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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Fresh Torah, come and get it!

A mere few days have passed since the holiday of Shavuot, when we re-experienced Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah. The powerful connection that we have with the Torah should still be felt potently. As such it is an appropriate time to strengthen our dedication to the study of this precious gift that we were just given. When a person gets a new car, computer or smart phone, they excitedly spend time checking out the various features. We need to do the same with the Torah while it still retains the “new car smell.”

There are many opportunities for Torah study in town and online. I would like to highlight some of the Torah study opportunities at Chabad. Of course there are the course series associated with Jewish Learning Institute and Rosh Chodesh Society presented by Chabad Metairie. At Chabad Uptown we offer three weekly classes. 1. A weekly Torah portion class on Tuesdays @ 8 PM by Rabbi Zelig Rivkin. 2. A Exploring Jewish Mysticism on Wednesdays @ 8 PM by Rabbi Mendel Rivkin. 3. Ladies’ Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) on Shabbat @ 5:30 PM. We also have several monthly offerings. Breakfast with Maimonides is held on the first Sunday of the month at 8:45 AM (this weekend). Lunch N Learn Downtown NOLA and Kabbala for Young Jewish Professionals are also offered each month.

Please take advantage of these opportunities by participating in some or all of the classes. The Torah is fresh and warm – just out of the oven. Taste and you will see that it is good.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

P.S. Moish Pomeranc, who was in New Orleans last year for a liver transplant, asked me to share these words with the New Orleans Jewish community.

It's almost a year since I had my transplant, and over a year since we first came to New Orleans. At first, I was very hesitant to have my surgery away from home. I knew that it would take hours, and in Israel, we have our support system – family and friends who would look after Kohava during the ordeal.

However, after we arrived in New Orleans we became part of your community. Upon returning to Israel, my health started to deteriorate, I prayed that they would not find a donor here, enabling me to go back to N.O.

We were amazed at the friendliness and openness of the community and the doctors. We felt that we were part of a family and I told Kohava that I didn't worry that she would be alone for all those hours in the waiting room. We felt smothered with kindness and love. As soon as I was wheeled into the operation room, people started coming and didn't leave Kohava alone. I truly believe that my recovery with the help of Hashem, was also due to the people of the community and the doctors. When Shabbat came around and I had to stay in the hospital, Kohava saw that I missed being with you, as did she. You had come to be a large part of our lives.

We want to say now is, and I hope it isn't too late for this, thank you, to the doctors, and to all those people who helped us and made us feel at home. It's something that is never forgotten and we have told many people of the kind hearts that you all have.

We wish a good summer, Kayitz Tov as we say here and everyone should have a healthy and long life and a lot of nachas.

Kohava and Moish Pomeranc, Ofra, Israel

An Amazing Vigil

Dear Friends,

This past Tuesday night a group of us sat with the Levy family at Ochsner Hospital as their son Ofir underwent a liver transplant. What could have been a lonely scary time was transformed into a supportive experience permeated with Ahavat Yisrael. Thank G-d the surgery was successful and Ofir is hopefully on the way to a complete recovery. I don’t cease to marvel at team of surgeons and the manner in which they interact with the families of the patient. I once again highlight Dr. Ari Cohen for the true sense of caring that he projected throughout the evening.

Throughout the vigil I thought about how wonderful it is to be part of this community. People have really come forward to extend friendship and assistance to the Levys. This has made a real difference for them in their difficult time here in New Orleans. One of the most beautiful things of it all is how invested people have become in the situation. When Moshika Balaas, the Israeli Shaliach who has helped coordinate the chesed efforts, emailed about Ofir going through transplant, there was an outpouring of genuine happiness from everyone involved.

That day was Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the day about which the Torah says that the Jewish people encamped at Sinai as “one man with one heart.” We re-experienced that feeling as we sat together in the hospital waiting room. A quote from the angels finally approving G-d’s gift of the Torah to the Jewish people would sum it up – “Mi K’Amcha Yisrael” – who is like Your nation, Israel?

We look forward to celebrating Shavuot this weekend. I encourage everyone to make their way to Shul to hear the reading of the Ten Commandments on Sunday morning. If you are still looking for a place to go – you are most welcome at Chabad Uptown or Chabad Metairie. There will be a wonderful dairy Kiddush and Ice Cream Party after services at both locations. I also encourage you to participate in the all night learning on Saturday night. For more info: www.chabadneworleans.com or www.jewishlouisiana.com.

Mazel Tov to Michele and Adam Stross upon the birth of their son, whose Bris will be this Shabbat.

Mazel Tov to Daniella and Brian Bain upon the birth of their son.   

Mazel Tov to Dina and David Voskovsky upon the Upshernish of their son Yosef Moshe.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and meaningful Shavuot. May we merit to receive the Torah with joy and true sincerity.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Kudos to the Chevra Kadisha

I would like to give a hearty Yasher Koach to the Chevra Kadisha and Sandy Lassen for a great event this past Wedensday. The thought provoking lecture by Rabbi Elchonon Zohn of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha was very well attended by a nice cross section of the New Orleans Jewish community. The training session that followed for those active or actively interested in the Chevra Kadisha, drew dozens of people, who remained for hours.

In addition to the general raising of awareness for what the Chevra Kadisha (Jewish Burial Society) does, I believe this event will significantly increase the ranks of those active in the Chevra Kadisha. Traditionally the Chevra Kadisha was one the most sought after societies. Jewish historical records indicate that the greatest leaders were active members of a Chevra Kadisha in their towns. At the age of 12, Rabbi Schenur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, lobbied to be accepted as a member of the CK in Liozna (his hometown). A debate ensued about whether it was permitted to accept a boy under Bar Mitzvah into the CK. In the end he prevailed and was noted a member.

Why is it so important? Aside from the centrality of Kavod Hames (respect for the dignity of the deceased) in Judaism, there is also the notion of Chessed Shel Emes – true kindness that cannot be repaid. This altruistic expression of Chessed is highly valued in Jewish life. I encourage anyone who is considering joining and becoming active to take the plunge and get involved. Call Sandy at 504-889-1144.

Shavuot is just over a week away. For all of your Shavuot online needs and interests go to www.chabadneworleans.com/shavuot. Chabad (both locations) will be offering late night learning as well as a full schedule of services and activities for the holiday. Most notably the reading of the Ten Commandments and dairy Kiddush that follows on Sunday, May 27.

Mazel Tov to David Shurati and Carmit Suissa upon their upcoming marriage in Israel.

Mazel Tov to Rebecca Begtrup and David Broniatowski upon their recent engagement.

Mazel Tov to Mark Fertel and family upon his Bar Mitzvah this week.

The question of the week is “What special element of unity does the Jewish world experience this Shabbat?”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

The music of Lag B'omer in New Orleans

This past Wednesday night our Kabbala for Young Jewish Professionals was hosted by Jakob Rosenzweig.  The dinner and class is hosted by a different “young Jewish professional” each month. Jakob lives in the shadow of the Fairgrounds. As we drove past the Fairgrounds to his home, Malkie and I noticed that remnants of Jazz Fest were still present, setup materials, trash etc. I thought it was ironic that the event we “coincidentally” scheduled on the evening of Lag B’omer, so that we could have some music after the class, would be held a stone’s throw from Jazz Fest and just a few days later. But then this is one of the messages of Lag B’omer and the life of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, learning how to utilize what is out there in our world in the service of Hashem.

After the class we went outside to do a meditation around a mini Lag B’omer bonfire in the backyard (very brave of him).Through the leaping flames we could see the shadows of the now empty Fairgrounds as we read and contemplated a Shabbat meditation from the Zohar and sang a moving Chassidic melody. We then went back inside and “made some music” for an hour or so. As we were leaving we heard the sounds of music coming from other homes on the block. New Orleans is an amazing place where music is (almost) always welcome. Jewish music on Lag B’omer in New Orleans… you can’t ask for better.

I would like to highlight three upcoming events.

1.      Lunch N Learn Downtown NOLA – Wednesday, May 16 @ 12 PM – 705 Canal St. New York Camera has been hosting our monthly Lunch N Learns since last summer. This month’s topic is: Shavuot – A Globetrotter’s Dilemma – The Halachic ramifications of crossing the International Dateline during the counting of the Omer. To sponsor or RSVP – contact mendel@chabadneworleans.com.

2.      Chevra Kaddisha Event – Wednesday, May 16 @ 6:45 PM – Shir Chadash – 3737 West Esplanade Ave. Featuring Rabbi Elchonon Zohn director of the National Association of Chevra Kadisha, who will talk about “What happens when I die.” It is also an opportunity to learn more about the Chevra Kadisha of New Orleans and the important work they do in our community. For more info or to RSVP – 504-889-1144.

3.      AIPAC Louisiana Community Brunch – Sunday, May 20 @ 9:45 AM – The Audubon Tea Room. Featuring the WSJ writer Bret Stephens as well as our Congressional delegation headlined by both of Louisiana’s US Senators. For more info contact Eli Wald - ewald@aipac.org.

The question of the week for Kiddush Club is: What is special about this year’s counting of the Omer? The uptown ladies’ Pirkei Avot class will be at 5:30 on Shabbat afternoon at 919 Broadway. The Mesibas Shabbos for children 5-9 will be at Chabad Uptown 5:30-7 PM.

Mazal Tov to PJ Hamilton and his family upon his Bar Mitzvah.

Best of luck to Hannah Weiss and her family in this weekend’s Music 4 Kids auction event.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

An Eye-opening Prison Visit

I have been a chaplain - visiting Jewish inmates in prison for over 10 years. This week I had an experience that was unlike any before it. I recently volunteered to become a chaplain in a Louisiana prison for women. This was in response to a request from the Aleph Institute, a Chabad run national Jewish prisoner’s advocacy organization. They were in touch with a woman who is doing time in Louisiana. She had originally written Jewish Family Service last summer and Deena Gerber relayed her information to me. At the time Aleph had Yeshiva students traveling through the region visiting Jewish inmates. They immediately arranged for her to be visited. After some of our mail to her was returned in the fall, we assumed that she had been released. In fact she had been transferred to a facility in Southeast Louisiana. After working through the layers of red tape I was finally approved to become a volunteer chaplain at her new location.

Most of my chaplaincy experience has been in the Federal system. I have also been to a few parish prisons. None of that prepared me for what I was about to encounter. Here was a Jewish young woman who is completely isolated. She is the only Jew in the compound. She is regularly accused by other inmates of having murdered Jesus (as if she did it with her own hands). Her religion is constantly challenged and she is told that if she doesn’t join them she is going to hell. Certainly the chapel staff does not express themselves to her in this way. But for many of them she is the first Jew they have met. Kosher food is nearly impossible to obtain and basic Jewish observances come with great struggle. State laws do not protect the inmates’ religious rights like the Federal laws do. The Aleph institute has developed an extensive web of connections with the prison systems around the country, including Louisiana – which has been immensely helpful for her. Still the loneliness is overwhelming and hope is hard to come by. She is dealing with a difficult legal battle, which exacerbates her situation ever more.

I share this with you not just to make you aware of a forgotten Jewish population in the US, but also because there are ways that you can help. If you would like to find out more please let me know. In the meantime, cherish your freedom and pay more attention to your family – you never know when you might be faced with something like this G-d forbid. But do know that a Jew who is incarcerated will be remembered by Aleph and Chabad wherever they are.

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Shmuel and Rivky Kaufmann upon the birth of their daughter, and to the grandparents, Dr. David and Nechama Kaufmann.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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