ChabadNewOrleans Blog

Black Hattitude

This morning Malkie and I took our son Murdechai downtown to Meyer the Hatter to purchase a black hat for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah.

Back in the day fedoras were very common. Nobody left home without a hat. Over the past seventy years, the fedora’s popularity has significantly declined, and hat stores have shuttered their doors. Interestingly, New Orleans is one of the remaining places where fedora sales still thrive. Behind the counter they have hundreds of autographed photos of celebrities that have purchased hats there.

For Murdechai, his new black hat has nothing to do with fashion, NOLA or otherwise, but rather it is rooted in Chabad community tradition.

I am sure many wonder, aloud or to themselves, “what’s the deal with the back hats?” The truth is that black and hat are based on two different concepts. In Jewish law, there is a notion that when approaching G-d in prayer or other forms of worship (Mitzvahs etc.), that men wear a head-covering, in addition to the yarmulka that is always worn. That explains the hat. But it doesn’t explain the choice of color or style.

My uncle, Rabbi Manis Friedman, was once challenged on why Chassidim wear black/dark hats and jackets. He quipped that people wear black on formal occasions, e.g. black tie only events, an important meeting, etc. Chassidim deem every occasion of interacting with Hashem as a formal occasion. Since that is a constant, they are always dressed that way.

Folks wonder if this uniform dress style crimps one’s individuality. Don’t all Chassidim look alike? I have been mistaken for nearly every other Chabad Rabbi here in town, despite differences in hair color, body build, height, and age. How many of you have commented in this manner while looking at the Shluchim conference photo? My colleague, Rabbi Aron Moss opined on this topic –

For Murdechai, the hat offers a feeling of belonging and association with the traditions of his heritage. Obviously, the Tefillin and the newfound responsibility to Mitzvahs are what’s truly important. As for the hat, if it will make him feel more grown up and spur him to take his Judaism more seriously, isn’t that what a Bar Mitzvah is all about?

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Is G-d on Spotify?

Really? Did you think I was going to jump in on the Spotify issue? You know me better than that.

What I am really asking is, do you have divine music streaming in your life?

The Baal Shem Tov was once challenged on why his chassidim always seemed so quick to dance and be joyous. It seems a bit shallow, no?

He explained by way of a parable. A musician once set up in the center of town and started busking. The music was so captivating that passersby couldn’t help but be drawn to listen, and started clapping and dancing to the lively beat. A hearing-impaired fellow passed by and stared incredulously at the dancing crowd. Not hearing the music, he couldn’t fathom why people were cavorting in the street on a weekday afternoon.

Chassidim, the Baal Shem Tov explained, are in tune with the divine music that underlies all of existence. They are able to perceive the G-dliness that is at the core of all things. So, everything they encounter is a source of tremendous joy and exultation.

The Rambam writes that a physical person with a materialistic perspective on life, cannot appreciate spirituality any more than a deaf person’s appreciation for music or a blind person’s appreciation for colors.

Yet, the Baal Shem Tov argues that we are capable of tuning in to the divine music. How do we get there? We must work hard to train ourselves to develop a sensitivity to spirituality. As we spend long hours contemplating the divine truths of the universe, we can begin to hear the music.

So, whether you stream with Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora or any of the others, make sure G-d’s music is at the top of your playlist!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

PS: This year's Purim Feast theme is Purim on the Bayou. Please get in touch if you would like to volunteer to help with the event.

Thank You for the Love

Earlier this week we humbly asked for your support of our campaign to raise $150,000 in 36 hours. We are pleased to share with you that the campaign was successful. This is important to us on many levels. Firstly, these funds constitute about one third of our annual budget, so the success of the effort give us a considerable lead in our fundraising for the rest of the year.

But what is even more meaningful to us is, that over 300 donor households were moved by the Chabad of Louisiana story sufficiently to participate in the campaign. The group of donors included current members of the New Orleans Jewish community, former New Orleanians who retain a warm spot in their heart for Chabad of Louisiana, visitors to our city who benefitted from Chabad’s hospitality over the years, and investors and businesspeople that regularly come through Chabad when they are in town. 300 individuals who are entrusting us with their investment dollars to ensure the continuity of Jewish life in the Greater New Orleans region.

That’s a lot of love. Our narrative throughout this campaign has been, that Chabad is about relationships. Our 11 matching donor households, and the 300 contributing donor households, have demonstrated that they appreciate those relationships, and they reciprocated by sending their love our way!

The funds are critical. But the love that accompanied them is extremely uplifting. I wish to share with you a sampling of the messages we received.

One individual, to whom I wrote “We appreciate the warm spot our community holds in your heart!”, responded, “You don’t even know the half of it! All my best.”

“We miss the very warm and special Jewish community of New Orleans. It’s the best Chabad House we’ve ever been to.”

“The NOLA community is and always will be my first real Jewish community, so I think about it quite frequently.”

“Money is an easy thing to give. Putting your time and effort into the community is a lot harder. Thanks for all that you guys do!”

“I am happy to send a contribution to Chabad of Louisiana. My wife and I will forever be grateful to your parents for their kindness and hospitality.”

“I was at your shul the Shabbos morning of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life shootings. I remember starting to leave after davening when someone rushed in with the news. In the face of mounting dangers, I took comfort that beautiful, warm Shabbos morning and the warm reception I received at your Shul. Hope to visit again.”

This is what it is all about. It is love that binds to Hashem and to each other. Thank you for the love!

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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