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Purim Recap, Tribute to Mr. Sher

This past Thursday we celebrated Purim. In the days leading up to and following Purim there were many highs and also a low for our Jewish community. There was a wedding, three brises and a funeral.

First to recap Purim. In the days leading up to Purim over 270 Purim Shuttle packages were prepared and subsequently delivered on Purim. (Photos below) A group of amazing volunteers really helped pull the project together for our most successful Purim Shuttle to date.

On Purim night at Chabad Uptown, over 100 people gathered for a Megillah reading and Purim party. Costumed adults and children, great food and music along with a very festive Megillah reading and slideshow capped off a wonderful event that also included a special program for children. (Photos below) A similar program was taking place at Chabad of Metairie.

On Purim day Megillah readings were happening at all Chabad locations as well as at Lambeth House and in two stores along Royal St. Throughout the day hundreds of people heard the reading of the Megillah with Chabad.

Chabad of Baton Rouge and Biloxi each held Purim celebrations drawing record crowds for the holiday festivities.

The highlight of Purim with Chabad was Purim in Outer Space held at Torah Academy. Over 230 were in attendance. The school multi-purpose room was transformed into a galactic experience complete with a space-ship like entrance. Everything was space themed from the food stations to the music to the entertainment. An awesome kids’ program kept the children occupied for hours, while the adults enjoyed their own hypnotist show. Photos will be uploaded next week on our website, though Facebook was busy with photos and videos of the event.

Sadly on Purim morning we learned of the passing of a beloved member of the Jewish community, Mr. Joseph Sher, at the age of 100. Most of the tributes and messages about Mr. Sher (rightly) focus on his experiences in the Holocaust and how he built his life and family in the US. I would like to share another side of Reb Yossel (as I like to call him) that many are not aware of.

I came to know Joseph Sher in three stages. The first was as a child walking along Broadway to and from Shul every Saturday morning. We would always be looking out for Mr. Sher at the corner of Willow to wish him a good Shabbos. When I moved back to New Orleans in 1998 and assumed rabbinical duties at Anshe Sfard I got to know him as a congregant. We remained close after I left to devote all of my time to Chabad of Louisiana. Mr. Sher used to come to morning Minyan for a period of time after Katrina. He was also a regular at Chabad on Fridayand holiday nights. As he got older I used to visit him from time to time at his apartment and later in Lambeth House over the last few years.

One of the most admirable qualities that I observed in Reb Yossel Sher, was his strong commitment to peaceable resolution of conflict. The expression he often used was “Nu Shoin” loosely translated as “let’s move past it.” He was a “mevater” a person who was willing to forgo an affront to his honor or opinion for the sake of peace. A rare quality indeed.

There were three things that he shared with me that left a strong impression. One was his Famous Rabbi lampshade. Mr. Sher was a subscriber to several Yiddish newspapers. Over the decades he would cut out photos of famous Rabbis, mostly Chassidic Rebbes, from the newspaper and insert them into the plastic cover over a lampshade. Once, the daughter of one of these Rabbis was visiting New Orleans and stayed at his house where she delightedly discovered a photo of her late father in the lampshade.

The second was his vivid description of his family’s devotion to the Komarna Rebbe, Rabbi Safrin in Poland. He shared a miracle story that happened to his father as a result of the Komarna Rebbe’s blessing. He also related the distinct memory of addressing letters together with his father that were sent to Rabbi Safrin of Komarna. Mr. Sher spoke of the Komarna Rebbe with such reverence that one could sense the esteem in which the Rebbe was held in the Sher home.

For years I would give Mr. Sher a ride from our neighborhood to Anshe Sfard on the Saturdaynight before Rosh Hashanah for Selichot. In the car he would share with me his memories of Selichot in Poland during his youth. With great emotion he would chant for me how the cantor and the congregation would cry out “Al Tashlicheinu L’eis Ziknah – Do not cast us aside in our old age, as our strength weakens do not forsake us.” These were living memories for him and he had the ability to convey them as such.

Mr. Sher left us with a wealth of wonderful Jewish lore, songs and stories of good times and tough ones. The memory of his rich and fulfilled life will serve as a blessing to his family and all who knew him.

I would be remiss if I did not express my admiration for the devotion that his family demonstrated. When one came to visit him at Lambeth House there was almost always a family member present. I especially want to laud the dedication of his daughter-in-law, Karen Sher, who cared for him in the most loving and dignified manner. The quality of his last years were infinitely enhanced by Karen’s presence in his life. May Hashem bless her and the entire family for the great Mitzvah of honoring their father.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Purim @ Chabad, 40 years and counting

40 years ago, on Purim night, 1976, the doors of the first Chabad House in New Orleans opened at 7037 Freret St. It was a memorable Purim celebration. Judge Sol and Jackie Gothard served as hosts of the event. Many supporters and friends of the newly minted Chabad House joined students for what would launch a 40 year long (and counting) adventure in Jewish growth and development for the NOLA Jewish community. 

40 years later, on Wednesday night at 7:30 PM, we will once again gather at the same address (albeit in a building that has gone through significant change and improvement) for another Purim party. But that is not all. In the past 40 years Chabad has expanded to Metairie, Biloxi and Baton Rouge as well as a Chabad Center at Tulane - each of which will be hosting their own successful Purim events over the course of the holiday.

Finally Chabad's Grand Purim Feast - Purim In Outer Space - will take place on Thursday at 6 PM - at Torah Academy - 5210 West Esplanade Ave. 

We look forward to celebrating with you at one or all of these events. Please also see below for a Megillah reading schedule.

Wishing you a very joyous Purim! 
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Just Jew It!

The first reference to the people of Israel (the entire nation) as Yehudim – Jews is in the book of Esther. Until that point they are primarily associated with the name Yisrael (B’nei Yisrael, Am Yisrael) or Yaakov. The term Jew or Yehudi is associated with the tribe of Yehudah – Judah. The Kingdom of Judah (the lower kingdom in Israel), ruled by the Davidic dynasty, being the last remaining vestige of Jewish presence in Israel following the exile of the Ten Tribes (the northern kingdom), accounts for the use of the name Yehudi.

However there were more than just Judeans in Judea. Mordechai himself, who is identified in the Megillah as “Ish Yehudi” – a Jewish man – was from the tribe of Benjamin. There were also members of the remaining tribes living in Judea (and subsequently in Babylonia and Persia). So there must be a deeper reason for the propagation of the term Jew at that time.

The sages of the Talmud explain that the word Yehudi comes from the verb Hoda’ah, which, among other definitions, means to humbly acknowledge (in this case) G-d as the true G-d and the rejection of idolatry. Mordechai refused to bow or prostrate to Haman and the idol around his neck. Mordechai in turn led a spiritual revival amongst the previously assimilated Jews in Shushan, causing them all to become Yehudim – rejecters of idolatry and assimilation.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of the original Yehudah – Judah, was his immutable sense of responsibility for his brother. When Joseph (viceroy of Egypt) threatened to arrest Benjamin and keep him as a slave, it is Yehudah who argues for his release with great persistence. He declares “for your servant has assumed responsibility for the lad.”

The sense of Areivut – responsibility for a fellow Jew is something that comes with the title Yehudi – Jew. This is true on a physical/material plane and certainly on a spiritual level.

As Purim draws near, our sense of Areivut must kick in as we make sure that our fellow Jews will have the opportunity to celebrate and observe this special holiday. Invite another Jew to the reading of the Megillah. Give Shalach Manot to someone who would otherwise not know of this tradition. Encourage others to give Tzedakah to the poor on Purim. Bring your Jewish friend as a guest to a Purim celebration.

Chabad of Louisiana offers a variety of options for Purim observances. Please take advantage of one or many of them, including the Megillah reading on Wednesday night at Chabad Uptown and Chabad Metairie, the grand Purim in Outer Space celebration on Thursday afternoon and more.

To paraphrase Nike’s tagline – Just Jew it!

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Purim is no joking matter

Purim is a serious holiday. Not just a day to act silly and drink. It is a time to experience a powerful commitment to Hashem. The sages of the Talmud state that at the time of Purim the Jewish people displayed a commitment to G-d and His Torah that was greater than they had at Sinai. To the extent, that the Talmud describes Purim as the final step in the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah, which had been left incomplete at Sinai for various reasons.

What was the great dedication that was on display during the Purim story that renders it greater than Sinai? Commitment of Mesirut Nefesh – self-sacrifice. The entire Jewish nation was threatened with annihilation by Haman and his minions. For almost a year the threat of a “final solution” hung over their heads. A simple declaration by any Jew “that he was no longer a part of this people” would have saved him from this threat. Yet, not a single Jew even entertained the thought disassociating himself from his people and G-d, for the sake of saving his life. This powerful commitment to G-d that was evoked during the Purim story was deeper than the one that was on display at Sinai when we said Na’aseh V’nishma (we will do and then listen).

Since this commitment was so powerful that it transcended reason, our celebration of the holiday is in a manner that transcends reason. Ad d’lo yadah is more than just a carnival at the JCC (though that is a fine way to get into the Purim spirit this Sunday) or a blood alcohol level mandated on Purim (designated driver is an absolute must). Ad d’lo yadah means, “until one does not know” – meaning that one’s experience of commitment to Hashem on this day is beyond Yadah – intellect or reason.

So Purim is about commitment. We, who are blessed to live in a time when we are not persecuted for our Jewishness, must strive to see to it that our Jewishness takes on the same sense of urgency during good times as it did during the tough times. When we live in this heightened state of G-d consciousness, the allures of a society of plenty will not distract us from our dedication just as the threats of persecution did not during the difficult times.

Happy Adar and Purim prep! The more serious we take Purim, the more fun it is when we celebrate!

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Flaming Currency

This Shabbat we take two Torahs out of the Ark for Torah reading. In addition to the regular parasha, Vayakhel, we also read the first of four special Torah readings – Parashat Shekalim. The passage talks about the half-Shekel that was brought as a contribution to the Mishkan and later Temple building/service “to atone for their souls.”

After describing the Mitzvah to Moshe, Hashem says, “This you shall give.” Our sages point out (cited by Rashi), that He showed Moshe a half-Shekel coin of fire. Moshe was puzzled so Hashem had to show him what the Mitzvah was.

The question is, what was so puzzling about the Mitzvah that further elucidation was necessary? The Torah even describes the value of the coin. To explain, Moshe could not understand how a small coin – a half-Shekel – could serve as an atonement for their souls. Coming off of the greatest sin in history – the Golden Calf – how could such a minimal commitment bring atonement?

Hashem responded by showing him a coin of fire. The underlying message was, that it is not the quantity of the commitment that brings the atonement, it is the quality of the passion and enthusiasm. When one is on fire for Hashem and His Torah, even the smallest act contains the powerful energy of atonement.  

The lesson is clear. A penny of commitment that is flaming with passion is more desirable to Hashem than a great commitment that is performed by rote. When we invest our hearts into our service of Hashem it packs a powerful punch of holiness and G-dliness that can confront and conquer all negatives.

We extend our condolences to Yaakov Teitelbaum upon the untimely passing of his son Aaron. May Hashem comfort Yaakov and his family among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem so that they only experience open and revealed good from here onward.

Registration for Purim in Outer Space – Chabad’s Grand Purim Feast – is underway. This year’s venue is Torah Academy. For more info www.jewishlouisiana.com/purim.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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