ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Over Three Decades of Friendship and Philanthropy

In the mid to late 1970s a trend began to develop. Jewish families in Panama were opting to send their children to attend Tulane University. Among the many Jewish Panamanian students to arrive in 1977 was a young man named Isaac Btesh. Fondly referred to as Ikey by his friends, he quickly got involved at the recently established Chabad House at Tulane University. Isaac developed a close relationship with the two Rabbis at Chabad, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin and the late Rabbi Zalman Itkin, both of whom had a profound influence on him. After completing his studies at Tulane, he returned to Panama and got involved in the business world. Isaac established and serves as the CEO of Multibank based in Panama.

Among his many philanthropic interests, Isaac has not forgotten Chabad House in New Orleans. Over the years he has been a personal friend of Rabbi Zelig Rivkin and a supporter of Chabad’s activities in New Orleans, both on and off campus. In 2000 Isaac and his wife Bety were honorees at Chabad’s 25th Anniversary Dinner along with Caron and Stan Bleich. As construction got underway for a completely renovated Chabad House, Isaac and Bety Btesh once again came forward and have undertaken to dedicate the Btesh Family Chabad House. The building is dedicated in memory of Isaac’s late mother, Mrs. Pamela Farida and in honor of his father, Mr. Alberto Btesh.

A building naming celebration will be held on Tuesday, January 7 @ 7 PM. A cocktail reception with live entertainment by Daniel Gale will be followed by a ceremony at 8 PM. Please join us in honoring the Btesh Family for their generous support of Chabad in New Orleans.

A Building Dedication honoring all of the donors and participants in the building campaign will be held later this year.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

What Coca-Cola taught me about Judaism

Last night Malkie and I went with a group of young Jewish professionals on a tour of the New Orleans Regional Coca Cola Bottling Company. The tour was one of the prizes raffled off at the Celebrity Chef Latke Cookoff. During the tour our guides Sherrie and Kathleen talked with much pride about the Coca Cola Company and its products. They mentioned how no self-respecting Coke employee would ever consider consuming the products of a competing company. They were effusive in their praise for the work environment, which obviously generates employee loyalty.

In the spirit of the Baal Shem Tov’s teaching, that we must derive a lesson in our service of Hashem from every encounter in life, I reflected on how this can teach us something about the value of Jewish pride. Jewish pride means that I am never ashamed of my Jewishness or my association with Judaism, but rather I am proud of who I am and what that represents. Jewish pride enables me to stand up for Jewish values wherever they are being challenged. It does not mean that I view others as inferior but rather that I never view myself as inferior for being Jewish. Jewish pride encourages me to be visible about my Jewishness.

This lesson ties in well with a teaching on this week’s Torah portion. The Torah opens the book of Exodus by relating, “These are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt… Reuven, Shimon etc.” The Midrash comments, “It was Reuven and Shimon who came to Egypt and it was Reuven and Shimon who left Egypt.” Now we know that over 200 years passed between the arrival and the departure, so certainly it was not the same people. The Midrash is teaching us that the Jews retained their Jewish names throughout their sojourn in Egypt as a way of maintaining pride in their heritage. The Midrash adds that they kept their language and manner of dress as well.

The Rebbe once cited Jewish pride as one of the issues about which he is particularly passionate. Why is Jewish pride so important? Because with it, Judaism is kept at the forefront of a person’s reality. It becomes a defining element of a person’s life. Without it, a person’s commitment to Judaism can quickly disappear as it does not occupy an important place in life.

A young college graduate from a traditional home applied to Hofstra Law School. As first impressions are so important, he was very torn about wearing his kippa to the interview. On the train to the interview the debate raged in his mind. Finally he decided to be cautious and he pulled his kippa off of his head and put it into his pocket. When he entered the room for the interview, he was shocked by the sight of the then dean of Hofstra Law School, Professor Aaron Twerski, sitting in full Chassidic regalia. He awkwardly pulled the kippa out of his pocket and placed it on his head, where it would remain as a permanent fixture.

This coming Tuesday night, December 24 at 7:30 PM, we will be showing the recently released film, A Glimpse Through The Veil II, at Chabad House-Uptown. Light refreshments will be served. All are invited.

Mazel Tov to Keren Gesund and Alan Newman upon their upcoming marriage. We look forward to celebrating with you.

Mazel Tov to Rabbi Shaya and Shayna Gopin upon the birth of their daughter. Mazel Tov to the grandparents, Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin.

Have a good Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Lighting up the world - one icicle at a time

It was a cold winter night in Mezibush and the candle supply ran out in the Shul of the Baal Shem Tov. He turned to his disciples and instructed them to go outside and fetch a few icicles. When they brought the icicles he instructed them to light them as if they were candles. Behold the icicles burned and gave off light and warmth. The Previous Rebbe commented that this was the whole task of the Baal Shem Tov and the Chassidic movement – to transform that which is cold and dark into a source of light and warmth.

This story contains a powerful message for each of us. We are not miracle workers who can make icicles burn (plus we live in a place where there are not many opportunities to find icicles). Yet, each of us is confronted by conceptual icicles regularly in life. What is an icicle? It is the result of an absence of heat. Spiritually there are many icicles out there. There is little voice of apathy within that tries to convince us to scale back our commitment; that tries to cool our passion for doing a good thing. There is the voice of society mocking us for our enthusiasm for Torah study or Shul attendance. It may be a cold morning when it is more comfortable to stay in bed then come to Shul for Minyan. It may be a hesitancy to give Tzedakah at a time when things are a little tight. There are many icicles that threaten our dedication to Judaism.

The lesson of the story is – that every time we meet those icicles head on and overcome the challenge they pose, we transform the coldness and darkness into light and warmth. Let us illuminate the world – one icicle at a time!

Mazal tov to Aline and Gary Connelly upon the birth of their son. Special good wishes to the grandparents, Linda and Simon Waknin and the whole family.

Thank you to all that participated in the Chabad 2013 Raffle. The grand prize was won by Violet Soffer of Pittsburgh, PA. But in reality everyone that participated is a winner. This raffle campaign enables us to continue the important work that Chabad of Louisiana does throughout the New Orleans area.

We are excited to announce that Tulane alumnus Isaac and his wife Bety B’tesh of Panama are dedicating the new Chabad House in honor of Isaac’s father and in memory of his mother. A special Building Naming Celebration will be held on Tuesday evening, January 7. This is not the formal building dedication / grand opening, which will be held later in 2014, G-d willing, and will honor all of those who contributed to the building campaign.

This coming Tuesday night is the Kabbala and Dinner for Young Jewish Professionals. This month’s class and dinner will take place at the home of Emily Nykaza and Jonathan Lissauer – 918 Dublin St. The topic is: The Kabbala of a Love Story. For more info:

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Chanukah 2013 Recap

We just wrapped up a very busy yet wonderful Chanukah holiday. I would like to share with you a recap of Chabad’s Chanukah 2013 celebrations.

On Wednesday, Nov 27, the first night of Chanukah there was a party at Chabad Metairie for Israelis. Over 75 people showed up and enjoyed a BBQ Chanukah Party and Menorah Lighting. Photos will be posted at  

On Shabbat at Chabad Uptown there was a special Kiddush lunch sponsored by Saul and Raquel Hakim.

On Saturday night, Nov 30, there was a family Chanukah party at Chabad Metairie. Dinner and games played second fiddle to the build your own Menorah project. Photos will be posted at  

On Sunday night, Dec 1, there was a Mobile Menorah Parade. 15 vehicles paraded through New Orleans taking the message of Chanukah to the streets! Photos can be viewed at the A party for participants followed at Chabad Uptown.

On Monday, Dec 2 there was a Chanukah Lunch N Learn downtown at NY Camera.

On Tuesday, Dec 3 the Chanukah @ Lakeside Celebration was held with over 400 in attendance. A dizzying array of activities were spread out in front Dillard’s, included, Latke Bar, Dreidel Man, Face Painting, Kids Craft, Giant Activity Dreidel, Make a Change Menorah, benefitting Chai Lifeline. The event was emceed by Amanda Trottenberg. Featured in the program were, Jefferson Parish President John Young, Alan Franco, Bob Licht – representing major corporate sponsor - Lakeside Toyota, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin. Special mention was made of annual event sponsors, Cathy and Morris Bart, who were unable to attend this year. Adam and Aaron Stross lit the 11 foot Menorah while Yehuda Halper sang the blessings. The Paulin Brothers Brass Band launched into a rendition of Maoz Zur and Oy Chanukah before resuming their usual repertoire.  Photos can be viewed at

On the last night of Chanukah, Wed, Dec 4, a Celebrity Chef Latke Cookoff was held at Chanad Uptown. Chef Alon Shaya of Domenica and Chef Daniel Esses of Three Muses were pitted against each other and a team of non-professional challengers, Zev Attias and Gershon Schreiber. A great Icebreaker game was led by MC Bradley Bain and a number of great raffle prizes were awarded throughout the evening. In the end the judges gave the thumbs up to the challengers by a very narrow margin but a good time was had by all. Photos can be viewed at

Mazal Tov, Aleeza and Andy Adelman upon the birth of their son.

Our condolences to the Tolmas family upon the passing of Mr. Oscar Tolmas.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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