ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Kotel! - Our Hearts Are Torn Asunder

Kotel defined the word alive. To imagine that someone so alive is no longer among the living, is something I cannot wrap my head around...  

Kotel was the rosh v'rishon (first person on the scene) whenever someone needed some help. He had his hands in so much of the chesed that takes place in our community. 

For the many Israelis who passed through New Orleans for liver transplants, he was a friend and a guide and source of assistance in so many ways. I think back on the many "goodbye" parties in the lobby of Brent House for each of them.

Kotel was the go to guy for anything that anyone needed relating to construction and renovation. I cannot believe that I will not hear his voice again on a call in reply to my SOS saying, "Rabbi Ma Nishma?" along with a solution to the problem that was stored in his truck together with an endless supply of everything that a person could possibly need to fix or install something. More importantly he gave you his time and with a big smile dismissing any attempt to apologize to him for taking his time.  

He truly rejoiced with you in your happy occasions and he knew how to be there for you in times of distress.  

How many people have a direct association with Kotel and the end of Yom Kippur chanting of Norah Alilah? Who will now show up at Hakafot on Simchat Torah with other-worldly scotch for everyone to enjoy? Kotel had the best costumes on Purim! I could go on and on...  

Kotel was REAL and kept it real. He was the most unpretentious person. Had no use for pompousness. He was real with you and wanted real in return. 
The man who nobody thought would ever settle down found an equally real and special person to settle down with. Sigal, our hearts are torn with you. Life without Kotel in the community is unimaginable. Your loss is incomparably greater. We are there for you as you and Kotel have been there for each and every one of us.

Kotel was a gem of human being with the warmest Jewish heart that one could ever encounter. We can only beg Hashem to speedily bring us to time when He in His great mercy will remove death forever and wipe the tears from upon our faces with the coming of Moshiach NOW!   

How will you be remembered?

This past week our family marked the Yahrtzeit of my grandfather, Reb Mordechai HaKohen Rivkin OBM, who passed away eleven years ago. Zeidy Rivkin, as we called him, was not a rabbi. In fact, since he lost his father at age 12, he had to go to work, thereby losing the opportunity to attend Yeshiva. He was a businessman all his life. Yet he was blessed with, and worked hard to further develop, a highly attuned sense of proper priorities in life. Over the years, the Rebbe found in him a person to whom he could entrust a number of sensitive and important tasks; and they would get done. My grandfather got involved in many important initiatives and institutions that were near and dear to the Rebbe. Zeidy had a sharp intuition for getting to the bottom of a situation, whether it was business or communal activism. He was extremely proud of his children and grandchildren, and everything they did to advance the cause of Yiddishkeit and the Chabad movement. He and my Bubby, may she be blessed with good health and long life, served as the super-glue to keep the family very close. Indeed, in our family, first cousins are like siblings and second cousins are like first cousins. As the fourth and even fifth generations are emerging, there is still a very acute sense of family.

On his yahrtzeit earlier this week, a number of grandchildren posted memories on social media and family chats. Many of the posts highlighted accomplishments of the several dozen great-grandchildren named Mordechai after Zeidy. What struck me was, what he was being remembered for. There were two common themes, family, and devotion to Yiddishkeit and the vision of the Rebbe. My grandfather was a man of the world. He was always dressed well and could enjoy a good restaurant or trip to a nice place. However, when he is remembered, what stands out was his devotion to his principles and ideals. This stems from the way he prioritized his life. What is valued and what is secondary? Eleven years after his passing his priorities still ring loud for us, his grandchildren. His love for us and his high regard for the important things in life loom very large for us and continue to inspire and guide us in how we live our own lives.

That same evening I attended a meeting of the Chevra Kadisha of New Orleans. The room was filled with special people who devote of their time to the ultimate kindness for those who have passed away. There was some discussion of the policy of the Chevra Kadisha with regards to burial. Someone mentioned that there were people in the community that asked to be buried with their Saints jersey. As the Jewish custom is to be buried wearing shrouds, the Saints jersey would have to be placed near the body… Now I am a New Orleanian, and I know and appreciate the importance of the Saints to our area. But when considering what to have with you for your final journey… that may be a bit much.

So when thinking about how one will be remembered after 120 years on this earth… think about what legacy will be left for children and grandchildren. What are the things that have eternal value? The answer to that question should be the engine that drives ones prioritization of time, resources and energy in life. Hopefully we will all make the right decisions, making our lasting impact on this universe that much more meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

In Defense of Defending Jews

In today’s society, it is conceivable that advancing the notion of Ahavat Yisrael – our mandate to love our fellow Jew, can be met with an objection. Don’t all people matter (All Lives Matter)? Why are you advocating for tribalism? Why can’t we just be citizens of the world? Why the (perceived) isolationism?

I would like to address this from a pragmatic rather than a theological perspective (though, in my opinion, it is impossible to truly separate them). I preface this by introducing another angle into the discussion, the defense of Israel’s right to strategic security and self-defense. Why is this a relevant angle? Over the seven decades of dialogue over the Israel issue, the Rebbe always approached it from a singular vantage point. In his view, the Jewish historical right to the land played a secondary role (at best) in arguing for a strong defense of Israel and her need to take hardline positions on certain matters. The primary argument was security. There are X million Jews living in Israel. We have an absolute mandate to advocate for their safety. Any policy that puts Jewish security at risk is against the Torah. Over and over, the Rebbe cited the passage in Jewish law about violating the Sabbath to defend against a hostile force amassing on the border of a Jewish area (even outside of Israel), even when it is not certain that there is actual threat to life. The mere possibility of a threat, is sufficient to allow for the positioning of self-defense on Shabbat.

Let’s transition back to the original discussion about the obligation of Jews to one another. Most people would not object to people regarding their immediate family members’ welfare as a primary responsibility. The Jewish people have historically regarded each other as family for whom primary responsibility is nothing to be ashamed of. There is good reason for this. Aside from the fact that we are mishpacha, there is also the historical reality that if we don’t take care of each other, nobody else (Hashem excepted) will do it for us.

On the contrary, if left to the mercy of history and human survival, we would long be gone. As it is, we have been targeted for decimation over and over again over the 4,000 years of our people’s existence. Why is it that a 4,000 year old people has a population of a paltry 15,000,000? Why are we a tiny percentage of the world’s population (equal to a statistical error in a Chinese census)? Because every few hundred years or so a genocide is perpetrated against us. We all know about the Holocaust. But prior to that it was the Cossacks in the 17th century, the inquisition in the 15th and 16th centuries, the crusaders in the 11th and 12th centuries, the Almohads, the Visigoths, Romans, Greeks, Persians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Philistines, Egyptians and many others that are too numerous to mention.

Even today, when we are in one of the safest periods in Jewish history, we are still the world’s most targeted group when it comes to crimes of prejudice. Forget about Europe and the Middle East, even in the USA, 2/3 of all hate crimes target Jews. We get it from the extreme right and the extreme left, with some tacit winking from folks tending a little closer to the center. When Israel is singled out for criticism (legitimate or illegitimate) in an extremely disproportionate manner by the self-righteous “defenders of human rights,” while the crimes of nations that carry the banner of human rights violations are dismissed or ignored, this is a form of blatant persecution against Jews.

Sadly, human history has shown, that the citizens of the world are willing to stand by as Jews are targeted and killed. Even when they come to our rescue it is often 6,000,000 people too late. The world was prepared to stand by and watch as six Arab armies attacked Israel. Only when, with Divine help the IDF was gaining the upper hand, did the “compassionate advocates of peace” intervene to stop the “bloodshed.”

American politics aside (and I mean that in all seriousness), this why Israeli control over the strategic Golan Heights is so vital. For the last 52 years countless Jewish lives have been saved by denying Syria, and its evil associates, access to the Golan Heights. This is not about politics or statesmanship. This is about security and safety.

If I may, I will close by putting my Rabbi hat (yes it is black) back on. One of the best ways to defend Jews, is by promoting Judaism to Jews. Our survival and growth as a people, is intertwined with the survival and growth of Judaism along with the important message it has for us and for the whole universe.

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin


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