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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Scalia addresses Talmudic law group

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia addressed the Institute of American and Talmudic Law.

At an appearance Wednesday before the New York City group, associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Scalia discussed privacy rights in the digital age, The Associated Press reported. Scalia said it was “silly” to consider every facet of a person's life to be private.

Scalia told the group that he believes an individual's personal Internet searches enjoy less privacy protection than medical records.

Also participating in the day-long event was prominent Washington attorney Nathan Lewin, who was Scalia's classmate at Harvard Law School in the 1960s.

Chabad La Costa plans new synagogue

Big changes are under way at the Chabad La Costa synagogue.

Last March, after years of renting the site, the Orthodox Jewish congregation purchased its half-acre parcel and building at 1980 La Costa Ave. Plans are now in the works to tear down the 1,600-square-foot structure and replace it with a worship center to better serve the congregation's needs.

Unlike the original structure, which is more than 40 years old, said Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort, the future building will be larger, wired for technology, and built "green," with the environment in mind. He said the plan represents "a new era" in the synagogue's growth and development.

If La Costa Chabad gets its "dream building," said Eilfort, the project will probably cost about $3 million and take at least two years to complete. A few hundred thousand dollars have been pledged, said Eilfort, who believes that contributions and fundraisers will help the dream become a reality.

"I am confident that when the time comes, the money will come," he said, "and that God will bless us."

The future synagogue "will offer a warm and inviting Old World-style atmosphere," Eilfort said, as well as meeting modern technology needs such as providing Internet access. The ideal new building would allow the synagogue to double the size of its sanctuary, add several classrooms for its Hebrew school and adult education program, and offer a larger social hall and kitchen for special events.

He said he would also like the new building to take advantage of the area's spectacular views, with the Bataquitos Lagoon to the west and the La Costa Resort golf course and rolling hills to the east.

Members of Chabad La Costa, founded in 1990, originally met in the home of Eilfort and his wife, Nechama. The couple, who now have eight children, moved to Carlsbad from Orange County, where Eilfort was director of education of Chabad of Irvine. As membership at the Carlsbad synagogue grew, he said, it became necessary to find a larger space to worship.

In 1991, the congregation settled in its current building, once owned by the nearby La Costa Resort & Spa. The land and nearby property, where an Albertsons grocery store and other businesses now stand, was later sold to a Newport Beach developer. The synagogue purchased its half-acre and building for $300,000, a transaction delayed until after the shopping center was completed.

"It was a long time coming," said Eilfort, "but it taught us patience." Money was raised through pledged donations and "with help from the Almighty," he said.

An architect and final plan for the future synagogue have not been selected, said Eilfort, but he has received help from congregation members who have construction, architectural and decorating experience. They are volunteering their time and materials to help bring the concept to life.

Non-members throughout the community could also play a role in the building's construction. Over the years, said Eilfort, "we've had tremendous community support. People like to see that a positive organization such as ours is here, and I think they know we try to help people outside of the Jewish religion as well."

General contractor and congregation member Mike Perez, who owns High Point Builders in San Marcos, has helped Eilfort with numerous projects at the site. He recently consulted with architect Russell Tsuchida of La Mesa, who provided a preliminary rendering of what the synagogue might look like.

"I'd like to be involved with this future facility from the ground up, if I'm asked," said Perez, whose parents, Elias and Rachel, were two of the synagogue's founding members.

Synagogue member Joel Barnett, owner of Light Bulbs Unlimited and Lighting Distinctions in Encinitas, has improved lighting at the building, which he said at one point was "falling apart." Barnett said he plans to be involved in designing lighting for the new building, which he said will be more energy-efficient and offer a warm, welcoming atmosphere for worshippers.

He said he enjoys giving to Chabad La Costa because "it is for such a good cause, and the people are so good to you. God has always been good to me. It's the least I can do."

Essman irks Chabad with TV comments

Actress Susie Essman has upset the Chabad-Lubavitch community with comments she made on "The View."

In an appearance on the television talk show last week to promote her TV movie “Loving Leah,” in which she plays a Lubavitch woman, Essman commented on the appearance of female members of the Chasidic group.

“I learned that they're not very good dressers,” Essman said, describing what she discovered in making the film. “The wigs, you know they wear the wig because God forbid a man should see your hair and be driven wild with desire.”

Sara Esther Crispe, the editor of the Chabad Web site TheJewishWoman.org, said her community was buzzing about the segment and that she was hoping to go on "The View" to rebut Essman's comments, which she said were not only “obviously incorrect” but degrading and insulting to all women.

“To reduce any woman to her mere physicality is insulting, it's degrading, and it completely denies the overall power that a woman has and her unique abilities,” Crispe told JTA. “And I thought it was very sad that nobody stood up for that.”

“Loving Leah,” which aired Sunday night on CBS, is the story of a secular doctor who marries his widowed sister-in-law. Essman, who plays a foul-mouthed character on the HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm," plays the woman's Lubavitch mother.

Curb your disses on Chabad women

As JTA reported earlier this week, Susie Essman has upset the Chabad-Lubavitch community with comments she made on "The View":

In an appearance on the television talk show last week to promote her TV movie “Loving Leah,” in which she plays a Lubavitch woman, Essman commented on the appearance of female members of the Chasidic group.

“I learned that they're not very good dressers,” Essman said, describing what she discovered in making the film. “The wigs, you know they wear the wig because God forbid a man should see your hair and be driven wild with desire.”

Here's the full interview:
(follow title link)

Brace yourself, Susie, Chabad fans aren't please.

Here's a video response -- posted by user ahandemeidel -- titled "Susie Esman is Ugly!" (wait till the second half, for a beauty contest of sorts between teh Curb Your Enthusiasm co-star and various Lubavitcher beauties):
(follow title link)

In the info field on the video page, is a column by Debbie Schlussel:

The attacks on Jews--especially Orthodox Chassidic Jews--don't just take place in Mumbai, India, or during a late-night anonymous act of vandalism on a synagogue in North Carolina.

The attacks on Jews have spread to ABC daytime talk shows, watched by millions of mindless, easily propagandized women.


Jonathan Mark of the Jewish Week also weighs in, and also plays the Mumbai card:

The idea of Essman comparing right-wing Republicans, whom she despises, to Chabad’s kindness and willingness to socially interact with secular Jews, not one of whom is turned away from a Chabad House, is simply ignorant.

But what makes Essman’s righteous liberalism all the more unfortunate is what she goes on to say about chasidic women. Essman was asked by Joy Behar, “So what did you learn about the chasidic religion?”
Well, said Essman, “they’re not very good dressers... Have you seen what these women look like half the time?”

Behar replied, “Well some of them are pretty and some, you know, like everybody else.”
“Yeah, yeah,” said Essman dismissively.

Now let’s imagine the subject were black women. Imagine someone on “The View” saying of black women, “they’re not very good dressers... Have you seen what these women look like half the time?”
Would not the speaker be branded as a racist, an instant pariah? Why is it OK to speak that way about Orthodox women?

I remember the photo of Rivka Holtzberg, the Chabad woman who was murdered in Mumbai. She wore a wig, like the ones mocked on “The View.” She was attractive, if I could be forgiven for speaking of her that way, all the more attractive for the dignity she exuded precisely because of her wig and modest style of dress. I was reminded of her not only for her style, but also because of her dead child.

There was an item in Reuters the other day from Gaza, quoting psychologists and trauma experts on how the war will make Gaza children into the Hamas terrorists of tomorrow: “Counselors and aid workers fear that Gaza’s children... will grow up hating Israel and become easier prey for extremists.”

Has anyone written, anywhere, that Jewish children, such as little Moshe Holtzberg, might grow up hating anyone, let alone become easy prey for terrorist recruiters? Why is that future only assumed for Islamic children? There have been many thousands of Israeli children whose parents were murdered by Muslims; millions more who were in concentration camps or whose parents were. Where are the psychologists interviewed by Reuters to explain why so few of these Jewish children, in Israel or the United States, have grown into violent adults? Why not, if a murderous second-generation resulting from wartime trauma is so inevitable?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chabad campus receives San Diego's OK to expand

Union-Tribune Staff Writer
2:00 a.m. January 28, 2009

SAN DIEGO —

The San Diego City Council cleared the way yesterday for an expansion of the Chabad Educational Campus in Scripps Miramar Ranch.
Plans for the campus, at 10785 Pomerado Road, include a high school and college that will require new buildings, sports facilities and 280 housing units for students and faculty.

Chabad's permit allows an enrollment of up to 800 students.
More than 100 people appeared before the council to support the project; no one spoke in opposition. Academy officials worked with the local planning group for five years to come up with a plan that the community could accept.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

US Judge Orders Russia to Preserve Jewish Texts

WASHINGTON (AP)

A federal judge ordered Russia on Thursday to preserve sacred religious documents that members of a Hasidic Jewish movement fear could be headed to the black market.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth issued a restraining order telling Russia to protect the documents and return any that may already have been removed from the Russian State Military Archives.

The order comes in a lawsuit filed by members of Chabad-Lubavitch, which follows the teachings of Eastern European rabbis and emphasizes the study of the Torah. The group is suing Russia in U.S. court to recover thousands of manuscripts, prayers, lectures and philosophical discourses by leading rabbis dating back to the 18th century.

An attorney for the movement, Nathan Lewin, told the judge Thursday that during a visit to Israel last month he learned that pages from the handwritten archive were shown to an expert in Jerusalem. The expert, a former university librarian, had been asked to confirm the documents' authenticity and was led to believe that they were going to be offered for sale.

The entire collection, which Chabad says totals 12,000 books and 50,000 rare documents, is being held in the Russian State Military Archives. Lewin said Chabad fears the documents are not being properly cared for and could end up missing.

The collection was formerly held by Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, a leader of Chabad-Lubavitch who was born in Russia but forced by the Soviets to leave in 1927. He took the documents to Latvia and later Poland, but left them behind when the Nazis invaded and he fled to the U.S. The collection was seized and taken to Germany, then recovered by the Soviet Army in 1945.

Lewin asked Lamberth to order Russia to allow a delegation from Chabad to inspect the collection at the Russian library and ensure that they are being properly secured.

Lamberth also warned Russia that the government faces a default ruling in the case if it does not get new lawyers to represent them in the U.S. court.

The law firm representing Russia has asked to withdraw from the case because they say their client has not paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills and no longer communicates with them.

The law firm says government representatives have refused to take their calls, respond to memos about the case or see an attorney who traveled to Moscow for a face-to-face meeting. Attorneys for Russia said they did not know whether any documents were removed from the collection since the Russian government is not talking to them.

Lamberth told Chabad that he did not think that he could order a sovereign government like Russia to accept foreigners into the country and encouraged them to explore other methods of reviewing the collection, such as hiring attorneys already in Moscow.

Lamberth agreed to take the case in U.S. court because he said both the Nazi seizure and the Russian government's appropriation of the archives violated international law.

Members of Chabad also say that they are asking the Obama administration to intervene to get the documents returned.

Squires Sanders Seeks to Withdraw as Counsel to Russia in Sacred Jewish Text Case

By Andrew Longstreth
January 22, 2009

Last June, we reported on a case filed against the Russian Federation by members of Chabad-Lubavitch, an Orthodox Jewish movement that seeks to reclaim sacred religious texts allegedly stolen by Russia's government. After a D.C. federal district court judge dismissed some of Chabad's claims, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit reinstated them, allowing the case to move forward.

But since then, things apparently have not gone so well between Russia and its lawyers at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. Last week, the firm filed a motion requesting to withdraw as Russia's counsel in the case. Squire Sanders lawyers cite a "breakdown in communications" with their client, alleging that the Russians repeatedly ignored their request for instructions in how to proceed. They also say they haven't been paid, and claim that Russia has been in default on its legal bills since April 2008. (Their papers don't say by how much.) A Squire Sanders spokesperson declined comment to the Litigation Daily.

The case, meanwhile, continues. On Thursday, Washington, D.C., federal district court judge Royce Lamberth indicated he would grant a temporary restraining order requested by the plaintiffs, who had alleged that Russia planned to sell some of the sacred texts at issue in Israel. According to the AP, Judge Lamberth said he would order Russia to protect and retrieve any documents that may have been removed from the Russian State Military Archives.

The plaintiffs in the case are represented by Nathan Lewin of Lewin & Lewin. Lawyers from Bingham McCutchen and Howrey are also working on the case with Lewin.

A Story

In the 1950s, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, walking on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, encountered two administrators of a local yeshiva gazing closely at a yellow school bus parked on the road. When the Rebbe asked them what they were looking at, they informed him that the bus was for sale and they were thinking of purchasing it for the yeshiva. “We desperately need our own bus,” they told the Rebbe.

“But this bus looks like an old shmateh,” the Rebbe said. “It seems like it’s on the verge of retirement. Why not purchase a brand new bus for the children?”

“If we could only afford that!” they exclaimed. “The price of this old bus is something we could fit into our budget.”

“Let me tell you something,” the Rebbe responded. “You know why you can’t afford the money for a new bus? Because in your mind, the old and run-down bus will suffice for your yeshiva. If it would be clear to you that your children need a new and beautiful bus, you would have the money to purchase it.”

What the Rebbe was saying is that in many cases, your standards are what ultimately define the quality and destiny of your life.

Police seek leads in hate crimes

By LORRAINE SWANSON
Editor

$20,000 reward offered for arrests in vandalism of synagogues and schools

At a Martin Luther King Day press conference, the Anti-Defamation League of Chicago and the Jewish Federation announced a $20,000 reward for information leading to arrests in hate crimes in West Ridge and Lake View. Standing with representatives from the Chicago police and the Commission on Human Relations at the commission's office at 740 N. Sedgewick, local Jewish leaders offered the reward for leads in the throwing of a Molotov cocktail at Temple Sholom in Lake View last month and spray-painting and brick throwing this month at two synagogues and two high schools in West Ridge.

On Dec. 29, a witness reported seeing someone throwing a Molotov cocktail from a car and shouting an ethnic slur at a passerby at Temple Sholom at 3840 N. Lake Shore Dr. around 2 a.m., according to a Chicago Police Department spokesman.

Shortly after midnight on Jan. 10, 24th District police discovered the words "Death to Israel" spray-painted on a sign in front of Hanna Sachs Bais Yaakov High School, an Orthodox girls' school at 3201 W. Devon.

Three more acts of vandalism and anti-Israel graffiti were also reported that same morning at Anshe Motele Congregation at 6520 N. California, Lubavitch Boys High School at 2756 W. Morse, and the Congregation of Young Israel of West Rogers Park, at 2706 W. Touhy.

Orange spray paint was used in each incident where anti-Israel graffiti was reported. All instances are being investigated as hate crimes by the Chicago Police Department's Area 3 detective division's hate crime unit at Belmont and Western.

At Lubavitch and Young Israel, bricks were thrown through the glass doors and windows. The incidents all occurred in West Ridge, where many of the neighborhood's Orthodox Jews reside.

The Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation in suburban Lincolnwood just outside the Chicago city limits also reported its glass windows and doors shattered by two men in ski masks early Saturday morning.

Jenna Benn, assistant director of the Anti-Defamation League of Chicago, said the five incidents may be related to increased tensions in Gaza between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas. She reported a similar trend in assaults against Jews and sacred places of worship in 2006 during Israel's war with Lebanon.

"Assaults against Jews and communities locally and worldwide are on the rise," Benn said. "In Europe, Jews have been threatened and beaten on the streets and synagogues have been fire-bombed."

Benn denounced the hate crimes, adding that "the intention of the reward fund is to provide law enforcement with the necessary leads to bring the perpetrators to justice in the five incidents that appear to be linked."

Area 3 Deputy Chief of Patrol Bruce Rottner said Chicago police are working with the FBI to investigate and monitor the incidents that occurred in the 24th Police District that covers Rogers Park and part of Edgewater.

"We're re-canvassing all these areas in Rogers Park where these crimes occurred," Rottner said. "We know there is someone out there who saw something or heard something who hasn't come forward yet."

Police still haven't determined if the Temple Sholom incident is related to the defacement of synagogues and schools in West Ridge.

"All are being investigated together by the detective division and our hate crime unit," Rottner added. "We're leaving no stone unturned."

Rottner would not comment on surveillance video that was said to capture one of the West Ridge incidents or the number of individuals that police are seeking to question about the crimes. According to 24th district police reports, a security camera at Lubavitch High School revealed three males - two wearing ski masks and a third acting as a lookout - throwing an object at the school's door.

"There was surveillance video. I'm not going to comment any further," the deputy chief said. "We're looking for several people. [The video] captures part of the incident taking place."

Benn said that the Anti-Defamation League's special investigator who monitors anti-Semitic incidents locally and internationally has been in constant touch with Area 3's hate crime unit. Until Monday, she was unaware that more than one person may be involved in defacing the West Ridge synagogues and schools.

Since the Jan. 10 vandalism, Jewish synagogues, schools and other institutions in Rogers Park have been placed on a special watch.

Meanwhile, Chicago police and the FBI will continue to work with the public to generate intelligence and alleviate fears and tension in both neighborhoods.

"We have strategies in place that I obviously can't share," he said. "Interestingly enough in two of [the West Ridge] incidents, two were discovered by police. We were proactive."

Rabbi opens Chabad house in Deerpark

DEERPARK — Rabbi Shaul Elkeslasi and his wife are not ashamed to proclaim their faith.

In fact, Elkeslasi says, it is a requirement of Chabad, a proselytizing branch of their Lubavitch Hasidic Jewish sect.

On Monday, the couple placed a sign outside their new home on Shin Hollow Road, declaring their residence a Chabad house — a place where the rabbi will reach out to Jews and non-Jews.

A bearded man with fiery eyes and a purple crown is pictured on the sign. This is Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who was the seventh and last spiritual leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Schneerson died in 1994. Many in the Chabad movement believe he is the Messiah. In a visit to Brooklyn, Elkeslasi met Schneerson in the neighborhood of Crown Heights. That changed the direction of his life.

As part of the requirements of the faith, Elkeslasi has established a synagogue and Talmud school for his six boys (he has three daughters who will learn separately) in his home. In addition, he is building a ritual bath, or mikvah, next to the house.

This is not normal for this neighborhood of single-family homes.

Nevertheless, Elkeslasi and his wife, who, for modesty reasons does not want her first name to appear in the newspaper, are not different from their neighbors in their motivations for moving to the country from Brooklyn.

"This is how people were meant to live," Elkeslasi says of his new surroundings. His wife agrees and says it's lovely to be surrounded by nature.

The Lubavitchers are a Hasidic sect with strict observance, like the Satmars who inhabit the Village of Kiryas Joel, but unlike the Satmars they want to engage with the world, Elkeslasi says. The Chabad, says Mrs. Elkeslasi, are like Jewish missionaries.

The property is not under tax-exempt status at this time. Elkeslasi plans to ask for tax exemption, however.

Elkeslasi still works as a rabbi in New York City. The couple has been married for 17 years and met when Elkeslasi was a captain in the Israeli army.

The mikvah he is building at the side of his house is the only Lubavitcher mikvah between Deerpark and Brooklyn and is only for married women.

There are ritual baths for men, too, Elkeslasi says. Unlike the bath for women, they are not heated. He and his boys use a pond on their property, he said. Elkeslasi illustrates the water temperature with a shiver. "It's cold," he adds.

Arson damages Paris kosher warehouse

January 25, 2009

PARIS (JTA)

A major kosher food warehouse in Paris was badly damaged in an arson attack.

Molotov cocktails were found after Friday night's attack near the warehouse, which provides kosher meat and other products for much of the Paris region.

A video camera showed one person firebombing a car parked in front of the shop in the eastern Paris suburb of Montreuil Sous Bois. Police said the flames from the vehicle could have spread to the warehouse.

While police say it is too early to conclude a motive for the attack, the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism said in a statement Sunday that it has "no doubt" the attack was anti-Semitic. The group noted that the store was clearly marked with religious symbols on its exterior.

A sharp rise in anti-Jewish crime has plagued France since the start of Israel's operation in Gaza. French government officials and Jewish institutions believe recent massive, flag-burning anti-Israel protests have incited some to attack Jewish individuals and institutions. During several marches, police have stopped some protesters who tried heading toward the nearest synagogue.

Despite the Israel-Hamas cease-fire, French pro-Palestinian organizations are still calling for sanctions against Israel and marching to demand Israel be tried for war crimes. Nearly 10,000 people, including leaders of the far-left Communist and Green political parties, participated Saturday in such a march in Paris, according to police and the French press agency AFP. The march did not end in riots, as has happened in recent weeks.

In another incident, the the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism reported that a father and son were spit on and threatened Saturday as they left a synagogue that was firebombed Jan. 11 in the northern Paris suburb Saint-Denis.

According to the bureau, the Chabad-Lubavitch father and son were called "dirty Jews," were told they would be killed and had beer bottles thrown at them by four men of North and sub-Sahara African origin.

Russians ordered to preserve Chabad documents

January 22, 2009

NEW YORK (JTA)

A federal judge ordered Russia to preserve historic documents sought by members of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth said Thursday he will order Russia to preserve the documents and return any that already may have been removed from state archives, The Associated Press reported.

Chabad is suing Russia to recover thousands of books and documents that belonged to the late Rabbi Joseph Isaac Schneersohn, the father-in-law of the last Chabad leader, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994.

The judge also warned Russia that it could face a default ruling in the case if does not bring in new lawyers. Russia's current firm asked to withdraw from the case, saying that the government has failed to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.

Dozens of Gavriels and Rivkas join Chabad

Yoav Friedman

Since the death of Chabad emissaries Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg in Mumbai terror attacks, dozens of Hasidim families decided to name their newborn babies after envoys. 'This gives us great comfort,' says Rivka Holtzberg's mother

The death of Chabad emissaries Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg in the terror attack in Mumbai over a month ago touched the hearts of people from all sectors of Jewish society in Israel and around the world.

Many Chabad Hasidim decided to commemorate the couple by naming their newborn children after the envoys, and dozens of little Gavriel-Noachs and Rivkas have joined the Jewish movement in recent weeks, from Mexico and Guatemala to Britain and Israel.


Menachem Cohen, who edits the printed edition of Chabad's website COL, was recently approached by the Rosenberg and Holtzberg families who told him they have heard of several families who named babies after Gavriel and Rivka. They asked for the site's help in locating these families so that they could thank them personally.


The request was posted on the website, and within 24 hours dozens of responses from Chabad families worldwide had been received. Cohen decided to take the subject a step further - collect the babies' pictures and publish them online.


Rivka's mother, Yehudit Rosenberg, said that she was extremely moved when she heard of the families' decision. "Knowing that there are so many Rivkot and Gavriel-Noach out there just gives me emotional strength. It's like refreshing water to a tired soul. We know that in every new Rivka and Gabi there are sparks of our children's spirit and a continuation of them, and this gives us great comfort."

Rosenberg said that she and her husband and the Holtzbergs intend to stay in touch with the families who named their children after Rivka and Gavriel, send them a greeting card, a picture of Rivka and Gabi and a children's book on the virtue of giving.


"Of course we would have liked to see our children alive, but in the meantime the naming of the babies and the good decisions people take on themselves thanks to Gabi and Rivki give us strength," Rosenberg said. "With God's help, when the Messiah comes soon we will see our children again," she concluded.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stamford chabad women host challah bake

STAMFORD - Twelve-year-old Hannah Zucker didn't hesitate to thrust her hands in the warm, sticky mess.

Her mixture of flour, water, sugar, egg, oil, salt and yeast had just the right consistency, and it was time to knead. So she happily pressed the dough until it was a fluffy, white ball.

"It's fun because it's nice and messy," Hannah said of the challah dough stuck to her fingers. "And it tastes good at the end."

Hannah wasn't alone Monday night in making challah, the traditional bread eaten by many Jewish families as part of the weekly Shabbat meal. She was joined by her mother, grandmother and more than 200 other women at Chabad of Stamford for what the congregation called "the world's largest challah baking event."

But no actual baking was involved - after shaping their dough, women were encouraged to bake their bread at home. But the event was planned for months as a way for local Jewish women to learn more about the spiritual aspects of challah making, sad Leah Shemtov, the congregation's director of community programming. But two violent events on the world stage, the December terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, and the new war in Gaza in the Mideast, gave the event special significance, she said.

"We are told that when a woman is engaged in lighting candles, or baking challah, the gates of heaven are open for personal prayer," Shemtov said. "So it was very appropriate for us to hope for peace while baking the bread.

"We hope there can be peace for everybody. It's really a hope for world peace - that there will be no more pain and suffering."

Chabad of Stamford dedicated the event in memory of Rivkah Holtzberg, the wife of Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg. With her husband and six others, Rivkah Holtzberg was killed in an attack on the Mumbai Chabad house last month.

"She was a great, modern Jewish woman who really exemplified the ideals of Jewish womanhood," Shemtov said. "She maximized every day and did not allow life's obstacles to get in her way."

In the Shabbat tradition, women made two loaves of bread, one to share with family and one to give away. Alexandra Cahr, 10, of Springdale, said she made a special dough with raisins, cinnamon, sugar and poppy seeds she hoped to give to the homeless.

In sheer numbers, the event was a resounding success. The more than 200 women and girls filled a cavernous room at the Chabad temple. Outside, cars spilled out of the parking lot onto nearby streets as drivers struggled to find a parking space.

Most of the women came from Stamford and nearby towns, but at least one family was visiting from as far as Argentina, Shemtov said. Each had her own personal reason to attend.

Regina Weisel, 32, said she wanted to learn to make challah. As a young mother of a 2-year-old, she saw the event as an opportunity to learn while taking a break from being in the house.

"I thought it would be a fun thing to do together with a whole bunch of women," Weisel said. "Down the road, it will be something fun to do with my daughter."

Lined up at long tables outfitted with aprons, ingredients and bowls, the women chattered and laughed, nearly drowning out the instructions piped over a loudspeaker. But quiet fell when Shemtov uttered a blessing and prayer for "our brothers and sisters in Israel, those on the front lines, those in harms way, and those who are put by their own people in harm's way."

She raised a fistful of challah dough as an offering, admonishing, "And the world be filled with peace."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Paris area synagogue hit in firebomb attack

SAINT-DENIS, France (AP) — Two Molotov cocktails were hurled at a synagogue north of Paris, the latest attack in what France's interior minister said Monday is a new wave of anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim attacks over the violence in Gaza. No injuries were reported.

President Nicolas Sarkozy met with religious leaders and reiterated the need to avoid "transposing" onto French soil a foreign conflict the country has been working to ease, his office said.

Firebombs broke a window and charred the walls of a pizzeria on the ground floor at Chabad House Ohr Manahem, in the town of Saint-Denis, said Isroeil Belinow, the synagogue's assistant rabbi. Belinow said police found 15 other unignited firebombs nearby.

Interior Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said France has faced a "very clear increase" in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks since Israel started an offensive against the militant group Hamas in Gaza on Dec. 27.

"We must do everything to stop the importation into our country of the situation that's taking place in the Middle East," Alliot-Marie told RTL Radio.

She declined to provide specific figures on the increase, though insisted police have been instructed to protect religious sites and places of worship.

France has Western Europe's largest Jewish and Muslim populations, and Middle East tensions have in the past spilled over into vandalism or other incidents.

In the Chabad House attack, prayers had just finished and the rabbi was getting ready to go home Sunday night when he heard an explosion, Belinow said. Neighbors saw flames and called police.

Chicago synagogues hit by hate crime spree

Vandals struck four Chicago-area synagogues early Saturday morning, shattering glass doors and windows with bricks and rocks and spray-painting anti-Israel graffiti.

The caretakers at Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation in the normally quiet village of Lincolnwood just outside Chicago woke up to the sound of shattering glass and saw two adults running through the synagogue's parking lot in ski masks. Four bricks were thrown through the building's front doors, but the vandals were unable to gain entry.

"Death to Israel Free Palestine," was the message left behind on the walls in bright orange spray paint.

Similar incidents occurred around the same time not far away at three synagogues and schools in Chicago's West Rogers Park, a neighborhood dominated by Orthodox Jews. Two windows were shattered at Young Israel of West Rogers Park, "Death to Israel" was spray-painted on the wall of Congregation Anshe Motele and rocks broke a glass window at the Lubavitch Mesivta school.

Lubavitch Mesivta's Rabbi Moshe Perlstein told the Chicago Sun-Times that cameras captured video of the men damaging his school at around 4:40 a.m. The footage shows one man spray-painting the side of the building while the other ran around to the front and threw rocks at the front door, breaking a glass window, he said. The video has been turned over to police.

Lincolnwood and Chicago police and the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force will check whether there was a connection between Saturday's incidents and the December 29 throwing of a Molotov cocktail into Temple Sholom, one of Chicago's oldest and most ornate synagogues, in the Lakeview neighborhood.

The city's Ida Crown Jewish Academy high school received a mailed bomb threat two weeks ago that warned of attacks at other Chicago-area Jewish institutions, including day schools.

A pro-Israel rally was held at Lincolnwood Jewish Congregation on Sunday afternoon to respond to the spate of hate crimes and support Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip. The synagogue's rabbi, Joel Lehrfield, called the perpetrators of the hate crime "cowardly thugs who support Hamas."

"We're more worried about Israel than we are about ourselves," Lehrfield said.

Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago executive vice president Michael Kotzin said it was ironic that he was on a solidarity mission in southern Israel when he heard about the attacks back home.

"I wouldn't say that we're in the front lines in Chicago like here, but there are people who are hostile to and hate Jews here and there, and we have to address it," Kotzin said. "It's important that law enforcement takes it seriously. But we won't be frightened or intimidated, just like the people of Israel. Their behavior strengthens us."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dead Sea Chabad: 'Tefillin to Protect Us in Battle'

A team of Chabad activists led by Rabbi Shimon Elharar has begun a new initiative to protect Israel from her enemies: encouraging Jews to use tefillin (phylacteries). Jews are responsible for each other, Rabbi Elharar explains, according to the verse, “The entire people of Israel are guarantors for each other.”

A mitzvah (good deed) performed by one Jew can provide spiritual protection not only for the one performing it, but for all Jews, Rabbi Elharar says. “In our current situation, we must help our soldiers on the front of mitzvot and good deeds.”

Tefillin in particular is known for providing Divine protection and casting fear on Israel's enemies, Rabbi Elharar's team reminds the men they encounter as they work the crowds in the shopping malls at the Dead Sea hotel strip. The rabbis quote a verse from Devarim (Deuteronomy): “And the people of the land shall see that G-d's name is upon you, and they shall fear you.”

Activists tell a story from the Yom Kippur War that illustrates this principle. Following the war, an Israeli soldier wrote to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the head of the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic movement, describing an incident involving Egyptian soldiers.

In the middle of the war, Israeli soldiers saw a group of Egyptian soldiers approaching their position. Suddenly, for no apparent reason, the Egyptians dropped their weapons and began a hasty retreat. The IDF commander was so surprised that he chased the Egyptian soldiers to see what had happened. The Egyptian commander said he had seen the Israeli soldiers wearing their “secret weapon”--a black box centered in the middle of their foreheads.

The Egyptians had mistaken the soldiers' tefillin for a secret weapon, the soldier told the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Tefillin is the soldiers' secret weapon, the Rebbe replied.

Rabbi Elharar is calling on all Jewish men to put on tefillin in order to provide Divine protection for the IDF soldiers and all Jews, and to cause Israel's enemies to flee in fear. He adds that Jewish women, who traditionally do not use tefillin, should light Sabbath candles and perform other mitzvot (good deeds) on behalf of the IDF and the Jewish people

A 770 Miracle: Rocket Hit Courtyard of Empty Chabad School

IsraelNN.com

A Grad rocket exploded in the courtyard of a Chabad school in Be'er Sheva Sunday morning. "It was a revealed miracle that classes had not been renewed," Chabad principal Simcha Weitzman said.

The long-range missile hit around 7:30 a.m., when dozens of students usually are milling around in the educational facility in the 'Capital of the Negev.' "There usually are boys and girls arriving at school with their parents, or on buses at this hour," she added. "I have no doubt that the merits of the Rebbe protected us," the principal said, referring to the late Chabad-Lubavitch spiritual leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Many schools in Be'er Sheva, particularly those with sheltered areas and whose students are preparing for matriculation exams, re-opened Sunday morning with the permission of the Home Front Command. Many others, including Chabad, remained closed.

By Sunday night, Hamas and allied terrorists had fired 24 rockets at southern Israel in the 16th day of the war. One long-range rocket hit an empty kindergarten in Ashdod, causing damage to the building.

Another school, located in Sderot, nearly sustained a direct hit from a Kassam rocket.

A Prayer Ritual Shared in Religion and Football

By COREY KILGANNON

The Martin Greenfield clothing factory on Varet Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, is known for turning out sleek suits for presidents, mayors and star athletes.

But in addition to being a clothier for the power elite — customers over the years have had names like Eisenhower, Clinton and Bloomberg — the factory may well be aiding the success of the New York Giants, who face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in a National Football League playoff game. At least the factory owners think so.

Jay and Todd Greenfield, the brothers who run the company founded by their father, Martin, made a deal last season with a rabbi in the Chabad Lubavitch movement, and the Giants have been successful ever since.

The rabbi, Israel Shemtov, who runs a rabbinical clothing store on Kingston Street in Crown Heights, visited the factory regularly to buy items for his business. Rabbi Shemtov had been trying to get Jay Greenfield, 50, to become more spiritual.

Mr. Greenfield had been resistant because, while he is Jewish, he does not consider himself observant. He says his real spiritual pursuit is the Giants. He has rooted for the team since age 6, and his family has had season tickets to home games for decades. He attends the games with his son, David, 15 — whose bar mitzvah, of course, had a Giants theme — and a group of friends from his hometown, Roslyn, on Long Island. They do the ritual tailgating at the Meadowlands at every home game, and often travel to see the team’s away games, too.

In the fall of 2007, the Giants’ record was dismal and Mr. Greenfield was a desperate man. His team had gone 1-3 in the preseason. The Giants then lost their first two regular-season games and confidence sagged in their quarterback, Eli Manning.

It was around this time that the rabbi, who acknowledges not watching television, let alone Giants games, visited. With Yom Kippur approaching, Rabbi Shemtov was trying to encourage Mr. Greenfield to do the tefillin prayer — which includes strapping a pair of black leather boxes containing biblical verses around the head and on the arm, hand and fingers and reciting a prayer declaring loyalty to God and a request for blessing. The rabbi told Mr. Greenfield that the ritual would help make it a good new year.

“I told him, ‘You’re talking about a good new year, but if we lose against the Redskins this Sunday, my year is over,’ ” Mr. Greenfield said in his factory on Thursday, recalling the moment.

It was then that Mr. Greenfield, who follows strict game-day rituals including wearing the same jeans, undershirt and jersey, got an idea. None of his rituals seemed to be working, and here was this persistent rabbi telling him that simply saying the tefillin prayer might be just the thing needed to help Mr. Greenfield get what he wanted for his team.

“I was at a weak moment, so I considered it,” Mr. Greenfield said.

“I told the rabbi, ‘I’m not asking for them to win every week — I’m not greedy — I just want them to make the playoffs.’ He said, ‘What’s the playoffs?’ I said, ‘You don’t need to know that now.’ ”

Rabbi Shemtov said in an interview on Friday, “I told him, ‘We know prayer goes a long way, and I can see that this Giants thing means a lot, so let’s go for the prayer.’ ”

Mr. Greenfield did, and he saw immediate results. The Giants beat the Redskins the following Sunday. Soon, Mr. Greenfield began praying three times a week with the rabbi, who in turn began keeping the fan group in his thoughts while praying at the gravesite in Cambria Heights, Queens, of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the rebbe of the Chabad Lubavitch movement.

The Giants kept winning in 2007 and Mr. Greenfield kept praying. Soon, his brother, Todd, was also praying. So were many of their friends and relatives who attended the home games — and many games on the road. The tefillin prayers became rituals at the tailgating gatherings before games at the Meadowlands, and when some of the fans traveled to games on the road, the rabbi would contact Chabad rabbis in those cities to help Mr. Greenfield’s group with pregame prayers. One day, Rabbi Shemtov showed up with blue-and-orange yarmulkes bearing the Giants logo, and other ones bearing his name for the group, the New York Giants Tefillin Club.

The Giants went on to qualify for the playoffs and began their playoff run. Mr. Greenfield said he saw divine intervention during the playoffs in a dropped pass by a receiver for the Dallas Cowboys, which changed the tide of the game and allowed the Giants to go on to victory.

“When that happened, about 50 people jumped up and said, ‘Thank you, Rabbi,’ ” he said. “At that point, we really thought God was on our side.”

The Giants went on to win the Super Bowl, but even that did not get Mr. Greenfield to start attending synagogue or reading the Torah regularly — although he did agree to pray with the rabbi in the off-season.

The pregame tefillin prayers have gained momentum, and this season, Mr. Greenfield secured a parking pass for Rabbi Shemtov. Putting on tefillin in the Meadowlands parking lot drew stares and comments, but as the Giants continued to win, other fans — even some non-Jewish rooters — began doing it too.

“He thought he was converting me,” Mr. Greenfield said of the rabbi, “but I got a sector of his community interested in the Giants.

The rabbi said that he would probably never wind up watching a Giants game — although he plans on being in the parking lot Sunday morning at the Meadowlands — but “this means a lot to Jay, and each one should pray according to what he needs.”

“I may hear the score, but I still really couldn’t tell you if the Jets were playing the Mets — I don’t know the difference. But if it makes him happy, only good things will come out of it.”

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Building a bridge between Chabad and Reform Jews

by rabbi gedalia potash & rabbi jonathan jaffe

Ben Zoma says: Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone. — Pirke Avot, 4:1

One day last summer, the two of us met to discuss how we could bring our communities closer together. Here we were, two San Francisco rabbis, born a single day apart and working a few miles from one another, and yet in seemingly separate worlds.

We committed that day to breach this gap and to bring Reform and Chassidic Jews together, not in the spirit of division or condemnation, but rather in partnership and learning.

And so, from late October to the end of last month, members of Congregation Emanu-El and Chabad of Noe Valley came together one night each week to study Torah and to learn from one another.

Historically speaking, this class presented a radical break from the usual avoidance practiced between Reform and Orthodox communities. At the same time, Reform Judaism and Chabad’s Chassidism share common roots as modern responses to the perceived banality of rote custom, which is why the class was titled “One People, Two Worlds: An exploration of Reform Judaism and Chabad.”

We differ only in the remedy: While Chabad sought to imbue ritual with additional kavanah (insight), Reform Judaism chose to reconsider those rituals and liturgies that no longer held meaning in the modern world.

But as the Reform movement now continues its current trend toward a re-examination of once-dismissed customs, we sense an opportunity to learn from one another. After all, we share not only a common past but a common vision as well: To reach out to those on the periphery of Judaism, to welcome and inspire them to bring the majesty of Judaism into their homes. And so we set out on this journey together.

Along with 15 classmates from both communities, we wrestled with such pivotal issues as the authority of oral and written Torah, the role of mitzvahs, patrilineal and matrilineal descent, the place of women in society, the messiah and messianism, and Zionism.

We also considered what a Jew’s role in the world should be — after all, Reform Judaism and Chabad have very different views on how public Jews should be with our rituals and observances. For classical Reform Jews, Judaism was meant to be relegated to the private domain, although this has changed somewhat over time. Chabad, on the other hand, has a much more public focus, with town-square menorah lightings, tefillin wrapping and the like.

At times the discussion became heated and we agreed to disagree. But throughout the thorniest of issues, we rededicated ourselves to the idea of klal Yisrael, that we are ultimately one people with both a shared history and destiny. All Israel is responsible for one another, not just those who share common views or customs.

And in due course, we found much more in common than we have in conflict.

In mid-December, we celebrated Shabbat together at Chabad of Noe Valley and at Rabbi Potash’s home, where we sat together for a festive meal. Over food, song and plenty of wine, the group toasted our newfound connection and friendship.

The entire class also shared in moments of tragedy, such as the inspiring memorial for the victims of the Mumbai attack, including Rabbi Potash’s yeshiva classmate, Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg. Our discussions consistently spilled over the allotted class time, from 7 to 9 p.m., and students regularly elected to study together into the late hours of the night. We learned that contact and exchange does not only lead to quarrel, but also can be utilized toward understanding and connection as well.

The finale of the eight-session series was Dec. 29, but the series was so successful, we are thinking about doing another one later this year.

We recognize that our experience is somewhat unique. There are few places in the world where Orthodox and progressive Jews study together, much less Chabad and Reform. In Israel and even on the East Coast, such an exchange is virtually unheard of.

But if we refuse to speak with one another, we ultimately suffer from our own insulation. If Torah is truly not in the heavens, but rather in our mouths and hearts, then we find completion only in engaging the Torah found in the other.

And so we present this tale as an example of collaboration, in the spirit of the psalmist: Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to come together in unity.

We look forward to continuing our effort to live up this lofty promise of achdut, a connected peoplehood.


Rabbi Gedalia Potash is the director of San Francisco’s Chabad of Noe Valley, a position he has held since 2000.

Rabbi Jonathan Jaffe is an assistant rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco, a position he has held for 18 months.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Yocheved Seidman

-- Rabbi Dr. Goldie Milgram

Yocheved Seidman and her husband, Mordechai, are Lubavitchers who live in Ithaca, NY with their 4 year-old son. Mordechai Seidman is a bio-physics researcher at Cornell University where Yocheved is working to complete her dissertation on Turkish textile workers. The Obama campaign was Yocheved's first formal participation in U.S. politics. She was in the Peace Corps in Tanzania and also worked for the World Bank and USAID in Africa (Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mali). Yocheved, along with Jonathan Kamens (JGAN's vice-president and online director) and Jordan Pollack (technical advisor), is now working with the many volunteers who made up the 100% grassroots group Jews for Obama to build the Jewish Grassroots Action Network (JGAN) as a vehicle for inspiring and organizing the broadest possible group of Jewish-Americans to engage in grassroots activism.

PJV: What might be some of her favorite campaigning memories?

I recall speaking to a group of five or six Lubavitch girls, late teens to early twenties, and asking them about basic issues questions. I asked them, 'If you were married and working and you and your husband both had jobs with small companies that couldn't afford health care insurance on their own; would you want there to be some kind of health care insurance that you could buy for your family? Something the government could organize, not for free, but that you could buy?' 'Yes,' they responded, 'that would be a good idea.' I also asked them about social security, 'There's a cap on the level of income after which a person doesn't contribute to social security, might it be a good idea to slightly raise that cap so there will be enough social security funds in the future for young people growing up now to use when they retire?' They also agreed with that. I went down the line with Obama positions and they agreed one by one. Then I asked, 'Are you aware that both McCain and Obama support the same policy for resolution of the conflict in Israel?' and they were not. So they were able to see that by analyzing Obama's actual positions they could support him even if they did not agree with him on Israel because he was better on domestic policy in every single area and his Israel policy was in fact no different then McCain's. We went on to discuss many of the negative claims being spread about Obama and it was clear to me that none of that held sway with them once they realized they had core agreements with on him on concrete issues they cared about. It was a breakthrough moment.

I also treasure the relationships that I was able to build with people who have been dedicated to left wing activism for many years and have never worked with a Chassidshe lady in a wig before. I was moved by the warmth and easy camaraderie our volunteer groups had during the campaign. I had insisted that we have kosher snacks for all of our Upstate NY phonebanks (I cooked falafel for one - falafel and phonebanking sounded good together) and I had to tell the men with hands out in greeting that I cannot shake hands with them for religious reasons. No one felt awkward - we were all united for the same purpose - get Obama elected. Now we have to rise to the challenge of uniting to support the President-Elect's agenda after he is sworn in - realizing that not everyone will agree with everything that he does. Thankfully he told us in advance that he will be listening to us - especially when we disagree.

PJV: Why did you choose to support Obama? What influenced your choice from a Jewish perspective?

I thought he had the best policies for the United States domestically by far. In regard to the Middle East and Israel, I very carefully examined both candidates, including looking into what John McCain said and did about these matters before he went into campaign mode and including calling the Jewish community in Chicago to talk to Orthodox Jews who knew Obama personally. I spoke to State Senator Ira Silverstein who is an Orthodox Jew who shared an office with President-elect Obama for six years in Illinois and he told me that, 'Barack is mensch. What you see is what you get. He is not just saying he supports Israel in order to get elected - he means what he is saying.' I spoke to Ira Silverstein quite a few times during the campaign and his description of his friendship with Obama in which they discussed Israel and religion extensively made a big difference to me. In fact, as we neared election day I arranged an interview for Senator Silverstein with Nachum Segal (a major Orthodox Jewish radio host in NJ) because I wanted other Orthodox Jews to have a chance to hear Ira talk about Obama as only he can. However, it was not Obama's policy positions that got me off the bench so to speak and into volunteering, it was his political style that motivated me.

The Obama vision is inclusive in a genuine way. Obama recognizes that people want to work together, we're tired of being locked in factionalism. I am personally absolutely fed up with the smug knee-jerk hatred of the other side that has become so common in our country on both the right and the left. As a Jewish activist, I try to stay focused on being true to my values while genuinely trying to understand how others think. A key experience that laid the groundwork for me to be able to work effectively in a broad coalition of Jews who do not all agree on Judaism or on Israel was becoming friends with an Israeli graduate student who is far to the left on Israel policy. Shortly after being introduced in an academic setting, he said to me, 'I am surprised that a Chabadnik would be an intellectual'. I explained that the basic concept of Chabad Chassidus is to use the mind to transform the heart and that it is in fact the most intellectual form of Chassidic philosophy. He mentioned that he was a direct descendent of the great Chassidic master, Rebbe Elimelech of Lizhensk. I happened to have a small copy of the sefer (book) compiling the teachings of his famous relative entitled, the Noam Elimelech, with me. We started to study it and have carried on studying the Noam Elimelech weekly for more than 5 years now.

Along the way we got into a couple of political arguments and quickly decided to place that topic off limits. However, after gaining respect for each other and having a common purpose of studying Chassidus as an intellectual pursuit, we are able to now talk about Israeli politics without bitterness and acrimony entering the conversation. We do not agree but we are able to better understand each other's assumptions. That is what I have been trying to do throughout the process of building the Jewish grassroots activities started during the campaign that we will now build going forward. On a very emotional topic like Israel, it is sometimes necessary to put it aside for a time and build relationships by working on common goals before trying to explore points of disagreement. I feel that Obama inspired people to take the emotional risk involved in engaging with people across lines of disagreement. Now that I am involved with grassroots activism there is no turning back. I have met a lot of wonderful people.

PJV: How did you first start volunteering in the campaign and what did you end up doing?

At first I volunteered in the local Ithaca, NY office for about a month leading up to Super Tuesday. I went door-to-door, made phone calls, took lawn signs around to people who requested them. It was exciting and fun to get out and meet people and I tried to be a good ambassador for Orthodox Judaism. Then I joined "Jews for Obama" one of the social networking groups that was (and is) part of MyBarackObama.com. We started out as an e-mail list, then the group developed a logo, and a couple members set up an independent website to combat the smears against Obama - one of the founders of the website called the campaign against Obama "Schvitzboating". We also started a newsletter and eventually put out 17 issues and collected over 4,000 subscribers who are now all part of our network of contacts. After the Democratic Convention, the Jewish Outreach arm of the Obama campaign became more active and started to organize some events through their Jewish Community Leadership Councils (JCLC). I wrote to one of the organizers who sent out an invitation to a NYC JCLC event and explained that it is too far for Upstate NYers to go downstate to participate and we should do something upstate. He wrote back and said, "Why don't you organize it? Put together some people and we'll have a conference call on strategy". So I did, I was amazed at the level of trust required to do grassroots organizing quickly. There is not a lot of time for interviews and so on.

Within a couple weeks of the first conference call, Jeremy Goldberg (the NY/NJ/ Conn Jewish Outreach Director for the campaign) took me in as a member of his team and gave me the title of Upstate NY Jewish Outreach Volunteer Coordinator. I also started working on the Orthodox Jewish Outreach team in the campaign. In the last month and a half, I worked like crazy to organize phonebanks in five Upstate NY cities (to make peer-to-peer calls to Jewish voters in various swing states). I went to a new city every Sunday and trained a group I had recruited and ran a phonebank with them that day. I had them repeat the phonebank the next Sunday with a volunteer leader I had trained and an Obama field person while I went to a new city (or two) and ran a phonebank with a new group of volunteers. Using this approach I built an Upstate NY Jewish volunteer base of about 200 people. Using contacts from Ithaca (my home) or the cities I had already visited, I figured out who the Jewish community machers (doers) were in each new city and then worked with them to make scores of phone calls to recruit new volunteers. It was very exciting and wonderful to meet so many warm and motivated Jewish people from all over the Upstate region. We made more than 8000 Jewish peer-to-peer phone calls in the final four Sundays before the last weekend of the campaign. I spent the last few days of the campaign in the general campaign phonebank in Ithaca making calls and organizing data entry volunteers. On election day, we had about 45 volunteers in a room at the Hilton all day and made more than 35,000 phone calls. By the end of the day, when the volunteers got together and listened to Obama's victory speech and he talked about how we had made it happen - we knew that it was true. The feeling in the room was one of real dedication to the mission of healing and rebuilding the country together. Now, we have to keep that feeling going.

PJV: Doesn't the aligning of Orthodox Jews with right wing politics that is happening in the U.S. seem odd? Take for example how some express complete opposition to abortion. Judaism explicitly requires abortion when the fetus is a threat to the mother's survival, among a number of situations where abortion might be ruled halachically valid on a case by case basis, such as a rape.

Obama, when he spoke about a lot of these wedge issues, really laid out a template for how to approach things like abortion. During his acceptance speech in Denver he said that we can all agree that we want to see abortion and unwanted pregnancies reduced. His point was that, even if we have different views about how to go about that; we can and should work together to find practical and effective solutions to reducing abortion. Some Orthodox Jews were angry when Obama said that the question of when life begins is "above my pay scale" but I appreciated that response. He is a religious man and he genuinely believes that this question should be answered privately in consultation with one's own religious advisor and family members. There are a lot of emotions involved in these things and I think he recognizes that. Fundamentally, the President-Elect is focused on what can be done effectively by government and how government can be a force for good. To this end, he is willing to consider a wide range of policies. For example, he wants public schools to be strengthened and is not afraid to pursue real reform in that system. However, Obama was very clear during that campaign about his willingness to support alternative models of education that can also be effective - not as an alternative to the public school system overall but as a complement in some situations. Obviously, this is an area where Orthodox Jews have a keen interest and we will have to work on how to express our needs and concerns about schooling to the Obama administration. The bottom line is that he is in favor of what is going to work well for all of our children and that is another reason that I supported him so energetically.

PJV: What is an issue that you would like to focus your activism on when the new administration takes office?

I hope to work with the Jewish network we created in the campaign (to be called the Jewish Grassroots Action Network now that the campaign is over) on a wide variety of topics. However, I'm very concerned about the development of good sustainable jobs in the U.S. and how to pursue worker's rights while creating a positive environment for business at the same time. This is an interest I have had professionally for some time and is one of the themes in my PhD thesis. I am also concerned about the relationship that the Orthodox Jewish community has with workers. Given the great history of Jewish immigrants to the U.S. struggling to start the labor movement here, we should follow the spirit of their example and squarely face the challenge of improving the Orthodox community's relationship with legal and illegal workers. The Torah requires us to pay workers fair wages and pay them on time. I have not studied the details of these halachos (Torah laws) and how they are applied in a modern economy but it seems to me that we have to do a better job in this area as a community and as a country. We need a guest workers program in this country so that people can come and work here with dignity and go and visit their families. If that means that wages will increase to the extent that some large Jewish families will not be able to afford help which they badly need, perhaps the community can organize a way to subsidize wages of domestic helpers. That way, the community will support the value of having large families while also fulfilling a Jewish obligation to treat workers properly.

PJV: You describe yourself as born into a politically intellectual family that was not religious

We had intensive training in how to think things through. My parents are completely assimilated Jews, my father (whose parents immigrated from Hungary as children) is an intense intellectual and a very disciplined person. He was a journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times for 30 years and was involved in some Libertarian activism for a time.

After the Peace Corps in Tanzania for three years, I went to Israel as part of my travels on the way home. I went looking for my Jewish roots and I found them. I remember sitting on a regular city bus in Tel Aviv and bursting into tears because the bus was full of Jewish people and I was suddenly overwhelmed by being together with them in our own country. I stayed in the Old city in Jerusalem for a couple of weeks that included Purim and decided to become observant - from zero to everything all at once! After leaving Israel, I went to New York City for Pesach and stayed in Monsey with a Rabbi's family for the first traditional seder of my entire life. After that I went home to my poor parents after not being home for three years (they did visit me in Africa) and I insisted on keeping strictly kosher. They thought I had lost my mind. The rest is a story for a different time but after years of trying to figure out where I fit in, I married a Lubavitcher and here I am.

After we were married, we worked part time together doing hashgacha (kosher supervision) for our local Chabad shliach (representative) at a small liberal arts college and we met many wonderful Jewish students. That was my first real exposure to Judaism which was not Orthodox as we worked closely with the Hillel to provide kosher food for their events. It was a great experience getting to know the undergraduate students participating in the Hillel program and coming to eat our food at the kosher kitchen. In contrast to that set of relationships - which were based on a sort student/teacher dynamic given our greater age and other aspects of the situation, the Obama campaign put me into a grassroots organizing situation with peers from all different parts of the Jewish panorama. When I went to the Upstate New York cities to organize phonebanks some of the Jewish volunteers told me they had never met anyone Orthodox before and that I was breaking down their preconceived notions of what an Orthodox person is like.

PJV: What does it take to succeed in building a truly inclusive Jewish grassroots organization?

In Jewish grassroots organizing, I believe the two key components for success - besides lots of hard work and little sleep - are respect and patience. If you are very upset about what someone is saying it's hard to listen, people fly off the handle over political arguments and write crazy emails and send them without taking a minute to think it over (especially when they are tired). Part of our determination to implement this at the grassroots is that Obama led by example with a very calm demeanor and we wanted to emulate that in our organization. We sometimes see national level leaders using very out-of-control rhetoric or encouraging it, for example, when Sarah Palin didn't say anything when people at her rallies shouted about killing Obama (G-d forbid). Or when Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barack recently used vicious rhetoric at a rally in Rabin's memory calling Jews living in Judea and Samaria a cancer that has to be cut out of Israel (G-d forbid). This kind of leadership breeds hatred between people with different views and makes it very hard to create a truly broad-based grassroots organization. Unchecked anger is very destructive to a group communicating through an e-mail list. We are blessed to have had from the beginning an incredible moderator for our e-mail list - Jonathan Kamens (who is one of the co-founders of Jews for Obama). He is on sabbatical from day-to-day organizing and newsletter writing but continues to moderate the listserv which is critical for the health and success of our group and I discuss all major decisions with him as my co-leader. I think we need to put greater emphasis on bringing a spirit of cooperation to the table as Jews in our every day lives. One can have a strong opinion in his/her approach to Judaism or Israeli politics and also be able and willing to love other Jews across the divisions. For me this is very much in line with what the Lubavitcher Rebbe would expect from me as a Chassidic political activist. If we get together as Jews to work on fundamental shared goals such as improving education for our kids, ensuring that everyone has access to affordable health care, growing our local and national economies to create strong job-providing businesses that reward hard work fairly, keeping our environment clean, and so on, we will get to know and respect each other in the process and G-d willing be more accepting of each other's views in areas where we are divided such as religious observance, social wedge issues, or Israel policy.

PJV: What's next organizationally?

We will be having a series of great events in Washington, DC for the presidential inauguration: a multi-denominational Shabbaton including many different shuls close to Silver Spring, MD (1/16-17), a workshop for people from across the country who engaged in Jewish grassroots activism during the campaign (1/18-1/19: 'Jewish Grassroots Activism during the Obama campaign: Lessons Learned and Planning for the Road Ahead'), a celebration on Sunday night, and a couple of options for viewing the Swearing-In ceremony for those who want to brave the crowds and those who do not. We do not have access to any tickets so people who get tickets and those who do not will be meeting up to gather early in the morning and experience the ceremony together. Some of us who have little kids or don't wish to shlep out with the crowds will gather to see the ceremony at a location in the neighborhood where we will have all of our events. Click here for a full schedule of events. Last but not least, as a leader of the Jewish Grassroots Action Network I am working with other grassroots leaders from different demographics to form a coalition of grassroots organizations that were born during the Obama campaign with the goal of coordinating our groups with each other and with the Obama administration. So we will G-d willing have exciting news to report on that front some time soon."

Chabad Richmond Hill opens new building

TORONTO — After 11 years in temporary quarters, Chabad Lubavitch of Richmond Hill is gearing up for an inaugural banquet Jan. 15 and an open house three days later, featuring food, crafts, music and dancing at its new 10,000-square-foot building.

Chabad Lubavitch of Richmond Hill’s new building, the Chabad Romano Centre, features windows in the shape of a menorah. [Frances Kraft photo]

The open house will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 18.

The Chabad Romano Centre is located at 10,500 Bathurst St.on a 2.5-acre tract of land south of Teston Road.

Land developer Mario Romano, who is also contributing to the cost of the synagogue, donated the land to Chabad. In a 2006 article, Romano told The CJN that when he was growing up in Buenos Aires, most of his neighbourhood friends were Jewish, and that he wanted to “have respect for” the Jewish community in the area of the new centre.

The building’s sanctuary, featuring a dark-stained ark and windows forming the shape of a menorah, can seat “300 comfortably,” according to Rabbi Mendel Bernstein, spiritual leader of the congregation.

At 10,000 square feet, the $3 million building is more than triple the size of the 3,000-square-foot space Chabad occupied in rented premises diagonally across the road, at the northeast corner of Bathurst Street and Elgin Mills Road, for the past half-dozen years.

Rabbi Bernstein said that there is enough land to more than double the current size of the new synagogue, but that finances did not permit a larger building right now. “This is phase one,” he said.

“It’s absolutely a dream come true. A real shul is something we’ve looked forward to from the day we moved here,” said Rabbi Bernstein in an interview in a basement classroom of the the new centre Dec. 22, as construction continued upstairs.

Sitting in the as yet unfurnished classroom, its floor covered with fine dust from the ongoing work, the rabbi recalled that after he and his wife Toby first moved to Richmond Hill in 1997, their basement served as the synagogue for almost five years.

The congregation’s growth is also reflected by the hiring two years ago of Rabbi Shlomo Vorovitch as program and youth director.

Rabbi Bernstein said the new shul’s four classrooms would serve Chabad’s preschool students and “hopefully also [part of] the Hebrew school.”

Almost 250 children from senior kindergarten through Grade 7 attend Chabad’s Hebrew school in Richmond Hill. Classes are currently held in rented public school premises.

The new building had its ground-breaking on June 15. Its lease expired at the end of December.

In the rented premises, a large preschool classroom doubled as the sanctuary, which served about 100 worshippers on an average Shabbat morning.

“We had to fold away our small shul after every Shabbos,” said the rabbi. “Everything had to be on wheels.”

Chabad Richmond Hill also holds twice-daily services, mornings and evenings.

For further information about the synagogue or its opening events, go to www.chabadrc.org., or call 905-770-7700. Tickets for the banquet cost $150 per person; the daytime event is free.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Wellesley-Weston Chabad celebrates Hannukah

Wellesley -

The faint sound of people singing drifted out over the hum of cars traveling on Route 9.
“I have a little dreidel,” the group of more than 30 people sang. “I made it out of clay.”

This past weekend marked the end of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights. During each of the eight nights, candles are lit on a menorah and the traditional Hanukkah song “Dreidel, Dreidel” is commonly sung. In honor of the last night — Sunday, Dec. 28 — the Wellesley-Weston Chabad held its annual menorah lighting. It was dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India.

“Tonight we vow to counter that senseless hate with unconditional love,” Rabbi Moshe Y. Bleich said after the entire menorah was lit. “The flame of the menorah flickering in the darkness of the cold and the night symbolizes Hanukkah’s bold message to never give up and the knowledge that in the end, light is stronger than darkness and goodwill will prevail over evil.”

In late November, more than 170 people were killed in terrorist attacks in Mumbai. Two of the victims were Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivkah, originally from Brooklyn, N.Y., who went to Mumbai to manage the Jewish outreach center there. Bleich lamented their loss.

“Their open hearts and generous acts of love and kindness are the exact antithesis to the hate-filled terrorists,” Bleich said. “They dedicated their short lives to lovingly tend to the needs of others. In life, as in their tragic death, they brought unity among Jews of all backgrounds and affiliations.”

The menorah lighting, however, was also about happiness and joy in lighting the candles. Standing in the yard in front of the Chabad house, the group of people gathered to watch as the menorah was prepped. The huge menorah, which is easily seen from Route 9, required at least two people to help light it: one person to light the candle; a second to screw the candle into the menorah.

Eight different members of the community were called up to light a wick. Daniel Sidman, 9, was called up to light what is known as the “shamas,” the first candle lit. His father, Alan Sidman, said it was a “total surprise to all” of them that Daniel was asked to light the first candle.
Standing nearby was Norm and Amy Gorin of Seaver Street. The couple said they are active members in Temple Beth Elohim and came to the lighting to support Bleich and his family.

“We come every year,” Norm Gorin said. “We came to celebrate the last night of Hanukkah and also the memorial service for the Chabad members who were lost in Mumbai.”

After the menorah was lit, guests were invited into the Chabad house for potato pancakes, doughnuts and a more traditional menorah lighting with prayers. Selwyn Wies of Brookline brought his whole family to the menorah lighting.

“I just think it’s very symbolic to have a menorah sitting out here on Route 9,” he said. It’s just demonstrating the freedom of religion concept in this country.”

Indian Jewish leader: Killers were ‘warped monsters’

By Lincoln Anderson

Three weeks after the deadly Mumbai terrorist attack, the leader of a group of Indian Jews came to the Village Temple to give an insider’s perspective on the horrifying act of violence that shocked the world.

Romiel Daniel is president of the Indian Jewish Congregation of USA, which includes about 350 Indian Jews, living mainly in the New York and New Jersey area. They normally worship in Rego Park, Queens; but on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur — when the Village Temple shifts its enlarged services to The Cooper Union’s Great Hall — the Indian Jews gather at the E. 12th St. synagogue.

Daniel grew up in Mumbai — which he still interchangeably refers to by its former name, “Bombay” — and has lived in New York the last 15 years.

After Friday night Shabbat services at the Village Temple on Dec. 19, Daniel took the podium in the dining room, as a group of about 50 adults and children sat listening attentively, while snacking on cheese, grapes and cookies.

At the outset, he noted that Jews have lived peacefully in India for 2,000 years, attributing this fact to a lack of government-sponsored discrimination.

The 10 drug-and-steroid-fueled Mumbai gunmen were members of a Pakistan-based, Muslim terrorist group.

“What did these terrorists want?” Daniel asked.

“They wanted to hurt and embarrass India,” he said. “They were jealous of India’s prosperity and education.”

Noting that the terrorists singled out American and British people, Daniel said, “They attacked all those who were from successful democratic societies. … Their own societies have not progressed in the last 50 years.”

The gunmen also targeted a Chabad House — a Jewish outreach center — “and they killed all five of our people,” Daniel said. The victims included Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife, Rivka Holtzberg, who was six months pregnant, a kosher supervisor and a Mexican Jew who was making aliyah — or immigrating — to Israel.

“Why did they kill them?” Daniel asked. “It was just plain hatred.”

“We do not fear these terrorists — warped monsters who will fade into oblivion,” he stated, adding that the lone surviving Muslim fanatic’s last name translates into “butcher.”

As much as they selected their victims, the terrorists also murdered indiscriminately: Of the more than 170 people killed, 79 were Muslim, Daniel added.

“India has never allowed a Jewish soul to lose its life on Indian soil for anti-Semitism, or because you are a Jew,” he reiterated. “India, where we Jews have lived trouble-free for more than 2,000 years.”

Daniel then offered a prayer, tying it in with the approaching Hanukkah holiday, and ending with the words “Let not a unique people perish.”

The Indian Jewish leader then took questions from the audience. He was asked about the relations between Chabad-Lubavitch — the Hasidic sect that operates the Chabad centers — and the Indian Jewish community. The relationship has been very good, he said.

There are quite a few Chabad Houses in India, Daniel went on. That’s because the Lubavitchers are trying to keep Jewish tourists from converting to Buddhism. The Dalai Lama — the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism — lives in exile in India, where many seek him out, visit ashrams and generally become “JewBoos,” as they are known. There are “thousands and thousands of JewBoos,” Daniel noted.

“At any given time, there are more than 30,000 Israeli tourists in India,” he said. “Unfortunately, they forget for a while that they’re Jewish.”

Most of these Israelis are “army types,” who come to enjoy India’s beaches — especially “the nude beaches,” added David Galsurkar, a fellow Indian Jew, with a smile.

A total of 4,000 Jews live in India.

There are 12 synagogues in Mumbai and its surrounding area. Although these temples are in a Muslim area, “They have never been attacked; they’ve never been touched,” Daniel noted.

The gunmen instead chose to aim their hatred at the Chabad House, because the Lubavitchers “are easily recognized as Jews internationally,” Daniel said.

He added that India’s good relations with Israel may also have been a factor.

“Israel is India’s second-largest trading partner,” Daniel said. “This is what people don’t like, because it’s India and Israel — not a Muslim country.”

Japan is India’s number-one trading partner. The terrorists killed a Japanese businessman.

Janet Falk, president of the Village Temple’s sisterhood, noted that since 9/11, “We live in a different world here — more security. Do you think similar measures will be taken in India?” she asked.

Daniel said security is improving.

“Before they had no security,” he said. “They didn’t think they needed it.” In the wake of the attack, the government is providing protection for synagogues and Jewish centers, he said. Though, he seemed to indicate that, in the future, this might not remain the case.

Galsurkar said every Bene Israel member — as the Indian Jews call themselves — returns to India every two or three years, and that he was in Mumbai when the attack occurred. Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife were very close with the Indian Jewish community, he noted.

Galsurkar said that after the attack — in what was a new sight for him — he found synagogues’ gates closed.

Jews first came to India about 2,000 years ago as traders, Daniel explained. In a holiday tie-in, he noted these ancestors had fled persecution by Antiochus IV, during whose reign the events of Hanukkah — and the lamp oil that miraculously lasted eight days — occurred.

Behind Chabad Fundraising, A Stealth Security Campaign

by Adam Dickter
Assistant Managing Editor

In the weeks since the Mumbai terrorist attack, the Chabad movement has directed contributions from supporters primarily to two campaigns: One to aid the child whose emissary parents were slain, and another to rebuild the badly damaged outreach center and re-establish operations there, which could cost as much as $1 million, according to a Chabad estimate.

But at the same time, some Chabad leaders are acting on their own to secure funds and resources to make dozens of Chabad houses in far-flung outposts safer.

A group of emissaries in southeast Asia, led by Rabbi Yosef Kantor, who is based in Bangkok, Thailand, has launched a campaign aimed at improving security at their centers, and distributed donation cards at Lubavitch world headquarters in CrownHeights, Brooklyn, last week.

And Rabbi Shea Hecht, a member of a prominent Chabad family well entrenched in the emissary movement, told The Jewish Week he has been working the phones since the tragedy to try to arrange security upgrades and protection.

“Security has to be the No. 1 priority,” said Rabbi Hecht of the Lubavitch-run Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education. “If you are not alive, it doesn’t make much difference if you can put bread on the table. One you stay alive, you can worry about the bread.

“If any of us could spend a million dollars to save just one soul, isn't it worth it?”
Rabbi Hecht, who is one of 12 siblings and has six children, and whose wife also comes from a large family, has more relatives than he can count working as emissaries of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, trying to promote Jewish observance.

“In my family alone we are talking about tens and tens of shluchim,” he said, using the Hebrew word for emissary. “Among my immediate friends, tens and tens [more] shluchim. The Hechts are not people who sit on the sidelines. We roll up our sleeves and get the job done.”

While not in any way criticizing the central Chabad operation, Rabbi Hecht, who has developed many political connections in New York, said he expected many emissaries to reach out to him for advice and wanted to have information available for them.

“When they call me, I want to have a file with a lot of information,” he said.
He said he hoped to meet with members of the security consulting firm run by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and had already spoken with another top consulting firm, Kroll Security Group, for help in securing the centers. Spokepersons for both agencies did not return calls for comment.

The spokesman for Chabad, Zalman Shmotkin, would not comment on any fundraising for security. “It is still, unfortunately, too early to discuss these efforts,” he said on Tuesday night.

Rabbi Hecht said that supporters of Chabad around the world were responding generously in the wake of the Mumbai tragedy and that some of them had requested that donations be used for security. He said one of his sons, an emissary in upstate New York, had received such a contribution.

“It wasn’t exactly earmarked, but it was suggested that some of the money be used that way,” said Rabbi Hecht.

While stressing that no one in the movement believed that Chabad centers were more at risk than any other Jewish organization, he said that individual Chabad centers should assess their own security needs and decide how much of the money they raise should be used for security.

“There is a big difference between those in New York City or L.A. or other places in the U.S. and those in Asian countries or African countries,” he said. “There are some that have to be very careful what they do and how they do it. An assessment has to be made on many levels, and I am doing my own study.”
Since the tragedy, the Chabad movement has conducted an orchestrated marketing and public relations campaign. Chabad officials in New York and emissaries around the world are conducting media interviews, and constituents who have been touched by the movement are reaching out in droves to local and international publications to extol its praises.

Chabad handpicked emissaries to speak with the media that officials believed would best represent the movement to a general public that may have had little or no knowledge about it.

The message was twofold: Gavriel and Rivkah Holtzberg, the emissaries killed in Mumbai, would have wanted their deaths to inspire and bring Jews closer to Chabad and Judaism, and the movement’s late spiritual leader, Rabbi Schneerson, taught that it was a religious obligation to take a dark moment and turn it into a positive.

The strategy is to help the audience to “become a continuum of the holy world of Gavi and Rivkah so that they have a way to channel their own personal grief in a manner that makes this world a better place,” Shmotkin told JTA. “A shaliach has to be able to sensitively and articulately convey the basic messages of urging people to increase their own acts of goodness and kindness” in response to tragedy.
Within a week of the attacks, Chabad had raised about $1 million through mailboxes it had opened on Chabad.org.

“[The fundraising] is an opportunity to connect more and more Jews to the mission, and to the Rebbe’s mission of getting every Jew involved. And part of that is channeling the empathy people are now feeling,” said Rabbi Kantor, the director of the Chabad of Thailand, who helped establish the movement’s presence in Mumbai prior to the Holtzbergs’ arrival.

“I see this as being a big package or opportunity to be able to inspire and direct Jews on how they can channel their outpouring of support and sympathy, their emotion, rage, outrage and frustration,” he said.

While the immediate fundraising was geared toward helping the toddler and rebuilding in Mumbai, the stepped-up publicity may also prove to be a boon for Chabad houses. Chabad emissaries usually receive minimal seed money to start their outposts, but each house is responsible for raising its own budget each year. Though Chabad does not keep a formal database on how much each outpost raises, officials estimate that the emissaries combined take in more than $1 billion per year.
JTA contributed to this report.