Saturday, May 30, 2009

Chabad center brings together Jews in Doral

When Rabbi Avrohom Brashevitzky established the Chabad Jewish Center of Doral, he only knew one Jew in Doral and hosted services in private homes.

Three years later, the congregation has grown to about 40 active members and occupies a two-floor space in a shopping center at 9725 NW 41st St.

Brashevitzky said that does not include several hundred Jews who are mostly of South American descent he has met -- who live or work in Doral -- but don't attend services.

''And there are Jews who live here that I don't know yet,'' said Brashevitzky, formerly a pulpit rabbi at Shalom Congregation at the Casablanca Hotel in Miami Beach.

Doral has a number of Catholic and Lutheran churches within city limits, but the Chabad Center is the only place of worship for the city's Jewish families.

Because Doral is home to a large South American population, most of the center's Jews, Brashevitzky said, hail from countries such as Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Venezuela and Colombia, places where Jews are a religious minority -- though a distinct one.

Most Jews arrived in South America after fleeing anti-Semitic forces in Germany, eastern Europe and Russia.

A significant portion of the South American population also consists of Sephardic Jews, who are descendants of Jews from Spain and Portugal.

Jorge Ghitis, a Colombian Jew who attends services at Chabad Center of Doral, said his Jewish parents met in Colombia after his mother fled Germany and father fled Romania.

Although he practiced his Jewish faith growing up, Ghitis said he had abandoned it until Brashevitzky called him one day about three years ago and asked to meet.

''Before meeting the rabbi, my spiritual base was very low,'' said Ghitis, who stopped practicing after his Bar Mitzvah.

Now Ghitis spends much of his spare time at the Chabad center and doesn't miss Shabbat morning services at 9:30 a.m. on Saturdays.

''I have achieved a balance between the material, mental and spiritual,'' Ghitis said. ``All Jews have a spark that unites us inside of them. They just need to be reminded.''

Ghitis moved to Doral about 15 years ago because it was a convenient location for his wife, who worked at Miami International Airport. Ghitis now works near the airport, too, as a Miami-Dade police officer.

''I find people who moved to Doral and didn't put the Jewish faith at the top of their list,'' said Brashevitzky, noting that the closest synagogues are in Kendall.

Brashevitzky said that is the vision behind the Chabad movement, which aims to provide outreach services and activities through community centers, synagogues and schools to Jews in communities that lack a significant Jewish population.

''Our goal is to make sure Jews don't go a year without having contact with the faith,'' he said.

Chabad Lubavitch is one of the largest Hasidic movements in Orthodox Judaism with about 4,000 centers in more than 50 countries. According to, there are more than 60 Chabad centers in Florida. Most are in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Brashevitzky said the Chabad movement is not about building a temple and increasing membership but awakening the dormant faith in some Jewish people.

''It's nice to have a big center, but the idea is to reach each and every individual,'' he said. ``The idea is to rekindle that spark of Judaism faith. That sense of belonging.''

Brashevitzky, who is planting seeds to someday build a synagogue, likens himself to a farmer overseeing barren soil with hope the land will produce beautiful crops.

''Doral keeps growing and there's a growth -- though a slow one -- of the Jewish population here,'' he said.

Rabbi: Traveling Jewish RV 'an unbelievable miracle'

Education writer

"And behold, the Lord . . . said, 'I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you, and your descendants shall be like the dust of the earth; and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south and by you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth bless themselves.' "

-- Genesis 28:13-14

ORMOND BEACH -- During Volusia County pilgrimages to auto races, bike rallies and beach retreats, most everyone, it seems, checks out everyone else's wheels.

If they haven't noticed already, they'll soon start seeing something resembling a new city bus, bathed in bright blues, purple and orange, with slick slogans and images that could just as easily be advertising a law firm or pest-control service.

But telltale sayings -- such as "We Want Moshiach (the messiah) Now!" -- reveal this 34-foot-long Coachmen Mirada 310ds Class A motor home as something completely different. The RV is a Mitzvah Tank, an outreach to Jews.

This is the way Rabbi Pinchas Ezagui rolls.

The 43-year-old head of Esfmores Chabad Lubavitch Jewish Center of Greater Daytona Beach, an orthodox Ormond Beach synagogue, said the Mitzvah Tank is a way to reconnect with the flock. If Ezagui runs into a man, he might offer a chance to pray while wearing tefillin, an arm wrap. Or he might offer a woman a candle. In essence, it provides him a mobile living room to welcome people to the faith a couple of times a week.

"We give people the feeling they are a part of the community," he said. "Regardless of whether they live in Edgewater or Palm Coast or DeLand or DeBary or Deltona, they are at home. . . . There's no such thing as a lost Jew. You're always part of the family."

Mitzvah in Hebrew essentially means good deeds in God's name.

Ezagui, who arrived in Daytona Beach 17 years ago, had long talked of his camper calling. Last year, one of his synagogue members, Yehuda Morali, an Israeli immigrant, brought him to an RV dealership and instructed Ezagui to pick something out. Something new. Something big.

Morali and his business partner, Nissim Shoaff, shared in the expenses, Ezagui said.

Ezagui is only aware of one other Chabad in Florida with a Mitzvah Tank. And he doubts there's another in the country that can compare to his -- which includes a $15,000 graphics job.

"To have this luxury, to have a traveling Jewish Center, to us this is an unbelievable miracle," he said.

It's understandable that Ezagui -- who built the Ormond Chabad from scratch -- might wish to kvell a bit about the Mitzvah Tank, but to author and journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug, a trend has emerged in this age of multicultural America.

She calls it Hebesterism. Other examples: In San Francisco, the Chabad temple has a Mitzvah Cable Car and the rabbi rides a Mitzvah Bike. People are wearing T-shirts celebrating their Jewishness with phrases such as "Grateful Yid" and "Drink He'Brew: The Chosen Beer." And Hollywood is producing films like "Don't Mess With the Zohan," in which an Israeli counterterrorism hero fakes his own death to pursue a career as a New York hairstylist.

In her recent book "Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe," Klug -- the daughter of a Holocaust survivor -- describes a wider expression of Jewish identity, an embrace of kitsch and what she terms a "reverent irreverence."

"It's a freer way of celebrating (Judaism), based on a love of Jewish community and culture," she said. "Jewish people around the world are enjoying that in a way that is unprecedented."

Even in the land of NASCAR, Bike Week and Spring Break.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Jewish community celebrates Lag B’Omer

The Bay state’s Jewish community on Tuesday celebrated the holiday of Lag B’Omer, a lifting of restrictions during the Omer, or period between Passover and Shavu’ot.

The days are counted from the second day of Passover -- which commemorates the freeing of the Israelite - to the night before the Shavu’ot - the giving of the Torah. Lag B’Omer falls on the 33rd day.

During the first 32 days of the Omer, weddings, parties, dancing and even haircuts are forbidden. This mourning period commemorates a plague, and Lag B’Omer celebrates a break in the plague.

A celebration hosted by the Chabad Center of Sharon at Borderland State Park on Tuesday drew about 100 people and included music, a softball game, barbeque and a petting zoo.

Rabbi explains ancient custom at opening of Chabad Jewish Center of West Pasco

Rabbi Yossi Eber and his wife, Dina, with Chabad Jewish Center of West Pasco hosted their official grand opening and mezuza affixing ceremony this week.

A mezuza is a small, sacred parchment inscribed by hand with two Hebrew prayers. The tradition of hanging a mezuza (Hebrew for "doorpost") has its roots in the Bible. The last plague visited upon the Egyptians was the death of the firstborn; God told the Jews to sprinkle the blood of a sacrificial lamb on their doorposts so the angel of death would pass over their homes.

About 60 people attended the ceremony Tuesday as Eber affixed the mezuza to Chabad Jewish Center of West Pasco, at 9945 Trinity Blvd., Suite 5.

As a free service, Eber visits people's homes and offices in Trinity, Holiday, New Port Richey and surrounding areas to help them properly affix their mezuzas. There should be one on the front door, as well as any other doorways in the home or office, he said.

On another level, the mezuza provides protection and good spiritual energy and keeps the bad energy out, Eber said.

Every time you go out or come in, it's customary to touch the mezuza and kiss your hand. On the outside of the case are the Hebrew letters Shin, Dalet, Yud, an acronym meaning "The Guardian of the doors of Israel."

There is some misconception about mezuzas, even among Jewish people. The case can't be empty or contain a photo copy of the prayers, which is how most local synagogue gift shops and Web sites sell them. An original piece of mezuza parchment can cost between $30 and $150 or more.

"The important part is not the case, it's the original piece of parchment written by a scribe," Eber said.

Otherwise, "it's like a body without a soul."

Gutnick In takeover Bid for North Australian Diamonds

According to the Australian newspaper The Age, Australian millionaire Joseph Gutnick is currently involved in a takeover bid for North Australia Diamonds valued at $24 million.

Twenty-one years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe told Gutnick that he would make discoveries of gold and diamonds within five years.

The Rebbe’s prediction of gold discoveries came true, but the late Rebbe's prophecy regarding diamonds failed to materialize despite exploration work by Gutnick's companies.

Last week Gutnick made a bid to acquire all of North Australian Diamonds. The company's main asset is the Merlin diamond project, situated in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The formerly listed Ashton Mining discovered the diamonds at the site and Rio Tinto sold it to North Australian Diamonds in 2004 after the latter took over Ashton.

Previous mining operations at Merlin produced 507,000 carats of diamonds including Australia's biggest diamond, weighing 104.73 carats and valued at over $500,000 in 2002.

Gutnick's cash bid for the diamond project is being made through Legend International Holdings, a Delaware-domiciled company that is listed in the US.

Gutnick's interests already control North Australian Diamonds with about 34% of the capital, held by Legend and another Gutnick entity, Yahalom International Resources Corporation.

Source: Steven Silverstein

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Graffiti on Jewish sign troubles community

The rabbi of a Chandler Jewish center tagged with anti-Semitic graffiti this week said community members are troubled by the incident, which he hopes was only a lone teenager acting out.

Members of the Chabad of the East Valley learning center, southeast of Ray Road and McClintock Drive, are planning to build and move into a larger facility on a dirt lot to the west. Someone took a black marker Tuesday to a sign advertising the future Chabad House, leaving a couple of swastikas, the letters "WWWP," and a vulgar comment about Jews, according to Chandler police.

Mendy Deitsch, a rabbi at the Chandler Chabad, said the center has been in the area for about 10 years and has had no similar problems. In the wake of the graffiti, some of the center's non-Jewish neighbors called to express concern, he said.

"It's a very nice neighborhood," Deitsch said. "People were very bothered by seeing it, that people could do something like that in this day and age."

Detective Dave Ramer, a Chandler Police Department spokesman, said the incident took place Monday or Tuesday. The person left behind no evidence, and video surveillance from nearby businesses turned up nothing, he said.

Ramer said he's never seen an incident like it in Chandler before.

"Typically, what you do is look at trends. This is the only one that we know of in Chandler," he said.

Bill Straus, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, a nonprofit watchdog that tracks hate crimes, said the letters WWWP probably refer to "white power," which is associated with neo-Nazism. There has been an increase in the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in the Valley in the last several months, he said.

"We see tagging with swastikas on a fairly common basis," Straus said.

Chandler doesn't stand out in the number of such incidents, and police responded admirably, he said. Several motorists had called the Anti-Defamation League after seeing the graffiti.

"Damage was minimal and nobody was hurt. Those are the top priorities," Straus said. "That doesn't mean it isn't serious."

In December, a suspicious package was mailed to the Chabad of Scottsdale that made reference to a terrorist attack in India that left more than 170 dead. A law enforcement bomb squad opened the package to find it contained only harmless papers.

Sgt. Mark Clark, Scottsdale Police Department spokesman, said the mailer turned out to be a former student of the Scottsdale center who had mental problems. No charges were filed.

"They determined relatively quickly after that, that there was no threat to it," Clark said. "He was just venting."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Chabad is Amazing

The JTA reports -- a mikveh in Montana of all places, can you imagine? Kosher Jewish marriage is impossible without one. Chabad is sniped at a lot in Jewish life, quite unfairly. Yet who else would accomplish such a thing? No one.

First mikveh in Montana opens
May 7, 2009

(JTA) -- The state of Montana has its first mikveh.

The newly built ritual bath is serving Jewish residents from Wyoming, Idaho, North and South Dakota, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, in addition to the 2,500-strong Jewish population of Montana, according to

The mikveh, in the backyard of the Chabad House in Bozeman, took two years to build. One ritual pool adjoins an elaborate bathroom with a custom vanity, Jacuzzi tub, chandeliers and Venetian mosaic tiles.

"This is a milestone to Jewish life in Montana and is totally beyond our expectations," said Chavie Bruk, co-director with her husband of Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana.