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Posts Tagged ‘Chabad’

New Berlin Jewish Student Center Fights Anti-Israel Trend

Monday, October 28th, 2013

Berlin’s first Jewish student house opened its doors on Sunday for pro-Israel lectures and activities in response to anti-Israel tendencies commonly found on Berlin’s campuses and for cultural and leisure activities for Jewish students in the German capital.

Rabbi Yehuda Teichtal, who is behind the effort and serves as a Jewish community rabbi in Berlin, stated during the ceremony, “As Berlin has become a magnet for Jewish students from throughout the world in recent years, it’s time to have a regular home for Jewish students in the city.”

Approximately 150 members of the local Jewish community attended the ceremony, along with senior German government officials. Among them were Jewish philosopher Professor Micha Brumlik, the vice president of the German Bundestag, Petra Pa, and other members of the Bundestag.

The three-story Jewish Student House will also be used as a meeting place for 5,000 male and female Jewish students at Berlin’s three universities and other academic institutions in the city. it is intended to serve as a deterrent to the current 50 percent rate of intermarriage among German Jews.

Rebbitzen Chaya Greenberg, who will be managing the student house alongside the students, said during the ceremony, “We don’t consider you, the students, as guests but as family, and this is not just simply a building, but a family home for all Jewish students.”

The new house will be run by Chabad on Campus and  the KSpace organization, operated by students.

Wild Bushfires Drive Some Australian Jews from Their Homes

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Wild bushfires ravaging Australia forced members of the Jewish community to evacuate their homes, some of which already have been destroyed by flames since the fires broke out Wednesday a week ago due to explosives used in army exercises.

David Lake, a traditional Sephardi Jew lost his home in the blaze at the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and was able to flee with almost no possession except a Kiddush cup and a mezuzah.

“All my possessions were incinerated,” Lake said. “It’s difficult and emotionally traumatizing.

“The Kiddush cup was completely blackened but I managed to restore it – it’s still useable,” he added. He said the mezuzah on the archway in front of his door was “still intact,” but others lying in the ashes were totally destroyed.

Lake has been living since Tuesday at a Chabad house in Sydney, which has 40 rooms available, along with a handful of other Jewish evacuees.

Other Jewish groups rallied to help the victims this week.

Our Big Kitchen, a Chabad-run community kitchen in Bondi, staged a cook-a-thon on Tuesday, preparing more than 1,000 meals for distribution to victims and firefighters.

“We pray that God Almighty has mercy and brings a swift end to this terrible catastrophe, comforts the bereaved and heals the wounded,” said Pinchus Feldman, the chief rabbi of Chabad in Sydney.

The Jewish House, a crisis center, is offering psychological help, as well as shelter for those with pets.

“We’re in touch with 25 families,” said the center’s CEO, Rabbi Mendel Kastel. “Most are all packed up and ready to run if they need to.”

Jewish Aid Australia launched an appeal this week. “Like all Australians, the Jewish community is deeply concerned by the devastation left in the fires’ wake,” said Jewish Aid Australia CEO Gary Samowitz.

Bush fires are akin to Australia’s frontline war. In 2009, bushfires killed more than 170 people and destroyed 150 homes in Victoria, the worst blaze in Australian history.

Two people have been killed, the latest being a pilot whose water bomber plane crashed in rugged country on the southern coast of Australia. The crash sparked another fire, one of more than 50 are burning across the state of New South Wales.

More than 200 homes have been destroyed, and one man died from a heart attack while trying to save his home.

Sefer Torah Represents a First for Canadian City

Friday, October 4th, 2013

At first glance, it looked like any other community day in the park. Kids dabbled on arts-and-crafts projects while the adults mingled, enjoying refreshments on a nearby table as a band played in the background.

But a few details hinted that this Sept. 10 festival was unlike any other the city of Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada had ever seen—namely, the tent just off to the side, where a bearded gentleman sat with a quill in hand and a large Torah scroll open on a table before him.

The pomp and circumstance went hand in hand to mark the completion and dedication of a brand-new Torah scroll for the two-year-old Chabad-Lubavitch of the Okanagan, co-directed by Rabbi Shmuly and Fraidy Hecht.

“People were just flabbergasted, and so excited to have a Sefer Torah,” said Rabbi Hecht. “People in the community came over to me in tears telling me how happy they are living in this small town, and who would have ever thought we’d get to write our own Sefer Torah?”

Hecht noted that the date was chosen to recognize the yahrtzeit, the anniversary of the passing of Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, mother of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

Community member Stephen Cipes acknowledged the “great deal of support, merriment and gaiety” at the celebration. “It was very meaningful.”

Of some 117,000 residents in Kelowna, Hecht estimates that maybe 1,000 are Jewish. And while Kelowna is the largest city in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, how did this relatively quiet area—a full 4½-hour drive northeast of Vancouver—end up with its own Torah?

‘A Nice Coincidence’

According to Hecht, the story goes back several months ago to the Jewish festival of Shavuot.

For that holiday—held this year in mid-May and which commemorates G‑d’s giving of the Torah at Sinai—Hecht needed to borrow a Torah scroll from a synagogue in Vancouver, since Chabad Kelowna didn’t have one of its own. Having secured one, he then sent out invitations to the community to attend a lively holiday service.

Cipes, originally from New York, and his adult sons were among those who took the rabbi up on the invite. “It was a wonderful time we had,” recalled Cipes, adding that two of his sons were even honored with an aliyah, being called up to the Torah as it was read aloud.

After services, Cipes and his son Ezra went to talk to the rabbi. That’s when Stephen Cipes announced that he wanted to buy a Torah.

“I was just inspired, and I stood up and made the gesture spontaneously,” said Cipes. “I really didn’t even know we didn’t have a Torah,” he said, because one was present during the service. As for the timing—making a pledge to buy a scroll on the day Jews celebrate G‑d’s giving of the Torah—Cipes noted that it was a “nice coincidence.”

Hecht recalled telling Cipes after his announcement “how amazing it was that on the day of Shavuot when the Jewish people received the first Torah, how honored we are that on that day we received our first Torah.”

Given that it can cost between $20,000 and $60,000 to purchase a new Torah scroll, it is often not something most Chabad houses can do when they are first getting off the ground. (The cost is due to the meticulous work and significant time it takes for the sofer, the scribe, to compose the scroll.)

During the next few months, Hecht located a Torah scroll being written in Israel and arranged for Cipes to purchase it with a planned completion marked for the High Holidays.

The Torah they got, said Cipes, “is a piece of art. It is one of the most beautiful Torahs anyone’s ever seen … .”

And in that beautiful scroll, Cipes and other community members had a hand in physically helping to complete the final letters on that early September day in the park.

“Everyone got to do a letter from their Hebrew name, which was exciting,” said Hecht, noting that this Torah is believed to be the first ever written for Jews living in the Okanagan Valley.

Among those who wrote in the scroll was Chabad supporter Lesley Spiegel, who stood in for her husband, Timothy, who was on a plane at the time. Reflecting on that moment, Spiegel said, “Honestly, it happened so quickly that I had difficulty collecting my thoughts and trying to understand the scribe at the same time. When I thought about the whole experience later, I was very emotional. I have never seen a Torah up close!”

Colorado Floods Close Boulder Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Sunday, September 15th, 2013

A killer flood in Colorado submerged a synagogue and a rabbi’s home in Boulder County, and the Chabad synagogue rabbi is thankful that Torah scrolls were saved with the help of students from the nearby University of Colorado.

“Thank G‑d, the students have been immensely helpful moving the Torahs and other sacred items to higher ground” before Yom Kippur,” Rabbi Yisrael Wilhelm told a Chabad website.

Several deaths have been reported, and 500 people are unaccounted for, with more rain expected Sunday from Denver to the Wyoming border.

Thousands of people have been evacuated or have fled their homes during the flood that has drenched some areas with up to 14 inches of rain, seven times the average amount for the entire month of September.

JTA contributed to this report.

 

 

 

French Soldiers Face Disciplinary Action for Anti-Semitic Photo

Wednesday, September 11th, 2013

Two French soldiers who posed in front of a Paris synagogue a few weeks ago while making an anti-Semitic gesture will be sanctioned by the French army.

The soldiers of the Alpine Hunters elite unit currently are the subject of an investigation, the French military’s spokesperson, Bruno Louisfert, told radio station RTL France Tuesday. He said they will be punished for the act.

Louisfert said that they posed for the photograph in front of the entrance door to the Beth David synagogue with their left hand placed on their right shoulder and their right hand extended over their right thigh.

Dubbed the “quenelle,” the gesture is the brainchild of the anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne, who invented several anti-Semitic words and gestures seen to be too vague to violate France’s law forbidding hate speech and Holocaust denial. The quenelle is thought to echo the Nazi salute.

In an unrelated incident, unidentified vandals caused serious damage to a Jewish school in Marseille in southern France on Tuesday. The same Chabad-affiliated elementary school, Haya Moushka, was targeted in a similar incident three years ago.

Tuesday’s attack left many shattered windows. The school’s toilets also were smashed, along with heating radiators.

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.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/the-ultimate-revenge-for-holocaust-survivor-new-torah-scroll/2013/08/19/

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