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Birthday Musings / Remembering Mrs. Inge Elsas

By Divine Providence the birthdays of my wife and two of our children are being celebrated this week. Celebrating birthdays is a relatively recent phenomenon in the Jewish world. King Solomon noted in Kohelet “Better the day of death then the day of birth.” For when a person passes we know what their life was like and we can “celebrate” it, but at birth it is still unknown. In fact one of the only birthdays mentioned in the Torah is that of Pharaoh. So what exactly are we excited about.

I think we can get some insight from the Rebbe’s birthday blessing. Usually we say Happy Birthday or many happy returns, which really only focus on the day itself and the fact that the person is still alive. The Rebbe’s wish is Shnas Hatzlacha – have a year of success. Here the emphasis is not just on the day itself but also on the year of which it is the head. Birthdays then, are like a personal mini Rosh Hashanah. Indeed it is a time to contemplate what was achieved over the past year as well as what needs to be accomplished in the year to come. Celebrating a birthday sets the tone for how the year will go. The potential to soar and accomplish so much this year is before the person – we are confident that the opportunity will be utilized. So happy birthday Malkie, Sholom and Devorah Leah, have a successful year!

On a more somber note, our family is still reeling from the news of the passing of Inge Elsas. She was our neighbor for seven years and our friend for another seven after that. Mrs. Elsas was one of the first people we met when we moved (back) to New Orleans in 1998. She lived downstairs. Within moments of meeting her we realized that we were very lucky to have her as a neighbor. She loved our children and acted as a bubby to them – and they loved her in return. She watched them grow and participated in their special moments. We spent many holidays together – socializing in our backyard Sukkah, lighting Chanukah candles together and more. The children spent many hours on her S. Liberty St. porch even after we moved. She sang with them, planted with them, played with them and taught them so many life lessons. We were privileged to participate in the quilt that was created for her a few years ago. She proudly brought it to our home to show it to us after she received it. Mrs. Elsas spoke at our daughter’s Bat Mitzvah and was a featured speaker at another daughter’s graduation. She never missed a Simcha – most recently she attended our son’s upshernish.

We always marveled at Inge’s attitude to life. She was youngest and busiest 96 year old you will ever know. To book some time on her calendar was a feat. She got herself around and served as an amazing role model to the elderly. She attended meetings and events despite not being able to drive. The street car drivers all knew and loved her. She had so many friends who felt honored to give her a ride. She never stopped learning or teaching. Her love for Judaism was exceptional. Each year the Chanukah Mobile Menorah Parade would detour past her home so she could come out and wave as we drove by. These last few years, after she moved to St. Charles Ave, she would stand out in front of her apartment complex and watch.

This past Sunday night at the Holocaust Memorial event, I saw Mrs. Elsas from afar. After the program I jumped out of my seat to go over and say hello. Due to the volume of people, moving through the room was not easy and she was gone by the time I got there. I felt bad but I figured I would see her somewhere else soon. Alas…. just a few days later we heard that Mrs. Elsas has passed away. Farewell Mrs. Elsas. May G-d watch over your soul as you enter the next phase of your busy life in Heaven.

My family joins me in extending our sympathies to her children Mimi, Loyd, and Byron, her niece Irene, and the many relatives and friends who are mourning the loss of this incredible person, Mrs. Inge Elsas, whose memory is a blessing.

Mazel Tov to Avi and Susannah (Palmer) Schild upon the birth of their son, Gavriel Noam. Congratulations to the grandparents Richard and Maria Palmer.

The ladies Pirkei Avot class will be held at 5:30 on Shabbat afternoon at 919 Broadway. Simultaneously there will be a Mesibos Shabbos – Shabbat program for children at Chabad House – 1216 Broadway.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Lessons Learned on the Road

Earlier this week our family returned by car from our visit to New York for Passover. The two day drive with just me and the kids (Malkie went by plane), was quite an adventure. It is fascinating to see what kids are excited by (cows on Tatty’s side; horses on Sara’s side). We have done this trip numerous times and the same landmarks still perk them up (model Amish couple in Shartlesville, PA, model Statue of Liberty in Birmingham, AL). We are well versed in which rest stops are clean and pleasant and which are better to avoid. One of the biggest challenges in taking young children (like 3 and 5 year olds) on long trips is their difficulty with long-term goals. Usually by the time we get on to the twin spans they are already asking “when are we going to be in NY?” Once we explain that we are going to drive, stop in a hotel for the night, and then go to NY tomorrow, they want to know “are we almost at the hotel?”

The good thing is that aside from the “are we there yet” questions they have the ability to live in the moment and not just be focused on the destination. For them, the trip itself is enjoyable – not just a means to get to NY or back to NOLA. In light of the Baal Shemtov’s instruction to derive a lesson from every encounter in life, here are my thoughts.

We are now in the 49 day period of counting the Omer. Ultimately the intention is for us to count down towards the time of Revelation at Sinai (Shavuot – the giving of the Torah). However the Chassidic masters point out, that if that were the only point then it would make more sense to count down from 49 to 1 – counting how many days are left until Shavuot. Why do we count up from 1 to 49 – counting the days that pass? Therefore, they conclude, there is value in ensuring that the days themselves “count.” In other words, we should never view the steps in a process as only a means to an end. Each one has significance.

To put it in Chassidic parlance, “a serious person, wherever he is – he is there in his entirety.” The fifth Chabad Rebbe made this quip when he observed his Chassidim rushing through a song in order to get to the teaching that would follow. He pointed out that if the nigun was necessary, then it needs to be sung with full dedication and not just as a means of getting to the teaching. The same is true of the Omer. Each day must count and be valuable. Of course our eyes are on the destination and from time to time we ask “are we there yet,” but we must make sure that the present is significant as well. Therefore we say “Today is twelve days, which is one week and 5 days of the Omer,” to show that it is not just about getting to 49, but that 12 is also important.

Mazel Tov to Sion and Bracha Daneshrad upon the birth of a granddaughter to Netanel and Tova.

Mazel Tov to Mike and Lynne Wasserman upon the birth of twin grandchildren to Mr. and Mrs. Danny Wasserman.

Our condolences to Alexander Shporer and his family upon the untimely passing of his brother Zachary.

Our condolences to Ronald and Stephen Shapiro and families upon the passing of their mother Dorothy.

Our condolences to Elaine Perl and family upon the passing of her mother.

May we only share good news!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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