vines and suckered them when the time was right. After bud break they dropped some fruit to focus the vine’s efforts on the remaining clusters.

“Coming from New York, this is a huge change in things,” Tenenbaum said. “I realize how Judaism is connected to agriculture, with the harvest.” Additionally, Judaism’s three major holidays, Passover in April, Shavuot in June and Sukkot in October are all connected to different phases in agriculture. These show how the Jews, God’s chosen people, are connected to God.

“God is the essence of the world,” Tenenbaum said, “We are able to recognize godliness through the growth of the vine.”

Five years ago Morgan started Covenant with Leslie Rudd specifically to make kosher wines. Morgan said Tenenbaum’s field blend is the first “Cuvee Chabad” made in 4,500 years. “It’s very exciting,” he adds.

Hajdu, an Orthodox Jew, and Tenenbaum harvested a ton of grapes in mid-September but purposely left some grapes on the vines. Glasses’ property, La Buona Stella, was established in 1890. On one of its barns is a quote from Leviticus: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not strip your vineyard bare nor gather the overlooked grapes; you must leave them for the poor and the stranger.”

The quote is another reason the rabbi believes God directed him to the Napa Valley and to tending the vines on the Glass property.

It’s not easy making kosher wine, as only Jews can crush the grapes, tend the wine in its barrels or bottle it. And they can’t work on it during Sabbath, which starts Friday at sunset and ends 24 hours later, or during the Jewish holidays. Additionally, those workers need to be certified as “Sabbath observant” by a rabbinical agency.

Add to that the fact that all of the ingredients in the wine have to be certified kosher, but the Morgan’s help, Tenenbaum should be able to find what he needs.

“Wine is the oldest beverage, Jews first started making it for the holy temple in Jerusalem some 3,000 years ago,” Tenenbaum said. Not much has changed since then and the connection between the ancient and contemporary again shows how God directs the world. “It’s been a very spiritual experience,” he adds.

Wines and Judaism

For more information on Napa Valley kosher wines, visit

Covenant;;; and


For information on Chabad of Napa Valley, visit

Russia chief rabbi: Repeal Jackson-Vanik

Russia's chief Chabad rabbi castigated the United States for its refusal to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment.

In an interview published Wednesday in a Russian newspaper, Rabbi Berel Lazar said the only reasoning behind retaining the amendment was political and that it's usefulness had long ago passed.

The Cold War-era measure places restrictions on countries that do not allow their citizens to freely emigrate. Enacted 33 years ago, it was targeted at alleviating the constraints on Jewish intellectuals.

Jackson-Vanik, named for the two major co-sponsors in the U.S. Congress, remains in place for Russia and several other former Soviet countries, preventing their admittance to organizations such as the World Trade Organization.

Lazar said Chabad representatives have brought up the issue with President Bush and the U.S. State Department.

Jews have been able "to emigrate and to freely travel" for a long time, Lazar told Nezavisimaya Gazeta, while many have returned to Russia.

"No one has forced them to return," he said. "It was their free choice."

Lazar said the amendment is now harming the Jewish people because their struggle for human rights has been tied to economic policy.

"The repeal of the amendment is now tied to things like American chicken imports to Russia," Lazar said. "People and their spiritual freedom have been placed on the same plane with chicken."

Monday, October 13, 2008

Focus, prayer on holiest day

Yom Kippur involves 26 hours of very intense introspection

October 10, 2008


GURNEE -- Note to editor: the next time you assign a story on Yom Kippur, do it before Yom Kippur.

It is next to impossible to speak to a rabbi on the great Day of Atonement, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. On Thursday, rabbis around the county had no time for reporters. They were busy helping the faithful focus on their souls, ask forgiveness for their sins and draw close to the one God.

Rabbi Sholom Tenenbaum stands outside the new Chabad Jewish Center in Gurnee during construction last month. Tenenbaum was focused on the duties of the day Thursday, Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.

After a morning of fruitless calls and unanswered voice-mail messages, I finally drove to the Chabad Jewish Center, 5101 Washington St., Gurnee, where I tracked down Rabbi Sholom Tenenbaum, who had just finished leading the Yizkor Memorial Service.

But Tenenbaum, who wore a prayer shawl and white sheath, could not speak with me, he briefly and politely explained.

According to the center's Web site, for 26 hours during Yom Kippur, observant Jews "afflict" their souls, spending time in intense introspection. They abstain from regular activities including work and school, eating and drinking, washing or lotioning their bodies. They do not wear leather shoes. They also abstain from marital relations.

In ancient Jerusalem, during Yom Kippur, the high priest entered into the "Holy of Holies" to offer the ketoret and the "casting of lots" over two goats, one to be offered to God and the other to bear the sins of Israel to the wilderness. Today, the faithful spend Yom Kippur in the synagogue. Some where a white garment called a kittel, to call to mind sinless angels and as a reminder of "the day of our death."

The most solemn day of the year includes five prayer services. It concludes with the Ne'illah, the "closing of the gates" service at sunset. The Ne'illah climaxes in the resounding cries of "Hear Oh Israel... God is one" and a single blast of the shofar, followed by song and dance and a festive breaking-of-the-fast meal.

Gene Sherman of Gurnee and his son Todd, 14, a freshman at Warren Township High School, spoke with me during a break from services at Chabad Center.

Sherman said that during this Yom Kippur, he has been thinking about "all the wars going on in the world."

"I've thought about all the Jews killed over the centuries," Sherman said. "And how I don't want to see it happen to anybody else."

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tehrangeles: Starbucks, Sushi and Chabad House

Starbucks, sushi, Chabad House. Starbucks, sushi, Chabad House. A little Spanish, a lot of Persian, some Hebrew. That’s what Kamran and I experienced when we visited LA last Spring.

A few thoughts for Yom Kippur

Author: Uriel Heilman

# Some 63 percent of Israeli Jews plan to fast on Yom Kippur, according to a survey published in Ynet.

# If fasting merely makes us think about food, doesn’t this detract from the spiritual aspect of the day? Chabad offers an answer.

Jewish movement undercuts synagogues

Chabad targets Jews who won't pay hundreds of dollars to mark holy days

Jennifer Green
The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Synagogues in Ottawa will charge families hundreds, even thousands of dollars, for Yom Kippur services tonight -- except for a Jewish outreach group whose services are free.

It's just another way the Chabad movement is getting under the skin of the Jewish establishment across North America. A U.S. expert says it's the fastest growing movement in modern Judaism, and in some communities, it is reordering daily life.

Among North American Jews, annual membership fees and tickets to high holy days services are nothing new. In Ottawa, the Orthodox synagogue Machzikei Hadas charges about $1,000 for a family membership, which covers Holy Days services. Other synagogues charge $100 or more for a single ticket to the service, and $250 and up for a family. Some charge more for seats closer to the front.

The rationale is that synagogues must pay for buildings and staff, and cover high holy days security, usually $10,000 or more at each temple.

No synagogue would turn away someone who could not afford the service, "but we don't advertise that, or nobody would pay," says Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Machzikei Hadas.

Chabad (pronounced haBAD) has a different approach. It bends over backwards to make temple fun, friendly and ... usually free. It targets Jews who may have drifted away from their faith, or students who are far from home and distracted by worldly pleasures on campus.

Rabbi Chaim Boyarsky, who leads the Chabad Student Network of Ottawa at 29 Gilmour St., says: "We're catering to students, and students are looking for reasons not to go."

The rabbi's wife will even make chicken soup for a student with a cold, "not as a tool to bring them in, God forbid."

Just so he'll feel better.

Chabad is hip, too, enlisting Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm for an advertisement on YouTube. (Mr. David is shown buying Yom Kippur tickets from a scalper.)

Rabbi Boyarsky had 75 students for Rosh Hashanah, and is expecting 140 for Yom Kippur tonight.

There are four Chabad centres in Ottawa and some of them will charge what Rabbi Yeshoshua Botnick says is a "token amount," that doesn't cover the costs but prevents people from taking the service for granted. "If you give something or free, people think less of it."

Chabad of Centrepointe is charging $100 to $250 for reserved seating, but says on its website that "nobody will be turned away for lack of money."

Rabbi Bulka is skeptical. As soon as they need some infrastructure for their activities, they come running to the congregations who've been paying into it for years. "There's some sponging going on."

Professor Jonathan Sarna, one of the foremost experts in North American Judaism, said from his office at Brandeis University, that everyone has an obligation to support the temple. "Therefore, there is a great deal of unhappiness with freeloaders. But Chabad has a different model."

It maintains that people will give even more out of a sense of personal indebtedness if they aren't charged.

Some businessmen believe the Chabadniks, as they are called, operate so frugally, they are just a better investment on the donor's dollar. But Mr. Sarna says nobody fully understands where their money comes from.

The Chabad movement may be unsettling, but that's likely due to its success.

"This is the fastest growing movement since World War II.

It is an unparalleled success story, and other movements are a little suspicious of it, especially as it's mission driven."

They often revivify moribund communities that nobody else wants to take on.

And their rabbis are appointed for life to one community, so they must make of it what they will. Because those spiritual leaders stay, they often become the most senior rabbi relatively quickly.

Mr. Sarna is not surprised that they can rub the rest of the Jewish community the wrong way.

"It does its own thing, it doesn't listen to federations and it works on its own model. It's not a team player."

"The worst of it, from the point of view of the mainline, is that it seems to be working beyond all expectations."

There is a deeper issue. Rabbi Bulka says he's all for any group so devoted to reconnecting Jews with their faith, but "the nature of that connection gets a little bit dicey."

The Chabadniks originate with Lubavitcher Hasidim in Brooklyn, some of whom believe their leader, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, never really died in 1994; that he is the messiah they have been waiting for.

Mr. Sarna says that has largely been put aside, at least in public. They may believe the rebbe was the greatest human who ever lived, the best person of this generation "but he's not alive anymore."

© The Ottawa Citizen 2008

Friday, October 03, 2008

Rosh Hashana, Chabad style

From Bangkok to Cusco, Dharamsala to Pucon, thousands of Israelis will be celebrating the Jewish New Year in Chabad houses around the world.

Anat Shalev

Nothing spells family like the holidays, but then again – nothing spells a holiday for many Israelis quite as much as traveling abroad.

Those choosing to spend Rosh Hashana outside Israel, may find themselves welcoming the Jewish New Year in one of the numerous Chabad houses around the world, offering them a little taste of home for the holidays.

Rabbi Nehemia Wilhelm, of the Chabad chapter in Bangkok, will be celebrating his 14th Rosh Hashana in the Thai capital, and according to him the experience is always elating: "It's always very exciting to see Jewish people celebrating the beginning of the new year together, in unity. It offers so much hope for the year to come," he told Ynet.

Rabbi Wilhelm is expected to see some 1,400 people attended his Rosh Hashana dinner. The hall, he said, can only house 900 people, so they will be having two dinners, in order to accommodate the demand. How does the House prepare for feeding 1,400 people? "Well, many of them come in early and help with the preparations," he said.

Rabbi Shneor Rotem, of the Chabad House in Bolivia, told Ynet they are expecting 80 Israeli hikers for Rosh Hashana dinner: "We are delighted to be able to give them a warm Jewish welcome. Because of the kosher issue, we made our entire meal from scratch. Everyone here donated of their time and talent to help. God willing, we will have a wonderful evening."

At the foot of India's Himalaya, one can find the Dharamsala Chabad House. Rabbi Moshe Shaul Dror told Ynet some 600 Israelis would be attending their Rosh Hashana service and holiday dinner: "We go to great lengths to give the Israelis here an authentic holiday experience and our guests help with the preparations.

"I wish everyone a Shana Tova. May we all have a wonderful year, a year of security and redemption; and may we all be inscribed in the book of life," said Rabbi Dror.

The busiest Chabad houses are considered to be those in the Far East and South America, where hundreds of Israeli hikers – most of them on their post-IDF service cross-continent travels – come to celebrate the holidays.

Chabad Pushes Big Development in L.A.

Los Angeles — The ultra-Orthodox Chabad movement is famous for multitasking, with its religious services, schools and museums, but a new development in Los Angeles is taking Chabad in an unexpected direction: the commercial and residential real estate business.

Chabad of California is angling to build a massive, mixed-use development that would include a girl’s high school with its own dormitories, 32 residential condominiums, and seven retail shops, in the heart of the heavily Jewish Pico-Robertson neighborhood. The proposed complex — which is raising hackles amongst some neighborhood activists — would dwarf other existing buildings that line the pedestrian-friendly stretch of Pico Boulevard.

Hasidic sects are not new to the residential real estate business. The Satmars, for example, have long managed housing complexes in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. But Chabad has gotten into the act more recently.

The most glaring difference between the Satmar community — which has spread beyond the confines of Brooklyn and established itself in the Catskill village of Kiryas Joel — and Chabad is that Chabad is staking its claim within the urban confines.

“Unlike the Satmars, who want to escape the city,” said David Myers, director of the Center for Jewish Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, “Chabad wants the menorah in the public square.”

Nomi Stolzenberg, a professor at University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, said that the Chabad proposal is part of a wider trend that has taken hold across the country. Religious groups, she said, have become far more aggressive in recent years when it comes to real estate development. Passage of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 gave religious organizations greater latitude to sue local zoning authorities if their permits were denied, she explained.

“A lot of religious groups have really been emboldened to pursue development plans that formerly they would have not been likely to get through the zoning process,” Stolzenberg said. “The basic reason for that is because of pretty significant changes in the law, but the changes in the law also reflect changes in the broader political culture with regard to attitudes about the relationship between church and state.”

Whether Chabad gets its permit has yet to be determined. A cadre of local residents is incensed by the sheer size of the proposed project, which well exceeds what the zoning laws permit. Chabad is seeking variances on building height and density and on parking capacity.

“They want to build this monolith, this huge structure that is out of character with the neighborhood,” said Lorrie Stone, a physician who has lived right behind the proposed building site for some 30 years. “They want three times the density than what’s allowed on this little plot of land.”

Benjamin Reznik, a lawyer who has long represented Chabad in its real estate dealings, said that because the area is zoned for retail, Chabad has no choice but to ask for variances in order to build a school.

“If you look at the Pico-Robertson area as a whole,” Reznik said, “where should institutions go?”

It appears to be the first time that Chabad — the Hasidic movement that sends emissaries across the globe — has conceived an entire communal village. While Chabad’s missionary reach has expanded outward, with outposts in such far-flung locales as Katmandu, observers note that this represents the first time that Chabad has established such a large, visible presence in the heart of L.A.’s symbolic Jewish center.

The proposed development, which would occupy the block between Westerly Drive and Crest Drive, would replace four buildings that currently sit on the property. Chabad is hoping to erect a building that is roughly 108,000 square feet and rising five stories high, which would include two levels of belowground parking and 9,000 square feet dedicated to retail shops. A girls’ high school, which now has about 100 students, would be nearly quadrupled — Chabad is seeking an occupancy permit for up to 400 — and a 150-bed dormitory would be added to house the students.

According to Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California, the 32 residential condominiums are being built with an eye toward affordable housing. Chabad hopes to use the units for various residents — teachers, school administrators, senior citizens and Holocaust survivors — who otherwise couldn’t afford the pricey Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

“This is being planned with our senior citizen community in mind, and our Holocaust survivor community in mind, that otherwise might be all alone in their homes or apartments,” Cunin said.

The Pico-Robertson area has seen explosive growth in recent years, as the Modern Orthodox community has expanded and retail shops and restaurants have proliferated to meet their needs. As a result of the neighborhood’s rapid growth, reasonably priced housing there has become a scarce commodity.

Chabad also owns the block directly west of the proposed development site. In 2003, the organization erected a large brick building modeled after the one in Brooklyn where the Chabad rebbe lived until his death.