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Real Feminism on Display

There has been a lot ink (or bytes) used over the last few decades in discussing the role of women in Judaism. As the Feminist movement evolved and spread into more and more elements of society, this question became even more glaring. While this forum is insufficient for addressing the issue per se (not enough bytes…), I would like to briefly address a peripheral element of the issue. (Our website www.chabadneworleans.com/545905 deals with the issues more comprehensively.) For many the efforts to define the role of women in Judaism has led to seeking “equality” for women in Synagogue settings. Interestingly, this approach takes on the nature of the popular direction of the Feminist movement, where in an effort to achieve equality, feminism became women acting like men. The Jewish manifestation of this is women being called up to the Torah, wearing a Talit, being part of a minyan etc. (For a good read on this issue see www.chabadneworleans.com/97367.) One might think that true feminism is not women seeking to emulate men but rather finding liberation through self-expression as women.

This week a Modern-Orthodox high-school in the Bronx decided to allow their female students to wear Tefillin during morning services. The reactions have been predictable on both sides. The irony is that just few miles away in Brooklyn the most powerful gathering of Jewish women is taking place. I refer to the International Shluchos Conference. A Shlucha is a female emissary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. While not a single participant will be wearing Tefillin or getting an Aliya, there is no greater assertion of Jewish womanhood than this conference.

These women have been entrusted with a double mission. On one hand they are partners with their husbands in directing institutions and coordinating activities and programs in their respective communities. Yet they have an equally sacred, if not more so, task of nurturing the next generation of soldiers in the army of Hashem. They defy all of the myths and misconceptions about religious Jewish women being relegated to second class status. Not only are they leaders in the communities, but they occupy that role while bearing and caring for large families (with the help of their husbands of course). Had King Solomon met a Chabad Shlucha he would have felt obligated to add a few additional verses to his ode to the Woman of Valor.

On Sunday night beginning at 4:30 PM, the highlight of the conference – the banquet - will be broadcast live and can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/kinus. Please utilize the opportunity to be inspired by this powerful group of Jewish women who are changing the world.

Now I must get back to my kids, who, because of the conference, are not only without their mother, but are also off from school. But it’s ok. In my modern view a father can do anything that a mother can right? Wrong! And I am not ashamed to admit it. I will be happy to resume sharing the duties of parenting with Malkie when she returns. In the meantime I hope that she and the few thousand women that are her colleagues have a wonderful weekend and a successful conference.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Israel, the Torah and the UN

In his first comment on the Torah, Rashi cites the Talmudic sage Rabbi Yitzchak to explain why the story of creation is relevant to a work that is meant to be a guide for Jewish living. To paraphrase, the Torah should have started from the Exodus because that is where G-d gives the first Mitzvot to the Jewish people. Why does the Torah open with Genesis? So that when the nations of the world accuse the Jewish people of stealing their land we show them how Hashem created the world and he decided to give the land of Israel as an eternal gift to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In the dialogue regarding the rights of the Jewish people to Israel, this vital element of the discussion is often omitted. Recently our good friends at UNESCO, in partnership with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, were getting ready to launch an exhibit entitled, The People, The Book, The Land – the 3500 year relationship between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Finally it seemed that even the UN was starting to acknowledge our ancient biblical association with Israel. Well what do you know? Surprise, Surprise! The event was cancelled after pressure from Arab groups, because it might harm the “peace process.”

Obviously this has upset and rankled many people. One person humorously proposed that they run a simultaneous exhibit called the 3500 year relationship of the Palestinian people and the land. Oh wait, they haven’t been around that long? Well who would’ve thought? After all the claims that Jews have stolen their ancient homeland... Once again the UN displayed its impeccable credentials of “impartiality” when it comes to Israel.

The good thing is we still have the Torah to fall back on! Now we need to get more folks (especially our own folks) to read it and we are back in business!

Last week I promised a full report on the Building Naming Celebration. More photos have been uploaded thanks to Alexander Barkoff. The event was beautifully catered by Kosher Cajun. The room was elegantly setup. For the first hour attendees had an opportunity to partake of the delicious refreshments and socialize. Many also used the time to look around the building. Isaac and Bety Btesh arrived and were given a full tour of the facility.

At 8 PM, the MC, yours truly, welcomed everyone and spoke about the concept of the name Chabad House – as a brand that is a place for a Jew to always feel at home in growing as a Jew. He then gave a brief introduction to the video that was produced for the event, entitled: The Btesh Family Chabad House at work. The video was produced by Mushka Kazen (nee Rivkin), and features pictures of Chabad activities and events as well as interviews with members of the community. The video can be viewed at www.chabadneworleans.com/2464571. Following the video, Rabbi Zelig Rivkin spoke about his decades’ long friendship with Isaac Btesh. He also acknowledged the other donors to the building campaign. He emphasized the idea that while a beautiful building is important, it is merely a way to facilitate what is supposed to be happening in the building, prayer, study, Mitzvot and the experience of Judaism. That is what brings real merit to the family whose name is on the building. Rabbi Zelig and Bluma Rivkin then presented Isaac and Bety Btesh with a token of appreciation, a framed Muchnik lithograph entitled Bayit – a Jewish home filled with Mitzvot.

Isaac Btesh shared with the audience why he feels so passionate about Chabad. He talked about his time at Tulane, when his relationship with Chabad began. He told the story of his first Seder at Chabad in New Orleans as a 17 year old freshman. In true Tulane style he drank more than just four cups of wine and ended up drinking the bowl filled with the wine poured off for the ten plagues. Apparently that became a source of major blessing in his life, a blessing that he shares generously around the world.

Mazel tov to Tomer and Michal Monfred of Tzefat, Israel upon the birth of a son.

Mazel tov to Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Nemes upon the birth of a grandson to Brocha and Avremi Slavaticki.

Mazel tov to Corey Smith and David Rittvo upon their wedding this weekend. Heartfelt congratulations to our good friends Lee and Steve Rittvo. We are very happy for you!

Condolences to Mrs. Rivka Kehaty upon the passing of her mother, Mrs. Livingston. May the family only experience good and happy times from here onward.

Have a good Shabbos!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Three Loves: The Rebbe's Opening Statement

The 10th day of Shevat, 1951 marked the first Yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. That evening his son-in-law, the Rebbe formally accepted the leadership of the Chabad movement.

The Rebbe humorously noted that in America all news things come with a statement. He then seriously declared. “There are three loves: love of Hashem, love of Torah and love of our fellow Jews. These three are inseparable. One cannot claim a love for Hashem and yet be deficient in the love for Torah or fellow Jews. Since they are interdependent, each without the other two is incomplete.”

Throughout the evening, the Rebbe addressed the significance of caring for another over and over again from various angles. Indeed it became one of the defining ideals of the Rebbe’s vision for the Jewish world and has been a foundational principle of Chabad’s activities throughout the world. The idea of Ahavat Yisrael, the Rebbe assured us, will propel us to the era of Redemption through the coming of Moshiach.

This Shabbat as we mark this occasion once again, we must reflect on the Rebbe’s statement about the three inseparable loves and how we are implementing that lesson into our daily lives for ourselves and others. Please join one of the Kiddush gatherings this Shabbat at Chabad House (Uptown) or Chabad Center (Metairie) to celebrate this occasion.

This past Tuesday, we celebrated the Building Naming Celebration. I will give a full report next week. A few photos can be viewed below in our photo section. Credits – Alexander Barkoff.

Mazel tov to Rabbi Yossie and Chanie Nemes and family upon the occasion of Mendel’s Bar Mitzvah. To quote the Rebbe’s blessing to a Bar Mitzvah boy, “may he develop into a Chasid, Yarei Shamayim (G-d fearing Jew) and scholar.”

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Cut and Paste Gone Awry

Computers have given us many ways to make our lives more efficient. One of the simplest ways is the cut and paste shortcut features on our keyboards. We can easily select a whole bunch of text from one place and place it elsewhere to be reused without much effort. (Of course it has wreaked havoc in the world of plagiarism.)

Jews, however, have employed the “cut and paste” shortcut long before the advent of a keyboard. We have been cutting passages from the Torah and pasting them into life for as long as we can remember. The danger with “cut and paste,” is when words get left out of the cut and are therefore missing from the paste. I would like to share three examples where the “cut and paste” ended up leaving off the most important part of the passage on the cutting floor.

The first is from the story of the Exodus. We all know that Moses came to Pharaoh and said… “Shalach et ami - Let My people go.”  As a matter of fact that became the rallying cry of the protests against the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s. They left one key word out of the paste. G-d actually instructs Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him “Shalach et ami v’ya’avduni - Let My people go, so that they will serve Me.” Just one word, but a cardinal omission that changes the entire nature of the cry. Freedom for a Jew is about serving Hashem. The Soviets didn’t mind Jews as much as they hated Judaism. By lopping off that one word, we potentially cheated hundreds of thousands of Jews out of the greatest benefit that their freedom could have given them – the drive to worship Hashem.

The second example comes from the slogan adopted by the early pioneers who advocated agricultural settlement of the land of Israel as a way of escaping the pogroms in Russia in the 1880s. They termed themselves BILU, formed of an acronym of the passage from Isaiah, “Beit Yaakov l’chu v’nelcha – House of Jacob let us walk.” The 4th Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Schneerson, indicated that he may have considered joining them but for the fact that the “cut and paste” left the primary message out of the passage. Isaiah’s prophecy contains two additional words, “Beit Yaakov l’chu v’nelcha b’or Hashem - House of Jacob let us walk, by the light of Hashem.” Leaving those words out was a game changer for him. This indicated that Hashem and His Torah were not to be a part of this group’s push toward settling the land of Israel.

Finally, the cause known as Tikkun Olam. The basis for this term is the liturgical passage Aleinu which contains the phrase, “L’taken olam – to perfect the world.” Once again the key part of the phrase is omitted in the “cut and paste” exercise leaving us with a ubiquitous Tikkun Olam concept that may include any conceivable cause whether or not it is congruous with the Torah. The complete phrase is, “L’taken olam b’malchut Sha-ddai – To perfect the world under the sovereignty of the Al-mighty.” Just a few words, but they make a world of difference (no pun intended).

Mazal Tov to Ms. Jane Tavlin on the birth of her granddaughter, Elisheva Anne. Mazal Tov to the parents, Lior and Batya Yaish!

We look forward to seeing you at the Building Naming Celebration this Tuesday night, honoring Isaac & Bety Btesh.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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