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Weekly Message

My Yizkor Letter...

My Yizkor Letter…

Dear Friends,

In honor of Yom Kippur, a day of introspection and Yizkor, I’ve chosen to write a heartfelt letter to my maternal great-grandparents, Shmuel Zanvil and Menucha Kraindel Goldman, who together with six of their children were murdered by the Nazis Yemach Shemom, leaving my Zayde, Reb Shimon, as a sole survivor, the only remaining branch on what was a beautiful family tree. I hope this helps you in your Yom Kippur experience.

Remember.

Rabbi Chaim Bruk

Dear Elter Zayde & Elter Bubbe,

I am writing to you almost eighty years after your lives were snuffed out by the Nazis Yemach Shemom. You, along with six of your beautiful children, Chana, Leah, Tzvi Hirsh, Chaim, Yakov and Yosef, were murdered in cold blood, because fellow human beings believed that you were inferior and not worthy of the oxygen you breathed. You never merited meeting any of your grandchildren, you never had the opportunity to see the amazing family your one surviving son Shimon created together with his beloved Esther, and you wouldn’t believe how the Gur Chassidic dynasty, whose founder was your family patriarch, is a prospering community that numbers hundreds of thousands in Jerusalem, Brooklyn and the world over.

Every Shabbat morning, as I studied and chatted with my Zayde, your beloved Shimon, somehow, he’d ensure that the conversation made it back to Shedlitz (Siedlce) and you guys. With a twinkle in his eye, and an occasional tear rolling down his cheek, he’d share as much as he could remember of his beloved family. He would talk about how you’d admonish him for playing soccer during services, how kind you were to visiting Jews who needed a place to eat while in town and how, despite your unhappiness about the spiritual direction some of your children chose, you never ceased loving them with all your heart and soul. Shedlitz, his cherished hometown, was always on the tip of his tongue and the one picture he carried with him, physically and internally, was that of your daughter, his beloved sister Chana and her fiancé, who were both murdered before their wedding day.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about you. I live in a world that doesn’t necessarily think of the Holocaust as it used to. In Europe, the Middle-East and even here in the United States, there are those that would like to trivialize the incalculability of the Holocaust, and I assure you that your grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including Chavie and I, will never forget and will keep reminding whoever will listen. We won’t remember in sadness, we won’t carry bitterness in our heart; we will reminiscent with conviction, ensuring that our children and the communities we live in, from Johannesburg to Paramus, Waterloo to Kuai, Toulouse to Monsey, will never forget that for every survivor there was an incredible family and heritage left behind in the ash heaps of Central Europe.

In our prayers, every Monday and Thursday, we turn to G-d and we tell Him “Gaze down from heaven and see that we’ve become an object of scorn and derision among the nations. We have become considered like sheep led to the slaughter, to be slain, to be obliterated, to be stricken and to be disgraced. Nevertheless, we have not forgotten Your name. Please don’t forget us.”. I meditate on this prayer twice weekly and think of you. How proud you’d be of your family today and how we will never let your Kiddush Hashem, your G-dly sanctification, which you experienced in death, be wasted.

As I stand in Shul at Yizkor on Yom Kippur, I will think of all of those I adore and love. my mother Chanchy, my grandparents Reb Shimon and Esther Goldman, my Saba and Savta Mendel and Chana Brook, my Rebbe of righteous memory, and a few others, but this year I will think of you. I will think about how, despite all odds, we haven’t forgotten G-d’s name and that we haven’t forgotten yours either.

We have not forgotten your name: For close to seventy years, every year, on the 12th of Elul, the day he was told that Shedlitz was lit aflame and his family slayed, your son Shimon would stand in Shul and say Kaddish for his entire family. In a voice of yearning, sadness and honor he’d cry bitterly and memorialize his treasured Mishpocho.

We have not forgotten your name: After naming his first child for his beloved Rebbe Yosef Yitzchak, he named his three other children, Menucha Kraindel (AKA Kraindy) for his mom, Chana Leah (AKA Chanchy) for his two sisters and Shmuel Zanvil (AKA Shmuly) for his father. His love for ya’ll was real and boundless.

We have not forgotten your name: my brother Yanky is Yakov Yosef for two of your sons and so many of your great grandchildren are named for you: Shmuly, Chaim, Tzvi, Chani; you are part and parcel of our family story and we ponder often on how lucky we are to be the bearers of your torch.

We have not forgotten your name: You were devoted to Torah-Judaism and to a Chassidic lifestyle and, while we shifted from Gur to Chabad-Lubavitch, you’d enjoy so much Nachas to know that we continue that sacred lifestyle promulgated by the holy Baal Shem Tov with beards, modest dress, joyous lives and the study of Jewish mysticism.

We have not forgotten your name: My youngest daughter Chana Laya is named for her Bubby, my beloved mom, but she’s our family’s living embodiment of the Chana Laya her Bubby was named for. So, it lives on in Bozeman, Montana.

I often wonder what you were like and I would’ve loved to meet the people who shaped the life of my beloved Zayde. From what he told me, you guys were awesome and, while you didn’t have much, you were always grateful for that which G-d bestowed upon you. It wasn’t easy for Zayde to let go of you and run that day in the market place, but he knew in his gut that it was his only chance to survive, and he was right. Since Zayde Shimon passed I light a candle on the 12th of Elul in his stead, as your flame will remain lit forever. As I stand at Yizkor, I will remember those who came before me, who shaped those who guided me and who, despite being gone for over seventy years, still are a living inspiration to their hundreds of descendants.

This Yom Kippur, as you sit around in heaven with all your seven children, with your daughter-in-law my Bubbe Esther, with your granddaughter my mom Chanchy, please remember us, think about us, seek out your great-grand-children and their children and intercede on our behalf. Tell G-d that you’ve given enough for the Jewish people, it’s time for Him to give back to your family with blessings of health, financial stability and Nachas from our children.

While you’re at it: Tell Him we’ve suffered enough and we need Mashiach already, enough is enough.

Have an Easy Fast!

A proud heir,

Chaim

PS Please give my mom a hug for me. I miss her dearly.

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Dearest Shoshana...

Dearest Shoshana, Chaya, Zeesy, Menny & Chana Laya,

 

 

 

 

 

Rosh Hashana is upon us. Although I know that only two of you can read this today, it is my hope that you’ll share its message with your siblings, until they are old enough to read it for themselves. I’ve taken the liberty to share it with a “few” of my closest friends via email and social media, only because I believe its content is universal and can inspire others.

In just a few short days we will be standing in Shul, hearing the Shofar blow, as we repent for our past behavior, crown G-d as our king for another year and most importantly, ask Him in deep prayer to solidify our upcoming year to be one of sweetness and joy. Yet, I am sure you wonder on occasion: why do we need two special days for that? Why the countless hours of prayer? Can’t I just think it in my mind, feel it in my heart for a few minutes, and move on to politics/sports/pop culture?

It’s 2018 and I will speak to you in relatable terms: Smart phones. We enjoy them all the time, it allows us to connect with our friends and family, at times it’s a love/hate relationship and every so often we are told that we need a “software update”. If we’re good at taking care of our stuff, the hardware could last a very long time, but the software is constantly needing upgrades and if we want the phone to function properly and give us the most benefit, we’d be smart to follow the upgrade instructions.

Rosh Hashana is the day we were given by G-d for our annual software update, system reboot and overall upgrade. We don’t need to understand Java or HTML, we don’t need to be a computer geek or hacker, we must simply take the time, to plug in our phone, look in our settings icon and allow the updates to do their thing. G-d doesn’t expect us to understand everything about His infinite operating system, to figure out the exact cause for this year’s malfunction that needed fixing, but He does need us to allow the update to occur and we can only do that if we follow the Rosh Hashana steps.

We can certainly choose to ignore Rosh Hashana, ignore the system update, but then we’re stuck in the past where it’s not easy to communicate with Him anymore, we’re vulnerable to malware attacks, system crashes and viruses of all kinds, and we just get left behind. Its not because we did something wrong, it’s because we didn’t make the effort to do something right. Remember: Nobody, not our “friends”, neighbors or cousins, gets hurt by our refusal to update/upgrade, the only one that really gets stuck is us, all by ourselves.

So dear Kinderlach, here’s my New Year recommendation and you’d be wise to heed my advice: update your system. Don’t fall for the myth that Shul is boring. Some Shul’s may be out of touch, but ours is not and the sacred time of prayer should be utilized by all of us to reboot our relationship with Hashem. If there’s anything phones teach us, it’s that not upgrading is basically downgrading. Last year is not good enough for this year and if you don’t believe me call Apple or Verizon and see what they say.

In summation: I really don’t like Smart Phones, but it’s a reality. You may not like all the rules of Judaism every minute of every day, but it’s a reality that your soul was chosen by G-d to be part of “A kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. G-d, along with Mom and I, are pleading with you to cherish that chosenness, treasure that uniqueness and do your part to stay up-to-date.

May Hashem bless you in ways that only He can, with balance, both emotional and mental, with rich health, with success in your studies, with the courage to make the right/good choices, the strength to resist the temptations of secularism and the opportunity to be ranking soldiers in G-d’s army of light to brighten the world around us, and together with Klal Yisroel and all of humanity reunite with the third Holy Temple in our Hometown of Jersusalm, now!

A Gut Gebenched Yur!

Love,

Aba

 

 

 

 

 

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Unaccompanied Minors!

On Sunday, just before the start of school, after spending almost three weeks at overnight camp in Lake Worth, Florida, Chaya flew home from Fort Lauderdale, as an Unaccompanied Minor. She did great and the smile on her face when she walked up the jetway and saw me, Menny and Zeesy waiting for her, was out of this world. I never understood the title “Unaccompanied Minor”. These “Unaccompanied” children are the only passengers that are “Accompanied” by airline staff and yet because it’s not the natural “accompaniers” they are considered “Unaccompanied”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tavo, we read about the various agricultural gifts that one is obligated to give in the land of Israel. Coming on the heels of the battle with Amalek, the Midrash teaches that Moses was reminding Jewry, that unlike Amalek who despised humanity’s recognition of G-d, we must never forget that the produce of our fields, the fruits of our orchards, the grapes in our vineyards, are all a Divine gift to us and we must share it with the Kohen, the Levi, the orphan, the pauper, the widow and the convert. Often, we are accompanied in life by good people, helpful people, loving people, but we still feel “unaccompanied”, alone, as we are missing our natural protectors, our parents, or in this case, our Father in Heaven.

Life, like a long flight, has plenty of turbulence, the people around us aren’t always pleasant, the climate outside isn’t always friendly and sometimes the seats aren’t even comfortable. Yet, we make it through life, doing the best we can, while giving our pilot, who also happens to be our accompanying flight attendant, the credit that He is due for getting us through it. There is a beautiful song, originating from the Skulener Chassidim of Romania, on the words in the Book of Lamentations “ Chasdei Hashem Ki Lo Somnu Ki Lo Chalu Rachamov - Verily, the kindnesses of the Lord never cease! Indeed, His mercies never fail ”. It should warm our hearts to know that G-d doesn’t give us off to others, He was, is and will always be our personal attendant.

Don’t fly alone!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Rabbi Judah & a bunch of weasels!

Shoshana was away for almost nine weeks in summer camps and on Monday she finally came home. During her time at the nature camp in Vermont, she learned everything about outdoor/farm living including spinning/dying, wood chopping, knife throwing, fire building, wool making and of course interacting with the animal kingdom. When we interact with a farm animal whether milking, care taking or even riding, it gives us a deeper appreciation for these G-dly creations and inevitably reinforces the importance of treating animals humanly.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Teitzei, as throughout the Torah, we are taught the value of animal care. We are told that we must help unload an overburdened donkey who is suffering, that we must send the mother bird away before taking the baby chick, and that animals plowing our fields mustn’t be muzzled from eating along the way. Animals are not superior or even equal to humans, and eating Kosher beef/poultry is permitted, but unguided, inhumane and sometimes purely cruel treatment is prohibited. The Talmud in Bava Metzia tells us that Rabbi Judah the Prince was punished with kidney stones and scurvy because while a sad calf was being led to slaughter he said: Go, as you were created for this purpose. Thankfully, years later he was healed after witnessing his maidservant in the process of sweeping away a few young weasels, he stopped her and said: Let them be, as it is written: “The Lord is good to all; and His mercies are over all His works”.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated” wrote Ghandi. He’s wrong, as Nazi after Nazi treated animals wonderfully. It’s the other way around: if you are a great nation, that greatness must be reflected in your attitude towards animals as well. When we hear of trophy killings, abused farm animals or dying animals on airplanes, we must pause and ask ourselves “what am I doing to raise awareness about this issue?”. Not everyone will agree on what “humane” means, but one thing we must all agree on: we can, and should, do better.

Remember three words:  Tzaar Balei Chaim !

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Knightly Justice!

As Chavie and I -with three kiddos in tow- made our way back home through the winding roads of Central Wyoming, we were awe-struck by the beauty of Wind River Canyon. Anyone with a beating heart is certain to be humbled in the presence of such a breathtaking heavenly gift embedded in what we casually call “nature”. It got me thinking of “Rules for a Knight”, a unique collection of letters written by Sir Thomas Lemuel Hawke, that my buddy Zach recently shared with me. In it he addresses humility and writes “Never announce that you are a knight, simply behave as one. You are better than no one, and no one is better than you….Expect nothing, and you will enjoy everything”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, we read about the Jewish judicial system. Bribery in any form is prohibited, even if it’s to ascertain a just judgment and bias, even slight gestures from a judge in favor of the plaintiff or the defendant, is considered inappropriate. When Jewish courts lose the moral high ground, it leads to the decay of our Jewish community and our role as Light unto the Nations. In my short life I’ve seen, and worked with, Beit Din’s, Jewish courts, that are honorable and scrupulous in their devotion to justice, no matter what price they may pay for their honesty, but I’ve also seen enough injustice. Being just, takes humility; being humble enough to take one self out of the picture and look at it objectively or at least have the decency to find a Judge that can be.

Justice carries over into our individual lives too. We often make decisions, voice opinions and lock in life principles that are laden with biases and some form of bribery. Why do I like/dislike this individual? Why do I give this or that kind of advice? Why do I choose the way I eat or who I date? Are we being honest and is it based on objective facts, or did we seek our own pleasures, our own selfish interests, and then try to turn our subjective choices into universal truths. Humility is the ability to see things beyond our egocentric self. I don’t have an easy time with humility, but I know that living humbly is so much healthier. Recently, something was bothering me. A mentor asked me “Chaim, did you ask yourself why it bothers you so much?” I had never thought about the “why”. it forced me to seek truth which is bigger than myself, way bigger.

If you want a just world, be just!  

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

 

Jew+Armenian+Muslim!

August 22, 1939. Hitler, speaking to his Wehrmacht commanders about the upcoming invasion of Poland, says, “Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier? Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? I heard this from Harry & Vicki, a wonderful couple who were seated near me on a recent flight. During our three-hour conversation I learned so much about their Armenian culture, faith, history and of course gut-wrenching genocide. Turkey ousted them, Lebanon mistreated them and finally in the 70’s his parents, along with hundreds of thousands of their countrymen, found a home in the United States. He spoke of his commonality with the Jews: Persecuted, small in number, they stick together, send their children to private religious school, speak and read their native language, and don’t understand why people can’t just get along.

Sadly, we both wondered why the silence about the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read about a person sold into servitude, either by the Jewish court, Beis Din, forcing a thief to repay his theft or selling himself to get out of poverty and back onto his own two feet. We are told that when his servitude term is up “You shall surely provide him from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your vat...And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you...” G-d wants us to treat those who are vulnerable, inherently or temporarily, really well. We know too well how hard it is to be the underdog, so we must channel that recognition into an expression of compassion.

Rwanda genocide came and went, Sudan genocide came and went, Syria genocide came and went; a couple of condemnations, a few “Oy Veys”, and the world went back to eating Sashimi, vacationing in Hawaii and discussing petty politics. I’m just a rabbi in Montana and I don't know what the solution is, but when in pain, we scream, even if it doesn’t help. I can’t remain silent as 700,000 men, women and children have been forced from their home, 288 villages were destroyed by the Myanmar military and close to ten thousand people, including almost one thousand children, were murdered just because they are Muslim. If you have ideas of ways to help, please let me know, but in the meantime, let’s pray for these innocent souls and hearken to G-d’s command to remember those who need us most.

Enough politics; it’s time for compassion!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Jew+Armenian+Muslim!

August 22, 1939. Hitler, speaking to his Wehrmacht commanders about the upcoming invasion of Poland, says, “Wer redet heute noch von der Vernichtung der Armenier? Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians? I heard this from Harry & Vicki, a wonderful couple who were seated near me on a recent flight. During our three-hour conversation I learned so much about their Armenian culture, faith, history and of course gut-wrenching genocide. Turkey ousted them, Lebanon mistreated them and finally in the 70’s his parents, along with hundreds of thousands of their countrymen, found a home in the United States. He spoke of his commonality with the Jews: Persecuted, small in number, they stick together, send their children to private religious school, speak and read their native language, and don’t understand why people can’t just get along.

Sadly, we both wondered why the silence about the Rohingya in Myanmar.

In this week’s Torah portion, Re’eh, we read about a person sold into servitude, either by the Jewish court, Beis Din, forcing a thief to repay his theft or selling himself to get out of poverty and back onto his own two feet. We are told that when his servitude term is up “You shall surely provide him from your flock, from your threshing floor, and from your vat...And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord, your God, redeemed you...” G-d wants us to treat those who are vulnerable, inherently or temporarily, really well. We know too well how hard it is to be the underdog, so we must channel that recognition into an expression of compassion.

Rwanda genocide came and went, Sudan genocide came and went, Syria genocide came and went; a couple of condemnations, a few “Oy Veys”, and the world went back to eating Sashimi, vacationing in Hawaii and discussing petty politics. I’m just a rabbi in Montana and I don't know what the solution is, but when in pain, we scream, even if it doesn’t help. I can’t remain silent as 700,000 men, women and children have been forced from their home, 288 villages were destroyed by the Myanmar military and close to ten thousand people, including almost one thousand children, were murdered just because they are Muslim. If you have ideas of ways to help, please let me know, but in the meantime, let’s pray for these innocent souls and hearken to G-d’s command to remember those who need us most.

Enough politics; it’s time for compassion!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Let's Have a Baby!

With my family away in Texas and me missing them immensely, I’ve been thinking about our experience with infertility . When encountering this unbearable challenge, Chavie and I were forced to make a choice: live a meaningful life without children or create an unconventional family by adopting children who need loving parents. For us, the thought process went something like this: just because G-d decided that biological children weren’t in the cards for us, it doesn’t mean we should resign to, what would be for us, a gloomy reality. Rather, it was clear, that Hashem in His infinite wisdom was giving us a chance to be adoptive parents. In the words of a wise woman “You may not have my eyes or smile, but from that very first moment you had my heart”.

Being challenged with infertility, doesn’t mean you need to remain infertile.

In the beginning of this week’s Torah portion, Eikev, we continue reading Moses’ farewell speech to Jewry. He tells them that if they adhere to G-d’s Torah, then “You shall be blessed above all peoples: There will be no sterile male or barren female among you or among your livestock.”. Its self-understood why infertility is so painful and why it’s the ultimate blessing when, in partnership with G-d, a married couple can create a family. Yet, it also teaches us a fundamental idea of Judaism: spiritual procreation. It’s incumbent on each of us, single or married, to bring new life into the world, giving birth to new light. Every day on G-d’s green earth must be infused with productivity, creativity and inspiration.

Every moment should be “fertile”.

In physical childbirth you need a father and mother, nine months of patience and once the baby is born the real work begins, as nurturing a child is a lifelong endeavor.  Similarly, when seeking to procreate light, bringing about new spirituality, we must collaborate with others, as going it alone is never easy, we must be very patient, as instant gratification is a universally accepted myth, and then we must continue to nurture and develop the light so that it doesn’t fade away. When we wake up each morning, we must ask ourselves, will I be fertile today? Will I help create goodness today? Will I be part of a miracle today? Physical infertility is something decided by G-d, but spiritual infertility is a choice we make and one we should never choose. Moses reminded Jewry that being unproductive, or even worse counterproductive, it not the Jewish way.

Let’s give birth together!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

G-d & Our Stolen Minivan!

“Life happens” and how we deal with it is what builds our character. Tuesday morning, Chavie woke up in San Antonio to discover that our fairly new minivan was stolen right out of her parents’ driveway. Car seats, stroller, topper, 100’s of DVD’s; it’s just a royal pain in the neck. It’s hard to digest this reality and it brings up feeling of anger and general distrust in humanity. Yet, we are expected to see our reality from a different lens, a holier perspective. The Talmud says that when G-d destroyed the Holy Temples in Jerusalem “He poured His wrath on to wood and stones”, instead of onto the people, and for that we are to be grateful.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va'etchanan, we read the key prayer of Judaism, the Shema. In it, G-d commands us to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your might”. Rashi explains that “with all your might” is instructing us to love G-d with whatever measure He metes out to you, whether it be the measure of good or the measure of retribution. Thus, King David says: “I will lift up the cup of salvations and I will call upon the name of the Lord” and “I found trouble and grief and I called out in the name of the Lord”. G-d is always our address, our comfort space, whether things seem to be superb or extremely challenging.

Woodrow Wilson said “If you lose your wealth, you have lost nothing; if you lose your health, you have lost something; but if you lose your character, you have lost everything.” I don’t claim to know what G-d is smoking at every moment of every day. I don’t know why our minivan was stolen or why I was chosen to spend quality time with insurance companies and the amazing team at Denny Menholt Honda in Bozeman. What I do know is that He’s been good to me and for that I am grateful. I will do my very best to remain focused, remain upbeat and remember: it’s only a car, Baruch Hashem.

With all your might, Chaim!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!! 

La Familia!

As Yeshiva students, Tzemach and Mendel, were out visiting homes in Great Falls, Helena and throughout Northcentral Montana, I, together with my brother in law Rabbi Shneur, were up in the beautiful Flathead Valley visiting fellow Jews and Kosher supervising plants in the area. I’m asked fairly often “Rabbi, how do you seem to always find common ground with other Jews? Aren’t our people more prone to division and tribalism? Don’t we need to argue all the time?”, the answer is one word “family”. I was taught by my beloved Rebbe of blessed memory to see Jewry as family, as Michael J. Fox once wrote “Family is not an important thing. It's everything.”.

In this week’s Torah portion, Devarim, the first in the book of Deuteronomy, we read of Moses’ pre-passing reminder to his people that when they conquered the land of Israel G-d instructed them not to mess with their relatives of Edom, Moab and Amon. Although these “distant relatives” didn’t always behave like family, it didn’t matter; we always need to treat them like they are. These nations who were descendants of Esau and Lot were not close to the Jews by any stretch of the imagination, but they were progenies of Abraham and G-d expects family to have higher standards. It may be that our family members are the ones who get under our skin most, but that’s because we care about them more, and so it bothers us more, but that’s no excuse of silly fights and counterproductive divisions.  

Whether in Bigfork or in Glendive, it’s easy for us to focus on what divides us as Jews, but it’s fruitless. Brothers and sisters can debate their political opinions, discuss their childhood religious experiences, research their ancestral origins and even, recognize their dissimilar financial brackets, but fighting over these issues is not familial. La Familia, or as we call it “Mishpocho”, is a beloved organism of connected souls that must never be fragmented. When we know of a Jew in Libby or Miles City, who may need a hug or an interest-free loan, a spiritual boost or a dose of inspiration, we must step up. I don’t care how you label yourself, because “family” is the only label that ever mattered to me.  

If Esau was family, cousin Irving certainly is!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!! 

Wise Words of Dr. Seuss!

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain - and most fools do.” Many of us are easy to find fault with organized religion, but this week I saw a totally different side of Judaism and it was quite organized. I had the honor of attending the  AKO conference  with over one hundred rabbis who represent Kosher agencies in their respective communities. From Turkey to Sydney, Montreal to Houston, these individuals awake each morning and strive to make Kosher food available to Jewry and to ensure that the standards are 100% in accordance with the Torah’s instructions. It humbled me to be amongst such Halachic luminaries and to be able to learn from their wisdom and vast knowledge of Jewish law.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Matot-Massei, the last two in the Book of Numbers, we read about Kashering. After the Jewish people waged a fierce battle against Midian, which included killing their five kings and their evil prophet Balaam, they had lots of war spoils. Now, G-d commands the Jewish people to Kosher the food utensils and tells them exactly how to do it. If it’s a pot that’s used for water-based cooking, it’s Koshered by immersing it in boiling water. If it’s a utensil used for baking/frying without water, you must use a direct flame to Kosher it. In addition, if it was acquired from a gentile, as the Midianite vessels were, it must be immersed in a Mikvah. G-d recognized the expense of purchasing new utensils, He doesn’t like when we waste money, and so He gave us a solution for re-Koshering most items.

Once in a while I’m told “But Rabbi, I can’t keep Kosher? I can’t stop eating out? It’s too late for me.”. In truth, Kashering most dishes and utensils in your kitchen is very doable. Making separate areas for dairy and meat foods is very possible. Immersing your utensils at the Bozeman Mikvah, as so many do already, is doable. No doubt, it would be really nice if we could get a Kosher restaurant in Big Sky Country, but until then, even if you’re not ready to give up eating out, it shouldn’t stop you from making your home, your kitchen, a Kosher one. There are Kosher agencies who send Mashgichim, supervisors, at 3 AM to manufacturing plants to ensure that Kosher products are available in every grocery in America, the least we can do is show appreciation and join the 3,000 year old bandwagon and increase our Kosherness.

In the words of Dr. Seuss “Nobody said it would be easy, they just promised it would be worth it”!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Super Mario!

As our family hit the road, making our way from Bozeman to San Antonio, for our annual summer pilgrimage, we needed to see a mechanic in Clayton, New Mexico, population 2,763. We ran over a dead deer, as there was nowhere to swerve, and a non-essential metal plate beneath the car needed to be reattached.  It was just a few hours before the 4th and Mario, the nicest fellow, saw us on 15-minutes notice. He spent 45 minutes getting the minor issue resolved. While working, I said to him “Mario, you’re teaching me the art of perseverance” to which he responded “Hey man, patience is the key to perseverance. You gotta be patient”. When he was done he said it would cost me “10 bucks”, I insisted on a generous tip for his remarkable help and for being a solid Mentsch.

In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we read about the five daughters of Tzlafchad who understood that giving up shouldn’t be an option. It’s a novel concept. You see, many people believe it’s black or white; either you never try to change the rules, or you just go ahead and break them. The wise daughters of Tzlafchad felt that they deserved a portion in the land of Israel. They didn’t attack Moses, they didn’t ignore G-d and they didn’t fight “the system” the way Korach and the spies did. They approached Moses, they respectfully pleaded their case, Moses turned to G-d and they got their plot of land. We can work within the G-dly ordained system of Judaism to address issues that we feel need addressing, but it’s cowardly and even callous to just give up on change, or worse, making up our own rules when we don’t have that authority.

I admit (and have admitted before) there are aspects of Judaism that are challenging for me. So what? Does that mean it’s not important? Does that mean I get to make up my own religion based on my personal whims? Mario stood in the sweltering heat to get the metal plate reattached. He didn’t Kvetch, he didn’t curse, he didn’t even try to make a killing off me (which he could’ve under the circumstances); he wiped the sweat off his brow and kept going until he got it done. He didn’t say “I give up” and he didn’t decide that I need a new car; we kept the same car and he worked with it until it was in ship shape. Thank you, Mario, for teaching me that we can all persevere, but we need to be patient and work with what G-d have given us to make it work best for ourselves, our families, our communities and our world.

Tzlafchad’s girls changed the rules within the system of Judaism; the only Jewish Ism!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Daddy, why do they hate us?

With mixed emotions, Shoshana, our soon-to-be 14-year-old, was off for the summer to Camp Emunah in Ellenville, New York; a camp that hosted my mother of blessed memory as camper and head-counselor back in the day. As the charter bus made its way along Eastern Parkway, beginning the three-hour journey to the Catskills, I thought about the many benefits of this experience. As a recent graduate of Sacajawea Middle School, Shoshana encountered her fair share of ignorant, hurtful and, sometimes even, malicious, comments about Jews. In camp, she will not only learn Torah, do Mitzvot and have a blast in a super Jewish environment, she will be in a place where everyone loves Jews and Judaism, unapologetically.   

In this week’s Torah portion, Balak, we read about the Moabite king Balak hiring the Midianite prophet Balaam to curse the Jewish people. Rashi points out that Balak said only, “and I will drive him out of the land”, but Balaam hated the Jews even more and wanted to annihilate them, not just expel them. The Rebbe explains that the Moabites obviously didn’t know that G-d had forewarned Jewry that they shouldn’t “distress the Moabites, and do not provoke them to war” and so the Moabites’ intolerable hatred was fear based. Yet, Balaam, hated the Jews, not because of fear, a previous beef or due to “Israel’s policy”; he hated Jews, just because; no reason needed.

Anti-Semitism is real and comes in many shapes and forms. We cannot be shielded from it and we need to stop looking for excuses to explain it. Sometimes there is no reason for Anti-Semitism; it’s pure unadulterated hate. So, what should we do? What can we do? We can, and should, remind ourselves and teach our children to have a healthy Jewish identity, a vast knowledge of Torah and put them, as much as possible, in environments that are conducive to Jewish growth. It’s hard, at times, to thrive as Jews when our Twitter/Facebook/Instagram feeds include plenty of Jewish hate, but if we’re healthy Jewishly, we can persevere, as have our ancestors going back to Abraham and Sarah.

Defying haters; one Jewish experience at a time!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Blowtorch Judaism!

It was five hours of majestic driving, as I made my way to The Ranch at Rock Creek, to Kosher a kitchen for a Jewish family vacationing in Montana. I witnessed, first-hand, so much understanding and sensitivity from the head chef, ranch managers and everyone on staff, as they worked overtime to accommodate the needs of their Kosher client. They saw it as an honor and a learning experience, not a burden placed on them by those “weird Jews”. As I made my way home along the spectacular Georgetown Lake, I stopped at a gas station in Anaconda and experienced the same thing: respect and decency to a, potentially, odd looking man with a Yarmulke, beard and Tzitit.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chukat, we read about Moses’ colossal mistake when he hit the rock instead of speaking to it as commanded. It cost him and his older brother Aaron their entry visa to Israel and to paraphrase our Creator “you missed a super opportunity to sanctify my name”. Every moment on earth, each of us is trusted to bring honor to Hashem and to make G-d beloved to the masses. We were hired to be G-d’s PR team, to ensure He looks good, yet that is very hard to accomplish, when hiding our relationship with Him and His Torah. We assume that “the resort of our choice” won’t be able to handle our Kosher needs, will think it’s a bit crazy or won’t deal with a rabbi that shows up with a blowtorch, hot water kettle and a lot of Chutzpah; but in truth, they will be comfortable with it, if we are.

It’s the sanctification idea that leads the Jewish people, later in the Parsha, to make a peace offer to the nation of Sichon. When we are on a mission to make G-d beloved in the world, the natural course is to seek peace first. Sadly, the Emorites didn’t accept the offer, but that was their unfortunate choice. We need to reflect the Divine in all our endeavors, 24/7. We must approach all aspects of life from a G-dly place and then hope that the world sees the depth of what we’re expressing. I’m no fool (at least I don’t think so), I know there are scoffers, even Jewish ones, out there and occasionally we run into one of them, as they belittle our way of life. Yet, 99% of the time, humanity respects those who respect themselves.

Kiddush Hashem; the only Jewish way!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Dear Rebbe...

Dear Rebbe,

I’m writing to you just hours before I, together with countless around the globe, begin commemorating your Yahrtzait, the 24th anniversary since your passing. I grew up in your neighborhood and had the distinct honor of meeting you, face to face, so many times. You guided my parents how to raise me, you guided me into community service and you gave me a perspective on life that only you could.

I remember when my aunt Zahava - whose husband Yossi was a volunteer EMT that rushed to the scene - called to tell us that you suffered a stroke while praying at your father-in-laws resting place. I recall the two years of anguish, as you suffered, and we prayed for your recovery. I remember sitting at Beth Israel Hospital with my Bubbe Esther, a woman who adored you, as we both read Psalms in your honor.  You wanted Mashiach to come, you worked so hard to make it happen in your lifetime and, at the time, we couldn’t think of a better candidate that G-d should choose for the mission of redeeming His people from exile and bringing us back home to Israel.

I remember my parents waking me at approximately 5:00 AM on that bitter Sunday morning of June 12, 1994. I saw their face, I knew the worst had happen. You left us bereaved, brokenhearted and, I’d venture to say, even hopeless. I walked by your office, trembling, as I saw you, my favorite superhero, wrapped in a Talis as I asked you for the traditional forgiveness for the things I may have done to disrespect you. I stood on the 4th floor of 770 Eastern Parkway and watched from the fire escape as your coffin began its journey to old montefiore cemetery in Queens.

I’ve missed you every day since.

I spent the next 12 years studying your wise teachings, your rigid, yet non-judgmental, perspective and spending hundreds of hours in thought, internalization and Farbrengen, Shabbos after Shabbos, near your resting place. I came to visit with you at every major junction in my life: before marriage, before medical procedures, before infertility treatment, before adoptions, before buying a new property for our soon-to-be-built Center for Jewish Life and Learning. I turn to you when things are good but also when they are unbearable. You are my anchor and I know that you are listening.

Chavie and I moved to Bozeman thirteen years after your passing and we’ve never looked back. It is an honor to serve as your emissary to bring the authentic light of Judaism to Big Sky Country. I know that, at times, people are puzzled about my obsession with you, but they shouldn’t be. You’re such a good teacher, such an amazing mentor, such a beloved father-figure that I think it makes perfect sense. You never asked me verbally to move to Montana, but I know that you’re smiling as Yiddishkait makes a strong comeback in the Treasure State with two, soon to be three, Chabad centers.

I wish you were alive to answer my questions directly, I wish you could look into my eyes and give me that priceless dollar to keep me going and oh how I wish my children could meet you. Yet, Rebbe, I want you to know, that despite my yearning for your physical presence, you’re way bigger than a physical smile and way larger than a swing of the arm. You’ve gifted our family with spiritual structure, unadulterated love for humanity and inner courage to get through anything that life throws at us. I try to live up to your standards and to represent you as best as I can, it’s not always easy and I don’t always succeed, but I do try.

I’m going to spend the weekend near you in Queens where I will pray, Farbreng, study and get reconnected. Reconnected to you and your legacy of love, to inspire every human being in Montana with the light of Hashem and His beloved Torah. I await the moment that you rejoin us, along with my beloved mom, when your lifelong dream becomes a reality as Mashiach will come and we will celebrate in Jerusalem!

I know you have my back Rebbe, I hope to have yours.

Your grateful student,

Chaim

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Moshiach speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

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