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Weekly Message

My Yom Kippur Letter to G-d!

Dear G-d,

It’s been a long six months since Your world was cast into chaos and I feel the need to write to You, to share with You just how much I love Your people Israel and how they inspire me to rock on. I won’t bore You with pages and pages of incredible moments that I experienced since March, I will just share a few anecdotes that I witnessed over the two days of Rosh Hashana in my hometown of Bozeman, Montana.  

In the prayers of Rosh Hashana we read Jeremiah’s words “thus said the Lord, I remember for you the devotion of your youth, the love of your bridal days, as you went after Me in the wilderness, in an uncultivated land”. Indeed, it’s true dear G-d, that historically, we Jews have followed You through thick and thin, through pogroms and exiles, a holocaust and inquisitions, but in addition to recognizing, perhaps even giving accolades to, those who came before us, I want to focus on the Jews of today, those living in Your universe in 5781.

The sages who composed the Rosh Hashana liturgy wrote these words In the “Remembrance – Zichronos” section of Musaf: “Happy is the person, who does not forget You, the son of man who holds fast to You; for those who seek You will not stumble forever, nor will anyone who places their trust in You be put to shame eternally”. There is a Chassidic Niggun to these words and as I hummed it to myself during the silent Amidah on both days, I turned my head to look at the crowd and knew it to be true; they haven’t forgotten You; not one bit.

Hashem, I saw Arend, who I now know is “Aharon ben Sidney”, a son of a regal holocaust survivor Rita, who attended Shul for the first time in his life and six decades after his 13th birthday was called to the Torah as a Bar-Mitzvah to the blessings of “Mazal Tov”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I peeked at Jim, who isn’t Jewish, yet for a few years now his soul is yearning to join Am Yisroel and he’s working so hard to make it a reality. He drove six hours round-trip from a small town to experience Rosh Hashana in the Shul. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I chatted with Brooke, a new mom, who came to Shul with her four-month-old baby Wilder and when I praised her for making the effort, she said “You think I would let Wilder miss her first Rosh Hashana?”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I observed a young child Eli, whose mother stayed back in Shul with his younger sibling, make the two mile roundtrip walk to Tashlich and stand listening carefully as we prayed at the water and cast away our sins. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I stood in my front yard, under canopies, with tens of Jews at a time (over 100 throughout the holiday) who, despite the pouring rain on the first day of Yom Tov and the nutty wind on the second, came together with the proper precautions to celebrate the New Year in unity. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I appreciated seeing Jennifer’s face all lit up when she came to thank us for hosting a short Shofar service for those who couldn’t make the whole thing and was so very grateful to fulfil the Mitzvah. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I was joined by our very own Chaya, Zeesy and Menny, who stood with me selflessly on Shabbos afternoon amid a severe wind/rain storm, each holding the polls of a canopy, to ensure the canopies survive the storm and are still standing for the second day of Rosh Hashana. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

Hashem, I was uplifted when I received a note after the holiday from Janet saying “Just wanted to let you know that my son very much appreciated the jar of honey and honey cake that you left at his door. I believe it helped get him thinking about the High Holidays and Teshuva”. Happy is the person, who does not forget You!

So dear G-d, when you’re wondering in Your infinite wisdom whether to sign and seal Jewry for a year of life, revealed blessings and loads of sweetness, don’t think twice. Please recognize that, like the Jews in Montana, my sisters and brothers around the globe are still deeply in love with You and are showing up to express it. We’ve arrived with flowers at Your door to repair the relationship, it would be wise to accept our apology and mend those broken fences. We have issues and need lots of help, but we are a committed people and have never stopped trusting our beloved Father In Heaven.

May You grant us all a year of wonders, miracles, and lots of good Sushi.

Your ambassador,

Chaim

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!!!

A letter to my children!

A letter to my children!
Erev Rosh Hashana 5780


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

Tomorrow, Kinderlach, is Rosh Hashana. In just twenty-four hours we will transition from 5780 to 5781 ushering in a year of “visible wonders”, the translation of the new years’ Hebrew acronym.

Firstly, I’d like to take a moment to wish each of you my heartfelt wishes for a sweet year. May this be a year in which you surprise yourself in fulfilling and expressing your incredible G-d given potential. May it be a year in which you are proud of yourself often. I bless you to grow like Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah and you dear Menny, to grow like Ephraim and Menashe, Joseph’s boys; confident, comfortable and healthy Jews, though you may find yourselves in a gentile environment.

Secondly, I like to take some time to share my feelings with you, because 5780 was the roughest year we’ve ever known and it’s easy to get caught up in the negative and lose sight of all the good.

As your father, I’ve radiated lots of strength since the beginning of this horrific pandemic. Mom and I have worked overtime to be a reassuring voice for you and to live our lives as normally as possible. I’ve watched y’all struggle with isolation, insecurity and uncertainty and I wish I would’ve had better answers, but it was out of our control, obliging us to place our trust in Hashem.

Yet, in the midst of the chaos, while the world was on fire figuratively and literally, we managed to have so much fun, so many good times, and I don’t want us to forget all the amazing moments that we experienced in 5780 as a family. So I sat down, putting fingers to keyboard, to share the good memories, because I want you to look back at the year and remember - not just the masks, the closed Shul and school closure, but -  the blessings that G-d gifted us throughout it all.

5780 brought us incredible holiday celebrations. From Sushi & Scotch in the snowy Sukkah to Chanukah @ Jump Time & the Library, from Purim in NYC to Seders to go, to a memorable Shavuot celebration in the front yard.

5780 brought us a Bozeman-altering event with Anne Frank’s sister Eva Schloss with 1,400 in attendance at MSU, a Farbrengen with Rabbi Mendel from Boise for the Chassidic New Year, a Babka bake for women with Rebbetzin Chaya from Playa Del Carmen, countless Zoom events with speakers from around the globe, live morning inspiration almost every single day since April and the online women’s Tanya class which rocked the house and will resume again after the holidays.

5780 brought us a memorable family Shabbos in La Verkin, Utah, a road trip through Zion, Bryce, Escalante, Capitol Reef, Goblin, Arches, Canyonland State/National parks, a trip to Florida and Tybee Island, Georgia, an RV road trip throughout Western Montana, five weeks of summer camp in San Antonio and the opportunity to celebrate at your aunt’s wedding in a discreet location in Big Sky Country.

5780 brought us so many Shabbosim to sit as a family, together, and Daven with song and heart. It gave us the opportunity to visit so many homes of new, and old, friends, bringing Shabbos and Yom Tov care packages around our spectacular valley. It’s also the year in which you got a new trampoline and, thanks to Covid, watched way more videos than you ever did before or ever will again :)

5780 forced your school, Shoshana, into lockdown, forcing you to celebrate Passover alone, but allowing you to wrap up your studies and graduate with honors in late August and to come back home. It gave us all precious time to spend with each other (maybe a bit too much time:)), to be excited about hikes and parks like never before and to jump for joy when we merited to see a friendly face after months in lockdown.

5780 made your mom a world renowned speaker as she traveled to over fifteen communities in person, and over 50 if we include the Zoom’s, as she inspires the world about faith in G-d and the honor of being your parent. Mom also launched her blog www.clearasmud.blog and is single handedly changing the “norms” as she shifts the perspective of the Jewish world one Instagrammer at a time.

5780 brought us remarkable family visits that could only happen when the world is shutdown. Shneur and Chana’le for Pesach, Eli Nachum and Tzivia for Menny’s birthday, Shayna, Devorah and Brocha for Shavuos, Sruli and Mendel (ok their parents to :)) for months and so many others who popped in and out.

5780 brought peace between our homeland Israel and two Arab states, it convinced airlines to cancel their ridiculous change fees and Nissim Black rocked our home with many new songs, including the powerful “Hold On”.

I don’t know, dear Kinderlach, what 5781 will bring, but I don’t want to forget all the priceless moments of 5780. I could easily focus on the hardships of life that we felt during this past year, on the loss of my uncle Ahrele, mom’s Zaidy Kahanov, or even the most recent communal loss of our beloved Joe Sharber. I could focus on the Bozeman fires and our friends losing their homes or on the riots taking place across our beloved country, I could focus on Alabama hurricanes and Iowa storms and I could focus on all the terrifying moments when I didn’t know if my beloved uncle Chaim Shaul, and so many others, would make it, but for bad news you could read the paper or listen to the news, you don’t need your Aba.

Though it’s been eight months since I last entered the holy resting place of our dear Rebbe, I am inspired by his Positivity Bias, constantly realigning my perspective to match the Torah, to match the soul, to match G-d, and not to buy the constant sources of negativity from within myself and from outside influencers. Kiddos, the biggest incentive I have to see the good in our world, is you. When I see you bounce up, or down, the stairs each morning I am filled with joy, Nachas, gratefulness and hope. Each of you is very unique, with your own set of challenges, and you work so hard to get through them and that puts a smile on my face. Too often mom and I don’t have answers to all your valuable and soulful questions, but despite your inner conflicts and core yearnings, please know that each of you is a masterpiece, a beautiful, colorful, masterpiece worthy of infinite blessings.  

Personally, I believe that when we blow the Shofar on Sunday, we will usher in incredible Divine energies for 5781; but whatever 5781 brings to us collectively and to each of you personally, all I ask is that you make every moment count. It’s a hope out of my control, but please don’t be a Farshlofene waste of oxygen; take the gift of life that Hashem has given you and always utilize us to be a part of the solution, not part of the problem.

You can be anything you want to be; don’t let anyone, including yourself, tell you otherwise.

Kesiva Vachasima Tova, a sweet year kiddos; we will rock it.

Love you forever.

Aba

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!!!

Fire Won't Burn Us!

Bozeman is grieving. The fires of last weekend destroyed almost thirty homes, as well as ranches, barns, equipment, not to mention the devastating effect on the natural gorgeousness of Bridger Canyon. When speaking to the Feniger’s and Mendelsohn’s, I heard the heartbreak in their voice but also the gratefulness for life and the resolve to rebuild. Bill Feniger, who took only a handful of items before evacuating, managed to take his Tefilin with him. Jason Mendelsohn asked that I come to their new home once it’s built, to place the new Mezuzos. In the words of the old Yiddish song “Feyer Vet Unz Nisht Farbrenen”, sung by Chassidim back in Russia, “fire won’t burn us and water won’t drown us”.

In this week’s double Torah portion, Nitzavim-Vayelech, Moses informs his people that after he passes away they will stray from G-d “And I will hide My face on that day, because of all the evil they have committed, when they turned to other deities…And now, write for yourselves this song, and teach it to the Children of Israel”. In the darkest of times, when the trajectory of Judaism seems gloomy, G-d says that what will keep the Jews alive, what will keep them connected to their heritage, is the song of Torah, Judaism that’s experienced as a living organism of joy and meaning. When two families lose their entire home and hours after going back to see the ruin they are talking about Mezuzos and Tefilin, you know that Am Yisroel Chai.

On Saturday night, right after Shabbos, I called my buddy Quincy, who is a fire expert, and asked him how they would put this monster out and he responded “they won’t, and they can’t. The cooler temperatures and the expected rain/snow fall will do it”. For a fire ignoramus like me that was surprising, but I finally understood the incredible words of  King Solomon in Song of Songs, a book we should all read, “Many waters cannot quench the love, nor can rivers flood it”. The fire itself, that brought its horror show to Bozeman and is still only 52% contained, taught me that when a fire explodes, water and fire retardant cannot extinguish it. Let’s be that Jew on fire, aflame with G-d and spreading that fire, that passion, everywhere.

Inextinguishable! 

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!!!

Chaya's Cookie Lesson!

Over the years, therapists have shared with me, that for most people it’s extremely hard to accept constructive criticism, without taking it personal and getting offended. On Wednesday I had a double whammy: A dear friend and member of our community corrected me, rightfully so, on something I should’ve done but failed to do. Later that day, Chaya wanted to bake cookies and I told her, “you could do it tomorrow”. She approached me respectfully sometime later and expressed to me why she thought my decision wasn’t logical and asked me to reconsider. I did, and, on her own, she baked the most amazing gluten free cookies. It’s hard to swallow when someone questions our actions or motives, but it’s insecurity that stops us from owning our mistakes and from being better.

In this week’s Torah portion, Ki-Tavo, we read of G-d’s warnings to the Jewish people should they choose to ignore His instructions and follow their lustful yearnings instead. The repercussions are severe, but contrary to those who misunderstand Judaism, it’s not punitive or sadistic. G-d wants His children to do their absolute best. He gives us His holiest ideas, His holiest land, makes us His holiest nation; He does that all because He believes in us and desires for us to live soulfully, healthfully and wholesomely. When we don’t live up to His high standards, He gives us the kick in the pants that we need so that we can get back on track and live appropriately.

Don’t get the wrong idea; I naturally hate constructive criticism. I would like to believe that I see things with the proper lens, I do things the right way and I understand everything best, but that simply isn’t possible. Us humans aren’t perfect and without friends, spouses and children helping us see our mistakes, we will spend our entire life in an unhealthy bubble of falsehood, holding us back from bettering ourselves and the world around us. I am grateful to my buddy and to Chaya for helping me pause and see my failures and move forward to correct myself into the future. As I once heard “making mistakes is better than faking perfections”.

He loves us, so He rebukes us!

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!!!

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