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Weekly Message

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!!!

Take a Hike!

A few weeks back, my father-in-law called me, and kinda freaked me out. He reminded me that he’s still in the year of mourning for his dad, Professor Irving Block, and will need at least one Minyan per day so he could say Kaddish while in Bozeman. I knew it was possible but didn’t think it was probable. Yet, with LOTS of Nudging we pulled it off, as 26 different guys came together Friday through Monday to make it happen. It reminded me something vital: No challenge is insurmountable, no obstacle too hard to overcome and nothing, truly nothing, is impossible for a person to achieve when they are determined and devoted to making it work.

In this week’s fascinating Torah portion, Shlach, we read about Moses’ spies sent on a reconnaissance mission to scout out the Holy Land. With Joshua and Caleb in the righteous minority, the ten other spies reported back that the Holy Land is unconquerable. Its people are mighty, its cities are super fortified, and its fruit are enormous and super natural. They acted like an amateur hiker looking up at the Absaroka Range or like me looking at the mighty “M” in Bozeman and saying, “Hell no, I will never be able to climb that trail”. Except that the spies - like me and all the amateur hikers - were wrong. One time, a wagon got stuck in the mud, and the gentile driver asked the disciples of the Baal Shem Tov for help. The disciples replied: “We’re sorry, but we aren’t strong enough to lift it.” The man replied: “You can, but you don’t want to.”

Being a realist is not a bad thing and it was no mistake for the spies to see the real challenges that existed. Yet, they made a very wrong turn, when their realism turned into pessimism. I struggle in this regard: I love when I’m in control, I love when things go my way and I can’t stand it, it makes my blood boil, when it doesn’t. Yet, I am working on myself, working through my emotions, my feelings, to recognize that which Chassidism has tried to teach me all along: Ignoring the challenges before us is delusional; seeing them, acknowledging them, and then unleashing our inner reservoirs of courage to take them head on, is a very Jewish thing. Caleb and Joshua did it, so can we.

Don’t limit your challenges, challenge your limits!

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!!!

City of Saints!

Last night, along with my colleagues from our Mountain West region, I had the honor of celebrating 25 years of Chabad Lubavitch of Utah and saluting its founders Rabbi Benny & Sharonne Zippel. In 1992, one day before his debilitating stroke, the Rebbe of blessed memory sent the Zippel’s to Salt Lake City, where they opened Chabad’s first center in the Wild West. Benny and Sharonne are authentic, so dedicated and have enormous hearts; I cherish our friendship. Personally, Benny is my role model, he walks the walk and never forgets what its all about, not big budgets and glamorous cocktails, but laying Tefillin, affixing Mezuzot and inspiring souls in Mormon Country.

In this week’s Torah portion, Behaalotecha, we read about the kindling of the Tabernacle’s Menorah by the Aaronic priestly family. Historically, a lamplighter would walk the streets at night, carrying a flame at the end of a pole , going from lamp to lamp  to set them alight. Whether the lamp was in a desolate desert or out at sea where one must dive into the water to reach the lamps, the lamplighters job is to light it, no matter the conditions. Rabbi Sholom Dovber, the 5th Chabad Rebbe, taught that a Chassid is to be a lamplighter; knowing how to find the Jewish lamps, the Jewish souls, and utilizing the long reach of the spiritual pole to ignite them.  Like in the Tabernacle, lighting lamps must be done by those who are like Aaron, full of kindness, seeing the good in everyone and seeking peace.

Benny and Sharonne are lamplighters. They’ve walked through the darkness - before the social media age -  when no one, but G-d, noticed, they’ve illuminated the desert when so many thought it was impossible, and they never forget the mission, brightening the Beehive State. As buddies, Benny and I commiserate with each other, but three things always remain the same: 1) We recognize that without our respective wives we would’ve never made it this far. 2) No matter what the challenge that we are dealing with at a particular moment, we cherish our children and love them unconditionally 3) We know how privileged we are to be in service of the Jewish people and living the loving legacy of our mentor Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

Salt Lake City is known as City of the Saints; I know why!

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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