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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

A Sound Investment

When the third Chabad Rebbe, known as the Tzemach Tzedek, got married he received a dowry from his father-in-law, as was customary in those days. His grandfather, R’ Schneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe, asked him what he intended to do with the money. The young man replied that he intended to invest it with one of the wealthy merchants in town. “In my opinion,” R’ Schneur Zalman informed him, “You’d be better off putting your money into this Tzedakah box. That would be a sound investment.” The groom didn’t take his grandfather’s advice seriously and he invested the money with the merchant. Subsequently the merchant had a bad season and all of his money was lost. When his grandfather heard about it he concluded, “If you would have put the money into Tzedakah, both the capital and the return would be intact.”

As 2015 comes to an end, there is still an opportunity to invest money into Tzedakah. In addition to the aforementioned benefits there is also the fringe benefit of a tax deduction. When it comes to Tzedakah investments, Chabad is one of the soundest choices. Serious investors will tell you that they are looking for a few key factors when deciding where to invest.

1.      Skins in the game: Investors want to know that their money is going to someone who has skins in the game. Chabad Shluchim families are not using New Orleans as a stepping stone to another “more prestigious” community. We are completely committed to the New Orleans community and success in the only option.

2.      Maximized ROI – Return on Investment: An investment in Chabad goes a long way and will bring you a great return. We stretch every dollar to the max – we
believe in the great Jewish maxim of why pay retail when you can get it for less? With minimal overhead costs, the overwhelming majority of every dollar goes to actual work, benefiting our New Orleans Jewish community.

3.      Passion: Stakeholders want to see that those driving the engine have a passion and enjoyment for what they are doing. At Chabad, passion and joy are the key ingredients for our success. We are passionate about Judaism and we imbue everything we do with that passion and joy. One of the comments that I hear most often from people is that they love seeing how upbeat and positive Chabad Shluchim families are. This passion and joy is contagious.

4.      Keeping it local: 100% of every dollar donated to Chabad of Louisiana stays here. We do not send or receive any funds to or from the Worldwide Chabad movement. We rely completely on you, our supporters to fund Chabad of Louisiana and all of your money is utilized for that purpose.

5.      Track record of success: Since 1975 Chabad of Louisiana has been at the forefront of enhancing Jewish life in the greater New Orleans area. Countless lives have been touched by our institutions and our educational and social programs. We have been doing this well for 40 years. We are not satisfied and we are cognizant that there is much more still be accomplished. With your support we will yet go very far!

Help propel us into 2016 by continuing and increasing your partnership with Chabad. Your investment in the future of Jewish New Orleans can be made at www.chabadneworleans.com/donate.

We appreciate your support and we value your friendship.

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Prayer is a powerful thing!

Nobody needs me to advocate for the power of prayer to affect healing and salvation. This is something that every person of faith believes and knows, and, has experienced first-hand. Rather, I would like to share a fringe benefit of the power of prayer that I witnessed this past week.

Last Thursday, our friend and colleague, Dr. David Kaufmann underwent a complicated and protracted surgery. My father and I traveled to Houston to visit with David and his family before the surgery and to be with them in the hospital during the surgery. For a year and a half, our community and anyone that knows or is connected to the Kaufmanns, have been praying for his health and recovery. But as the time for surgery approached the number of people from all over the world who were zoned in and praying had significantly increased.

One man took a group to the Kotel. In yeshivas and schools students were devoting time to prayer. In the hospital everyone gathered was sitting with a book of Psalms. Friends and family were sitting at home or at work reciting Psalms in his merit. One of the nurses who stopped by the waiting area and saw the prayers was so moved that on her next break she came back to pray with the family. As all this was happening something beautiful started to develop.

Prayer is effective from anywhere because distance is irrelevant to G-d. However the impact on those who are touched by the sentiments associated with the prayers is greater when they are aware of the prayers being recited. BT - before technology – people would pray and those for whom they were praying did not necessarily know about it. Through the technological advancements of communication and social media all this has changed.

While the surgery was going on, some friends started a “Whatsapp” that was crowd streaming (just made up a phrase) the recital of psalms. The group consists primarily of current and former New Orleanians who are involved with Chabad and know the Kaufmanns. Throughout the hours of surgery the amazing degree of support that came through to the family knowing that so many people were praying and caring was inestimable. Since then the praying has continued around the clock and it has also turned into forum for sharing recovery updates and just plain old friendship. Social media at its best.

Many of us like to rag on technology and social media as a big time waster and distraction from important things. And that is often true. However, each development can be used for positive purposes. In this case, social media has brought the power of prayer and friendship to a family at a time when that big virtual hug helped, and is helping to carry them through an otherwise stressful period. The other thing we learn from this is that our community rocks! The feeling of Mishpacha cannot be duplicated!

Wishing Dr. Kaufmann continued progress in the recovery and a complete Refuah Sheleimah among all those that need a blessing for healing. Your greater NOLA Mishpacha is looking forward to a great celebration of thanks to Hashem for the kindness that He has shown.

On a somber note, we extend condolences to Hannah Katz Furman and Lou Furman upon the passing of her father, Herman Katz.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Chanukah 2015 Recap

This year’s Chanukah celebrations were really taken to a new level. Maybe it is the energy of the Hakhel year. Each event was well attended and very meaningful. I will attempt to do justice to the week that was Chanukah 2015.

On Sunday, December 6 – the first night of Chanukah – nearly 600 people gathered at the Spanish Plaza for Chanukah @ Riverwalk. Great weather and an enthusiastic crowd converged to create a wonderful event. The changed time for the Saints game did not deter the “Chanukah faithful” from enjoying the festivities that included music, a laser show, Kosher Cajun food, latke bar, Dreidel Man, a dreidel house and face painting for children and much more. Benny Naghi lit the giant Menorah, while Roselle Ungar served as MC. Morris Bart, one of the event sponsors shared meaningful words and wished longtime Chanukah @ Riverwalk coordinator, David Kaufmann a speedy recovery.

At the same time, 80 miles west on the I-10, Chabad of Baton Rouge held its inaugural Chanukah event on the steps of the Capital. 100 hundred people, including the mayor of Baton Rouge, attended and watched with pride as the Menorah was lit while Jewish music, kosher food and Chanukah fun were on display on the steps of state capital building.

On Monday, December 7, as the sun went down, Tulane president Michael Fitts, encouraged those gathered at Chabad of Tulane’s Menorah lighting on the Quad, to increase their commitment to celebrating Chanukah and their Jewish heritage. The students, who were taking a quick break from finals study time, enjoyed latkes and sufganiyot while watching the candles burn brightly. Over the week of Chanukah students and grad students enjoyed a number of Chanukah events and activities offered by Tulane Chabad.

Over in Jefferson Parish, 60 children and their parents were building their very own Menorahs at Home Depot in an event presented by Chabad Metairie. While in Baton Rouge the Chanukah party for Israeli mall workers was a big hit.

On Tuesday, December 8 a Chanukah for Israelis at Chabad Metairie attracted a very nice crowd. A BBQ, game show, music, and good ole schmoozing topped off the night. As things were starting to wind down a new group of Israelis piled in fresh off their mall duty. Earlier in the day a Chanukah themed Lunch N Learn was held at NY Camera.

On Wednesday, December 9 the Celebrity Chef Latke Cookoff for Young Jewish Professionals was held at Chabad Uptown. 80 YJPs enjoyed the latkes of Chefs Zach Engel, Jeff Baron and Lee Sands. Raffle prizes, food, music, a Menorah lighting and a great atmosphere were enjoyed by all. In the end the judges and the popular vote anointed Zach Engel as the 2015 Celebrity Chef Latke Cookoff champion. In Hattiesburg another group of mall Israelis had a Chanukah party with Rabbi Nemes.

On Thursday, December 10 a Chanukah party took place at Lambeth House. Singing children, dreidel distribution and Menorah lighting and Chanukah refreshments really lifted the spirits of the residents.

In Biloxi at the Edgewater Mall, Chabad of Southern Mississippi held their annual Chanukah event. The Mayor put in an appearance along with a Menorah lighting, crafts and activities for the children, Chanukah refreshments and fun for all ages.

On Friday, December 11 Chabad Metairie had a Friday night dinner and Chanukah party that drew record attendance. Pre-Shabbat activities along with a spirited Shabbat dinner were enjoyed by all.

On Saturday, December 12 the Mobile Menorah Parade (Krewe of Chanukah) rolled through the streets of NOLA. While we ran into some holiday competition downtown, the folks in the French Quarter and Marigny that received the Chanukah beads (sponsored by Mardi Gras Zone) were loving it. Cell phones were snapping photos and taking video of the Chanukah parade. (I heard one child on Royal St asking his mother, “Isn’t Chanukah spelled with an H? Boy did he open a can of worms.) An after party at Chabad (thank you Schreiber family) capped off a really fun evening.

The Jewish community had many additional Chanukah events. JCRS, JCC, JNOLA, Torah Academy and others hosted successful Chanukah events. 

Most importantly the message of Chanukah has truly been spread forth in every direction. May we continue to enjoy the light and warmth of Chanukah for a long time to come.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Twitterful Chanukah

One of the primary objectives of the Chanukah observances is, to quote our sages, “Pirsumei Nissa – to publicize the miracle” of Chanukah. We do this by lighting a Menorah in a way that is visible to others.

In our generation the Rebbe took this to a new level with the public Chanukah celebrations and Menorah lightings. Millions of Jews around the world along with many non-Jewish people have participated in public Menorah lightings. The Menorahs placed in strategic locations such as highways, bridges, malls, tourist spots and others give the message of Chanukah even more exposure. Menorahs mounted on cars that drive around all over towns and cities throughout the world is another way of bringing this message to more and more people. With the advent of social media, Pirsumei Nissa has exploded in unprecedented fashion. Posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram etc. abound with photos of people lighting their Chanukah candles and Chanukah events. The #sharethelights campaign has reached over two million people this Chanukah.

Then there are the things that we are not even aware of… Yesterday someone forwarded a tweet that some random New Orleanian posted about my car and its Menorah. It included a picture of my Ford Police Interceptor with the Menorah at the corner of Claiborne and Broadway with the caption, “Ford Menorah.” Which evoked a couple of comments from others who had seen the car around the neighborhood including one guy who quipped, “Maccabee mobile to the rescue.” The entire exchange can be seen here - https://twitter.com/jameskarst/status/674987994726580224.

I am sure this is one of many social media posts that don’t even cross the Jewish radar screen but are taking Pirsumei Nissa to heights that are unimaginable. Who could have conceived of this type of “spreading the message” 2,300 when Chanukah and its observances was established.

Next week, G-d willing, I will give a full recap on Chanukah 2015 with Chabad. Some photos are available for viewing at www.chabadneworleans.com/3163232.

Chabad Metairie photos at www.jewishlouisiana.com. Chabad Baton Rouge at www.chabadbr.com. Chabad Biloxi at www.jewishmississippi.com.

Happy remainder of Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

All who go do indeed return!

This past Monday night there were two speakers featured at Jewish community events. Chabad hosted a lecture by Rabbi Dov Greenberg (photos below). The JCC hosted a talk by Shulem Deen, author of All Who Go Do Not Return.

Rabbi Greenberg’s talk, entitled, My Beloved Knocks – How the Rebbe Empowered Our Generation, had a positive, uplifting message about how every Jew is open to a passionate loving relationship with G-d and what is needed is proper facilitation by people who care about others. He told the story of his own parents, who were raised in a secular environment and their journey to greater observance that was sparked by a Rabbi who was both caring and persistent. This Rabbi (who happens to be my grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Gordon) was inspired by the Rebbe’s message that every Jew is open to being engaged and connected to Hashem and that Ahavat Yisrael, love for another, and persistence are the keys to awakening that openness. Rabbi Greenberg then shared that four of his parents’ children operate Chabad Houses on college campuses around the US. Hundreds of Jewish students enjoy Shabbat, holidays, Jewish experiences and Jewish learning offered at these Chabad Houses all because one soul was touched through love and persistence. He concluded with the Rebbe’s challenge to all of us to become “shepherds” who nurture the souls of our people by engaging them one Mitzvah at a time, one person at a time.

Just up the road a different story was being shared. Shulem Deen’s book shares his journey away from his Chasidic roots and religious observance. I only read a few excerpts from the book, but they leave me with a strong feeling of compassion for the man because of the pain that he experienced (and the pain which, I suspect, he still experiences). The pain of the loss of faith, family, community. The difficulty of confronting the unfamiliar while being plagued with doubts about choices made and longing for that which is familiar. Certainly he has strong convictions about his decision to take his life in a different direction and he makes arguments for them in his book.

I couldn’t help but observe the irony of the contrast of the two messages. I also wonder that if folks who experience what Shulem did – the disenfranchisement from their roots – would only encounter a caring and persistent Rabbi such as the one that met Rabbi Greenberg’s father, whether the next chapter in their story would be different. My heart bleeds for them and their pain. I wish that they could once again allow themselves to experience a closeness to Hashem and His love for each of them as parents love an only child.

Indeed, Reb Shulem (if I may invoke an old endearing title), Hashem promises that “All who go will return.” Paraphrasing Samuel II 14:14, “No Jew will be cast away from Hashem forever.” As the prophet Isaiah states: 27:12, “and you shall be gathered one by one, O children of Israel.”

My friends, the task of gathering Jews one by one has begun. It is a deeply fulfilling and meaningful mission. Be a part of it and seize the opportunity to knock on the heart of a fellow Jew so they too can be warmed by the beauty of Yiddishkeit.

It starts this weekend at Chanukah. Reach out to a Jew that may need some assistance or encouragement to light their Menorah. Invite them to Chanukah @ Riverwalk or a similar celebration. #Sharethelights. Share the warmth. Share the love.

To quote Stephen Colbert, “A Lichtige un freilichen Chanukah.”

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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