ChabadNewOrleans Blog

A Medical Miracle

Two months ago I received an email from a colleague in Omaha regarding an acquaintance of his that was coming to New Orleans for medical treatment. Rabbi Katzman, director of Chabad of Nebraska, shared with me that Shmuel Katz had spent some time in Omaha as a candidate for a liver transplant but was sent back to Israel after several months. Shmuel was now being admitted as a potential candidate at our own Ochsner Hospital's transplant unit. Rabbi Katzman was the Katz family's Jewish contact in the US, and he was contacting us to take up that role here in New Orleans.

Many of you may not be aware that Ochsner's liver and kidney transplant team has developed an international reputation thanks to their success. It just so happens that one of the team surgeons, Dr. Ari Cohen, is a good friend, and at a recent Shabbat dinner at our home, he gave us a broad overview of Ochsner's transplant program.

Shmuel Katz arrived in the company of his son Lior. I went to meet them at Brent House, the hotel that houses out-of-town patients and their families. Within a few days they were introduced to some of the Israelis in the community. Shmuel had to go through a battery of tests to determine whether he was a candidate for a liver transplant. He had been suffering from liver disease for almost a decade and his condition was deteriorating rapidly. He was only 57 years old but his condition made him appear considerably older. Lior and Shmuel spent Shabbat in the company of the Chabad Uptown community and the Kehaty family.

Shmuel's wife Avia, and older son Moshe, were scheduled to join him the following week, by which time they hoped to have a decision regarding his candidacy. Following the tests, the medical team determined that he was indeed a candidate and they moved him near the top of the "list." On Tu B'Shvat they got the call. A liver had been found and he was the top-ranked match. When the community got word, everybody took it to heart. Prayers were said in the Synagogue. The Torah Academy children recited Psalms, asking G-d to bless the work of the doctors and give Shmuel a full recovery.

The operation lasted 6 hours, from 9 PM to 3 AM. The surgical team had given it their all. Now the vigil began to ensure that the liver would be absorbed properly. As time passed it appeared that the operation was a success. The journey to recovery had begun. Visiting Shmuel in the days following the surgery, I observed that while he was still weak, there was marked improvement in his appearance, especially his color.

After a few days in the ICU, Shmuel was moved to the transplant recovery unit. After the requisite time in the hospital, Shmuel was released back to the hotel room in Brent House, while heShmuel Katz Tefillin.jpg remains in New Orleans under observation to ensure that everything progresses well. As a community, we have enjoyed getting to know Shmuel and Avia. They have been participating in community activities and Shabbat. It is wonderful to visit with them and spend time chatting. Several people got together to present the gift of a new pair of Tefillin to Shmuel (shown praying in his Tefillin in his Brent House room).

Shmuel Katz has much to be thankful for. Whereas two months ago his future seemed very bleak, he and Avia now look forward with great joy and anticipation to the birth of their first grandchild in May, along with other Simchas in their family. They are very grateful to G-d for the miracles He has shown them and to the medical team who were the agents for making the miracle a reality.

We are blessed to have witnessed this wonderful story and we wish Shmuel and his family all the best for good health, long life and happiness. May they always merit G-d's revealed blessings in their lives.

More on Adar and Spa Recap

Continuing last week's theme of joy in a double Adar, there is an interesting discussion in Jewish law regarding today's Hebrew date, the 14th of Adar I. Were this a regular year, we would be celebrating Purim today. Since it is a leap year, Purim is still a month away. However since this is the Purim day of Adar I, it is recommended to increase in our joy because of the association.

The discussion then moves on to tomorrow's date, the 15th of Adar I. In a regular year Adar 15 is called Shushan Purim. What about the 15th of Adar I? The great Halachic authority Rema - Rabbi Moshe Isserlin - maintains, that we should err on the side of joy, and he cites the verse from Proverbs, "A good hearted individual is always joyous." I think the New Orleans adaptation of that verse is "Laissez le bon temps roulez - let the good times roll." Since we are 30 day out from Purim it is definitely time to ramp it up! 

Speaking of good times... Over 50 ladies enjoyed a great time this past Sunday at the Taste of Spa for Body & Soul. It took place at Rital Olmo's Lower Garden District B&B, Fairchild House. Master event planner, Tammy Polatsek, who was in town to work on the set of the film Twighlight IV, created a beautiful environment, along with the committee, Malkie Rivkin, Sarah Fuchs, Michele Kaufmann, Jen Sachs, Ksenia Borowski and Batel Sharon. Many others contributed to the success of this event including, Malka Lew, Mali Karni, Alan Krilov, Rivka Kehaty and Bluma Rivkin.

In addition to food and relaxation, there were all kinds of activities. Aromatherapy, accupuncture, hair, make-up and waxing, Havdala candle making, henna tatooing, herb and spice creations, image and color consultation, Jewish birthdays, old-fashioned costumes, music, and yoga.

There were also a series of stunning Mitzvah displays: Kosher, Shabbat, Mezuzah, Mikvah and Tzedaka. After two hours of activities everyone gathered in the Breakfast room for the closing remarks and prizes. A great selection of prizes, gift certificates and gift packages were awarded to the winners.

Here are tidbits from the feedback received following the program. "The program was really amazing! Set up in such a beautiful, organized way and everything looked gorgeous. Everyone who came felt very special.  Even at 5:30 people were not in a rush to leave. Rita was charming and the venue was perfect!  The women loved the food and kept being drawn back to it."

"The setting was great and there were such interesting things to do in every corner!!  We have a lot of talented women in New Orleans!  The mitzvah displays were so well done. Thanks for a an inspiring and enjoyable day Sunday!"

"Thank you for including me. It was a joy and a pleasure to be involved in such a special program exclusively for women. The joy and the smiles on all the friendly faces were a welcome sight. I had a wonderful time and enjoyed this very much."

Click on the pictures below to see dozens of photos from the event. You can also view them at

The Jewish Women's Circle, a project of Chabad of Louisiana, looks forward to more special events for the Jewish women of New Orleans.

Double Dose of Adar Power

Since this year is a Jewish leap year we have the advantage of having two months of Adar – Adar I and Adar II. In Jewish thought, Adar is considered an auspicious month for Jewish people. Of course this relates to the joy associated with Purim. However this Purim joy permeates all of Adar.

There are two expressions in the Talmud about the auspiciousness of Adar. One is “When Adar enters we increase our joy.” The other is “Adar’s ‘Mazal’ is strong. Mazal is often translated as luck. However in this context, Mazal is a reference to the transcendent element of the soul. In other words during the month of Adar, our collective Jewish soul is more in touch with its transcendent element and thereby more infused by the spiritual energy associated with the Mazal. Kabbala teaches that this stems from the fact that our first leader Moshe – whose soul is connected to every Jew for all times – was born in Adar (today – Adar 7).

This idea finds expression in Halacha where a Jew is advised to schedule a potentially negative experience, such as a lawsuit with a non-Jew (some also include surgery), for a time during Adar. For the strength of our Mazal during this month will power us to success.

If this is the case with regards to a regular year, then when it comes to a leap year, during which there is a double dose of Adar, the power of Adar is also doubled, along with the Mazal it conveys.

This too finds expression in Halacha. There is a principle that is applied primarily in the area of kosher food called Bitul B’Shishim. Shishim means 60. When a drop of non-Kosher liquid falls into a kosher pot of soup, if the non-kosher substance is less in volume than 1/60th of the kosher soup, it is considered nullified and non-existent. In other words when the positive is 60 times greater than the negative it neutralizes and nullifies the power of the negative force. In a leap year, when we have two Adars, there are 60 days of Adar. These sixty days of joy and strong Mazal have the power to nullify all negatives in our lives individually and collectively. Let invoke the power of 60 days of Adar and capitalize on the double dose of Adar Mazal to do what we can to nullify all negatives. May Hashem bless us all with double health, double prosperity and double spiritual strength so that we can continue to find meaning in our lives and make the world a G-dly place unhindered by sadness and negativity.

Mazel Tov again to the Kaufmanns upon the Bris of Menachem Mendel, son of Shmuel and Rivky Kaufmann.

A True Story - Stranger Than Fiction


We often hear the expression "truth is stranger than fiction." I have a story to share that is a perfect match. It is a tale that combines amazing Divine Providence, selfless devotion to good deeds and the inexplicable sad story of a Jewish woman named Leah.

This week, through the efforts of several devoted members of our community, a Meis Mitzvah - a deceased person with no one to arrange their burial - was given a full Jewish burial. Leah Shpock-Luzovsky passed away in Jackson, LA. The only known relative, her Israeli brother Yitzchak Shpock, immediately contacted Chabad after he was informed by the Israeli Consulate of her passing. Uzzi Kehaty and Rabbi Zelig Rivkin worked diligently with Adam Stross, a member of the Chevra Kaddisha, to arrange for a Jewish burial. Sandy Lassen of the Chevra Kaddisha was involved as well with arranging the details. Marshall Gerson, of the Beth Israel Cemetery (an affiliate of Beth Israel Synagogue - president Roselle Ungar) graciously offered a free burial plot. In the end, the combined efforts of these and other devoted members of the community, ensured that Leah was given the optimum Jewish funeral & burial as she was escorted to her final resting place, with Rabbi Yossie Nemes officiating.

Who was Leah Shpock and how did she end up in Jackson, LA? How did Yitzchak know Chabad in New Orleans? Leah served in the IDF during the mid to late 1950s. Upon completing her army service she was awarded a full academic scholarship to Berkeley. Sometime during or after her four year stint at Berkeley, Leah experienced a severe mental breakdown. One can only speculate that the rampant hard core drug use in that era contributed to her situation. Somehow she wound up in New Orleans and lost all contact with her family in Israel.

In 2007 Yitzchak Shpock arrived at Louis Armstrong Airport looking for his sister, Leah, who had disappeared over 40 years earlier. The last known address he had for her was the Hummingbird Motel on Julia St. in Downtown New Orleans. As he took his place in the taxi line, Divine Providence took over. Of all the cab drivers in NOLA, he was picked up by an Israeli, Kotel Sadrusi. Kotel assessed the situation and brought Yitzchak directly to Uzzi Kehaty's New York Camera on Canal St. Uzzi arranged a place for him to stay - with a couple of young Israelis who were working in New Orleans. So after being in NOLA for 30 minutes Yitzchak already knew 5 people and all of the spoke Hebrew.

After settling in and getting to know the Chabad Uptown community, he headed to the Julia St. address that he had. The hotel no longer existed but some of the shop owners on the street seemed to remember an individual who fit Leah's description. One kind women, Martha Owens, took a real interest in helping Yitzchak track down his sister. It turns out that Leah was a New Orleans street personality well known as "the bead lady" for over three decades. Though she had not been seen on the streets for ten years, many people remembered her. Where was she now? It was like searching for a needle in a haystack. With the dedicated help of Julie Powers of the Coroner's office, who was helping to locate people that were missing since Katrina, the search began in earnest. Finally, using a lead from the Social Security Admin, Leah was located at the East Louisiana State Hospital - a state psychiatric ward in Jackson, LA. Martha Owens escorted Yitzchak to Jackson to see his sister. She was too ill to be moved to Israel.

Leah Shpock passed away last week. The "red tape" of government agencies did not allow them to make an oversees call. Finally Julie Powers was informed and she enlisted the Israeli Consulate who called Yitzchak. The wonderful people involved in helping Yitzchak find Leah, Martha Owens and Julie Powers, and those that arranged for her proper Jewish burial, were present at her funeral where they wrote the final chapter of this story of sadness, true kindness and Divine Providence.

One more thing we learn from this story is that no matter what a person looks like externally, inside there is a Neshama for which heaven and earth were moved to ensure that its final journey would be the one that a Jewish soul deserves. The individuals involved in this story shared with me how moved they are to be a part of the Divine Plan in helping another person in this way. May Hashem bless all of them in the merit of their Chesed Shel Emes - true kindness to someone that cannot reciprocate.

Mazel Tov to David and Nechama Kaufmann upon the birth of their grandson to Shmuel and Rivky Kaufmann this morning.

Mazel Tov to Judy and Gerald Newman upon the birth of their grandson, Noah (Nachman Yehudah) to Becca and Guy Bradley.

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