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Chanukah Recap & Photos

We are a mere few days from the end of 2011. Many of us are considering our last minute tax deduction options. I would encourage you to take a moment and go to www.chabadneworleans.com/donate and become a partner in the work of Chabad in our community. It is an investment that you will not regret and it is tax deductible as well.

A very full Chanukah holiday ended yesterday. I would like to share with you some of Chabad’s holiday activities. Pictures of the events can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/1717473 and www.jewishlouisiana.com.

On Tuesday, the first night of Chanukah, the Mobile Menorah Parade rolled through New Orleans – our theme – Occupy NOLA with the Chanukah lights. In all of the years that we have been parading, I do not recall such an energetic response from the “street.” One of the lead vehicles had Jewish music blasting forth and a bunch of teenagers throwing Happy Chanukah beads from the back of the truck. As passersby heard the music and looked up to see the 18 vehicle parade with Menorah lights blazing from the rooftops of the cars, they responded with great enthusiasm. It never ceases to amaze me how much people enjoy catching beads… The after party at Chabad Uptown was enjoyed by all of the parade goers.

Latkes on Roller Skates took place on Wednesday night at Airline Skate Country. Skating and refreshments were capped off by Menorah lighting and Jewish music. Later that evening a group proceeded to light the Menorah at Lakeside Shopping Center.

Chanukah @ Riverwalk was held on Thursday (see our previous blog for details on braving the rain). Despite some significant hardships and bad weather earlier in the day, it ended up being a beautiful event attended by over 500 people. The Olive Press workshop drew much interest as folks learned how to make oil. The usual hot latke bar was a big hit and 1,000 latkes were distributed. A great Kids Corner offered art, games and face painting. At the Food Court the Jambalaya was dished out in record time. Two thirds the way through the event there was nothing left. The Happy Chanukah beads and light-up Menorahs were wildly popular at the info table. The actual ceremony featured 4 ex-New Orleanians who returned after Katrina to rededicate and rebuild – very apropos for Chanukah, which means rededication. Sara Attias did a great job as MC and a presentation featuring David Rittvo, Rebecca Begtrup and Peter Seltzer along with Maccabi Torch bearer, Hila Ben-Shabbat, ushered in the actual lighting of the Menorah. Alan Franco brought greetings on behalf of the Federation and Frank Quinn represented Riverwalk. I had a great time launching a pair of Chanukah beads into the crowd, who wasn’t expecting this mister to throw them something. Over all it was a wonderful atmosphere and a festive experience.

Saturday night was the Israeli party. In addition to local Israelis, many of the Israeli mall salespeople attended from as far as Baton Rouge. Great food and music and a great time for all. The scavenger hunt that kicked off Chabad Metairie’s Sunday Game night was certainly unique and well enjoyed. Clue seekers were greeted all over Metairie by costumed friends hurrying them off to the next stop. A competitive game of Chanukah Jeopardy challenged the great minds in the room to propel their teams to victory.

A nice Chanukah party for J-tweens on Monday night had the girls fashioning their own dreidels and baking fresh donuts. I finished the week with a trip to the Ft. Polk Army base for a Chanukah event on the last night of the holiday along with Wyatt Hall.

On the Coast there was a nice beachfront celebration featuring a Menorah lighting organized by Wyatt Hall with the support of the Beau Rivage, who also had a Menorah in their lobby all season long.

All in all it was a very busy but very special week in celebration of the great holiday of Chanukah.

Shabbat Shalom and have a safe New Year’s weekend.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Tim Tebow's got nothing on Chabad - our Chanukah miracle

Chanukah is about miracles; the miracle of the battle, the miracle of the oil. Here is a little miracle of our own. One of the frustrating things about an outdoor event such as Chanukah @ Riverwalk is that there is always the risk of the weather being too cold or rainy. This year was no different. We had been eying the weather forecast for days with mounting concern. As the day of the event drew closer the forecast became more ominous. Thunderstorms, a tornado watch, temperature dropping.

On Wednesday, I received an email from my buddy, LJ Goldstein of the Krewe De Jieux, who’s Chanukah Second Line Parade, begins at the event at Riverwalk. He asked, “Do y’all have a plan for if it rains?” I was running around getting things in order for the event and read the email on my blackberry. I replied with one word, “Prayer.” Yesterday, as the rain was pouring down, I received another email from him saying, “…keep praying.” And boy did we pray. We did not just rely on our own prayers. We also wrote a request for a blessing from the Rebbe to be placed at the Ohel.

Still things did not look good. As we arrived to begin setting up at 1 PM, there was a 5 minute break in the rain and a rainbow stretched over the Mississippi. I thought that we beat it. But then shortly afterward it started pouring again. By around 3 PM, the rain came to a sudden halt and the sun came out and started baking down on the Spanish Plaza. This gave us just enough time set up, and to convince people that it was dry enough to make the trip downtown for the event. In the end the weather during the event was wonderful. It even warmed up as the day wore on. Talk about pulling it out in the 4th quarter…

Over 500 people came out to enjoy the festivities and it was a beautiful event. I will write more about it and include pictures next week. Here is a link to a photo by Chris Granger of the Times Picayune of David Rittvo lighting the Menorah. http://photos.nola.com/tpphotos/2011/12/riverwalk_menorah.html. And another of the children watching the program. http://photos.nola.com/tpphotos/2011/12/riverwalk_menorah_1.html.

This story brought to mind a similar occurrence that took place in 1991, while I was studying at the Yeshiva in New York. One the Sunday of Chanukah I got a call from my cousin, who was visiting New Orleans to help out with the Chanukah programs. He told me that it was raining and the Chanukah @ Riverwalk was in danger of being flooded out. He asked me to approach the Rebbe to ask for a blessing. It just so happened that the Rebbe was distributing Chanukah gelt at the time, so I went. As I received my gelt, I asked in Yiddish for a blessing for the Menorah lighting in New Orleans. The Rebbe turned to me and replied in Hebrew “Hatzlacha Rabba – much success.” I ran home and called New Orleans and was told that the rain just stopped and the sun is out. That night over 750 people attended Chanukah @ Riverwalk.

Chanukah reminds us that we must be thankful to G-d for all the miracles, large and small, that we encounter each day.

Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom

A Survivor's NOLA Chanukah Experience

One winter afternoon about ten years ago, an elderly Jewish guest staying at the Hilton Riverside hotel walked out onto the streets of New Orleans. Upon leaving the hotel something caught his ear. It was the sound of music. He followed the music across the street car tracks and into the Spanish Plaza at the Riverwalk. As he neared the plaza he realized that it was Jewish music, which explained his attraction to it. Upon entering, he gasped as he beheld a beautiful Menorah standing tall with hundreds of people standing around waiting for the lighting to commence. Overwhelmed with emotion he burst into tears. As he calmed down he sought out the organizer of the event and explained the reason for his emotional reaction. “I am,” he exclaimed, “a survivor of the Holocaust. I can never forget how we were hunted as Jews in Nazi Europe. Seeing Jews, my people, publically celebrating our holiday in a display of Jewish pride, has moved me deeply. Hearing Jewish music blasting in the streets has my heart quickening in joyous disbelief. This has been a real healing experience and I cannot thank you enough for hosting this event.”

This, my friends, is one of the many reasons why public Menorah lighting celebrations such as Chanukah @ Riverwalk are so important. For some it is a reminder that Chanukah is here. For others it is a source of pride in our heritage. For many it is a symbol of religious freedom. For that elderly visitor it represented Jewish survival.

This year Chanukah @ Riverwalk is being held on Thursday, Dec 22 4:30-6:30 PM. There will be a wonderful ceremony and exciting activities for people of all ages. Join together with hundreds of Jewish New Orleanians as we light the tall Menorah on the banks of the mighty Mississippi, attesting to the eternity of our people.

Just a short while ago, we concluded an inspiring gathering in honor of the 19th of Kislev. (See some pictures below.) G-d willing, after Chanukah I will share some of what transpired at this event.

This Sunday is the second Kosher Day @ Whole Foods Arabella Station. (See some pictures of last week below.) Stop by between 1-5 in the breezeway to say hello, enjoy some hot soup compliments of Kosher Cajun, and find out about Kosher at Whole Foods.

An exciting Chanukah week is kicking off with the Maccabi Torch relay on Sunday afternoon @ 4. Come cheer Yehudah Guterman, Jennie Cohen and Amy Shapiro who will be representing Chabad in the relay. The relay culminates at the JCC for a pre-Chanukah concert and dinner at 5 PM. On Tuesday night @ 7 PM the Krewe of Chanukah rides in the Mobile Menorah Parade followed by the parade party @ Chabad Uptown. On Wednesday afternoon, skate on over to Airline Skate Center for Latkes on Roller-skates at 4 PM. Join us at the Riverwalk on Thursday at 4:30 for the grand Menorah lighting. The Chabad Israeli Chanukah party is Saturday night at 8 PM and the Scavenger Hunt Game Night starts at 4:45 Pm on Sunday. For a full schedule go to www.chabadneworleans.com/calendar.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanukah
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

'Tis the Season

The Festival of Lights is nearly upon us. However it happened, Chanukah is always in proximity to the holiday celebrations of other cultures and religions. Being an extreme minority in this society, it is a challenge for us to maintain the uniqueness of Chanukah (even in our own minds) and not have it thrown in with the rest of the “Winter Holidays.” Many Jews have different ways of dealing with the cacophony of seasonal sounds, sights and smells. Some go with the flow, others try to shut everything out, while others fall somewhere in between.

There is one more approach, which I believe is the most effective. Instead of rejecting this, that and the other, let us embrace our Chanukah celebration in a way so powerful that our entire focus is on the joy and light of the Chanukah message. This leaves no void or inadequacy that requires filling with something else. Chanukah is such a special holiday because of the eternal relevance of what is represents.

Chassidism teaches that one of the reasons that the miracle was with the oil, is because oil epitomizes the struggle of the Maccabees. The Hellenist culture of the Syrian Greeks demanded assimilation on the part of the Jews. You can be Jews, they declared, but it should be like one liquid mixing with others, where it all becomes one. The Maccabees insisted that Judaism is like oil, even when poured into other liquid it remains distinct and does not become submerged. Their struggle became the symbol of religious freedom and the powerful light by whose illumination we proceed as a people. The Menorah lights up the night and reminds us of our special heritage for which we stand tall and proud.

Please watch a short video that conveys this powerful message. www.chabadneworleans.com/1703464.

chanukah3_player.jpg 

This year Chabad has a full schedule of Chanukah activities. Here is a sampling!

·         Mobile Menorah Parade: Tuesday, Dec 20 @ 7 PM (featuring the Happy Chanukah beads)

·         Latkes on Roller-skates: Wednesday, Dec 21 @ 4 PM (Airline Skate Country)

·         Chanukah @ Riverwalk: Thursday, Dec 22 @ 4:30 PM (featuring the Maccabi Torch & the Olive Press)

·         Israeli Chanukah Party: Saturday, Dec 24 @ 8 PM

·         Scavenger Hunt & Game Night: Sunday, Dec 25 @ 4:45 PM

We look forward to celebrating with you. For all of your Chanukah needs, including shopping, www.chabadneworleans.com/chanukah is your one stop shop.

I would like to extend our condolences to Yakir Katz upon the passing of his father Yekutiel Katz of Israel. Though I never met Yekutiel, from his son’s description he was a special and wise man that was loved and respected by all. May his life be an inspiration to his family!

This past Sunday was the funeral of Mrs. Paula King. Our warm greetings of comfort go out to her loved ones, the Galen, Belknap & Baum Families. Many wonderful things were shared about her extraordinary life. I will always remember Mrs. King as a person who carried herself with grace and dignity along with an ever-present smile on her face. My admiration is expressed to her family for helping her continue living with that very same grace and dignity in her elderly years, despite the many challenges that they faced. They are true examples of Kibbud Eim – honoring a mother.

Season’s (our season that is) greetings and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Parading in December?

Chanukah is around the corner. One of the unique elements of the way we observe Chanukah is that it is supposed to be visible. Our Menorah lights are to be seen by others. Some light in the doorway, others in the window; but the purpose is, to quote our sages, “Pirsumei Nissa – to publicize the miracle.”

Years ago the Rebbe began to advocate that Chabad hold public Menorah lightings (like the one we have here in New Orleans at the Riverwalk on Thurs, Dec 22). Public lightings significantly magnify the Pirsumei Nissa effect. A spin off of that idea is the Chabad Mobile Menorah Parade that is held all over the world. Electric Menorahs are mounted onto the roofs of cars and a parade of those cars rides around the city. Here in New Orleans we have been parading for over 10 years. Being in parade city, we do things a little different than everywhere else.Menorah Parade Float.jpg We throw dreidels and gelt to the bystanders. Back before Katrina we even had Mardi Gras World design a float for the parade. Over the last few years, in addition to uptown, downtown, French Quarter, we have expanded our route to include a few blocks of Frenchman St. in the Marigny.

IMG00345.jpgThis year Mardi Gras Zone has produced the Happy Chanukah from Chabad beads, which we will be throwing at this year’s parade on Tuesday, Dec 20. If you would like to participate there are two options. Option one is to purchase a Car Menorah. Option two is to purchase a Chanukah flag. The menorahs go for $225 plus shipping. He flags are $10. For more info or to purchase a Menorah or flag, please contact mendel@chabadneworleans.com.

Kinus 2011.jpgThis past weekend I attended the annual Chabad Shluchim Conference in New York, along with several thousand colleagues from around the world. (Photo credit Shmais News Service.)There were many wonderful moments and experiences, but here is one I would like to share with you. At the banquet, Rabbi Dr. Lord Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the UK, delivered a superb address. It has been captured on video and can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/1690783.

I would like to highlight two adult education opportunities coming up in the next two weeks. The first is Lunch N Learn this Tuesday, Dec 6 – 12 PM @ New York Camera – 705 Canal St. The topic is The One Percent: A Torah Perspective on Distribution and Redistribution of Wealth. Lunch is served and the class is open to all. rsvp@chabadneworleans.com.

The second is Kabbala for Young Jewish Professionals on Tuesday, Dec 13 – 8 PM @ the home of Peter Seltzer - 1720 Second St. The topic is The Kabbala of the Shema. The class is open to all Young Jewish Professionals. rsvp@chabadneworleans.com.

Mazel Tov to Tzivya (Kehaty) and Shloime Greenwald upon the birth of their daughter, Shoshana Shifra. A special Mazel Tov to the grandparents, Uzzi and Rivka Kehaty.

Wishing you a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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