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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Chabad’

Tossing a Jewish Lasso over Wyoming’s Wild West

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Carin M. Smilk

Summer is winding down in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s a short season, weather-wise, but it’s also a season that brings in tourists, lots of them, who come for the mountains and national parks, the outdoor sports and the wide open spaces. They come to make good on the state slogan: “Like No Place on Earth.”

Not long after they leave, winter beckons a slew of other travelers, those lured to the skiing and snow activities. It’s another bustling time; the two seasons bring in about 4 million visitors a year.

And about 1 percent of them—an estimated 40,000 people—are Jewish.

That helps make life busy for Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, co-director of Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming with his wife, Raizy. Not that it’s so quiet the rest of the year. The couple, based in the town of Jackson—in western Wyoming near the border of Idaho, almost completely surrounded by mountains and in the well-known valley of Jackson Hole—serves the roughly 500 permanent Jewish residents there, out of a general population of nearly 10,000. It’s an interesting mix, says the rabbi, of singles, couples, families, retirees, tourists and those with second homes in the area.

“We have a very small community,” acknowledges Mendelsohn, “but we offer quality services—substantive services. We’re reaching out to individual Jews in a very personal, warm, inviting way.”

Since their official 2008 move to Jackson, they have started all kinds of programs. There’s the annual Jackson Hole Jewish Music Festival, which brings in bands and performers from all over, coupled with Camp Gan Israel, a Jewish women’s circle, a “Mommy & Me” class, Torah study, lectures, “Coffee & Kabbalah,” and Shabbat and Jewish holiday dinners and services. Currently, they rent space for High Holiday services but are looking for a place to buy.

 

Also on tap are lecture series, including one to take place this weekend, Aug. 16-17. The Shabbaton will include services and a Friday-night dinner, then Saturday-morning services and a three-course lunch, with lectures both days by guest speaker David N. Weiss. A Hollywood film writer with several blockbusters to his credit, Weiss has traversed religiously from being a secular Jew to a Christian youth worker, and now follows a life of observant Judaism.

“His story is very compelling,” says Mendelsohn. “He never really had the opportunity to study Judaism in-depth. It shows that you can always start fresh and new, even if you’re very famous or a celebrity. You can always rediscover your roots.”

The series has attracted 50 to 60 people on average, and the rabbi expects a similar turnout for Weiss.

‘Very Much at Home’

 Ben from San Francisco put on tefillin for the first time in his life. Photo credit: Chabad.org

Ben from San Francisco put on tefillin for the first time in his life. Photo credit: Chabad.org

So how has life changed for a couple raised in completely different living environments? The rabbi, in his early 30s, hails from Miami, Fla., and Raizy, in her late 20s, grew up in Israel. What’s it like to live in the least populated state in the nation?

“We felt very much at home right away,” says the rabbi. “People are warm and welcoming; there’sthe renowned Western hospitality. It’s a cowboy town, it’s the Wild West, but people also have a more spiritual character here. And our goal is to introduce a Yiddishkeit element to it.”

That sense of spirituality could have something to do with the physical backdrop. Jackson is a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountains. The rabbi talks of the everyday appearance of bison, moose, deer, wolves and bears. “There’s wildlife in the streets,” he says, pausing to add that he just saw a herd of elk run up the side of a nearby mountain.

He also notes the atmosphere—both scenically and spiritually—is good for the couple’s four young children. After all, for kids in such a place, aside from their home-schooling time, “life is surrounded by G-d’s great outdoors.”

Of course, it’s not all vales and wild flowers. There’s no kosher food, no Jewish schools, no other Orthodox presence and no mikvah. The closest mikvahs are in Bozeman, Mont., and Salt Lake City, Utah—both a five-hour drive or one-hour flight away.

“Still,” says Mendelsohn, “we have a wonderful community, and we are honored to also accommodate visitors who come through. I travel around the state quarterly visiting Jewish people. We’ve put up about 60 mezuzahs in the last three years all over the state. One by one, we’re connecting Jews with their heritage.”

“That’s the story of Wyoming. We may be one of the most remote Jewish communities in the country, but I want people to know that Yiddishkeit is alive and well and thriving in Jackson Hole.”

Laura Goldstein, 34, can attest to that. Originally from New Jersey, she now lives in Victor, Idaho, which borders Wyoming and is about a 45-minute drive from Jackson. She and her husband Howard, a wildlife biologist, came to live out West in 2009, and she says the rabbi was one of the first people they met.

“We were looking for a way to connect with other Jewish people, and we knew Chabad would be a good way to do that,” says Goldstein, an administrative assistant. “They invited us over for Shabbat dinner, and it was lovely. They were so gracious. They make you want to be part of the community.

“And every opportunity they have of doing a mitzvah, they do. It’s incredible.”

She’s also seen Chabad grow as an organization. At Rosh Hashanah, there used to be three men, not even a minyan; now there may be 14. And Shabbat dinners in the summer can draw 40 to 50 people. She even mentions that just this year, she met a Jewish woman from New York who runs a clothing store/jewelry shop in Victor.

Learning by Example

Most of all, Goldstein says she and her husband have modeled their Shabbat observance at home on the Mendelsohns’ example. “Knowing them has been a huge part in that direction. We feel that we’re better Jewish people out here. It probably wouldn’t have been as big a part of our identity” back East.

She adds that Raizy has shown her how to make challah, light Shabbat candles and recite the Havdalah prayers.

“It’s great to see how they bring in what they need,” says Goldstein. “These people are making it work; they’re doing it.” So she figures she can, too.

“Rabbi Zalman,” as Josh Beck and other local residents call him, “is involved in everything. He’s an amazing man.”

“And he’s one of my closest friends here.”

Beck, 41, an orthopedic surgeon from New Jersey, has been living in Wyoming for seven years. He says he considers himself a very big supporter and very active with Chabad there.

He attends Shabbat dinners (the true reason, he says, is because of “Raizy’s fantastic cooking”) and various programs, but admits to preferring “the off-season, when there’s a handful of locals.”

He says that he, his wife and 3-year-old daughter “love living out here.” Beck hunts and fishes and skis; in fact, he notes, he found his job there while on a ski vacation.

A Spiritual Change of Scenery

Cross-country skiing also appeals to Stephen and Linda Melcer from Boca Raton, Fla., who have rented a house in Jackson the last two winters and intend to come again this year.

“It’s a nice change of scenery, of climate,” says Stephen Melcer, a 61-year-old lawyer. “It’s also a nice change religiously and a change in diversity.”

The couple belongs to Boca Raton Synagogue, an Orthodox shul. “Whenever we travel, we look for a place to be for Shabbos, and a good place to start looking is Chabad. We’ve noticed here that a lot of people attending are travelers, and a larger percentage of people are not observant.”

Melcer says he appreciates “going into an environment where a rabbi is focused on the less observant.”

“They are very warm,” he says of the Mendelsohns. “I think they enjoy the challenge of it. And they certainly have a lot of challenges. The incredible thing is that challenges never cross their minds.”

Ken Begelman is glad that’s the case. He and his wife, Helen, helped the Mendelsohns come to town.

Twelve years ago, the Begelmans moved to Teton County, about 8 miles outside Jackson, from Palm Beach County, Fla. When they arrived, they wanted a shul—a congregation of some type. Begelman says he was familiar with Chabad rabbinical students coming to Wyoming temporarily (they have for decades, as part of the “Roving Rabbis” program), and got in touch with people in Brooklyn to work to make it happen permanently.

“He’s a very outgoing guy, very inclusive; he gets along with everybody,” says Begelman, a 66-year-old retired cardiac surgeon, of Mendelsohn.

He notes that there’s a large number of 20-year-olds who come to work during ski season or in the summer who have never had any religious affiliation or education, and “the rabbi has turned a lot of these kids around.”

As for Wyoming, the former Floridian insists that “it’s wonderful here. It’s what America should be. Everybody respects everybody else. You don’t have to lock your house or your car. There’s no crime.”

Sure, the winter temperatures can fall to 20 below and the snow can average 38 feet a year in the mountainous regions, but residents insist that it’s an invigorating experience.

In regards to future expansion, Begelman says that if “one new Jewish family a year comes permanently, that would be a lot.” Population growth is indeed slow; Begelman has seen signs in the state that note there are 10 horses for every one person residing there.

As far as the rabbi and his family go, “I’m very happy that they’ve fit in well in the community and that they like it here. It’s a wonderful place to live.”

The Ultimate Revenge for Holocaust Survivor: New Torah Scroll

Monday, August 19th, 2013

An 88-year-old survivor of the Auschwitz death camp has donated a new Torah scroll to the Lubavitch Chabad of Skokie, near Chicago, the ultimate revenge against the Nazis who tried to eradicate Jews and Judaism.

Her other revenge was to dwell in the future and present, instead of the past, and marry and bring more Jews into the world.

Marge Fettmen, her children and grandchildren attended a recent Torah dedication ceremony, in memory of her late husband Daniel, also a Holocaust survivor.

Fettman, known by the Nazis as prisoner No. 21880, told the Chabad website, “God gave me a good idea – to have a Torah written. It is our guide. I want the Torah to be used to teach people about Judaism.”

Fettman was living with her family in Romania in 1944 when the Nazis stormed into their town of Szaszregen and herded her and her relatives into a cattle car for Auschwitz.

“When we arrived, Dr. [Josef] Mengele stood there flicking his whip, sending some of us to the right and others to the left. I was separated from my family,” she told Chabad. “Since I had the snacks we had packed for the children, I was concerned that they would be hungry. I wanted to bolt to the other side to be with them, but Mengele saw and shouted at me in German, ‘Are you a fool?’ I stayed where I was, and my life was spared.”

After surviving the death camp, she married her husband, and the couple moved to the United States in 1949, where they raised they raised their children in the Jewish tradition. Her husband, a grocery store owner, died in 2004 at the age of 83.

Her parents were very religious, and she decided that dedicating a new Torah scroll was the best way to remember them forever.

Rabbi Shot in Russia Released from Israeli Hospital

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Rabbi Artur Ovadia Isakov, the Chabad rabbi shot in a likely terrorist attack in southern Russia has been discharged from an Israeli hospital after recovering from surgery to repair his live. One or more terrorists shot him in the chest as he was getting out of his car near his home.

His condition initially was critical, and the local Jewish community helped arrange to fly Rabbi Isakov to Belinson Hospital on Petach Tikvah, adjacent to Tel Aviv.

Rabbi Isakov, a father of four, told Israeli media he intends to return to his Chabad posting in Derbent as soon as he is well.

Russia Finally Admits Terrorists Probably Shot Rabbi

Monday, August 5th, 2013

The shooting of a Chabad rabbi in the Russian republic of Dagestan was likely a terrorist attack by Muslim extremists, investigators said more than week after a local political leader, where the attempted murder occurred, stated terrorists carried out the attack.

Rabbi Artur Ovadia Isakov was shot on July 25 in Derbent, in southern Russia, “because of his religious duties, likely by Muslim extremists,” investigators said, according to a report by the Russian news site Gazeta.ru. Police still are searching for the attackers, while the Russia’s intelligence agency found 100 pounds of explosives in the hands of Muslim extremists in Dagestan, Gazeta.ru reported.

Rabbi Isakov was gunned down by unknown assailants outside his home as he was exiting his car. Ramazan Abdulatipov, the acting president of Dagestan, released a statement after the shooting blaming “extremists and terrorists [who] do not want a happy, normal life for us all.” He said, “Only ignorant people, enemies of Dagestan, are able to do this.”

Rabbi Isakov was flown to Israel in critical condition with injuries to his liver but has since regained consciousness and is no longer in life-threatening condition.

Six Boys Discover Tefillin for First Time on Flight to Israel

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Chabad rabbis who had boarded a flight from the Ukraine to Israel via Moscow convinced six boys going on a Birthright Israel program to wear tefillin for the first time in their lives.

“How would you like to put on tefillin now? We can’t think of a better preparation for going to the Holy Land,” the rabbis said, according to the Chabad website.

They added, “It took some time, and a lot of explaining, but within the hour we had ten teenagers putting on tefillin, six of them for the very first time.”

One boy said it was the first time in his life he had ever prayed.

Chabad Emissaries: Torah Forbids Surrendering Land to Enemies

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

Chabad-Lubavitch “shluchim” (emissaries) have issued a statement at their 34th national conference in Israel that “negotiating with Israel’s enemies of Israel concerning Israeli borders in itself constitutes an ominous danger to the lives of Israel’s residents, men, women and children.”

Following is the complete statement:

By the Grace of G-d

Statement By The Shluchim To Eretz Israel Issued At 34 National Shluchim Conference In Israel

Motzei Shabbos Parshas Ekev 5773uulcWe, the personal emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe to the Holy Land – including Rabbis of cities and neighborhoods in Israel, heads of Yeshivot and Kollelim and social welfare institutions, who were sent to Israel by the Rebbe himself over 35 years ago in order “to arouse and encourage Jews to observe Torah and Mitzvot and help build the Jewish land physically and spiritually” – from the depths of a pained heart protest against the Israeli government’s decision to resume negotiations with Palestinian murderers on withdrawal from territories of the Holy Land, G-d forbid.

Negotiating with Israel’s enemies of Israel concerning Israeli borders in itself constitutes an ominous danger to the lives of Israel’s residents, men, women and children. This ruling is explicit in the Jewish Code of Law, section 329:6: “Even if they are only demanding hay or straw, we take up arms and violate the Shabbat.” Hundreds of prominent rabbis in Israel have ruled that withdrawal from territories is a matter of life or death for tens of thousands of people

Anyone who can put two and two together can see that every time Israel has agreed to concede and withdraw, this has made matters worse. It has only accelerated terror and bloodshed, G-d forbid.

We support the tireless efforts of the Rabbinical Congress for Peace (the Pikuach Nefesh Committee) which for the past 20 years has been vigorously combating the policies of withdrawal and concessions by Israeli governments. The Committee has repeatedly publicized worldwide the definitive ruling in the Shulchan Aruch that such concessions are a matter of life or death.

Many Jews, and not only Chassidim, reverently recall the numerous public addresses in which the Rebbe expressed his pained concern for the well-being of the Jewish nation in Eretz Israel.

We now call upon every individual, in Israel and the world over, to support and assist the above Committee in every way possible. Their vital mission is to save the lives of the Jewish people in Israel – to forestall any territorial negotiations with Israel’s enemies over its borders, by bringing the public and the decision-makers to the realization that the only way to achieve peace and security in the Holy Land is by standing firm by the integrity of the Holy Land. Only thus will we see the fulfillment of the Biblical promise that “I will grant peace in the land…and lead you upright.”

We pray that Almighty G-d have mercy and put an end to our suffering. May we merit the Final Redemption by the righteous Moshiach – now

Cory Booker, NJ Torah-Versed Black Christian, on Way to Senate

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker is leading the Democratic primary polls and if he wins, he is a shoo-in for a general election victory to replace Frank Lautenberg in the Senate.

Already touted as possible presidential candidate in the future, Booker’s interest in Jewish studies began approximately 20 years ago when he met a Chabad rabbi. A “chavrutah” Torah study partner is – who else? – Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

The Wall Street Journal noted Monday that his wide contacts with Jewish sources have helped him fill his campaign chest, even though Lautenberg’s family is far from thrilled with his candidacy and have endorsed one of his opponents, Rep. Frank Pallone.

Booker, a black Christian, usually appears at a Passover Seder, and he is so interested in Israel that he once took his parents to visit the Jewish state.

His knowledge of Judaism “could put many of us to shame,” New Jersey philanthropist and Jewish Federation leader Lori Klinghoffer told the Journal.

Booker has been in politics since a young age, after having grown up in a predominantly white upper-class borough of Bergen County. His parents were among the first black executives at IBM.

After earning a law degree at Yale, he moved to Newark to become a tenants’ rights attorney when he was  only 27. He quickly moved into politics and was elected to the city council in 1998. Booker narrowly lost his seat in 2002 but regained in four years later and then became mayor.

Yahrzheit for Lubavitcher Rebbe Expected to Draw 50,000 Visitors

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Tens of thousands of Jews are expected to visit the gravesite of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Tuesday, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson (z”l), who passed away 19 years ago.

Thousands stood in the rain Monday night at the Queens gravesite at the beginning of the third day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz.

The Rebbe was arguably the most influential rabbi in the past generations. He is credited with reinvigorating a decimated Jewish people after the devastation of the Holocaust and creating the largest Jewish organization in the world, with more than 3,300 social, religious and educational institutions in 80 countries.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/yahrzheit-for-lubavitcher-rebbe-expected-to-draw-50000-visitors/2013/06/11/

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