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Monday, December 28, 2009

How to Find the Bridge? First, Pay Your Respects

The metal signs are impossible to miss. They are oversize, in a bold blue usually found on signs directing drivers to the nearest hospital. And there are lots of them — 13 in all, according to the city’s count — along a quarter-mile stretch of roadway and its approaches.

In fact, probably no thoroughfare in New York City is better identified than the ramp connecting the southbound Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive to the Brooklyn Bridge. The signs all say the same thing: “Ari Halberstam Memorial Ramp.”

Many drivers no doubt have no idea who that is. And that’s precisely why the signs are there.

On March 1, 1994, Ari Halberstam was shot on the ramp as he and other yeshiva students were returning to Brooklyn in a van from a vigil for the ailing Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Ari died five days later. He was 16.

The shooting was considered an act of terrorism. Prosecutors said the gunman, Rashid Baz, a Lebanese immigrant who is serving a 141-year prison sentence for the attack, was retaliating for the massacre several days earlier of Muslim worshippers in the West Bank by a Jewish settler from Brooklyn.

Ari’s mother, Devorah Halberstam, was intent on keeping her son’s legacy alive, even as his killing has receded from memory.

In 1995, the City Council, sympathetic to her loss and to the larger symbolism of the killing and mindful of the political clout of the Hasidic community, formally named the ramp in Ari Halberstam’s memory. But the tribute went far beyond the usual street namings that honor fallen police officers, veterans, victims of 9/11 and others who usually get a green-and-white ceremonial street sign below the one with the original name.

While nobody questions Miss Halberstam’s motivation, the unusual scope of the sign tribute has raised questions from some city officials and, occasionally, the curiosity of passing motorists. When several of the signs were removed a few years ago to make room for warnings that the bridge was under police surveillance, the ensuing outcry prompted City Hall to back down.

Kenneth K. Fisher was one of the councilmen who introduced the name-change bill, which passed, 49 to 0.

“It was real statement by the Council and by the mayor that this was not simply a case of road rage,” he said. Ari’s mother, he said, “was a very effective advocate for the notion that her son’s murder should be recognized, and she happened to come from a particularly politically active sect. Do there need to be quite as many markers indicating where the incident occurred? That was done by the transportation commissioner at the time. The legislation didn’t specify that.”

Christine C. Quinn, the Council speaker, said 13 signs might be excessive, “but at some point you need to get the message out.”

Christopher R. Lynn, the city’s transportation commissioner at the time, said the signs were a compromise.

“You couldn’t rename the bridge,” he said.

The deal was engineered, in part, by Randy M. Mastro, who was Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s chief of staff. “The least the city could do is to honor his memory with a few signs where that tragedy occurred so we never forget,” Mr. Mastro said. Mr. Lynn said he made the final decision. “I remember telling Rudy, ‘When you take that curve, you don’t see the sign,’ ” he recalled. “He said, ‘I trust your instinct.’ So I put up around seven.” The seven signs are on the ramp itself, he said; others are on the approaches to the ramp.

Miss Halberstam said that “the number and where they were placed was decided not by me.”

But since the signs were put in place, she has been quite protective. A few years ago, outraged after she noticed that some signs were missing, apparently replaced by the police surveillance signs, she sent an e-mail message to Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris.

“I just crossed the bridge and there are three signs missing on the ramp,” she wrote in the message, a copy of which was obtained through a Freedom of Information request. “Who did this? Who dishonored my son’s memory? What is going on? Who would do this? Who would stab a knife in my heart like this? Patti, please look into this a.s.a.p. because I will not have a second of peace until this is corrected and restored.”

Whether and how Ms. Harris responded is unclear, but soon after Miss Halberstam’s plea, City Hall ordered the signs restored.

“Once the signs are put up,” Miss Halberstam said in an interview, “they should not be taken down.”

From time to time, Miss Halberstam, who was divorced from her husband after their son’s death, said she gets complaints about the signs.

“You hear some negative comments: ‘Why was it done for Ari?’ ” she said. “The reason I wanted this wasn’t just because he was my child. Ari represented an innocent victim of terrorism. He was murdered as an American citizen and because he was clearly identified as a Jew.”

Besides her role in the signs and a Web site, arihalberstam.com, Miss Halberstam works for the Jewish Children’s Museum in Brooklyn, which opened in 2005 and whose focus is tolerance and understanding; it is dedicated in her son’s memory. She has also worked with law enforcement officials on gun control and combating terrorism.

“She has taken a tragedy — the most horrible tragedy a parent can go through,” and turned it into something meaningful, said David M. Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York.

Councilman Lewis A. Fidler, a Brooklyn Democrat and a friend of Miss Halberstam, said: “Most people under those circumstances retreat into hate, anger, bitterness or loss of faith. This woman has built a children’s museum.”

The signs leading to the bridge will always remain precious to Miss Halberstam, though she realizes that the shooting is largely forgotten, particularly after 9/11.

“The first years everybody remembered,” she said. “We’re up to the second and third generation, and people are saying, ‘Who was Ari Halberstam?’ ” Perhaps, she mused, another sign, with more details about what happened, could be put up on the bridge itself.

In the meantime, work on the ramp is scheduled to begin in a few months. City officials vow that not a single sign will be touched.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Boynton-area eruv gives Orthodox Jews options on the Sabbath

For the past six Saturdays, Ari Sonneberg has held the hands of his two preschoolers as they walked a mile to their synagogue west of Boynton Beach.

His wife, Erin, stayed home with their 1-year-old, since the little one can't walk and Jewish law prevents her from carrying him on the Sabbath.

But today, the Sonnebergs feel a freedom they had almost forgotten: They can push all three kids in their strollers as they walk to temple because the Jewish community's new, expanded eruv, or symbolic wall, is up and running.

"We were impacted enormously by the closing," said Ari Sonneberg, 34, who moved west of Boynton Beach with the family almost three years ago from Boston. "My wife was stuck at home, and she loves to go to synagogue to pray and see friends. I almost had to bribe my two older children to walk with me."

The Boynton Beach-area eruv -- a series of boundaries that allow observant Jews to push strollers or carry objects on the Sabbath -- is functional after almost six weeks of disrepair. Jewish law prohibits the carrying of objects outside the home on the Sabbath.

The prohibition against carrying comes from the Torah and is also mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah: "Beware for your souls and carry no burden on the Sabbath day." Talmudic scholars explained the law to mean objects may not be carried between thoroughfares.

The eruv is considered an extension of each congregant's home, where families are permitted to carry things during their day of rest.

When the boundaries of the old eruv, which measured about 10 square miles, began to break on a regular basis a few months ago, Rabbi Sholom Ciment of Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Boynton said he consulted with fellow rabbis to create expanded boundaries that would allow even more Jews to walk unimpeded. They surveyed the area and examined every inch of the proposed perimeter to make sure they could maintain an unbroken boundary.

The perimeter must be inviolate for the length of the eruv; natural barriers such as canals and security walls make up most of it, with strings put up by the rabbis filling in the gaps. These strings often break during rainstorms or construction and are inspected each week to make sure they are undisturbed.

The new eruv measures 84 square miles, extending from Florida's Turnpike on the west to Interstate 95 on the east, and the Boynton Canal on the north to the L-30 Canal to the south.

Ciment said he is thrilled that the new eruv is larger, symbolizing, he believes, the expansion of the Boynton Beach area's Jewish community. A 2005 study showed the number of Jewish households in the area grew 63 percent from 1999 to 2005, to about 60,000, although Ciment says the number has since grown to more than 80,000.

About 175 families walk to the Boynton Chabad each weekend, Ciment said.

"It's like we have made one large home or one large tent that will ingather the whole Boynton area," Ciment said.

Once a Place of Hope, Now a Source of Tension

ASPEN, Colo. — The Silver Lining Ranch has often been a scene of anguish over the years, and also of hope. Since the late 1990s, thousands of children with cancer have come here to experience a few weeks of outdoor life in a beautiful spot through a group co-founded by the former tennis star Andrea Jaeger, who became an Anglican Dominican nun after leaving the professional tennis circuit.

But these days anguish appears to be winning out. The Little Star Foundation, which runs the ranch, is teetering on the brink of collapse, Ms. Jaeger said, through that most earthbound and profane of things: real estate.

The 6.5 acres that the ranch sits on, just outside downtown Aspen, was donated in 1994 and is now immensely valuable in this enclave of superwealth. But a proposed sale of the property, intended to bolster the foundation’s finances and create a long-term endowment, has backfired.

Neighbors of Ms. Jaeger, who is president of the foundation, say the proposed sale, for $13.5 million — to the Chabad Jewish Community Center, a synagogue transplanted to the central Rockies from the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn nine years ago — is illegal, citing covenants of a homeowners’ association that allow the property to be used only as a private home or for treating terminally ill children. Despite the covenants, the Aspen City Council unanimously approved the sale in May.

Most of Little Star’s operations have ceased and many employees have not been paid for months. The loans that were supposed to support the foundation until the sale have come up short.

The result is a stew of recrimination, entrenchment and talk of lawsuits. High-minded goals and spirituality have given way to lawyers and money, which Aspen has in abundance.

Ms. Jaeger, 44, who was briefly the No. 2 women’s tennis player in the world before injuries forced her from the game at age 19, spoke in tones of nostalgia and grief as she recited from memory the odyssey of the children who had come through her care.

In an interview in the silent main building (most of the foundation’s work was transferred in 2006 to a property in Durango, Colo., in preparation for a sale, and to reduce costs), she spoke of the hurdles of illness and life, and — all too often — death, that the children faced. She ran her fingers down the hand-painted tiles left behind on a wall in the recreation room and spoke of their memories and dreams: a relapse and decline, a first experience riding a horse, a hope of living long enough to attend college.

“I don’t think they said, ‘I’m going to wake up today and destroy thousands of kids’ lives because I want to choose my neighbors,’ ” Ms. Jaeger said, referring to members of the homeowners’ association. But the blocked contract is having that effect, she said, as children are turned down for help and programs are cut.

One member of the five-family homeowners’ association agreed that the results of the standoff were lamentable. But the member, Peter Gerson, said Ms. Jaeger was entirely at fault for entering into a contract in violation of property covenants.

“It’s an unfortunate situation, but the Silver Lining Ranch people brought it upon themselves,” said Mr. Gerson, who like all the owners lives far enough away, across a private open space of woods and fields, that the ranch buildings can barely be seen, if at all.

At the City Council hearings, the homeowners’ association also raised concerns about a sale to Chabad on grounds that a new use would increase traffic and noise problems on Ute Avenue, where the Silver Lining Ranch has its driveway — even though no other members of the group other than the ranch even use that road to reach their homes.

As for having Chabad as a neighbor, Mr. Gerson said he would be for it; the rabbi who directs the center, Mendel Mintz, is a friend, he said. But Mr. Gerson added that the covenants allowed only the two approved uses on the property and that Chabad did not fit.

“We’re powerless to do anything,” Mr. Gerson said.

The president of the homeowners’ association, Thomas P. Reagan, said of the land covenant: “It was meant to be extremely restrictive, and the proposed use does simply not fit the allowed use.”

Some people in town, including a former City Council member who supported the sale to Chabad, point out that the homeowners’ association was not powerless and amended the covenants earlier this year after the contract between the foundation and Chabad had been signed but before the Council’s vote to approve the sale.

The conference call to amend the covenants took place in January without Ms. Jaeger’s participation, and the homeowners approved language that would “clarify” the original intent of the covenants — that only terminally ill children or market-based private housing were allowed on Lot 5, the ranch property.

“They probably didn’t like the Silver Lining Ranch use either, but they had to put up with it,” said Jack Johnson, who served on the Council for four years before being defeated in an election in May.

Mr. Johnson said he thought the association’s goal was to get a private homeowner on the land. “If they continue to bully and block,” he said, “there’s no doubt of their intentions.”

Rabbi Mintz said that until the legal cloud was lifted, he could not close on the sale without exposing the community center to liability. He said he had seen no evidence of anti-Semitism, only the expression of wealth.

“It’s part of dealing with very affluent people who are used to having things go their way,” he said in an interview at the group’s downtown Aspen community center.

But as Ms. Jaeger readily admits, she also had a clear financial motive. Some people say she may have undermined support for her cause by having tried to do the same thing a few years ago that it appears the homeowners’ group wants to do now — shifting the property back to a private, higher-value use.

She initially tried to sell the ranch to a family for $24 million, which would have gone a long way to building Little Star’s endowment, she said in the interview. But the City Council denied permission, saying the best use of the land was for nonprofit community use. That reduced the value of the land and buildings almost in half and led to the negotiations with Chabad.

Mayor Mick Ireland of Aspen said he thought the newly restrictive covenants were an effort to “straitjacket” the city into allowing a change back into private use as a solution to everyone’s problems — more money for Ms. Jaeger’s foundation and the dropping of objections from the neighbors. Mr. Ireland said that would not happen.

“As a community, we want to encourage places of worship and kids’ facilities; that’s what communities do,” he said. “It’s not our job to make a property more marketable.”

Chabad on the Plaza now up and running

Written by Marcia Horn, Community Editor
Friday, 31 July 2009 12:00

He calls his new endeavor Chabad on the Plaza, which is where he and his family live. But Rabbi Yitzchak Itkin has found office space in the Crossroads district.


The rabbi has rented a desk in Shaul Jolles’ OfficePort KC building, 203 W. 19th St. He and his wife, Chanah, and their son, Meir, arrived in Kansas City several months ago to establish the fourth outpost of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in the greater Kansas City area. The others are the original Chabad House, the Torah Learning Center in Overland Park and Chabad at the University of Kansas.

Rabbi Mendy Wineberg, program director of Chabad KC, said he had been hoping to establish a downtown presence for the past five years. Rabbi Itkin said OfficePort KC is the perfect location.

“We knew we wanted to be in an area that was between the Plaza and downtown, accessible for everybody,” he said. “… OfficePort (is) a great collaboration of all different people coming together to find a place to work together … and there’s enough space to hold classes.”

OfficePort KC is the latest redevelopment project in the Crossroads district of real estate broker Shaul Jolles, who is a native of Israel. Jolles rents small office spaces to people on a month-to-month basis.

“It makes it more interesting and spirited, it’s a much more public atmosphere because you’re not confined to a regular desk and regular office,” Rabbi Itkin said. “It’s a come-as-you-go and work-as-you-go kind of thing.”

Self-sustaining
Rabbi and Mrs. Itkin get no subsidy from the central Chabad-Lubavitch movement, so they must sustain themselves by raising donations. But Rabbi Itkin isn’t worried. He believes it is only a matter of time before Chabad on the Plaza becomes a highly successful enterprise.

“I don’t think it will be as long as we anticipated until people will actually realize what we’re doing,” he said. “One of the areas where we’re looking to focus now is young people just coming out of college and now working in the mid- to downtown area. We’re looking to open up opportunities for them.”

Rabbi Itkin said he has discovered there is already an identifiable Jewish population in the Crossroads area, so he and Chanah are exploring the idea of holding classes or other events aimed specifically at them.

Then there is the Jewish Learning Institute, of which Rabbi Itkin hopes to be a part. JLI offers professionally designed classes, which are taught by Chabad rabbis all over the country. Each class is taught simultaneously at Chabad centers nationwide, so you can catch the same class in many different cities.

Rabbi Itkin said he might bring Chabad of KC’s Men’s Summer Yeshiva, which takes place Aug. 3-25 (See related story), downtown, as well. It consists of four visiting rabbinical students, supervised by Rabbi Shmuely Wineberg of Chabad House KC, who offer to meet with students to study at whatever venue is most convenient — a student’s home, office, a kosher restaurant or Chabad House Center.

It’s a bit early to discuss his still-developing plans to hold High Holy Day programs and services in the Plaza area, Rabbi Itkin said.
Some people have heard about Chabad on the Plaza through its new Web site, plazachabad.com. But Rabbi Itkin said word of mouth is still the best means of communication.
“That’s been our success since the first day we came here,” Rabbi Itkin said. “Someone sees something good, they tell their friends about it, and that’s how it’s been working. So we appreciate the good feedback … and that’s the way I think we’re going to survive.”

Men’s Summer Yeshiva returns to KC

The Chabad Men’s Summer Yeshiva is an annual program designed to stimulate the study of classic texts by Jewish men and boys.

The local Chabad House has participated in the program for many years. It consists of a group of visiting rabbinic students who offer classes to anyone who wants one (or more) on the Jewish topic of the participant’s choice.

Possible subjects include Kabballah and mysticism, Talmud, prophets, Jewish law and customs, Temple history, Torah commentary with Rashi, Maimonides and more. Students can study the texts in depth or use them as a jumping-off point for a discussion.

Chabad’s Summer 2009 Yeshiva runs Aug. 3-25. Participants choose the topic, time and place they wish to study. Sessions can be set up at one’s office, home or at Chabad. It’s free of charge, although donations are welcomed.

Register online at www.chabadkc.org or call (913) 649-4852. For more information, send e-mail toyeshiva@chabadkc.org .



Rabbi encourages positive deeds, attitude

NEW PORT RICHEY — Rabbi Shabsi Alpern was far from home Monday night, speaking to a room full of people about God and what he wants from us.

"This is the last place I expected to be tonight," said Alpern, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Sao Paulo, Brazil. His 48th anniversary doing Jewish outreach in Brazil fell on that night.

Rabbi Yossi and Dina Eber with Chabad Jewish Center of West Pasco invited the esteemed rabbi, who was spending some time in Miami, to speak to their community in Trinity and share his insights.

"He wanted to make the drive because he knows what it's like to move out to a place like this," said Rabbi Eber, who came to Pasco County three years ago from Brooklyn.

"Because of him and people like him, we have others doing it today. He set the example."

With a long white beard, small frame and warm eyes, Alpern spoke through stories and anecdotes, but his main message was about serving others.

"Each one of us has a buried treasure within that he has to reveal," he said. "By doing good for others, that's how you find it."

It's the mission of the Jewish people to use their physical world to elevate and bring out that holiness, he said, with such acts as lighting Shabbat candles, praying and giving food to the homeless.

"Any little thing that you do … you don't know what may be missing here in New Port Richey," Alpern said. "One of you may hit the jackpot. Take advantage of every situation and do something good."

A good deed is eternal, he said, even if someone does a hundred not-so-good deeds.

The Chabad leader, Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who passed away in 1994, sent emissaries like Alpern and the Ebers to places like Brazil and Pasco County, and thousands of other locations.

Chabad-Lubavitch is a mystical branch of Judaism that started in Russia 250 years ago. Now based in Brooklyn, the group has 4,000 emissary families around the world reaching out to and teaching nonobservant Jews about Judaism. Two rabbis involved in the organization were killed last November in the terrorist attacks on Mumbai, India.

The mission is to "reach out to every single Jew in every community all over the world," Eber said, "to bring Judaism to them, bring comfort to them, and be there in any way.

"That's really what it's about," he added, "to make this a dwelling place for God, a caring world. It's a ripple effect."

Vicky Benedon of Trinity told the group that what stands out most in her mind is walking through the Auschwitz concentration camp.

"I have never heard so many people saying, 'Oh my God,' " she said. "There's always a God. The people that survived, survived because of God."

A couple of people in the audience spoke about suffering and about doubting God's existence. Alpern responded matter-of-factly that he and his parents survived the Holocaust and came to the United States, while the rest of his family died during the war.

But it still didn't shake his belief in God. When people have questions or doubts, he said, it comes down to two things: Try to get answers, which takes time; and continue being a child of God.

"Misery, violence, the Holocaust, Iraq … he owes us a lot of answers," Alpern said. "We have to have patience."

While some people may call themselves atheists, Rabbi Alpern said that "everyone has a moment when he believes in God."

"God knows everyone has doubts," Keep on doing good things, he said. "Positive doubt, that will bring you to a positive attitude."

Alpern also spoke about the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'av, which was Thursday. The day marks the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem.

"Centuries later, people can still cry like it happened yesterday," he said.

The rabbi said it's an especially good time to think in positive terms.

"What good things can we add to our world and our people … to quicken the coming of the Messiah and the building of the third Temple? May it happen speedily in our times."

The Jewish people have a mission that's not accomplished in just one generation, he said. Each generation builds on each other, he said, and every good deed makes a difference.

"The cup is almost full," he said. "We just need to add a few drops."

Mindy Rubenstein can be reached at Mindy.Rubenstein@me.com.


fast facts

About the Chabad of West Pasco

To learn more about classes and services, visit www.chabadwp.com or call Rabbi Yossi Eber at (727) 376-3366.

Roving Rabbis seek out Jews who are not religiously active

ARLINGTON — The Roving Rabbis aren’t a band, but they are looking for an audience.

Sponsored by the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement and based in Brooklyn, N.Y., the program aims to bring together Orthodox rabbinical students and Jews who are not active religiously.

"The challenge is . . . people don’t know what we want from them," said rabbi Shaya Lowenstein, 22, who’s half of the visiting two-man Roving Rabbi team that’s spending about three weeks in Arlington this summer. "We’re just looking to give them the opportunity to do something religious."

That opportunity is a matter of some urgency to many: The birthrate and number of American Jews have fallen since 1990, and intermarriage is up. One prominent rabbi recently urged his followers to embark on a "rescue mission" to prevent American Jewry from disappearing.

The Roving Rabbi program, now decades old, has about 4,000 emissaries worldwide working during the summer. The point is not to proselytize non-Jews but to kindle participation among those born into Judaism.

"As a general rule, Tarrant County is not a very Jewish area," said rabbi Levi Gurevitch of Arlington, who is supervising the work of Lowenstein and Shmulik Raices, also a 22-year-old rabbinical graduate. "I applied to bring them to Tarrant County to help me with my outreach. They’re finding quite a few people, which is why I brought them here."

But the goal isn’t simply to bring more people to services.

"We haven’t survived by increasing our numbers but by increasing our faith," said rabbi Dove Mandel of the Fort Worth Chabad, which he and his wife started in their house in 2002. "I’m mainly looking for Jews to fulfill their faith. It’s about every Jew fulfilling their covenant with God."

Lowenstein and Raices are staying in the Arlington Chabad center near Lake Arlington, which doubles as the home for Gurevitch and his wife as well as being a synagogue. He provides room and board; Roving Rabbis covers transportation to Texas, he said.

"Hopefully, we’ll grow into a full-fledged center," said Gurevitch, who co-directs the center with his wife. "Right now we’re just in the baby stages of that."

Rabbi Menachem Block served in Berlin and Iowa when he was a Roving Rabbi. He now directs the thriving Plano Chabad center.

"The Roving Rabbis are able to get to communities that don’t have an established rabbi," Block said. "When you’re by yourself there’s only so much you can do."

Counting the Arlington center, Gurevitch said, there are six Chabad centers in North Texas. To locate local residents who might be receptive, Gurevitch bought a sales list, from which names that appear to be Jewish are culled.

"We don’t seek converts," Gurevitch said. "It’s very targeted."

The temporary help, even if it’s just for a few weeks in the summer, is valuable in making contacts and establishing relationships, particularly with younger people.

"Unfortunately, in America the younger generation seems to be very, very assimilated," Gurevitch said.

Mandel said: "It’s important, because the majority of Jewish people have little contact with their own synagogue. By having energetic young rabbis show up with a smile on their face, it sort of fans the flames of their Jewish spark."

Working as a Roving Rabbi can be as important to the young participants as to those they’re trying to reach, Block said.

"The experience you have . . . is tremendous," he said, calling it "a great program."

"It’s very inspirational."

Mandel, however, laughed when he talked about the reaction the Roving Rabbis can evoke in some quarters.

"You see two young rabbis wearing black fedoras; they’ve got their fringes at the corners of their garments," Mandel said. " . . .  It’s something you see by the thousands in New York City, but not in suburban Texas."

That’s something that struck Lowenstein, who did his rabbinical studies in New York. He hopes to get married and start a family before he settles down with a congregation of his own.

"You never know" where you’ll find the right girl, Lowenstein said. "But the chances may be a little better in Brooklyn. The numbers work out a little better there."

I’m mainly looking for Jews to fulfill their faith. It’s about every Jew fulfilling their covenant with God."

Rabbi Dove Mandel,
Fort Worth Chabad

3 rabbis in training make a stop in Utah during cross-country trip

SALT LAKE CITY -- From New York City to San Francisco and back again in a van, the traveling troupe is three young rabbis in training.

These young men came through Salt Lake City because they are members of the Lubavitch Youth Organization, and Rabbi Benny Zippel of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah welcomed them. We found them meeting and greeting downtown.

They say they are spreading a message of unity and doing good deeds. They say they are pleasantly surprised at how receptive and friendly people have been in Salt Lake and all along the way.

They give wristbands which say "I've met the Road Sage, and I've performed a good deed." For those of the Jewish faith, it's called a Mitzvah--the pay it forward concept.

And although they follow ancient principles in their faith, the young soon-to-be rabbis have jumped into the technology age. Dov Barber, the Road Sage, said, "We've set up a website. We've set up a blog. We upload photos, Twitter. You know it's all that social networking nowadays. We Twitter a lot, blog. People come, they follow you, and also the idea, is really, you speak about traveling across America. It's only us three, people wanted to come along, so you have virtual followers."

Inside the van, there is a board for signatures, for people they have met. Most of them are campers along the way, but in Salt Lake, some young people they greeted downtown wanted to add their names. The Road Sage group will be in San Francisco Friday evening to celebrate the Sabbath there.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

After arrests, Orthodox groups stress importance of obeying the law

WASHINGTON (JTA) -- In the wake of last week’s arrests of several prominent rabbis, some Orthodox leaders are working to ensure that their institutions are following the letter of the law.

At a Chabad-Lubavitch regional conference over the weekend in northern Virginia, several of the Chasidic movement’s senior rabbis stressed the importance of obeying the law, according to Rabbi Levi Shemtov, director of the Washington office of American Friends of Lubavitch.

The movement's late spiritual leader, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, "clearly instructed all emissaries of Lubavitch that all activities, particularly those undertaken in the name of the movement, must be lawful,” Shemtov said. “The Talmud clearly rules that the law of the land, especially in the case of a government which allows Jews to live freely, takes on the force of Jewish law.”

In New York, a leader of Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella group bringing together several Chasidic and non-Chasidic communities, helped organize a meeting to stress the same theme. The meeting was to feature two prominent rabbis and two well-known New York lawyers, Benjamin Brafman and Jacob Laufer.

The meeting was announced in an e-mail sent out by Agudah’s executive vice president, Rabbi David Zweibel, to the organization’s supporters. Titled “An Urgent Gathering,” the e-mail said the meeting would be “focusing on the timeless (but also all too timely) theme of ‘Vi'asisa hayashar vi'hatov,’ or making sure one is doing ‘the good and honest thing.’ "

“In the wake of recent headlines and front-page photographs that made every feeling Jewish heart ache, it is even more timely for us to take a good, hard look at our obligations to our fellows, to our society, to our government,” Zweibel said in the e-mail, adding that “I am confident that you realize how vital it is that we hear words of mussar [taking stock] and chizuk [reinforcement], and that we learn to distinguish between conduct that conforms with dina d'malchusa [the law of the land] and conduct that does not.”

The meeting comes less than a week after five New York and New Jersey rabbis were arrested July 23 on charges of money laundering. Authorities say the rabbis accepted large checks made out to tax-exempt charitable organizations associated with their synagogues, usually keeping 10 percent of the money and returning the rest to the donor in cash.

The charges somewhat echo a case involving the spiritual leader of the Spinka Chasidic sect in December 2007, in which religious leaders in New York and Jewish businessmen in Los Angeles were charged with soliciting “tens of millions of dollars” in contributions to their charities while secretly refunding as much as 95 percent of the donors' money, allowing the contributors to claim improper tax deductions.

The head of the Spinka group, Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Weisz, agreed to plead guilty to the charges earlier this month.

A criminal defense lawyer familiar with the Jewish community said he doubted that the New Jersey and Spinka cases signaled any kind of targeting or trend among federal prosecutors of Orthodox Jewish groups.

“I think it's a coincidence,” said the lawyer, who did not want to be identified. The cases are “instances of somebody trying to reduce their own sentence” by telling the government what he knew about other possible criminality, he said.

In both scandals, a defendant charged with serious financial crimes unrelated to the Jewish community became a confidential informant for the government, wearing a wire to implicate rabbis.

A U.S. Justice Department spokesman declined comment on both affairs and referred a reporter to the individual U.S. attorneys offices that brought the charges.

The Orthodox Union declined comment on the New Jersey scandal.

One expert said the best ways for charities to avoid getting caught up in any trouble with the law are pretty basic.

First, “stick to what the mission really is” of the charity and don't start freelancing, said Kenneth Ryesky, an attorney who teaches tax and business law at Queens College in New York.

One rabbi who did not wish to be identified said he periodically gets a request from a potential donor similar to what the Spinka rabbis were allegedly doing -- accepting a large check and returning most of the money in cash to the donor -- and always rejects the offer immediately.

That's the best reaction, Ryesky said.

“If it doesn't pass the smell test," he said, "don't have anything to do with it.”

i-visit-chabadorg-on-shabbos

No, I don’t, but you’ll see what I mean in a few paragraphs.)

“Thou shalt not study Torah,” beginning at midday today, erev Tisha b’Av, as part of our mourning for the Beit haMikdash.

As the gemara (Taanit 30a) explains, “One may not learn Torah, Neviim or Ketuvim, or study mishnah or talmud, midrash, halachot or aggadot.” There are permitted exceptions, principally for sad topics and study related to mourning, but the overall theme is that Torah learning is a joyous experience, so we don’t engage in it on Tisha b’Av.

[I wonder if this law is not also related to the aftermath of the Golden Calf. Per the midrash, when the Jews received the Torah they also received special crowns. After the Golden Calf, HaShem instructed them, “Remove your crown” (Shemot 32:5-6), apparently a reference those crowns. “You have sinned; you don’t deserve to don the glory of Torah.”]

Many of us take this law lightly; how could Gd punish a Jew for studying Torah?

And we have other such limitations on Torah study. We are not to think about Torah in the bathroom, or when inappropriately dressed. We are taught that it is sinful to study Torah without first reciting birchot hatorah, the special blessings for Torah study. And for all of them, there are those who ignore them; how could Gd punish a Jew for studying Torah?

It reminds me of the Jew who studies the parshah every Shabbat by reading divrei torah on torah.org, or ou.org, or chabad.org.

Were this Jew not reading divrei torah on-line, he would likely be engaged in some other activity that I consider desecration of Shabbat – shopping at the mall, driving to a park, talking on the phone, flipping channels on TV. In that sense, it’s better that he read divrei torah, I suppose.

Again: How could Gd punish a Jew for studying Torah?

I suppose it comes down to our sense of ownership of Torah, our feeling that we have a certain right to evaluate and set priorities among its various imperatives. A mitzvah is only a mitzvah when the Torah defines it as a mitzvah.

Perhaps a good Tisha b’Av example of this is in the Kamtza/Bar Kamtza story (Gittin 55b-56a, and see also the version in Eichah Rabbah), when the sages are seated at a feast and Bar Kamtza is embarrassed by the host.

The sages don’t protest, because they think it’s better to be humble (see the Eichah Rabbah version, especially). But the Torah’s priority is to protect Bar Kamtza, who is being attacked.

And perhaps the same thing happened with the rabbis in the Brooklyn/New Jersey scandal of this past week. Maybe they thought they were helping generate tzedakah money, maybe they had some other justification for committing these financial crimes. [I am NOT justifying it; my point is that people who set their own priorities get into trouble.]

When we set our own priorities, we get skewed results and rationalizations. Better to hold off on Torah (other than the permitted parts) during Tisha b’Av, remove the crown, absorb the intense reality of exile, and get started on rebuilding the Beit haMikdash.

[Of course, the big problem is when skewed-view human beings try to define the Torah’s objective priorities… implementation is harder than theory…]

Chabad Tries Court to Get Rabbis' Books Back From Russia

The bell rang on June 26 to mark the end of the latest round, but no one can say when the fight between the Chabad-Lubavitch sect and the Russian Federation will end. When one side is trying to recover its religious legacy and the other is defining its national heritage, throwing in the towel is not an option.

At issue is an irreplaceable library of some 12,000 rare books, 381 manuscripts and 25,000 pages of handwritten rabbinical teachings that were once held by the Chabad-Lubavitch head rabbis but were left behind when the rabbis fled for safety during the world wars. The collection now sits in the Russian State Library and the Russian State Military Archive. Chabad is suing in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to get it back. Last month, after nearly five years of litigation, Russia said it would no longer participate in the case.

"They have decided that, after they lost the first couple rounds, they're taking their marbles and going home," said Nathan Lewin, one of the lawyers representing Chabad.

But Lewin suggests his client isn't likely to give up so quickly. What's four years when -- to quote Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, who has led Chabad's efforts to recover the library -- you're engaged in a "spiritual quest"?

STEEPED IN TEARS

Today, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement is one of ultra-orthodox Judaism's most influential sects and is based in New York. As for the library, Cunin, who is head of Chabad-Lubavitch on the West Coast, called it "the essence, the soul [of Chabad]. These books are steeped with the tears of the rebbes who wrote them."

A century ago, the Lubavitchers were based in Russia. During the Communist Revolution, Bolsheviks seized the library of their leader, the fifth rabbi, who had left it in a Moscow warehouse while escaping World War I. Two decades later, the sixth rabbi was forced to flee Nazi-occupied Poland, leaving behind his own library. By the war's end, that library had been looted by Hitler's troops, then taken again by Soviet soldiers, who carted it back to Moscow, there to join the fifth rabbi's collection.

Like so many things that disappeared behind the Iron Curtain, the fate of the library was not clear. At one point, Soviet authorities said it had burned in an accidental fire. But the library resurfaced in 1988, and Chabad began negotiations to try to have it returned. Over time, it enlisted political figures such as then-Secretary of State James Baker III and then-Vice President Al Gore in its efforts to cajole Russia's political leaders. Despite several promises and the return of eight token books, the library has stayed put.

In court documents, Russia has said it considers the library a part of its cultural heritage -- after all, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement began there, and the sect is alive in Russia today. This dispute parallels an ongoing debate about Russia's World War II legacy. The country has been notoriously slow, and often outright unwilling, to return the millions of cultural treasures it seized from Germany and other territories it occupied. These so-called "trophies" the Russian government sees as compensation for the horrors Russia suffered at the hands of the Nazis. It has promised to review its collections for art that originally belonged Jewish families, but has yet to do so.

"I really don't think that they're intent on keeping the Jewish looted art, but I don't think there's any political will to move it along or the resources to do it," said Stuart Eizenstat, a partner at Washington's Covington & Burling who has been deeply involved in Holocaust restitution efforts.

On the same day Russia officially abandoned the Chabad case, it sent a delegation to Prague, Czech Republic, to join 48 other countries discussing issues of World War II restitution. Each country committed itself to a set of standards for returning artifacts belonging to Holocaust victims. According to Eizenstat, who led the U.S. delegation, Russia lobbied for language that would have let it argue against handing back much of its wartime loot. (Eventually, Eizenstat said, the conference allowed a more "harmless" version of the clause.)

THE COURT ROUTE

Chabad launched its U.S. litigation to retrieve the rabbis' library in November 2004, suing Russia in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, where it was represented byBingham McCutchen partners Seth Gerber and Marshall Grossman. The case hinged on a section of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that permits individuals to sue foreign countries over property seized in violation of international law. Under the statute, the FSIA suit was removed to Washington, where Nathan and Alyza Lewin of Lewin & Lewin joined the case, along with Howrey partner William Bradford Reynolds. The case is before Chief Judge Royce Lamberth.

Initially, Russia sought to dismiss the suit on grounds that it had never violated any international conventions. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit sided with Chabad in June 2008.

In January of this year, Russia's lawyers at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey -- including James Murphy, Alan Briggs and Jeremy Dutra in the Washington office, who declined comment -- asked to be removed from the case. They had lost contact with their client, they told the court, and weren't being paid. In March, they withdrew the request, explaining only that they had "reached an accommodation" with their client.

Meanwhile, Chabad discovered that pages of the handwritten teachings were turning up on the Israeli black market, where they were selling for $10,000 to $20,000 per page, according to Nathan Lewin. Russia denied that the pages had come from the military archive, but Lamberth issued an injunction on Jan. 27 ordering Russia to step up its efforts to protect the contents of the library.

The case seemed to be moving slowly toward discovery until this month, when Russia finally stepped out.

"The Russian Federation views any continued defense before this Court and, indeed, any participation in this litigation as fundamentally incompatible with its rights as a sovereign nation," its filing stated, adding that Chabad was free to press its case in the Russian courts. However, if the U.S. government chose to intervene again, Russia wrote, the United States should stick to "diplomatic channels."

"If they had wanted to take that position, they should have taken it without trying to test their legal arguments in the courts," responded Lewin.

TACTICS VS. TACTICS

Ordinarily, when countries are sued under the FSIA, they decide at the start whether to defend themselves or simply default and let the plaintiff try to collect a judgment. But Russia's move is not unprecedented, said Steven Perles of the Perles Law Firm in Washington. In politically charged suits, countries sometimes attempt a legal defense through a motion to dismiss and then bail out of the litigation before the case can go to discovery or be tried on the merits, said Perles, a specialist in FSIA cases. He pointed to suits over terrorist attacks involving Libya and Sudan as examples.

"It's just smart litigation tactics on their part," Perles said. If Russia had managed to persuade the court to dismiss Chabad's case, he noted, it could have used the ruling as a buffer against diplomatic pressure down the line.

With Russia gone, Chabad will still be free to pursue a judgment in U.S. district court. But Russia might not have much to worry about, said Crowell & Moring partner Stuart Newberger, who co-chairs the Washington firm's international dispute resolution practice. Even if Chabad were to win an award in federal court here, he said, it could collect only by petitioning a Russian court.

"If they want to enforce the judgment, they're going to have to go to Moscow, and that may be why the Russians decided to pull from the case," Newberger said.

Nathan Lewin disagrees with that interpretation of the FSIA. He said he believes that Chabad could enforce a judgment by attaching Russian assets in the United States.

Not that Chabad wants those assets. "The reason we went to the courts was that we saw from the diplomatic efforts that we were running up against a stone wall," Lewin said. Any assets his client claimed, he said, would serve as leverage to pressure Russia to, at long last, release the library.


Jewish Group Seeks Default Judgment Against Russia

A Jewish organization asked a federal judge for a default judgment against Russia today, following the country's exit from a long-running lawsuit over a priceless religious library.

Lawyers for Chabad-Lubavitch, one of the world’s largest sects of ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jews, filed a motion today at the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia accusing Russia of flaunting U.S. law by ducking out of the suit. On June 26, Russia filed a notice informing the court that it would no longer participate in the litigation, which it called “incompatible with its rights as a sovereign nation.”

Russia, represented by a team from Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, had already litigated the case through a motion to dismiss and an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which ruled that all of Chabad’s claims could go forward.

“[Russia’s] refusal to accept the decision of the Court of Appeals and their disobedience of this Court’s orders and contempt for this Court’s processes warrant the entry of a default,” Chabad’s filing states.

Chabad’s lawyers — Nathan Lewin and Alyza Lewin of Lewin & Lewin, Marshall Grossman and Seth Gerber of Bingham McCutchen, and William Bradford Reynolds of Howrey — said they would seek a default shortly after Russia abandoned the suit. Even, if they convince Judge Royce Lamberth to rule in their favor, collecting on the judgment could be difficult. It unclear they will be able to seek Russian assets in the U.S., or if they will have to seek compensation in a Russian court.

See the National Law Journal’s last story on the suit.

RELIGION - Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis visiting Guam

Two young Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis are visiting Guam from July 28 to Aug. 17 as part of a community outreach program.

Rabbis Chesky Klein and David Loksen will be distributing videos, brochures, books, Shabbat candles, mezuzahs (a religious scroll placed on doorways) and will be working closely with the local Jewish community, according to a news release. The pair will teach classes, including one on Kabbalah, and host Shabbat dinners.

The two rabbis are part of a worldwide program sometimes referred to as “the Lubavitch Summer Peace Corps,” in which some 400 young rabbis and senior rabbinical students visit thousands of locations worldwide, including countries like Bolivia, Bosnia, Cambodia, Croatia, Fiji, Guadeloupe, Ireland, Portugal, Sri Lanka and Uruguay.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Chabad rabbi gives Senate invocation

Rabbi Shea Harlig, director of Chabad of Southern Nevada, opened up Senate proceedings on June 25th with an invocation to honor the 15th anniversary of the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. The invitation came from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
After saying that he came in the spirit of the seven Noahide laws, Harlig said, "I beseech you, Almighty G-d, to grant renewed strength and fortitude to all who protect, preserve and help further these ideals so essential to the dignity of the human spirit. Please grant that our beloved Rebbe's vision of a world of peace and tranquility -- free of war, hatred and strife -- be realized speedily in our days.
A transcript of Harlig's prayer can be read here, and below is the video of his appearance in the Senate.

Transcript from Chabad.org
"Almighty G-d, the members of this prestigious body, the United States Senate, convene here in the spirit of one of the seven Noahide Laws which were set forth by You as an eternal universal code of ethics for all of mankind.
"These seven laws are: To worship You alone; never to blaspheme Your Holy Name; not to murder; not to commit adultery or any such aberration; not to steal or be deceitful; not to be cruel to any living creature; and that every society be governed by just laws which are based in the recognition of You, O G-d, as the Sovereign Ruler of all people and all nations.

"On this twenty-fifth day of June, 2009, which corresponds to the Third Day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz, we are 15 years - to the day - from the physical passing of our esteemed spiritual leader, The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of blessed memory, who consistently extolled the virtues of this great land as a "Nation of Kindness".
"I beseech you, Almighty G-d, to grant renewed strength and fortitude to all who protect, preserve and help further these ideals so essential to the dignity of the human spirit. Please grant that our beloved Rebbe's vision of a world of peace and tranquility - free of war, hatred and strife - be realized speedily in our days.
"G-d Bless this hallowed body. G-d Bless our troops who stand in defense of this great land. G-d Bless the United States of America."
"We, the citizens of this blessed country proudly proclaim this recognition and our commitment to justice in our Pledge of Allegiance "One Nation - Under G-d - with Liberty and Justice for All." "Grant us Almighty G-d that those assembled here be aware of Your presence and conduct their deliberations accordingly. Bless them with good health, wisdom, compassion, and good fellowship.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The search for Jews in Ireland

Many New Yorkers buy airline tickets to Ireland to find long lost relatives and connect with their heritage on the Emerald Island. But for two young men Baruch Davidson and Pinny Raitman the goal was not to find family in the strict sense, but to connect with people in the faith.

Davidson and Raitman, both in their mid-twenties, are rabbinical students in a large Hasidic movement within Orthodox Judaism: Chabad. Over the past 60 years, Chabad has been sending pairs of young rabbis to far-flung points of the globe. The Roving Rabbis program aims to provide hands-on experience to rabbis in-the-making whose assignment is to “spread the light of the Torah,” seeking out unaffiliated Jews and helping them find a way back to their faith, a mission that is not a priority for most mainstream Jews.

But finding Jews in Ireland was not an easy task. Of Ireland’s 4.4 million people, only 2,000 are Jewish. Once on the island Davidson and Raitman walked off the beaten paths. They rented a car and instead of large cities, where the large communites are to be found, they opted for small towns and tiny villages in their search for Jews. “We would go to any local stores or pharmacies and asked ‘Do you know any Jews here?” said Raitman. “They would get all excited,” he remembers, “yes we know this lady, they said, lets call her. So they went to the phonebook and started to calling up people. We found people who were off the radar,” maps were of no help, “we had to ask them for their exact directions.” Here are some of the Jews they met:

Rebecca Grinblat is an Australian native who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home and married to a Catholic Irishman. It was not until she moved to Limerick that shelearned to make hamentashen – triangular poppy and prune filled pastries – a special holiday treat. In Melbourne there was no need to worry about holiday pastries, which could be conveniently purchased in one of the many local kosher bakeries. In Limerick, however, she has to bake it herself as the nearest kosher bakery is 2.5 hours away by train to Dublin.

Gerard Hunt, a Dublin-born businessman said it was not a long ago that he began wearing his kippah in Wexford, where he is one of the four Jews of 10,000 people. He said he feels isolated from other Jews and that the only way to learn about his religion was to take a-year-long web course.

Eva Coombes grew up in a Jewish community in France but today drives an hour from Castleroy, a leafy suburb of Limerick, to the synagogue in Cork, the closest point to celebrate and pray together with fellow Jews.

Grinblat, Hunt and Coombes were just the kind of people the young rabbinical students were hoping to meet. The Irish, famous for their friendliness towards strangers, gave the Americans a warm welcome. “They were open and helpful,” said Davidson. Some families had even kept guest books in which they found the signature of Chabad rabbis who had come before them stretching back 50 years. At some places all they had was a chat. “We are not going to impose religion in a cunning way, to get people more religious,” said Raitman “either you are Jewish or your are not. We are not making anyone Jewish. We are there to raise the Jewish spark.”

At other places, like in the Limerick region, they managed to bring a small company of nine Jews together. “They put me in contact with another woman Eva and a man called Eric who also lives nearby,” said Grinblat who became friends with Coombes through the Chabad mission. “People in our group all have non-Jewish partners but we celebrate the holidays together, which is a nice way to maintain traditions in a small community.”

The rabbis of the local synagogues share the outreach mission of the roving rabbis but their congregations do not have the resources to engage congregants in the outside areas. “The only way is to send out a team to the field,” said Rabbi Zalman Shimon Lent of the Orthodox synagogue in Dublin. “If somebody integrates new people into the community, it remains strong,” Davidson said, who, together with Raitman, collected contact information from everyone they visited during the trip. Despite the low population figures, Rabbi Lent is optimistic though realistic about the future of Judaism on the island. “A lot depends on the economic situation of the country - which at the present is in a difficult state,” he said. As for now both roving and rooted rabbis work hard not to lose a single soul from their flock.

Grinblat, who hosted a dinner for the rabbis at her Limerick home attended also by Eva Coombes, said she looked forward to the annual visits. “No matter what else is going on, once a year Chabad is going to come and chat and should you need something they would get it for you and you do not feel you lost connection.” Though the rabbis did not accept the food from her “half-kosher kitchen” they neither attempted to convince her to change her life.

Hunt had the rabbis over in his Wexford shop, where he experienced what he called a spiritual awakening. “Their effort had an effect on me,” he said, “now I am celebrating Purim and Hanukkah and taking online study classes on Judaism.”

Coombes enjoyed discussing points of religion that “I could not discuss with the people among whom I live at the present,” she said adding, “I think outreach is the best thing since handmade Matza.”

The rabbis brought a suitcase of Jewish books and religious objects like mezuzahs, but what turned out to be the most useful thing was ping-pong knowledge. The rabbis recalled meeting Richard, a secular Jew they met in West Cork who initially avoided them and only for his friend’s insistence did he finally agree to join a table tennis game. Raitman, who is originally from Australia where he would participate in table tennis competitions, was happy to play.

“We drove down to a little community center in the middle of nowhere, because Richard was part of a local team,” Raitman said. “We played for hours, which was a great occasion to connect with someone non-religious. We spoke about Jewish things, experiences that he had had as a child that came up in the conversation, which in itself was something special to him. I realized that any talent a person has can always be used to create bridges with another person.”


Monday, June 22, 2009

The Top Rabbis: An Overview

In a first-ever comprehensive study of its kind, the movement that has taken the world by storm through its rock solid management, ceaseless innovation and ever-expanding scope of operations, now has a global ranking it can call its own.



Three of them in fact:

1. Top 15 Global Rabbis
2. Top 10 Global Rising Stars
3. Top 5 Global Educators & Intellectuals



Ranking Criteria:

This one-year independent report assessed the impact of more than 3,500 Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis in close to a 1,000 cities worldwide. The selection was based on the following five equally weighted criteria:

1. Grassroots Achievements
2. Depth of Knowledge
3. Mainstream Political Influence
4. Leadership & Peer Support
5. Financial Backing

The timing of the study's release was deemed highly relevant and newsworthy as it coincides with the commemoration of the 15th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Mendel Schneerson, the 7th and final spiritual leader or "Rebbe" of Chabad.

Top 15 Global Rabbis


#1 Avrohom Shemtov, Washington D.C. / Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Shemtov is chairman of the New York-based Agudas Chasidei Chabad (Association of Chabad Chassidim, also known as “Aguch”), the umbrella organization of Lubavitch. Appointed by the Rebbe as his personal emissary to the nation’s capital, he is the movement’s indisputable dominant policy setter and driving political force. Shemtov has maintained relationships with congressional figures and presidents alike, from Nixon to Reagan, Clinton to Bush. Although he still stands as head representative to both Washington and Pennsylvania (he resides in Philadelphia), Shemtov has since passed the day-to-day mantle in D.C. to his son, Levi. His chairmanship of the organization’s largest school, Beth Rivkah, and primary boys’ camp, Gan Israel, enables him to impact future generations of Chabad leaders. Our list’s #1 has further entrenched his power through long-standing relationships with prominent entrepreneurs and philanthropists including Revlon boss, Ronald O. Perleman.


#2 Moshe J. Kotlarsky, Brooklyn, New York

If you ever wondered how the Chabad movement expanded by 200% since the Rebbe’s passing in 1994 to its present colossal size of more than 4,000 emissaries serving 200,000 members spanning 75 countries in more than 900 cities, look no further than Kotlarsky. Vice chairman of the educational arm of the organization, Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch (Merkos), he has spearheaded one of the great success stories in grassroots Jewish outreach. He instructs all newly minted emissaries as to their ultimate destination, whether that be to a small campus in North Dakota or to a major city in India. A passionate and emotional communicator, he is closely backed by philanthropist George Rohr, Chabad’s largest independent donor.


#3 Chaim Yehuda Krinsky, Brooklyn, New York

Born in 1933 and educated at the elite Boston Latin School, he entered the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn at the age of 13. Krinsky served as chief spokesman and chauffer for the Rebbe and was the sole executor of his will. He is chairman of Merkos, the educational arm of Chabad, and a substantial host of the movement’s other branches including the social services division, Machne Israel. Krinsky was recently thrust before the global media following the November 2008 terrorist attack and murder of Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gabriel and Rivka Holtzberg in Mumbai, India.


#4 Boruch Shlomo Cunin, Los Angeles, California

With nearly 10% of the 3,500 emissaries worldwide reporting to Cunin, his operations in California, Nevada and Oregon are arguably the most self-sufficient and independent. Cunin’s annual telethon broadcast is a showcase of the personal power he wields with celebrities and business personalities of renown. At the outset of his 45 years as head emissary on the West Coast he personally coined the term “Chabad House” upon opening the country’s first in the 1960s on the campus of UCLA. Noted for his vast success in building non-sectarian drug-rehabilitation programs (his most prominent is based in Los Angeles), educational facilities, and homeless programs, he brings with him a zero tolerance management style. And for good reasons as the stakes are high: In the past 10 years his fund-raising has generated an estimated $100 – $150 million for Chabad of the West Coast. It is worth noting that Cunin's accumulation of private wealth, derived principally from real estate holdings, lends commanding credibility to his deal-making overtures in the not-for-profit arena.

#5 Sholom Duchman, Brooklyn, New York / Jerusalem, Israel

Duchman is the director of Colel Chabad the oldest institution in the organization’s history, established in Russia over 200 years ago by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi the first Chabad Rebbe. He manages a $10 million budget –privately fund-raised– which is allocated to maintaining soup kitchens and other provisions. Duchman and his minions have become the largest charitable food donors in Israel providing over 7,500 tons each year, a figure representing an unprecedented 30% of the nation’s total annual provision. His ties also run deep in the business community serving as personal rabbi to Yossel (Joe) Gutnik, the Australian natural resource magnate and brother of this list’s #15, Mordechai Gutnick. He divides his time between New York and Jerusalem.


#6 Shmuel Kaminetsky, Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

When the Iron Curtain began to disintegrate in the early 1990s the energy was focused on finally getting Jews out of the former Soviet Empire. For Chabad the emphasis was on making inroads to accommodate those who would choose to remain within. Kaminetsky had no hesitation and soon became the head shliach to the Ukraine. He is a dynamic power broker among the more than 400 communities that compromise the umbrella group of the Federation of Jewish Communities of the CIS. Playing a vital role in the establishment and management of The Bogolubov Fund– dedicated by businessman and philanthropist Gennady Bogolubov– he is flush with cash controlling the purse strings to a hefty $10-$20 million annual budget which is allocated to support fellow Chabad emissaries with their own personal family needs. An added level of support: his uncle happens to be Shalom Ber Drizin who weighs in among the wealthiest Lubavitch businessman in the world.


#7 Menachem Mendel Gluckowsky, Rechovot, Israel

Chief Rabbi of Rechovot and director of the Chabad Rabbinial Court, Gluchowsky is a dynamic figure whose star continues to rise within the intricate world of religion and politics in the Jewish State. The court is the senior decision-making body for Chabad Hassidim in Israel. Recognized for his oratory excellence, balanced judicial mind, and unswerving commitment to extend the reaches of Chabad to every corridor of Israeli society, he lectures the internationally and has been one of the most influential voices among the more than 230 emissaries based in the Holy Land.


#8 Berel Lazar, Moscow, Russia

At the political level of the game it doesn’t get much more full contact than within Chabad of Russia and the countries of the former USSR. Lazar has demonstrated a strategic brilliance and cutting edge talent at navigating the dicey waters of Russia’s complex landscape. He is the chairman of the Federation of Jewish Communities and chief rabbi of Russia. There are no less than 150 emissaries who report to him directly. His close relationships with Prime Minister Vladimir Putinand President Dmitry Medvedev have brought him both respect and influence (and occasional controversy). His appointment by Putin in 2005 to the 126-member Public Chamber of Russiawas sited for his “distinguished merit for the state and society.” Many were surprised by the former KGB head’s willingness to impart such prestige upon a Chabad emissary. Lazar’s long-term personal relationships with London-based tycoons Lev Leviev (diamonds) and Roman Abramovich (oil) have contributed to the expansion of new synagogues and educational facilities. And for the record Lazar’s high personal net worth enables him to further leverage his scope of power throughout the region.


#9 Shea Hecht, Brooklyn, New York

A Commissioner of Human Rights of New York City for 7 years, Hecht serves as chairman of the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE), an umbrella organization with over 30 active divisions and decades of pedigree. It is Chabad’s oldest outreach institution in the United States and its coveted “Release Time Program” is a must attend service for virtually all aspiring emissaries. He assumed the mantle to the family dynasty in 1990 following the passing of his father Rabbi JJ Hecht, one of the Rebbe’s closest confidants. A life strategist, marriage counselor, radio show host, and published author (Confessions of a Jewish Cult Buster), Hecht is also among Chabad’s foremost experts in conflict management and was point man during the tumultuous Crown Heights riots in 1991. Street smart and politically savvy, he has carte blanche access to councilmen and governors alike.


#10 Shalom Dovber Lipsker, Bal Harbour, Florida

Founder and spiritual leader of The Shul in Bal Harbor, Florida, Lipsker is nothing less than a tour de force of innovation and charisma. With its 1,000+ service attendance of highly affluent congregants, The Shul is on par with Manhattan's Park East Synagogue as one of the must visit stops for politicians of all stripes. In 1981 Lipsker also founded the non-profit Aleph Institute that provides broad services for Jewish men and woman in the armed forces as well as prisoners throughout the United States. He concurrently founded the Educational Academy for the Elderly, which develops programs to assist members of the elderly population to raise their self-esteem. His brother Mendel, a respected influence within Chabad globally, is the head emissary in South Africa based in Johannesburg.

#11 Moshe Herson, Morrison, New Jersey

Herson is a true heavyweight in the Chabad movement. Having amassed an army of 50 emissaries dispersed throughout every corridor of the state, as regional director of New Jersey his power base is entrenched and loyal. He is the dean of the prestigious Rabbinical College of America, which ordains students from 24 states and 18 countries. It is supported by a who’s who of financial backers including Ronald Lauder of Estée Lauder and the World Jewish Congress fame (of which he is president), and the mega wealthy Hartford, Connecticut-based David Chase, whose self-made fortune in diversified investments has fared well for Chabad. Herson’s annual menorah lighting at the State House in Trenton (27 years and running) routinely features New Jersey’s elite politicos. He also serves on the distinguished board of Agudas Chasidei Chabad (Association of Chabad Chasidim), the umbrella organization for the Lubavitch movement.

#12 Shmuel Lew, London, England

An executive board member of Lubavitch United Kingdom, he scores highly on the credibility index for his extensive learning and role as humble mentor. Lew oversees 30 Chabad Houses and is perhaps among the more profound communicators regarding Chabad Chasidic thought. His webinars and keynote speeches are well-attended and a testament to his dedication. One of the Rebbe’s primary translators, he continues to faithfully transmit the philosophy, writings and discourses of Menachem Mendel Schneerson to this day. In fact the Rebbe served as the officiator (Mesader Kiddushin) at Lew’s wedding. He maintains meaningful relationships with Chabad’s executive leadership and members of the younger generation.

#13 Tzvi Grunblatt, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Recognized by his peers for his scholarship and uncompromising principled commitment to Chabad’s vision, Greenblatt is among the few emissaries hand-picked by the Rebbe. He serves as the institution’s head in Argentina based out of the country’s capital Buenos Aires. His strong ties to the government bode well for Argentina’s 180,000 Jews who represent over 50% of South America’s total Jewish population. Social services programs and general outreach have been his crowning accomplishments. He also played a vital role in providing extensive relief to victims of the bombing of the Jewish Community Center and Israeli Embassy in 1992 and 1994 respectively.

#14 Mordechai Avtzon, Hong Kong, China

As the first emissary to Greater China - that’s Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Taiwan - Avtzon has fostered the explosive growth of Chabad throughout the Asian region over his 20 years. His headquarters in Hong Kong is located in the commercial capital of East Asia. It has been an oasis for the most affluent Jewish community per capita in the world and equally to visiting businessmen. He founded L.I.F.E. – Lubavitch in the Far East – to provide for the needs of Jewish communities in countries spanning Japan to Vietnam, Laos to Nepal. Wife Goldie, daughter of this list’s paramount influence, #1 Avrohom Shemtov, has contributed tirelessly to her husband’s accomplishments. That success has led to the establishment of more than 20 Chabad Houses in 8 countries and growing.

#15 Mordechai Gutnick, Melbourne, Australia

When research began on this project Rabbi Dovid Groner was the unanimous endearing influence within Chabad Australia. His passing in July of 2008 opened up the gates for a host of new leaders to fill the void. Gutnick is filling a segment of that gaping hole. His scope of control can be observed in three realms: (1) He directs kosher supervision for the entire continent under his “Kosher Australia” umbrella organization, the premier authority for the entire Australasia region; (2) He is acting head of the Melbourne Beth Din (Jewish Court) and is spiritual leader of the Elwood Hebrew Congregation, a position previously occupied by his late father the venerable Rabbi Chaim Gutnick; and (3) The name “Gutnick” travels far and wide: one of his 3 brothers is business mogul (gold and diamonds) and prominent philanthropist Yossel Gutnick.

Top 10 Global Rising Stars


#1 Chaim Kaplan, Tzfat, Israel

Kaplan is the head emissary to Tzfat –one of the Jewish faith's four holiest cities –and is the influential director of Yeshivas Tzeirei Hashluchim (Young Emissaries Yeshiva). The yeshiva is one of the primary training grounds for children the world over. Kaplan also made headline news in 2006 when he was injured in a Hezbollah rocket attack.

#2 Moshe Garelick, Brussels, Belgium

If ever in need of a lesson in entrepreneurship, international relations or power politics just dial Garelick’s number. He is a founder of the Rabbinical Center of Europe (RCE) and serves as its executive director out of its Brussels headquarters. His father is Chabad’s chief representative to Milan and heads up the RCE’s Executive Committee. If no one slows Garelick down he might find himself all too soon chairing the European Union.

#3 Yitzchak Schochet, London, England

Schochet is an impassioned communicator, a staunch defender of religious freedom and is routinely sought after by the British media. His appearance on the BBC’s “The Big Questions” - a television program which focuses on issues concerning morality and ethics - have now become a matter of routine. Schochet is the rabbi of the Mill Hill Synagogue in North London and is also the son of Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet (Leading Educators & Intellectuals #2)

#4 Ari Raskin, Brooklyn, New York

Raskin founded Chabad of Brooklyn Heights and became the head of B’nai Avraham Synagogue both at the ripe age of 21. Ambitious and intelligent, he’s a prolific writer who has penned two books to date - Letters of Light and The Rabbi and the CEO – with another soon going to print. And let’s not forget that he also earned the distinction of being the first Chabad rabbi to ever appear on the cover of National Geographic in 2006.

#5 Chaim Shaul Brook, Brooklyn, New York

Brook received an invitation in 2004 to become the youngest member of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch (Merkos), the movement’s educational arm. He declined and continues to serve in his role as director of Lahak, an organization which reviews and publishes in Hebrew all of the Rebbe’s talks. He continues to receive extensive guidance from Rabbi Yoel Kahn (Leading Educators & Intellectuals #1).

#6 Chaim Nochum Cunin, Los Angeles, California

Cunin is another Chabad emissary who stands to inherit an impressive dynastic thrown, and deservedly so. He is the executive producer of the Chabad Telethon, directs public relations for West Coast Chabad Lubavitch , is board member of popular website AskMoses.com, and is an editor of Chabad’s flagship magazine, Farbrengen. These and his other achievements must make his father (Top Global Rabbis #4) sleep well at night.

#7 Levi Shemtov, Washington, D.C.

Shemtov has done an admirable job of carving out his own sizable niche considering that he is the son of Top Global Rabbi’s #1, Avrohom Shemtov. He has assumed virtually all daily responsibilities as head emissary to the nation’s capital and director of American Friends of Lubavitch. In short, he is at the epicenter of political affairs for the movement in Washington. Perhaps a future seat awaits him on the Agudas Chasidei Chabad? You can bank on it!

#8 Mendel Kaplan, Toronto, Canada

The quintessential rising star who possesses strong inter-personal skills, savvy media relations and high intellect, Kaplan might soon find himself on the list of the Top 15 most influential Chabad rabbis. And to think that he hasn’t even reached his 39th birthday! He is the head emissary and founder of Chabad@Flamingo in Toronto, Canada, which houses a 22,000 square foot religious and cultural center with another 20,000+ square feet on the way. He is also the chaplain of the York Regional Police and a member of Toronto’s Vaad HaRabbanim (Rabbinical Committee).

#9 Levi Wolff, Sydney, Australia

Wolff is a refined and charismatic emissary who arrived in 2001 to serve as rabbi of the city’s highly aristocratic Central Synagogue. He has become a recognizable face throughout Australia and was recently in the national spotlight in April 2009 when he presided over the funeral of billionaire Richard Pratt, the country’s fourth wealthiest man.

#10 Hirschy Zarchi, Boston, Massachusetts

Approachable, amiable and able, such are just a few of the traits of Chabad’s lead emissary to Harvard. Zarchi is adept as well at sustaining relationships with the brilliant and beneficent: His Chabad House faculty advisor is the legendary professor Alan Dershowitz and a portion of his financial support comes from the über-generous Rohr family.

Top 5 Global Educators & Intellectuals

#1 Yoel Kahn, Brooklyn, New York

Well-respected for his erudition and authenticity, Kahn was at the side of the Rebbe from the day he assumed the position in 1950. He not only transcribed the Rebbe’s talks but explained often hidden mystical concepts to the masses. Through Kahn’s methodology of documenting the Rebbe’s remarks, he was instrumental in the publishing of the first 9 volumes of Likkutei Sichot (Anthology of Talks). He is also the author of multiple books on Chasidus and retains a commanding spiritual influence among Chabad Chasidim. Kahn is now endeavoring to publish a Chassidic encyclopedia.

#2 Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Toronto, Canada

He brings brains – lots of them – to the table and is considered one of the big guns when intellectual demarcations need to be articulated both within and without the movement. A mainstay on the Chabad lecture circuit, Schochet thrives on provocative and scintillating debate. He is professor emeritus of medical ethics, well-read author, an expert in debunking cults, Messianism and addressing all aspects of Jewish identity.

#3 Manis Friedman, Twin Cities, Minnesota

Dean of Bais Chana Institute of Jewish Studies, an institution specifically catering to the needs of women of all ages. Friedman is touted for his practical yet probing insights into the complexities facing the modern day Jew and is master of the human psyche. An accomplished author and public speaker, his name is synonymous with scholarship and reason.

#4 Simon Jacobson, Manhattan, New York

Founder of the Meaningful Life Center in New York City, Jacobson is a no-nonsense, straight-shooting scholarly thinker and educator. He is the author of the blockbuster best-selling book Toward a Meaningful Life which has sold over 300,000 copies. One of Judaism's most in-demand speakers, Jacobson likely has chalked up more frequent flyer miles than any other headline name in the organization.

#5 Zalman Shmotkin, Brooklyn, New York

Chabad-Lubavitch in Cyberspace (Chabad.org) has one of the zippiest slogans on Internet: Spreading Judaism at the Speed of Light. The initiative was the brainchild of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kazen, one of the Web’s early adopters and visionaries back in 1994. Good Morning America went so far as to dub him the “Cyber Rabbi” prior to his passing at the tender age of 44 in 1998 The site that has since reached millions worldwide under the able stewardship of Shmotkin. He directs an innovative and expert team of professionals. Shmotkin also serves in the dual role as director and spokesperson of the Chabad Lubavitch Media Center.