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ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Positive National Coverage

We are conditioned to seeing New Orleans, and NOLA related institutions, get trashed in the national media. Well I am happy to share some positive coverage for a NOLA institution in one of the most prominent and popular Jewish websites, Chabad.org.

In connection with the 36 hour campaign that is currently running to benefit the students of Torah Academy, Chabad.org is featuring a wonderful exposure for the school and the community. It is a story that does a great job highlighting the challenges of getting the school back up and running after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, paired with the amazing current achievements of the school, along with the exciting projections for the school’s future.

The full article can be read at www.chabad.org/4012125. It is also featured in the news section below. I will be excerpting a few key passages from the article as well.

In the meantime, the 36 hour campaign to raise $255,000, has passed the 50% mark with contributions from over 300 individuals. We need each and every one of you to help us reach our goal by 9 PM this evening. Each dollar that you contribute will be tripled by a group of generous matchers. Please go to www.torahacademynola.donorzen.com to make your donation and to follow the exciting developments of the campaign. Participating in this campaign will literally, without exaggeration, help shape a positive future for our NOLA Jewish community.

Interviewed in the article are: Chanie Nemes, Yochanan Rivkin, Rivkie Chesney, Orit Naghi and Naomi Smith. Here are some excerpts. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety.

“In 2005, things were looking up at the New Orleans Torah Academy, with an unprecedented 60 children enrolled. Then came Hurricane Katrina, and everything changed. Homes, businesses, highways and schools—nothing was spared… For years, streets that had once teemed with life were lined with a never-ending supply of mold-splotched sheetrock and rotten bedding, as the city struggled to dry out, clean up and get back on its feet. The original school building was so heavily damaged by the storm that it needed to be demolished. There were hardly any students anyway; most families had moved away and never returned…

It took more than a decade of building, planning and hoping, but today the school—now located in an airy, state-of-the-art facility—has seen its largest enrollment ever and looks forward to even more children in the years to come. (CN)

“We believed that having an inviting, modern and spacious facility would attract people to the school. Five years ago, I posted on Facebook that the school could have 80 students by 2018. At the time, it seemed like fanciful thinking, but thanks to our dedicated and creative staff and lots of Divine assistance, it is becoming a reality.” (YR)

“This is a school where every child—and every parent—is important. When my son started, there were eight children in his class; now there are 14 in his kindergarten/first grade. The staff greet the children like friends because that is what they truly are, devoted to every single child.” (ON)

“I had faith from the beginning that this school was going to grow. Everything we do is research-based, and the practices are top of the line. Our wonderful staff-student ratio allows us to focus on every child, and watch them develop academically and socially. There is a very positive environment, which feels like a family. If someone needs help, there will always be someone there to help them. Larger schools cannot offer that degree of attention and customization.” (NS)

My friends, whether you know it or not, and whether you recognize it or not, Torah Academy is one of the crown jewels of our NOLA Jewish community, producing students who are committed Jews, productive citizens, and future leaders. They have a diverse student body and a devoted staff that is second to none. Simply put, the decision to invest in Torah Academy should be a no-brainer for anyone who cares about the future of our community, and who is broad-minded enough to examine the reality of what the school achieves each year.

Get involved by going to www.torahacademynola.donorzen.com and make a difference for our future.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Developing Young Supporters of Israel

One of the issues facing the Jewish establishment today is bridging the gap between young Jews and Israel. Young Jews who are socially conscious are becoming increasingly disconnected from, and even hostile toward Israel. We needn’t look further than our own community, where a group of Jews led the effort to hoodwink the city council into passing the “BDS” bill earlier this year. Beyond the open hostility, a significant percentage of young Jews are, at best, ambivalent toward Israel. They no longer see their destiny as socially conscious humans, or even as Jews, as being linked to Israel. On the contrary they (mistakenly IMO) see Israel as an aggressor whose “apartheid” policies are discriminating against the persecuted minority. Pride in Israel’s accomplishments in all areas of human advancement, has been replaced by shame at the supposed colonialist and racist methods of dealing with the issues.

While we can and should argue the issues point and by point, demonstrating how the arguments are often fallacious and misleading, the success of that approach is diminishing from day to day. They are being inundated by other view-points that are more in the vogue in today’s world, and are, by and large, tuning out the mostly impotent attempts at “hasbara.”

So what is the alternative solution? Statistics and recent demographic studies have shown, that the segment of Jewish society that is most unconditionally supportive of the Jewish right to a presence in Israel, are those who are being raised in traditionally observant environments. Why is this so?

Because this child is raised in a home and school where Israel is presented as a place that is a gift from G-d to the Jewish people. They are shown the holiness of Israel, and how it is the very place in which the narratives of the Bible occurred. They are taught the special Mitzvot connected to the land. They are exposed to the closeness to G-d that one can feel there. They are imbued with a love for the Jewish people and are thus intensely concerned with their safety in Israel. In short, they view Israel in the context of the entire Torah, Mitzvot and Jewish religion.

So Israel is not just a beautiful place with advanced technology, gritty determined inhabitants and an underrated military. It is the holy land. Israel is not just a place with great beaches and disco clubs. It is the only place where certain Mitzvot can be performed. Our right to the land is not just because of a nationalist ideal for Jewish self-determination, the holocaust, and a few successful wars. It is ours because Hashem gave it to our ancestors and us as an eternal heritage. Israel is not just a place that has a crazy political system, competitive universities and western looking cities. It is the land where thousands of years of Jewish history as recorded in the Torah took place. One can walk where Abraham, Isaac and Jacob walked. One can move over the very earth that Kings David and Solomon traversed. One can be on the spot where prophets like Samuel and Isaiah gave over the word of G-d. Once can travel the roads upon which thousands of our ancestors journeyed to make their thrice annual pilgrimage to the Holy Temple.

This doesn’t mean that they will be 100 percent supportive of every policy of the Israeli government and society, nor should they. But it does likely mean that they will be 100 percent supportive of the Jewish connection and right to a safe and protected presence in Israel, as they should.

Here in New Orleans there is a school that is educating and developing children in this manner. I am proud to be a parent of children attending Torah Academy. In my estimation, there are few more worthy areas of investment of Jewish funds than the area of authentic Jewish education. You want to make sure that there are youth supporting Israel? Support Torah Academy! You want to make sure there are young people committed to Jewish continuity? Support Torah Academy.

Torah Academy is going to be having an exciting fundraising campaign next week. There will be a 36 hour push, called #ThinkBigNola, during which every dollar contributed will be tripled by a group of generous matchers. Running next Wednesday and Thursday. Please look out for more information by email and on social media. If you would like to pre-pledge to the campaign or volunteer at the campaign center, please contact Rabbi Chesney at ychesney@torahacademynola.com or 504-456-6429.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Thoughts on Holocaust Remembrance

Yesterday was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. I would like to share two brief thoughts on Holocaust Remembrance.

1. When the state of Israel established Yom HaShoah, they chose this date because it coincided with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. At that time, the prevalent attitude in the fledgling state was to lionize those heroes who fought back against the Nazis, whilst at the same time there was a subtle shame and even disdain for those that went to their deaths “like sheep.” I believe this attitude has shifted somewhat over the years, but it still warrants addressing.

Those that fought back and took Nazis down with them, or even escaped and survived, are certainly heroes to be admired. This does not mean that the others, the six million “kedoshim” holy souls, were just sheep who were led to slaughter. There are many types of heroes. Some are heroic on the physical plane, and some on the soul plane. There are countless stories of heroes who kept their heads held high and refused to be degraded to the subhuman level. How many heroes in the camps gave their last crust of bread or drop of energy to uplift the spirits of those around them? How many heroes went to their deaths declaring their faith in G-d and redemption in the face of the horrific efforts to break their spirits? How many heroes risked their own wellbeing to save someone else from harm? How many heroes brought the light of mitzvot and holidays to the darkest corners of the planet? Rather than being ashamed, G-d forbid, of those who perished without taking up arms to fight, we must remember them with pride and learn from their example of how to make the most of life, down to the very last breath.

2. Contemplating the tragic events of the Holocaust has sometimes led to people questioning the existence of G-d. The question of how could G-d allow the Holocaust to happen, is very valid. It is an issue that cannot and should not be justified in any way. Indeed, I do not believe that any human being can supply a satisfactory answer to this question. Yet, at the same time, I believe that events such as the Holocaust should actually reinforce our belief and awareness of the existence of an Omnipotent and Al-mighty G-d.

In all of the arguments about proofs for the existence of G-d, the most powerful one, in my opinion, is the survival of the Jewish people. By every natural law our people should have long been relegated to the ash-heap of history. Throughout the four millennia since the founding of our people, the most powerful nations attempted to annihilate us. As a matter of fact, every several hundred years a third of our people were massacred. We were only sovereign in our land for a sliver of our history. The rest of the time we have wandered and have been tossed from place to place, hated and oppressed. We were blamed and persecuted for every problem that the world faced. Yet somehow, despite all of the challenges, we have survived and even thrived. Some of our greatest contributions to society and to Judaism came under extreme difficult circumstances. The only valid and logical explanation is that there is a G-d and He has a vested interest in our survival. This should give us hope and encouragement as we move forward to what we anticipate to be the brightest chapter in our story, the imminent redemption!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

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