ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Let's Talk About Souls

The fifth Chabad Rebbe was once approached by a “freethinking” member of the “enlightenment” who poked fun at the talk of the existence of angels and souls. The Rebbe replied with an analogy. Two Rabbis once traveled by horse and buggy to a conference on spiritual matters. There were three perspectives as to the purpose of the trip. The Rabbis saw the trip as a way to get to the conference to discuss souls and angels. The wagon driver saw the trip as a means of supporting his family. To the horse the only justification for traveling was that the hay in the next town must be better than in this town. The Rebbe concluded, “veil der ferd tracht hubber zeinin di Malachim nisht kein Malachim? Because the horse thinks only of hay do the angels (in the Rabbis’ perspective) not exist?” In other words, since the freethinker’s life was filled only with thoughts of materialism he was incapable of appreciating more abstract spiritual matters.

Last weekend at the wedding of my brother Yosef and his wife Binie, there was a lot of talk about the Jewish tradition that up to three generations of ancestors attend the wedding in spirit to participate in the joy of their family. The fact that the wedding was just days before my grandmother’s (Mrs. Miriam Gordon) first Yahrtzeit made it even more meaningful and real to all of us. We thought of the souls of our late grandfathers and grandmother who were present with us at the wedding.

A few days later we attended a Torah dedication in Encino, California that was written in memory of my grandmother. There again, my uncle, Rabbi Joshua Gordon, talked about the souls of his parents who were celebrating the Torah dedication with us.

The next day, on our drive back to NOLA we stopped off in Phoenix where Malkie’s paternal grandparents are buried. She never knew her grandfather before his passing and she had never been to their graves. She spent an emotional time praying and visiting them. She had our daughters recite Psalms with her as her parents listened in by phone from New York. (The boys and I were confined to the car as we are Kohanim (of the priestly tribe). In my observation, she connected with her grandfather in an unprecedented manner. Standing at his burial place, the man she never knew became very real for her, though he was gone for almost 30 years.

As I reflect on these experiences, I am extremely thankful to be a part of a tradition that teaches us the “realness” of souls and spirituality. It allows us to remain in constant contact with those that have moved on to the next stage of life, but who are still as real for us now as they were before.

Please see below for a full schedule of Chanukah events next week. Most notably, Chanukah @ Lakeside on Tuesday evening and the Celebrity Chef Latke Cookoff for Young Jewish Professionals on Wednesday night.

Please check out a new project called Share the Lights at It is a wonderful Chanukah opportunity to get involved and get others involved in the celebration of this important holiday. And there are awesome prizes as well!

Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving! Wishing you a joyous and bright Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


Shabbat Shalom from Vegas

Greeting from Sin City. I don't mean the French Quarter. The Rivkin family has descended upon Las Vegas to celebrate the marriage of my youngest brother Yosef to Binie, the daughter of Rabbi Shea and Dina Harlig, directors of Chabad of Southern Nevada. The irony of a chassidic boy from New Orleans marrying a chassidic girl from Las Vegas was not lost on the participants. This is the power of the Rebbe's vision of dispatching Shluchim to every community. Here is a boy who grew up in a Chabad House within earshot of Mardi Gras on Bourbon St. and a girl who grew in a Chabad House in the shadow of the neon glitz of the Las Vegas strip and yet are both fine upstanding Jews committed to the Chabad way of life infused with Torah and Mitzvos. It was a memorable affair.

For our family, it was the last sibling to marry and the poignance was not lost on us. We proudly rallied around our parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, to accompany them as they watched the last one go off to start his own home. The bittersweet moment was made much more sweet when surrounded by loving grandchildren and seeing the joy of the family's growth. We all wish them a big Mazel tov. This marks the beginning of a new era of Simchas in the next generation, births, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, and weddings sometime in the not so distant future. May Hashem grant them health and strength to enjoy the bright future that lies ahead.

Chanukah is around the corner. Next week I will send out a comprehensive email with all of the Chanukah events. In the meantime, check out this slide show preview:

Shabbat Shalom 
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

A 40 year long Chanukah Story

It was December 1973. The place, San Diego, CA. Before being appointed by the Rebbe to establish Chabad in New Orleans, my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, spent two years at Chabad on the campus of San Diego State University. That year Chanukah coincided with the winter break and campus was a ghost town. My father and his colleague, Rabbi Yankel Kranz, along with a student named Gary, decided to drive around and find some Jews with whom to celebrate Chanukah. This was during the oil embargo and gas was being rationed. They neglected to make sure that they had enough gas and so the car ran out of gas along the way.

Gary had a friend in that area named Ernie with whom he had worked together on the McGovern campaign. Ernie offered to help them by siphoning off some gas from his car to theirs. (My father always marveled at the fact that he created the siphoning suction with his mouth.)

After he was done and they talked about who they were and why they were out and about, Ernie mentioned that he had a Jewish girl visiting him and his wife over the break. Marsha was not too excited about seeing these visibly religious Jewish men who wanted to talk to her about her Jewishness. After a little cajoling, they lit the Menorah and promised to follow up with her on campus. Ultimately she agreed to come to Chabad House to study about Judaism. After some time Marsha’s Neshama exploded. She accepted an offer to attend a session at Beis Chana, a newly established institute for young women searching for their Jewish heritage.

Over time Marsha embraced her Jewishness and became more and more committed to leading a religious life. She had several encounters with the Rebbe, which had a profound influence on the direction of her life. Marsha, who now goes by her Jewish name, married a man from a prominent Rabbinic family. She and her husband are well-respected members of the Los Angeles Jewish community. She later discovered that her Jewish birthday was Kislev 24 - the eve of Chanukah, the day that she met the Rabbis.

The story comes full circle as their family will hosting a Sheva Brachos (post-wedding celebration) for my brother Yosef and his fiancé Binie, at their Los Angeles home at the end of this month. The celebration is taking place just before her birthday and the 40th anniversary of her fateful meeting with those two Rabbis on a lonely San Diego street. We Jews have a term for this – it is called Hashgacha Pratis – Divine Providence. The hand of Hashem was indeed felt every step (or misstep) of the way that first night of Chanukah of 1973.

Mazel tov to Kasriel and Batsheva (Charlie and Sandra) Brum upon the birth of a grandson to their daughter Sarah and Sholom Mendelson. Mazel tov to the entire Brum family all the way up to the great-grandmothers.

Mazel tov to my brother Yosef upon his upcoming marriage to Binie Harlig next week. Mazel tov to the entire family.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

An opportunity to be uplifted and inspired

We have all had the chance to meet interesting people throughout our lives. Sometimes we hear fascinating life histories from those people. However, I do not think that many of us have had the opportunity to meet and hear from a person with as fascinating a life story as Yaakov Parisi. A former Evangelical Pastor in Oklahoma, he spent years of his life searching for meaning and fulfillment. That search finally brought him to the doorstep of the Torah and Judaism. His journey was not an easy one – not a single step along the way was smooth. Fifteen years ago he became a Jew. He spent the next decade heavily immersed in the discovery of the many facets of his new faith. Today he is an ordained Orthodox Rabbi who has embraced the teachings and inspiration of Chabad. He has spent the last several years traveling and sharing his story with audiences around the world.

He connects with people in a very real way and his story has left people uplifted and inspired. Please join us at Chabad House on Tuesday night (Nov 12) at 7 PM for an uplifting evening with this special man. For more information –

Our annual raffle for 10K and other exciting prizes is underway. The drawing will be held on December 10. To view the prizes or to purchase a ticket, go to -

Mazel Tov to Lauren and Hal Ungar and to the grandparents Roselle and Stanley Ungar, upon the birth of a baby boy.

Please see below for links to the powerful talks by Senator Joseph Lieberman and Rabbi Dov Greenberg at last week’s annual conference of Chabad Shluchim.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Sharing in the joy of another

A measure of friendship and caring is the ability to be truly empathetic and express sorrow over the loss or misfortune of another person. However this does not come close to the degree of friendship and caring expressed by truly rejoicing in your friend’s good fortune or family Simcha.

This week our family experienced a lot of love by way of the community’s participation and rejoicing in the wedding of my sister Mushka to Peretz Kazen. We really got the sense that our happiness is your happiness and our celebration is your celebration. It is extremely gratifying to be the recipient of such friendship and for that we are very grateful. The wedding and subsequent ongoing celebrations have been beautiful and very joyous. The perfect blend of family, friends and out of town guests, made for a wonderful wedding experience.

I am sure that I am joined by so many in our community in wishing Mazel Tov to Mushka and Peretz and to my parents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin, as well as to Mrs. Rochel Kazen and both families.

From Simcha to Simcha… Mazel Tov to Dr. David and Nechama Kaufmann upon the birth of a grandson to Shmuel and Rivky Kaufmann.

For those of you that may have missed this… On Tuesday, November 12 @ 7 PM there will be a very special presentation by Rabbi Yaakov Parisi – a former Evangelical Pastor, who discovered Judaism while exploring the Bible. He will share his fascinating journey with us at Chabad House – 7037 Freret St. The event is free and open to the public. For more info:

Our annual raffle for 10K and other exciting prizes is underway. The drawing will be held on December 10. To view the prizes or to purchase a ticket, go to

Remember the clock changes this Saturday night – so Minyan on Sunday morning will be at 8 AM on the new time – standard time.

This weekend the annual Kinus – Conference of the Shluchim takes place in NY. For a live viewing of the inspirational closing event – the Banquet – on Sunday at 4 PM CST,

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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