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Weekly Message

G-d of Goats!

Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind. Those who are struggling, fighting for life itself, are in our prayers. I’ve been praying a whole lot for my father and three of his brothers who are all plagued by this dreaded disease. It’s heartwarming to see how much love and positive energy is being shared amongst neighbors, friends and the general public. There’s a lovely sense of “we are all in this together” and an inner drive to step up for those who are in need. In addition, there’s an increased feeling of deep appreciation for the selfless healthcare professionals, law enforcement officers and all those, including grocers and truckers, who are working tirelessly to keep our families fed.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayikra, first in the book of Leviticus, we read about the sacrificial offerings in the Tabernacle. While there are ten Kosher animals, only three could be utilized for the holy service and of the many Kosher birds, only two, the mature turtledove and the young dove are permitted on the alter. Why? The Midrash tells us that G-d gifted us with the eternal lesson that like He, we should always stand with victims. Oxen are harassed by lions, lambs are hunted by wolves, goats are attacked by panthers and doves are constantly confronted by birds of prey. Hashem cares about all His creations but He has a warm spot for these creatures, placing them on a pedestal, so that we never forget being holy includes caring for victims.  

It is my hope, that when this plague subsides, G-d willing really soon; when we finish mourning those who perished, celebrating the lives that were spared, re-learning the art of social interaction, we will also have become a kinder, gentler, society, internalizing that which we experienced. The plague didn’t care about our political affiliation, skin color, gender, religion, nationality or even country of residence, it attacked all mercilessly. Let’s re-channel that non-discriminatory experience to treat all - yes, even those we can’t stand - with equal dignity. We can have differences, we can debate issues, but we must never mistreat another human being, never.

Seeking our fellow’s wellbeing, even if they aren’t on a ventilator!

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

Singing in the mud!

The universe is trembling; humanity is on edge. Too many deaths, so much illness, implausible uncertainty, deep feelings of loneliness and a world dreading isolation. While there’s many blessings for us to celebrate, being home alone with the kids for a lengthy period, especially in a home that is accustomed to the hustle and bustle of Jewish life, will be a hard adjustment. We will get through this, no doubt, but in the meantime, I share with you a practical idea to deal with the natural anxiety.

The book of Psalms.

I recently read in “Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...And Maybe The World” that “if you want to change the world, start singing when you’re up to your neck in mud”. King David had many such moments, misery from enemies, both from outside the palace and from within his own family. Whether Saul or Absalom, the Philistines or Ahithophel, his seventy years on earth were filled with constant saga, fear, hardship and sadness. It was in those fearful moments that David would compose his melodies and Psalms. He’d sing to the Lord with lyre and harp, praising G-d for all His kindness, beseeching Him for mercy, and praying that his enemies don’t reach him.

One week ago, just before Shabbos, and many times since, I’ve done something I’ve never done before, I recited Psalms just to feel close to G-d. I didn’t do this when my mother was dying, I didn’t do it when I’ve been financially broke, and I didn’t do it after 9/11; I did it now. I don’t know why I didn’t do it then, perhaps the “natural” options were more visible. My mother had treatment, I could always fundraise more to secure the bank and after 9/11 we fought back and attacked the terrorists. Covid-19 is something for which I couldn’t fathom a quick enough solution, so I did what Jews do, I talked to G-d. I say Psalms every day as is customary, but this wasn’t to follow the custom, but rather to chat with Hashem.

I know He was listening, I felt it in my bones.

This Shabbos, as you celebrate at home, don’t waste these holy moments on the news, on your phone or checking your portfolio; take out your Psalms and sing to your Creator.

He will sing along!

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

We're not getting divorced!

What an incredible Purim! I Recently heard someone say that “we need to face the fact that young Jews are not interested in Yiddishkeit”. I argued quite the contrary that Jews, including millennials, aren’t interested in watered-down forms of religion, but when offered a dose of soulfulness, they are in. With over 100 of us celebrating Tuesday evening at the Baxter, I felt vindicated. You see, they didn’t just come because it was a costume party, they have Halloween for that. They didn’t come because it was free, as it wasn’t. They didn’t come because of the L’Chaim served, as there are way better bars in town. They didn’t come for the amazing NY Deli, as we never advertised the menu. They came because they are seeking a connection with their essence, and Purim is a celebration of just that (See Purim pics here). 

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tisa, we read about the sin of all sins, Jewry building a golden calf. The oddity of that act is discussed at length in every Torah commentary; the one detail on which they all agree, is that this was a “teachable” moment on steroids. Jewry was experiencing an existential crisis, questioning the essence of holiness, and they came out on the other side with stronger faith and a more forgiving G-d. Indeed, the Sinai newlyweds, G-d the groom and Jewry the bride faced separation that was close to an unamicable divorce, but thanks to the matchmaker Moses, they came around and their relationship prospered. It was then that it became clear that even when we struggle, this marriage will persevere, and it has for over 3,000 years.  

Being a naysayer is effortless. It’s easy to be anxious about the trajectory of the Jewish people. I’ll make an admission; I too have moments where I wonder what the future will look like. Yet, it is then that I remember the Purim celebrations,  Passover Seders, Chanukah bashes and most importantly the hundreds of annual one-on-one Torah classes, Mitzvah moments and coffee discussions I enjoy with souls on fire, wanting to tap in to our heritage, and I’m comforted. The future isn’t bright because I want to be optimistic or because I’m somewhat delusional; it’s bright because we study history and we know Jews have had it rough, rougher than today, and we overcame and are still rockin’ and Rollin.  

Who was it that said “In this bright future you can’t forget your past”?

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

Clear as mud!

On Wednesday, Chavie launched her new blog Clear As Mud. It’s a new medium for her to share with the masses her unique journey and perspective on parenting, travel, wellness and so much more. I’m so impressed with all that she does to share her story, our story, with the world via Instagram and now her blog. It’s a unique balance for a Chabad Rebbetzin, as she’s devoted to Torah and its incredible spirituality, while simultaneously opening-up about the inner struggles, the moments of uncertainty and the beauty that exists in the day to day life.

In this week’s Parsha, Tetzaveh, we read about the crushed olive oil used for kindling the Menorah in the Holy Temple. The Menorah wasn’t needed for light, as there was a pillar of fire that guided the Jews during the nights in the desert; it was there as a symbolic light of holiness and it was from there that light emanated to the entire world. It was a reminder to the Jew and all those seeking spirituality, that G-d is light and if we allow Him into our lives, it is always bright.

Chavie and I have always cherished our interaction with Montanans of all flavors and backgrounds. While we are focused on the Jewish community and its continuity, we also spend lots of time and energy, sharing the light of G-d, the meaning of Torah, with all who seek it. We express how that incredible light guides us through thick and thin, through times of calm (a rare commodity) and times of tumult. It is on this public platform, that I take a moment to wish my dear Chavie all the blessings from on high for her blog to succeed as a new source of inspiration to so many, as they, like us, seek G-d’s eternal guidance in every facet of life.

G-d is there even when it’s Clear As Mud!

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

Sometimes I just don't get it!

I spent Tuesday at Children’s Hospital Colorado and it’s highly impressive. You see, at Wednesday night’s class, Jennifer asked a great question. Why does G-d need to give us the exact measurements of the Tabernacle? Does it really matter to the Creator of heaven and earth if the wooden planks are Ten Amot (cubits) high or if there is an exact number of rings to hang the tapestries? It sounds kind of petty for G-d to care about these details. I loved the question, because it’s not only a question about the Tabernacle, it’s a question about all spirituality: do the details matter? And if the details don’t matter, do the commands themselves matter?

Our Torah portion, Terumah, is basically a blueprint for tabernacle construction. If you’re like me, and don’t like math and Home Depot isn’t your stomping ground, it could drive you insane. Yet, it’s the Mishkan study that makes two things really clear: 1) Details do matter to G-d. 2) Though we may not understand it, there’s a reason for everything. For example: The ten-cubit height of the wooden planks reflects the ten faculties of the soul, three intellectual and seven emotional. When placed in the foundational sockets, which reflect the subservience to G-d, and wrapped in tapestries which represent the all-encompassing faculties of will power and pleasure, we are putting together the components for a healthy human being.

Which brings me back to the hospital. This immaculate “home of healing” for children has everything down to a science. They know everything about Zeesy and her “magic diet”, they know our flight schedules and work accordingly, they are so careful not to transfer diseases from one patient to another (especially with this Corona outbreak) and no sane person would ever want them to be less detail oriented. I don’t understand every protocol they have in place, but I’m sure glad they are on top of their game. G-d is infinite, so I certainly can’t understand everything He asks me to do, but I am sure glad that my Creator cares enough about me that He wants to make sure I get it all right.

G-d is my specialist; He knows what He’s doing!   

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

It's not my fault!

Whether it’s forgetting their lunch at home or misplacing their MP3 Player, Chavie and I always remind the kids of their responsibilities. Yes, parents are responsible for a lot, but children need to appreciate their own value, their wisdom and abilities, recognizing that they can, and should, care for certain aspects of their life. It’s vital that we all understand that even if something isn’t “our fault”, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t our “responsibility”. You may have planned for a different outcome or these results may have been out of your control, still, that doesn’t remove our accountability for the reality and being straightforward as to how it happened.  

In this Mitzvah-laden Torah portion, Mishpatim, we read lots about human behavior, including the detail-packed laws of monetary loans and the laws of damages. Whether it’s lighting a fire that spread, owning a dangerous animal that gores, creating a public hazard of any kind, owning a harmful object on private property or serving as a guardian for a friends’ item and losing it, the Torah, elaborated mostly in the large Talmudic tractate of Bava Metziah, guides us for each scenario and what our obligations and consequences would be accordingly.

It’s hard to convey to our children the ethic of personal responsibility, the ethic of integrity, when CEO’s, politicians and, sadly, many religious leaders, don’t take responsibility for their actions and simply blame someone, or something, else for their missteps. G-d doesn’t demand our perfection, He just expects us to be honest with ourselves and others. Lao Tzu wrote “A great nation is like a great man: When he makes a mistake, he realizes it. Having realized it, he admits it. Having admitted it, he corrects it. He considers those who point out his faults as his most benevolent teachers. He thinks of his enemy as the shadow that he himself casts.”

Stop passing the buck; it’s on you!

 

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

Don't forget #5!

Too often, children assume they are smarter than their parents, but most of the time, they aren’t. It’s just that we expect our parents to see the world the way we do, and when they don’t, we are frustrated. I can’t count the times I thought my parents were wrong and it turned out it was I who was mistaken. As I grow older, sometimes, just a few weeks older, I realize that my father, with whom I love arguing for sport, is correct. Even when he is wrong, I regret mouthing off at him about our disagreements, because he’s my father and has earned my respect, period.

In this week’s Torah portion, Yitro, we are introduced to the Ten Commandments. While we are expected to follow the entirety of Torah, somehow, we are divided into tablet one Jews and tablet two Jews. Tablet one Jews focus on the G-d oriented Mitzvos found on the first tablet: Belief in G-d, no idols, not saying G-d’s name in vain and observing the Sabbath. Tablet two Jews are focused on the human oriented Mitzvos of not murdering, not coveting, not kidnapping, not bearing false witness and not committing adultery. Yet, too often commandment number five, “Honor your father and your mother, in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the Lord, your God, is giving you” doesn’t get the attention it deserves from either group of Jews.

The idea is simple.

You don’t need love them, like them or adore them; you need to honor them. It’s easy things like not calling them by their name, not sitting in their designated seat and not speaking back at them. It’s also complex things like traversing life when they don’t behave healthfully to you or your family, when they are mentally/emotionally/spiritually unstable or when they’ve passed away and you still want to honor them. Judaism discusses all the options and approaches, but one option is never an option: disrespecting them. Parents don’t always make it easy, but G-d made rule number five clear: He thinks we owe them honor and He offers immense blessing in return.

In the words of a Chinese Proverb: Respect for ones parents is the highest duty of civil life!

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

He Ain't Glitchy!

Technology, oh technology. While it has incredible advantages, including the ability to share my recent article in our local paper about our Rebbe and his seventy years of mentorship with folks across the globe, it also has flaws. While I was attempting to email “thank you” notes for 2019 to our beloved partners, I “merited” a computer glitch that sent it out to each recipient multiple times. It was unprofessional and somewhat embarrassing, but also reminded me that, aside from G-d Almighty, everything and everyone has glitches and how we deal with those glitches is key.

In this week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, a personal favorite, we read about the moment of all moments. Jewry was standing near the Sea of Reeds with the Egyptians closing in on them from behind; they felt trapped and acted accordingly. They were divided: War, prayer, surrender and suicide were all on the proverbial table as viable options. Moses himself was perplexed and G-d kept it simple: tell them to move forward. They all saw the sea as an impediment, an impossible obstacle, but G-d knew there was a sea and instructed them to march in that direction. There are no glitches with G-d and His masterplan, never, even if it may be hard for us to see, or understand, it at first. Once they entered the sea, led by Nachshon, everything came into place and it split into twelve paths for each tribe individually.

So, while we are finite and experience personal glitches, G-d is perfect and glitch-less. He didn’t dump a foot or so of snow on us Bozemanites in the last 24 hours because He’s clueless about our driving conditions; He did it because He knew we needed it, whether we recognize it at this moment or not. I have a long way to go in my own journey of accepting G-d’s life instalments as is, but I’ve come a long way, allowing me to see so much more of His providence in my life, our life and the world as a whole.

It’s easy to blame Him for all our problems; it’s more honorable to be grateful for His love!  

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

Honor Guard!

Late last night I returned from Cedar Rapids, Iowa where I had the honor of officiating at the funeral of 97-year-old Bert Katz, father of Sally Feniger and Toni Neta. Bert lived with integrity, was wholeheartedly devoted to his community and had a love for life that was extraordinary. It was my first time officiating at a funeral that included military honors and it was so stirring; their presentation brought me, and everyone else, to tears. The Veterans and the Honor Guard are so caring, so dedicated and have a love affair with our country. While I said the mourners Kaddish for Bert’s Neshama, his beautiful soul, they honored his service as a captain of an all-black platoon during the allied invasion in Normandy.

 

In this week’s Torah portion, Bo, we read about the Exodus from Egypt. G-d, through Moses our Master, freed us from harsh slavery and gifted us freedom. Yet, G-d tells Jewry that when they leave Egypt, they will journey to serve Him at Mount Sinai, referring to the giving of the Torah. With this simple proclamation, G-d taught us such an invaluable lesson: freedom isn’t given to us in order that we be served, it’s the blessing that enables us to serve others. An enslaved person cannot choose to serve, they are forced to; a free person, on the other hand, chooses every day either to be noble and in service or to be lazy and seeking to be served.

Bert was part of “the greatest generation” who were incredible souls seeking to serve and make the world a better place for their families. They didn’t Kvetch, they didn’t pontificate, they didn’t procrastinate; they rose each morning, thanked G-d for their freedom and did the best they could, through hard work and selflessness, to ensure a brighter tomorrow. G-d made it clear: I didn’t take you out of Egypt so you should be enslaved to your selfish addictions and absorbed with your needs 24/7; rather I took you out of Egypt so you can shine uninterrupted, connect with your Higher Power and celebrate every moment of life, healthfully, with meaning and joy.

The greatest generation doesn’t have to be a one-time thing!

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

 

My Moment of Shame!

I don’t want to be like Pharaoh.

Yesterday morning, I lost my cool and raised my voice at three of our children. I was frustrated about the repetitive breaking of valuable tech items, and instead of staying calm and dealing with them like a sensible father and mature adult, I dropped the ball. Fifteen minutes later, after realizing how wrong it was, I was taken over by deep shame. I sat the kiddos down, told them how embarrassed I felt, apologized profusely for my behavior and asked them for their forgiveness. It wasn’t my finest moment, but Chavie reassured me and reminded me how important it was that I was transparent with them and vulnerable in our conversation.

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’eira, we read about a fellow who could’ve easily ended the horror plaguing his nation, but he was stubborn and dug his heels into his wayward ways. Sure, G-d implanted his stubbornness, but he could’ve made a wise choice or two and freed the Hebrews, and he didn’t. instead of internalizing the damage his country was experiencing, instead of doing what was in the best interest of his people, including his family, he chose power over courage, ego over humility, and at the end, Egypt was left with nothing.

An empire destroyed due to an unwillingness to change.

No question, the kids needed to be reminded not to mistreat their “stuff”, but the way I initially went about it was wrong and, potentially, harmful. If I, as an adult, don’t like people screaming at me, why should young beautiful children incur that? Yet, I also did something that I hope will remind me never to raise my voice again and that I hope they will remember later in life: I sat them down, expressed to them my deepest remorse and allowed them to see my humanity. We cried, we hugged, we laughed, and I was forgiven. I haven’t recovered from my shame, but I will, and hopefully be a better dad. I’d rather they remember me as their humble Moses than their arrogant Pharaoh.

In the words of Brene Brown “Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It's the magic sauce!

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

Saved by the women!

On Monday evening, seven women attended Chavie’s monthly Torah and Tea. The week before, six women attended Chavie’s Taste of Tradition Cooking Class and the new bi-weekly Tale of Two Souls class on Tanya if off to a great start, attracting women from all segments of the community for study and meditation. I share this because our community is seeing incredible growth in women’s programing and participation. It’s heartwarming, as Jewish women are the guarantors of our future.

In this week’s Torah portion, Shemot, the first in the book of Exodus, we read about The Pharaoh. As a Jew-hater par excellence, he decreed horrifically that all male Jewish babies are to be exterminated and all the females are to be indoctrinated into Egyptian culture and idolatrous ideology. Who was it that worked tirelessly to ensure the boys’ physical survival and the girls’ spiritual survival? It was a team of heroic women led by Moses’ mother Yocheved and older sister Miriam. They knew that their lives were in danger, they knew that if they were caught they’d be toast, but their wellbeing wasn’t as important to them as the nation’s survival and so they did whatever it took to save our people from an Egyptian holocaust.

Currently, there is widespread confusion on almost all matters, from medicine to politics, religion to dieting, never-ending amounts of misinformation resulting in too much interhuman mistrust. It’s vital that we Jews have clarity on the components needed to ensure the prosperity of our souls and the wellbeing of our nation. First and foremost on that list of vital ingredients are Jewish women, who have always had a greater spiritual intuition than the men and who have been pillars of redemption through thick and thin.

Biblical feminism; almost 4,000 years old!

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

Jackie Robinson & Labelism!

There are many societal norms that are good; but some are really bad, including the lumping together of people, thinking that if they live in “that neighborhood” or “drive that car” or “watch that news station”, they are probably “one of those”. It’s a travesty, that instead of giving each human being individualized respect, personalized attention and a chance to share for themselves where they stand on issues, we “assume”, “generalize” and “judge”, without ever knowing the truth of who they are.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last in Genesis, we read about Jacob’s deathbed conversation with his twelve tribes before his passing at one-hundred-and-forty-seven years-old. First, Jacob ascertains that they have all remained firm believers in one G-d and that the depraved Egyptian influence hasn’t affected them negatively, encroaching on their spirituality. Following that, Jacob talks to each of them individually, blessing them, highlighting their virtues and, for some, emphasizing their negative traits, which if worked on with a healthy dose of character refinement, can be transformed into very positive passion. He didn’t just say “guys, you are all special, all good, and I hope you carry my legacy into the future”. He knew, what we should all know, that every child, every human, needs a special touch.

I find that with labelism we have lost touch with the uniqueness of each human. You are “progressive”, “Reform”, “Religious”, “Modern Orthodox”, “Secular” “Hassidic”, “Libertarian” and on and on and on. Not only do we not give people the benefit of the doubt, we don’t even allow them to be themselves, as we reach conclusions about them by generalizing before even saying hello. Why is it that we expect people to treat us with dignity, while we ourselves can’t recognize human distinctiveness and come with an open mind to each human interaction? Jacob did it with his children; I hope I can do it with mine and with all of you.

In the words of Jackie Robinson “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… All I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”!

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

A Letter to my Mom...

Dear Mommy,

It’s that time of year AGAIN. The time of year that takes me off my Chanukah high and throws me, cold turkey, into painful moments that are truly gut stirring. I want to believe that your Yahrtzait, the anniversary of your passing, will be smooth sailing, but it isn’t; it breaks my heart each year anew. Furthermore, I simply can’t believe it’s been nine years!

On that awful Tuesday morning at Lenox Hill Hospital, we, your five children, stood together singing Shamil, a Chassidic song that reflects the journey of the soul. We sang our broken and aching hearts out as we escorted your soul to heaven, undoubtedly to its shopping mall…nine years ago. When you left us, your beloved baby Mushkie was still single, Chaya and Zeesy were babies, Bubbe and Zayde were still with us, Menny, Shoshana and Chana Laya weren’t part of our family and Montana only had one Chabad Center.

Nine freakin’ years!

Nine years is so long, I feel like Joseph whom we read about in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, who was separated from his loved ones for twenty two years, and through that painful process taught us how to deal with the void and yearning of physical separation. Yes, the ultimate reunion was super emotional, as neither Joseph or his broken father Jacob believed that the other was still alive, but the emotions weren’t a constant. During those twenty two years, Joseph thought about his father often, he yearned deeply for his brothers, especially Benjamin, his maternal baby brother, but he wasn’t paralyzed, he wasn’t shut down, he lived, he functioned, he ran the entire Egyptian empire, he married and had two sons. He “moved on” with his life and that inspires me because I feel like after these many years, I am there with Joseph.

Ma, I know you won’t be offended or hurt when I tell you that I don’t cry very much anymore. I think about you all the time, I even dreamt about you and your dear older sister Kraindy just the other night, but the emotions are far and few-between. I could be triggered with a song, a story, a book in which the author discusses losing a parent or sometimes it’s when life just gets a bit too rough for me. I love unloading with a good cry, it feels really good, I feel connected, I feel the love that we have between us, but nine years later mom, It’s not the same and you moved from being that helicoptering figure to my larger-than-life role model I could only dream of emulating.

Not all of your kids, my beloved brothers and sisters, see it the same way, but this is how I feel and sharing it in the open, is freeing for my fragile soul.  

Joseph and his brothers refused to drink wine during their separation, as they mourned the family break-up and wine is the life of the party. Yet, Joseph went one step further: he set aside a bottle because he believed in his heart of hearts, he’d reunite with them some day and would need L'Chaim on-hand to celebrate.  When they did finally reunite, he sent the now vintage bottle of wine to his dad in Israel, to express to him how much hope he had that this moment would come. He also shared with his dad, via his brothers, a reminder of the last thing they learned together before his brothers abducted him and allowed him to be sold. It was soothing for Jacob to know that his son hadn’t lost touch, emotionally or mentally, with his beloved father. 

Ma, I don’t have a bottle of wine set aside for my reunion with you, though I know how much you loved the bubbly Moscato “wine” and so do I, but I do have so much I want to share with you, especially my beloved Chana Laya, who carries your name with love and who reminds me each day that I was blessed with a mother of the century. There’s so much I’d love to share with you, all the info. I would’ve shared in our morning calls which I’ve missed for the past 2,800 days. So, emotionally I’m in a better place, and that has allowed me to think with clarity and truly contemplate how your incredible character and devotion to your five children shaped who we are.

Joseph reflected his dad Jacob and I try to reflect you. Jacob lived amongst the thugs in Laban’s world and thrived spiritually and Joseph lived amongst the depraved Egyptians and did the same. I hope Ma that I too reflect your integrity, your thoughtfulness, your straightforwardness and most importantly, your love for those in our world that are less fortunate. You didn’t sugarcoat the truth, but you did make it bearable. You didn’t hold back from sharing your opinions but you didn’t bite those with whom you disagreed and you didn’t always like what G-d had in store for you, for us, but that never stopped you from being His biggest advocate and confidant. For most of your life you weren’t blessed with lots of money, but that never stopped you from kicking-in for the orphans, children of divorced parents and those struggling with mental illness in your beloved Crown Heights community. You didn’t care “what it looked like”, you always stood with those who needed a shoulder to lean on.

Listen Mommy, for the first time in nine years, I will be in Bozeman for Yahrtzait, as Yochanan will be in Florida, Rochel in Montreal and Yanky and Mushkie in New York, each bringing you to life in our respective communities. We got together yesterday at your resting place in Queens; we prayed, we cried, we reminisced, and we laughed; always laughing because that is the best reflection of you. I hope to pull off three Minyans to say Kaddish in Bozeman over Shabbos and the wonderful members of our community are on board to make it happen. The seventh of Teves changed my life and there’s no going back; only Mashiach could bring about the change I need to heal and the reunion I await.

Ma, I will lift my glass tonight and say L’Chaim to my beloved mother, whose love, wisdom and authenticity is etched in my mind and heart. Sometime soon, like Joseph, I’d like to hear the news that you’re alive, that Mashiach came and that Beth Rivkah's 1st grade class has their best teacher back!

In the words of a couple of kids who loved their mom “You showed me when I was young just how to grow; You showed me everything that I should know; You showed me, just how to walk without your hands; 'Cause mom you always were the perfect fan”

Love you my dear mama!

Chaim Shaul

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

Menorah on the bar!

So far, Chanukah has rocked in Big Sky Country! It started with an amazing family event at Jump Time Bozeman on Sunday, MAJCO Menorah lighting at the State Capitol and Menorah lighting at the Livingston Depot on Monday, Chanukah home visits in Butte, Billings and Big Timber on Tuesday, incredible Chanukah Bash at our home on Wednesday, Chanukah celebration at Montana State Hospital in Warm Springs and Yeshiva students Dovid and Nisson visiting Great Falls on Thursday and that doesn’t even include the remarkable events in Missoula, Hamilton, Whitefish and Kalispell hosted by our colleagues the Vogel’s and Wolf’s.

Chanukah is a time of brightness and it’s been bright, both internally and externally.

Yet, what brightened me most this Chanukah was my buddy Danny who serves as a bartender out in Three Forks. He showed me a picture of himself lighting his Chanukah Menorah on the bar with three gentile patrons smiling, enjoying and encouraging his Jewish Mitzvah experience. He was shining brightly as he shared with me what it was like, and rightfully so; it reflected the Jewish soul that is unbeatable, unstoppable and forever bright. It’s the Joseph gift that keeps giving. You see, in this week’s Torah portion, Miketz, we read about Jacob and Rachel’s son Joseph who - despite being utterly mistreated by his brothers and locked up in Egyptian prison due to a libelous claim by his master’s wife - ends up chosen by The Pharaoh as Viceroy of the mighty Egyptian Empire.

You’d think that to honor his appointment and to blend into the melting pot of Egypt, Joseph would change his name, marry a local, hide his Abrahamic ancestry and refuse to circumcise his sons Ephraim and Menashe, but he didn’t assimilate. He retained his Jewish identity, fully, and everyone in Egypt knew that their “sustainer”, the one who ensured that enough food was saved during the seven years of plenty in order to survive the seven years of famine, was a Jewish kid from Israel who “had a record”. Joseph ingrained in every Jew, for all eternity, that no matter our surroundings, whether in a bar or dressed as Santa, we could connect and feel our soul and act on it on a moment’s notice.

Burn, Burn, Burn!

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

Falling down, getting up!

Those of you who attended Sunday’s incredible Farbrengen/dinner with Idaho’s Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz, may have noticed that I was walking funny and perhaps experiencing a bit of pain. I was. Ten days ago, while focused on my phone and walking down the stairs, I tripped on a toy and had quite the fall. I had the wind knocked out of me, landed flat on my back and faced brutal physical pain for a week. I am now on the mend, but It’s still sore and I guess I won’t be skiing this season :).

While aching on the couch I realized that this is the collective story of our people.

During the era of Chanukah, the Syrian Greeks did their very best to knock us down. We were hit hard, as most Jews chose assimilation over defiance, secularism over Torah observance, new age over tradition; our people were at a low. We had fallen down the spiritual stairs and the road to recovery seemed improbable. Yet, we can look back and smile; not only did we make a comeback due to the heroic Maccabees, but in the 2,200 years since, Judaism has flourished in unimaginable ways and reached infinite heights. Since the first Chanukah, we’ve merited the Era of Mishna/Talmud in Israel, the era of the Geonim in Babylonia, the Era of the Rishonim in Germany, France, North Africa and Spain, the era of the Achronim in Holland, Italy and Czechoslovakia and the era of Chassidim in Ukraine, Poland, New York, and, now, the world over. 

We, the Jewish people, have bruised our ribs, pulled a few muscles and have even had the wind knocked out of us. We’ve been through so much, we've been down, but we are not out, as Torah Judaism is blossoming everywhere. The Antiochus’s of history wouldn’t believe how alive Jewry is. Thanks to Judah, his relative Yehudis and their band of religious freedom fighters, Moses’ teachings are still celebrated in Bozeman and beyond. Sunday night, as you kindle your Menorah, pause and smile, smile at the flickering flame that is representative of our people, our faith, our perseverance. 

Hold on, just hold on, don’t let go, don’t let go, you can’t let go, you gotta keep on movin’ on!

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


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