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Weekly Message

Turn your frown upside down!

What a week it’s been! Sunday started off with a bang as children gathered at Home Depot to enthusiastically build their own Menorah’s. On Tuesday we hosted the incredible Rabbi Yechezkel Kornfeld of Mercer Island as he Farbrenged with our community for Yud Tes Kislev, giving us a healthy dose of perspective and inspiration. On Thursday, however, I broke from the celebratory mode and headed to Helena to perform the Tahara and officiate at the funeral of Bruce “Chaim Baruch Ben Moshe Chatzkel” Hodess, a warm Jew who will be dearly missed. Dealing with end-of-life experiences serves as my personal reminder of the fragility of life, the preciousness of each moment and the need for continuous gratefulness.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, my Bar-Mitzvha Parsha, we read about incarcerated Joseph. The verse says “And Joseph came to them in the morning, and he saw them and behold, they were troubled. And he asked Pharaoh's chamberlains…Why are your faces sad today?" “ Yes, Joseph, the young lad who lost his mom when he was a young child, Joseph who was placed in a snake-infested pit and later sold as a slave by his brothers, Joseph who was falsely accused by his masters wife and thus imprisoned wrongfully; how does this same Joseph genuinely wonder why the butler and baker, fellow inmates, are having a tough day? Shouldn’t he be the first to understand why they looked sad? Yet, Joseph didn’t get it, as he recognized a deep truth of Judaism: each day that we are alive is a unique gift from G-d and should be utilized and celebrated as such. His joyful "good morning" changed the trajectory of humanity, as it led to dream interpretation and eventual appointment as viceroy of Egypt. 

On Sunday evening we will usher in the festival of lights. We will listen closely to the story shared by the candles. It’s the story of Judah the Maccabee and his band of Jews, who, despite seeing death and destruction, despite knowing that most Jews disagreed with their tactics in dealing with the Syrian-Greeks, despite losing family members in the battle for Jewish survival, they remained committed to fighting the good fight and were grateful every morning anew for the life G-d had given them. Judah, like Joseph, didn’t spend his day thinking about what isn’t right in his life, but rather, the very fact that he was still alive was a sign that he must forge ahead in bringing more brightness to a darkened world.  

Miracle of light! 

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 Kiddos...

Dear Kiddos,

Happy Thanksgiving!

While I didn’t grow up formally celebrating Thanksgiving, we always gave thanks. While my parents, your beloved Bubby and Zayde, didn’t understand why we needed a special day to do what we Jews do many times each day, giving thanks to Hashem, as I got older, I realized that Thanksgiving is good for our country, so that people pause, at least annually, to recognize the myriad of things that G-d does for them daily, for which they are to be deeply appreciative.    

In the first-ever Presidential proclamation for Thanksgiving issued by George Washington on Oct. 3, 1789 he wrote “Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”. While on Veterans Day we thank the amazing men and women who have fought for our liberty and on Memorial Day we remember those who we lost in defense of that liberty, on Thanksgiving it’s all about thanking G-d.

So, kiddos, allow me to share with you a list of some of the things that I am grateful for, with the hope that you will create your own list. When you’re feeling down or crummy, look at the list and remember that life is pretty-awesome, and G-d is truly incredible:

I am thankful to G-d for gifting me two remarkable parents who I adore with every fiber of my being. Not all parents are amazing, and G-d gave me two that are and that is not something I take for granted.

I am thankful to G-d who through many acts of Divine Providence brought Mommy and I together. She is the greatest gift given to me by G-d and I thank Him for her every day.

I am thankful to G-d for gifting us with each one of you Kinderlach. Sometimes I may give you the impression that you're a burden or annoying, but you’re not; you’re my everything and every morning when I wake up and see you, whether in person or on Facetime, my heart fills with overwhelming joy for the children G-d has given mom and I.

I am thankful that G-d introduced me to Montana and that He honored me to be the Rabbi of its amazing citizens. There’re so many places I could’ve ended up, but He knew Bozeman would steal my heart.

I am thankful to G-d for the wisdom He gifts scientists who discover new medical devices and treatments and for the doctors who utilize these developments to caringly help our family (and the rest of world) with “Medical miracles”.

I am thankful to G-d for things that shouldn’t be taken for granted like clean water and air and for the fact that mom and I have never experienced hunger or homelessness. Food on our table and a roof over our heads is not guaranteed and for that I am thankful.

I am thankful to G-d for friends. Not only Facebook friends or Twitter followers, but for my dearest friends, some from my childhood and teenage years and others who I met later in life. I’d cross seas to help them when needed and I know they’d do the same for me.

I am thankful to G-d for in-laws who come in all shapes and sizes and I was blessed to have Bubby and Zaidy from Texas who get me (most of the time) and who have welcomed me into their family as one of their own since 2006.

I am thankful to G-d for our Rebbe. There are so many influences that guide our lives and shape our futures and I merited to live near the Rebbe and have him as a mentor. It’s what made me who I am, and I am so grateful that He gave me a Lubavitcher soul.  

My dear children, I am thankful to G-d for choosing our family to be part of the Jewish nation and serving as a light onto the world around us.

This Thanksgiving I offer thanks in the words of the Modim prayer “for our souls that are entrusted to You; for Your miracles that are with us daily; and for Your wonders in every season - evening, morning and afternoon. The Beneficent One, for Your compassions were never exhausted, and the Compassionate One, for your kindnesses never ended - always have we put our hope in You.”

Now go and write your own list. Tuck it away in your night table drawer and whenever you’re wondering whether G-d actually cares about you, pull it out and read your list, it will change your perspective immediately.

Happy Thanksgiving and Good Shabbos.


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!!!

Hope in the Hospital!

Taking Zeesy for her periodic visits to Denver’s Children Hospital is normally Chavie’s expertise, but due to a scheduling conflict, I had the honors this time. Spending three days in an environment of sick children is tough; It tugged at my core, rocked my emotions and gave me lots to ponder upon. Yet, while I was surrounded by so much suffering, so many families struggling and so much debilitating illness, I was also surrounded by the best medical practitioners in the world. They are not only experts in their field, but they, and the entire hospital staff, are full of love, care and unparalleled devotion. I was blown away, full of gratitude, as I experienced once again the genuinity of humanity. You wouldn’t know this when watching the news, but most people are really good and it’s reassuring.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeitzei, we read about our patriarch Jacob’s life in the home of wicked uncle Laban. While one can focus on the thievery, thuggery and sadism of Laban, it wouldn’t do justice to the whole story. Yes, Laban was trouble, but so many other Charan residents who were part of Jacob’s life were kind and generous. Rachel epitomized kindness by helping her older sister Leah marry Jacob first, against her own self-interest, just so she wouldn’t be shamed. Leah expressed kindness by praying to G-d that her seventh child be a girl so that Rachel should merit having at least two of the twelve tribes, and not less than Bilhah and Zilpah, Jacob’s concubines. Reuven would only collect flowers and herbs that were on public lands, refusing to follow grandpa Laban’s larcenous lifestyle. Yes, there was wickedness, but Jacob was surrounded by goodwill.

Focusing on the kindness that surrounds us is so important. This week as Shoshana was sharing with me all the “WhatsApp” news she received about the horrific situation in Israel and other negative incidents experienced by Jews around the world, I implored her to share good news and she did. We need to train ourselves to see good and focus on it. It’s not easy but is doable. Jacob saw the good and it changed the way he saw the world and even how he saw his brother Esau later on.  He wasn’t fooled by Esau’s theatrics, but he learned a vital trait: don’t see the worst in everyone. Not everyone walking behind you on the subway is a mugger and not every plumber overcharges their customers. Like Jacob, see good and your life will only get better and better.

Learn to see the light all over the tunnel!

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!!!

Aba, you don't understand me!

Children, like adults, are complex beings, making the blessing of parenthood a most fascinating journey. As Chavie and I raise our children, we are constantly seeking guidance on how to better the parent/child dynamic. Whether dealing with our high schooler Shoshana, who is excelling in Florida or interacting with our four kiddos at home, we learn new things every day and it’s imperative to reassess the relationship according to what we learn. When Chaya says “Aba, I feel like you didn’t understand me”, I need to pause and work with her so that there’s better communication.

In this week’s Torah portion, Toldot, we read of Rebecca’s pregnancy. When passing a Yeshiva, she felt the baby kicking in her womb, same when she passed a place of pagan worship. It was confusing: is the kid inching towards spirituality or heading into idolatry? Will the child seek morality or depravity? When she consults with the prophet she is assured that she will have twins, her beloved Jacob and Esau, not a child with a double identity. Yet, it’s important to realize that many good people do seek out both holy experiences and secular temptations, sometimes, even simultaneously. Recognizing this fact, makes us, the parents, more suited to respond to our children and help them choose the right path. We must strive to be “in touch” with our children and convey to them that holy and fun are not mutually exclusive, but that true holiness is indeed meaningful, fulfilling and joyous.

Today marks forty-one years since the miraculous recovery of my dear Rebbe of blessed memory after suffering a massive heart attack during Hakafot on Shemini Atzeret of 1977. On this day, Rosh Chodesh Kislev, he finally was strong enough to leave his study, where he was being treated, and head back home. There are many angles to this story, including the fact that his recovery allowed me to spend my childhood with him (I was born in 81’), but what speaks most to me is the Rebbe’s insistence in staying near his Chassidim, his soul-children, as his hospitalization would’ve terrified them, and he didn’t want to ruin their holiday. When choosing closeness over convenience, we send a clear message to them: you matter. You are always important to me and I cherish this journey.

In the words of Fredrick Douglass “It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken men”!  

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!!!

Vote with your feet!

Twenty-four hours after the Pittsburgh Massacre, after speaking at the local memorial gathering, I tried chatting with Chaya and Zeesy about it. I’m not sure they understood the severity of the tragedy, the way I hoped they would’ve, but I’m guessing this is normal for children their age. An hour later Zeesy asked me “Why would that person want to hurt other people?”. So innocent, so pure, so raw, yet all I was able to say was “Zisha, there are bad people in the world, really bad; we have to be, and do, good”. She agreed, as she listed off a bunch of good things she thinks we can do for the betterment of the world.  

Am Yisroel is broken; we are all seeking comfort.

In this week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, we read of Eliezer’s courtship of Rebecca as a wife for Isaac, son of his master Abraham. After their initial meet-and-greet, we are told “ And Isaac brought her to the tent of Sarah his mother, and he took Rebecca, and she became his wife, and he loved her. And Isaac was comforted for the loss of his mother. ” Isaac, who mourned for three years after Sarah’s untimely death, finally begins to find comfort, not only because he found a soulmate, but because she brought all of Sarah’s unique blessings back to life. When Sarah was alive there were three constant miracles: 1) A candle burned from one Shabbat eve to the next. 2) A blessing was found in the dough that she’d use for baking. 3) A cloud was attached to the roof of the tent. When she passed away, these things ceased, and when Rebecca arrived, they resumed.

Pittsburgh will never be the same, the families of those murdered will mourn forever and we don’t know how much grieving time the Jewish community will need, but we do know that we will find comfort and move forward. Isaac found comfort in continuity, knowing that the traditions of his beloved mother carried on and will be passed on to his future children. Joyce, Richard, Rose, Jerry, Cecil, David, Bernice, Sylvan, Daniel, Melvin and Irving died while praying in Shul on Shabbat, they voted with their feet and were not only devoted Jews in thought and speech, but in action. We can honor their legacy by making that our tradition too. 5K’s, skiing, hiking, sleeping, chilling are all important activities, but let’s follow in their sacred footsteps and, in their honor, make Shabbat morning in Shul a weekly activity, starting from tomorrow morning. 


Vote for Shabbat; endorsed by eleven sanctified souls!


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!!!

Be Sensitive

Jon Kean’s “After Auschwitz” left me speechless.  Watching it at The Ellen Theater on Wednesday and listening to the life stories of six amazing women, their pain and joy, anguish and contentment, hopes and sorrows, my innards were gut-wrenched. I couldn’t, and still can’t, stop thinking of my Zayde Shimon and all the questions I should’ve asked him to shed light on his after-holocaust experience. What broke me was what happened to these women when they finally went home after the war and how their childhood dwellings were now occupied by their Polish neighbors who refused to give it back and how that shattered their morale. When we lose our care for our neighbors, our very own “buddies”; that’s the decay of a society.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayeira, we read about the evil people of Sodom. They were guilty of many sins from sexual immorality to unjust courts, but what really did them in was their failure to be kind. Hospitality was against the law. Kindness among locals was prohibited. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless; all verboten. Stealing from the rich was permitted and robbing a passerby encouraged. Even as Abraham does his very best to advocate to G-d on behalf of the Sodom populace and it’s four suburbs of Amora, Adma, Tzvoyim and Tzoar, he fails, as he simply couldn’t justify their redemption to The Creator. Lot, Abraham’s nephew and a few family members made it out in recognition of their innate kindness, but as-a-whole a society such as Sodom would inevitably self-destruct.

Chavie and I try to instill in our children the importance of respect, no matter who and no matter when. When Shoshana and I were doing homework over Facetime this week, we delved into this idea as well while talking about King Solomon and his son Rechavam overburdening the populace in Israel and the subsequent loss of politeness. When we become out of touch, when we self-inflict with numbness by choice, we hurt neighbors, acquaintances and eventually those we love most. Whether it’s Sodom 1846 BC or Poland in 1945 CE, we must never follow suit. We must be like the Abraham’s or Sugihara’s of the world; be kind, sensitive and respectful.

“Everyone does it” is not an excuse; we can do better!

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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