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ב"ה

Weekly Message

A gift to the lonely!

It was the summer of 2004, my colleague Yitzchak and I, were traversing Montana to share Yiddishkait and we met Gavriel and Devorah Snyder at their home in the wilderness of Kila, 20 miles outside of Kalispell. They were warm, Torah loving and enthusiastic about Chabad opening a center in Montana. A part of me thought they were crazy “Montana? Not a chance!”, another part of me, deep down, had a seed planted “perhaps we could make this miraculously happen”. Indeed, they were both instrumental in opening Bozeman’s, Missoula’s and Kalispell’s Chabad Centers of illumination. On the evening of the 24th of Teves, Devorah passed away and she’s the first to be buried at our newly purchased Neshama Gardens cemetery.  

In this week’s Torah portion, Va’era, we read about the beginning of the ten plagues that G-d inflicted upon the Egyptians, hoping to stop their cruelty against the Jews and to ensure that they are finally liberated. Despite the stubbornness of The Pharaoh, his irrational addiction to power and his obsession with the Jews and Moses, the Torah commands us for all eternity to “love the convert, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. We Jews know how it feels to be an alone, we’ve almost always been outsiders, and we must therefore be the first to step up and treat a convert, who feels alone without a large Jewish family and with very little connections, with extra warmth and love.

Gavriel and Devorah converted to Judaism in their 50’s. They accepted all 613 Mitzvot of the Torah, they considered their journey to Judaism a labor of love and they ensured that every human being in their vicinity felt at home because they knew what it feels like to be a “stranger in a foreign land”. When I was a Yeshiva student, twenty-two years old, Devorah took care of me like her own child, even making sure that I had food for the daytime hours when I was on the road visiting people around the Flathead. We will miss you Devorah Ruth, an angelic soul, and I am certain that the Jewish community of Montana has one more ally on high.

Honor Devorah, bring joy to someone lonely today! 

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!!!

Climbing in Calico Basin!

Earlier this week, Chavie and I, with the four younger kiddos, enjoyed a breathtaking hike on the Calico Basin Trail in Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon. It was three hours of bliss as we climbed the various formations, and soaked up the wide array of colors, of this natural phenomenon.  When we reached the end of the trail, I sat on a rock and gazed at a group of rock climbers in action with their ropes, helmets, and harnesses. We have many rock and ice climbers in Bozeman, including some dear friends, and watching these climbers’ fearlessness, reminded me that when one is connected above, falling down isn’t a worry.

 For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain”. While ensuring Moses that he will lead the Jews to Sinai, making them worthy of redemption, G-d also imparts to him that “I will be with you”, making it clear that when He is with us, when we are connected to our Commander-In-Chief, our beloved Creator, we have absolutely nothing to fear.

Plato famously said, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light”. I feel that so often G-d is guiding us, guiding me, to a place of illumination, leadership and meaning, but we are stifled, scared to let go of our plans, instead getting stuck; paralyzed, and unable to progress. It’s easy to fear falling when forgetting that the rope of our soul is connected on high and therefore have nothing to fear but fear itself, literally. When scoffers questioned Rabbi Meir of Premishlan’s ability to walk up an icy hill to immerse in a body of water for a Mikvah, he did it with ease and quipped “when one is connected above, they don’t fall below”.

Take me higher!

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!!!


Fear abated!

Wow! Chavie sure knows how to throw a party. Turning forty can feel different for each person, but between my inspirational Shabbos in New York and the joyous party this week in Bozeman I feel like my cup is full, overflowing. Friends, family, business acquaintances all came together to celebrate my milestone birthday. The atmosphere in the room was one of happiness, community and love, lots and lots of love. It meant so much to me to celebrate with our amazing community and to recognize what’s been created right here in our beloved valley.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, the last in the Book of Genesis, we read of Jacob’s final days on earth. The Talmud tells us that Jacob wanted to reveal to his children what would occur at the end of days, but G-d didn’t let him. Jacob thought that G-d withheld that information from his beloved children because of a spiritual flaw in one of them. The kids, recognizing their father’s frustration, recited “Shema Yisrael”, proclaiming their belief in G-d’s oneness and letting him know that just as there is only one G-d in his heart, so too there is only one G-d in their hearts. At that moment, a relieved Jacob responded, “Baruch Shem”, Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever.

As I looked around the room on Sunday, in addition to the mouthwatering Sushi, fabulous bar, meaningful music and deep friendship, I saw a room of locals, Jews and gentiles, who are more in tune with their spiritual self, their core soul, as a result of this Chabad Center. The Rebbe of blessed memory dreamed of a world, a Montana, that is more connected to biblical values, more understanding of our Divine mission on earth and more appreciative of G-d's presence in their lives, Sunday was a testimony to just that, a community more soulful, more uplifted, more learned, and that is the greatest birthday gift of all.

Thank you! I am blessed!

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!!!

'Till we meet again Mama...

Eleven years is a long time, and tonight I will commemorate my mother’s eleventh Yahrtzait. Yesterday, after an incredible Chanukah that shined immense light across Big Sky Country (see pics here), my siblings and I visited my mom’s gravesite in New York. We prayed from the Book of Psalms, we reminisced about our amazing mother, and we did it together because it makes it just a tad easier. We debated whether the passage of time makes it easier or harder on loved ones, personally I am not sure, but I am certain that not a day goes by in my life that I don't think of her, miss her and try to live up to her high expectations of me.

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, we read of Joseph’s reunion with his brothers. The most riveting of the reunions was between Joseph and Benjamin, because while paternally all the tribes were brothers, sons of Jacob, Benjamin was Joseph’s only maternal brother. Rachel raised her beloved Joseph with so much TLC ,but died while giving birth to Benjamin, when Joseph was just seven years old. It was almost like Joseph was stepping in to share that motherly connection, motherly love, with his younger brother. A mother’s love, her special touch, is so powerful and irreplaceable and the best we can hope for is to see our mother, different aspects of an amazing woman, within our beloved siblings.  

It was Sunday, December 12, 2010, about thirty-six hours before my mom passed, that I landed in New York with Chavie, Chaya and Zeesy. I entered her room at Lenox Hill Hospital, asked for everyone to leave for a few minutes, and held her hand. Though she was comatose, I knew she could hear me, I told her how much I loved her, how much I’d miss her and how lucky I was to have her as my mother. She was my mentor, my kick-in-the-pants and made me the man I am today. As her soul ascended to heaven that Tuesday morning, with her children and husband holding hands and humming the Shamil Niggun, I knew she’d never stop being my guardian angel and she hasn’t.

'Till we meet again..My Yiddishe Mama!

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!!! 

The Old Variant!

Montana is Chanukah bright! From Israelis at the Rimrock Mall in Billings to those gathered at the windy lighting at the Livingston Depot, from the MAJCO celebration with Governor Gianforte at the State Capitol to the rabbinical students enlivening Great Falls with Latkes, from the Chanukah Bash which welcomed over one hundred souls on fire at the new center to our family time around the Menorah which is always the most special… and we still have three nights to go. Darkness better run for the hills, we are illuminated and there’s no stopping us now or ever.

We as Jews have dealt with a virus of Jew hatred and forced assimilation for forever. There was the Egyptian variant that went after our babies, the Babylonian variant that went after our finest youth, the Persian variant attacking our women, the Roman variant attacking our Holy Land, the Greek's two variants messing with our minds and bodies, while the Spanish variant went after the holiness of our souls, the Cossack variant went after our villages and ranches, with the Russian variant hitting our faith in G-d and the German variant despising us entirely and trying to get rid of us all-together. Yet, we are still here because they all forgot something vital: we have a built-in antidote, the same antidote that lived within Judah the Maccabee, Queen Esther, Eli Wiesel and my buddy Howard in Billings, it’s the pure oil, the soul, that can never be broken or eliminated.

 Germany. Rachel Posner, wife of the local rabbi, snapped a photo of the family Menorah and captured the Nazi building and its dreaded flag in the background. ">She wrote a few lines in German on the back of the photo. “Chanukah, 5692. ‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner. ‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.” The variants don’t scare me, not today, not ever, we are Jewish, we are aglow, we are eternal.

I see the light!

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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