Sunday, November 30, 2008

Funeral preparations for Mumbai Chabad House victims under way

NEW YORK-JERUSALEM (EJP)—The funerals of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, who were killed in the terrorist attack against the Chabad House in Mumbai, India, will likely not take place before Monday afternoon, the Chabad-Lubavitch website said Sunday.

Israeli embassy officials in India are preparing the necessary paperwork and awaiting clearance from New Delhi to transport the deceased to Israel for burial.
Other victims identified at the Chabad House include kosher supervisors Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, a US born scion of the Volover Chasidic dynasty who lived in Israel, and Bentzion Chroman, an Israeli from the town of Bat Yam, and Yocheved Orpaz, an Israeli who was in India to visit her daughter and grandchildren. A sixth victim has yet to be officially named.
Rikva Holtzberg’s parents, Rabbi Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg of Afula, Israel, arrived in Mumbai on Friday to be with their grandson Moshe, who was rescued from the Rohr Chabad Center – also known as the Nariman House – by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel, who hided from the Islamist terrorists for 12 hours.
The family marked Moshe’s two-year birthday.
An Israeli air force plane, due to take off for Mumbai on Sunday afternoon to repatriate the bodies, had been delayed for a few hours, a foreign ministry
spokesman said in Jerusalem, after earlier reporting that it had left.
The plane was due to take representatives of the army, the rabbinate and foreign ministry, as well as forensic experts, but had been held up as all the necessary visas had not been obtained.

The Chabad-Lubavitch Youth Organization in Israel, relaying a request from the Rosenberg and Holtzberg families, asked the Israeli government to facilitate the nanny’s entry to the country.
The Israeli media also highlighted the case of Sandra Samuel with news websites reporting calls for her to be given leave to come to Israel indefinitely or even be declared a so-called righteous gentile for her role in saving two-year-old Moshe.

"We didn't get any application yet but that doesn't mean we won't approve it," said interior ministry spokeswoman Sabine Hadad.

"If we get the application, I am sure that we will consider all that took place."

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had praised the nanny's "heroic" rescue of
the son and said that "during a time of terrible sadness, her courage
reaffirms our faith in the capacity of good to triumph over evil."

Nearly 200 people are now known to have died in the attacks which ravaged the Indian commercial capital, hitting five-star hotels and other targets frequented by Westerners as well as Beit Chabad.

Israeli newspapers gave blanket coverage to the Mumbai carnage in Sunday's editions, their first since the confirmation of the Israeli dead late on Friday.

The top-selling Yediot Aharonot daily devoted over a dozen pages to the attacks, the Maariv newspaper used its first 17.

Yediot carried extensive criticism of the Indian commando operation and the length of time it had taken to overcome the militants.

"Ten terrorists, who, according to the findings of the investigation, arrived by rubber raft at the shore of Mumbai carrying machine guns, grenades and dry rations in their luggage, succeeded -- almost inconceivably -- in keeping almost 1,000 commando troops and counter-terrorism combat units occupied for three days, in several battle sites," one article said.

But the Israeli foreign ministry put out a statement to domestic media distancing itself from the criticism of the Indian security forces.

“We are convinced that the Indian forces did everything they could to prevent harm from coming to the captives and civilians during the storming of the Chabad House," Yediot's website quoted ministry spokesman Yossi Levi as saying.

Analysis: Chabad's success depends on its accessibility

Nov. 30, 2008

The terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai underlines the vulnerability of Lubavitch shluchim - emissaries - to global Jihad.

From its very inception, as conceived by the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who began leading the Hassidic sect in 1951 and who eventually turned it into a global powerhouse, Chabad was a non-Zionist, pro-Israel ambassador of Judaism.

Chabad offered an extra-territorial Jewish alternative to the Zionist state. Unlike Zionism, it never rejected the exile. It never bound Jews to a specific territory.

Rather, Chabad set as its goal embracing the Jews of the Diaspora, strengthening their Jewish identity in the myriad places where they chose to live.

As Dr. Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of Britain and the Commonwealth, put it in his book To Heal a Fractured World: "During the Holocaust Jews were hunted down in hate; the Rebbe had resolved to search them out in love."

And so Chabad set about searching out Jews wherever they might be.

There are Chabad Houses in far-flung locations such as the Congo and Vietnam. In all, there are about 4,000 husband and wife teams in at least 73 countries across the globe representing Judaism.

This amazing outreach campaign, first orchestrated by Schneerson and continued by his followers since his death in 1994, has made Chabad a more visible representative of the Jewish people than any other body, organization or entity - including the State of Israel.

With embassies in about 100 countries, Israel has representatives in more countries than Chabad. But the sheer number of Chabad Houses exceeds by far the number of Israeli embassies. And when a Jew plans a trip, he or she is more likely to go online and find out where the local Chabad House is than to locate the nearest Israeli embassy.

But this amazing global expansion, achieved in the last four decades, when Chabad under Schneerson began putting all of its significant energies into reaching out to Jews, has also made Chabad one of most vulnerable Jewish targets of global Jihad.

After all, what can be more visibly Jewish than a Chabad shaliach with a long beard, kippa and tzitzit. In fact, the very success of a Chabad shaliach depends on how accessible and visible he is.

As former Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh has pointed out, it was not coincidental that the "Deccan Mujahideen" terrorists targeted Mumbai's Chabad House.

Amazingly, while there have been numerous anti-Semitic incidents at Chabad Houses around the world over the years, the only fatal terrorist attack on a Chabad institution was in 1956 - when Kfar Chabad was infiltrated by Arab terrorists. Five students and a teacher were killed.

But after Mumbai, perhaps Chabad and the State of Israel need to rethink security arrangements at Chabad Houses in India and in other sensitive locations.

In Europe it's common to see local police and Israelis providing security to Jewish schools, synagogues and community centers.

Rabbi Menachem Brod, official Chabad spokesman in Israel, said Saturday night that beefing up security presented a dilemma.

"It's clear that we don't want our Chabad Houses to turn into barricaded forts," said Brod. "The whole idea of Chabad is that we are open and accessible to Jews traveling abroad. Besides, it is doubtful that security would have helped in this case. The hotels that were attacked had security."

Nevertheless, Brod conceded that the issue of security would be addressed by Chabad leadership. "But I want to make it clear that Chabad will continue to be active in India and other places across the world. We will not allow this unfortunate incident to deflect us from our goal of bringing every Jew closer to their roots, wherever they might be."

In coming weeks a Chabad couple will set up a brand new Chabad House in Bangalore, India. It was one of the many projects that the Holtzbergs left unfinished and which will be continued by the Chabad couple that will replace them in Mumbai.

Indian forces end attacks

Former Loyola professor, daughter among terrorists' victims
From Sun staff and news services

November 29, 2008


The coordinated terrorist attacks in India's financial capital ended today, with a former Loyola College professor and his daughter among the at least 195 people killed.

Orange flames and black smoke engulfed the landmark 400-room Taj Mahal hotel after dawn as Indian forces ended the siege in a hail of gunfire, just hours after elite commandos stormed a Jewish center and found six hostages dead.

"The Taj operation is over. The last two terrorists holed up there have been killed," Mumbai Police Chief Hasan Ghafoor told the Associated Press. Earlier, two suspected terrorists were killed and more than 140 hostages freed at the Oberoi, the other hotel that was targeted. Officials said the death toll rose to 195 as more bodies were discovered after commandos ended the siege on a luxury hotel.

Alan Scherr, 58, a former photography teacher at Loyola, and his 13-year-old daughter, Naomi, members of a spiritual community visiting from Faber, Va., were among at least 15 foreigners, including five Americans, who died during the attacks, Indian authorities said. Scherr and his daughter were killed while they were dining with friends at the Oberoi hotel's restaurant.

The two Americans were in Mumbai on a meditation retreat along with more than 20 other followers of the spiritual Synchronicity movement and its guru, Charles Cannon.

Before moving to Synchronicity's Central Virginia ashram with his wife, Kia, in the mid-1990s, Scherr lived in Silver Spring, according to property records. For six years he taught photography at Loyola's campus in North Baltimore, a college official said.

A brief biography attached to a New Age Web site article written by Scherr says he also taught art at the University of Maryland, but officials there could not confirm that yesterday.

"Alan committed most of his adult life to meditation, spirituality and conscious living," officials with the Synchronicity Foundation, which runs the ashram, said in a statement. "He was a passionate Vedic astrologer and meditation teacher."

Two other Americans and two Canadians on the retreat were injured, though most of the other members were barricaded in their hotel rooms after the shooting began and were rescued by authorities, said Bobbie Garvey, the ashram's managing director.

Kia Scherr did not travel to India; yesterday, hundreds of well-wishers from across the globe left messages of support for her on a tribute Web site,

Garvey said Naomi wanted to travel to India to learn about the ashram's roots, and she planned to write about her experiences as part of her application to a boarding school.

Also among those confirmed dead yesterday were six hostages, most of them believed to be Jews. Their bodies were removed from a Chabad Lubavitch Jewish outreach complex in the city, known as Nariman House, after Indian commando units stormed the attackers inside the building and ended the standoff there.

The terrorists had executed the hostages during the commando raid, the military said, adding that two attackers had also been killed. A rabbi from Brooklyn, N.Y., Gavriel Holtzberg, and his wife, Rivka, were among the dead.

Holtzberg's sister and brother-in-law, who live in Park Heights, traveled this week to be with relatives in Israel, where Rivka was from, according to Chabad rabbis in Baltimore.

The couple's toddler son, Moshe Holtzberg, was smuggled out of the center by an employee and is now with his grandparents.

In the most remarkable of the counterstrikes yesterday morning, masked Indian commandos rappelled from a helicopter to the rooftop of the Chabad Lubavitch center as snipers laid down cover fire.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel's Channel 1 TV that the bodies of three women and three men had been found at the center. Some of the victims had been bound, Barak said. "All in all, it was a difficult spectacle," he said.

Local media reports, quoting top military officials, said two gunmen were found dead in the building.

Chabad Lubavitch is an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group that runs outreach centers in far-flung areas of the globe. The center in Mumbai served as a synagogue and cultural center for crowds of Israeli tourists and the small local Jewish community, the group said.

News of the Holtzbergs' deaths reverberated yesterday throughout Baltimore's ultra-Orthodox community, and local rabbis said they were struggling to find an inspirational message for this morning's Shabbat services.

"I really haven't decided what I'm going to say," said Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, Chabad's regional director in Maryland. "I do want to emphasize that we have been taught and trained that when tragedies happen we have to find the inner resources not just to overcome, but to begin again."

Kaplan said the Chabad outreach movement would return to Mumbai and send new shluchim, or representatives, there. "We will not let the evil overcome us," Kaplan said.

The Taj Mahal hotel was racked by hours of intermittent gunfire and explosions yesterday, even though authorities had said earlier that they had cleared it of gunmen.

Indian forces kept up a counterattack with grenades and gunfire on what authorities believed were one or two militants holed up in the ballroom. An hour after dawn, as the two sides traded gunfire, flames erupted and smoke billowed from several windows on the building's ground floor. Officials later declared the standoff over.

Meanwhile, authorities were working to find out who was behind the attacks, claimed by a previously unknown group calling itself the Deccan Mujahideen.

President George W. Bush said the U.S. was working with India and other nations to uncover who was responsible. An FBI team was heading to India to help with the investigation, U.S. officials said.

India's foreign minister said clues appeared to point to Pakistan.

"According to preliminary information, some elements in Pakistan are responsible for Mumbai terror attacks," Pranab Mukherjee told reporters.

Indian Home Minister Jaiprakash Jaiswal said a captured gunman had been identified as a Pakistani. Patil, the Maharashtra state official, said: "It is very clear that the terrorists are from Pakistan. We have enough evidence that they are from Pakistan."

Earlier yesterday, Pakistani Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar denied involvement by his country.

Hoping to head off a crisis between the two nuclear-armed nations, officials in Islamabad agreed to send Pakistan's spy chief, Lt. Gen. Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, to India to help investigate the attacks.

Baltimore Sun reporter Gadi Dechter contributed to this article.

Woman slain in Chabad attack will not be recognized as terror victim

Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich was murdered one day before making aliyah, but National Insurance Institute says her children not eligible for stipends. Livni: Mumbai terrorists targeted Jewish symbol

Yael Branovsky

Norma Shvarzblat Rabinovich, who was murdered in the terror attack on the Chabad Jewish Center in Mumbai just one day before making aliyah, will not be declared a victim of terrorism.

Earlier Sunday, the Ministerial Committee for Symbols and Ceremonies decided to recognize the Israeli victims of the Mumbai attack as terror victims.
The decision was later sanctioned by the Ministry of Interior and the Defense Ministry. Nevertheless, Shvarzblat Rabinovich, who was still a Mexican citizen at the time of her murder, was excluded form the decision.

While the Foreign Ministry officially named her among the Israeli victims of the murderous attack, the National Insurance Institute of Israel (NII) said it will not offer her family the stipends allotted in such cases. The NII said it was simply "following the letter of the law."

Shvarzblat Rabinovich's son and daughter, who already immigrated to Israel, will have to rely on the Jewish Agency's Fund for Victims of Terror for financial assistance.

Norma, 50, was traveling across India for the past two months. She was supposed to fly to Israel on Monday to celebrate her son's 18th birthday.

Minister Jacob Edery, who heads the Ministerial Committee for Symbols and Ceremonies, said the situation was "unfortunate" and pledged to do everything in his power to help the family, should they seek his assistance.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that the terror attack in Mumbai proved once more that "the radicals wish only to steal other people's rights instead of getting their own."

Livni, who met with Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, added that the terrorists' goal was "to hurt those who represent the free world and this time they also targeted a Jewish symbol… the world must unite in order to face this threat."

We will carry on the lamp lighting!


The picture of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the leader of the Lubavitch Movement, was one of the only items not damaged in the terror attack (Photo: Ilan Gur Ari)

Mumbai horror: Rescue workers shocked by Chabad massacre site

Ronen Medzini
11.29.08, 23:57
Israel News

Mumbai horror: Rescue workers shocked by Chabad massacre site

Victim identification forces describe terrifying scene at Mumbai Jewish center; ZAKA officials encounter bound bodies, scattered prayer books, live grenades. Rabbi's wife apparently murdered early on, body found draped in prayer shawl

Israel Police forensic teams will be heading to Mumbai Sunday on an Air Force plane in order to offer their assistance in identifying the remaining bodies in the Chabad House massacre.

Officials are saying that eight or nine people were murdered at the Jewish center. Six bodies have been identified so far – five Israelis and a Jewish Mexican national.

The names of the five Israeli victims have been cleared for publication:

* Rivka Holtzberg
* Gavriel Holtzberg
* Leibish Teitlebaum
* Bentzion Chroman
* Yocheved Orpaz

Shuki Brif, a member of the ZAKA disaster victim identification force sent to Mumbai, recounted the horrifying scenes at the site of the massacre.

"When we entered the Chabad House, we saw a home completely ruined by hand grenades. The building was completely destroyed and we saw live grenades on the floor. It was a shocking sight. Prayer books and many other objects were all over the place. It was a shocking sight even for a veteran ZAKA member."

Chabad: Allow Indian nanny to immigrate to Israel

On Friday two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg was orphaned of both his parents, Chabad emissaries to Mumbai. Now both his family and the ultra-Orthodox organization are asking that his savior, Sandra Samuel, be allowed to come to Israel

Chairman of 'Agudas Chasidei Chabad,' Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Aharonov, has called for Israel to allow the Indian caretaker who saved toddler Moshe Holtzberg from the besieged Chabad center in Mumbai to immigrate.
Sandra Samuel grabbed the toddler, who turned two on Saturday, as terrorists stormed the ultra-Orthodox center and escaped with him in her arms. Both of Moshe's parents, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka, were murdered.

"I've spoken to the people in India, we've asked them to arrange the visa. The request has also come from the emissary's (Holtzberg) father and Rivka's mother. At this point she's the only one the boy is responding to," Aharonov told Ynet.

The Holtzberg family is keen to see the nanny, who is very close to the toddler, come back to Israel with him. Their only concern is the bureaucratic hurdle.

Chabad spokesman, Rabbi Menachem Brod: "Rabbi Aharonov spoke with the grandfather and grandmother, and they both feel the nanny should come with the child. But there is paperwork to arrange. We ask the government to work towards bringing her here.

Samuel is currently staying with Moshe at the home of Ehud Raz, the top security officer at the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai. The toddler's maternal grandparents are also with him, having rushed to India from Israel as news of the crisis emerged.

"In the evening his mother always puts him to sleep and now he doesn't understand what's going on," Samuel said. Regarding the attack on the Chabad center she said, "It was terrible, there were explosions everywhere, gunfire – they tried to shoot me.

Chabad hero nanny heading to Israel

Nov. 30, 2008 Staff , THE JERUSALEM POST

Sandra, the nanny who rescued two-year-old Moshe Holtzberg from the Islamic terrorists that stormed the Chabad House in Mumbai, is expected to arrive in Israel on Monday and be granted entry by the Interior Ministry.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Sunday that her office was working to arrange Sandra's visit to Israel.

Army Radio that the Interior Ministry was considering bestowing Sandra the 'righteous gentile' title, which would allow her to remain in Israel for an extended period of time.

The toddler was reunited with his Israeli grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit Rosenberg, on Friday.

Moshe's parents, Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, were killed in the Chabad House massacre together with at least four others.

Israeli media reported that some of the victims were found wrapped in prayer shawls, in accordance with Jewish burial tradition. The reports speculated that one of the hostages had wrapped the bodies before he was killed.

According to unconfirmed reports attributed to Indian security sources, most of the hostages were found bound and gagged by the commandos, and had been shot long before Indian forces landed on the roof from a helicopter on Thursday night.

Speaking from the Israeli Consulate in Mumbai, Foreign Ministry official Haim Hoshen told the Post on Saturday that there was no doubt the Chabad House was the target of a premeditated and planned assault.

Yaakov Lappin contributed to this report.

'Bentzion was slumped over a Talmud'

Nov. 30, 2008

Bentzion Chroman, who survived an earthquake in China earlier this year, was killed when a terrorist invaded the Mumbai Chabad House where he had stopped briefly on Wednesday for the afternoon minhah prayer. A Zaka rescue and recovery organization spokesman told The Jerusalem Post that Chroman was found in the library slumped over an open Talmud.

On Saturday night, hours after hearing of Chroman's death, his relative Binyamin Fogel told the Post that the presence in that building of his beloved friend was entirely accidental.

Chroman, 28, had gone to India at the request of his friend, Rabbi Leibish Teitelbaum, to help supervise kashrut. Teitelbaum was also killed in the attack.

"Bentzion was not supposed to be there. But [Teitelbaum] asked him to go as a personal favor," Fogel said.

They had been scheduled to head out earlier this month, but the short trip was delayed to last week as a result of visa problems. The pair were scheduled leave India on Thursday so they could be back in Israel for Shabbat.

On Wednesday, Teitelbaum called his wife to say they were going to the Chabad House to pray.

At the family's Bat Yam home, Chroman's wife initially did not even know that her husband was in the Chabad House. At home with three children - aged five, two and eight months - she began to worry when she could not reach him. News of the attack only made her more anxious.

Her fears and that of her family were confirmed when contact was made with Teitelbaum's relatives and they learned that the two men had been in the building at the time of the attack.

"There was so much misinformation," said Fogel. Initially they were hopeful that maybe the men had left before the attack and were hiding somewhere, unable to call.

But the reports they head from Israeli officials and people on the ground in India continued to paint a bleak picture. Someone checked at the men's hotel and confirmed that they had not been there since Wednesday.

By Friday, it was clear that they were probably at the Chabad House. Right before Shabbat the family spoke with an official from Foreign Ministry who said that nothing was known yet, so the family entered Shabbat without any word on Bentzion's fate.

They prayed for the best over Shabbat, even as some of the visitors to the Bat Yam home told them that the death had been reported on the news.

Official word, however, did not come until Saturday night, said Fogel.

"During Shabbat we lived with the hope that we would have good news," he said. But as night descended on Saturday and they parted from the Sabbath, their worst fears were confirmed.

During the ordeal, Chroman's parents had been on a trip to the United States with one of his brothers to attend a wedding in New York. Although Chroman was born in Israel, according to Fogel, his father is from Chicago. He believed they heard the terrible news before the start of Shabbat there and were now trying to get on a flight back to Israel.

"I still do not believe that he won't return," said Fogel, who last spoke with Chroman on November 20.

He recalled how proud Chroman was of his oldest son, who was just learning to read and study in school. "Bentzion was a very special person. He was so happy."

Rabbi Holtzburg, Killed in Mumbai

By Athol Bloomer
St. Louis, Mo. (Catholic Online) -

As I write this here in the Hebrew Catholic Center in St Louis I am still in shock about the murder of the young Chabad Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzburg and his wife Rivka Holtzburg. In recent months I have been following the terrible persecution and killing of Christians in India by Hindu fundamentalists. The media hardly seems to mention what is happening. Now we see such violent Islamist terror attacks in Mumbai (or Bombay as most of us call it).

I learned on Saturday that one of the places attacked was the Nariman Chabad House in Mumbai. Then, we heard of the little two year old son of the Holtlzbergs being safe but that his trousers were soaked in blood. Then a Carmelite nun of Jewish ancestry sent me the news report of the death of the Rabbi and his wife. As a Catholic Jew I felt the pain that all Jews are feeling at this time. It may be strange but there is a sense in which Jews share in the joys and sufferings of all other Jews. As someone who has known many Chabad Jews and studied with Chabad Rabbis and been fed by them at Chabad Houses I felt it more keenly perhaps than some.

Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg were emissaries of the Lubavitch Chabad movement who gave up their homes and families in order to serve in far off India. They ran food programs, drug prevention programs, medical services, prison and hospital visitations and classes on Jewish learning among many other things. Now, this wonderful young couple, are dead and the world has lost two workers for the good and the light in a world growing darker.

While I didn’t know them personally I know others like them.

When I lived in Thailand I would attend the Synagogue and the Chabad House in Bangkok and I saw the dedication and commitment of the Chabad Rabbis and their families. I attend the huge Passover Seders at which everyone was welcome. They helped all in need not just religious Jews – secular Jews and non-Jews with no discrimination. Many Jewish communities around the world would have no Rabbis at all if not for the Chabad Rabbis who will go anywhere in the world to serve God and the Rebbe. For example an orthodox Jewish family I stayed with each weekend in the 1980’s assisted the Chabad in reviving the Jewish community in Tasmania that had almost died out.

They are known as the 'Black Army of the Rebbe' as they follow the teachings of the seven Rebbes of Lubavitch and especially those of their late Tzadik, Rebbe Menachem Schneersohn. A Rebbe or Tzadik is the spiritual leader of a Hasidic group who follows the way of love, joy, simplicity and mercy in worshipping God as taught by the founder of Hasidism - the Baal Shem Tov of the 17th century. The first Lubavitch Rebbe was Schneur Zalman of Liadi known as the Alter Rebbe and the author of the mystical book called “Tanya”. He took the ‘heart’ teachings of Hasidism and introduced a more intellectual approach called Chabad.

Chabad stands for Chokmah(Wisdom), Binah (Understanding) and Daat (Knowledge) which represents the Divine Face of the Divine Man in Jewish mysticism. The seventh and last Rebbe of Chabad encouraged many young people to give their lives in the service of God and Judaism by becoming emissaries (apostles) to the Jews spread throughout the world. Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife were two such young people.

I remember sitting in the 1980’s with Chabad Rabbi Finman in Melbourne Australia [who I was studying with] as he translated the Rebbe’s inspiring teachings from Yiddish into English for the whole Yeshivah. I was inspired that day as Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka were inspired by the Rebbe to give their lives to God’s service. The rebbe inspired in us a devotion to the Mashiach (Messiah). Now through the evil of others they have become Jewish martyrs and given their blood for God and the Jewish people.

I pray that their sacrifice will bring others to God and that from this tragedy will come good fruit. Let us pray for their souls and the souls of all the others lost in this terror onslaught and for their loved ones to be consoled. The Jewish custom is to say Psalms on behalf of the dead so maybe we could all say a Psalm for them too.

Athol is an Australian of Anglo-Jewish ancestry who became a Catholic at the age of 24 in 1987. He is involved in teaching the Jewish roots of the Catholic Faith and is a member of the Association of Hebrew Catholics

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Budgets slashed at Jewish schools in FSU

November 19, 2008

ODESSA, Ukraine (JTA)—Across the former Soviet Union, Chabad’s outreach network is facing an acute financial crisis that has slashed budgets across the board and left the region’s largest network of Jewish schools scrambling to stay afloat.

Accounts of the depth of the financial crisis for Chabad in the former Soviet Union vary widely among rabbis and professionals working for the organization. But everyone agrees that the group’s main benefactor, Lev Leviev, racked by the world financial crisis, has been forced to dramatically scale back funding for the Or Avner network of schools, which he founded.

The repercussions of the setback run deep in a community that has relied greatly on Leviev’s largesse to proliferate its operations throughout the Soviet Union.

Leviev’s main holding company, Africa Israel, has lost some 85 percent of its value this year. Israeli news reports suggest a steady sell-off of other assets in recent months.

Forbes estimated Leviev’s wealth at the beginning of 2008 at $4.5 billion. Though local Chabad officials are mum, most estimates put Leviev’s yearly funding of the Chabad-run Federation of Jewish Communities and the Or Avner Foundation at $60 million. The Or Avner school system was founded by Leviev in 1992 as a tribute to his father. It serves 13,000 people through its network of 75 day schools and 20 other programs.

Leviev’s woes come as the global financial crisis takes particular hold in the two largest countries of the former Soviet Union—Russia and Ukraine. The crisis has hit the region’s oligarchs the hardest and drastically reduced the pool of capital available for local charitable donations.

Share prices on the Russian stock exchange have fallen 75 percent since May, and the oligarchs have been the hardest hit so far. Their net worth has fallen from $300 billion in May to just over $70 billion today, according to an article in the leading Russian business daily Vedomosti.

The financial crisis has constricted all the usual pipelines through which Jewish money flows into the former Soviet Union to educate the young, feed the infirm and bolster community ties.

The two other networks of schools in the region, the secular ORT system and the Orthodox Shma Yisrael, have suffered from cutbacks undertaken by the Jewish Agency for Israel. Shma Yisrael has lost $200,000 in funding and the ORT schools are struggling through a budget cut of $1.2 million in recent months, according to ORT officials.

Two of the largest local funders of Jewish causes in Ukraine, Igor Kolomoysky and Gennady Bogolubov, also have lost billions since the financial crisis hit, according to a report by Dragon Capital published in the Kyiv Post.

Here in Odessa, the southwest limit of Chabad’s reach in the former Soviet Union, the head rabbi has already relegated Leviev’s charity to the past tense, a luxury no longer to be relied upon.

"The help that Mr. Leviev gave, it was unique help. It was stable and every month you knew the foundation was good," Avraham Wolf said, sitting behind the desk of his office in the back corner of a two-story synagogue. "We were very thankful that he opened the schools. He gave us a big help. Now it depends on every city and every rabbi."

The rumblings of a coming crisis appeared in mid-August, Wolf said, and the money from the Or Avner Foundation stopped coming at the beginning of September.

He has closed one section of a school and started bussing children across town for classes. Four school branches are now consolidated into three with 490 students. They have shortened the hours of the schools. School directors across Ukraine described similar situations.

"You can’t tell a child that lives near you that tomorrow morning there won’t be a glass of milk," Wolf said, referring to the kosher breakfasts they serve each morning.

Thirteen Israeli families living and working in Odessa had gone without pay for two months because of budget shortfalls, he said.

Some employees of the Chabad-run Federation of Jewish Communities in Moscow also have been working with reduced or no salaries for two months, said one local community member with close ties to Chabad.

Ukraine is one step removed from Leviev’s funds, which are sent to local accounts from the Russian foundation, and that money stopped coming this fall, according to a Jewish community leader in Ukraine.

Russia’s head Chabad Rabbi Berel Lazar met with rabbis from across Ukraine in Kiev last week to discuss the financial crisis.

Speaking by phone Wednesday from New York where he was attending an annual gathering of Chabad emissaries, Lazar told JTA that the rabbis were determined to continue in the face of the crisis.

"They are going to places where there are no local sources to fund raise, and they are not giving up," Lazar said. "Our rabbis are standing out there, saying we’re not going to let the rebbe down," referring to the seventh Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who inspired Chabad’s emissary missions.

Rabbi Shmuel Kaminetsky, the head rabbi of the Ukrainian city of Dnepropetrovsk, said that last week the Or Avner schools in Ukraine received their first infusion of cash from the Moscow-based foundation in two months, though it wasn’t as much as the schools usually receive.

Both Chabad officials in Moscow and a spokesman for Leviev say that the funds have not stopped, rather that there has been a cut of 30 percent across the board. Leviev also has asked the Chabad-run Federation of Jewish Communities to cut costs, according to Chabad officials in Moscow.

Lazar said that rabbis had been told not to take out loans to cover the costs of their communities, because of credit rules and cultural norms in Russia that make credit more problematic.

He said the cuts came as no surprise to Chabad leaders in the former Soviet Union.

"Mr. Leviev was one of the first people that said it looks like the crisis is going to hit us and that we have to get ready it for it," Lazar said.

Chabad’s other major funders include Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich and the New York-based philanthropist George Rohr. British newspapers abound with accounts that, in the wake of the financial crisis, a cash-strapped Abramovich has been forced to cut back the budget for his Chelsea soccer team, but Chabad representatives would not disclose drops in funding from other donors.

In Ukraine, a collapse of the commodities market forced the country to seek a $16.5 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund this month. There, Ukraine’s oligarchs have born the brunt of the collapse as well.

Kaminetsky said that even the billionaires themselves had no idea how much they had lost and that their commitments had not changed.

Vadim Rabinovich, a Ukrainian media magnate and donor, said during a panel on fundraising in October that he hoped to meet with rabbis to discuss the financial crisis and its impact on Jewish education.

In Ukraine, each Chabad rabbi is more reliant on his own efforts to find local or international sources to fund community projects. There has been no head Chabad rabbi for the country since the post was vacated in September.

Russia has a more centralized model built on the fund-raising contacts of the Moscow-based federation that are then distributed to communities.

Whether the funds have been completely frozen or slashed by a third, the Chabad-run federations of both countries have been forced to tighten their belts and make cuts.

David Mondshine, the head of the Or Avner Foundation, said that schools had been consolidated, hours had been shortened and some programs had been pared down in recent months.

Funds from larger and richer communities have been diverted to smaller schools, he said. But in Ukraine, it’s been more difficult. One school in the town of Khmelnitsky has already shut down, though Chabad officials in Moscow said it was preparing to close anyway for lack of local support, and there may be more closings.

No rabbi wants to be the first to close the doors.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Texas A&M Chabad takes part in NYC Shabbat weekend

On the first weekend of November, the International Student Shabbaton was held in New York City, where Texas A&M students, together with the directors of the Chabad Jewish Student Center, Rabbi Yossi and Manya Lazaroff, joined over 750 other students from around the world for a weekend of inspiration and student leadership.
The weekend began with a student leadership conference where selected students from different universities gathered in Manhattan for two days of intensive student leadership training. “We met many business philanthropists and marketing executives who really inspired us with the work they do and shared many ideas on how we can be good leaders on our campus,” explained Ryan Coane, the sophomore treasurer of the Chabad Jewish Student Group at Texas A&M and the director of finance of Student Government–Diversity at Texas A&M. “In addition, we got to meet other student leaders from other Chabads on Campus to share and exchange ideas.” The president of the Chabad Jewish Student Group, Naomi Heller, a sophomore majoring in animal science at Texas A&M, also attended the leadership conference. She said, “It is amazing to see so many Jewish guys and girls who want to help increase Jewish life on their campus!”

The Chabad Jewish Student Center at Texas A&M opened in July 2007. Since that beginning in the home of the Lazaroffs, Chabad at Texas A&M now owns, and operates out of, a 4,000-square-foot facility with plans to expand!

For Shabbat, the students converged into the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn at the world headquarters of Chabad Lubavitch and the Chabad on Campus International Foundation for a Shabbat Experience. With inspirational speakers and lively atmosphere throughout the weekend, the Shabbat experience was enhanced with the multitude of students joining in. “There was so much energy, I hope to carry some of that back with me to Texas A&M!” exclaimed Chad Davis, a senior Corps of Cadets member at Texas A&M.

Saturday night, students were treated with a live concert from YOOD, a band from Israel that is currently touring the U.S.A. A surprise guest, critically-lauded rock troubadour and Emmy-nominated film and television composer, Peter Himmelman, joined the evening.

“I loved the weekend with all the singing, dancing and touring New York City and, best of all, meeting so many Jews from all over the world. We are all family at Chabad!” Davis exclaimed.

The Chabad Jewish Center at Texas A&M is independently funded by friends and families. For more information or to make a donation, contact Rabbi Yossi and Manya Lazaroff at 979-220-5020 or on the Web at

Solon: Radio talk show host Dennis Prager speaks to 350 at Chabad Jewish Center

Everyone has a moral obligation to be happy -- or at least to act that way.

Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, delivered that message Sunday to about 350 admirers at the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon.

"I have declared war on the chronically unhappy," Prager said. "You annoy us."

The audience roared with laughter, as they did frequently during Prager's lighthearted presentation.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sarah Palin and Chabad share the same appeal

by Jonathan Marks

I'm getting a hunch the Republicans just might win for one reason alone, and it makes no sense, just like Chabad makes no sense to the Jewish elite.

That one reason is Sarah Palin. She reminds me of about a thousand different Chabad shluchot (the rebbe's women representatives). She's seems friendly, sexy (forgive me) in an Orthodox way, with that magnetism, optimism and accessibility that has made Chabad shluchot successful in 5,000 different locales, even though they are almost always considerably more right wing -- religiously and politically -- than their congregants and financial supporters.

Reform, Conservative and other Orthodox Jews don't get it. How is Chabad so successful in places where there are no Chasidim? Why do liberal Jews on New York's Upper West Side want to send their kids to Chabad preschools? Why do many hundreds of non-Chasidic, even non-Orthodox students at Harvard and State University of New York Binghamton, want to spend Friday night meals with these Chabad Sarah Palins, rather than the more mainstream, liberal Jews down the road? It makes no sense.

Don't get it, do you?

Who would you rather have a cup of coffee with on a bungalow porch -- a cup that can turn into a three-hour conversation -- Palin or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi?

Pelosi and Sen. Hillary Clinton come across like the Queen of Spades of a nanny state -- school marms of a school you don't want to go to. Pelosi, in particular, seems like one of those sisterhood program chairs from a suburban temple whose calls you don't want to answer.

Palin seems like one of those Chabad women who don't have enough chairs at her table for all the non-Chabad women who'd take a plane or a subway to attend the next shluchot convention in Brooklyn's Crown Heights.

Something's happening, and you don't know what it is, do you, Nancy Pelosi?

And another thing: There are plenty of logical, rational reasons to abort America's relationship with Israel, the far left tells us, but Chabad doesn't abort and evangelicals (such as Palin) don't, either.

Rabbis who can't stop quoting Heschel or Soloveitchik don't get it.

Americans and Jews don't need another genius. We don't need another Herr Rabbi Doctor. We have enough "scholars," believe it or not.

We don't have enough human beings who'd rather rock a Down syndrome baby to sleep than abort it; human beings who can relate to a flunking child or the stuffiness of the sophisticates, parents who don't give a damn who's in the top shiur or who made law review.

We have too many of the best and the brightest, the wise and the brilliant, who can't communicate (and who, in the end, maybe aren't really the best or all that brilliant.)

The genius of Chabad is delivering their message in a down-home way, much as Palin did at the convention.

There are others outside of Chabad who know how to do it, too. Blu Greenberg, for one, the godmother of Orthodox feminism, is as smart and wise as anyone I've ever met, but like a Chabad woman, she doesn't enter a room like she wants you to know what she got on her SATs (or BJEs).

Her voice and manner are gentle; her visions for Judaism are prophetic and compelling, all the more so because her Judaism is poetic (she's a published poet, after all), not like Judaism's angry left, whose religion has all the appeal of a term paper, all about "J," "P," Deutero-Isaiah; the kind who can't look at any biblical verse with being "troubled" by it.

Chabad women know what really troubles people, and it ain't Deutero-Isaiah.

In 1950, all American Jews heard of liberal Judaism (that's Conservatives, too) but almost no one heard of Chabad. Chabad seemed a relic of history. Liberal Judaism was ascendant, inevitable. The rebbe's Chabad was as fringe religiously as Palin's conservative ancestors were then on the fringe politically.

Who would have figured that in 2008, liberal pews in most of America would be emptier than their rabbis would like, while everyone has now heard of Chabad? Men and women from Chabad are all over the continent, all over the planet, raising fortunes (without charging shul membership fees), getting men to put on tefillin, getting women to go to mikvah -- men and women who, if not for Chabad, wouldn't. It makes no sense.

Chabad women, like Palin, don't look at Judaism or the United States and then look at the world to worry, "Why do they hate us?" They don't blame Judaism or America first.

They are happy warriors. They don't think "bitterness" is what motivates religious people, as Sen. Barack Obama said with condescension. You come away feeling that these kind of women understand religion, they love America and religion like they love their kids, troubles and all, feeling blessed every step of the way.

The high-salaried great scholars of the other denominations, none of whom went to the University of Idaho, are very good at conducting studies, at going on high-priced retreats, at developing goalposts that can be moved to allow past failures to score.

Chabad women don't conduct studies. They cook a chicken (or Palin a moose) and invite you over on Friday night. And college students, middle-class families, international businessmen want to be there.

At the beginning of these successful relationships between Chabad and their guests, theology and politics have little or nothing to do with it. A lot of Palin's appeal has nothing to do with her theology or politics, either.

The other party and denominations are trying to figure it out. Maybe if they could get a grant. Maybe if they could find someone with whom they can dialogue.

Chabad women and Palin don't dialogue. They talk. And they don't talk down.

They win. Makes no sense, does it?

Jonathan Marks is associate editor of The Jewish Week in New York.

Palin and Chabad

Two puff pieces for Sarah Palin in one issue of The Journal will not alter the fact that she is a radical right-wing ideologue who believes a woman who is raped should be prosecuted if she chooses not to bear the child of her rapist and who doubtless believes ours is a pseudo-religion and we need to convert ("Sarah Palin, Chabad Share Same Appeal," Sept. 10).

Palin sat through a Jews for Jesus sermon in her church and said or did nothing to contest its bile.

A quick study? Nonsense. Just listen to her babble. She is a stranger to the truth. Her multiple fabrications, too many to specify here, have now made her a laughingstock as her early positive ratings have plummeted.

The bubble has burst on Palin, and like Humpty Dumpty who to took that great fall, neither filmmaker Elan Frank or Chabadist Jonathan Marks can put her bubble back together again.

In the same issue, a letter from an Iranian Jew asserts she fears Sen. Barack Obama cannot be trusted to defend Israel. But on Page 21 there is reporting of news that Obama has introduced the Iran Sanctions Enabling Act, which will close the large loophole that now allows American companies through their foreign subsidiaries to do business with Iran. The article cites that his legislation is opposed by the Republicans in Congress who want to continue the loophole that aids and abets Iran.

There is no contest between Republican and anti-Obama rhetoric and Obama's substantive actions that clearly aid Israel.

George Magit

Unfortunately, I was in the middle of eating spaghetti when I read Jonathan Mark's "Sarah Palin, Chabad Share Same Appeal." I almost choked on my noodles as I read this insipid article.

In a nutshell: Marks admires Sarah Palin for the same reason he admires Chabad women -- both women "know their place" and neither are intellectually threatening. Marks trumpets the "humanitarian" Palin because, as he claims, she would rather rock a Down syndrome child to sleep than abort it.

Gee, Jonathan, Palin's a regular Mother Teresa, huh? Too bad Palin -- brave hunter of defenseless moose and wolves -- belongs to the political party that will do everything in its power to prevent a baby's abortion but will not lift a finger to help that child once it's born.

Love the zygote, hate the child.

Oh, and regarding Mark's question: Whom would you rather have a cup of coffee with, Palin or Nancy Pelosi? Pelosi, hands down. Unlike Marks, I am more interested in picking the brain of a woman with intellectual curiosity and a desire to improve the human condition."

Eran Lagstein
Los Angeles

How insulting to equate Sarah Palin with the women of Chabad. How many of these women would welcome pregnant Bristol Palin's boyfriend into their family when he calls himself a "f----in' redneck" and talks about how if anyone messes with him he'll "kick their f---in' ass".

Also, he talks on his My Space page about not wanting children. Surely the women of Chabad want more for their daughters than to marry a thug like Palin's prospective son-in-law.

Judith M. Brown
via e-mail

How dare Marks equate this vindictive, vengeful, unknowledgeable woman with Chabad women? Women of Chabad are intelligent, kind, caring and do have their homes open to those of differing opinions.

Chabad women do not condone killing of wolves by helicopters. They care about the environment. When asked about their beliefs, they give a caring, intelligent response without intimidation.

Palin, on the other hand, is the antithesis of that. She is not home with her children. She has let others raise them, witness her returning to work when her youngest was three days old, and still she is not with him, nor her other children.

She has fired and tried to destroy all those who disagree with her. And, her intellectual ability is nowhere near that of a woman of Chabad.

As for opening her home, not on a bet. How many Jews does she even associate with or blacks or anyone who does not believe as she does?

Her answers on all the talk shows indicate a lack of understanding of issues or of those who differ with her. That is a far cry from anyone in Chabad.

Shame on you. Do you really think Jews of any preference are really that stupid?

Janeen Weiss
Via e-mail

The Chabad rabbis and rebbetzins I have been blessed to know have been among the most caring, compassionate, honest and spiritual people in my life. There is no doubt that they have dedicated themselves to the holy pursuits of making all of us better Jews and of modeling the mitzvah of being a light unto the nations.
This is why I could not help but be appalled by Jonathan Marks' column comparing Sarah Palin to Chabad shluchot.

The values, which seems to permeate the lives of all the shlichim and shluchot I have known, are ahavas Yisrael, love for our fellow Jews; achdus, Jewish unity, and dan lecaf zechus, always judging people favorably.

Palin has taken every opportunity since her nomination to disparage and insult her opponents, their good works and their supporters and to hammer home the wedge of divisiveness, which has rent our country and turned us against each other.

Palin does not represent all that is good about shluchot, rather, she represents the values and attitudes they spend their lives fighting against.

Marks uses his column as an opportunity to insult and disparage those Jews whose observance, he thinks, is too much in their heads and too little in their kishkes. With his tirade against intellectual Judaism, Marks proves that he has forgotten the most important lesson of the talmudic struggle between beis hillel and beis shammai: this and this are the word of the living God.

Jonathan Kamens
Brighton, Mass.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Election enclave

Two days before the election, the Hasidic Jewish community in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, is strongly leaning towards John McCain, in contrast with predominantly Democratic New York City. Many members of the Lubavitch community expressed concerns about foreign policy, school vouchers and social conservatism. Barack Obama's perceived lack of experience and weakness in the war on terror have contributed to the community's overwhelming support for McCain. However, some voters stated ambivalence or indifference toward the presidential race.

2 Comments to "Election enclave"

1. November 05, 2008 9:42:23 PM Could not be happier that this group may not be happy with what the majority of 133,000,000 voters wants. They have had 8 years of George Bush in there pockets and I hope they will not be as strong a lobby with our new president.

— ralph barquin, NYC
2. November 06, 2008 3:54:11 PM I'm sure you're overjoyed that instead of well intentioned Rabbis having influence, Bill Ayers and Rashid Khalidi will be the lobby.

— Daniel, Brooklyn

Wyoming Rabbi Reaches Out, One Challah At A Time

Morning Edition

November 10, 2008

When Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn arrived in Jackson, Wyo., in May, the first thing he did was open the phone book in search of Jewish-sounding names.
"After making a few phone calls, I realized I wasn't getting anywhere,"
Mendelsohn says. "I was finding a lot of wonderful German people living
here in Jackson."
But no one was Jewish. Finding Jews in Wyoming — and bringing them the
traditions of their faith — is the young rabbi's mission, and he was
Mendelsohn created a Web site to reach out to Jews across the country, advertised his religious events in the Jackson newspaper and leveraged his most dramatic asset: his appearance.
"I am a walking advertisement for Judaism," he says.
With his black suit, black yarmulke and full black beard, he's straight out of
central casting — Warsaw rabbi, circa 1935. He cuts an anachronistic figure,
sitting in his backyard on a summer afternoon with the Grand Tetons slicing the horizon behind him. Mendelsohn, who is 26, and Raizy, his 21-year-old wife, are emissaries in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, an Orthodox branch in which young Orthodox Jews move to remote areas of the world armed with their faith and rituals.

What The Soul Wants

The Mendelsohns, who moved to the resort town from New York, say they
encountered material wealth but spiritual hunger.
"The soul also has very particular needs, and those needs are spiritual in
nature," the rabbi says. "The soul wants godliness. The soul wants holiness.
The soul wants Shabbos [Sabbath]. The soul wants Torah. The soul wants
doing kindness and goodness and mitzvahs [good deeds]. This is what the
soul wants. And so therefore, in order to be able to satisfy the person,
spiritually, the person has to satiate himself with these types of things."
So Mendelsohn imported yarmulkes. He brought in scrolls called mezuzahs
for the doors of Jewish homes and items for Jewish rituals. "Educational
resources, classes, lectures, holiday-observance celebrations, traditional
Friday nights and Shabbat meals — these are all things that became
available, all of a sudden, that weren't here before."
Wyoming seemed an underserved spiritual market. Mendelsohn quickly realized he needed to create a market for Judaism: It's fine to offer Jews a
skullcap or a Shabbat dinner, but unless there's a demand — unless they
want to embrace the faith that underlies these things — all his efforts would
be meaningless.
So the Mendelsohns are trying to revive a yearning for Jewish spirituality
and community — one challah at a time.

Modern Rabbinic Marketing

Friday mornings find Raizy Mendelsohn lovingly slipping five braided loaves
of bread into Ziploc bags.
"This is the way I package them since I don't have a professional machine,"
she says, placing a label on the top. It says: "Zalman and Raizy Mendelsohn
wish you a tasty and peaceful Shabbaz" and includes their name and P.O.
box number.
They call it "21st century rabbinic marketing."
After his wife packages the bread, Zalman Mendelsohn makes a surprise visit to the homes of Jews in Jackson, fresh challah in hand. On this particular day, he is off to see Reuben Tambor, one of the 500 or so Jews who live in Jackson year-round. Mendelsohn has dropped by before, and Tambor has always been nothing more than
cordial — until today.
When Mendelsohn arrives, Tambor and his two dogs greet him warmly.
"I have a number for you," Tambor says. "Somebody asked me if I knew a rabbi — can you believe it? — and I took down the name. Let me find it."
Mendelsohn is thrilled. "Wow, Reuben, thank you!" he says. It's unclear whether he's happier about Tambor's friendliness or a new lead on a Jew in town.
Tambor writes down the name and number and then happily takes the bread. The two men chat briefly, and before the rabbi wears out his welcome, he leaves for his next delivery.
In the car, Mendelsohn breaks out in a large grin.
"See! This is the way it works," he says. "This is how we network. We've been doing it for so many years — and it works!"
Eventually, Mendelsohn says, people usually come around.
"This is a lifelong campaign," he says. "It doesn't stop after I've found 50 Jews. It doesn't stop after I've found 100 Jews. It doesn't stop, it doesn't end. The campaign continues."


Mendelsohn signed on to the Chabad movement when he was very young.
"I always looked around, and I saw that the most passionate, loving, enthusiastic and caring people in my life were Chabad rebbes," or rabbis, he says. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement — a branch of Hasidism — began in Russia 250 years ago. It hews to an Orthodox Judaism — including fairly strict gender roles as well as keeping
kosher — and takes a scholarly and mystical view of the Torah.
Under the guidance of its most recent leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Chabad became a sort of Jewish Peace Corps, sending out young people as emissaries to revive the traditions that had often fallen by the wayside.
But Mendelsohn is quick to say that the goal is not to make Jews Orthodox; rather, it is to make Orthodox rituals and learning available to Jews.
"We don't expect them to become as we are. We don't expect them to start wearing a yarmulke, or for the women to wear a long skirt and dress as we do," he says. "We accept people as they are."

Meet Mendelsohn

It's gotten busy for the Mendelsohns since they arrived in Jackson.
"Every half-hour, we get a phone call or e-mail, nonstop. Every half-hour," Mendelsohn says.
Along with his challah outreach, his Web site and newspaper ads, Mendelsohn also recently organized a "meet the rabbi" open house at a Jackson hotel.
About 50 people attended the gathering — a fair showing in a city that has about 500 Jews. Over cookies and cake, Jackson resident Ken Begelman says the new rabbi has revived Jewish life in the state.
"There was never a rabbi here before, and he's also brought a sense of Yiddishkeit [devotion to Jewish tradition]to the community, which was really missing," Begelman says.

Wrong Impression?

Lisa Finkelstein, who serves on the board of the Jackson Hole Jewish Community, a group of mainly Reform Jews that began about 30 years ago, disagrees.
"The Chabad rabbi is not the rabbi of Jackson Hole," Finkelstein says.
Finkelstein, who did not attend the open house, says she doesn't like Mendelsohn's style.
"He contacts people on the phone, by e-mail, in the parking lots," she says. "And we don't necessarily do that."
Nor are most Jews in the area as conservative as the Mendelsohns. The rabbi always wears a yarmulke and declines to shake hands with women. His wife wears long skirts and spends much of her time cooking. (She also manages the Web site as well as helps in the planning and directing of all of their activities.)
Fellow board member Rachel Ravitz worries that the Mendelsohns may give people the wrong impression of Judaism.
"People in Wyoming might not necessarily know what a Jew is in the first place," Ravitz says, "and if they meet a Chabad rabbi, they might not realize he represents a certain sect of Judaism."
But the big problem, several people say privately, is competition. The new rabbi's outreach programs cost $11,000 to $12,000 a month. The Mendelsohns have received a small grant for startup costs, but they must raise all other funding on their own. The current Jewish community group fears that if people start attending Mendelsohn's congregation, their money will follow.
Raizy Mendelsohn says a little competition can be healthy.
"It's great, because the people are getting more," she says. "It's kind of like when you have one store and then another store opens up. The first store is all mad, but the people are all very happy because they get better bargains and better deals, and they get more variety."
Her observations echo the findings of sociologists, who say religions thrive in the United States precisely because they compete in the marketplace of ideas. And if success is measured in Shabbat dinners attended, the Mendelsohns are grabbing market share.

Shabbat Dinner

For Shabbat dinner at her home, Raizy Mendelsohn prepares five courses, including fish, chicken, dips, salad and
She must finish the preparations before the sun sets and all work, including driving cars and using electricity,
must cease. She says she has no idea how many people will come to dinner — maybe a dozen, give or take five.
There is a lot of uncertainty when you start a religious enterprise.
"I remember our first week here," she says. "We had one woman come, and she sat there through the whole service. And later, I said to Zalman, 'You know, in a couple years, she'll be telling people, "When the rabbi started, I was the only one who came to services, and now look at how many people there are!" ' "
Soon 11 people — including two young men from Israel who heard about dinner from the Web site — are seated around the formal table overflowing with food and wine.
They begin to sing a prayer, clapping, the tempo picking up.
All the planning and marketing and technology is for this moment — bringing Jews back to Shabbat and back to their community, the rituals so long neglected.

S Myers (smyers7897) wrote:

It seems pretty clear that this is about money. If this were really about reaching out and helping people, the Mendelsohn's would have gone somewhere truly remote where Jewish families might be struggling. The 500 Jews who live in Jackson are all a part of the highest echelon in that community. This visit to Jackson will certainly help fund future endeavors for the Mendelsohn's. I hope they choose to use this money to assist those who really need it. The poor have faith too.
Monday, November 10, 2008 8:51:31 AM

Jessica Smith (Ruah) wrote:

SM, did you hear the story? Jewish people are struggling...with their faith. Man does not live by bread alone. It seems to me Lisa Finkelstein and the Jewish Community Group are upset that someone is becoming successful in bringing people back to their Jewish faith and culture, and it seems *they're* the ones worried about money. Also, Lisa's use of the word "sect" to refer to Rabbi is clearly not out of sociological precision, but of condescension. I respect NPR's journalistic integrity that they interviewed Lisa and they're group, but the piece really just shines a light on Rabbi Mendelsohn and his faithfulness and Ms. Finkelstein's bitter reformed outlook.
Monday, November 10, 2008 9:04:28 AM

Ellyn Camp (Colliegirl) wrote:

I think that the reform synogogue should be more open to idividuals of their own faith. I live in a community in Florida that only has two reform synoguges and I do not like them. There should always be room for another synogogue for jews. I cannot believe that she actually said that she is worried about the money. Chabad in open to all jews no matter how religious you are. You are discriminating against jews. Why does everyone that is jewish have to go to your shul if there is something out there that offers a more comfortable environement for jews. Chabad does not force anything on any jew. They only bring awareness that there is something more if you want it. I thing that you should all unite just because you are jews.
Monday, November 10, 2008 9:20:25 AM

Rose Novk (RLaR) wrote:

I'm writing from Jackson to tell you that this story was taped some months ago when congregants of the Jackson Hole Jewish Community were concerned that Zalman was advertising himself as the first and only Rabbi in Wyoming. Now things have settled down. I happen to like the Mendelsohns, but I could never be a part of his congregation for many reasons. Most important, women are not considered equal to men. The JHJC welcomes all Jews and all those who are interested in our faith.
We do not neglect the rituals or building community, having recently conducted two baby namings, two Brit Milots, High Holy Days, and Shabbats.
Monday, November 10, 2008 9:23:04 AM

Eric Schmitt (studybuddy) wrote:

Its beautiful to see such a warm and friendly Rabbi and his wife do such nice work on behalf of such an age old tradition. Keep the spirit alive! Pastor Eric
Monday, November 10, 2008 9:32:59 AM

Ben Paisy (Ben_Paisy) wrote:

The selfless work that these Chabad couples do around the world is humbling. It’s tough moving out to Wyoming, but helping their brethren is what inspires them.

They inspire people with their unconditional love and deep reservoirs of knowledge.

Chabad/Lubavitch is the future of Judaism. They are growing globally by leaps and bounds while others are receding and for good reason.

(to say this is about money is laughable…)

Monday, November 10, 2008 9:51:30 AM

Steve Covey (steeev) wrote:

Rabbi Zalman and Raizy, keep up the good work. Its your grassroots mentality that will endear you ultimately to all the nay sayers. There is so much positive energy in your voices and tone, there is so much hope in your attitude and your motto of change is very potent.
Monday, November 10, 2008 9:57:16 AM

Justin Forral (jfl) wrote:

The most reasonable story covering religion I've come across to date. Only in America, here one can see that religion regardless of faith is merely a business service offering to assuage customers from their fear of the unknown. Image all the marketing potential, 2 for 1 deals, guarantees of ascension, etc. It boggles both the mind and spirit, but will it pay? Only time will tell, if you were right in buying the service that is.
Monday, November 10, 2008 10:44:25 AM

Zalman T (Zalman) wrote:

By the Grace of G-d
Response to Rose Novk
First of all thank you for reporting that positive follow up it is so rear and very heart-warming.
Of course Chabad doesn’t consider women equal to men – they’re not. The Russians made that same mistake 70 years ago when they executed my great-grandfather, a Chabad Rabbi. They assumed that his work would end since his now-single wife and six small children would not have any significance in the Jewish world.
They were wrong.
My great-grandmother passed away 2 years ago with 535 direct decedents, a large number of them leading Jewish communities and programs around the globe.
Her husband may have led the services but she led the family and ultimately was the strength of not only her community but many communities around the world.
No, Chabad doesn’t consider women equal to men; we recognize that they are truly infinitely greater

Monday, November 10, 2008 10:48:40 AM

john glenn (lewis) wrote:

Jackson Hole (a place where the billionaires are pushing out the millionaires) isn’t representative of Wyoming, it’s people, and it’s culture… Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn’s focus in Jackson is a fixation on $$$$!

Monday, November 10, 2008 10:51:03 AM

Jim Shulruff (Maggidjim) wrote:

Thank G-d for Chabad! Many of Jewerys best and brightest call Chabad home. Money and outreach go together like money and living. To say this is only about money is lacking in any depth of analysis, because everything, and everyone, in our society needs money to survive and thrive! This includes me, you, Microsoft, and Chabad.
My comment is not about money, but more to say that Chabad is not the only legitemate entry point for Jews to return to active observance. Communities of Jews around the world are observing and practicing in countless ways, there is something for everyone. All one needs to do is step foot into any local synagogue to feel the life and love that is Judaism and the Jewish G-d. And just like the above Colliegirl comment, we should all unite just because we are Jews.
Monday, November 10, 2008 11:15:50 AM

Sunday, November 09, 2008

A Semi-Religious Experience.

I spent Simchat Torah at the Chabad in the city of Ness Ziona with my friends David and Dan (<--for more Israel stories, check out his blog).

I pulled on my long black skirt (purchased for those times that I'd need to costume as a highly observant Jew) and my other conservative clothes and sat down behind the mechitza with the ladies in their sheitls. They tended to their children while the men danced, sang, prayed, and took “L'chaim tishim v'sheish” (shots of "Victory" brand vodka, 96% alcohol). When their festivities ended, my two friends and I helped serve the men and women dinner (eaten separately, of course). It was fun – I played with babies and spoke all the Hebrew I could. I even complimented a little girl on her shoes. She grinned back at me.

We stayed at the house of one of the “chabadniks,” a pretty cool guy whose name I don’t feel I’m at liberty to share. Before he became religious and a member of the chabad, he was…well…a nerd (not unlike the boys here in Rishon). He was a hardcore Trekkie who went to University and majored in science and mathematics.

After the party the first night, we went back to his house with his wife and four children (all very, very cute). We stayed up a while longer, talking to him about life. We tried to talk philosophy, but he stopped us. Philosophy is fickle, he says. We asked him what he meant – wasn’t his religion just a personal philosophy that he followed?

No, he answered. “Philosophy comes from many different sources and isn’t necessary. Religion is necessary. It is not a philosophy – it is my life, what I do.”

We asked him to tell us just what he believed. He shook his head and told us this story.

“There was a famous Israeli director who became known for his promiscuous lifestyle. He attended a wedding where the rabbi was renowned for his wisdom. As the rabbi was speaking, a man interrupted and asked, why should we believe what you say?

“The rabbi answered, ‘unless you have the time to listen and to be changed by what I will share with you, I don’t want to waste my time. Anyone whose mind is not open to change should get up and leave now.’ And what happened? Everybody except for the director got up and left.”

The chabadnik ceased pacing and looked at us. “I don’t want to waste time unless I think I will convince you that my beliefs are right. Philosophy is amusing. My life is not something for you to find ‘interesting,’ it is my life.”

We were so impressed we didn’t know what to say. We didn’t question him any further, and we're still not sure why. Perhaps it's because we truly didn't want to waste his time. We didn't want to tell him that we really did find him extremely interesting. It seemed to offend him.

Chabadniks really know and believe their stuff with all of their hearts. It’s good to know that people still have a strong faith in something.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Moshiach Marathon

by Sharon Udasin

As flocks of runners flew off the Pulaski Bridge and made their way up to Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City last Sunday, Nachum and Chaya Mushka Wineberg juggled hundreds of bottles of POWERade, handing them off to their mother and father.

Rabbi Zev Wineberg, 30, the spiritual leader of the Jewish Community Center – Chabad of Long Island City, organized a makeshift stop along the New York City Marathon route, where he and his wife Rivka passed batons of the electrolytic sports drink to thirsty runners.

While official stops along the 26.2-mile trail provided rival beverage Gatorade, POWERade bears the kosher certification that Gatorade lacks. Wineberg wanted to provide observant marathoners with the nourishment that they could not otherwise obtain.

“I think it’s a tremendous thing that people push themselves to that limit,” said Wineberg, who began running last year and hopes one day to run the New York City Marathon. “It was really inspiring to see everyone running by yesterday.”

Wineberg first heard about the sports drink problem from friend and marathoner Jascha Preuss, 42, whose wife was bringing POWERade to fellow runner and kashrut observer Dovid Yehoshua Schachner, after mile six.

“I definitely need to have the carbs in order to run the 26.2 miles,” said Schachner, 45, running his fourth marathon.

With donations from community members, the Wineberg family distributed 300 bottles of POWERade between miles 13 and 14, attracting marathoners to their station with a neon green sign that read “kosher energy drink one block ahead on right side of street.”

“As the runners were coming down Vernon they all saw the sign. It was amazing how many people yelled ‘Shalom’ to us,” he said, happy about the appreciative reaction among Jews and non-Jews alike. “We were throwing bottles to them across the street,” he added.

Next year, Wineberg wants to make Chabad of Long Island City an official Marathon station, and he hopes that kosher beverages will be available throughout the entire route.

“Since there is a contingent of kashrut observant Jews, I think it would be great if there was a kosher electrolyte beverage because water just isn’t quite the same,” Preuss agreed, adding that there is always a sizeable minyan at the starting line in Fort Wadsworth.

But Schachner fears that this will not work out because as an official sponsor, Gatorade would need to grant a waiver for POWERade distribution, he said. Though not optimistic, he hopes that the rabbi will be successful.

“We need bar mitzvah stops: 13,” Wineberg said jokingly. “And then we’ll try to make bar mitzvahs along the way and see if people will put on tefillin.”

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Chabad granted permit for campus synagogue

University of Wisconsin students and Madison Jewish community members will soon have an on-campus synagogue due to a conditional use permit granted to the Chabad organization.

The property, located at 223 W. Gilman St., is currently owned by Chabad, which provides education and services for the local Jewish community.

The approval of the conditional use permit allows for constructional alterations on the first floor to provide a place of worship for members. The two-unit apartment building will be converted into a first floor synagogue, while the second floor will house the rabbi and his family.

Ald. Mike Verveer, whose District 4 includes the Gilman Street property, said the new location for the synagogue is “obviously very convenient for a lot of students.”

Chabad at UW is home to one of the largest Jewish student populations at the university, and the construction of the new synagogue would be at a convenient location for Jewish students and faculty to attend multiple services.

Rabbi Mendel Matusof, owner and developer of the property, lives on the main level with his family and provides services to Jewish students. The upper level is currently rented out to students.

Matusof said the first floor would be remodeled from an apartment to a large synagogue area. A small kitchen would be added, as would handicap access to bathrooms.

A modest addition to the back of the house, along with an accessible ramp for disabled persons, would help fit about 73 worshippers on the first floor, Verveer said.

He added the synagogue would mostly be geared toward the UW community, and neighborhood residents are happy and supportive of the old but popular house. The house was built in 1921 and survived initial attempts at converting it into a parking ramp.

“I support the conditional use permit,” Verveer said. “I think it’s actually cool that the family will be living there.”

The Hillel foundation on Langdon Street is another Jewish organization that provides programs and activities for students. Matusof said it serves a “different function” than the synagogue on Gilman Street would.

Matusof said Hillel is “a lot more of a Jewish student center, and ours is a much more synagogue-family base.” Overall, he added, it would have the feel of a “smaller family-style service.”

Construction is to begin in late January 2009, with the anticipated date of completion around September of that year.

“It’s nice that students of the Jewish faith will have this option for them to follow their faith, so to speak,” Verveer said.

Verveer mentioned the existence of a couple other synagogues on the west side of campus, on Regent and Monroe streets, which are farther away on campus and less convenient for students to get to.

Matusof said the Hillel foundation is planning a construction project to build a larger student center in 2009.

Chabad Rabbi attacked in Berlin

BERLIN (EJP)---A few days before the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Nazi anti-Jewish pogroms in Germany known as “Kristallnacht”, a rabbi in Berlin and 8 rabbinical students were attacked on Saturday night by two hoodlums

Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, who serves since 11 years as rabbi of Chabad Lubavitch, one of the three Jewish communities of the German capital, was returning in his vehicle with the students after attending a Jewish event in the city when the two aggressors began to chase the rabbi's car.
The two men, driving a Mercedes Benz, braked in front of the rabbi's van and then reversed back towards it while shouting anti-Semitic insults.
"The rabbi then saw the driver light up an unknown object and throw it towards his van," the police said, adding that the rabbi could not explain what the object was.
The students managed to jot down the license plate of the attacking vehicle, which they reported to the police together with the complaint about the offense.
Shmuel Segal, Rabbi Teichtal’s assistant, expressed the hope that police “would do all within their power to find the criminals.”
"This event encourages us to continue our Jewish oriented activities in the city. In every case we encounter instances of darkness. We are motivated to increase our efforts to spread out more light," he told EJP.
He said the Chabad community is due to open a new Mikveh, or Jewish ritual bath, in a few days.

Last year, a smoke bomb was thrown through a window of the community’s kindergarten and anti-Semitic slogans were spray painted on its walls.
The Rabbinical Centre of Europe (RCE), which provides assistance to rabbis across Europe, expressed shock at Saturday's aggression.
“We are totally shocked to find time and again, that particularly the country that should have been dispersing messages of tolerance to all European countries, has been once again the arena of a severe anti-Semitic incident,” it said.
"We maintain that Berlin must put an end to nationalistic and neo-Nazi organizations within its boundaries, otherwise, we have no guarantee that history will not repeat itself,” the Brussels-based centre said.

אדוארדו אלשטיין: "כבר עברנו משבר, יש לנו יותר ניסיון מלאמריקאים"

בשבוע שעבר, בעיצומה של טלטלה חסרת תקדים בשווקים הפיננסיים ברחבי העולם, הניח אדוארדובשבוע שעבר, בעיצומה של טלטלה חסרת תקדים בשווקים הפיננסיים ברחבי העולם, הניח אדוארדו אלשטיין את עיסוקיו המרובים בצד, ובא לישראל כדי לעשות את מה שהוא אוהב במיוחד: להשתתף בדיון בנושא עתידו של העם במסגרת הקונגרס היהודי העולמי, שאלשטיין מכהן כ"שר האוצר שלו".

נושא הדיון, אפשר להניח, יעורר פיהוקים אצל רוב האנשים. אלא שמבחינתו של אלשטיין, דור שלישי של יזמי נדל"ן והיהודי העשיר ביותר בארגנטינה, מדובר בעיקרון חשוב שאותו למד באופן אישי מהרבי מליובאוויטש לפני כמעט 20 שנה: אל תעשה את מה שמזיק לרוח הנפש.

"זה היה בערך ב־1991", נזכר אלשטיין. "היתה לי פגישה ראשונה עם הרבי, ואמרתי לו: 'יש לי השקעה גדולה של 45 מיליון דולר במניות בבורסה של ניו יורק. מה לעשות איתה?'. הוא אמר לי: 'הבורסה בניו יורק, אין לה רוח הנפש. הבורסה לוקחת לך מזמן השינה, הבורסה לא מחזקת את הנשמה, ואם אתה לא ישן טוב אפילו לילה אחד בגלל השקעה בבורסה, אינך מגשים את הציווי היהודי'. בפשטות, הוא אמר לי: 'תמכור את כל המניות לאט, ותקנה במקום נכסים'".

מה עשית?
"לא היתה לי ברירה. מכרתי את כל המניות. אם כבר הלכתי לשאול בעצתו של הרב, אני חייב לקבל את תשובתו. אם אתה לא שואל, אז אתה לא שואל. אבל אם אתה כבר שואל, אז כדאי שתעשה מה שאומרים לך, אחרת אתה במקום הגרוע ביותר".

ומה קרה מאז?
"מכרתי הכל, והתחלתי לקנות נכסים בארגנטינה במקום. שבועות אחר כך צנח השוק בניו יורק ב־65%, בעוד הערך של הנכסים שלי עלה ב־50% בתוך שנה".

"המפתח הוא נזילות"

אלשטיין (48) עומד בראש IRSA, חברת הנדל"ן הגדולה ביותר בארגנטינה. החברה מנהלת תיק השקעות ששינה בעשור האחרון את פניה של בואנוס איירס, וכולל מרכזי קניות ובנייני משרדים, פיתוח פרויקטים לדיור ודירות יוקרה. עם אחזקותיה נמנים בתי מלון יוקרתיים בארגנטינה, בנק היפוטקאריו וחברת כרטיסי האשראי טארשופ. במקביל אלשטיין גם מכהן כיו"ר החברה החקלאית הגדולה ביותר בדרום אמריקה, CreSud, שמחזיקה בשטח של יותר מ־4.8 מיליון דונם באזור הפאמפס של ארגנטינה ומייצרת סויה, תירס, חיטה, בשר בקר וחלב. שתי החברות נסחרות בבורסה של ניו יורק.

באחרונה עלה שמו של אלשטיין גם בזירה העסקית המקומית, כאשר רכש מאילן בן־דב את חלקו בבניין הליפסטיק בניו יורק (במחצית מהמחיר ששילם בן דב שנה קודם), ונהפך בכך לשותפו של ג'קי בן זקן ושל חברת מנופים פיננסיים. חברת IRSA רכשה את רוב אחזקותיה של טאו תשואות (שבבעלות בן־דב) בבניין הממוקם ברחוב 53 פינת השדרה השלישית במנהטן. "בעסקה הזו", הוא אומר, "הפגינה הקבוצה שלנו את הניסיון המצטבר שלה. יש לנו נזילות שעליה החלטנו מבעוד מועד, וכאשר זיהינו הזדמנות, היתה לנו האפשרות לממשה מיד".

נזילות נהפכה כיום לבעיה בינלאומית קשה.
"אין ספק שמשבר הנזילות בארצות הברית משפיע על כל העולם והופך את השוק למשותק. כאשר הממשלה קונה נכסים מהבנק, כמו מה שקורה עכשיו בארצות הברית, אנחנו יודעים שערך הדולר ייפגע".

אתה חושב שהמשבר כבר בשיאו? שעכשיו מתחילה ההתאוששות?
"אני לא יודע לומר אם המשבר יהיה ממושך או קצר מועד. אף אחד לא יכול לדעת. אני חושב שהשוק בניו יורק יהיה נמוך עוד יותר, משום שכאשר הבנקים בלחץ, הדבר הראשון שהם רוצים זה נזילות. הם לא אוהבים להחזיק בנדל"ן, וזה מספק לנו הזדמנויות טובות עם הרבה פחות תנאים לרכישה. בסופו של דבר, בעולם הגדול כל יום אנשים מוכרים ואנשים קונים. כשיש זמנים טובים, כולם רוצים לשחק, כשהזמנים קשים, כולם פוחדים ובורחים החוצה".

המשבר הזה מכה בעוצמה רבה גם בארגנטינה.
"ארגנטינה הצליחה לצאת ממשברים שליוו אותה במשך 20 השנים האחרונות, ותצליח לצאת גם מהמשבר הנוכחי. בימים האחרונים קנינו את המניות שלנו בסכומים ניכרים. אנחנו מאמינים שלאחר הנפילות המאוד חדות של השבועות האחרונים מחירי המניות שלנו ברצפה, וכעת זו הזדמנות מצוינת לרכישה. אחרי הכול אנחנו עוסקים בנדל"ן ובחקלאות; בני אדם ימשיכו לצרוך אוכל. אני מאמין שבזמן האחרון השוק ביצע תיקון דרמטי, ויש הזדמנויות מצוינות לקנייה".

מה דעתך על הצעדים שנקטה הממשלה הארגנטינית בניסיון להתמודד עם המשבר?
"אנחנו באמצע הסערה, ולא תמיד הצעדים של הממשלה הם לרוחי. זה דבר שעוד קשה לחזות את ההשפעה שלו אבל אפשר בבירור לומר שהלאמת קופות הפנסיה מלחיצה את השוק, במקום להרגיע אותו. אנחנו בארגנטינה רגילים למצבי משבר ויודעים כיצד להגיב אליהם. יש לנו הרבה ניסיון במשברים כלכליים, אחרי שבעשור הקודם חווינו משבר בכל שנתיים־שלוש; המוסדות שלנו מנוסים ומאומנים מאוד. אני חושב שהדבר החשוב לנו ביותר כרגע הוא צוות ניהול שמורכב מאנשים טובים. יש לנו יתרון גדול, מכיוון שאנחנו מאומנים בקבלת החלטות בזמן קצר. החלטות אורכות לפעמים הרבה מאוד זמן, ומי שיודע איך לעבוד ביחד ולקבל החלטות כבדות משקל במהירות - מצליח".

אבל אנשים טובים יש בכל מקום. היו כאלו גם בליהמן ברדרס.
"ההבדל הוא שאנחנו כבר היינו במצב הזה קודם. לנו יש ניסיון שאין לחבר'ה הטובים מוול סטריט. כבר היינו שם. חווינו את משבר קריסת הבנקים בארגנטינה, את משבר הקרה שפגע קשות בתוצרת החקלאית, ואת קריסת ערך הנדל"ן. לכן המאפיין העיקרי של הקבוצה שלנו הוא ניסיון רב, שרלבנטי להתמודדות עם מצב משברי שכזה".

איך תתרגמו אותו לפעולה במשבר הנוכחי?
"לפי האסטרטגיה שלנו, נמשיך להשקיע בשני תחומים עיקריים: נדל"ן ופיננסים. לא חרגנו מתחומים אלה למרות גודלה של הקבוצה, ובסופו של דבר גם הפעילות החקלאית שלנו היא נדל"נית. ערך הנדל"ן שלנו מפוזר בעולם ויש לנו אפשרות להיות גמישים בשל כך. בלי לגלות יותר מדי, אני יכול לומר לך שהחברה שלנו מתכוונת להרחיב את הפעילות הגלובלית שלה ולא להתרכז בדרום אמריקה בלבד".

"סורוס נתן יד חופשית"

משפחת אלשטיין הגיעה לארגנטינה מרוסיה ב־1917, בפרוץ המהפכה הבולשביקית. סבו של אדוארדו, יצחק אלשטיין, החל לעסוק אז במה שהנכד מכנה היום "שמאטע ביזנס", וצבר על הדרך קרקעות ונכסי נדל"ן רבים בארגנטינה. עם מותו המפתיע של דודו של אלשטיין בגיל 41, קיבל אדוארדו הצעיר את הניהול לידיו. "הייתי אז רק בן 21, וחזרתי לארגנטינה אחרי שנה של התנדבות בישראל. לקח לי אולי חמש שנים לשקם את החובות ולהחזיר הכל. זה היה קשה מאוד. היום, אחרי כמעט 30 שנה בעסק, אני עדיין זוכר כמה קשה זה היה, וכמה למדתי מהמשבר של אותה תקופה. למדתי שהמפתח לכל עסקי הנדל"ן הוא נזילות. זה הדבר החשוב ביותר". הלקח ההוא נלמד היטב: העסק המשפחתי של רכישת קרקעות ומכירתן נהפך בתוך שנים ספורות לחברת אחזקות שנהנתה מצמיחה אדירה.

את הכסף שבעניינו התלבט אלשטיין עם הרב מליובאוויטש (ובעצם פחות מרבע ממנו) קיבל אלשטיין שנה קודם לכן מג'ורג' סורוס, אשף הפיננסים היהודי מניו יורק ועשיר מופלג, שאותו פגש במקרה ב־1990. "איכשהו הגעתי לפגישה עסקית עם סורוס, שכבר אז היה עשיר גדול. דיברנו במשך שעה, והוא שאל אותי: 'כמה כסף אתה חושב שאתה יכול לנהל?'. עניתי: '10 מיליון דולר', והוא אמר לי: 'אוקיי, אין בעיה, שלח לי את החוזה שלך ונעביר את הכסף'. אני, שהייתי צעיר ולא ממש מנוסה, אמרתי לו: 'לא, נשתמש בחוזה שלך', כי לי בכלל לא היה חוזה להראות לו. ככה התגלגלנו ועשינו בערך 500% בשנה.

"ברגע שעשיתי חמש פעמים את הכסף, הגעתי לפגישה עם הרבי, שלאחריה מכרתי את כל הפורטפוליו. בדיוק ביום שנפטרתי מהכל התקשר אליי סורוס, ואמר לי שהוא רוצה להעביר עוד 45 מיליון דולר להשקעה. כל כך פחדתי. אמרתי לעצמי, 'או מיי גוד, מכרתי מוקדם מדי? אולי הייתי צריך לקנות יותר?'. לא ידעתי מה לעשות; לא היה לי אומץ להגיד לו שהלכתי לשאול את הרב, ושבעצתו מכרתי את כל התיק. למזלי, הבורסה נפלה בתוך כמה שבועות, הרווחים שלנו היו פנטסטיים ומאז יחסינו מצוינים".

החבירה לסורוס הפכה את אלשטיין מאיש צעיר ועשיר לאיש עשיר מאוד. "סורוס נתן לי את החירות המקסימלית בהשקעות, ושנינו נהנינו מפירות ההשקעה. באותה תקופה התפתחנו מאוד בארגנטינה, ואחר כך השקענו במשבר בפרו, בברזיל וברוסיה. הייתי אומר שהיו לנו שנים מאוד יפות ורווחיות מ־1990 עד 1998, שבהן נפגענו קשה מאוד בהשקעות בתאילנד ובאינדונזיה. אני יכול רק להודות לו על ההזדמנות".

כיד ימינו של סורוס, עמד אלשטיין בראש קרן ההשקעות קוואנטום דולפין, שאף השתתפה בהתמודדות על רכישת בנק הפועלים עם משפחת ברונפמן. "סורוס פנה אליי ושאל אותי אם אני רוצה להתמודד על עסקה מסוכנת מאוד, רכישת בנק הפועלים", משחזר היום אלשטיין. "הוא אמר לי: 'זו עסקה יהודית מדי. אתה בטח תאהב את זה'".