ChabadNewOrleans Blog

A Shvache Agnostic

This past week I was inspired by several things associated with the loss our community experienced with the passing of Joseph Konopny. When you know a person for over 25 years you come to take some things for granted. Reflecting on them after he passed away last Shabbat morning and on into the funeral on Sunday, I arrived at a fascinating realization.

Joseph was a person who often professed an agnosticism toward religion. Yet somehow he was in Shul at least once a week for years, and celebrated Shabbat almost every Friday night of the last quarter century. He owned a pair of Tefillin. He could make Kiddush. He was at Chabad for every holiday, faithfully making sure to hear the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, be at a Seder on Pesach, say L’chaim on Purim and Simchas Torah, and hear the 10 commandments read on Shavuot. He studied Torah regularly and rigorously. When the time came to make final arrangements for himself, his instructions were clear that my father’s directives were to be the ones followed. In Yiddish we would say “a shvache agnostic” – or not much of an agnostic. Standing at the funeral, as the final clods of earth were shoveled onto the casket by members of the community, I realized that it is a mistake to underestimate the power of a Yiddishe Neshama. Who would have believed that the “skeptic” would get, not just a halachic burial, but a “Mehadrin.”

The other thing that inspired me was how the community rallied together to see him off with dignity. It wasn’t always easy to get along with Joseph and he had high standards regarding the company that he kept. But when a fellow Jew, a member of the community, passed away with nobody to mourn him, we became his family. As Rabbi Nemes so eloquently declared during the funeral service, we are all his family. Friends and associates shared memories on our Chabad WhatsApp group. We were worried about having a minyan at the funeral, but a nice crowd turned out to escort Joseph on his journey to the next world. May the memory of Yosef ben Avrohom be for a blessing and may Hashem bless our community to be able to come together only for Simchas.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Appreciating Your Investment

In three weeks Chabad of Louisiana will be concluding our annual raffle campaign with a drawing on January 7 for $10,000.00. Additional prizes include a lovely piece of jewelry from BEJE (Betsy & Jeff Kaston), a giclee fine print of an original Anna Gil painting entitled Samech, and a black agate crystal necklace by Artist Anna Gil.

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 and Chabad of Southern Mississippi.).

Chabad is supported entirely 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 counseled and have invested in the lives of NOLA Jews for 43 years. On any given day we will connect with community members on 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, while others seek guidance for financial trouble or relationship issues. Common among them all is that they turn to Chabad. A central component of those relationships is Shabbat dinner. Over the year, hundreds of members of the NOLA Jewish community (as well as many visitors) attend Shabbat dinner at the private homes of the Rabbis and their families.

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. Just in the past year, the morning minyan has hosted baby namings, a bris, a Bar Mitzvah, a Chatan (groom) Shivas and Yahrtzeits. Our publications, such as the Jewish art calendar, holidays guides and family magazines, are mailed to thousands of 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. Just recently Chabad presented a lecture by Holocaust survivor, Eva Schloss, attracting 600 in attendance at the JCC.

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. Chabad has earned the accolades of other Jewish and civic organization for our Prison chaplaincy efforts.

Israeli Patient Services: Over the past 8 years, Ochsner has become a magnet for Israeli patients seeking major organ transplants. Currently there are 2 patients who are here with their caregivers. 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. Chabad Uptown also has a relationship with Woldenberg Village and Poydras Home. Our other Chabad locations serve the senior centers in their areas.

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. Just this past month we presented the Olive Press to over 120 participants at Temple Sinai, Gates of Prayer, Woldenberg Village, Chabad of Southern Mississippi and Bnei Israel of Baton Rouge.

Holiday Programs: Many of you are familiar with Chabad's signature event, Chanukah @ Riverwalk. This year's event drew over 600 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, 20 for $360 and 50 for $770. For more info go to .

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

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Chanukah Recap, Photos, Videos

Before I give you a recap of Chanukah 2018 with Chabad of Louisiana, I would to share a reflection. One of the themes of Chanukah (and a reason it has such broad popular appeal) is Pirsumei Nissa – the obligation to publicize the miracle. This is why we have the public celebrations and Menorah lightings. In the blessings before the lighting we use the phrase “bayamim haheim, bizman hazeh” – in those days at this time. A Chasidic application of the words at this time is that we are referring not only to this time of the year but also to this time in history, namely our current days.

A miracle that is happening bizman hazeh – in this time, is the fact that so many Jews are uplifted and inspired upon beholding the Chanukah lights. Driving around with the Menorah on the roof of my car, I saw hundreds of people brighten up and even take photos when seeing the Menorah. I was personally told this Chanukah by several people, how meaningful it is for them to see the Chanukah candles and how it fills with them with a sense of purposeful Jewishness. Watching people during the lighting ceremony at the Riverwalk and seeing how it moves them is also a special experience.

Olive Press Craft Workshop: The Olive Press was presented at Temple Sinai, Chabad of Southern Mississippi, Gates of Prayer, Woldenberg Village and Temple Bnei Israel (Baton Rouge). Over 100 children and adults participated.

Sunday, Dec 2:

Chanukah @ Riverwalk – With the blessing of good weather from above, over 500 turned out this year’s event, which was back at the Spanish Plaza overlooking the Mississippi River. Activities and amenities included the Latke Bar, Kosher Cajun, Children’s Dreidel Activity House, Face painting, Info Booth, George the Juggler, and music by Ooh Lala. The ceremony was featured greetings by David Sinkman (MC), Councilman Joe Giarrusso, Frank Quinn (Riverwalk), Henry Miller (Federation), Dr. Sue Fielkow, and Rabbi Zelig Rivkin. A special intro to the lighting was presented by Rabbi Mendel Rivkin along with seven others who spoke in six languages about the power of light. A link to the video can be seen at The Menorah was lit by Dr. Eitan Lang with Berry Silver singing the blessings.

Chanukah at the Capitol Chabad of Baton Rouge held another successful Menorah lighting at the Louisiana State Capitol with over 120 in attendance. Special features included the Firetruck Gelt Drop. Later in the week a Top Chef Latke Cookoff was held as well.

Monday, Dec 3:

Menorah Lighting Tulane Quad – Students took a break from studying to attend the Menorah lighting in front the LBC. Throughout the week many lightings were held all around campus with hundreds of students participating.

Israeli Chanukah Party Chabad Metairie hosted a well-attended party for Israelis with Menorah Lighting, BBQ, music and fun for all ages.

Menorah at Lakeside – The electric Menorah was lit at Lakeside Shopping center throughout Chanukah under the auspices of Chabad Metairie.

Tuesday, Dec 4: Party for Young Professionals – An informal party at the home of Rabbi Mendel & Malkie Rivkin. Menorah lighting, dreidel trivia game, dinner and drinks.

Wednesday, Dec 5: Chanukah @ Lambeth House – A Chanukah party and Menorah lighting was held at Lambeth House.

Thursday, Dec 6:

Chanukah @ VA – A meaningful Menorah lighting ceremony was conducted by Rabbi Mendel Ceitlin at the VA hospital.

Menorah Workshop @ Home Depot – Menorah building workshop by Chabad Metairie.

Visit to Oakdale Federal Prison Complex

Saturday, Dec 8: Mobile Menorah Parade – A parade of 15 vehicles and a decorated party bus rolled through the streets of NOLA bringing Chanukah music and spirit to those walking through, Uptown, Downtown, French Quarter and the Marigny.

Sunday, Dec 9: Chanukah in Biloxi – A Menorah lighting and Chanukah celebration was held at Edgewater Mall featuring talks by Rabbi Akiva Hall and the Mayor of Biloxi.

Videos of the Riverwalk ceremony and TV interviews can be seen at

Photos of the Chabad Uptown programs can be seen at

Photos of the Chabad Metairie programs can be seen at

Photos and videos of the Chabad Baton Rouge programs can be seen at  

Photos of Chabad of Southern Mississippi programs can be seen at

Photos of Tulane Chabad programs can be seen at

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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