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Putting a bow on 2012

A man was walking down the street in Israel and encountered a fruit tree whose branches were hanging over the fence of the orchard. He picks a fruit, recites the blessing and begins to eat. All of a sudden the owner comes running and screams, “sir, don’t you know that Torah says ‘you shall not steal’?” The man smiles and declares, “ah, Israel, such a wonderful land… you can enjoy a good fruit and hear a dvar Torah at the same time.”

In a similar vein, America is a wonderful country. When you give Tzedakah, not only do you get a Mitzvah, you get a tax deduction at the same time (though some of those rules may change in 2013). When your Tzedakah is given to Chabad you also benefit from knowing that your contribution will efficiently utilized, maximizing the application of those funds for local programming with minimal overhead costs.

Clearly we are living in difficult economic times. Finances are tighter than ever for all of us. I know first-hand that many of us are making less while everything is costing more.

Chabad of Louisiana depends on charitable contributions from individuals and corporations to cover our budget. We do not receive any funding from Chabad nationally nor do we send any funding to our national organization. Every dollar raised here stays here.

I turn to you, my dear friends and community, for help at this time. Please do the best you can for us so that we can continue offering our vital educational and social programs to the New Orleans community and region. We have been responsible, and extremely watchful of every dollar spent. Chabad has always been known for stretching a dollar and we are now stretching that same dollar to new tensions. We need you! There are just a few days left. Please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/donate and make a year-end contribution.

Please G-d, together we will get through these challenging times and once again enjoy prosperity and success. May you and your loved ones be showered with Hashem's blessings for all that is good and joyous. Thank you for your friendship and support.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

A Tribute to my Grandmother

Just a few days before Chanukah, our family suffered the loss of my grandmother, Rebbetzin Miriam Gordon. Bubby Gordon had been living with my parents since the fall of 2011 and many of you came to know her during that time.

My grandmother was born in the Haarlem section of New York shortly after her parents immigrated to the USA from Russia. Her family was one of the first Chabad Chasidic families to come across the pond. Her father, Rabbi Eliyohu Simpson was a prominent figure in the Chabad movement – serving in important roles under three Rebbes during his lifespan. The home in which she was raised was permeated with the teachings and ways of Chabad. When the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe visited the US in 1929, he stayed in their home for much of the time. When the Rebbe returned to the US to live in 1940, Rabbi Simpson became part of his close inner circle. My grandmother shared with me her memories of being taken out of school to go to the pier to greet the Previous Rebbe upon his arrival. She had been privy to things for which the greatest Chassidim would give anything to have experienced.

Upon her marriage to my grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Gordon, in 1945, they were sent by the Previous Rebbe to Springfield, MA to start a Jewish school and then a few years later to Newark, NJ, where he served as Rabbi of Congregation Ahavath Zion for over 50 years until his passing. My grandparents were very dedicated to cause of Torah and Mitzvot and had little regard for personal comfort. As newlyweds they lived a one room apartment in Springfield. When a Meshulach (a charity collector) came to town – he would stay with them in their one room place – divided by a sheet hanging in the middle.

In addition to raising her children, my grandmother was very involved in the Newark (and later Maplewood), NJ Mikvah and women’s Chevra Kaddisha. Their home was open to all kinds of guests that were not welcome anywhere else. My mother has memories of her parents caring for the strangest needy people – sometimes to her and her siblings’ chagrin.

My grandmother lived a very full life and was blessed by Hashem to see her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren following in the ways of their family. She was always busy with many projects and activities on behalf of numerous Jewish institutions.

However, at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, in my opinion, the central focus of her life, more than all of the other projects and activities, was being there for my grandfather and making sure that everything was in place for him to do his important work. He was a Rabbi, teacher and chaplain at two hospitals, Beth Israel and St. Barnabas. His day began before 5 AM and ended well after the last Minyan and class at the Shul. She saw to all of his needs thereby ensuring that he was able to go about his day and work – without concern. She approached this task with the same sense of holy purpose that high-Priest in the temple would approach bringing the incense on Yom Kippur. In his eyes she was an equal partner in everything he did, for without her he could have never accomplished all that he did.

Of all the things I will remember about her, this is the one that leaves greatest impression. It reminds me of the Talmud’s account of Rabbi Akiva declaring to his disciples “what is mine and yours is really hers,” that their ability to achieve greatness in Torah was due to his wife’s dedication.

Bubby Gordon certainly leaves a legacy for her family and all who were touched by her life. We are proud to be following in her footsteps.

Mazel Tov to Harry Borowski upon his engagement to Tova Shimunova.

Heartfelt condolences to Borenstein family upon the passing of Mrs. Isak (Pola) Borenstein. My family and I enjoyed Mr. and Mrs. Borenstein’s genuine friendship and we will miss her.

The Torah Academy family mourns the passing of Mr. Sherman Wayne Arnold, longtime principal of the school. Our thoughts are with his dedicated wife, Mrs. Ann Arnold. Mr. Arnold left an indelible mark upon the lives of his students. When the news of his passing came yesterday, their Facebook accounts were filled with warm words and memories of this gentle man who was loved by all.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Chanukah 2012 Recap

Chanukah 2012 was an amazing (and exhausting) experience. Before I recap Chabad of Louisiana’s Chanukah programs, I want to express my horror and sorrow over what took place in Newtown, CT. My cousin Sholom Deitsch, Chabad Rabbi in nearby Ridgefield, put it this way in an exchange with CT governor Dannel Malloy, who asked, “Rabbi, today is Chanukah, it was supposed to be a brighter day.” Rabbi Deitsch replied, “Chanukah is a time that light overpowers the darkness. We will get through this as a community, but for the families, the tragedy is unfathomable. We will be there for them."

 

December 6: A Pre-Chanukah Jewish Women’s Circle event. The event featured Letters of Light – the art of Anna Gil, music by Ruth Navarre, a workshop on essential oils and creams by Jen Sachs and an inspiring talk on Chanukah by Malkie Rivkin. Pictures can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/2076544.

December 8: On the first of Chanukah a party was held at Chabad Metairie for Israelis. There was a great turnout for the BBQ and social event. The Menorah was kindled by Dr. Gideon Levy, a patient awaiting a liver transplant at Ochsner. Pictures can be viewed at www.jewishlousiana.com/2073030.

December 9: On the second night of Chanukah, Chabad Metairie held their annual Dairy Dinner and Game Night. Once again a great time was had by all both at the pre-party scavenger hunt and the event itself. Pictures can be viewed at www.jewishlouisiana.com/2073143.

December 10: Chabad @ Tulane held a Public Menorah Lighting on the Quad – over 150 students were in attendance and there were hot latkes for everyone. Later that evening the JCC held their annual dinner and concert – which is always well attended.

December 11: Chanukah @ Lakeside debuted with a bang. Well over 350 crowded into the Pottery Barn Entrance to the mall. The was a hot latke bar, crafts and face painting for the children, “make a change” Menorah collecting for hurricane Sandy and southern Israel relief, Chanukah beads courtesy of Mardi Gras Zone, a dance revolution machine, and Jewish music filling the area. Mentally Hyp’s Paul David Carpenter entertained young and old alike with his magic show. MC Marisa Kahn introduced a very enthusiastic Jefferson Parish President John Young who welcomed the celebration to Metairie and emphasized that it was a regional celebration that drew participants from the MS gulf coast to Lafayette and Monroe. Johnny Lake brought warm greetings on behalf of Federation and Rabbi Zelig Rivkin spoke on the theme of the evening. Jill Halpern addressed the Make a Change Menorah concept asking for everyone’s participation in that worthy cause. Morris Bart then ascended to kindle the 11ft Menorah while Haim Dahan sang the blessings. There was an electric feeling in the room and everyone sensed that this would be the beginning of something special. If you enjoyed the event please email your appreciation to Lakeside Marketing Director, David Colomb - david@lakesideshopping.com or call 504-835-8000. Pictures can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/2076544.

December 13: The Celebrity Chef Latke Cookoff for Young Jewish Professionals was held at the Uptown JCC in cooperation with Moishe House. Over 65 young adults participated in a great event. Featuring chefs from Domenica, Boucherie and Café Hope, the latke presentations were outstanding. Against the backdrop of great food and beverages, a Menorah lighting and the cookoff contest, several prizes, including a Google Nexus, 2 Art Menorahs and a Handbag, were raffled off and a game of human bingo was thoroughly enjoyed. In the end the five judges determined that Melissa Marie Martin of Café Hope was the winner, with Nathanial Zimet of Boucherie and Allison Birdsall of Domenica hot on her heals. Pictures can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/2076544.

December 15: The Mobile Menorah Parade definitely made it into the twitter world as dozens of French Quarter and Marigny partygoers were delightedly snapping and uploading pictures of the Mobile Menorah Parade that ran this past Saturday night. An after party was held at Chabad Uptown for the parade participants!

For me two very meaningful Chanukah interactions that I had were on Facebook. The first: After I posted a picture of a Menorah in front of the offices of New Orleans Carriage Cab, a woman that I know posted back a picture of her own Chanukah menorah saying “Menorah at my house. Thanks to Chabad I have candles :-).” The second: A friend of mine is traveling in India this month. Before he left I gave him two Menorah and candle sets, telling him to use one and give the second to a Jew that he finds in India. One night of Chanukah he posted a picture of him lighting his Menorah. When I commented on that picture he replied, “and I found another Jew in Jaipur to give the other menorah to!”

I hope you had a happy and meaningful Chanukah as well. Enjoy the photos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

The real message of Chanukah

As we get set to celebrate Chanukah, there is a question that needs to be addressed. Why do the observances of Chanukah focus primarily on the miracle of the oil while the miracle of the battle is relegated to a reference in the prayers that we add?

 

One of the explanations is that the primary struggle of the Chanukah story was not with the physical persecution but rather with the spiritual and intellectual challenges of Greek culture. Long before the Syrian-Greek army marched in to Jerusalem the struggle for the heart, mind and soul of the Jewish people. For the first time in their history there was an intelligent challenge to Jewish thinking and Jewish life. It was the struggle between the rational and super-rational, between body and soul. The Greeks could not accept a relationship with a G-d that transcended reason. We say in the V’al Hanisim passage that they attempted “to make us forget Your Torah, and to turn us away from the Chukim (statutes) of Your will.” They were content to let the Jews retain their culture but they did not appreciate the blind faith and dedication to a G-d and Torah that could not be entirely understood. Many Jews became Hellenized and joined forces with the Greeks.

The pure oil in the Menorah represents this ideal and that is why they destroyed the oil. For this reason the miracle of the oil – representing the ultimate pushback against the Greek attempts – is so significant. The battle was only a secondary means by which they attempted to impose their way. Therefore it is celebrated as secondary to the miracle of the oil.

Chanukah is a celebration of our super-rational dedication to Hashem and the Maccabees resistance to assimilation – forced or otherwise.

It will be a very busy week of Menorah lightings, concerts, Latke cook-offs, parades, parties and scavenger hunts. We hope you can join us for some or all of the events listed below.

My family joins me in mourning the loss of our grandmother, Mrs. Miriam Gordon, this week. I hope to share some thoughts about her after Chanukah, G-d willing. May Hashem comfort her children among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom and a very happy and meaningful Chanukah.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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