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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Follow the Money

In just over a week Chabad of Louisiana will be concluding our annual raffle campaign with a drawing on July 9 for $10,000.00 and additional prizes of a lovely piece of jewelry from BEJE (Betsy & Jeff Kaston) and jewelry & accessory sets from David’s Antiques Edry Family).

This raffle benefits the programs and activities offered by Chabad (Uptown). Other Chabad of Louisiana affiliates are financially independent (including, Chabad of Metairie, Chabad at Tulane, Chabad of Baton Rouge, Chabad of Southern Mississippi, and Camp Gan Israel).

Chabad is completely supported by the direct contributions to our organization. We do not receive financial support from the Worldwide Chabad Movement. All contributions to Chabad remain local and support Chabad’s programs and activities in this area.

I would like to share with you a sampling of what (our branch of) Chabad does so that you will have an understanding of what your investment achieves.

Real Relationships: Chabad does not have membership we have relationships. We are there for people in their happy times and their challenging times. Chabad Rabbis and their wives have counselled and have invested in the lives of NOLA Jews for over 40 years. On any given day we will connect with community members about a wide range of issues. It may be a bride one moment, and grief or end of life issues the next moment. For some it is spiritual advice for others it is guidance for financial trouble or relationship issues. Common among them all is that they turn to Chabad. 

Our Synagogue has the only daily morning Minyan, hosting regulars as well as visitors, and locals needing a minyan for Kaddish or a joyous occasion. Our publications, such as the Jewish art calendar, holidays guides and family magazines, are mailed to Jews all across the state and region, for some their only Jewish lifeline. Nearly 1,200 people receive our weekly email newsletter.

Adult Education: Chabad’s weekly study sessions, monthly classes, lectures and adult educational opportunities are open to and attract people from all across the spectrum of the NOLA Jewish community.

Prison Chaplaincy: Chabad Rabbis have been visiting this forgotten segment of our Jewish population for decades. Whether it is the Jews at the Federal Correctional Complex in Oakdale, LA, a lone Jewish woman at Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, LA or a Jew at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, LA or Dixon Correctional, they know that Chabad is there for them. We have served Jews in Parish Prisons as well.

Israeli Patient Services: Over the past 7 years, Ochsner has become a magnet for Israeli patients seeking major organ transplants. Currently there are 2 patients and their loved ones. Two families just left and there are more on the way. Chabad serves as their home away from home and surrogate family. We assist with their medical as well as social and religious needs. 

Seniors: Chabad Rabbis have relationships with the staff at several local Senior Living Centers. A Chabad Rabbi has been visiting Lambeth House for a program called Shmoozing with the Rabbi for over 12 years.

Young Professionals: Chabad has been offering programming (Shabbat, holiday, educational and social) for young Jewish professionals in our community. Chabad Rabbis and their families have also opened their homes and hearts to these young Jews just getting started on their independence and sometimes needing a warm home, caring smile and listening ear.

Living Legacy Workshop Series: Chabad offers five workshops to youth and adult groups that have been presented at every Synagogue and Jewish organization from Lake Charles to Biloxi. They include the Shofar Factory, Olive Press, Matzah Bakery, Torah Factory and Mezuzah Factory. To date several thousand children and adults have participated.

Holiday Programs: Many of you are familiar with Chabad's signature event, Chanukah @ Riverwalk. This year's event drew over 700 participants. Chabad also holds an annual Sukkot party for over 200. Several Purim events draw hundreds. Simchat Torah @ Chabad has a reputation that is well established. Folks come from all over just to be there. High Holidays, Passover, Shavuot and the list goes on. 

This is just a sampling. Please partner with us in serving our community by purchasing tickets. The cost of a ticket is $50, 3 for $100 or 6 for $150. For more info go to www.chabadneworleans.com/raffle .

We thank you for your partnership. Our Mitzvah is your Mitzvah!

Heartfelt condolences to Dr. Samuel & Gila Lehrer, Mordechai, Ruby and Nikki, upon the passing of their daughter/sister, Sandra. May Hashem comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.  

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Assimilation is Un-American

As we are approaching Tammuz 3, a day on which we reflect upon the Rebbe’s leadership, teachings and influence, and with July 4 just around the corner, I would like to share a teaching of the Rebbe regarding one of America’s mottos, “E Pluribus Unum.” (Some of this is taken from In G-d We Trust, a Handbook of Values for Americans based on the works of the Rebbe – www.chabadneworleans.com/2313137.)

The Latin phrase means, “out of many, one.” It was adopted as a motto on the Great Seal of the USA in 1782. This phrase is featured on US currency and was, for many years, the de facto motto of the USA. Its original intent was that “out of many” - 13 colonies, one nation comes forth. It has come to also mean that the USA is a nation that is home to people from a diverse range of origins – be they ethnic, racial, religious etc. A review of the early designs of the seal also show symbols of six nations from which most of the colonists originated. This indicates to us that this intent was there from the outset.

The founders did not seek to establish a homogeneous populace; freedom of personal expression was one of their guiding principles. Although they wanted to build a unified nation, they realized that differences do not necessarily lead to division. Rather than throw everyone into a melting pot, they sought to show how each individual can retain their unique traditions and yet, join together and forge a unified society. In short, they felt that the capacity for an individual to retain his or her unique flavor and develop his or her unique ability, is beneficial to the collective society.

The Rebbe compared this to the Mitzvah of Lulav and Etrog on Sukkot, where we bring together the four different species, representing diverse types of Jews. This Mitzvah teaches us that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

During the 1991 riots in Crown Heights, New York’s mayor, David Dinkins visited the Rebbe and asked for a blessing for peace between the two peoples, Jews and African-Americans. The Rebbe’s reply: “Don’t say two peoples. One people, under one government and under one G‑d.”

A unity that permits no diversity is a limited concept. Unity is only surface-deep. By contrast, a unity that recognizes diversity can thrive. This “unity in diversity” implies a shared acceptance of an inner truth. Common principles and ideals have the power to bring together people with different abilities. Obviously in order to make this work each group needs to tolerate and appreciate the contributions of the other. Of course, when an issue arises that affects the nation as a whole, it is decided in a democratic fashion (or representative republic). A democracy requires sacrifices by both the majority and the minority. The minority must make the sacrifice of accepting the will of the majority, and the majority must learn to understand and cooperate with the minority.

Based on the above, the internal and external call for Jews (or others) to assimilate into the melting pot by giving up everything that made them (look and think) differently than those around them, is entirely un-American. Obviously each group must conform to laws of the USA and not seek to make one culture or religion dominant over any other. But to say that a yarmulke or a sari or a hijab should not be publically worn in our country, is antithetical to the motto “E Pluribus Unum.” The same holds true for any other religious practice, principal or symbol (as long as it does not persecute the rights of any other).

There are some dangerous sentiments coming from both fringes of our society, that seek to encroach on the right and the value, of religious or cultural expression and practice, which is perceived to be different from the way “America thinks or acts.”

I am proud to live in the USA, a country that was founded on principles that allow me to visibly live and worship as a Jew, without the feeling of being “less than,” or the need to fit in with everyone and everything around me. For that I say, G-d bless America!

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

A Solution to the Jewish Problem

Let me begin with prayerful wishes for a complete and speedy recovery for Rep. Scalise and the three others who were wounded in yesterday’s incident. There is much talk about toning down the rhetoric, which is accused of leading crazy folks like the shooter to perpetrate these horrendous acts. While I’m all for toning down the rhetoric, and I believe words are powerful and have an impact, still those spewing the violent sentiments may or may not mean it literally, and they may or may not have had a direct impact on the people deranged enough to carry them out. However, what is very disturbing is the spiteful reaction on the part of some, who are at political odds with Rep. Scalise. Granted, the people in leadership positions rightfully came out and condemned any violence as a means of advancing political discourse. But I have been very uncomfortable with some of the gleeful and opportunistic expressions of spite on social media and elsewhere. It is not appropriate to engage in this approach. It is not becoming of anyone who wishes to be associated with the term “mensch” to act this way. Let us argue and engage in passionate political discourse for the betterment of our country and world. But one must not rejoice at the tragedy of people, with whom one may not agree, but are a legitimate part of the American way, and who are certainly not deserving of this attack. In short, this is not the way Jews or Americans should be conducting themselves. Mensch up and do the right thing!

Back to the world of ideas… Two articles were brought to my attention this week, each advancing the notion that the American Jewish establishment must do more to engage Jews and ensure Jewish continuity. So far so good. They then go on to argue that the focus needs to be on cultural Judaism but not on religious Judaism. So it should be about Israel, the Holocaust, Tikkun Olam and the like. (As if those are not fully intersected with Judaism the religion…) These are smart and successful people that are offering these opinions. The trouble is that this stuff has been tried to some degree or another and the data, after all said and done, just doesn’t support this as the long term solution to the problem of Jewish disengagement. The Pew research study of a few years ago should have already given them sufficient info to concede this point.

So what is the solution? Years ago I came across a letter that the Rebbe wrote to an individual who was developing programming for engaging Israeli youth. The Rebbe encouraged him to not suffice with cultural programming but rather to also inject a serious does of Yiddishkeit, so that the youth have a sense of something unique to them to associate with emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.  

We see this played out over and over again. Institutions such as Birthright struggle to maintain the enthusiasm of their alumni once they are further removed from the experience of the trip. However, when the trip is infused with Torah and Mitzvot and elements of religious Jewish observance, the impact is far more powerful, both in the moment and long term. Just touting the great achievements of Israel as a country and society (and there are some really great ones) is insufficient. When there is a soul connection that sparks the long term relationship.

The same is true with the other “cultural” Jewish angles that are being advanced in the articles. Each of them is significantly enhanced and made personal and unique when infused with elements of Torah and Mitzvot Judaism. This solution has withstood the test of millennia and has outlasted every other temporal alternative.

Hi-tech is great and medical and social advancements are wonderful. The beaches and cities are beautiful and the military might is powerful. But what speaks to the Neshama of a Jew is a relationship with Hashem through Torah and Mitzvot. That is the bottom line. So we can continue to throw millions of dollars at alternative solutions, and then continue to bemoan why Jews are less engaged. Or we can try the solution that works. Good old fashioned Yiddishkiet (no pun intended?). There is much more to be written on this topic but I think you get the point!

Wishing us all much success in engaging our people and Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin 

Synthesis in Judaism

Last Sunday our daughter Basy graduated from Torah Academy. At a meaningful ceremony, surrounded by family and friends, she and her fellow 8th graders received their diplomas decked out in caps and gowns. Congratulations to them and to the younger graduates of the Early Childhood Program. I would like to share with you a synopsis of the speech she delivered.  

 

This week’s Torah portion contains the passage, “So it was, whenever the ark set out, Moshe would say, “Arise, Hashem, may Your enemies be scattered...” In the Torah scroll, this passage is bracketed by two inverted nuns. The Talmud teaches, that this passage is actually its own book of the Torah. So, if you would count the books in this manner, there would be seven books; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers until this passage, the passage itself, from this passage until the end of Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

 

In the beginning of the Parsha, the golden menorah is referenced. The menorah has seven branches, but the entire menorah must be molded from a single piece of gold. This teaches us that while there can be different paths to serve Hashem - represented by the seven branches - they must all come from the same source, symbolized by the one piece of gold.

What is the connection between the seven books and the seven branches? Some people assume that there are “significant” verses of Torah, like the above mentioned passage or “I am the L-rd your G-d,” and there are “insignificant” passages of Torah, such as the family tree of Esav. However, just as the menorah, with its diverse branches, is formed from a solid piece of gold, so too, all the verses in the Torah are equal in significance. They are all part of the same Torah, Hashem’s Torah. It is all the infinite wisdom of Hashem.

This lesson must spill over into our lives as well. Often we compartmentalize by separating “Jewish aspects of life” from the “regular” part of life. In reality, however, everything in our lives is connected to Hashem! There is nothing in the life of a Jew that is devoid of Judaism.

This lesson is particularly evident at Torah academy, which isn’t just an academy where Torah is taught, it is a school where everything is permeated with Torah ideology. Some schools use terms like Judaic and secular. In Torah Academy, we don’t refer to secular studies, as secular can mean disconnected from G-dliness. Rather, we have general studies, which we learn on a high level. When learning Torah, we discover math, science and other interesting general ideas. When learning math, history, language arts or science, we discover connections to Torah and lessons that enhance our service of Hashem.  

Our mission is to reveal that the world has been G-dly all along, and that the mundane was never truly separate from Hashem. This will be fully realized with the coming of Moshiach, may it be speedily in our days.

I would like to welcome Rabbi Zalman and Libby Groner, newest Shluchim to Louisiana, who will be working on youth programming under the auspices of Chabad of Metairie. We wish them much success!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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