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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Rabbi Greenberg’

Bar Mitzvah In The Tundra

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008


For every Jew alive today, even the most unobservant, it’s necessary to only go a couple of limbs up the family tree to find an observant predecessor. If you peek far enough, sometimes you can find amazingly special people in the family, from famous rabbis to strong matriarchs. For one unassuming family in the cold hinterlands of Alaska, that was just the case.


In Alaska one finds plenty of snow, moose and oil, but few Jews. There are less than 6,000 in the entire state. Half of the Jews live in the city of Anchorage, so when Rabbi Yosef and Esther Greenberg arrived in Alaska in 1991 they set up the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Center of Alaska there. Handfuls of Jews also live in remote towns and cities such as Sitka, Kenai, Ketchikan and Kotzubue. Rabbi Greenberg flies to these areas, sometimes in a seaplane, to prepare boys for their bar mitzvahs, put up mezuzahs and teach Jewish classes.


The Greenberg’s annual Chanukah party has always been their most popular event. At the 1993 party, Rabbi Greenberg noticed a new couple among the many familiar faces. He introduced himself and spoke to them for a few minutes but did not expect to see them again.


A few months later the wife called Rabbi Greenberg and asked him if he could train their son for his upcoming bar mitzvah. Their son had never been to Hebrew school and couldn’t read Hebrew. His parents had not even planned for their son to have a bar mitzvah. However the boy’s elderly grandmother from Los Angeles was persistent that her grandson have one, so to make her happy the couple was now turning to Rabbi Greenberg for help in preparing him for it.


Rabbi Greenberg tutored the boy, teaching him Hebrew and training him to say the blessings on the Torah. Finally the Shabbat of his bar mitzvah arrived and the boy’s extended family flew in from all around the country.


The bar mitzvah was beautiful. The boy read the blessings, and Rabbi Greenberg chanted the Torah portion and Haftorah.


During lunch in the synagogue after services, the boy’s grandmother asked for permission to speak. She stood up and explained why it was so important to her for her grandson to have a bar mitzvah.


First she was worried that living in Alaska, her grandson would grow up without a Jewish identity. Therefore she wanted to make sure he would at least have a bar mitzvah.


Second, the grandmother related that she had moved to the United States from Russia many years earlier. She rarely attended synagogue, but fondly remembered receiving a strong Jewish education in her youth. She grew up in the town of Berditchev, and a private teacher came to her house every day to teach her and her siblings Jewish subjects. When Jewish observance was banned after the Russian Revolution of 1917, her religious education ceased.


Why did her parents value Jewish education so much, and why did she push so hard for her grandson to have a bar mitzvah?


“It was very important to me to make this bar mitzvah because of my family tree”, she continued, now looking directly at Rabbi Greenberg. “My family − we come from a big rabbi. Maybe you’ve heard of him. His name was Rabbi Yisrael Ba’al Shem Tov.”


Rabbi Greenberg’s jaw dropped. The Ba’al Shem Tov founded the Chassidic movement in the 1700s, of which Chabad-Lubavitch is a part. Two hundred years later, the Ba’al Shem Tov’s efforts helped provide his descendents in Alaska with an authentic Jewish experience and a point of entry to return to Jewish observance.


After lunch Rabbi Greenberg approached the grandmother and said he had a piece to add to her story. Rabbi Greenberg said he himself is a ninth-generation descendent of the Maggid of Mezritch, who was the foremost student and successor of the Ba’al Shem Tov. So here in Alaska was a descendent of the Maggid of Mezritch helping to bring back a descendent of his teacher the Ba’al Shem Tov.


In the years since the bar mitzvah, the young man and his family have become more observant. Hashem specifically sent Rabbi Greenberg to Alaska because He knew that the deep relationship between the Ba’al Shem Tov and his student would help his descendents return. Plus, G-d knew that the many merits of the Ba’al Shem Tov would remain in the family and be a spiritual catalyst to bring them back.


“All Jewish children running around the world are the grandchildren of Tzaddikim and Tzadekot,” Rabbi Greenberg said. “If your child or grandchild was going away from Judaism, wouldn’t you fight to get him back? The Baal Shem Tov was crying in heaven.”


Michael Gros is the Chief Operating Officer of the Jewish outreach organization The Atlanta Scholars Kollel. The Teshuva Journey is a monthly column chronicling amazing teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. To share a story or send other comments, email michaelgros@gmail.com. To receive the column via email or see back issues, visit http://www.michaelgros.com.

Letters To The Editor

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2004

Dej? Vu

The story of the abandonment of the Jews during the Holocaust, retold in Marvin Kalb’s marvelous front-page essay (“Misreporting the Holocaust,” Oct. 22), is of course a sad one. Kalb reminds us how Franklin Roosevelt, an aristocratic blue-blood, and The New York Times with its weak Jewish owners, cared little about the Jews.

It should be noted that America unwittingly paid a heavy price for its anti-Jewish attitudes in the 1930′s and 40′s. This country did not prepare for war with Germany because it was under the delusion that what was happening in Europe was only “a war between the Jews and Hitler.” Part of the price paid was Pearl Harbor, the loss of the Philippines, and thousands of American lives.

Has the world learned? Not very much, especially the newspapers which play the same old game of blaming the Jews for the world’s problems – which in our day means branding Israel the culprit in its fight for survival against its antagonistic Arab neighbors.

Papers like the Philadelphia Inquirer have only slightly moderated their tone, and even that slight improvement came about only because of heavy criticism from Jewish readers. Has Europe learned anything at all, even after being nearly decimated? Not much, as the Europeans, seeking to make money deals with the Arabs, are more than willing to put the Jews on the table as bargaining chips.

This is why Jews must fight to support Israel, and Israel must fight to avoid being extinguished by the new “Final Solution.” That fight would involve not relinquishing Gaza.

Jerry Boris
Philadelphia, PA

Admonishing Sharon

The following are some of the points I made in a recent letter to Prime Minister Sharon:

I am an independent Baptist pastor in Oklahoma City who loves the nation of Israel. I am director of the organization Yedidim of Israel, and as a friend of Israel I assure you that I pray for the nation of Israel every day.

On Oct 2, 1947, after returning from a trip to the Holy Land, Dr. J. Frank Norris, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ft. Worth, Texas, wrote President Truman that “the issue is whether we will take the authority of the Bible of our mothers, or the Koran with it’s sword and flame.” He pointed out to Truman many of the scriptures making it plain that God gave that land to the sons of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Gen. 17:19, 28:13; Deut. 30:3-5; Psalms 105:9-12).

Mr. Prime Minister, American Christians are not in favor of giving one inch of the Gush Katif or any other territories to the Palestinians. You have gone through four years of a relentless Palestinian war of terror. I was at the King David when a bus was blown up nearby. We went immediately to the site. I could smell the smell of death.

Mr. Prime Minister, you were long the settlement movement’s most ardent champion. Don’t let the U.S. State Department, the EU, or anyone else goad you into giving up one centimeter of the land that Almighty God gave to the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jim Vineyard
Windsor Hills
Baptist Church
Oklahoma City, OK

The Copepod Debate

David Berger’s op-ed essay on the copepods, while it struck an emotional cord, could have taken a more technical and halachic approach (“On the Prohibition of Water: An Appeal to Poskim,” Oct. 22).

1) To categorize a copepod as “h’ayin sholet bo” (something visible to the eye) when it was in our water supply for over a hundred years without being seen until someone spotted it with the help of a buglight – this is a difficult stretch of logic.

2) To say the shiur (size) of an item that makes it impermissible is so small that for more than a hundred years no one spotted it and therefore transgressed – this would appear to violate the basic principle of “Torah lo bashomayim he” (Torah is not in the heavens).

3) If you want to hypothesize that prior to the advent of the buglight this size was not assur but after the buglight was invented the shiur is now lower, you violate the principle of “im cain nosata d’vorecha l’shiurin” – you can’t have different sizes for different people.

Zevi Wolf
(Via E-Mail)

Courageous Article

The Jewish Press is the only Orthodox publication I know of that would have published Dr. Berger’s courageous op-ed article. If we learn anything from studying the lives of our great sages and rabbis, it is that a Jew can be completely devoted to Torah and mitzvot and still use his or her brain. Unfortunately, today we see less and less of that in the yeshiva world, which by and large has retreated into a cocoon of mindless ritualism and a “can you top this” chumraism.

Thank you, Dr. Berger, and thank you, Jewish Press, for refusing to succumb to the current climate of obscurantism and worse that has settled over large parts of the frum olam.

Michoel Strauss
New York, NY

Worthy Holocaust Project

I am an 8th grade student at the Reuben Gittelman Hebrew Day School in Rockland County, New York. For my bat mitzvah, I began a mitzvah project to try and collect six-million pennies by May 5, 2005 – Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The plan is to have the pennies on display through Yom Hashoah and then converted to currency; a portion will be donated to Yad Vashem in Jerusalem and a portion will go to the Holocaust Museum of Rockland County.

My project began with a simple concept. A penny these days has very little value – there isn’t anything you can buy with one. Until now. A penny saved can represent a human soul that perished in the Holocaust. Each penny can help the memory of that soul live on forever and help us all keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. Although my friends and I are always being taught about all of the terrible things that took place during the Holocaust, I don’t think we can fully understand just how huge a number six million is.

I believe the sight of six million pennies on display will help everyone comprehend the number of lives that were lost during that time.

With my project I hope to ensure that this new generation, and every generation after, will remember the Holocaust and the atrocities associated with it. Because as survivors fade to few in number, the voices of those who say “it never happened” will become stronger.

Though simple in concept, my project is an enormous undertaking. To accomplish my goal, I’ll need a lot of help. I’m asking everyone to save pennies in 20 oz. soda bottles (each of which, we estimate, holds 800 pennies). Participants should label all filled bottles to my attention – Jessica Feuerstein – and include their names, their cities and their states. Bottles can be dropped off at Uncle Louie G’s, 1361 Coney Island Avenue (between Avenues J and K) in Brooklyn.

I’ve asked all my friends to start collecting while spreading the word. That, however, will not be enough. I need everyone who finds this project worthy to also collect and get the word out. Working together as Klal Yisrael, the goal can be achieved. Those interested in getting involved with this project can e-mail me at pennyproject@optonline.net with questions, or just to let me know they’d like to help.

I thank The Jewish Press for publishing this letter, and I hope readers will try to help me reach my goal of making sure we always remember, from one generation to the next.

Jessica Feuerstein
(Via E-Mail)

Flawed Editorial?

In a recent editorial, you condemned the Union for Traditional Judaism as a “(watered-down) bastion of halachic rectitude” for failing to come out unequivocally enough against the Montauk Minyan’s inviting Rabbi Steven Greenberg, an openly gay Orthodox rabbi ordained at Yeshiva University, to give a sermon on Rosh Hashanah. You also decried the notion that the halachic views of one who violates a fundamental Judaic precept are deserving of respect. You even claimed that such an idea “would indeed come as news to generations of codifiers and explicators of Jewish law, spiritual giants whose priority was sanctification, not homogenization.”

I could not disagree more. The UTJ response to the Montauk Minyan’s invitation to Rabbi Greenberg deserves commendation precisely because it stands in stark contrast to the scorched earth approach taken by too many rabbis and others on the hard right of the Orthodox spectrum, an approach which (wrongly) condemns homosexuality (even though the oft-quoted Vayikrah verse condemns homosexual sex, and not homosexuality per se). One need not agree with the entirety of “Trembling before G-d,” the film in which Rabbi Greenberg was featured a couple of years ago, to understand that this self-defeating approach has only driven gay people away from Judaism, rather than helped them to understand traditional Jewish views on the subject.

The UTJ did not attack Rabbi Greenberg’s character. Nor did it condemn his scholarship. It defended a principle without trying to destroy an individual who it felt did not meet its standards. The UTJ had the courage to acknowledge that which some rabbis less secure in their Judaism do not: Rabbi Greenberg deserved a chance to present his case in some forum, even if his ideas are considered by the majority of traditional leaders to be inconsistent with Halachic principles. The principle of open inquiry requires no less.

It is utterly incorrect to claim that the halachic views of one who violates a “fundamental” Judaic precept are unworthy of respect, assuming for our purposes that the invocation against homosexual sex is a fundamental Judaic precept. (My personal view is that homosexuality is very, very far down on the list on the threats we face as a people if it is on the list at all.) The Talmud, where disagreements over fundamental Jewish practices are common, is inclusive of the views of those who violated what are considered today fundamental principles. Pirkei Avot, our ethical lodestar, includes the views of heretics like Elisha ben Ahuvah. There are rabbinic figures of our own times whose opinions are properly valued though their ethics, sexual and otherwise, have been called into question.

A final point: I cannot help but note that even the UTJ makes the mistake of referring to homosexuality as a “lifestyle.” This kind of terminology, by suggesting that the raison d’?tre for the existence of a gay person is his or her homosexuality, perpetuates the destructive approach I am talking about. The purpose of referring to homosexuality as a lifestyle is clear; by reducing a person who happens to be gay to his homosexuality alone, one can ignore the rest of the person’s attributes, those things that might endear him as a human being to one who otherwise believes that homosexuality is inconsistent with halacha. (It also begs the question of just how people who have seemingly spent little time with homosexuals know so much about the “homosexual lifestyle.”)

Michael Brenner
Woodmere, NY

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/letters-to-the-editor/letters-to-the-editor-76/2004/11/03/

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