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Weekly Message

Mamma Mia!

It’s hard for me to believe that my mom, lovingly known as Chanchy, has been gone for seven years. On Sunday my siblings and I gathered in New York to visit her gravesite, say a heartfelt Kaddish and celebrate/memorialize the life of a woman who was a mother par excellence. There is so much about the beautiful family Chavie and I have created together, that I wish she was alive to experience. I’d love for her to see how our myriad of Chabad activities in Big Sky Country have grown. I would really like to take her out for lunch in the City. Yet, while she isn’t alive in conventional terms, as I sat around with my amazing siblings, brothers and sisters who are truly one unit, I realized that if she keeps her beloved children unified, she is alive within each of us, all the time.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last in the book of Genesis, we read about our Jacob’s passing. He appeals to his son Joseph to ensure his burial in Israel. He then, oddly enough, mentions to his beloved Joseph “As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died to me in the land of Canaan on the way…and I buried her there on the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem.”Rashi explains “I know that you hold it against me; but you should know that I buried her there by divine command, so that she would be of assistance to her children. When Nebuzaradan exiles the Israelites, and they pass by there, Rachel will emerge from her grave and weep and beg mercy…”. 50 years after Rachel’s passing, Joseph still missed his mother deeply, so much so that Jacob chose to lecture him – soothing his emotional pain - on the details of her burial.  That’s a Yiddishe Kind, one who never loses touch with his Yiddishe Mame.

King David says in Psalms “When the Lord counts in the script of the peoples”. As the world is about to celebrate their New Year, it’s an opportunity to make good resolutions. Every human has a mother. While some may be better at their job than others, they all gave us something special called “life”. Let’s resolve that 2018 be a year of daily “Mother’s Day”. If, like mine, your mom is in heaven, honor her by ensuring that when people meet you, they’ll say “fortunate is she who  gave birth to him/her”. If your mom is alive, utilize every possible opportunity to show her respect, spend time with her, call/facetime her, treat her like the queen that she is, because when it comes to honoring our parents, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

A Yiddishe Mame!

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!!!

CEO of Nachas!

Light, light and even more light, all packed into eight short days. Last Tuesday we hosted our 2017 Chanukah BashWednesday we celebrated in Dillon at UMWSaturday night we lit the Menorah downtown with Senator Jon TesterSunday we illuminated Livingston with Commissioner Mel Friedman while children were making Dreidel Spinners at the Fun ZoneMonday we spent all day celebrating in Helena, including with the Governor, Lt. Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State and State Auditor, and finally on Zos Chanukah we hosted a special evening of  Sip and Paint for women and teenage girls. This doesn’t even include the visits that our two rabbinic students made to the elderly, Israeli’s working at the mall and those incarcerated in Warm Springs. In addition, Rabbi Berry & Shayna hosted two amazing celebrations in Missoula, including at the Southgate Mall, and the first ever Menorah lighting in Hamilton with Sheriff Steve Holton.

Authentic Judaism lives under the Big Sky.

In this week’s emotionally charged Torah portion, Vayigash, Joseph finally reveals his identity to his broken brothers “Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" but his brothers could not answer him because they were startled by his presence.” Indeed, the brothers head back to Israel, sharing the unbelievable news with their inconsolable father. When Jacob finally overcomes the initial shock, we are told “the spirit of their father Jacob was revived.” Indeed, there is no greater joy for a Jewish parent than their child -  not only being tremendously successful, but - retaining their identity as a Jew despite living in an “Egyptian” culture. Joseph’s seventeen young years with his father Jacob, empowered him so deeply, that even twenty two years of separation, living in a very non-Jewish environment, didn’t change him or his values.

As I said L’Chaim and celebrated Chanukah with hundreds of Jews in our beloved Montana, it was crystal clear to me that we too want to raise the next generation of Josephs. How can we do that in 2017? Like, the Menorah, we must constantly increase in light. Yes, we did Chanukah but if we want our little boy or girl to know more than the “Dreidel Dreidel” song, we can’t be on “winter break” until Purim or Pesach. Let’s resolve to give our “Josephs” what Jacob gave his, so that, in addition to our children becoming Big Macher CEO’s, we will also be welcomed one day into their homes, decorated on Chanukah with Menorahs Dreidels, Latkes, Donuts and Gelt, with no other greenery, if you know what I mean.  

When Joseph is alive, Jacob is on a high! 

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 Judah....

Dearest Judah and your fellow Maccabees,

I write to you on this third day of Chanukah to thank you on behalf of Montanan Jewry. You see, like you guys back in 139 BCE, the Jews of Montana are a minority and are up against the mighty forces of secularism and assimilation. It’s not easy being a Jew in 2017, when society tries to convince you that everything sacred is silly and that all worldly silliness Is holy. When we feel down, when we feel like it’s a losing battle, when we feel like we are swimming upstream, we think of you, Judah and your beloved four brothers and sister Yehudis, as you remind us that we must “never say never”.

You taught us a few vital lessons: 1) No matter how strong the opposition, Judaism is always worth defending. 2) Giving up is not an option, even when most Jews would rather hang out with the modern-day Greeks than with you and your family. 3) It’s never a good time to stop searching for pure oil to create light. 4) Light always outshines darkness, even if it takes a miracle. 5) A family united is unbeatable. 6) We don’t only do it for ourselves, but for the generations of Jews that will come after us. There are more lessons, but it’s these six that really hit home for me.

I can’t imagine the challenges your courageous family faced back then. You lost brothers, both blood and non-blood, during the war, you watched our Holy Temple be desecrated including the placing of a pig on the alter, you had to put up with fellow Jews who labeled you “too radical”, “unapologetically Jewish” or even saying you were “fundamentalists”, just because you weren’t ready to surrender to the Greek ideology of body - versus soul - worshiping. Yet, you heeded your father Matisyahu’s guidance and stood on principle, thus guaranteeing the future of Judaism. I think of you often and I realize how much clarity you must have had during those tumultuous times and I am grateful for, even somewhat envious of, people like you.

As we approach the Shabbat of Chanukah, I want you to know that throughout Montana, from Hamilton to Great Falls, Helena to Livingston, Menorah’s are shining bright. Your victory was Jewry’s eternal victory, as your inspiration reverberates until this very moment. We aren’t just celebrating a triumphant of our Jewish ancestors, but rather, the never-ending pursuit of light and the untouchable brightness that exists in our Neshama, our soul. The world needs more Maccabee’s who are ready to defend the light and heritage of Judaism, no matter the enemy, whether an anti-Semite in Malmo Sweden who physically threatens the Jew or MTV which undermines our spiritual wellbeing.

When I’m in Israel next, I’d love to swing by your family’s resting place in Horbat Sheikh Gharbawi to say thank you. Thank you for teaching me that there’s more to life than “public opinion” and that being courageous is in fact a Judeo value. I will say the Hallel prayer again today and thank G-d for His miracles and for His soldiers on earth who made His job a bit easier. 

Have a happy Chanukah, General Judah!

A staunch admirer,












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!!!

The Gift of Family!

After an uplifting Farbrengen with Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf of Chicago (pics here), celebrating my 36th birthday and the Rosh Hashana of Chassidism , I hopped over to South Florida for twelve hours (and thirteen hours of flying), to address the high school students of the Rohr Bais Chaya Academy in honor of this auspicious day. It was remarkable to speak to a room of teenage girls who are genuinely interested in Torah depth and spiritual growth. A perk of visiting Florida is spending time, albeit a few short hours, with my older brother Yochanan and his beautiful family. When I’m around my family I tend to turn into a kid again; giggling, teasing and just having sibling fun.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, which I read for my Bar Mitzvah , we read about Joseph seeking out his ten half-brothers on behalf of his father Jacob. It was no secret that his brothers shunned him, but siblings are siblings, and Joseph heads out seeking “Es Achai Anochi Mevakesh - I am looking for my brothers. Tell me now, where are they pasturing?”. While they didn’t reciprocate with the decency expected of family, they inherently loved him, and it was palpable years later when they finally reunite with Joseph as Viceroy of Egypt. Siblings can be asinine on occasion, but my parents raised us with the understanding that when siblings get along and are there for each other, nothing can stop them.

On Tuesday evening we will usher in Chanukah, the festival of lights, when we celebrate the Maccabee victory over the Syrian Greeks 2,156 years ago. The Greeks demanded the defilement of Judaism and Matisyahu, along with his five sons, Shimon, Elazar, Yonatan, Yehuda and Yochanan, were unwilling to sell out. Undoubtedly, Chanukah was miraculous in the deliverance of the “mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few” and the kindling of “lights in Your holy courtyards” which is why we celebrate with such fervor.  Yet, it is also a reminder of how much can be accomplished when a family works together. When - despite their age difference, personalities and world view -  the five Maccabee brothers bond together, nothing can stop them from illuminating the world for generations to come. Whether Joseph or Judah the Maccabee, they taught us by example, that there’s nothing as vital as family.

Happy Chanukah brothers and sisters!  

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!!!

What are you worth?

After a whirlwind trip to Shelby, Fort Benton, Ulm and Helena, I returned to Bozeman for a busy week; sending Montana’s Jewish Voice to print, prepping for our winter programming, including Chanukah, and, wretchedly, dealing with another struggling soul who has had hopeless thoughts for quite some time, but finally attempted suicide. This beautiful Neshama was so broken, in so much pain and felt so helpless that she thought there was no other option other than “getting out”, saying “I don’t want to live anymore”. Obviously, rabbis/parents/teachers/relatives are not mental health professionals, which must always be consulted and are an integral part of the experience, but as a rabbi, seeing this person's pain was raw and gut-wrenching.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, we read about Jacob’s reunion with his lawless brother Esau. Jacob is concerned, even frightened, for his four wives, twelve children (Benjamin wasn’t born until after the reunion), and of an altercation with another wicked relative, having just been freed after two decades with conniving Laban. Esau is a known mobster, coming toward Jacob with four hundred of his toughest men and Jacob prepares with appeasement gifts, prayer to G-d and even for the possibility of outright war. Jacob’s life was no picnic, he was on the run, dealing with cheaters and abusers and trying to raise a family in an immoral middle east. What’s Jacob’s secret? How does he overcome, seemingly, insurmountable challenges? What was his education trick that taught his boys and girl to have the inner courage to deal correctly with anything that life brings?

He didn’t ignore the world; he just saw it in a very different light.

The Torah tells us that when Esau departed “Jacob traveled to Succoth and built himself a house, and for his cattle he made booths”. Jacob builds a stable home base for “himself”, for the things that mattered to “him”, to his essence, but for his “cattle”, for the materialistic realities of the world around him, he made “booths”. Our society has allowed, and even commanded, us to think of superficial and less important aspects of life as integral and essential, when they are anything but that. These factors can lead people, especially younger ones, to thoughts of inadequacy and hopelessness. We must teach anyone who will listen that at the core they’re beautiful; life is so much more than broken friendships, bullying jerks and the void felt in our hearts when experiencing terrible losses. Our worthiness doesn’t come from the outside, it comes from the inside which sparkles and shines.

Seek professional help and internalize/share this message with everyone!

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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