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Taking a Cue from the Koreans

Jimmy Peterson walks into a Jewish Deli and asks Greenberg, who is standing behind the counter, "why are Jews so smart?" Greenberg answers, "it is because we eat a lot of schmaltz herring. And as a matter of fact, I have some here that I can sell you. It goes for $10 per lb." Jimmy buys the herring and leaves. A few minutes later he storms back in screaming, "you ripped me off. Down the block they are selling it for $5 per lb." Greenberg smiles and says, "you see, you are already getting smarter."

This week there was an article on YNET, an Israeli website, interviewing Young Sum Mah, the S. Korean ambassador to Israel. In the interview he pointed out that Koreans have taken up a fancy for Talmud study. They believe that it is the study of Talmud that makes Jews so accomplished intellectually. Most homes in Korea, he declared, own a copy of a Korean translation of Talmudic passages and it is taught by the mother to the children. They believe that the values of traditional Judaism, respect for elders, the obligation upon parents to educate their children, are highly cherished in Korea. He claims that he owns two copies of the Korean Talmud, one a gift from his mother, and the second one from his wife.

Whether or not it is the Talmud that is responsible for the disproportionate number of Jewish Nobel Laureates, the Torah is described as "your wisdom and insight in the eyes of the nations." We Jews would do well taking a page from the Koreans and dedicating ourselves to the the wealth of wisdom that can be uncovered during the study of Torah. Whether it is a class in Chumash, Talmud, Halacha or Mysticism, the Torah leaves one changed forever. There are so many opportunities to study - in a class, alone, or online - there is something there for every taste and preference. Find out what it is that fascinates the Korean people, who seem more interested than some of our own folks.

Last night I had the opportunity to offer the invocation at the Hornets game (pictures in gallery - photo credits - Morris Bart). It was a great experience to see how much hard work and effort goes into the coordination of just the ceremonies around the game itself. In the 20 seconds that I was alloted - in addition to blessing the city and praying for the safety of the players, I succintly shared a lesson that the Rebbe derived from sports. "To recall the ongoing game being played in the arena of our hearts between goodness and selfishness. To remember that in real life, as in sports, success follows effort and the team that plays best, wins."

After the game a group of non-Jewish fans were back-slapping me and jokingly attributing the successful outcome of the game to the prayer. I joked back that they should call me back for the playoffs. It was all cool.

We express our condolences to Chabad Metairie Youth Leader, Shoshi Biggs upon the loss of her grandmother, Mrs. Bryna Biggs. 

Purim Recap and Photos

We are coming off of an amazing Purim and I would like to share some highlights with you. You can also click on the photos below and be taken to our Photo Gallery or go to www.chabadneworleans.com/1428687. On Saturday night we had the Megillah reading in both Chabad Uptown and Metairie. After the reading of the Megillah, during the party, a satirical comedy video, produced by Shane Schreiber, was shown. To see the video click here.

In the morning after the Megillah reading the Purim Shuttle got into full swing with an army of volunteers. I would like to thank Ahava Lang along with Eitan and the family for their dedication to the Purim Shuttle. I also want to thank the volunteers who helped assmble and deliver. Marcy Fertel, Ksenia Borowski, Rivkah Kehaty, Rabbi Zelig & Bluma Rivkin, Mali Karni, Tamar Markovich, Toni Weiss, Dr. David Kaufmann, Morris Lew & crew, Mushka Rivkin & crew, Brooke Weiss, Judy Newman, Mazal Avitan, Bleama Schaffer, Sharon & Myron Katz, Jill Halpern, Dimitry Lukashov & crew and Shane Schreiber.

We have been receiving beautiful feedback from so many people about this wonderful project. It has really accomplished its goal of friendship and brotherhood as the Megillah states.

Throughout the day there were Megillah readings around town. I had the pleasure of spending some time at Ochsner Hospital with our new-found friends, Shmuel and Avia Katz along with our newer-found friends Yehudah and Matan Peretz. My son Sholom and Daniel Gale accompanied me. We read the Megillah in Yehudah's hospital room and then Daniel broke out his fiddle and started an impromptu Kumzitz. Nurses were coming from all over the floor to clap along and celebrate Purim with Yehudah and his son. It was real sense of bringing Purim joy to a place that was otherwise quite somber. You can see some photos from the room in the gallery compliments of Avia Katz.

Purim evening brought the Purim Pirates celebration at Chabad Metairie. A talented team of volunteers headed by Rodney Alcerro and Shane Schreiber transformed Chabad Center into a Pirate themed area. A massive Pirate Ship was front and center. All of the food stations had pirate themed signage. Pirates of all sorts converged upon the party. A costume contest was held and 6 great prizes were awarded to the best dressed adults. The Panorama Jazz Band put on a show worthy of their name. The food and drink were plentiful and delicious. The children were entertained at their own program by Chana Vidal & Shoshi Biggs allowing the adults to have a great time!

Speaking of children's programs, Chaya Inglis, who was one of the youth coordinators at Chabad Metairie last year, gets a big Mazel Tov upon her engagement to Zalmy Wolfe of New York.  

We also wish a hearty Mazel tov to Michele and Adam Stross upon the Upsherin of their son Aaron this week. May they continue to derive much joy and nachas in raising him.

Purim: Our Lifeline to Maintaining Sanity!

This morning I was visiting with a friend who is a member of our community and we were talking about everything that is going on in the world. He observed that the world seems to be shaking - literally and figuratively. There is the terrible loss of life in Japan - first the earthquake & tsunami and now the potential nuclear situation - which comes on the heels of the New Zealand earthquake and destruction. The world is once again involved in a rescue and relief effort. (For an option to support relief efforts in Japan visit JapanJewishRelief.com.) 

Throw in the unrest all around the Middle East and the way some of the regimes are handling it. Then you mix in the horrific murder of the Fogel family in Itamar. (Calling the terrorists animals is an insult to the animal kingdom. This is a savage and barbaric act; and the reaction in Gaza was no less disturbing.) Each of the events is enough to shake a person up. Add them all together and you are left wondering how we are to retain our sanity.

During the course of our discussion we concluded the only solution is to find something that is steady and consistent and hold on tightly while weathering the storm. I suggested that family and religion were the types of things that can keep us during these tough times. One appreciates what is usually taken for granted. The safety and serenity of the home and family is an oasis of normalcy. Equally if not more important is our connection to our Judaism. The traditions and rituals can keep us anchored in turbulent waters. A Shabbat, Torah study, daily prayer and of course holidays such as Purim.

Our obligation to observe Purim with all of its customs and traditions can transform and uplift us during trying times such as the ones in which we live. The need to be joyous and happy. The need to get busy with Mishloach Manot and Purim parties. All of these help us retain our sanity during the crazy times.

A Chassidic master once gave the following analogy for the times before the final redemption. Imagine that you are hanging in the air clinging to a rope for your very survival. Then someone comes along and shakes the rope violently. How much more desperately will you have to hold on to the rope in order to survive? He explained that the challenges to our faith in the last phase of exile will feel like the rope to which we cling, is being yanked around in an attempt to throw us off. But we will survive. We will be successful in overcoming those challenges by remaining faithful to our G-d and His Torah despite all efforts to tear us away. In doing so we will merit the relief that is the complete redemption through Moshiach.

This Purim we cannot afford not to celebrate for all we are worth. It is vital to our very sanity and survival. Join us for one or all of Chabad's Purim celebrations on Saturday and Sunday night. It is a lifeline that Hashem is throwing to us. Let's make sure to hold on tightly ensuring that we not only survive, but that we come out marching with confidence to the days of Moshiach.

We extend condolences to Sue Halperin upon the recent loss of her son, James S. Suber.

We wish a hearty Mazal tov to Jun (Yonah) Miyamoto upon his recent engagement to Sherry Malka Brachfeld, with additional prayers for the safety of his family in Japan.

Freeing Mordechai from the Gallows

The Mishna states, "one who reads the Megillah retroactively (back to front) doesn't fulfill the Purim obligation." The Baal Shemtov interprets this to also mean, that one must not read the story as something that took place in the past (retro), but rather as it is happening now. In other words the Megillah must be relevant to us at all times.

In the Megillah, Haman comes to the king and makes the following accusation against the Jews. "There is one nation, spread and scattered throughout the nations, and their customs are different than all other peoples. They do not follow the customs of the king, and so, it is not worthwhile for the king to protect them." Later in the story, he wants Mordechai hung on a gallows because he refuses to bow to Haman as the custom of Shushan dictates.

Based on the Baal Shemtov's teaching of personalizing the Megillah, we must conclude that there is a Haman that makes the same attempt today. Of course there are the global Hamans, the Ahmedinijads, the Gadhafis etc., who seek to destroy us. I am referring however, to the Haman within - known as the Yetzer Hara - evil inclination - that seeks to lead us astray from our path of serving our G-d.

The internal Haman claims, that for Jews to make it in today's world, they need to stop being different. They need to adopt the customs of "the king" and adapt to the ways of society. We musn't be too Jewish - sticking out like a sore thumb. We will never be accepted if we cling to our old ways.

We all have a Mordechai in our family history. A grandfather that was a pious Jew, maybe a Rabbi or Talmud scholar, with a long white beard and very visible Jewish garb. Most of us are nostalgic when we think of our ancestors' religious lives. Many of us even consider that somehow our lives would be more fulfilled if we were more like our Zeides and Bubbes. So what does the internal Haman do to combat these feelings? He seeks to have Mordechai hung up. He knows that we will not obliterate this Mordechai from our memories. So he says, let's find a nice place on the wall. Then we will frame him and hang him up (double entendre). Now, says Haman, you can look at him and feel good, but he is high enough on the wall where he won't inspire you to any real change.

This Purim let us free the Mordechais in our life from off the gallows upon which we have hung them. Purim is about re-establishing our bond with Hashem and being proud of who we are, despite the Hamanic attempts against us.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to Mr. Arnie Fielkow and his family upon the loss of his father, Mr. Jack Fielkow, may his memory be for a blessing.

We extend a hearty Mazel Tov to Tomer and Michal Monfred upon the birth of their daughter! 

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