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Confessions of a Bar Mitzvah Teacher

Zach Greenberg was celebrating his Bar Mitzvah. At the reception his relatives and friends got up to present their gifts. One relative gave him a Siddur. Another gave a Chumash. The Rabbi gave him an umbrella, explaining that he knows the umbrella will definitely be opened.

Throughout my years at Chabad of Louisiana one of the more rewarding aspects of my work has been training Bar Mitzvah boys. Bar Mitzvah preparation is different than other types of teaching because it inevitably involves some memorization. For some it is memorizing the Trope (cantillation notes) for the words of the Torah portion or Haftarah. For many of the Chabad boys it is memorizing the Ma’amer (Chassidic discourse) that they will deliver at the Bar Mitzvah.

Teaching memorization involves providing the techniques and then being a motivator to ensure that the boy stays on schedule. While this may take up more Bar Mitzvah lesson hours, in my opinion, it is by no means the most important element of the training. Far more vital is training the boy to be a committed Jew. As a matter of fact, the Rebbe recommends that Bar Mitzvah teachers deemphasize the Torah reading and focus more on the laws and inspiration of what it means to be a responsible Jewish adult.

A member of our community shared with me that he was “Bar Mitzvah’d” in an Orthodox Synagogue, where he was trained to do a wonderful performance of Torah reading and Haftarah. However nobody ever mentioned anything to him about Tefillin. Years went by before he ever realized that they were something that people still used.

When I sit down with parents of a Bar Mitzvah boy to map out the strategy, I tell them that we will divide our lessons into three parts. One is the “performance.” The second is the laws of Tefillin and prayer, especially with a minyan. The third is inspiration on being Jewish. As the training goes on there is a point where one observes the “light go on” in the boy’s mind and heart. He begins to have a mature perspective on the nature of commitment to Torah and Mitzvah fulfillment. This more than anything is the most gratifying part of Bar Mitzvah training.

This week the New Orleans Jewish community lost one of its oldest members, Mr. Morris Bart, Jr. We express our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Hertha, his children, Buddy & Cathy and Vivian & Richard, and to the grandchildren. It is obvious that Mr. Bart and his wife have succeeded in passing on a legacy of devotion to the Jewish community as is evidenced by the wonderful deeds of their children.

Riverwalk 99 3.JPGI did not meet Mr. Bart more than once or twice, but I have one memory of him that I would like to share. At the Chanukah @ Riverwalk celebration in 2000 Chabad put together a ceremony, which we called “Passing the Torch of Jewish Continuity.” We had a number of people representing different generations symbolically pass the torch from hand to hand. Mr. Bart represented the generation of WWII veterans. I will never forget how he proudly walked across the stage with such dignity and strength (despite walking with a cane). He truly gave me a sense of what having fought in that war meant to him and what it ought to mean to us.

I am certain that his family will draw strength and comfort from the life he led. May G-d comfort them amongst the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Getting through the Summer Daze

As the summer rolls along and the most common greeting exchanged in town is “man is it hot!,” many of us are lulled into lazily plodding through the day while dreaming about late October and November. Frankly, it is hard to get pumped up about anything when the heat index reads 94 at 10 PM.

Still there are some exciting things going on at Chabad this summer that I would like to share with you. First of all the construction on Chabad Uptown’s Freret St. facility is coming along nicely. See the photos below (or at www.chabadneworleans.com/1428687). The spray foam insulation process is completed and the sheet rock is being installed. We have also begun painting the outside (you didn’t think we were going to leave it that yellowish-orange color?). We look forward to continued progress as we come closer to completion. Anyone interested in supporting the project is encouraged to contact Rabbi Zelig Rivkin – rabbi@chabadneworleans.com – to learn about dedication opportunities.

In August we are bringing back two adult education programs – oldies but goodies! Project Talmud is returning to New Orleans in its original form. Two senior Yeshiva students, Yosef Rivkin and Levi Gerlitzki, will be joining the community from Sunday, August 14-Sunday, August 21. They will be offering a wide range of classes and learning opportunities. There will be daily study sessions, lunch & learn, nighttime classes and lectures, as well as a chance to spend quality time studying as a Chavruta (paired with a partner) with one of the Yeshiva students. We are still developing the program and the schedule. Any suggestions would be welcome. There are sponsorship opportunities as well. Following their week in New Orleans Yosef and Levi will be traveling around the state meeting Jews in smaller Jewish communities.

The second is the 5 part Hebrew Reading Crash Course – back by very popular demand – which will begin on Monday, August 15. Participants that take the course and the homework seriously are assured to come away with some degree of reading proficiency. Details to follow in the coming weeks.

Tonight we are hosting another edition of Friday Night Live for Young Jewish Professionals with a Shabbat dinner at our home. Email mendel@chabadneworleans.com for details or check out facebook.com/mendelrivkin.

Mazel Tov to Sarah & Ilan Fuchs and family upon the bris of their son Asher Tzvi. Much nachas from him and Dina!

Mazel Tov to Robyn & Mordechai (Marc) Lehrer in Israel upon the upcoming Upshernish of their son Yishai, and a special Mazel Tov to grandparents, Gila & Sam Lehrer of New Orleans.

I want to personally thank Mrs. Inge Elsas for her participation in our daughter’s graduation (see photos) and for her words of wisdom. She has been a good friend and source of inspiration to our family for many years.

Graduation: Not the end, just the beginng

This coming week we will watch our oldest daughter, Chaya Mushka graduate from elementary school. What is unique about her graduation is that it will be from two schools; Torah Academy, which she has attended since pre-school, and the Shluchim Office Online School (for more on that see earlier post at www.chabadneworleans.com/blog - entitled Technology & Spirituality, Compatible?), which she attended part-time this year. For families such as ours, for whom a proper Jewish education is of paramount importance, our daughter’s 8th grade graduation is bittersweet because it means that we will be sending her out of town for high school.

A graduation is also called commencement, which means a beginning. In his many letters and addresses to graduates, the Rebbe always makes the point that the graduation is the just the end of one stage in the education process that leads to the beginning of the next stage. This point is also emphasized when it comes to the conclusion of the Torah reading cycle, where we immediately begin reading it over again. In that sense one never really graduates from the education process as it is truly a lifelong experience.

The close proximity of the graduation to Shavuot is also a source of inspiration in this regard. Though the Torah was given 3323 years ago on the 6th of Sivan, 2448, yet we are instructed to see it as a constantly renewing process. When we make the blessing upon being called for an Aliyah we refer to G-d as Notain Hatorah, the Giver of the Torah in present tense, because the giving of the Torah is not a one-time deal. In the Shema it states, “these words which I command you today shall be upon your hearts.” “Today” applies to each and every day, assuring that “the words which I command you” remain fresh as if they were just spoken.

Although it is tough to be separated from your 14 year old child, we take comfort knowing that as parents we are doing the best thing for our child by ensuring that her Jewish education will be optimal, thus giving her the tools to live life by these ideals. We wish her much Hatzlacha in her continued growth and her newfound identity as a Beis Rivkah High School student.

Mazel tov to Sarah and Ilan Fuchs upon the birth of their son. May they merit to enter him into the covenant of Avraham and raise him to Torah, Chupah and good deeds.

The Ultimate in Social Networking

The business related social networking company LinkedIn made a profit of $15.4 million last year. LinkedIn just “went public” and now it is worth billions. What attracts investors imagination is the POTENTIAL ability of LinkedIn to connect people and create community in whole new ways (and then make a buck or two on the deal).

Let me tell you about a unique social networking idea. The goal is to fundamentally change the world and the way humans interact with each other. If successful, this idea has the ability to eradicate hunger, stop wars, create a code of universally accepted shared values, and bring equality and justice to mankind.

I would like to invite you to join me on Wednesday at our place to share this amazing idea with you.

To be honest, this is not a new IPO, in fact you already own shares in it and most of you have inherited it by virtue of birth. I am talking about the Torah which was given to us by G-d 3323 years ago this Shavuot. Every year on the holiday of Shavuot we renew our acceptance of G-d's gift and G-d "re-gives" the Torah.

The social networking revolution is a concept that the Torah brought to the world thousands of years ago. The idea that we truly are all not only "friends" but family with every other human being and that there is unique value to each person has been in place for millennia. The notion that communities can be created across racial, tribal and ethnic lines, by living the shared values that G-d has given us, is something much of the world's population already believes to be true. No money is needed to implement these ideas, rather it takes a commitment to study the richness of Torah and implement its teachings into our life.

3323 years ago when the Torah was an IPO, we invested heavily and acquired many shares via our declaration of Naaseh V’Nishma – we will do and then we will listen. In doing so, we became “Areivim zeh lazeh” - responsible to our fellow shareholders – to encourage and inspire each other to keep our commitment. As shareholders we also have an obligation to be an “Or L’goyim” – to share these universal values with all people.

This Shavuot, as we gather at the annual shareholders meeting, let us reaffirm our dedication to the cause – the most valuable treasure that exists in the world – the Torah. We start on Wednesday at 11 AM. All sharegolders - young and old - are encouraged to participate. Lunch menu includes blintzes, cheesecake and ice cream. See you on Wednesday!

We welcome Johanna Esther Lorch to our world. Mazel Tov and best wishes to her parents Rachel Wolfson and Dave Lorch, for success in raising her to be a fine member of society and the Jewish people.

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Nemes upon joining the grandparents club, with the birth of their granddaughter Zelda, to Chaya Mushka and Mendel Ceitlin.

Mazel tov to Bleama (Ariella) Shaffer upon her engagement to Yisrael Kamen. May the merit to build a new branch of the Jewish nation with joy and blessing.

PS Thank you to my colleague - Rabbi Yossi Serebryanski for sharing this idea.

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