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January 18, 2017 / 20 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘chicago’

Friends Of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part II)

Monday, December 26th, 2016

Last week we focused on how F.R.E.E. began the process of educating the refugees it came into contact with. However, the people at F.R.E.E. set about making life more fulfilling for the refugees, in many other ways as well.

 

Part II

Many of the Russian immigrant men and boys were anxious to undergo circumcision. It was amazing to witness this after so many years of the religious suppression that existed under Communist rule. At first, F.R.E.E. undertook the responsibility to arrange circumcisions. Over a period of forty years, hundreds of men and boys underwent kosher circumcisions. At first, Rabbi Avrohom Chesney of F.R.E.E. arranged and supervised them. Later, Rabbi Naftali Hershcowitz, under the supervision of Rabbi Shmuel Notik, took over. The doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago (a Jewish Federation institution), together with the noted mohel, Rev. Noah Wolff, performed the circumcisions. Chicago was unique in that its federation funded the Brit Milah program, while in other cities F.R.E.E. had to pay for it on its own. As more immigrants arrived, other mohelim and religious doctors joined the team, among them Rabbi Mordechai Turkeltaub and Rabbi Moshe Kushner. The observant doctors and mohelim worked efficiently, on a few patients each time. Dr. Philip Zeret, head of surgery at Mt. Sinai, and Dr. Chaim Hecht arranged the logistics.

Dr. and Mrs. Hecht were very involved with welcoming the Russian teenagers in general and introducing them to the warmth of their Shabbat table. They also opened their home to Rabbi Betzalel Shiff, his wife Mira, and their son Yossi, who came from Israel to work for the organization. Dr. Hecht was instrumental in bringing Rabbi Shmuel and Shterna Notik to Chicago to take over the directorship when the organization began expanding.

At one point, we notified the Lubavitcher Rebbe that many Russian refugees had to wait for their circumcisions to take place. On Erev Yom Kippur before Mincha, Rabbi Hadokov called us with an answer. He said that he had received instructions from the Rebbe to tell us not to let the immigrants wait. Thus, several times we arranged to use the hospital for an entire day, enabling as many as twenty or more circumcisions to be performed.

Mottel Kanelsky, himself an immigrant from a Lubavitcher family, was instructed by the Rebbe to arrange circumcisions as quickly as possible. Who would have thought that after just a few years F.R.E.E. would be given the responsibility for carrying out thousands of circumcisions of men and boys of every age?

When Russia began allowing Jews to leave, the American Jewish Federation/Jewish United Fund made an agreement with the U.S. government that the latter would grant financial help for resettlement. In each city the Jewish Federation provided Russian-speaking social workers to aid the incoming immigrants. They also provided money and direction.

At first, the Jewish Federation of Chicago suggested that F.R.E.E. was duplicating its work and that we should close shop. Martha Binn, our representative to the Federation, succeeded in convincing it that we were not competing with their services, but rather complimenting them. Her confident demeanor and professional approach gave weight to her request that the Federation recognize and acknowledge the work of the religious organizations and give them their support.

Martha also did fundraising for our cause. She made call after call, not getting discouraged by nasty comments like: “What? It’s you again?” I would often consult with Martha; I would call her “my lawyer.” She would point out issues and analyze possibilities from a different vantage point. She was dedicated to our cause, passing up lucrative job offers to stay with the organization.

Once we asked Rabbi Oscar Fasman, president of the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago (aka Skokie Yeshiva), to accompany us to a meeting with the Federation to lend prestige to our organization. He told the members of the Federation committee that our work deserves its support. The impact of his words bore fruit and funding was increased. When F.R.E.E. opened a school on the premises of the Machziki Hadas Synagogue, it prompted the Federation to open a proper school as well.

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Rabbi Shmuel Notik

Eventually, the Federation began receiving good reports from the immigrants themselves, after which they started working together with F.R.E.E. to the benefit of all. This was the beginning of a warmer rapport between the Federation and the Orthodox community, and a new era of cooperation between the general Jewish community and the religious community which continues to this day.

One Shabbat, as I was reading an article in the weekly Jewish journal, the Sentinel, written by Boris Smolar, the head of the JTA, I found myself reading my own words! Smolar was commending the Federation for all it was were doing for the Russian immigrants, such as arranging circumcisions, funding day camp and English lessons, providing vocational guidance services, etc. Half the article was copied from a grant proposal I had written to the Federation requesting funding for these programs. Mr. Smolar didn’t realize that a nursing mother was running these activities!

Many of the refugees were broken and nervous, since they had to leave everything behind and begin life anew. Many of them were highly educated in their fields, but found it hard to get jobs in America. Many who wanted to learn English turned to us. The local city colleges provided us with a program to teach English as a second language (ESL). Not only were the classes free of charge – students even received a stipend. Our offices were filled with people eager to learn. In addition to learning English, the students would hear short talks on Jewish topics, upcoming Jewish holidays and the like.

With the help of another government incentive, we organized a summer school for older teenagers who were interested in learning the Hebrew language. Chava Cooperman, daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Zilber and daughter-in-law of Rav Yehuda Cooperman (the founder of Michlala Jewish College for Women), taught these young people to read and write Hebrew. These programs and government grants always became available just at the right times. I really felt that Divine Guidance was helping us every step of the way.

As the refugee population grew, we realized that we could reach more people through a Russian-language newspaper. Chuck Novak helped put together the first few issues of “Gazzette Sholom” which is still being published forty years later. Each issue is eagerly awaited by Russian-speaking Jews around the U.S. The newspaper benefited greatly when the Russian-born Lubavitch couple, Rabbi Betzalel and Mira Schiff, joined our organization. Betzalel became editor of the newspaper, organized concerts and Yom Tov celebrations, started a Russian-language radio program, and helped fundraise. He was like a father to the Russian Jews, and he and his wife dedicated themselves day and night to bring awareness of what it means to be Jewish to people who had grown up under the influence of communist propaganda. Although Betzalel was young, he was well-respected. After a few years, he and his wife returned to Israel, where he continued to work with Russian Jews.

We organized and ran a day camp for the immigrant children, in collaboration with Chabad Gan Yisroel. Most campers paid very little or went for free. Nowadays, when my son meets up with Russian Jews who grew up in Chicago, my son will say, “I bet you went to my mother’s camp.” They often did. One year, I managed to raise a substantial amount of money (I used to sit in my backyard with my baby and fundraise by phone), so I decided to send some Russian kids to overnight camp in Parksville, New York.  We sent them by car, a fifteen-hour drive. It didn’t quite work out. The boys complained to their parents that they were homesick, so I had to fly them all back to Chicago early. That was the end of that experiment.

To be continued…

Reitza Kosofsky

Jewish Women’s Foundation Awards Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center

Tuesday, December 20th, 2016

The Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (JWF) on Monday announced grants totaling $345,500 to 21 outstanding projects that improve the lives of Jewish women and girls in Chicago and around the world. One of the recipients is the Tel Aviv Sexual Assault Crisis Center: Sexual Assault Testimony Project, which “helps liberate survivors of sexual violence from their hidden trauma through audiovisual documentation of their personal testimonies of sexual assault.”

According to JWF, for many survivors this may be the first time they feel they have received emotional acknowledgement or validation of their experiences. Documentation also serves as a tool to show victims that they are not alone in their suffering.

“There is no stopping a bunch of smart women coming together to tackle issues such as violence against women across the globe,” said Shari Slavin, JWF Grants Chair. “Our balanced docket represents the power of providing Jewish women with meaningful, multigenerational involvement at the philanthropic table.”

In addition, JWF has awarded a new two-year multi-year grant to the Jewish Women’s Funding Network, to support collaborative and effective efforts for women’s rights and gender equality in Israel with a focus on labor rights.

“At its core, JWF is about social change philanthropy; we use both a gender lens and a Jewish lens to determine our grantmaking priorities,” said JWF Chair Nancy Kohn. “As trustees, we use our combined voices and philanthropic dollars as a catalyst to effect positive change-and that is a powerful experience.”

David Israel

Friends of Refugees Of Eastern Europe In Chicago (Part I)

Monday, December 19th, 2016

Presented here is a short history of the beginning of the F.R.E.E. organization in Chicago. F.R.E.E. is affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch network, and deals with the resettlement of Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

This account was written by Reitza Kosofsky, the initiator and main activist of F.R.E.E. in Chicago, who found herself becoming deeply involved in the historic challenge facing the Jews of the free world at that time: reclaiming the Jewishness of those Jews exiting Russia. Covered is the period from 1973 until 1981, at which time Rabbi Shmuel Notik arrived and took over the directorship.

 

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

Mrs. Reitza Kosofsky

For much of the past century, freedom was a distant dream for Jews living in the Soviet Union and its satellites. In the early ‘70s, the Iron Curtain lifted, and a significant number of families were given permission to leave.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, spoke publicly about the influx of Soviet Jewish refugees, and the importance of helping them with their spiritual and material needs. The Rebbe’s words were heard in Chicago, and the women of N’shei Chabad under the leadership of Rebbitzen Chaya Sarah Hecht, the head shlucha, made a welcoming gathering for five families who had just arrived from Minsk. The American women presented the Russian women with silver candlesticks and encouraged them to light them for Shabbat. Rabbi Tzvi Shusterman delivered a talk in Yiddish, as that was the only common language shared by most of the participants.

After that gathering, Rebbitzen Hecht contacted the Rebbe’s secretary, Rabbi Chaim Mordecai Aizik Hadokov, and asked how to proceed. Should N’shei Chabad or another already existing organization work with the Russian Jews? The Rebbe’s answer was clear: a new organization should be created to service the needs of the new immigrants.

At the time, I was a stay-at-home mother of a growing family. I had a nursing infant, and had just married off our eldest daughter to a Russian-born Lubavitcher. I was inspired by the Rebbe’s call to action. Because I spoke Yiddish, it was only natural for me to become involved with the Russian Jews who were settling in Chicago.

On our next trip to Crown Heights, I went to see the newly opened synagogue and center for Russian immigrants. The name F.R.E.E., which stands for “Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe,” was chosen by the Rebbe. I met with the founders of the center, brothers Meir and Hershel Okunov, who gave me permission to use the same name for our work in Chicago. Meir, who would be celebrating his wedding two weeks later, joined my family for the 15-hour drive from New York to Chicago in order to help us get started. He told me how to introduce the basics of Jewish life to Jews who had grown up in an atheistic environment.

We started out small, but as the trickle of immigrants grew to become a tidal wave, F.R.E.E. also grew and expanded. That first year we made a Chanukah party in the home of Victor and Rita Katz. By the following Chanukah, we had to rent a hall! We organized communal Pesach sedarim led by Chabad yeshiva students. Most of these young men had grown up religious in the Soviet Union, learning Torah and keeping mitzvot despite the danger of being arrested. Now, they turned their selfless devotion for Yiddishkeit towards running sedarim for others, giving up their opportunity to spend the Passover holidays in New York with the Rebbe.free-121616-hebrew-school-class

It was the second year of my involvement with the Russian Jews, in 5734 (1974), a few weeks before Pesach. I was sitting in my car on Devon Avenue, and my kids had gone into the kosher candy store. I was contemplating and worrying about the communal Pesach seder. The year before, about 175 immigrants had participated and now I had 300 newly arrived Russian Jews eager to experience their first seder in freedom. How would I manage it? At that point, a former neighbor passed by, stopped and asked me how I was.

I could have sufficed with the usual “Fine, Baruch Hashem” but instead I blurted out, “I’m running a seder for 300 Russian Jews, and I have no funds for it. How can we make a seder without food?!”

The man hesitated for a minute, and then exclaimed, “I will help you!” It turned out that he, Tzvi Kurs, was the president of the Chicago Maos Chitim Committee. Every year the committee would distribute 1,500 boxes of matzah, wine, chicken, gefilte fish, and other seder items and necessities for Pesach to families in need. From that year on, the Maos Chitim Committee provided for the communal sedarim. Working together with the committee, we set up a system by which families would be interviewed by volunteers from their own community to determine the extent of their Pesach needs.

There was a flood of immigration when the U.S.S.R. began letting Jews out, and the friendship and help for the Russian Jews who came to our city began to fall on my shoulders. When I had originally taken on this project, I thought that only a few families would be arriving in Chicago; however, they came in droves!

In the beginning, I handled all the F.R.E.E. work from my kitchen. I would hold my baby in one hand and the frying pan in the other, balancing a telephone on my shoulder, helping people from my kitchen “office.” One day, I got a call from Joseph Zaretsky, an officer of Congregation Bais Medresh HaGadol Keser Mariv. He offered us the use of the vacant classrooms in the Hebrew school at the back of the synagogue free of charge. With the new place, we were able to begin the formation of a working organization.

We continuously saw how the Almighty blessed our efforts. Someone taught me how to apply for the first $5000 grant that I got. In addition, CETA, a government program that was created to train the unemployed really helped. Through it, we were able to take on eighteen trainee office workers. Through this program, we were able to employ people who otherwise may have had difficulty in finding suitable work.

Former students of the Hebrew School

Former students of the Hebrew School

Marvin Schreiber was an expert in preparing grant proposals. His hard work paid off, and we received grants. We then were able to have a secretary, run a domestic job service, and hire a driver to transport Russian immigrant children to the Jewish day schools. We arranged for people who spoke Russian to tutor the children, especially in the Hebrew language and Jewish/religious subjects.

A friend who was a public school teacher, Abe Wolburg, told us that the Jewish Federation social workers were enrolling the Jewish immigrant children in the neighboring public schools. We asked Rabbi Hodakov how necessary it was to enroll the children in Jewish schools. The answer: as important as saving lives.

We immediately let the Russian Jewish community know that we would provide a day school education for their children. It was really hard to get the Russian kids into the existing Jewish schools because they would accept only a few new kids at a time. So we opened our own school in our office with thirty children! We had two talented teachers, one for Jewish studies and one for secular, both with the same name, Miriam Rabinowitz. The school lasted for twenty years. Those children who didn’t come to this school were persuaded to enroll in the Jewish Community Center Sunday School, so at least they would receive some level of Jewish education.

Reitza Kosofsky

Wikileaks: Rahm Emanuel Also Used Private Email

Monday, November 7th, 2016

The Chicago Tribune reported on Sunday a WikiLeaks revelation that Chicago Mayor and President Obama’s first chief of staff Rahm Emanuel used a private email account like the one used by Hillary Clinton, to communicate with government officials and politicians.

Mayor Emanuel registered his personal email domain — rahmemail.com — on May 16, 2011, the day he was sworn into office. Clinton’s email domain name was clintonemail.com.

Emanuel’s private email account was revealed in last month’s hacked Podesta emails. Then a search of Clinton emails released by the State Department showed Emanuel used his private account to communicate with Hillary when she was secretary of state.

David Israel

London Mayor Sadiq Khan ‘Davens’ While on Whirlwind North America Interfaith Tour

Monday, September 19th, 2016

London’s first Muslim Mayor, Sadiq Khan knows a thing or two about diversity: he dropped in to ‘daven’ (pray, in Yiddish) while he was in town in the Windy City, Chicago over the Sabbath.

Khan has spent the past few days on a whirlwind interfaith tour that started in Montreal and has now led him to New York City, but had him in at least two synagogues over the Sabbath during a very brief visit to the North side of Chicago.

The London mayor attended services with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the modern Orthodox Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel synagogue, the Evening Standard reported, and on the same day he also made a brief stop at Temple Sholom, a Reform synagogue. Both are in the same area.

“London is an incredibly diverse and tolerant city,” he said, “but improving social integration is still one of the big challenges we face. That’s why I’m keen to hear from people of many different faiths here in the U.S. to learn from their experiences and to share ideas on how we can bring communities together and strengthen the social fabric that underpins any successful city.

“I want to tell everyone around the world, loud and clear, that London is open to people of all faiths and backgrounds,” he said.

But earlier in the week, he told a group, “We play straight into the hands of those who seek to divide us, of extremists and terrorists around the world, when we imply that it is not possible to hold Western values and to be a Muslim.”

Khan made the comment Thursday while speaking before the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. He added that what is needed is to build “bridges, rather than walls,” in what appeared to be a response to the proposal by GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to build a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico.

On Sunday night, Khan tweeted a photo of himself speaking on a panel with New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio at La Guardia Community College, “discussing social integration & how faith communities can help bring people together.”

In addition to an especially warm welcome from the congregation at St. Alban’s Church in Queens on Sunday morning, Khan was given the honor of throwing the first pitch at Sunday’s Mets game. (#LetsGoMets, he tweeted.)

This just proves that the British really envy the American sport of baseball after all: it beats cricket.

This just proves that the British really envy the American sport of baseball after all: it beats cricket.

But not everything was humor and light: Khan was also smart enough to acknowledge the attempted multi-site terror attack that succeeded at least in one location Saturday night, in the city’s Chelsea neighborhood, where 29 people were wounded by shrapnel from a pressure cooker bomb. As a resident of London, the mayor is no stranger to terror: “My thoughts are with all those injured in last night’s explosion in New York and all New Yorkers,” he tweeted. “This is a great city, and a resilient one.”

Hana Levi Julian

San Francisco Bus Ad Defends BDS

Monday, August 15th, 2016

The Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign (SeaMAC) has launched a new ad on buses in San Francisco with the slogan “Boycott Israel Until Palestinians Have Equal Rights.” The ad is not clear as to which Palestinians are bereft of those equal rights: are they the ones being repressed by Hamas that steals their charity funds, diverting them to luxury homes for Hamas bigwigs and to terror tunnels aimed at kidnapping and murdering Israeli civilians? Are they the ones struggling to make it under an incompetent, corrupt PLO-run Palestinian Authority, that hasn’t run a national election in almost ten years? Or are they Israeli Arabs, with a representation in the Knesset that matches their 20% of the population, democratic freedoms and access to higher education? Or is it too much to ask a bus ad for specifics?

The ambiguous bus ad will run for four weeks, according to a SeaMAC press release. The ad includes the slogan “Stop Anti-Boycott Legislation” and features a list of historic boycotts, including the Boston Tea Party, segregated buses in Montgomery in 1956, and South Africa’s apartheid regime.

“Advocates for Israel’s apartheid are trying to persuade state and national legislatures to outlaw the right to boycott against social injustice in Israel,” said Edward Mast, volunteer board member of SeaMAC. Of course, Israel does not have an apartheid system — the Arab member of the Supreme Court would never approve of it, nor would the thousands of Arab students in Israel’s universities, thousands of Arab doctors and lawyers, and Israeli Arabs from all walks of life who participate in a free Israeli society. It’s not a problem-free society, but compared to the neighborhood it is pretty impressive.

Mast, however, sees attempts to seek legal means of stopping his campaign of lies as an “attack on free speech … one more example of demanding special treatment for the State of Israel.”

SeaMAC ran the slogan “Boycott Israel Until Palestinians Have Equal Rights” on buses in Washington, D.C. and three other cities in 2015, but the same ad was taken off a billboard in Chicago. in early 2016. SeaMAC has also been blocked from running anti-Israel bus ads in Seattle, Washington.

David Israel

Mandy Patinkin Berates Late Couple at Benefit Concert

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

“The Princess Bride,” “Sunday in the Park with George” and “Homeland” star Mandy Patinkin, 63, was half an hour into his Lincoln Center benefit concert for the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene Monday night, when a couple arrived to take their seats in the front row, the NY Post reported. To say that Patinkin did not take this with good humor would be like saying the Hindenburg became uncomfortably warm.

“Why are you late?” he barked at the two tardy ones. “You were sending an email? To who?”

The husband, bewildered, said he had been working with a client, which was Patinkin’s cue to go to work on the poor fellow. “This hurts me in my soul,” he said, quickly adding, “You know what would make me feel better? If you donated $25,000 right now.”

Last week, Patinkin told the Wall Street Journal, “I would absolutely say that singing Yiddish music is more powerful than anything else I sing and I can’t explain it because I didn’t grow up hearing it. It’s an unexplained mystery that I’m just thrilled and gratified for.”

Patinkin insisted that he had heard no Yiddish at home, so that loving Yiddish music for him is not nostalgic but a discovery. “I always make a joke that I was raised a Conservative Jew on Chicago’s South Side. If you’re a Conservative Jew in Chicago that makes you a Reform Jew in New York and an Orthodox Jew in California,” he told the WSJ.

Joseph Papp, founder of the Public Theater, introduced Patinkin to Yiddish songs. “He said, ‘You need to learn this music, it’s your job,’” Patinkin recalled. “I sing songs and he felt I needed to carry on this tradition.”

Despite his rage, the late couple did not reach for their checkbook, so, according to the Post, Patinkin ended up bargaining them down to a lighter sum (we dare not use the J word here). When someone in the cheap seats yelled at him to “let it go,” Patinkin responded, “I’m not letting it go! The Yiddish culture means too much to me. Every character I’ve ever played, I’ve played Jewish: Inigo Montoya? Jewish. Che Guevara? Jewish.”

“Except [Homeland’s tortured CIA operative] Saul Berenson,” he confessed, revealing “He’s Roman Catholic.”

He is not, of course.

Then another audience member pledged $5,000, and Patinkin said he would match it, and the show continued.

The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene (NYTF — the last word in the title means “People’s Stage”), America’s preeminent Yiddish theatre, is the longest continuously-producing Yiddish theatre company in the world and the oldest consecutively-producing performing arts institution in the US.

Founded in 1915, NYTF continues its mission to preserve, promote and develop Yiddish theatre for current and future generations and to enhance the understanding of Yiddish culture as a vital component of Jewish Life. In fact, it is the sole survivor of fifteen Yiddish companies that played to enthusiastic audiences on the Lower East Side in the Golden Age of Yiddish Theatre in the early 20th century. Founded under the aegis of the Workmen’s Circle, the NYTF became an independent nonprofit in 1998.

David Israel

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/mandy-patinkin-berates-late-couple-at-benefit-concert/2016/05/24/

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