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In a Rabbi's Minute

In a Rabbi's Minute

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A Baby Naming

On a Sunday night, the evening of Monday, the 27th of Sivan, 5737 (June 12, 1977), my mothers first cousin,  Avrohom Eliezer Goldman, HYD, was tragically and brutally murdered at the tender age of 17.

Avremi was an unusual youngster, with a potential for greatness. His shining smile and his modest, unassuming demeanor captivated the hearts of all – adults, teenagers and children alike.

He was outstanding in his learning at the Yeshiva, as well as outstanding in his character traits. Parents held him up to their children to emulate. 

Avremi would stay up until the late hours of the night learning even more. He went out of his way to help others with their learning. His sincere prayers, with his melodious voice, inspired and served as an example even for adults.

He was known as one who would never refuse another any assistance he could offer in any way.

Heeding the Rebbe's call for Jewish outreach was a way of life for Avremi.

On one such occasion, he met a man in Manhattan, with whom he would put on Tefilin. After a while, this man told him that his wife had given birth to a baby girl. Avremi tried to convince him to give the child a Jewish name.

The man agreed. The evening before the scheduled baby naming, Avremi went out of his Yeshiva on Troy Avenue in Brooklyn to the phone booth on the corner of Montgomery St. (the yeshiva’s phone was not working at the time), He wanted to call the baby’s father and remind him to go to Shul the next morning to give his daughter a Jewish name.

Just then, three hooligans came and stabbed him mercilessly – for no reason other than because he was a Jew.

That evening, his pure and holy soul was returned to his maker. He was laid to rest next to his grandfather, my great-grandfather, Harav Eliyahu Simpson, ZTL, near the Previous Rebbe’s resting place.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, under the guidance of the Rebbe, Rabbi Eli and Mrs. Leah Lipsker set up a fund in the memory of Avremi Goldman to help children from financially struggling families enroll in summer camps. The fund was named Keren Avrohom Eliezer, and every summer it helps many children enjoy a summer experience they would not otherwise be able to afford.

32 years later, in 2009, Mrs. Esther Goldman, Avremi's mother, received a telephone call from a woman named Mrs. Pesha Ziv in Israel. “I was the baby girl whose father your son convinced to give me a Jewish name,” the voice at the other end of the line said. “After all these years, I finally mustered up the courage to call you. My Jewish name is Pesha.”

The woman told Mrs. Goldman that throughout her childhood she questioned her parents as to the origin of her unique Jewish name, something none of her siblings had. After learning the story of her name from her father, she was determined to learn more about her Jewish faith.

Pesha’s journey resulted in her leading an observant Jewish life. She married and together with her husband, settled in the Jewish community of Rechovot, Israel to raise a family.

A little over a year ago, Pesha called Mrs. Goldman and announced the good news that she had just given birth a healthy baby boy. Eight days after he was born, the boy’s beaming parents gave him a special Jewish name – Avrohom Eliezer.

Paying It Forward

Machzor (medium)Where do old machzorim go when a synagogue no longer needs them? Sometimes they end up in the most unlikely places. That was the case when Rabbi Baitelman was looking for a new home for Chabad of Richmond’s machzorim for Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. The 10-to-15-year-old prayer books were still in great condition but thanks to a sizable donation and the contribution and sponsorship of many families at Chabad, they had recently been replaced with new ones. Still, he knew someone, somewhere could use them.

He was thrilled when Rabbi Binyomin Scheiman of the Hinda Institute reached out requesting the old prayer books be sent to him. Formerly known as the Jewish Prisoners’ Assistance Foundation, the Hinda Institute assists families of those incarcerated, arranges visitation for Jews in jail in Illinois and assists former Jewish inmates with re-entry into society after their release. “These High Holiday prayer books are so important,” Scheiman reflected. “For Jewish inmates, the High Holy Days are a time in their life when they’re very open and repenting for mistakes they’ve made. This is a really generation contribution.”

Scheiman estimated there were up to 150 Jews incarcerated in the state of Illinois and planned to give the machzorim to inmates. Rabbi Baitelman was equally pleased about the donation. “We had donations that allowed us to purchase several hundred new machzorim for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and by sending our used machzorim on to the Hinda Institute it enables us to keep paying this mitzvah forward,” he said. Among the machzorim were Hebrew-English prayer books and Hebrew-Russian versions, too.

Rapahel Arazi: My Visit to the Shluchim Conference

I was invited by Rabbi Baitelman to join him and almost 5000 other Chabad Rabbi’s for the International conference of Shluchim. I accepted the invitation and just returned last Monday evening. The Rabbi had asked me if I could share some of my experiences with you, so I made a few notes.

I’ve been wanting to go for many years but the timing was never right. However having a green light from my wife to go for a weekend to New York with the boys, how could I say no. Valeriy and Ira also joined in representation of our community as well as Yushuron’s father Leon.Together we spent 4 days strengthening our goals, motivations and commitment. We met Rabbi’s from around the globe both young and old, some with thriving communities, some just starting out. Some from war zones, and some from the most remote places on the globe. What I learned very quickly is that a Chabad Rabbi is no different than a soldier. When I walked thru the streets of Crown Heights, there was a definite buzz in the air. The welcoming of all the soldiers of whom so many were coming home to see their families, their friends and to recharge their batteries. To witness this first hand is something special. I myself had never been to Crown heights before but to have an opportunity to experience it during the Kinus, was electrifying. I couldn’t stop smiling for 4 days.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, Rabbi Baitelman was there waiting for me in the cold to take me directly to the Ohel to visit the Rebbe’s resting place. This is something that everyone should experience. It was very early in the morning but judging the size of the crowds, I was starting to get an idea what the rest of the weekend would be like. I had an opportunity to pray by the Rebbe’s gravesite, and then we walked around the cemetery which is unlike any other I had ever seen. From there we went to drop off my bags at my host family and I proceeded to walk Kingston Avenue for my first time on my way to daven at 770 (Chabad world headquarters). This is when I truly started to feel the buzz. Knowing that Shabbat was only hours away, the life on the street was surreal. People were just arriving, everyone was racing to get somewhere. Whether it be to daven shacharit or prepare for shabbat, if you like people watching, this is the place to do it.

I had spare time to explore NYC both Friday and Monday and was lucky to do so with Valeriy and Ira. I’ll spare you all the details of our adventures on those days, but just know, driving around NYC with the both of them and their trusty GPS is an experience all on its own.

Friday night after shul, I got to go to the Rebbe’s office where we said some tehillim. I got to picture what it must have been like for all the people who were so lucky to have yechidus with the Rebbe. From world leaders to our very own Rabbi at his Bar Mitzvah. It was nothing like I had imagined, it was better. By dinner, I was beginning to get quite sleepy as I had been awake for almost 24 hrs by this point and the rush was beginning to wear off. My host family, Chanie’s sister prepared a beautiful shabbat table, I could tell she payed close attention to her older sister. I crashed by 10.

Shabbat morning, completely recharged, I walked to shul by myself an entire 100 meters. It was long and cold, nothing like the short walks we have here:) Everyone was so welcoming, davening was very familiar to the power of 1000 but for me I found the voice of this particular Rabbi that was the Chazzan on that day, to be something special. Just another piece of my trip that continued to inspire me. The kiddush was warm and just like home, everyone helped in the transformation of the shul into a dining hall. After the kiddush, we began to walk to Rabbi Baitelman’s mothers home for Kiddush lunch in honour of his Father’s yartzeit. I had no idea what I was about to experience. In difference to any other kiddush lunch by a Rabbi’s house, upon our arrival, there were already what felt like 200 hundred Rabbis in their small and modest Brooklyn house. I thought I would have been intimidated by the scores of people that I didn’t know but instead I was made to feel welcome and just jumped right in as if we were all apart of the same family. At one point, I found myself sitting at a table (there were many) with the sheliach from St.Petersburgh, Russia, The Hague, Charkov, Ukraine and so many other places too many to name. Every 10 minutes another 10 or 20 Rabbi’s continued to walk thru the door. Some stayed for a short time, some stayed longer than others. Everyone had a smile and the conversations were amazing, learning about different communities around the globe. In shul we were told of a story that happened a couple of weeks prior to the Kinus, where 13 University Students showed up at the door step of what they thought was their home stay family for the weekend. A family by the name of Rubashkin. When Mrs. Rubashkin opened the door to find these 13 young people waiting to come in, without hesitation she invited them in and offered them some food. Little did the boys know that behind the scenes, her family was reorganizing themselves in order to accommodate these boys even though they were not expecting them. A little later on, once they were all settled, they over heard another Mrs Rubashkin leaving a message on the answering machine telling Mrs. Rubashkin how they were expecting 13 University students and none had showed up. Realizing they were in the wrong Rubashkin house, they were overly impressed with the warmth of the family to not say anything. This is the warmth I had experienced first hand on Shabbat.

On Sunday was the convention for the Lay Leaders. All the guests and some Rabbi’s convened at the Marriott hotel in Brooklyn. In traditional Jewish fashion we davened and then ate. When the program began, we had to choose between 2 rooms. One was a discussion with Rabbi’s from Israel about the work they had done throughout the war this past summer and the other with Rabbi’s from the Ukraine who are stationed in small towns on the border of Russia in the heart of the current war zone. Since I knew so little about Ukraine, I chose to go there. 3 Rabbi’s from Lugansk, Sumi and Charkov spoke of their current experiences in the midst of the war. Rabbi Gopin of Lugansk has already had to evacuate his home with his wife and 7 children and continues to help his community from neighbouring towns. In order to lighten up the conversation, they spoke of a Russian man in the former Soviet Union who was studying a Hebrew dictionary in a public park. A KGB soldier approaches the man and tells him that it’s against the law to do this and if he catches him again, he’ll throw him in jail. The man of course ignored him. The next day the man was in the same park studying away in his dictionary when the soldier returned. With a gun pointed at him, he said I told you that this is illegal and you did not listen, now I Have to take you away. The man responded, you do what you got to do and I’ll do what I got to do. The soldier asked him, why do you want to learn hebrew anyway?, The man told him that when I die, in heaven they speak hebrew. The soldier asked him, how do you know you’re going to heaven and not the other place? The man responded, I’m already fluent in Russian.

Rabbi Levitansky of Sumi told us about his community and this young Jewish man who had just become a surgeon in the local hospital. At the same time, with all the turmoil around him, he was getting closer to his roots and began to go to shul when he could, to put on tefillin. The Rabbi had invited him for Shabbat many times but he was never able to accept the invitation. When the Rabbi asked him why he was unable, he told him that as the new doctor in the hospital, he had no say in regards to his schedule and the senior doctors always took the weekends off. Nothing he could do and he would not be able to experience shabbat. As their friendship grew, the young doctor asked his Rabbi that should he ever go home to the states where he’s from, if he could return with medical supplies for the hospital as they are very limited in what they had. Specifically a colonoscopy machine. A Chabad Rabbi never turns down a request to help. Rabbi Levitansky did take a trip home to Santa Monica, California and while visiting, he spoke with various people he knew in the local Chabad house. One of which was a doctor. He asked him if he would be willing to donate any supplies for him to return with, specifically a colonoscopy machine. It just so happened that the Dr had an old expired, out dated machine collecting dust in his office. He said I don’t even know if it works but it’s yours if you want it. The Rabbi was grateful and managed to take it home with him. One can only imagine the look on the young Dr’s face when the Rabbi made good with his request. As months had gone by, one shabbat day in shul, the Rabbi couldn’t believe his eyes when the young Dr. walked in. He asked him, how is it that you are here? The young Dr told him that thanks to you Rabbi, now I make my own schedule, Shabbat Shalom Rabbi.

This is a great example of how Chabad encourages everyone around the globe to do mitzvot, no matter what it is, no matter how big or small, you never know the impact you may have on someone around the world. We spent the rest of the afternoon hearing various speakers, Rabbis, authors and even some of the guests about their relationship with Chabad and Jewish communities around the world.

Finally, the buses came and took us to the main event. Not too many places can accommodate 5200 people for a sit down dinner. So Chabad rented an entire building at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal. Picture an empty warehouse of 4 walls and a ceiling the lengths of 2 soccer fields fully decorated, draped in white linen, chandeliers, round tables, big screens all around, a revolving center stage and 5199 men with beards and me. It was the most humbling experience ever. We had the opportunity to hear from Chabad leaders, dignitaries and the keynote speaker Rabbi Dubov from Wimbledon.

I am so grateful for this opportunity and thank all of you for helping me feel community which has inspired me to do more, to learn more and to smile more.

Any single good deed can be the one that tips the balance of the entire world towards redemption.

Travels with Good Turns

A friend of mine, a young man here in Richmond, told me the following story:

He was packing his bags in New Orleans for his trip home to Vancouver and debated whether to put his Tefillin in his carry on or in his checked luggage. The flight left at night and he would be home by morning. His itinerary called for a 2 hour layover in Houston and a quick connection to Vancouver. The trip was short enough that he wouldn't need the Tefilin on the flight or at the airport, but he decided to keep them with him in his carry-on bag.

After getting to the airport and checking his bags, he learned the flight was delayed because of bad weather in Houston. The flight didn't end up leaving for over 3 hours and he missed his connection home to Vancouver. He was booked on the next available flight but that wasn’t for a very long 14 hours. He stopped counting at about 12.

This was definitely an unexpected turn. He didn't bring much along in terms of food or entertainment, but he did have his Tefillin.

Actually, the unexpected turned good -- he got to know a lot of the nice people who worked at the stores in the airport. The best part was that while he was tefillintaking off his Tefillin after finishing his mitzvah, someone was calling out his name in Hebrew!! He didn't know too many people in Houston, and hardly anybody calls him by his Hebrew name. 

A fellow came up to him and excitedly told him, "I was on that same flight, and I too am going to Vancouver. Unfortunately I checked my Tefilin. Can I use yours"?

My Richmond friend was of course happy to do this mitzvah and glad to be able to help! But how did the fellow know his name?!? Then he remembered ...  his name was stitched onto his Tefilin bag that I had given him as a gift. 

So, the other fellow checked his Tefilin, but my friend didn't. He did end up needing them, but for something completely different. He was able to do a mitzvah and help someone else do a mitzvah as well. 

These seemingly random encounters sometimes make the trip better than we could ever imagine. Perhaps these encounters are not random after all. As we get ready to travel this summer, let’s remember the unexpected can give us the chance to do a good turn.

Something needed, something given, something lost or found – do you have a story of travel good turns?

Turn your travels into a meaningful experience. 

Breaking out of the Box

When Josh Kositsky walked into my classroom on the first day of Hebrew school several years ago, he was very nervous – not nervous-excited as so many new students are, just plain worried.

I soon realized the reason for his unease was that he was having trouble reading my lips as I spoke. You see, Josh is deaf.

When he was born, his parents were told he would never speak because of his “disability”. His potential was put in a box and given a label “You won’t speak”.

At some point in Josh’s life he chose not to accept that label he decided to break out of that box that was labelled, “You won’t speak” and he decided to speak. I don’t know what made him choose to move forward and learn to speak, but he did and he has never looked back.

13 years ago Josh celebrated his Bar Mitzvah at Chabad in a loud and proud voice. This was a day that not only did Josh prove to the world he was becoming a Jewish man, but he shouted to the world “I will not be put in a box, I will not be labelled”. That was a day I also learned the power of choice. 

And what fills my heart with joy and nachas is that every year since, Josh has come back to do more of the reading of his Torah portion. In fact, a couple of weeks ago, he chose to read more than ever before. Again Josh chose to push himself and accomplish just a bit more.

Josh doesn’t define himself by the things he was told he could not do or by the things others labelled him with. Josh defines himself with what he wants and on his terms and by his own choices. This is a gift that G-D has given all of us, and I wonder if we maybe do not use this gift enough.

Josh continues to outdo what others ever expect of him, but that is not what is ultimately important to Josh, Josh refuses to stay in a box with a label that is what drives Josh. I believe Josh will do many great things in his life, and I know what ever those great things are they will be Joshes choices.

Do you know someone who has broken out of a box and ripped of the label, exceeded expectations?  Have you ever amazed yourself with something you thought you couldn’t do, only to find out you could and much more?

Use the upcoming Shabbat to allow yourself to think outside of the box, it is a gift we all have and no one can take it away.

 

Shabbat Shalom to one and all

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