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October 24, 2014 / 30 Tishri, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Five Towns’

A Pathway To Teshuvah

Thursday, September 13th, 2012

Yom Hadin is almost here and this time of year brings with it a range of emotions. Some people are excited – a new year, the start of school, new clothing. For others, Rosh Hashanah instills fear – the need to correct wrongdoings, to beg for forgiveness and make promises to be better. For still others, there is a feeling of being overwhelmed – either by the awe of the Yom Hadin or perhaps the reality of so many days of Shabbos, Yom Tov, Shabbos (that’s a lot of cooking and baking). We are often so busy taking care of all the “things” that need to be done, that we don’t have enough time for spiritual and emotional preparation. It feels like most years I come to Selichos feeling as if I haven’t done enough to prepare.

We are about to stand before Hashem and celebrate the creation of His world in which we are privileged to live. We are ready to honor Hashem’s Malchus and to ask for another year in which to do good and live in a proper way.

Aneivus (humbleness), self-dignity and teshuvah – three ideas that at first glance might not seem to belong together. In reality they are directly intertwined and each depends on the other. Think about this: A person cannot do teshuvah without first accepting and loving themselves and a person cannot accept and love themselves without turning to Hashem.

What is humbleness? Growing up many of us were taught to have aneivus. It was not considered fine to think highly of oneself – that was gaiva (haughtiness). It was not proper to give too much credit to one’s own accomplishments. Many people and especially women have learned these lessons all too well. I respectfully suggest that many have thought of as gaiva is actually what aneivus should be.

In order to understand what humbleness is it is important to know what is isn’t.

Humbleness isn’t:

1. Being self-deprecating in speech or thoughts.

2. Putting yourself last.

3. Denying your own needs (eating right, exercise, sleep).

4. Denying your own feelings, achievements, accomplishments.

5. Always doing for others and never doing for yourself.

6. Denying your hopes and dreams.

The above is actually the life of a slave. It is what we left behind in Mitzrayim, in order to be able to become Bnei Yisroel and be able to serve Hashem. Unfortunately, too many people think that slave mentality is the way to be humble. However, not only isn’t that not the way to serve Hashem, it also makes real teshuvah very difficult.

We are each created b’tzelem Elokim – with a responsibility to live our lives with dignity — to treat ourselves with dignity, to treat others with dignity and to expect others to treat us with dignity. Imagine a beautiful lake. Above the lake is clean, cool air. It is fresh and feels right. Below the lake is the slimy, muddy yuck that you don’t want to put your feet in to. It is dark and murky.

We need to live above the lake in the clean, cool air – serving Hashem b’simcha, knowing when we have given too much of ourselves and need to say no, living our lives with honesty and dignity. Living below the lake means living with sadness, negativity, martyrdom, machlokes, abuse, and a disconnect with Torah and Hashem.

We need to recognize when people are trying to pull us into the murky waters and learn how to pull ourselves back up. Teshuvah and closeness to Hashem is the most powerful way to do this.

Many of us may believe that it is not proper to think highly of ourselves – but if we do and we recognize our self-worth, we won’t look for kavod from others. We don’t need approval from others if we give it to ourselves. Too often we judge ourselves by how others see us; we think we have to measure up to another’s idea of success in order to be worth anything. However, if that is our recipe for self-respect – most of us will NEVER get there, and we risk losing a real relationship with Hashem in the process. With self-dignity we can be emotionally complete and truly serve Hashem.

A Morah’s View from Out-of-town

Friday, March 30th, 2012

When you‘re here, over the rainbow, it is different. Being out-of-town is not about living in some neighborhood of Brooklyn (other than Boro Park, Williamsburg, or Flatbush). Living out-of-town also does not mean living in other parts of the Big Apple, like Manhattan or Queens. It doesn’t even mean living in the suburbs – like the Five Towns or Great Neck. Being here, over the rainbow, means living away. Now, don’t even think its like living in New Jersey, Los Angeles or Chicago. Try to imagine a very small community – one with less than 100 shomer Shabbos (Sabbath observant) families. A place that is miles from any kosher restaurant, where one can be served by eager-to-please waiters on real plates. It is a place devoid of kosher pizza shops where one can grab dinner on a Thursday night or even a small bagel shop to run into Sunday morning. And one cannot buy The Jewish Press at the local newsstand.

Which of course begs the question: Why would anyone choose to live out-of-town, particularly someone born and bred in New York City? The answer is not that complicated. The move was based on a dream. It wasn’t actually my dream, but it was my husband’s. He desperately wanted to move out-of-town to teach. He really wanted to make a difference somewhere else – to go to a community unfamiliar with Orthodox Jews, and to contribute to that place through the teaching of Torah in its (only) day school.

When the plan to move was announced, and sometime after I stopped crying, people quietly warned us of its perils. “Your children will become korbonos (sacrifices),” they whispered. “They will never find shidduchim (marital matches),” some mumbled under their breath. But most just shook their heads, wondering how we could possibly give it all up – the shiurim (Torah classes), the yeshivas, the schools, the friendships, and of course the restaurants. How could we sacrifice our proximity to the great ones: the Rabbonim (rabbis), the Rebbetzins (rabbi‘s wives/teachers), the ehrlicher Yidden (Jews of integrity and stellar character) that we had become so accustomed to seeing? Wasn’t it ridiculous to move to a place where it was impossible to find the latest sheitel (wig)? Though valiantly trying to be brave for my husband, I too wondered if this was not a ridiculous plan.

For a long time I could not “get comfortable” living out-of-town. I missed reading The Jewish Press, which I had enjoyed over Shabbos morning coffee. When I was out in the car, I kept looking for women in snoods, for others to join me as I frantically shopped erev Shabbos (Sabbath eve) or erev Yom Tov (before a Jewish holiday). I kept longing for my old life. It took me eleven years (this is not a typo) to enthusiastically join the forces of other klei kodesh (literally “holy vessels,” those in Jewish education) in out-of-town chinuch (education).

And a funny thing happened when I finally did adjust. My friends from New York no longer pitied me. In a way, I think they began to envy me. Though we do not have so many choices for our children – in friends, and in learning opportunities – we were spared from dealing with the deluge of issues that had begun to arise in the in-town Jewish community. The at-risk teenagers, the fear of kids appearing one way but believing another, the yearning for designer clothes and vacations, the academic pressure, those issues were now the unfortunate realities to which our friends’ kids were exposed. It is true that our kids are less able to compete on the Torah level of our friends’ children. Yet our children are confident as Jews and Yiddishkeit (Judaism) is not a burden to them. For us, the way of the world is not so foreign. Our kids attend day school and are always around some children who do not keep mitzvos (commandments). They are accustomed to seeing homes with varying levels of observance, too. It could be that being brought up out-of-town removed the novelty of the outside world.

But of course all children, in the end, have free choice. We cannot stop that from being true. As my husband wisely says, all children must eventually choose for themselves if they want a Torah life. The choice could be when they are teenagers, or it could be years later. No one can choose for their kids, though as parents, we wish very badly we could.

It’s been over twenty-five years of living over the rainbow and we’re still doing it. We are living and teaching in a small out-of-town community, while raising our family. There are times we question our sanity, and there are times we sigh in relief. It’s sometimes very hard and frustrating here, and other times it is pure joy and delight. But all these years later, one thing we do know: we are helping build Torah in a place where we make a big difference. And for that, we would not trade places with anyone anywhere else.

JCC Food Pantry Seeks Help For Passover

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Imagine being in the unenviable position of choosing between filling up your car or putting food on your family’s Passover table. For many in the Five Towns – including senior citizens faced with the decision to buy medicine or food – that is a sad and grim reality.

The sluggish economy and higher prices for nearly everything, especially gasoline and home heating oil, has forced many of our neighbors to make these difficult choices every day. For 267 Five Towns families faced with these difficulties, the JCC of the Greater Five Towns’s Kol Ditzrich kosher food pantry in Woodmere is providing some welcome relief. A sharp rise in the number of families accessing the food pantry is stretching its ability to serve those in need, and the demand is growing. The pantry, which saw a major increase over last year in the number of families accessing the community resource, saw five new families looking for help just last week. Many of those recently visiting the pantry at 1012 Central Avenue were looking for the typical items needed for the traditional Passover Seder.

“Passover is a family-oriented holiday, a time of togetherness, and it’s heartbreaking to know that some of our neighbors may not even be able to afford to buy something as simple as matzot,” said Rina Shkolnik, executive director of the JCC of the Greater Five Towns. “We are seeing more families and seniors coming to our food pantry for help, and their stories are similar and very sad.” Many of those who rely on the pantry for food are not eligible for government assistance, such as food stamps. A report by Feeding America and Island Harvest said that among 117,000 people in Nassau County identified as being at-risk for hunger, 62 percent do not fall within the eligibility guidelines for help from programs such as the SNAP program (formerly food stamps).

Ellen Warshall, coordinator of the JCC’s kosher food pantry, tells the story of the family of five whereby both parents, professionals with college degrees, lost their jobs. While they eventually found work, their debt had mounted and their new salaries were not nearly what they formerly earned, putting them in a tight financial situation. “They told us that the pantry had become not only a lifeline in providing much-needed food for their family, but it was a blessing because of the kindness of the staff and volunteers who helped them cope with their new situation,” said Warshall.

The pantry receives support from UJA-Federation of NY and several community-based organizations, like the Five Towns Community Chest, local synagogues and schools. But it is largely funded as a result of the generosity of individual donations.

As a mitzvah to help those struggling to enjoy a warm and blessed Passover holiday, the JCC of the Greater Five Towns is reaching out to the community for monetary gifts or donations of non-perishable kosher-for-Pesach food items to help our less fortunate neighbors during this special time of year. Among the food items gratefully accepted are frozen kosher poultry. Personal care items – such as diapers, deodorant, toothpaste, and shampoo – are also welcome. To drop off food or personal care items, please call the Kol Ditzrich kosher food pantry at 516-295-5678. For financial contributions, please make checks payable to the JCC of the Greater Five Towns Food Pantry, 207 Grove Avenue, Cedarhurst, NY 11516.

Working together, your generous donations to the food pantry will allow our less fortunate neighbors enjoy the warmth, happiness and spirit of Passover. The JCC wishes everyone in the community a Happy Passover, and thanks you for your support of what has become a vital community resource for those facing difficult times.

Anguish That Does Not Go Away: Reader Responses

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

For the past few weeks my column has focused on the difficulties singles experience while trying to find their soul mates. The response has been so overwhelming that before adding more of my own comments, I will share two reader e-mails with you, one from a single woman, the other from a shadchan directed at the anguished, thirty-plus single whose letter in my Jan. 16 column started this discussion.

(B’ezras Hashem, in a future column I will publish more e-mails on the subject.)

Letter 1 – from G.K., a frustrated single:

Dear Rebbetzin:

I am writing this with much emotion. I am angry. I am frustrated. I am a bit heartbroken. I actually don’t know what to feel at this point, but I can tell you I have never felt like this in my life.

I am thirty years old and still in the dating parshah, but I’m not bitter about it. Baruch Hashem, I go out with very mentschlech men but, unfortunately, the matches haven’t been appropriate. I attend shidduch meetings, singles events, and Shabbatons and my profile is featured on various shidduch websites. I have watched many friends walk down the aisle to the chuppah, and my heart is filled with nothing but joy for them because I know that while my time has not yet come, hopefully it will – and soon.

It is not a very good feeling to have to call or meet with a stranger in order to ask for help in finding a husband because nothing else has worked. Some shadchanim take the time to really try to get to know you, but some only meet with you for minutes, insist on a “good” picture, and then, no matter how many times you try to call them, you reach a voicemail message or they never return your calls.

Let me explain what has led me to my current emotional unrest. I was given the name of a shadchan who works for a website. I called and told her a little about myself and what I am looking for in a mate. After exchanging pleasantries, the shadchan began barking at me: “How old are you?” “What do you do?” “What are you looking for?”

No sooner had I finished explaining the type of young man I was looking for than this woman said, “The type of guy you want only wants a model and you are no model. Beside which, guys like that are married by now. These men know what they want – and they don’t want you.”

I was speechless. When I finally regained my voice I angrily said, “How do you know I am not a model? You have no idea what I look like. How dare you say something like that to someone! You know nothing about me.”

She replied, “You are thirty years old. If you are a model, let me ask you: What have you done wrong? Why are you not married by now?”

This a shadchan?! This someone who is supposed to help frum men and women find their life partners? She’d never met me, yet she told me I am not attractive and it is my fault I am not married. When I asked her why she said that, she told me she was just trying to help. What type of “help” is she trying to offer? She ended the conversation by informing me, “Listen, you should really take the next guy who walks through your door or consider dating a divorced man with children, because that’s all you’ll get.”

Who is she to say what she said? Apparently, she is a highly recommended shadchan who doesn’t know how to speak to or treat people. She doesn’t know the damage she inflicts on individuals. Where is the chesed of “bein adam l’chaveiro – kindness and consideration extended to our fellow man”?

As I stated above, it is hard enough to make that call and ask for help, but to be met with such hostility and viciousness was horrifying. For the next few days her words echoed in my head like a bad nightmare – only it actually happened.

Shadchanim are supposed to help singles find their basherte. They should return phone calls to singles who request their assistance. There is no mitzvah in collecting profiles just to be able to say you have a treasure trove of profiles. I once called a shadchan five times over the course of two months and never received a call, text, or e-mail back. I finally got the message she was trying to convey – “I don’t have anyone for you and I am too busy to help you.” I never called her again, but at our initial meeting she had said, “Oh, I love you! In high school we would have been best friends. I have so many names in mind. Call me!”

L.I. Community Dedicates Torah In Memory Of Young Boy

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

   More than 500 people dedicated a new Torah scroll in the Long Island town of Woodmere, N.Y., last Sunday, a little more than one year after the sudden passing of a nine-year-old sent shock waves through the tight-knit Jewish community.

 

   The ceremony began at the home of Rabbi Zalman and Chanie Wolowik, the directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of the Five Towns whose son, Levi Yitzchok Wolowik, passed away in his sleep on a Friday night. Attendees completed the final letters of the holy scroll at the home before parading the new Torah down a stretch of Central Avenue that had been blocked off for the occasion. Throughout the parade route, passersby saw a spirited procession of celebrants dancing to the chords of live music.

 

   Culminating at the Wolowiks’ Chabad House, where more dancing and a reception capped off the festivities, the Torah dedication represented the collective actions of countless individuals over the past year to pay tribute to a young boy known throughout the community as an exceptional student with a kindhearted nature.

 

   More than 700 children from 13 countries across the globe participated in a “learn-a-thon” that saw the young students study Torah in memory of Levi Yitzchok Wolowik and in order to fund the Torah scroll.

 

   “Levi’s soul is perpetuated through this Torah,” said Rabbi Levi Gurkov, a childhood friend of Zalman Wolowik. “Every time a boy reads from this Torah on his bar mitzvah, every time it is used in a holiday celebration, it will stand as a tribute for Levi.”

 

   As a memento of the occasion, each child received a certificate announcing their inclusion in the Torah, and a piece of fabric used in the making of the Torah’s cover.

 

   Miriam Wolowik, the boy’s aunt, said that the family treasured the outpouring of support from the neighbors.

 

   “The entire community showed up,” she said after the ceremony. “Everyone came. It was a beautiful, bittersweet day.”

 

   Shalom Jacobs, a longtime member of Chabad of the Five Towns, said that “the message of the day was one of unity, to stick together through these crazy times.”

 

   His wife, Pessy Jacobs, added: “The community came to show its love and support for Chanie and Zalman. It was very moving to be a part of it.”

 

   Rabbi Tuvia Teldon, director of Lubavitch of Long Island, said that the Wolowiks had inspired people by exhibiting strength in the midst of tragedy. Soon after the passing of their son, they announced a campaign to build a children’s library in his memory. Since that time, the couple has continued work on the Levi Yitzchok Library, identifying a site and finalizing construction plans.

 

   “They took the most painful of experiences and turned it into something really powerful,” said Teldon.

 

   The comment echoed a statement the Wolowiks posted online in the midst of their mourning.

 

   “The only way to confront tragedy, to overcome and persevere,” they wrote, “is to persist with even more energy and more joy.”

A Vacuum Yet To Be Filled (Part One)

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis,

I have wanted to write you for a long time because you helped me in such a profound way. I am so very thankful for your work, your message, your books, and your unapologetic call to all Jews to return to our Torah and heritage.

Three years ago, I was in the process of exiting the Messianic “Jewish” lifestyle. Your book, The Jewish Soul On Fire helped me to want to return to a true Torah lifestyle. Let me tell you how you helped save my Jewish neshamah:

I grew up as a secular Jew in the Five Towns and always had questions about G-d, life and the meaning of life. I would seek out answers but never got anything too satisfying. My neshamah was crying out for more than my Reform upbringing could offer. Sometimes, when my family went to “Temple” I asked if I could walk home. They wondered why their 10-year old would want to walk three miles. I told them that since the Orthodox do it and they’re closer to G-d, I wanted to do it too. I would also say the Shema every night before bed, not realizing that the Torah tells us to do that. I was seeking G-d.

The sad fact is that after many years of living without Torah truth to guide me, I fell prey to a Christian who “evangelized” me. He was one of the only people to ever initiate a conversation with me about G-d and the purpose of life, etc. I didn’t have enough knowledge or convictions about Judaism to refute him in any way. What he told me seemed to make sense. Thus began a 13-year journey in Christianity and then Messianic Judaism.

The sad fact is that all this happened right under the nose of a frum community. (The neighborhood in which I grew up was predominantly Orthodox,) Why didn’t any of them reach out to me? Why didn’t any of my Jewish neighbors invite me to their shul or Shabbos lunch or Sukkah? I might have accepted and listened.

During the years I followed Christianity/Messianic Judaism, my neshamah was still reaching out for authentic Jewish things. I loved spending time in Jewish bookstores. I purchased an ArtScroll siddur. I gravitated toward more tznius clothes. I also bought a Chumash, and eventually got into the habit of reading the weekly parshah each Shabbos.

I was trying to live as a Jew and a Christian at the same time. Impossible! It was a tug of war. Messianic Judaism is so awful because it tells Jewish people you can do such a thing, when the reality is you surely can’t.

Fast-forward 13 years. Around the time of Rosh Hashanah 2006/5767, I was up in the Five Towns, visiting my family. I borrowed your book, The Jewish Soul On Fire from the public library and I read it during my two-week visit in N.Y. During this time period, I also read Parshas Ha’azinu.

Between the piercing words of this parshah and the words in your book, I was moved to tears and deep sobs because I realized that as a Jewish person, I had an obligation to the covenant we made with Hashem at Sinai. That I was responsible to keep all the commandments in the Torah, not just the ones I felt like keeping or the ones that the Messianic Jews said to keep. Your book’s message really sunk deeply into my heart and convinced me that the Torah was the only path for the Jew. I knew that even though I didn’t understand everything written in the Torah, it was undoubtedly the way I wanted to follow.

Around this time, I also heard of several individuals who dared to leave Christianity/Messianic Judaism. These religions are very cult-like and it is very hard to leave. You are made to feel like you are in serious trouble if you dare to question the Christian doctrines. (Messianic Judaism is the exact same thing as Christianity no matter what anyone says.) You are made to fear that G-d will be against you and you are doomed. What lies! The individuals who left this cult-like mentality really piqued my interest.

I began to question all the doctrines I had clung to for 13 years. I dared to overcome my fears and use the critical mind Hashem gave me and question Christianity. Along with The Jewish Soul On Fire, there were several factors (“Jews for Judaism” website, reaching out to Gavriel Sanders and others) that helped me see that Christianity is no place for Jews, that the Christian Gospel which they refer to as the “New Testament” is not the continuation of the “old,” that it is not the fulfillment of the Torah.

Your book, The Jewish Soul On Fire, was a key factor and trigger in this major life change I was now facing. Thank you so much for writing this book! It truly helped me want to return to the Torah of my forefathers.

Now, three years later, I am living as a frum Jew with my husband and two young children. We are part of a wonderful community and shul in _________ ________. My children will go to the Jewish Day School in a few years. We are all happily serving Hashem and doing more and more mitzvos. My children and their children will not grow up Christian/Messianic. They will grow up frum Jews!

School Board Member: Sectarian Claim Is Without Basis

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

According to the plaintiffs of a recent federal lawsuit, a conspiracy is brewing in the Five Towns. The plaintiffs allege that Lawrence’s Board of Education has tried to “convert the [school board] into an Orthodox ruling committee, and to establish Orthodox Judaism as the official religion” of Lawrence.

 

Last month, five parents filed a civil rights lawsuit against Lawrence’s school board for allegedly benefiting parents of yeshiva school-children at the expense of parents of public school-children ever since Orthodox Jews attained a majority of the seven-member board in 2006.

 

            Additionally, the five parents asked the court for a preliminary injunction against the implementation of the board’s recent Consolidation Plan, which would close down one of the district’s elementary schools.  This plan, claimed the parents, is discriminatory and violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.

 

United States District Judge Joanna Seybert, however, didn’t buy the argument. Two weeks ago, she threw out the lawsuit, calling its claims “frivolous,” “nonsensical” and “blatantly undemocratic.”

 

The Jewish Press recently spoke with school board member Dr. Asher Mansdorf to get his thoughts on the topic.

 

The Jewish Press: What’s your reaction to the judge’s decision?

 

            Mansdorf: I’m certainly happy that the court saw that we were well within our legal rights to do the things we did. I’m also pleased that the court saw that much of what was written in the court documents was highly offensive.

 

But I’m sad that we had to spend district money, which should be spent on children, on legal shenanigans.

 

            Considering some of the plaintiff’s conspiratorial arguments, do you believe this lawsuit was anti-Semitic?

 

            You have to read the court papers and decide that on your own. But I think there was absolutely a cultural bias.

 

            Is there any truth to the lawsuit’s claim that Orthodox members advanced the Consolidation Plan out of a desire to lower the tax burden of Orthodox Jews who pay such high tuition costs for yeshiva?

 

That’s a very interesting question. If Mayor Bloomberg makes a decision to close fire houses, would you say the reason he wants to close fire houses is so that every person who has a Wall Street job doesn’t have to pay more taxes? Or would you say the reason he’s doing that is because there’s a financial burden on all people who live in New York and it is appropriate not to overtax them if you could possibly avoid doing it? 

 

            So to say that this school board wants to relieve the tax burden on one segment of the community is just simply without basis.

 

So the board is trying to save money for everyone?

 

            I think to even say we’re trying to save money is wrong. We’re trying to deliver an educational product for a reasonable amount of money . My contention is that if you look at the scores and improvement in the academic achievement of this school district, it is profound over the last three to four years as compared to the many years before it.

 

            What does the future hold in wake of this lawsuit?

 

            If I knew what the future held, I’d be in very, very good shape .

 

I only can tell you what the present holds, and what the present holds is that we’re going to continue to do the best job we can do for the people we represent and the children we’re caring for.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles//2009/09/09/

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