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A Tribute to my Bubby- Mrs. Dusia Rivkin

There is a verse in Lamentations “the crown of our head has fallen,” referring to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Today our family proclaims “the crown of our head has fallen” with the passing of my grandmother, Mrs. Dusia Rivkin, known to us as Bubby Rivkin. She was a true matriarch who presided over a family spanning five generations. She had hundreds of descendants, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren, each of whom she knew by name.

COVID-19 has taken the lives of thousands worldwide (she was not one of them). It has caused many more to be ill (may G-d grant them healing speedily). But there are other fallouts of this dreaded disease and the scourge of isolation that it brought along for the ride. Some of the most challenging, are the weddings that must be scaled back for safety. A bride who dreamt here whole life about her wedding day, must suffice with a minyan of people present while others dance and cheer from a distance. Another painful fallout of Coronavirus are the funerals. Today it felt like the twilight zone. We watched our beloved Bubby’s funeral on Zoom, as people in Hazmat suits escorted her to her place of honor in the Chabad cemetery adjacent to the Rebbe’s Ohel. My father and his brother had to watch from afar as their brother-in-law said Kaddish for their own mother. A woman, whose circle of family, friends and acquaintances numbered in the thousands, who deserved a royal send off to the world of truth, was accompanied by a handful of family members and friends healthy enough to attend, each spaced six feet apart from the other. This is G-d’s will and we accept it with love, but it was still painful to behold.

Bubby Rivkin was born into a prominent Chabad family, to Reb Mendel and Hinda Deitsch, in Russia, a decade into the Communist revolution. Her parents were extremely charitable and hospitable people. Their home was open to hundreds of hungry people who came to eat, in Charkov, and later in Uzbekistan to where they fled ahead of the Nazi onslaught. She absorbed the values of Yiddishkeit and Chassidus by osmosis just being around that household. As a teenager who was blessed with fair hair and blue eyes, she was often used a courier to transmit funds to keep the underground Yeshiva running in that part of Russia. Her groom was nearly snatched by the Russian secret police from under their chupah, if not for a friend “greasing the palm” of the agent who showed up at the wedding. When they finally left Russian and eventually made it to the United States, it was a difficult beginning like so many other immigrants.

With time they established themselves and built their family and life in the Crown Heights community of Brooklyn. My grandparents were very dedicated Chassidim, whose every move in life was undertaken with the Rebbe’s guidance and blessing. Those ideals around which their lives were centered, were imparted to their children and family. My grandparents were involved in many worthy endeavors at the Rebbe’s urging. The example that they showed, has inspired each and every one of us to emulate their devotion to the same cause.

My grandparents were the superglue of our family. They worked tirelessly to ensure that our family stayed close despite being all over the world. Their home was constantly filled with grandchildren, nieces and nephews, cousins and relatives, who found a welcoming environment to hang around.

I had a unique relationship with my grandparents because I lived in their home for many years, while attending school in New York. They were there for me as surrogate parents as I grew from a child to a teenager to an adult. They saw me off on my first (and only) foray into dating when I went to meet Malkie – driving my grandfather’s car. They made sure my suit was pressed and my shoes were polished… Each morning after our meetings, they would wake me up to find out how things were progressing. My grandfather refused to leave for work until he heard that all was well. Malkie and I lived next door to them after our marriage, and spent many Shabbos dinners at their home. When we moved to New Orleans, they remained super involved in every aspect of our lives. They were intimately involved in the lives of our children.

After my grandfather’s illness and passing twelve years ago my grandmother was left to preside over the family alone. Though she never truly got over his passing, she filled that role with grace and elegance. My children knew her as Bubby Bubby (to distinguish from the other Bubby Rivkin, my mother). She knew everything about their lives. Whenever I would speak to her on the phone or in person, she would complement the ones who were in NY for school.

My grandparents loved our New Orleans Chabad community. They supported and encouraged the work of Chabad here in any way they could. Many of the Chabad New Orleans folks came to regard her as their Bubby also, a role she embraced.

My last conversation with Bubby was on Purim morning. We chatted about Purim at Chabad in New Orleans and my family. I wish I had known that it would be the last time. Her health took a turn for the worse soon after. We saw each other on a family zoom conference when we gathered to pray for members of the family who were unwell.

She was a person who meant so much, to so many. She touched the lives of a wide range of people, who all remember her fondly for her kindness and insight. I still cannot believe that she is no longer with us physically. People like that are supposed to be in your life forever. I pray that our family will make her and my grandfather proud of the way we are continuing the life that they modeled for us. May Hashem send us the ultimate comfort with the coming of Moshiach speedily, when we will once again be reunited with all of our loved ones who have passed.

Freedom to be Free

“Festival of Our Freedom!” “Season of Our Liberation!” How can one experience freedom while being mandated to remain isolated at home? How can one have a liberating Passover experience while forced by Covid 19 to be separated from family and friends? How can we “rejoice on our festival” when facing the uncertainty of our global crisis?

Yet, looking at our history, we see that, whether it was a Russian Jew substituting four glasses of tea and three sugar cubes for wine and Matzah, a Jew is Auschwitz using a few scraps of potatoes and memories of home, or a Spanish Jew observing Pesach in the cellar, under the shadow of the Inquisition, all declared their state of liberation at the Seder.

Egypt is not just a place, it is also a state of mind. Indeed the enslavement in Egypt was spiritual as much as physical. The children of Israel were steeped in the Egyptian culture of idolatry and immorality. They were slaves to Egyptian society as much as to the Egyptian taskmasters. Liberation from Egypt was also freedom from the spiritual slavery.

When G-d liberated us from Egypt, He brought us to Sinai to receive the Torah, thereby imbuing us with an intrinsic sense of freedom stemming from our relationship with Him. From that moment onward, the Jewish people cannot be subject to true enslavement by another nation or circumstance. Our bodies can be sent into exile, but the soul can never be subjugated. As such, no matter what type of persecution or challenge we face, the freedom that dwells within the soul of the Jew cannot be taken away. It is this inherent freedom that is celebrated on Pesach irrespective of current external circumstances.

Feel free to be free this year. Feel free to be joyous. Feel free to not only observe Pesach, but to celebrate Pesach. It may be challenging, but we have what it takes. You might need to lean on me when you are feeling low, while I lean on you when I am feeling low. We need to be there for each other and have our finger on the pulse of those who are most vulnerable to feeling lonely and despondent during this time. Call, text, video chat (not on Shabbos or holidays, of course) and connect with other people that cannot see in person now.

Pesach requires preparation! I am sure you are all already deep into Pesach prep. Remember Kosher Cajun has what you need for the Passover Seder items, wine, catering. Go to www.Koshercajun.com or email mary@koshercajun.com to make an order. They can deliver or you can pick up. Casablanca can also help with you Passover catering this year. Contact Andy at www.casablancanola.com. Utilize the opportunities to make your Pesach prep easier and support our Kosher establishments.

Next week Chabad of Louisiana will be delivering hundreds of packs of Shmura Matzah to homes in our area. If you live in Orleans or Jefferson and would like to receive a box, please email me at mendel@chabadneworleans.com. Our deliveries will follow the proper guidelines and precautions that our current situation dictates. If you would like to volunteer to deliver, please email me as well. If you would like to help underwrite this project allowing over 300 families to receive Matzah, please go to www.chabadneworleans.com/donate or PayPal mendel@chabadneworleans.com.

Together we will get through this.

Wishing you all a wonderful Shabbos.
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Be Strong, Be Strong and We Will be Strengthened!

This week Synagogues around the world will not be reading from the Torah. The Parshah that we would read concludes the book of Shemot – Exodus. The custom is to proclaim at the end of the reading “Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazek – be strong, be strong and we will be strengthened.” While we cannot proclaim this together, each of our homes must reverberate with the sound of that powerful message of strength.

This is also the Shabbat in which we would bless the upcoming month of Nissan in front of the Torah scroll. Since, by Divine design, we cannot gather in a Minyan, it behooves Hashem alone to bless the month on our behalf. Indeed, may this month of liberation and freedom herald liberation and freedom for each and every one of us from everything keeping us down, beginning with the disruptive coronavirus, and exile in general.

Under the current circumstances, it appears that everyone of us will be celebrating Pesach in our own homes. How ironic, that the Seder opens with the declaration “all who are hungry should come and eat,” and now we are forced into isolation and social distancing. In that vein, I strongly encourage each of you to start (if you haven’t already) making concrete Passover preparations to have your own Seder at home by yourself.

Kosher Cajun has assured me that they are adequately stocked to be able to supply our community’s many new Seders with the Seder needs. They will have the seder plate items, Passover products, and wine in abundance. You can also order catering from them for the Seder. Contact Joel or Mary at mary@koshercajun.com or see the menu online at koshercajun.com. Dvash Catering is also offering to help with you Passover catering – dvashcatering.com. Do not wait! Take action now to ensure that you will have a meaningful Pesach.

2000 homes in the New Orleans area will be receiving a Passover guide in the mail this week from Chabad. It includes a step by step how to for the Seder. You can also use online resources at www.chabadneworleans.com/Passover. We will be delivering Shmura Matzah to hundreds of homes in the area in the near future. But you must move now to get your Passover seder in place. It will be different and strange – but it must be done. The faster we accept this, the better prepared we will be. We can make this a very meaningful Pesach if we regulate our expectations, and adjust ourselves to the circumstances.

Chabad of Louisiana, all of our branches, are joining forces to be as helpful as possible as can be with getting you set for a stay-at-home Seder. Feel free to reach out to us – Uptown, Metairie, & Baton Rouge, if there is anything we can do to help.

In the meantime, join us for one of our virtual gatherings. Each morning at 8:30 for morning services on my Facebook page, Malkie’s nightly Torah and tea on Facebook, Chabad Metairie positivity moment and Torah class each day on Facebook, Chanie Nemes is having a book review on Zoom, we will be having more and more opportunities for community gathering with time. Also www.chabadneworleans.com/coronavirus has a lot of resources as well.

In the meantime Chazak, Chazak, V’Nitchazek!
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Maintaining Community From a Distance

 

and classes to advance your Jewish knowledge.

Several local Facebook live events have sprung up as a result of this situation. Malkie Rivkin has been doing a nightly gathering at 9 pm (CDT) and Chabad of Metairie has been doing a daily stream at 2 pm. More will be coming.

We also assembled select prayers as well as other resources, including a free quarantine Kaddish service, for those that cannot make it to synagogue.

Please visit our ever expanding section on our website at www.ChabadNewOrleans.com/coronavirus.

As always - and especially now - we at Chabad are available for you and your family in whatever way you need. Please don't hesitate to reach out!

May G-d grant our world healing real soon, and especially the ultimate healing — the coming of Moshiach!

Sincerely,
On behalf of Chabad of Louisiana
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

STILL Cradled in Hashem's Hands

 

es will continue so long as public health officials deem it safe. In event of change, we will keep you informed. When coming to Chabad, please help keep the community safe by taking the following measures as directed by the CDC. If you are not feeling well, please stay home and focus on regaining your good health. Even if you are only having slight symptoms, please err on the side of caution. Upon entering Chabad for a visit or for services, please wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. We request that our seniors, as well as those who have underlying medical issues, check with their physicians about attending services.

Two weeks ago in this forum there was an essay entitled, Cradled in Hashem’s Hands - https://www.chabadneworleans.com/templates/blog/post.asp?aid=1203266&PostID=96654&p=1. The chaos and panic has only increased in the last two weeks. The COVID 19 situation is fluid and is constantly evolving. People’s panicked reactions are inevitable in our society.

There is a passage in the Talmud Sotah that describes a state of chaos in the world that will take place at the end of exile. The conclusion there is “And upon what is there for us to rely? Only upon our Father in heaven.” Now more than ever must we remember that we are STILL cradled in Hashem’s hands.

I want to share a poem entitled Beyond, which my daughter Sara wrote two nights ago in relation to what is going on in the world.

Chaos, Confusion
A world in disarray nobody knows if they're coming or going
Nobody knows if the plans they made today will be going through tomorrow
Your mind is spinning you in circles
Confusion, Chaos

When you've told your family and friends and colleagues it’s not new-
They have heard it too.
Are hearing it.
Are living it.
Are telling it.
Their minds are spinning them in circles just like you.
Confusion, Chaos

A world where the price to live has shot up until the skies
Skies are closed to travelers, nobody cares if you have loved ones
Just stay away from me.
Separation, Quarantine

When you look to the left to the right for guidance, for knowledge
Everyone looking right and left until we stare each other in the face.
No one is immune

The virus doesn't care black or white, your occupation
Your religion, your country, there's no discrimination
If you are healthy or sick
The greatest expert in disease is as at risk as a beggar on the street.
And when you've come to the top in search for answers all you do is stare into a face just as unsure as your own.
And the walls crash down around you. No support. No answers. You might fall.
Confusing, Chaotic, Quarantine, Isolation.
You are on your own.

The world is more than 4 directions
There is to be found another dimension.
I don't control now, I never did, never will.
The plans that I planned, the places I've been, were You working through me
You work through me still
There is a break from the cycle of my mind that spins me around in circles.

When the world that I leaned on
Won’t hold up anymore
I won't fall - I have You.
To deny a higher power
Is to survive a life of isolation, quarantine with only your mind spinning you in circles.
But survival's not enough - I want to live

We ignored and filled space
We chased with nothing to chase
Walls are down, chaos reigns
The world that had no place for You is now empty, quarantined.
There is room for Your light, an answer

There is healing of soul.
I'm at peace for I know
If it’s not in my hands
I don't need to fight
I need not look left and right
But beyond.

Shabbat Shalom – May it be a Sabbath of Peace and Tranquility for all!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

 

Indeed, America is NOT different!

My maternal grandmother, was born in the USA into a Chabad family. One of the highlights of her youth was the day her father took her out of school in the late winter of 1940. They headed to a pier in NYC where the USS Drottingholm docked after a 12 day journey from Europe. It was exactly this day, the 9th of Adar, 80 years ago. As they stood watching, they beheld a man being taken off the ship in a wheelchair. That man was their Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson, the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe. Though he was only 59 years old at the time, he had prematurely aged due to the unspeakable hardship and torture he endured years earlier under the Stalinist regime. Furthermore, he and his family survived the recent Nazi bombing of Warsaw and escaped war-torn Europe to the safe shores of the USA.

Thousands came to the pier to greet the Previous Rebbe, including state and municipal governmental delegations. The Rebbe was very gracious to all those who came to greet him; and very grateful to the government representatives through whose efforts he was saved. However, a certain uneasiness began to set in with him. Well-meaning members of the American Chabad leadership were advising the Rebbe to go low-key. Open a shul and a Beis Midrash, they advised, but go easy on the activism. After all, America is different. People have a different mindset. Priorities are not the same here. What was good in the old country, doesn’t necessarily fly in America.

At a farbrengen a few days later, the Rebbe cried and shared, that good friends are telling him to take it easy because America is different. But the Rebbe would have none of that. He was the man who stood toe to toe with the Soviets and stared them down. He single handedly maintained an underground network of tens of thousands of schools, shuls, mikvahs and Jewish communal institutions in the Soviet Union. He had been arrested and threatened with harsh labor in Siberia and even death. But he overcame it all. He was the man who founded and oversaw a network of Yeshivas in Poland, Lithuania and Latvia until the German invasion that almost cost him his life. Was he to be intimidated by the apathy of American Jewry? He declared loudly and definitively, “America is NOT different.”

From the confines of a wheelchair, despite severe health challenges, he launched the Chabad movement in the USA, with the same sense of devotion and urgency that drove him 20 years earlier in the USSR. Just before his passing 10 years later, he remarked, that the ice of America is starting to melt. When his son-in-law, our Rebbe, assumed his position, he continued and expanded those activities and the movement into the world-wide force that it is today. 80 years later we can say with certainty, “Indeed, America is NOT different.”

Have a good Shabbos and a very joyous Purim!
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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