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Happy Birthday Chabad of Louisiana

Yesterday’s Hebrew date, Kislev 7 was the “birthday” of Chabad of Louisiana. On that day in 1975 my parents, Rabbi Zelig & Bluma Rivkin, arrived, with 2 year old me and my one year old brother Yochanan in tow. Their goal was to be the Rebbe’s ambassadors to the city and region, in strengthening Judaism and Jewish commitment in any way possible.

How does a young family just show up in a place to which they have no familial association or any connection at all, and expect to be successful in establishing a Chabad presence that would have an impact on the community?

My parents were privileged to have several private audiences (called Yechidus) with the Rebbe in the years leading up to their move to New Orleans. During those meetings the Rebbe gave them guidance and direction with respect to their own lives as well as their responsibility to others. Among the things that my father shared with me was that the Rebbe assured them that “if you will make it bright and warm for others, then Hashem will bless you with brightness and warmth in your own lives.” This is the type of empowering blessings and guidance with which the Rebbe dispatched his Shluchim to locations all around the world.

At the last Yechidus meeting prior to their departure for New Orleans, my parents took the two of us along. Over the course of that brief encounter the Rebbe blessed my parents with success and gave them each some money for Tzedaka to take along on the trip. While I don’t recall this happening, my mother shared with us that the Rebbe then gave us two boys a dollar as well, declaring “these are my Shluchim to New Orleans.”

Interestingly, while my parents would go on to have several more children after moving to New Orleans, the only two that settled in New Orleans as adults are the two of us. (My sister Mushka came back to Louisiana, but in Baton Rouge.) Looking back that seemingly casual statement of the Rebbe turned out to be quite prescient.

So happy birthday Chabad of Louisiana. We have come a long way since that day in 1975. We have partnered with this amazing community to achieve a lot together. There is still more work to do and we are eager to continue until the coming of Moshiach very soon.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Powerful Prayers

The last seven days were very intense. Last weekend I was with 4,000 of my colleagues in NY for the annual Shluchim conference. Upon returning to New Orleans we quickly prepared for the amazing evening we had with Eva Schloss and and audience of 600 hundred strong on Tuesday night at the JCC. I would like to share a poignant experience from my time in NY.

One of the highlights of the Shluchim conference (aka Kinus) is presenting ourselves as a group at the Rebbe’s Ohel. We pray to Hashem, reading Psalms together. A letter of petition for blessing from the Rebbe is written on behalf of us all collectively and every Shliach signs it. It is then read publicly for of us to hear and placed near the Ohel as is traditional.

The letter is very comprehensive and addresses requests for blessings in any conceivable area of our lives both communal and individual. The 4,000 Shluchim live in every corner of the world and are truly responsible for the welfare of each Jew and the Jewish people as a whole wherever they may be.

This year the letter included a special mention of the assault against Jews in Pittsburgh along with a blessing for the safety of the Jewish people worldwide. As those words were being addressed to the Rebbe, with thousands of Rabbis from around the world listening raptly, I felt a potent sense of togetherness with all of the Jews who are in need of Hashem’s protection. There is power in this blessing from the Rebbe and there is power in this group who presented the petition for this blessing. May Hashem indeed hear our prayers for the safety of our people everywhere and for the safety of good people all over the world.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Showing Solidarity

This past week has been an intense one for the Jewish community and for American community as a whole. Our thoughts have been swirling in all kinds of directions. Certainly, foremost among them is the grief and sorrow for the people who were most directly impacted by the horrific attack in Pittsburgh, resulting in the tragic murder of 11 precious souls and the wounding of six others. There are the thoughts about what the ramifications are of this event on the place of Jews in American society. There are the immediate and long term security considerations. Thoughts about the role of politics and rhetoric in this murderous attack. Thoughts about how a tragedy can pull us together as a Jewish nation. And much more.

There have been some poignant moments. Certainly the solidarity expressed at the vigils and memorial gatherings by so many people from so many backgrounds and faiths. The sincere and meaningful offer from folks like the Cajun Navy to “have our backs” so that we can worship in safety. The random but heartwarming expressions of support from people like the man who stopped me in Walgreens yesterday to tell me the he and his family are praying for my people.

Another angle has been the amazing groundswell of energy to have good deeds overpower the evil that was perpetrated. Campaigns such as #Mitzvah4Pittsburgh have yielded wonderful commitments from people to infuse the world with goodness through the Mitzvahs which they have undertaken. For more on that see www.chabadneworleans.com/pittsburgh.

Chabad of Louisiana is launching an initiative – a Pittsburgh Solidarity Shabbat – #ShowupforShabbat that will be held next week, Saturday, November 10 at both Chabad Uptown and Chabad Metairie. The idea is to encourage our fellow Jews to show up in Shul as an expression of solidarity along with the determined declaration that we will not be kept from our Synagogues by threats and fear. We hope to fill the Synagogues with people with the same sense of urgency that is felt on Yom Kippur at Neilah.

May Hashem protect us and shield us under the canopy of peace so that we never again need to deal with anything the likes of this horrific tragedy. May we truly experience the sense of Am Yisrael Chai for all times.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Mind Your Own Business?

When we reflect on the wickedness of Sodom, we usually think about extreme moral depravity and cruelty. We think about the manner in which they institutionalized corruption and abuse; the disregard for basic human dignity and their decadent attitude toward hedonistic indulgence.

Where does this start? How did they come to be such an immoral society? What measures can we take to protect ourselves from going down those same pathways?

Let us examine an interesting passage from the Talmud that sheds some light on this. Ethics of our Fathers (5:10) states: “There are four types of people: One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine" is a boor. One who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is yours" — this is a median characteristic; others say that this is the character of Sodom. One who says, "What is mine is yours, and what is yours is yours" is a chassid (pious person). And one who says "What is mine is mine, and what is yours is mine" is wicked.”

So the attitude of what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours is defined as the character of Sodom (according the second opinion). One might think, what’s the big deal? You have yours and I have mine. It is about minding your own business. To each their own. Why is this the character of Sodom?

It is a natural human tendency to protect one’s self and property. We are instinctually inclined to self-preservation. However we also intellectually recognize the need for sharing and caring for others. Life is about getting ourselves to the point where what we understand overpowers our self-centered instinct. A moral and healthy human society is one where folks care and look out for each other.

Sodomite society created a philosophy out of selfishness. The weltanschauung of Sodom declared “what’s mine is mine and what’s your is yours.” Once that is your outlook on life, there is no limit to how low your society can sink.

In a sense, the Western societal rule of “mind your own business” is a subtle expression of the same Sodom-like sentiment. Judaism tells us that someone else’s welfare is my business. Obviously this is not a license for being a nosy yenta with no respect for human privacy and dignity. But we should not become so self-absorbed that we do not notice the needs of others and we are not moved to help them.

This is true in a material/physical sense; but also in a spiritual/religious sense. If we have the opportunity to encourage someone in their growth as a Jew, we should not “mind our own business.” Our sense of love and caring for another should lead us to proactively reach out to them and share something inspiring or invite them to participate in a Jewish experience.

So stop minding your own business. Shout from the rooftops about how wonderful Mitzvot are. Declare your passion for Torah and Judaism by sharing them with others! If you need to appeal to your self-preservation side, doing this feels really good and meaningful once you get past the initial discomfort with not “minding your own business.”

On a different note, the Eva Schloss lecture next month is at 90% capacity. We are getting ready to move to standing room only and consider an overflow area. Get your tickets now before it is too late. www.jewishlouisiana.com/evaschloss.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Individualism vs. Collectivism

As Torah narratives go, we are in the exciting part of the cycle. After getting through with the preliminaries of creation and the flood, we are finally all in on the inspired and inspiring life of Avraham. A recurring theme is the promise of a great nation of descendants coupled with the gifting of the land (of Israel).

A closer peek gives us two distinct forms in which the blessing of plentiful offspring is offered. 1. Your children will be as numerous as the sand near the sea. 2. Your descendants will be as plentiful as the starts in the sky. Aside from diversity of linguistic expression, what is gained by the two metaphors of the sand and the stars?

One of the Chassidic masters explained that each of these represents a different angle with respect to the tension between collectivism and individualism. Sand is valuable primarily when it is bunched together with more sand. The sand can form a beach, mud, glass, computer chips etc. A single granule of sand is hardly useful. This brings out the value of the collective. When we are united, pooling our efforts and resources, we are invincible.

Contrast that with the stars. Each one is a powerful source of light and energy on its own. Indeed two stars coming together can be a destructive force. This brings out the value of individuality.

Which approach is correct? Does Judaism favor the collective or the individual? The answer lies somewhere in the middle. Judaism calls for a balance between collectivism and individuality. There are times when a tip in one direction or another is called for, but a healthy balance is the proper approach.

Here is proof from a Halachic phenomenon with a philosophical and mystical twist. A Torah scroll contains 304,805 letters, each handwritten in black ink on parchment. If a single letter is missing or deformed, the entire scroll is unfit for use. Additionally, each of the letters must be ringed by “white space.” Should a letter touch its fellow even slightly, thereby violating the "white space" between them, again, the entire scroll is disqualified from use.

Every Jew is a letter in G‑d's scroll. The people of Israel comprise a single, interdependent entity; the lack or deformity of a single Jewish soul, G‑d forbid, would spell a lack or deformity in us all. Yet equally important is the inviolable "white space" which distinguishes each of us as a unique individual. True, the letters spell a single integral message. But this message is comprised of hundreds of thousands of voices, each articulating it in its own manner. To detract from the individuality of one is to detract from the integrity of the collective whole.

This is one of the messages of the stars and sand.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Eva Schloss Coming to NOLA

We are nearly 80 years removed from the onset of the Holocaust. This coming November marks 80 years since that horrific assault on the Jewish people in Germany and Austria known as Kristallnacht. In the years that followed the Nazis tried to implement their "final solution" by eradicating the Jewish people. Six million murdered later along with countless others whose lives were unimaginably impacted for generations, we have what's known as the Holocaust.

How many people alive today can actually give eye-witness accounts of the atrocities? The generation of survivors, even those who survived as children, is fading before our very eyes. As they go, the audacious attempts at Holocaust denial grow greater and more bold. 

We need to people to hear the story from the mouths of the last living survivors so that those stories can be retold by those of us who hear them firsthand. 

This November, in connection with the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, Chabad of Louisiana is bringing Eva Schloss to New Orleans. She was a neighbor and later a step-sister to Anne Frank. Her family escaped Austria and arrived in Holland, where the moved near the Frank family. Eva is currently on tour in the US from England, where she lives. New Orleans is her last stop before she heads home on the newly scheduled direct flight from MSY to London.

Please seize the opportunity to hear this legend tell her story. The event is endorsed by the New Orleans Holocaust Memorial Committee and will be hosted at the New Orleans JCC. The lecture is a joint project of Chabad New Orleans, Chabad Metairie and Chabad Baton Rouge. 

For registration - www.jewishlouisiana.com/evaschloss. Seats are filling up quickly and space is limited. At the event Eva's Story - Mrs. Schloss's book will also be sold, including a limited number of signed copies. Advance book sales are also available on the website. 

Looking forward to a meaningful event on Nov 6 at 7 pm.

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Welcome back from the Mall

The shopping experience has two components (not that I would know much about it…). There is the thrill of buying the merchandise; and then there is the enjoyment of using it. The transition between those two components is when you come home and unpack your purchases.

The Previous Rebbe utilizes the analogy of a shopping trip to explain what this past month of Tishrei is all about. We pick up merchandise from the various vendors, Rosh Hashanah, 10 days of Teshuvah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Shmini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Each vendor provides us with items that will be put to good use throughout the year in our growth and developments as Jews. We have a carful of devotion, reflection, love and awe, joy, oneness, enthusiasm and much more. Now that the holidays are over, we must start to utilize the goods and apply them in our lives.

This process begins with unpacking and putting things in place to be used when we need them. That is what this Shabbat is all about. It is the transition between the holidays and regular time. We can reflect on all that we experienced this month and then start to insert those experiences into everyday life.

So welcome back from the Tishrei Mall. I hope you enjoyed the shopping trip. Now unpack and start enjoying your merchandise as well.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Dance with G-d

Imagine attending your chupah and reception but leaving the wedding before the dancing? Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur were the solemn parts of our wedding with G-d. Sukkot is the reception / wedding party. But Simchat Torah is the lively dancing part of the wedding. G-d is waiting to dance with us. On Simchat Torah and take your opportunity for this first dance with the Divine.

Monday, October 1 beginning 7:30 PM - Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie. BE THERE!

Chag Sameach
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

 

 


 

 

Keep Soaring

We spent the 25 hours of Yom Kippur climbing up the ladder of spirituality and succeeded in reaching great heights. Now what? What happens to a Jew after the climax of Neilah at the end of the Holy Day? The simple answer is “keep soaring.” Take that inspiration and apply it directly to Sukkot and Simchat Torah, which are just around the corner.

If you are wondering what Hashem thinks of our capacity to do this; I will share a brief insight into His mindset. The Torah, when describing the Mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog, states, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day” and then goes on to define the four species of plants that we use. The Talmud asks, “First day of what?” The simple answer is, “The first day of Sukkot.” But the Talmud offers a deeper interpretation. It is the first day of the new (post Yom Kippur) accounting of sins that a person may commit. Asks the Talmud. “What about the four days between Yom Kippur and Sukkot? To which the Talmud responds, “There is no time to sin. Everyone is busy getting the Sukkah ready and dealing with the Lulav and Etrog.”

So from G-d’s perspective we have the ability to remain so focused on applying the high of Yom Kippur that we are too busy to sin. That is the degree of confidence that Hashem has in us. Let’s live up to that and keep soaring!

Wishing you happy Sukkot prep and a wonderful and joyous holiday!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Happy Yom Kippur

Years ago, as a child walking home from Chabad House on Yom Kippur eve, we passed by the (then mostly non-Jewish) Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on Broadway and Oak and observed that they strung a massive banner from their roof declaring Happy Yom Kippur. We were amused by their ignorance of the seriousness of Yom Kippur. They were likely happy about the nominal nod Tulane gives it high percentage Jewish student body by giving off from class on Yom Kippur.

As I began to study Chassidus I reflected that they may have been on to something. While Yom Kippur is most certainly a serious day, it is also a day to celebrate in happiness. Yom Kippur is the day that we can access a closeness to Hashem that is unparalleled on any other day of the year. It is a day on which Hashem declares Himself to be close to us along with his desirousness of our reciprocal closeness. This is certainly something worthy of the most heightened joy.

So, Happy Yom Kippur to a Father Who is welcoming His children home after they have been away. (Having just picked up my daughters from the airport for a visit, I can appreciate that sentiment.) Happy Yom Kippur to children who are returning to the unconditionally loving embrace of their Supernal Father. Happy Yom Kippur to all of those utilizing the opportunity to scope out all of the negativity, dirt and static from their lives, thereby freeing themselves to fully engage in the loving closeness that can to be accessed on this unique day.

Fruits of Tzedakah / Proud to be from Louisiana

Last night we had the pleasure of participating in the dedication of the newly named Slater Torah Academy, honoring Mrs. Rosina Slater, who recently gave a major gift to Torah Academy. It was heartwarming to see the nonagenarian surrounded by dozens of children who are the direct beneficiaries of her generosity.

Mrs. Slater and her late husband Joseph were not blessed with children of their own. But through this act of kindness she has gained many spiritual children. At the event, Rabbi Chesney shared a story of the Baal Shem Tov, who discovered a town full of children with similar names, all named after a childless couple from a century before, who endowed Jewish education in their town, thereby ensuring that all children would be afforded schooling.

I have known Mrs. Slater for many years. She used to come to Chabad House for holidays and then I saw her frequently while she was a resident at Lambeth House. She would often express herself to me that she wants to do something for the community. With this generous gift she has created a legacy that will have lasting impact.

Many people choose to do their contributing as a bequest from their estate. I am all for that and encourage people to consider remembering Chabad as well as Torah Academy in their wills. (Please contact us to discuss this further.) The downside of a bequest is that a person does not have the benefit of enjoying the fruits of their bequest during their lifetime. Certainly the Neshama gets a lot of pleasure and a boost from that Mitzvah. But the beauty of this gift is, that Rosina has the pleasure of seeing the direct benefit to these children with her own eyes.

This Rosh Hashanah she came to Chabad House and one Torah Academy child after the next came to greet her and wish her a Shana Tova. Yesterday at the event the elementary school children sang a song especially composed by Mrs. Nechama Kaufmann for her. This is the fulfillment of the verse, “Your world (to come) you will see in your lifetime.” To behold the effect on one’s generosity is a special privilege. We wish Mrs. Slater much Nachas from her family, all of the Torah Academy children. The Jewish future of New Orleans is considerably brighter for it.

Two things happened this week that made me proud to be from Louisiana. First, the immediate solidarity expressed by the entire New Orleans region in reaction to the hate graffiti vandalism that befell the Northshore Jewish Congregation’s facility. The reaction was swift and unequivocal. We received, as did all the other congregations, a letter of support from the Archbishop. Many leaders and lay people expressed their support and acted on that expression. There will be an event this Sunday, September 16 at 4:00 pm at NJC - 1403 N. Causeway Blvd in Mandeville.

The second is the amazing support being shown by the Louisiana community to the people in the path of Hurricane Florence. Hundreds of volunteers from the Cajun Navy headed out to the Carolinas with trucks, boats and catering facilities. Entergy sent hundreds of professional personnel to help with the relief and disaster assistance. During this season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Louisiana certainly deserves a big check mark on the heavenly charts.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Putting the High into the Holidays

There is an expression that we use to describe extreme happiness - "drunk with happiness." Similarly we can use the expression "high on inspiration". 

That "may be" one of the definitions of the phrase High Holidays. A time when we get so inspired that we feel like we are soaring. 

At Chabad we aim to provide that sort of experience for the holidays. Our services combine soulful melodies, relevant and contemporary messages, meaningful rituals and the warmth of community. Good food never hurts either. Please join us at one of the five Chabad of Louisiana locations this year.

In the meantime, on behalf the Shluchim and Shluchos of Chabad of Louisiana, I wish you and your loved ones that you be blessed by G-d with a happy, healthy, prosperous and meaningful year, filled with only open and revealed good for all.

Penitence Party

Tomorrow night we begin to recite Selichot – prayers of penitence. For many this marks the formal “kick-off” of high-holiday season. Often the Shul is already decked out in white instead of the year round colors. We pray with the somber tunes of the high-holidays. The liturgy is of a serious nature evoking feelings of repentance. Tears are shed for the regrets of the past and lost opportunities of the outgoing year, along with the earnest resolve to do better in the year to come. Our custom is to recite the Selichot on Saturday night at 1 AM (technically Sunday). In most places, (around Tulane being a notable exception,) it is quiet; and the only sound being Jewish people somberly hurrying to Shul for Selichot. You see little boys rubbing their eyes in tiredness from being woken up to go to Shul in middle of the night. The prayer books are open, the Chazzan is wrapped in a Talis as he declares in a loud voice the opening words of the service in the special tune. All of this serves to set the tone for the seriousness of the moment.

Yet, what many are not aware of, is that just a short while before Selichot begins, it is the Chabad custom to have a lively farbrengen, during which l’chaim is recited along with singing and words of inspiration. The farbrengen can get so lively that to quote “It is related that in Lubavitch, the Chassidim would farbreng on the nights of Selichot and they would come to the Selichot tottering from the farbrengen’s after-effects.”

So what’s the deal? Is Selichot a somber moment or a light one? How do we balance the lively farbrengen with the tears of regret? How do we justify this kind of seemingly irreverent behavior?

I will attempt to explain briefly. First of all, the two sentiments are not in conflict. It is possible to be both lively and joyous, while at the same recognizing the somber momentousness of the occasion. It is a matter of perspective. If we see Selichot solely as a time for self-improvement so that Hashem will bless us with a new year, then we will take ourselves and our needs very seriously, precluding the possibility of celebration and liveliness leading up to it.

If, however, we see Selichot as the beginning of the period of rededication to what Hashem “needs” us for, then a farbrengen, which elevates us above our self-centered focus, is the best preparation. So what about our needs? If we just worry about what we are needed for, who is going to make sure that we get the blessings that the cow gives milk, the chickens lay eggs, and the crops are plentiful?

According to the Torah, a master must take care of his servant’s needs and an employer must pay his worker so that he takes care of his family’s needs. If we are devoted to Hashem’s “needs” and desires, then Hashem will keep the other end of the bargain and take care of our needs and desires.

As we prepare for Selichot, let us raise a shot glass of L’chaim and sing joyously as we focus our devotion to what we are needed for and consequently Hashem will bless each and every one of us with a year of goodness and sweetness filled with health, prosperity and meaningful growth. May this be the year that we finally take the leap across the finish line into Redemption.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The Last Brigade

This week in 1897, in a small town called Lubavitch, a Yeshiva was established by the fifth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Ber (Rebbe Rashab). The Yeshiva would later be named Tomchei Temimim. It was unique and distinct from every other Yeshiva that existed until that point, in that it called for integrating the study of Chassidic thought into the general curriculum. For many generations Chassidus had been studied by thousands. But it had never been made a formal part of a Yeshiva curriculum. Doing so would formalize its place in the very mission statement of the Yeshiva.

What was the goal of this unique institution? The founder clarified that in a lengthy address to the students on Simchat Torah two year later. He cited a verse in Psalms 89: “Your enemies have disgraced, O L-rd, that they have disgraced the footsteps of Your anointed.” The Rebbe Rashab explained that as we get closer to the time of Redemption there were two frontiers left to conquer, represented by the two types of disgrace referenced in the Psalm, the enemies of G-d, and those who disgrace the footsteps of the anointed (Moshiach).

This talk was an allusion to the challenge that was just around the corner, the godlessness of the Communist revolution. In truth the winds of secularism were blowing quite strongly across the Jewish world of Eastern Europe. Western European Jewry had almost entirely been transformed by secular modernity and it was starting to seep over the borders into Poland, Lithuania, Russian and Hungary. But the Bolsheviks and their Yevsektzia (Jewish sector) would take this fight up a notch or three. A group of well-fortified young Jews were going to be needed to confront this formidable challenge and ensure the survival of Torah Judaism. This was the first frontier that the Rebbe Rashab declared for which his army of Yeshiva students would battle.

Indeed, when nearly all other religious Jews either succumbed or fled, the lone group of defenders of the Torah and Hashem, were the young graduates of Tomchei Temimim. Under the leadership of the Rebbe Rashab’s successors, they would establish and maintain the network of underground Jewish institutions for 70 years.

This confrontation took on a different face when the battlefield moved to the free world. The strong desire of American Jews to fit in and assimilate, was as fierce a foe as the vicious stances of communism. But it was the same group of students and their next generation that took on the apathy and ignorance of the Jews of western civilization. They were inspired by the Rebbe to establish Chabad Houses in communities across the globe to uplift and illuminate the Jewish world.

The other challenge of living in freedom, was the lack of a sense of need for the time of Redemption. This is the second frontier. Chassidus shows how even a person who is living an inspired Jewish life, the glaring void of exile still looms large. While it may not come on the form of persecution or even assimilation, it is a gaping hole that can be filled on by G-dly revelation that is associated with Redemption.

119 years into the experiment, much progress has been made. The Rebbe Rashab’s prescience of challenges to come have been realized and confronted head-on. As we stand at the threshold of victory we are indeed grateful for his foresight and bold action that has brought us to where we are.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Envious Angels on S. Carrollton

Last week I was driving down S. Carrollton Ave. Passing Belfast St., I saw a member of our community, Berry Silver, who is a realtor, showing someone a house in the neighborhood. His Yarmulke was perched on his head and his Tzitzis were flapping in the summer breeze. As I was thinking how nice it is to see such a sight in New Orleans, I recalled an encounter with the Rebbe that I heard about 25 years ago. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone, a senior colleague, formerly of Sydney, Australia, shared this story with me in 1993. I spent that year in Sydney as a Rabbinic intern sent by the Rebbe along with a group of 15 friends.

Rabbi Woolstone reminisced about his teenage years, when he first got involved with Jewish observance through a Chabad Rabbi in Sydney. At one point, in response to a communication, the Rebbe remarked to him (I paraphrase in translation), “When a young man walks through Bondi Junction proudly displaying a Yarmulke and Tzitzis, the ministering angels on high envy the great Nachas this brings to Hashem.”

Bondi Junction is an area near the Yeshiva and the famous Bondi Beach. At that time it had a major train station and shopping area through which thousands of people passed every day. It has since developed into an entire neighborhood. Wearing visibly Jewish gear in Bondi Junction was a major statement about ones pride in his Jewish identity.

Baruch Hashem we have people in New Orleans proudly displaying their Jewish identity, thereby keeping the angels busy with their envy of the Nachas this brings to Hashem. We have come a long way since my days growing up in New Orleans. I remember walking through the halls of the JCC at the age of 10 and a kid stopping me to ask if that is how a Jew looks. I was wondering if he noticed the J in JCC on the outside of the building… We have come a long way indeed.

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, I wish each of you, that Hashem inscribe and seal you for a sweet, healthy, prosperous and meaningful year of 5779.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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