Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The 50 Most Influential Rabbis in America

Two rabbi watchers release their 2010 list.

This year’s top rebbe is Yehuda Krinsky (center), the head of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

In the fall of 2006, Sony Pictures chairman and CEO Michael Lynton and his pal Gary Ginsberg, now an executive vice president of Time Warner Inc., began working on a list of the 50 most influential rabbis in the U.S. The friends devised the following unscientific criteria to rank the leaders, whose specialties range from kashrut to Kabbalah: Are they known nationally/internationally? (20 points.) Do they have political/social influence? (20 points.) Do they have a media presence? (10 points.) Are they leaders within their communities? (10 points.) Are they considered leaders in Judaism or their movements? (10 points. ) How big are their constituencies? (10 points.) Have they made an impact on Judaism in their career? (10 points.) Have they made a greater impact beyond the Jewish community and their rabbinical training? (10 points.) NEWSWEEK published that first list around Passover, 2007, with this caveat: “Is the list subjective? Yes. Is it mischievous in its conception? Definitely.” Now in its fourth year, Lynton and Gisberg’s list includes eight fresh names and a new rebbe in the top spot.

1.Yehuda Krinsky—As the leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Krinsky is the contemporary face of the Hasidic branch. (2009 Ranking No. 4)

2.Eric Yoffie—Yoffie represents 1.5 million Jews in more than 900 synagogues in his role as president of the Union of Reform Judaism. (2009 Ranking No. 8)

3.Marvin Hier—Founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, Hier is No. 3 for his tireless work combating issues such as anti-Semitism, bigotry, and hate. Hier’s many connections with major world leaders, politicians, and entertainment-industry bigwigs give him an international platform from which to speak on various matters affecting the Jewish people. (2009 Ranking No. 2 )

4.Mark Charendoff—A leading authority on the future of Jewish philanthropy, Charendoff serves as president of the Jewish Funders Network, an international organization of family foundations, public philanthropies, and individual funders. (2009 Ranking No. 3)

5.David Saperstein—Having just completed his term as the only rabbi serving on President Obama’s White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Saperstein continues to act as a major influence in Washington in his role as director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. (2009 Ranking No. 1)

6.Schmuley Boteach—Calling himself “America’s Rabbi,” Boteach continues to share his views on marriage, parenting, and relationships with the world, appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, counseling various celebrities in their times of crisis and releasing his most recent book, The Michael Jackson Tapes. (2009 Ranking No. 7)

7.Irwin Kula—Kula, a bestselling author who serves as co-president of CLAL (the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership), is nationally known for his commitment to reshaping America’s spiritual landscape. (2009 Ranking No. 10)

8.David Ellenson—Under Ellenson’s leadership as president, Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion continues to develop, train, and support the dynamic Jewish leaders of tomorrow. (2009 ranking No. 5)

9.Robert Wexler—Wexler continues influencing generations of Jewish students and scholars as president of American Jewish University. (2009 Ranking No. 6)

10.Morris Allen—As program director for Magen Tzedek, the ethical kosher seal, Allen is changing the way the world thinks about kashrut and the ethical issues surrounding the hechsher. (NEW)

11.Uri D. Herscher—Herscher is the founder, president and CEO of the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. (2009 Ranking No. 9)

12.Norman Lamm—Lamm is the chancellor of Yeshiva University in New York City. (2009 Ranking No. 14)

13.David Wolpe—Considered by many to be the No. 1 pulpit rabbi in America and a major leader of the Conservative movement, Wolpe is the rabbi of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. (2009 Ranking No. 11)

14.Yehuda Berg—Berg is known as the world’s leading authority on the Kabbalah movement. (2009 Ranking No. 13)

15.Joesph Telushkin—Telushkin is an internationally known bestselling author and speaker. (2009 Ranking No. 15)

16.Menachem Genack—In his role as CEO of the Orthodox Union Kosher Division, Genack has steadily supervised and maintained the organization’s stringent kosher requirements throughout a series of recent scandals. (2009 Ranking No. 17)

17.Ellen Weinberg Dreyfus—As president of the CCAR (Central Conference of American Rabbis), Dreyfus represents nearly 2,000 Reform rabbis. (2009 Ranking No. 18)

18.Avi Weis—A leading Modern Orthodox rabbi who heads the Hebrew Institute if Riverdale, N.Y., Weiss recently caused a stir in the Orthodox community with his controversial decision to grant his student, Sara Hurwitz, the title of “rabba.” (2009 Ranking No. 38)

19.Jeffrey Wohlberg—Wohlberg is president of the Rabbinical Assembly, the international association of Conservative rabbis. (2009 ranking No. 19)

20.Steve Gutow—Gutow is president and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the public-policy and community-relations coordinating agency of the American Jewish community. (2009 Ranking No. 20)

21.Yehiel Eckstein—As founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Eckstein is recognized as the world’s leading Jewish authority on evangelical Christians. (NEW)

22.J. Rolando Matalon—As senior rabbi for Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in New York City, Matalon presides over a congregation of more than 1,800 families. (2009 Ranking No. 16)

23.Dan Ehrenkrantz—In his role as president of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Ehrenkrantz is recognized as a leading expert in issues pertaining to the Reconstructionist movement and American Jewish history.

24.Haskel Lookstein—Lookstein is principal of New York’s Ramaz School and rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun. (2009 Ranking No. 22)

25.Sharon Kleinbaum—Kleinbaum is senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, the world’s largest synagogue for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered Jews. (2009 Ranking No. 25)

26.Jack Moline—Moline, the spiritual leader of Gauds Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Va., is also the Rabbinical Assembly’s newest director of public policy. (NEW)

27.Steven Wernick—Wernick is the newly appointed executive vice president and CEO of United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. (NEW)

28.Art Green—As dean of Hebrew College’s Rabbinical School, Green is internationally recognized as an authority on Jewish thought and spirituality. (2009 Ranking No. 27)

29.Peter J. Rubinstein—As senior rabbi for New York’s Central Synagogue, Rubinstein presides over a congregation of more than 1,700 families. (2009 Ranking No. 12)

30.M. Bruce Lustig—As senior rabbi for Washington’s largest synagogue, Washington Hebrew Congregation, Lustig presides over a congregation of more than 3,000 members. (2009 Ranking No. 26)

31.Sharon Brous—Founder of Los Angeles’s progressive spiritual community, IKAR, Brous has received international attention and acclaim for her leadership and impact within the Jewish community. (2009 Ranking No. 31)

32.Michael Siegel—In addition to serving as senior rabbi at Chicago’s Anshe Emet congregation, Siegel is also nationally known as the co-chair of the Heksher Tzedek Commission. (NEW)

33.Abraham Cooper—As the associate dean of the Simon Weisenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance, Cooper is internationally known as an activist for human and Jewish rights. (2009 Ranking No. 29)

34.Arthur Schneier—Known as the first rabbi to host the pope at his Park East Synagogue in New York, Schneier is also the founder and president of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation. (2009 Ranking No. 36)

35.Ephraim Buchwald—Buchwald is the founder of the National Jewish Outreach Program, which aims to address issues such as intermarriage and Jewish assimilation. (2009 Ranking No. 35)

36.Sara Hurwitz—Hurwitz rose to national attention when Rabbi Avi Weiss (No. 18) bestowed her with the title of “rabba.” She is considered the first Orthodox woman rabbi ordained in the United States, and in this role she has had an impact on the roles considered acceptable for modern Orthodox women. (NEW)

37.Kerry M. Olitzky—As executive director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, Olitzky is one of the leading rabbinical advocates for outreach to interfaith and unaffiliated families in America. (2009 Ranking No. 34)

38.Bradley Shavit Artson—Artson is dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. (2009 Ranking No. 40)

39.Naomi Levy—Considered a leader in the Conservative movement, Levy is a nationally recognized speaker and author as well as founder and leader of the Los Angeles-based Jewish outreach organization Nashuva. (2009 Ranking No. 39)

40.Harold Schulweis—In addition to being considered one of the leading voices of the Conservative movement, Schulweis is internationally known for founding Jewish World Watch. (2009 Ranking No. 21)

41.Marc Schneier—Schneier is president and founder of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, which seeks to strengthen relationships between ethnic communities in the United States. (2009 Ranking No. 33)

42.Zalman Schacter-Shalomi—Schacter-Shalomi is known as the founder of the Jewish Renewal movement in America. (2009 Ranking No. 45)

43.Elliot Dorff—As chairman of the Rabbinical Assembly’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards. Dorff serves as the leader of Conservative Judaism’s top lawmaking body. (2009 Ranking No. 41)

44.Bradley Hirschfield—A nationally known proponent for interfaith dialogues and pluralism, Hirschfield is co-president of CLAL. (2009 Ranking No. 42)

45.Steven Leder—In addition to serving as Senior Rabbi at Los Angeles’s Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Leder is also a bestselling author. (Returning from 2008)

46.Ed Feinstein—A noted author and speaker, Feinstein is senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, Calif. (2009 Ranking No. 44)

47.David Stern—As senior rabbi for Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Stern presides over the largest congregation in the Southwest. (2009 Ranking No. 30)

48.Michael Paley—Paley is the scholar in residence and director of the Jewish Resource Center of the UJA-Federation of New York. (2009 Ranking No. 50)

49.Jill Jacobs—A leading expert in Jewish social-justice issues, Jacobs serves as the rabbi in residence at the Jewish Funds for Justice. (2009 Ranking No. 48)

50.Mark Dratch—As founder of JSafe (The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse-Free Environment), Dratch is a nationally recognized speaker and consultant in matters of domestic violence, child abuse, and professional abuse within the Jewish community. (NEW)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gimel Tamuz: Chabad mourns on the 16th Yahrzeit

ג' בתמוז: חב"ד דואבת בפעם ה-16

יקי אדמקר וחנן ויזנטל, בחדרי חרדים

הלילה, ליל ג' בתמוז, ימלאו 16 שנה ליום בו עלה הרבי מליובאוויטש זי"ע לגנזי מרומים • אירועי ההילולא בארץ נפתחוצאי

שבת פרשת חוקת, בו ניצחו האראלים את המצוקים, וכ"ק האדמו"ר מליובאוויטש התבקש לגנזי מרומים.

בריכוזי חב"ד בכל רחבי העולם נערכות התוועדויות ומתקיימים אירועים לצורך התחזקות בדרך אותה התווה הרבי עבור חסידיו וההולכים בדרכו.

בהתוועדות מרכזית בכפר חב"ד • רבבות ינהרו ל'אוהל' בקווינס

הלילה, ליל ג' בתמוז, ימלאו 16 שנה לאותו לילה שחור-משחור עבור כל חסידי חב"ד ורבבות יהודים בעולם, מובישראל נפתחו אירועי יום ההילולא בהתוועדות המרכזית הנערכת בשעות אלו בכפר חב"ד, בה משתתפים אדמו"רים, רבנים, אישי ציבור וח"כים, לצד אלפי חסידים מכל רחבי הארץ.

בשעות הקרובות, יחלו רבבות לנהור אל ציונו של הרבי, בבית העלמין מונטפיורי שברובע קווינס בניו-יורק - שם הוכשרו אוהלי ענק לקליטת המוני המתפללים מכל רחבי ארה"ב והעולם.

האפשרות להיכנס אל תוך האוהל בו טמון הרבי, תינתן לכל אדם למשך של 2-3 דקות, וזאת על מנת לאפשר לכולם להשתטח על חלקת מחוקק ספון.

במהלך יום ההילולא יתקיימו בבית 770 בניו יורק שיעורים והתוועדויות אותם יגישו 'שלוחים' מכל רחבי העולם שהגיעו לרגל היום הזה לניו יורק.

במקביל, באותן שעות יעבירו שלוחים התוועדויות ברחבי העולם כולו ומאות אלפי חסידי חב"ד יתחזקו בדרכו של הרבי מליובאוויטש זי"ע.

חסידי חב"ד ינהגו ביום ההילולא על פי המנהגים שקבע כ"ק אדמו"ר מליובאוויטש לאחר הסתלקות חותנו, אדמו"ר הריי"צ זצ"ל. הדלקת נר נשמה, כתיבת 'פדיון נפש', לימוד המשניות של אותיות השם, וקיום התוועדויות חסידיות בחוג המשפחה ובכל קהילה ומוסד.

Google Translate:

Tonight, the night's Go, will be 16 years that black night - black for all Jews and tens of Chabad-Lubavitch world, Saturday night affair Constitution, which won Harelym the cliffs, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was asked Ginzei deceived.

Chabad centers worldwide events are held Ahthooaedweut exist for strengthening the way it made a rabbi for his followers going on.

Israel opened Ahhilula Day events held at the Central Bahthooadot these Kfar Chabad, where participants Rebbe s, rabbis, public figures and MKs, along with thousands of followers from around the country.

The next few hours, tens of thousands flock to the start of grade Rebbe, Montefiore Cemetery in Queens in New - York - where huge tents were trained to absorb masses of worshipers from all over the U.S. and the world.

Entering into the tent where a maximum cache will be given to any person for the 2-3 minutes in order to allow everyone to lie down on a patch of legislative Spawn.

During the day Ahhilula will be held at 770 New York lessons Vahthooaedweut them submit 'emissaries' from around the world from this day pilgrimage to New York.

At the same time, those hours will pass Shluchim Ahthooaedweut worldwide and hundreds of thousands of Chabad will strengthen the path of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Rebbe.

Chabad will act on Ahhilula customs established by Lubavitcher Rebbe after the departure of his in-laws, Ahrei"c Rebbe of blessed memory. Candle lighting, writing, mental revenue, secondary schooling name letters, and conducting Ahthooaedweut hasidic in the family and community institution.

Chabad emissaries gathering in D.C.

June 15, 2010


A Chabad-Lubavitch event is drawing hundreds of emissaries to Washington for meetings with Congress members and Obama administration officials.

The Living Legacy Conference, organized by American Friends of Lubavitch, will take place Wednesday and Thursday.

Guests at the events include top Congress members, such as U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House of Representatives majority leader, and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the House minority leader, as well as a number of U.S. senators.

The emissaries will lunch with ambassadors from the nations where they serve; the event is expected to attract emissaries from 40 nations as well as 40 U.S. states.

Private meetings also will be held with top administration officials.

Rabbi’s Biography Disturbs Followers


Dressed in a white straw hat, tan chinos and a blue shirt, Samuel Heilman, the co-author of a new book about Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, stood at the rebbe’s grave site among scores of pilgrims — a vanguard of the thousands expected to visit on Tuesday, in the Jewish calendar the 16th anniversary of his death — who arrived at a Queens cemetery a few days early to commune with their beloved leader.

“It is very holy,” Mr. Heilman said outside the open-air mausoleum, or ohel, that contains the graves of the rebbe and his father-in-law and predecessor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn. Hasidim believe that the spirit of a great sage remains after death, and many Lubavitchers think the rebbe is not only a sage, but also the messiah.

The biography’s look at Schneerson’s personal life is already causing a stir in the continuing discussion about his legacy.

Mr. Heilman pointed to a headstone facing the ohel that refers in Hebrew to the rebbe as “the Messiah of God.”

“It’s etched in stone,” he said. Rabbi Schneerson, the seventh and at this point the last leader of the Chabad Lubavitchers, remains as powerful a presence in death as in life.

Over the course of his more than 40 years as grand rebbe, he transformed this tiny Hasidic sect, with its headquarters in Brooklyn, into an influential global network of Jewish followers and emissaries and turned it into one of the most important religious movements within American Jewry. His life and philosophy are essential to understanding contemporary Jewish life.

Mr. Heilman, a sociologist at Queens College, and Menachem Friedman, a professor emeritus at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, offer a view into his world in their new biography, “The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson” (Princeton University Press). But they have provoked a growing chorus of complaints from people inside and outside Chabad with their characterization of the rebbe.

Controversy is perhaps inevitable. “Any attempt to humanize the rebbe is going to provoke this reaction.” said Elliot R. Wolfson, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University and the author of “Open Secret: Postmessianic Messianism and the Mystical Revision.”

What some early readers have found most disturbing is the authors’ description of the rebbe as a not especially pious young Hasid. They argue that Rabbi Schneerson’s initial dream was to be an engineer and that he mostly absented himself from Lubavitcher affairs before World War II, living in Berlin and Paris outside of a religious Hasidic community.

Only after he escaped from Europe and arrived in the United States in 1941, when he was a childless refugee with little English and few job prospects, and millions of his people had been massacred did he see he himself as having a different mission, the book contends.

Rabbi Schneerson was a man who “must be feeling desperate in his anxiety, loneliness, confusion and survivor guilt, whose prospects are unclear, looking for a way out, an answer from God,” the authors write.

Sitting outside the ohel visitor center as a large brown tour bus pulled up, Mr. Heilman, a modern Orthodox Jew, spoke of his “profound respect” for the Lubavitchers but noted that his responsibility as a scholar was not simply to celebrate the rebbe’s accomplishments. “They just can’t accept that he transformed himself, that he was not always going to be the rebbe,” he said.

Mr. Heilman and Mr. Friedman did not have access to Chabad’s private archives, though there is already a monumental amount of published material from and about the rebbe, with a new collection of 1,200 documents soon to be released. The scholars did speak with many movement members, some of whom are now critical of the biography.

Rabbi Zalman Shmotkin, a Lubavitch spokesman who is thanked in the book, labeled their speculations “psychobabble” and disdained their attempt to put “themselves in the rebbe’s head while ignoring his deeply expressive correspondence and his scholarly approach.”

Other critics take the authors to task for not relying more on published material. Steven I. Weiss, the head of news at the Jewish Channel, a cable television network, criticized the book for presenting what he called lurid details and ignoring a vast amount of “primary material which would frequently contradict its assertions.” He also chastised the authors for not noting outright that Mr. Friedman served as an expert witness against the rebbe during a lawsuit in the 1980s over ownership of the Chabad library. Mr. Heilman said, “We have no ax to grind.”

And Mr. Wolfson of N.Y.U. argued that bypassing the rebbe’s religious writings was a mistake. “There is no question that Menachem Mendel and his wife were spreading their wings” during their sojourn in Paris and Berlin, he said. But the diaries from those years show that he was also completely absorbed in Hasidic thought and Jewish learning. “The world he lived in was completely structured around his ideas,” he said.

Mr. Heilman maintained that Lubavitcher accounts can’t be trusted because they are hagiographies and said that he and Mr. Friedman did not examine the rebbe’s extensive writings on scripture because they were interested in his personal history, not his scholarship.

The American and Israeli professors are colleagues and friends who have independently studied the Lubavitchers for nearly 20 years. It was their wives, though, who suggested in 2007 that the two collaborate on a book while they were all vacationing together in Croatia.

In Mr. Heilman’s eyes, the key to the movement’s success was Rabbi Schneerson’s global vision. He figured out how to permit younger followers to engage with the modern world while remaining true to their Hasidic beliefs. By becoming shluchim, or missionaries, they could spread Lubavitch practices, thereby hastening the arrival of the messiah and redemption.

Rabbi Schneerson told his shluchim not to limit their efforts to the most religious but to every Jew. “They take everyone,” Mr. Heilman said.

More books and biographies are on the way, insuring that the Talmudic-like debate about Rabbi Schneerson’s life will continue.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chabad Lubavitch celebrates moving into new home


June 11, 2010

When the congregants walk into the temple, they gaze at the chandeliers hanging from the elevated ceilings, the new marble flooring and the fresh blue paint on the walls. With music playing in the background, they talk and enjoy appetizers and a drink in front of a portrait paying homage to the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Within minutes, the foyer is filled with people standing shoulder to shoulder.

When Rabbi Mendy Posner and his wife, Chanie, walk into the temple, they are greeted by congregants with hugs, handshakes and proclamations of "Mazel Tov!" It has been a long time coming, but the family of Chabad Lubavitch of Plantation finally has its own, freestanding temple to call home.

"In this economy, people think it's a nice dream, but no one believed we could pull it off," the rabbi said.

To celebrate the grand opening of the temple, located at 10165 Cleary Blvd., a gala was thrown with about 500 people in attendance, Posner estimated. The social hall was opened up to accommodate the guests in a reception with food, music and memories. A slideshow presentation of past holidays and events was projected onto the wall.

Hugo and Hilda Bamberger, who have been coming to the temple since it opened, attended the gala and said they were blown away by the new building.

"When you pass the outside, you want to go inside. That's what sums it up," Hugo Bamberger said. "It's a wonderful building and we needed it; we were always squeezing."

His wife described her reaction to seeing it for the first time as being "dumbstruck."

Shelley Drujak has been coming to the temple for six years, ever since she was looking to make a change in her religious life. She originally attended a conservative church, and after attending a service at the Chabad, she never left. Drujak said it was the warmth, spirituality and acceptance of the people that drew her to stay. With the new building, she said it was a gift to the community.

"Every nail that went in was because of the rabbi's dream," she said. "He dreamed of it and he made it happen."

The temple is 12,000 square feet, larger than the 800 square feet of the original one that Posner founded in 1993. The groundbreaking was in August 2008, and the rabbi worked closely with an architect to design the building. The new synagogue has children's classrooms, a men's mikvah pool, library, offices for the rabbis, a kitchen and a social hall.

"We feel that we'll be able to offer so much more to the community," Posner said.

At the front of the temple sanctuary stands the Torah ark, which the rabbi hopes to grow in size as well. He wants it to be 36 by 16 feet with the 12 tribes of Israel. But for now, he is worrying about putting the finishing touches on the temple.

Ivor Bamberger, the master of ceremonies for the gala, said the temple is a place for growth in one's Judaism, and the size of the temple shows a need from the growing orthodox community.

"If you build it, people will come," Bamberger told the congregants.

Copyright © 2010, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

The shekel drops / Missionaries in Ramat Aviv

The battle raging Ramat Aviv isn't just about the neighborhood's character. It's a battle over Israel's image.

By Nehemia Shtrasler

The sight was elevating: 800 neighborhood residents took a break from what they were doing and went out to demonstrate. Their goal: to protect their homes. They weren't asking for much: just to maintain their way of life, the character of their neighborhood, their values, dignity and right to educate their children as they see fit.

Nobody was paying them. They had no political party or foreign sponsors. They collected the money to fund their demonstration themselves because they knew that if they didn't, the missionary group Chabad could continue to slowly take the neighborhood over, just as is happening in Migdal Ha'emek, Beit Shemesh and Jerusalem.

A few people set up a counter-demonstration against the 800. They believe that the people in question are merely "good Jews" who just rented a few apartments to preach Torah there. All they want is for us to put on tefillin a little, to light candles on Friday night. What charming simplicity.

They don't realize that it's a well-organized plan to take control of the neighborhood. They aren't even aware that a yeshiva opened in the neighborhood staffed by "messengers" who are prepared to sacrifice their souls for their Rebbe.

These "messengers" have one explicit goal: to return the people of the neighborhood to Judaism. The more Jews keep the Sabbath and follow the mitzvoth, the faster the Messiah will come. Though actually he already did come, in the form of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, according to Chabad. The Rebbe has died in the meantime, but he lives on - their belief system is a mystical, un-Jewish thing, about which the Rabbi Shach commented: "Chabad is the cult closest to Judaism."

As in every neighborhood, here too they identified the most vulnerable point: the young. That's why every Friday they ply the grove by the Alliance school, trying to persuade the children to put on tefillin and drop by the Chabad House for a "conversation." At night they lurk among the trees and on benches for the teens, offering refreshments and sweet talk. They cunningly tell these kids, "You have the soul of a righteous person," and don't cavil at saying that their mothers and fathers are sinners. They even whisper that people who don't honor Shabbat are doomed to hell.

Puberty is a vulnerable stage and some of these kids, who want to rebel against their parents anyway, listen. The nice people of Chabad have no problem taking in a youngster and destroying a family in Israel.

Where are the police and the municipality as strangers badger children among the trees at night?

The Chabadniks understand that the middle class is groaning under its burdens. So they opened a few kindergartens in the neighborhood that charge little and give much, including a hot meal. Some parents succumbed to the temptation - and lost their children. This neighborhood sorely lacks kindergartens without religious affiliation. But the city allows Chabad to open one kindergarten after another, even at the expense of a building that had been a cultural center until two years ago.

These Chabadniks with their butter-wouldn't-melt smiles have no problem flouting the law. They rent apartments and turn them into studios. They build without permits, establish hostels and mikvas in violation of municipal ordinances, but the city doesn't block them. Mayor Ron Huldai did denounce Chabad in Ramat Aviv, saying they were harassing the residents. But his job is to stop the harassment, not just talk about it.

Imagine what would happen to me if I went to Kfar Chabad, rented an apartment and dared to open a class to teach a modern interpretation of the Bible, or women's rights or Darwinism. In the evening I'd go out and roam the neighborhood, trying to persuade their children to visit my home on Shabbat to see what a nonobservant Jew does on the day of rest.

Soon enough you'd have to visit me at the burn ward at Ichilov Hospital, if not worse.

And if all that happened, the good souls among us would say: Why did he have to interfere in their way of life? Why provoke them?

But when they come from Kfar Chabad to Ramat Aviv, these same good souls say, in the name of an artificial, suicidal liberalism, "We should understand them," and, "We mustn't oppose others because that is unenlightened racism."

Only they are allowed to sell their rotten goods, rife with ignorance, superstition, terrible discrimination against women, bottomless hatred of Arabs and Gentiles, and nonsense about the Messiah. We may not even protect our values of humanism, education, rationalism, equality, literature and the great inventions of science that changed the face of mankind.

The battle in Ramat Aviv isn't just about the neighborhood's character. It's a battle over Israel's image, and the 800 residents who got up and left their homes and went out to demonstrate last Monday are just the harbingers.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Loss becomes gain

What happens when a religious leader's spiritual guru is no longer available?

That can be a difficult road, said Rabbi Yeruchem Eilfort, director of Chabad at La Costa, who was crushed when his mentor, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died.

Schneerson, often referred to as "the Rebbe" (a highly venerated leader in the Hasidic community), is largely heralded as leading the modern Chabad-Lubavitch movement of Hasidic Judiasm to found Chabad centers and unite Orthodox Jews nationwide.

Eilfort, 43, knew him personally: It was the Rebbe who sent Eilfort to the West Coast to open a Chabad center.

"When the Rebbe passed away, that was a very difficult day, a challenging day for all of us in the chabad movement," Eilfort said of the religious leader's death in June 1994. "The Rebbe and his wife did not have any biological children, but when they passed away they left so many orphans."

Eilfort said it was hard to fathom a world without the Rebbe.

"I was saddened that I would not be able to, in a physical sense, go to him when I had a question," he said. "I wouldn't be able to go and sit at one of his Hasidic gatherings and feel the inspiration when I went, and the way he would be able to take a Torah passage and make it vibrantly relevant in today's age. A little of the shine came off the world for me."

And a burden arose.

"I would have to be the rebbe for my children," Eilfort said.

Yet since Schneerson's passing, there has been amazing growth in the Chabad movement, Eilfort said.

"When the rebbe passed away, maybe there were 1,500 Chabad centers," he said. "Everyone was saying 'Chabad was not going to grow because the rebbe's not there.'"

What his followers learned was that the rebbe's directive and approach were very much alive, he said.

"Today there are 3,500 Chabad centers around the world," he said, adding that faith in God has underscored that expansion.

"When things happen that I don't understand, it doesn't challenge my faith: It challenges my way of thinking," Eilfort said.

"I feel my relationship with God is beyond a faith relationship. It's a relationship of knowledge. Just like you know the sun is going to rise tomorrow, I feel ---- I know ---- God in my life."