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New Year's Resolutions That Will Last

There is a stark contrast in traditions of observance between the Jewish and secular New Years. Rosh Hashanah is regarded as a rather serious time tempered by joy, as we anticipate the unknown year to come with hope and positive determination to make it a good one. The secular new year's celebration is untempered partying, secure in the knowledge that the upcoming year will be a good one... just because.

While the differences are numerous, there is one similarity. New Year's resolutions. It has long been a Rosh Hashanah custom to resolve to strengthen a particular area of Jewish commitment. It is also popular to make a New Year's resolution before January 1.

The most common types of resolutions revolve around eating habits, fitness habits and spending habits. Interestingly these are all areas of life that are only somewhat in our control. Our health and financial situations depend on the blessings from Above. Of course we must do our part to generate the proper vessel in which to receive G-d's blessings - which includes proper habits in those areas. But we still recognize that healthy eating and excersize, while helpful, do not assure us of good health. The same is true with regard to finances.

The one area of life that Hashem leaves up to us, is our adherence to the ways of the Torah and Mitzvot. It is our choice to follow the traditons of our Torah or to ignore them. Our level of Jewish commitment is entirely up to us. Ignorance is not an excuse - as we can decide to study and become more knowledgable. Let us not limit our resolutions for 2011 to the usual. Let us also include the resolutions for something whose value is infinite and is there for the taking.

May I suggest a resolution that can actually be kept on January 1. I propose that people commit to increasing their Shul attendance by twice a month. This can apply to everyone at whatever level their current Shul going measures. Hopefully the more one goes, the more one will like it and this can exponentially expand the positive Jewish experience.  

Wishing you an enjoyable and safe New Year's weekend anchored by a good Shabbat.

Tzedakah During Tough Times

It is no secret that economic times are very tough. Every family or individual is dealing with the downturn in their own way. For some it impacts their everyday standard of living. For others it is the extra luxuries that are taking a hit, and there are those for whom it is the long-term picture that concerns them. 

Organizations that rely on charitable contributions for support have felt the pinch as well, as many people are not maintaining their Tzedakah at the level that they previously did. This change in Tzedakah habits can also be broken down into corresponding categories to the three mentioned above.

My grandfather, Mr. Mordechai Rivkin, of blessed memory, was a very charitable person, even during times of his life when doing so was very difficult. He often shared with me, his philosophy on giving when times are tough. He explained it by way of an analogy. Imagine, he related, that one's financial situation is like a trip on a horse and wagon. When the horses are too tired or the wagon is sinking due to the burden it is carrying, one looks to lighten the load. Usually one seeks to cast off the least important things on the wagon. Similarly, when economic times are tough we lighten the load by "casting off" certain expenditures. However, he explained, "casting off" the expenditure of Tzedakah would be akin to lightening the load on the wagon by casting off one of the wheels. My grandfather felt that Tzedakah is essential to the giver's fanancial survival, as it is the vehicle through which to receive G-d's blessing for success.

I share this message from my grandfather not because Chabad is a non-profit organization facing a shortfall, though it is. But rather, because I feel that this is an inspiring lesson for all regardless of where the Tzedakah money is directed.

At the same time, we would welcome those who are looking to make tax deductible contributions before the end of 2010, to visit us at www.chabadneworleans.com/donate and become our partners in the valuable work of Chabad of Louisiana. 

Chanukah Report

Chanukah is the holiday that brings out the desire to celebrate our Jewishness more than almost any other. The explanation for this phenomenon can be debated forever. Some attribute it to the seasonal celebrations of others. Some attribute it to the light & fun nature of the observances giving children an ability to participate. Some attribute it to the messages of religious freedom and light over might. And there are many other theories as well. Regardless of the motiviating factors, this enthusiasm should be and is successfully seized upon by Jewish community institutions as an opportunity to get people involved.

Chabad around the world has had significant success in generating Chanukah interest via public Menorah lightings and creative programming that people enjoy. This year in New Orleans we had a number of great events that I would like to report on. I have also uploaded over 55 pictures at www.chabadneworleans.com/1377450 .

Saturday night my family drove out to Gulfport to attend a Menorah lighting in a park arranged by Ron and Wyatt Hall. The event was catered and sponsored by the Beau Rivage - a beautiful job. The Mayor of Gulfport (a great speaker) and other civic leaders were in attendance. The event was capped off with dancing as we watched the flames being whipped around in the wind. At the same time at Chabad of Metairie - Family Pizza and Game Night was taking place. Well attended and loads of fun as always - pictures will soon be up at www.jewishlouisiana.com .

Sunday evening heralded the 21st annual Chanukah @ Riverwalk celebration. Hundreds braved the wind and cold temperatures to watch the heartwarming lighting of the Menorah overlooking the Mississippi. Matza ball soup was being served at the Kosher Cajun food booth, while warm Latkes were enjoyed at the Latke bar. Rob Steinberg did a great job hosting and Councilman Arnie fielkow read a proclamation from the city council in honor of Chabad's Chanukah celebration. Attorney Bradley Egenberg lit the Menorah which towered over the crowd at 15 ft. Later that night a well attended party for Hebrew speakers was held at Chabad Metairie.

Monday night ushered in a brand new innovative program - the Celebrity Chef Latke Cook Off for young Jewish professionals. Held at the JCC uptown, the event featured Chefs from Emeril's, Domenica and Casablanca. Over 60 young professionals attended. The was great music and refreshments including some Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka compliments of Firefly and Matt Berman. Peter Seltzer lit the Menorah. Adam Stross MCed the evening, interviewing the chefs and the five judges. When all the votes were tallied, Phillip Mariano of Dominca was declared the winner.

On Tuesday night the annual Mobile Menorah Parade saw 18 vehicles with Menorahs mounted on the roofs riding through downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter. Passersby were delighted with the throws of dreidels and choco-gelt. Upon returning to Chabad uptown paraders were treated to a great party which was also the final Sheva Brachot for Tzivyah and Shloimy Greenwald.

Chanukah wrapped up with Wednesday night's Latkes on Skates at the Airline Skate Center. All in all it was an awesome 8 days of meaningful fun. Check out the pictures and enjoy.

Mazel Tov to Jody and Gilbert Braunig upon the birth of their son Max. Mazel Tov to Dina and David Voskovsky upon the Upshernish of their son Tzvi.

Mazel Tov & Happy Chanukah

Dear Friends,

This past Wednesday we had the distinct pleasure of participating in the wedding of Tzivyah (Kehaty) & Shloime Greenwald. Our New Orleans community is small enough that when there is a Simcha, it is regarded as a family Simcha. The wedding was held at the Sheraton, who, in my estimation, did a wonderful job once again with a large Kosher event.

The wedding party was a blend of New Orleans people and the visitors from out of town. Yet the seamless integration of the two groups dancing and celebrating together was marvelous to behold. It is a true joy to see a person who you know from babyhood celebrate such an important milestone - our entire New Orleans Jewish community can derive more than a "little Nachas" from this wonderful Simcha. (See some photos below - thanks to Peter Fierman.)

I am sure that all of you whose lives have been positively impacted by the Kehaty family, join me in a wholehearted wishing of Mazel Tov. May they continue to have Hashem's abundant blessings in their lives in every possible manner.

Chanukah is here! We have already experienced a dizzying number of community events in just the first two days. I just want to give a shout out for Chanukah @ Riverwalk. For the past 21 years this event is unrivaled in its ability to draw hundreds of Jews from the entire cross-section of our community together in a celebration of Jewish pride. It is unquestionably the largest Jewish event in New Orleans. Come out and join your brothers and sisters as we light a Menorah on the Mississippi River and revel in our freedom to worship as Jews in this wonderful country. Sunday, Dec 5 4-6 PM with the Menorah lighting at 5 PM. There will be Kosher food by Kosher Cajun. Free Latkes and gelt from Chabad. I want to thank actor & comedian, Rob Steinberg - a newcomer to our community - who will be MC this year. The explosion of the film industry in Southern Louisiana is playing an important role in the rejuvenation of this region.

For the young professionals out there, I hope to see you on Monday night at the JCC for Celebrity Chef Latke Cook Off. We have chefs from Emeril's, Domenica and Casablanca squaring off in a latke making competition. A pair of club seat tickets to the Hornets-Hawks game on Sunday, Dec 26 will be raffled off. Music, food, drinks, Menorah lighting, good company! What more can you ask for? See you on Monday night. www.facebook.com/mendelrivkin.

Shabbat Shalom & Happy Chanukah to all!

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