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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Chabad Houses’

The Mainstreaming Of Chabad Rabbis

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

   I have witnessed a revolution. On a recent lecture tour that took me to Australia and South Africa, I hardly found a major mainstream synagogue without a Chabad rabbi. Shuls that once swore they would not invite in Chabad are now attracting large numbers of new members under the helm of young and charismatic Chabad rabbis. Many of them are the biggest shuls in their respective countries.
   In Sydney, Australia I spoke at Central Synagogue, where Rabbi Levi Wolf has transformed a shul on the decline into a powerhouse; for Rabbi Benzion Milecki, whose years at Southhead Synagogue have made it one of the most vibrant in the Southern Hemisphere; and for Rabbi Motti Feldman, creator of the vibrant Dover Heights community.
   In Cape Town, I spoke Friday night and Saturday at Sea Point Synagogue, with South Africa’s largest membership. It’s now on fire thanks to the charismatic leadership of Rabbi Dovid Weinberg. I also had the pleasure of speaking at Chabad of Cape Town, which for 35 years has molded Judaism in that city under the dedicated leadership of Rabbi Mendel Popack.
   In those countries, as in the United Kingdom and even the United States, Chabad rabbis are beginning to take over centrist, Modern Orthodox communities that once viewed Chabad as too religiously right wing.
   The mainstreaming of Chabad in leading synagogues around the world would seem to go against the Chabad model of opening independent Chabad Houses and building autonomous communities. On the other end of it, why would a Modern Orthodox shul choose a Chabad rabbi, whose chassidic lifestyle is seemingly so at odds with that of the congregation?
   Whereas other rabbis want to build shuls and increase membership, Chabad rabbis want people to practice Judaism. Chabad rabbis, even in large communities, are less interested in the institution of the synagogue and much more focused on the personal observance of individuals.
   The reason it works is that the whole problem with synagogue life is its institutionalized, depersonalized nature, which alienates people and makes them feel uncomfortable when they attend. But when the focus is on the person rather than the structure, no one feels like he or she is being asked to simply populate the pews.
   The Weinbergs in Cape Town are an example of how this works. I stayed in an apartment right across from them yet I barely got to see them, so busy were they hosting guests in their home, teaching bat mitzvah classes, conducting funerals and running the shul minyan, among countless other responsibilities. Their focus was not on their responsibilities to an institution’s board or membership but rather on giving their lives to the service of their fellow Jews who require religious guidance and inspiration.
   The Weinbergs do not have career but a calling. A career ends at night and stops completely on vacation. A calling is forever. It exists whenever there is anyone in need. And the Jewish people today have unending spiritual needs. The focus, for example, at a bat mitzvah class is not the speech the girl will give but the Shabbos candles she will light, the kosher food she will eat, and the Jewish books she will read well after the ceremony is over.
   But is it right for rabbis who run synagogues to put more emphasis on congregants observing tradition than on the functions of the shul? Is this not a diversion from their core responsibilities of building the congregation?
   Here’s my response, and it’s pretty brutal. Synagogue life for many is unbelievably monotonous. They find the shul service long and boring. We try to alleviate the bland routine of shul life with rabbis who are great speakers and by offering a delectable kiddush after the davening.
   Fair enough. Good whisky may indeed bring to life what can seem to some like a dead service. But the key to making shul exciting is making every person who attends feel like he or she belongs. Home life is exciting not because there are fireworks every night but because of the comfort and nurturing it provides. Shul is the same.
   When people start observing a Torah lifestyle they see the shul as an intrinsic element in their lives. It provides comfort for families and nurturance for the soul. As they find a sense of belonging they begin to participate, and the monotony ends.
   I regularly travel around the world to speak. I am at different shuls all the time. But I am never a stranger. I am always among my people. Because I am committed to Jewish life, every shul is my home.

   Chabad rabbis are enjoying so much success around the world as mainstream rabbis because their emphasis on Jewish observance over synagogue attendance makes people feel, once they do begin attending, that shul is an extension of home.




   Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is founder of This World: The Jewish Values Network and the bestselling author of 25 books including his most recent – “Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life.

A Taste Of Summer

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Spring training is underway in Arizona and Florida and we’re all looking forward to our favorite teams coming home to start the regular season in April.


I’ve just had a taste of baseball and warm weather out west. I enjoyed a stay in San Diego where, though the weather is not as warm as it is in Miami, a motel stay is far cheaper and out-of-town guests get a very warm welcome from the local community.


The motel was a pop-up away from the kosher eateries under the supervision of Rabbi Avrom Bogopulsky, the popular spiritual leader of Beth Jacob Congregation, where I davened twice daily.


            One of the attractions for me in San Diego is Petco Park, home of the Padres. On non-game days the public is allowed to use a plaza adjacent to the top row of the right field bleachers that connect to downtown streets. It’s a great area to enjoy the sunshine, contemplate the upcoming season and drink in the view of the diamond and green grass. The Chabad rabbi lives close by and the Chabad House, which is a bit closer to the heart of downtown, has a daily and Shabbos minyan.


            We (wife and I) enjoy going from San Diego to Los Angeles by train, which takes two hours and 50 minutes with a couple of stops. My favorite stop is Anaheim behind the outfield parking lot of the Angels stadium. From there it was on to downtown L.A. where we rented a car and drove the few minutes to Dodger Stadium.


After a couple of hakofos around the imposing 47-year-old (but still beautiful) stadium, we made our way to the Beverly-Fairfax area and one of the establishments listed in The Jewish Press Dining Guide. Besides ballparks and kosher eateries, I like to check out shuls. Even though it was quite a distance from the overnight motel we stayed at, I chose two different shuls in the Beverly Hills area in which to daven –one in the evening and one in the morning. We had meals in three different kosher restaurants, all good and all listed in The Jewish Press.


            You can shorten the flight east by stopping in Phoenix and visiting several spring training sites. Fourteen teams use Arizona as their spring training home (l2 in the Phoenix area and two in Tucson) while 16 teams hang their caps in Florida. Obviously, you can cover more spring training complexes in less time with a Phoenix stay. The motels are far cheaper there than in Florida this time of year and there is a kosher eatery in Phoenix and one in Scottsdale.


Besides scattered Chabad Houses in the area, Phoenix has three small daily minyanim. The biggest at this time of year is at Scottsdale’s Chabad headquarters, located in a shopping center next to a combination kosher eatery and Judaica store. A couple of miles back down Scottsdale Avenue is the spring home of the San Francisco Giants.


Unlike Florida, where it’s usually well over an hour from one baseball spring complex to another, it’s only about 20 minutes via the streets from one Phoenix area spring ballpark to the next.


             But the two best prospects in baseball (in my opinion) are not in Arizona but in Florida. Baltimore rookie catcher Matt Wieters is a terrific switch-hitter with good power and a great arm. He may start the season with the Orioles (who are now based in Ft. Lauderdale) and could be an all-star in 2010. Look for Tigers starting prospect Rick Porcello (now pitching in Lakeland with the big club) to start the season in the minors and be in the majors late in the season. The Tigers have a couple of other flamethrowers who starred in college ball and the low minors and should make an impact by 2010.


You don’t have to go to Arizona or Florida to cover spring training if you have the new baseball channel. MLB-TV made its debut in January and it’s all baseball all the time. Every team is televised equally during spring training. Thirty teams in thirty days, says the advertising slogan. During the season, the station will cut into ballgames at interesting times until the last out of the last West Coast game.


As with the Internet, we have to use our televisions wisely and according to our values. I’m not telling people they should have a TV, but for those who do and who like baseball, the baseball channel is the one to watch.


Irwin Cohen, the author of seven books, headed a national baseball publication for five years before earning a World Series ring working as a department head in a major league front office. His Baseball Insider column appears the second week of each month in The Jewish Press. Cohen, who is president of the Detroit area’s Agudah shul, is available for speaking engagements and may be reached in his dugout at irdav@sbcglobal.net.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/sports//2009/03/11/

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