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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

What is Chabad

By now you have heard that next Thursday night we will be celebrating Chabad of Louisiana – 36 Years. I hope that you will participate in the celebration which will be held at Chabad Metairie on Feb 2 at 7 PM.

Many people view Chabad as a congregation (and an Orthodox one at that) within the New Orleans Jewish community. While we certainly do hold prayer services (at three locations), that by no means defines our role or our mandate. It is hard to place us into any particular box or category usually used to define Jewish institutions. We are not strictly a Synagogue, school or social service agency, though we are involved in all of those areas. Rather our mandate, which comes from the Rebbe, is that we seek to enhance Judaism in New Orleans, the state of Louisiana and the gulf-coast region, in any way that we can and in every area that is needed. More importantly we are here for any and every individual Jew in the community to assist them Jewishly in any way possible.

For some that means discovering the kind of Torah learning that is not accessible elsewhere. For others it is the Shabbat or holiday experience at a Chabad synagogue or home. Others appreciate our email and internet offerings or the literature that is mailed all over from Shreveport to Gulfport. Some enjoy the youth programs available for their kids. For many it is the non-judgmental listening ear that they know they will always find at Chabad. These are just some of the ways that Chabad is there for any Jew.

In addition to our in-house programs, we have also focused on two other areas that serve our goal of enhancing Judaism in any way we can. The first is working with other groups, agencies or entities. Just to name a few examples. Chabad has significantly contributed to the availability of Kosher food in New Orleans. We work with the local Kosher establishments as well as a good number of companies on ensuring the Kashrut of their products. Our Rabbis and members are very involved in the Chevra Kaddisha. We are active at Lambeth House in a number of ways including our monthly Shmoozing with the Rabbi program.

I am extremely proud of the fact that, as of 2011, our Living Legacy Workshops have been presented in every single Jewish school, synagogue and senior’s group from Lafayette to Biloxi. Thousands of children and adults have enjoyed our Shofar Factory, Olive Press, Torah Factory and Matzah Bakery workshops. This year we’re expanding to include the Mezuzah Factory thanks to a grant from the Jewish Federation.

The second area is finding the Jews that are not being reached or are underserved. We have made contact with Jews in small towns all over the region. We have discovered Israelis working in malls all along the coast. We are very committed to Jewish prisoners and Jews in the military. Let me share an anecdote. Some years ago we received word that an Israeli man had been arrested in St. Landry Parish. His brother in Israel called Chabad to see how we could help. My father and I visited him in Opelousas on our way to the Federal Prison in Oakdale, where I am a chaplain. We brought him Tefillin and Jewish literature and gave him a friendly face to look at and a shoulder to cry on. In the course of our visit, Yossi (the inmate) told us that his case was stalled; he was at the mercy of an apathetic public defender. We marched out of the prison/courthouse and walked down the street to the attorney’s office. As soon as he realized that this young man was not a faceless, nameless person without a friend in the world, he got on the case and Yossi was out on his way to Israel within three weeks. I shudder to think what could have been had we not met the lawyer. He may still have been in St. Landry Parish Prison until this day. In the past 36 years there have been countless stories of this nature.

Please know that we value our relationship with the many members of the community with whom we have interacted in varied capacities. We are very appreciative for the support that we have received from so many of you over the years. This celebration is as much about you – the community – as it is about us – the Shluchim families who staff Chabad. Let us rejoice together in all that we have accomplished as partners in this important venture – ensuring a Jewish tomorrow for New Orleans and the entire region. Most importantly let us take the opportunity to recommit to continuing our partnership in seeing this task to its fulfillment.

In New Orleans everything comes with a lagniappe. This celebration is no different. The lagniappe is hearing the great speaker, Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon (see last week’s blog for more). See you next Thursday. Let us know that you are coming! If you would like to help sponsor the evening contact Rabbi Nemes or myself or go to www.chabadneworleans.com/donate.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

An Exciting Speaker Coming to NOLA

Dear Friends,

I would like to share my excitement about the chance to hear a very engaging and witty speaker who is going to be in New Orleans in two weeks. This year we are marking 36 years since the establishment of Chabad in New Orleans. To celebrate, there will be a dinner and program on Thursday, February 2.

We are honored to have Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon addressing the event. Rabbi Gordon is my mother’s brother. But disclaimers aside, he is simply a fascinating orator. He has a marvelous sense of humor and an uncanny ability to get to the heart of an issue in a practical yet profound manner. He and his wife Deborah were appointed by the Rebbe in 1973 to be his emissaries to the San Fernando Valley outside of Los Angeles. In the nearly 40 years since then, they have overseen the development of Chabad into an empire of 25 centers serving the Jewish population of the valley. As his reputation spreads he has become a well sought speaker who has engaged audiences in South Africa, Australia, Israel, and all over North America. Two years ago he launched a live broadcast of his daily morning class on the Torah portion and Tanya. To date over 2,000 participants regularly “attend” his class. (It can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/903523.)

Rabbi Gordon will be addressing the topic: Unifying a Diverse Nation – the Rebbe’s Approach. It promises to be a compelling talk by a captivating speaker. The event is open to the public and I encourage you to seize the opportunity to be regaled and inspired.

During the event there will also be a presentation by Vivian Cahn, Amy Shapiro and Gershon Schreiber, who will share what their relationship with Chabad in Louisiana has meant to them.

“One Community – 36 Years” will be held at 8 PM on Thursday, Feb 2 @ Chabad in Metairie. There is no charge to attend. We are seeking sponsors “from $36-$360;” and all sponsors will be listed in the program. Please contact Rabbi Nemes or myself regarding sponsorship. We look forward to celebrating together.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Having a Conversation with Him

Several years ago I had the occasion to meet a member of our government who was assisting me with something. As we were parting I thanked him for his help and the gentleman, who was not Jewish, said to me, “Rabbi, next time you talk to Him, mention me.” Of course I agreed, and I prayed for his welfare at the next time for davening (prayer) that day.

As I thought about his request I began to wonder how many Jews think of prayer services as an opportunity to “talk to Him.” I started considering how lucky we were that we have this amazing opportunity to have a personal relationship with Hashem. Not only that, He gives us specific times that He actually welcomes and awaits our “conversation with Him.” Indeed Judaism designates three times for prayer each day. Imagine if we viewed these prayer times as a chance to have a one-on-one up close and personal chat with Hashem.

Of course G-d hears the prayers of anyone who calls to Him, but we Jews have been told that the door is open three times a day for a guaranteed conversation. If only we saw “davening” for what it is, and not as a burden to get over with each day, or to be relegated to a weekly obligation, or to be disregarded entirely.

In a similar vein, I have been thinking about the place that a daily Minyan is supposed to occupy in a Jewish community. In addition to giving a venue for this special chance to talk to Hashem, it gives us the added ability to do so as a group. There are parts of the service that can only be recited with a Minyan. There is a Jew from NY that visits New Orleans regularly on business. Praying with a Minyan is so central to his day, that he calls in advance of each trip to ensure that his flight itinerary will be conducive to Minyan attendance. He will not schedule a meeting if it prevents him from praying with a Minyan. I admire his commitment but it makes me ashamed of the struggles we have in New Orleans to maintain our daily Minyan.

It is hard to believe that in a community of thousands it is often a struggle to get ten men in the morning or evening to come to Shul for their “conversation with Him.” I hope that sharing these thoughts will inspire a resurgence of Minyan attendance. We are looking for a “few good men” to come to Chabad Uptown in the morning or Chabad Metairie in the evening. If you would like to learn more about Minyan schedules and consider committing to attend on one or two days a week, I would welcome the chance to hear from you.

The Talmud speaks of the verse “I called but there was no answer” to be referring to G-d peeking in on a Shul at Minyan time but there is nobody there. Please help us ensure that New Orleans does not become such a place. Seize the chance to “talk to Him” at His place while He awaits your visit.

Mark your calendars on Thursday, Feb 2 @ 7 PM @ Chabad Metairie for “One Community – 36 Years,” celebrating 36 years of Chabad in Louisiana. The event features dinner and a talk by Rabbi Joshua B. Gordon of CA, along with a special presentation by several members of the New Orleans Jewish community. More information will be forthcoming in the next few days. If you would like to rsvp or sponsor this event from $36 to $360 – please contact mendel@chabadneworleans.com or rabbi@jewishlouisiana.com.

Mazel Tov to Stephen Blitz and Mery Beit-Halahmi upon their engagement. We wish them all the best for a very happy life together as the build a new branch of the Jewish nation.

Mazel Tov to Toby and Nadiv Kehaty upon the upshernish (3rd birthday haircut) of their son, Zalman Yuda.

Mazel Tov to Sarah and Zav Attias upon the upshernish (3rd birthday haircut) of their son, Ezra.

Mazel Tov to Mr. and Mrs. Benny Naghi upon the birth of their son in Israel.

Mazel Tov to Ahava and Eitan Lang upon the birth of their daughter, Meira.

May they all have much nachas from their children as they raise them to Torah, chupah and good deeds.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

What can Tanya do for you?

Raise your hand if you have ever felt an urge to get more spiritual, or felt motivated to study more Torah and be more Jewishly committed, only to have that urge overtaken by laziness, melancholy, feelings of inadequacy, or inertia. I figured there would be a few hands up. The Yetzer Hara is, to quote the Talmud, “a professional at his trade;” knowing exactly what methods to use in squelching any possible moments of inspiration and prevent them from being practically implemented. So often we are touched by something, be it something we read, studied or experienced, which has us excited about a new mitzvah and class. But when it comes time to act, we are not in the mood, we don’t have the time or some other lame excuse. Funny how those excuses never come up when we are engaged in unimportant or insignificant things.

So how does one combat these commitment killing sensations? Many Torah disciplines address this issue from various perspectives. Tanya, the fundamental work of Chabad thought, provides an extensive program for dealing with these spiritual ailments. It is not a quick fix by any means. As a matter of fact, the author himself refers to this program as the “longer shorter way.” Longer, because it requires an investment of time and effort. Shorter, because once implemented it has staying power.

Forgive me for turning this into an advertorial… but I would like to talk about our weekly Tanya class. Each Wednesday evening at 8 PM, a group of us gather to read and discuss the Tanya using the commentary of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz. We have long adopted a no pressure approach in that we are content to move very slowly through the text in the interest of a greater appreciation for what is has to teach us. One of our members, Lou Furman, was recently interviewed by Chabad.org about his participation. You can read the entire article at www.chabadneworleans.com/1711493. Here are a few excerpts.

“Lou Furman started attending services at Chabad-Lubavitch of New Orleans because he was drawn by its intense focus on prayer and contemplation. Today, he reflects on how his weekly study of the Tanya has made a difference in his life. “The study of Tanya has allowed me to reconnect with my Jewishness,” he says. Learning Tanya and soaking in the wisdom of the Rebbe has provided lessons he shares with his wife each day after studying with his local rabbi. “The weekly program of study has deepened my understanding of my faith, broadened my knowledge of the Rebbe, and enhanced my spiritual life with my spouse,” details Furman.”

Several months ago, before Rosh Hashanah, we made a temporary change of course to focus on the aspects of Teshuvah. We are now returning to our original course, which has brought us to the Tanya’s solutions to dealing with the aforementioned struggles. We invite all of you to join us and explore whether it works for you.

The author, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, once walked into a house of study whose primary attendees were not inclined to the teachings of Chassidism. He pounded on the bima to get their attention and then declared in a singsong tone, “Ta’amu U’reu Ki Tov Havayeh, farzucht vet ir zen az der Aibeshter iz gut – taste and you will see that G-d is good.” What he meant was that without tasting for yourself – exploring the teachings of G-dliness and spirituality within Chassidism, one cannot know how good it is.

So in that spirit I pound on our proverbial bima and invite you all to “taste and see that G-d is good.” Join us on Wednesday evenings at Chabad uptown for a one hour discussion on Tanya’s solutions to many issues. Please let me know if you would like to come to a class so we can have copies of the material handy. I look forward to sharing this ride with you.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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