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Preaching by Example

Earlier this week, during a prison chaplaincy visit, a discussion ensued about various methods for people to teach and influence. One of the Jewish inmates was trying to persuade the others to adopt a principled stand with regards to the standard of Passover foods being furnished by the prison. He was employing an approach of pointing out what he felt was the right thing to do by highlighting how inappropriate or even hypocritical the lack of principle would be.

As I was observing the dialogue and upon having my opinion sought, I suggested a different method. I shared with them that my daughter, Chana was celebrating her Bas Mitzvah later in the week and used that as a springboard to present the alternative approach.

Let me break for a moment to wish Chana Mazel Tov. Her celebration was last night and it was absolutely beautiful. (I will share photos when they become available.) In her usual fashion, my wife, Malkie, produced an amazing presentation that included food, décor, singing, dancing and teaching from many angles. Chana represented herself very in an elegant manner and we are very proud of her.

Back to my point. At the Bas Mitzvah, we read a letter that the Rebbe sent Malkie upon the occasion of her Bas Mitzvah. This letter was read at each of our daughters’ Bas Mitzvahs. IN addition to blessing the Bas Mitzvah girl, the Rebbe also encourages her to influence her friends in a positive way and points out that first and foremost that influence comes by showing a personal example.

This is a simple yet profound lesson. The loudest preaching and the deepest lecture is not as effective as “walking the walk.”

When Reb Bunim of Peshischa, a 19th century Chassidic master, was a child, his father hosted a group of Torah scholars for a visit. They heard about the child’s prodigious Torah learning and they asked him to share a thought on the topic he was learning at the time, the Mitzvah of welcoming guests. He went into the other room, ostensibly to prepare his remarks. When he returned he asked them to join him the other room. Instead of a lecture, the boy had prepared a room of with a bed and wash basin for each of them. Actions speak louder than words.

I hope that my words were taken to heart and that peace will reign in the miniscule Jewish community of the Federal Prison that I visit. In any case this is true across the board. Passover is a time when a lot of people are more strict about their standards than they may be the rest of the year. We need to make sure that we influence not just by preaching but also by example.

Our monthly Lunch N Learn takes place this Monday, April 3 at 12 noon – NY Camera – 705 Canal St. Topic: Not Yo Mama’s Four Sons – A new take on the four sons of the Seder.

To sell your chametz online: www.chabadneworleans.com/271377.

To make Seder arrangements contact Chabad Metairie – 504-454-2910.

Wishing you a wonderful season of freedom and liberation!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Embracing Freedom

Passover is called the festival of liberation. Freedom is such a loaded concept. We throw the idea around and it represents so many different things. I think that we would seemingly agree, that having restrictions imposed upon someone would represent the absence of freedom. Yet, let’s think about what happened to the Jewish people when they left Egypt – the moment we call the liberation of our nation. We merely exchanged one set of restrictions for another, one master for another. We went from being obligated to Pharaoh, to being obligated to Hashem. The Torah actually declares “they are My “avadim” (slaves) for I took them out of Egypt.” So where is the big freedom?

So we need to analyze the question “is Torah an enslavement of the Jewish people?” Interestingly, our sages comment on the term used to describe the manner in which the words were inscribed on the tablets – charut (engraved) – saying that charut is related to cherut (Hebrew for freedom). Based on this, they declare that true freedom can only come from the study and observance of Torah.

At the risk of over-simplifying a complex idea, I would like to propose a two-tiered solution to this problem. The first is, that not only does absence of structure in life not guarantee freedom, it almost always assures chaos, which inevitably leads to misery. So taking them out of Egypt without providing a structure within which to live would not have given them freedom, but rather anarchy. So implementing a structure for their new lives was an absolute necessity for their continued liberated status. The same is true for all people in subsequent times.

Which leads us to the more important tier two. For a human being to welcome Hashem’s will into his life is highly empowering and therefore highly liberating. Through Torah and Mitzvot, a person enters into a relationship with Hashem. The person can sense the love that Hashem has for him, and the value that Hashem ascribes to his life choices. This leads a person to embrace these “rules” not as restrictions that infringe on his life, but rather as Divine direction for meaningful, G-dly living. There cannot be anything more liberating and free than a person who has such a relationship with G-d.

So this Pesach, when we think about freedom and liberty, let us remember what it is really all about and embrace the opportunity to implement more and more of this freedom giving structure called Torah and Mitzvot.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Purim Recap, Photos and Beyond

Last weekend we celebrated the most joyous holiday of Purim. I am excited to share with you that, between Purim shuttle, Purim parties and Megillah readings, thousands of New Orleans Jews were touched by Chabad’s Purim activities and celebrations. Here is a brief recap of how that came about.

Eighty five participants and several dozen volunteers enabled us to pack and deliver over 270 Purim Shuttle packages to home in the New Orleans area. Malkie and I would like to thank the following volunteers who assisted with this amazing project (forgive me if I leave someone out). Bina Lefkowitz, Beverly Serebro, Jill Halpern, Eti Buskela, Lauren Sturm & Jacob, Jennifer Feld, Sara Rivkin, Anna Gil, Alan Smason, Adam Stross, Alan Krilov, Judy Newman, Lou Furman, Jonathan Kaufman, Morris & Yitzi Lew, Toni Weiss, Alex Cazabat, Orit Naghi, Shane & Esther Schreiber, Mazal Avitan, Rabbi Yochanan Rivkin, Rabbi Yossi Chesney, Shloime Greenwald, Gershon Schreiber and Peter Seltzer. Photos below.

On Purim Eve (Saturday night) Purim parties were held at Uptown, Metairie, Tulane, Biloxi and Baton Rouge. At Chabad Uptown over 120 attended, including an appearance by Israeli NBA player Omri Casspi and his wife Shani. Following an interactive Megillah reading and Havdallah, a great Purim party featuring Uzzi Varshaver on the Piano, joined for time by Lauren Sturm and later by Daniel Gale on the violin. The music went for hours and a good time was had by all. Photos below.

The following day, Megillah readings took place at Chabad Uptown, Metairie, Tulane, Bilox and Baton Rouge as well as Lambeth House, David Antiques in the French Quarter and Moishe House, capped off by a final call reading at the Grand Purim Feast at Torah Academy.

This year’s Purim feast theme was Purim in the Big Apple. Torah Academy’s multi-purpose room was transformed into scenes of the New York street. A subway station, street vendors offering hot-dogs and pretzels, a NY deli and fish market, the Manhattan skyline and 770 Eastern Parkway completed the look. A Big Apple menu and awesome music by Panorama Jazz Band rounded out the evening. A host of creative New York themed costumes abounded, including a few NYPD cops who were arresting people for public intoxication. Photographer Gil Rubman captured the event on camera and his photos will be available next week, G-d willing. A big shout out to all of the volunteers and committee members for their hard work and efforts in pulling off a quality event. These outstanding themes and Purim parties are making it harder to top from year to year!

Purim is now in the rear-view mirror which means that Pesach is around the corner… for all of your Pesach needs remember that www.chabadneworleans.com/Passover is the place to go. We will have the Chametz sale form up next week, G-d willing. For your community Seder check in with Chabad Metairie – www.jewishlouisiana.com. Our monthly Lunch N Learn will take place on Tuesday, March 28 and will have a Pesach related topic – the Four Sons of the Seder.

Today was the funeral of Saul Barber. I met Saul in the summer of 1998 when I started serving as Rabbi of Anshe Sfard. He was the long-time Gabbai of the Shul. He was a soft-spoken person who did not like the controversy often associated with Shul politics. But he was staunchly principled when it came to Synagogue customs and practices. He inherited a prayer book from his predecessor, Henry Katz, in which all of the Shul customs were marked. When High Holidays came, he was like a general, directing the order of the service and ensuring that it was done the correct way. He proudly shared with me his memories of growing up in the old neighborhood near the Shul and how his mother wore a Sheitel. His presence will be missed and may his memory be for a blessing.

Good Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Party for the Heaven of it!

Purim is no joke! As a matter of fact we take Purim very seriously. So, you may ask, why all the revelry that makes it look eerily similar to a certain festival that just ended two weeks ago? To quote my beloved late colleague, Dr. David Kaufmann, "while they party for the heck of it, we party for the heaven of it." 

The celebrating on Purim has the Halachic designation of "Kedushas Purim - the holiness of Purim," implying a certain sense of earnestness. Yet it is a time to go beyond the structures of everyday joy - "ad d'lo yada" as our sages instruct. 

Somehow we manage to straddle these two seemingly opposite extremes, maintaining Kedushah, while at the same time, celebrating over the top. If you want to see how this is done, you will have to come experience it for yourself. Join us at one of the many Purim events at Chabad and learn how to party for the heaven of it.

Happy Purim and Shabbat Shalom 

Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

David Kaufmann OBM - A Loss for New Orleans

It is with a heavy heart and profound sadness that I share the news of the passing of community leader, my fellow (senior) Shliach, family friend and longtime neighbor, Dr. David Kaufmann.

Dr. Kaufmann was one of the first (if not the first) people to get involved with Chabad in 1975 when my parents arrived in New Orleans. While pursuing graduate studies at UNO and later Tulane, he also pursued his other passion, Jewish learning. David was a regular at our home and entertained us kids with songs and stories. He always had a pipe and a chess board handy. After marrying Nechama and starting their family; and completing his PHD in English at Tulane, David and Nechama joined the staff of Chabad as Shluchim to New Orleans. For years they directed Camp Gan Israel and then also became the directors of Chabad’s activities on Tulane’s campus. David also spearheaded the highly popular Chanukah @ Riverwalk program and continued to coordinate it until recent years.

His true love was learning, especially Chassidus and the teachings of the Rebbe, which he shared at every opportunity. David had a profound influence on many people as a Shliach, teaching and inspiring in his unique manner, and also as a professor of English and Jewish studies at Tulane. For years he led a Tanya study group with a diverse group in attendance. His classes on the Rebbe’s “sichos” (talks) were much anticipated. I will take the liberty of sharing that he developed a deep friendship with Mr. Bill Norman and they continued their weekly study sessions all through David’s illness until very recently, and even then David was talking about resuming as soon as he reclaimed his strength.

He was influential in the growth of Torah Academy serving in many capacities over the years, not the least of which was Chess Club instructor, once leading the club all the way through the tournaments, nearly to the top of the city rankings. David was an author of many books spanning several genres. He was also a translator and an editor. He was a pioneer in using the internet and email for Jewish outreach, through which he developed a relationship with the legendary online Jewish figure, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Kazen. For years, Dr. Kaufmann authored the lead section in the weekly L’chaim Newsletter published by Lubavitch Youth in New York.

All of the above aside, most central to David’s life was being a Chosid and Shliach of the Rebbe, and of course, his family. He deeply regarded the Mitzvah of honoring parents. His pride and joy were his wife, children and grandchildren.

This past summer, Dr. Kaufmann stood before us at Project Talmud, and bravely spoke about Faith in Times of Crisis. It was – at times – an emotional presentation that strongly impacted the listeners. We all had hoped that it would be strictly a rear-view mirror perspective. Alas, it was not meant to be and this morning our community suffered the loss of one of our best.

The funeral will be held tomorrow (Friday) at 10 AM in Houston at the Beth Jacob Cemetery, 2300 Almeda-Genoa Road. Shiva will follow in Houston through next Thursday morning.

Our hearts are broken for the loss but even more so for Nechama and their children, Saadya (Chaya Sarah), Rachel (Mendy) Traxler, Shmuel (Rivky), Chaya (Berry) Silver, Yosef (Chana), Chana (Yaakov) Hellinger, and Devorah Leah. May Hashem comfort you among the mourners of Tzion and Yerushalayim and may we very soon experience the Geulah, the time when “death will cease forever and Hashem will wipe the tears off every face.”

We wish to extend condolences to Toni Weiss and Gary Remer upon passing of her father, Kurt Strauss. I remember him coming to Chabad on occasion with Toni to say Kaddish after his wife's passing and he always seemed like a person who made the most of life. He passed at the age of 95. May his memory be for a blessing to the whole family.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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