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.”

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, 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 or call (913) 649-4852. For more information, send e-mail .

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

fast facts

About the Chabad of West Pasco

To learn more about classes and services, visit 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.