Please Say Tehillim & Prayers for Those in Mumbai

Please say tehillim and include in your prayers all those injured and taken hostage in the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India(Bombay).

The hebrew names for Rabbi Holtzberg, his wife, and their son, their Hebrew names are:
Rabbi Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma,
Mrs. Rivka bas Yehudis and
their baby, Moshe Tzvi ben Rivka

Ron Coleman has posted a piece called “We’re all Chabadniks Now” on his blog.

Do You Have a Travel Agent?

By Rabbi Mordechai Rhine

The story of Yakov and Esav is a fascinating one. Yakov is a moral person who is spiritually focused. Esav’s goals are entirely on material success and enjoyment, and he uses improper and evil means to achieve his goals. Yet when it comes to the spiritual blessings, Esav desperately believes in the blessings and he cries bitterly when he loses them.

It seems like intellectually Esav understood the value of spirituality and moral behavior. But somehow he could not get his emotions and behavior to catch up to that realization.

Interestingly Esav’s head is buried with the patriarchs. When the tribes came to bury their father Yakov, Esav came to make trouble. Esav claimed that they had no right to bury their father in that location. The tribes responded that their father had purchased the burial location, and they had documents to prove it. In the heat of the argument one of the grandchildren- Chushim son of Dan- stepped forward and killed Esav by cutting off his head.

Tradition teaches that Esav’s head rolled into the burial cave and was buried together with the patriarchs in that holy place. In his head- intellectually- Esav understood spirituality and valued it. But somehow the rest of his body didn’t catch up.

A great rabbi once asked, “What is the greatest distance in the world”.

He answered, “The distance between the mind and the heart. That is, the distance between the mind and what we desire and actually do.”

There are many times that parents, mentors, and Rabbis find themselves teaching concepts that are new to their students. But more often, the task of a parent or mentor is not to be a teacher. Intellectually the student knows what they should be doing. The
challenge is in implementation. For a person to implement correct behavior requires determination. Determination can be achieved through much coaching and encouragement.

That is why I often think of Rabbis and mentors as travel agents. Quite often people already know the difference between right and wrong. On basics like honesty, friendship, shabbos, and torah study we all agree intellectually what is correct and what it is that we need to do. The challenge is travelling the distance between the head and the rest of the body. That is where a travel agent comes in.

A travel agent can tell you which airports have flights to your destination. He can guide you where to “hang out” so that you will be more likely to reach your destination.

A travel agent can encourage you to start your travel plans early so you don’t get stuck in a last minute rush. He can guide you to spend your time and money wisely so that you will achieve your goal.

But most of all a travel agent is there to guide you with your itinerary. He is there to make sure that you do indeed travel the great distance that you are destined to travel- to coach you to implement that which you already know intellectually is correct- and
to encourage you to become all that you can be.

With best wishes for a wonderful Shabbos,

Rabbi Mordechai Rhine
Young Israel of Cherry Hill
Torah Links of Cherry Hill

Review of Sondra’s Search – About Being Jewish in Rural Kansas

By Sybil Kaplan

Most writers write about what they know best, their own lives and experiences. This is the case of Ester Katz Silvers in “Sondra’s Search,” a novel for middle school and high school youth.

The prologue introduces the reader to the heroine, Sondra Apfelbaum, who is returning from Israel with her fiancé. The remainder of the book is a flashback, starting in 1965.

Sondra Apfelbaum is 11 years old and lives in a small, rural Kansas town where her father, Julius, is a salesman at the local department store owned by Uncle Simon. Sondra and her father and mother, Helga, a Holocaust survivor, live on a farm. Sondra and her cousins, Howie and Lisa, are the only Jews in the school. The town has no rabbi and no synagogue, but a lot of Sondra’s family live there.

Helga is in denial about her Holocaust background. Her parents and sister were murdered and whenever anything unpleasant about her background or Holocaust experience comes up in conversation, she goes to the bedroom.

As Howie and Sondra reach middle school and high school, we see the contrasts between how the families treat them as teens. For example, Howie is allowed to go out with non-Jewish girls, but Sondra cannot date non-Jewish boys. Then Sondra goes to visit an Aunt and Uncle in Kansas City and becomes involved with an Orthodox youth group.

As Sondra visits more often, makes friends and becomes more involved with the youth group, she also becomes more identified as a Jew through high school and her first year at a local college then on into young adulthood.

I really loved this coming of age book, not because it dealt with Kansas, but because the issues Silvers deals with for young adults are so well done. Growing up Jewish in a small town is a clear-cut and mature presentation. The narrative is clear, and the characters all add to the plot. The writing is well done and Silvers meets the challenge of explaining the issues of growing up in a small town as a Jew and having a parent who is a Holocaust survivor for young adult readers very successfully.

Author’s history

In an email interview, Silvers wrote that she felt “compelled” to write the book because of the question she heard so many times, “you mean there are Jews in Kansas?”

She grew up in Wichita, an only child, like her heroine, Sondra. Her father, like Julius, left Germany very much the way Sondra’s father did, but her mother was born in Leavenworth, Kansas to immigrant parents and was not a Holocaust survivor. Whereas Sondra and her family live on a farm, Silver’s did not, but her cousin did and she visited her every summer. She said her favorite uncle is a rancher in Oklahoma.

For Silvers, Wichita was a “wonderful place to grow up for a Reform Jew. There was little, if any, pollution, traffic jams or anti-Semitism. What there was was a beautiful downtown, lovely parks, plenty of open air, and a nice amount of culture.”

In the book, the heroine’s father works at an uncle’s department store. Silvers wrote that “my great-uncle had a big department store in Stillwater, Okla., and used whatever connections he had to get his family into America under the quota system.”

As a child, Mrs. Silver visited Kansas City since her father was a haberdasher and he would go to the men’s market. They would meet relatives from McPherson, Kan., in the lobby of the Muelbach Hotel and she and her cousins would ride the elevator.

When she was older, her parents took her to Starlight Theatre in the summer and downtown theater in the winter.

At Silvers’ Bat Mitzvah, she read from the Sefer Torah her uncle had rescued following Kristallnacht. Growing up, she attended youth activities in Wichita and was in NCSY, the organization Sondra is exposed to the most when she comes to Kansas City.

“As a teenager, I would come to [Kansas City] for BBYO conventions. We thought we were going to the BIG city!” she said.

Like Sondra, “inter-dating was a big issue. Although there were fifteen other Jewish kids my age in town, there was always the feeling of being different. We all dealt with it in different ways. Some married out, others followed their parents’ approach to Judaism and three of us became Orthodox.”

At Arizona State University, she mether husband. They became observant, then married and lived in Phoenix. In 1986, they moved to Israel with five children, aged two months to nine years. They settled in a Judea/Samaria community called Shilo “because it fit our needs — a rural type community with a yeshiva, grammar school, plenty of children our children’s ages, a grocery store, doctor, nurse, and clinic, as well as very nice people.” The Silvers have had two more children since then, and their seven children now range in age from 14 to 31.

Shilo is more than 20 miles north of Jerusalem and held a central place in the history of Israel as the religious center and assembly place for the tribe of Israel and where the tabernacle sat. In 1978, a Jewish community settled there, and today, there are about 300 families of all ages.

Silvers spends her time as a homemaker and, when not writing, with learning, sewing and community service.

The Silvers family lived in Shilo during the Intifada and she characterizes those years as “hard, but that was all for Israelis.” She has written some articles on that subject: “Shilo: A Mother’s Diary” and “Community Anguish.”

Silvers is currently working on the sequel focusing to “Sondra’s Search” focusing on the heroine, Sondra, and her cousin, Lisa, whom she tries to involve in becoming more Jewishly-identified in the book.

Originally published on the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle

How Do You Tell People They’re Doing Certain Mitzvos Improperly?

My children are good friends with children in the S family. Although the S family shared with us that they are relatively recent BT’s, their background is not widely known. Recently my 13 yo daughter mentioned to me that the S’s do not sift their flour. I suggested to her that she tell her friend that it is important for Kashrut. She agreed to tell her friend, but didn’t think the information would get to the mother this way. Some time after when my 11 yo son’s friend was visiting, I happened to find a bug while sifting flour. I showed them the bug, hoping he might tell his mother. But knowing 11 yo boys, I didn’t really count on it. A few days later while sifting flour I found a lot of worms! I rarely find anything when I sift, but there might have been remnants from that first buggy batch that grew in the interim. I was disgusted and a bit traumatized by this, and made sure to tell my daughter and her friend when they walked in shortly afterwards. I hope that now the information will make it back to the S parents, although I am still doubtful.

But the incident has left me pondering how to handle telling fellow BT’s if they are missing important Mitzvot. I’m sure that Mrs. S would sift her flour if she knew that it was a Kashrut issue. But should I even approach her about it? And if so, how? I can’t think of a way to bring this up in casual conversation, especially because we are not really friends. Things like this don’t just come up in conversation. How have other people handled such situations? How would you want to be approached if you were on the other side of it?

– Chana

It Takes a Village – Part 2

When I speak about my dear friend and mentor, Esther, Z’l, I feel as if I am not only mourning the loss of a dear friend, but I am also mourning the loss of the very soul which helped my neshama, and my husband and children’s neshamas, to return to G-d.

When Marsha Smagley, of Highland Park, Illinois, needed help for getting through the loss of a dear loved one, tragically, her Partner in Torah, Esther Solomon, Z’l, could not help her because it was Esther herself whom Marsha mourned, after Esther was killed in a tragic accident while crossing the street in Brooklyn. Marsha, a writer herself, is hard-pressed to find the words to adequately describe the impact that Esther and her husband, Nosson Solomon had on her entire family.

When Marsha started learning with Esther, her husband Norm and children, Jeffrey and Jamie, were trailing behind her in observance, but that all changed in 2004 after Esther and Nosson graciously invited Marsha and her family to spend all 11 days of Pesach with their family in Brooklyn. At the time Marsha had been married to Norm a number of years, and they had recently transferred their children from public school to day school. Marsha was worried that Flatbush would be too intense for her family, but they embarked on the adventure, and Marsha sees this time as pivotal to the religious transformation of her entire family. She elaborates:

“My husband and I have always lived in a very secular Jewish community. He never wore a kippah every day, but when he returned from Flatbush, after wearing a kippah every day in the Solomon’s home, he went back to work in a secular company wearing a kippah every day. Esther and Nosson had a tremendous impact on my husband and it was wonderful for our shalom bayis. They completely warmed my husband’s heart, and he got the chance to see that all of the changes I wanted to make to be more observant were actually normal in a frum community, and they weren’t just coming from me. Esther’s cooking was beyond phenomenal, and our whole family learned how to make Pesach through her example. We spent two entire Pesachs with her and Nosson, and then the Pesach after she was niftar, we all came to help Nosson make Pesach without her. Although it was incredibly sad, I felt Esther’s bracha in the kitchen.
Read more It Takes a Village – Part 2

Inspire, Be Inspired, Female Inspiration

Project Inspire – Know What to Answer

Project Inspire is sponsoring a three-part program at the Young Israel of Queens Valley to instruct members of the frum community to effectively engage in kiruv discussions and activities. The second session is scheduled for Tuesday, November 25, from 8:00 to 10:00 pm. The cost for the entire series is $36 at the door. For more information, contact Project Inspire (646-291-6191, or on the web at

Additionally, there will be free shiurim by Project Inspire on Thursday, November 27, from 10am to 12 Noon, at Congregation Ahavas Yisroel. There will be a shiur by Rabbi Yerachmiel Milstein entitled “Answering Tough Questions” and a shiur Rabbi Chaim Sampsonentitled “Getting Practical.”

The 2008 – Aish Partner’s Conference – December 4th – 7th, 2008 – Hilton Stamford, CT

Join over 600 people including families, students, Aish Rabbis, educators and partners for a content filled weekend you will not forget! Learn from experts. Experience an inspirational, spirit-filled Shabbat. Learn. Relax. Re-charge at a wonderful hotel with delicious food and great company.

At this year’s Partners Conference we’ll be focusing on the big issues facing the Jewish people today. Included on the agenda are:

* What are the major challenges facing the Jewish people?
* How do we to translate our concerns and hopes into action?
* Presentations from both activists and ordinary people who have already made a difference;
* Practical actions to become meaningfully involved in helping the Jewish people.

Partners Conference participants will also experience over 40 of the best classes and workshops presented by Aish’s most experienced teachers. Session streams include:

* Classes for beginners
* Family & singles classes
* Women’s only classes
* Advanced classes
* Practical Kiruv classes
* And many others…

Register early to avoid disappointment – in past years the conference has sold out!

Fabulously Feminine – A Jewish Girl’s Guide Through New York City

Do you ponder the role of the modern Jewish woman? In a day and age when we have everything, how do we find the balance between happiness, success and beauty in our lives?

This winter Aish Connections will explore these ideas in every girl’s favorite play ground, New York City. From New Year’s Eve in Times Square to meeting top female executives, media personalities, fashion designers, and homemakers. Participants will delve into what it means to be a woman, Jewish and fabulous.

Specific details:
Jewish women ages 18-25
December 24 – January 4, 2009
12 Day Trip to NYC
Accomodations and all meals included
Jewish Learning Experience
ONLY $199

Laying the Foundations of the Future

As a high school rebbe, I often find comfort in the following midrash:

On one occasion, Rabbi Akiva looked up from his lesson to discover his students dozing. (If even Rabbi Akiva couldn’t always keep his students engaged, who I am to think I can?)

Rabbi Akiva employed a curious solution. “In what merit did Queen Esther rule over 127 provinces?” he asked. “Because her ancestor Sara lived for 127 years.” This seems to have roused his talmidim from their stupor and returned them to their study (Bereishis Rabbah 58:3).

I’ve tried Rabbi Akiva’s solution a few times. I’m sure it will surprise no one that his method produced far less success for me than it did for him. And although it may be easy to attribute my failure to yeridas haDoros, the decline of the generations, perhaps a more relevant lesson can be found elsewhere in the parsha.

So much of the parsha is devoted to Eliezer’s repetition of his instructions from Avrohom, concerning which the sages offer their famous comment that HaShem finds the conversation of the patriarchs’ servants more pleasing than the teachings of their children. For his sincere service to his master, Eliezer earned the appellation eved Avrohom (servant of Abraham), only one step removed from the highest possible praise, eved HaShem.

It seems inconsistent, therefore, that the Torah alludes to an ulterior motive at the very outset of Eliezer’s recapitulation. When he recounts the history of his search to Rivka’s family, Eliezer explains how Avrohom assured him of HaShem’s guidance when Eliezer expressed his fear that, “Perhaps the woman will not follow me.” Rashi observes that the word perhaps, ulai, is written so that it may also be read, eilai — to me, suggesting that Eliezer had hoped to wed his own daughter to Yitzchok. If so, how can we understand the sages’ praise of Eliezer as a selfless eved?

To make matters more difficult, why does the Torah allude to Eliezer’s self-interest here, now that he is repeating the story, rather than earlier in the parsha, when he actually stated his question to Avrohom?

In fact, the second question answers the first. The Kotzker Rebbe explains that when Eliezer originally expressed his question to Avrohom, he genuinely believed that he was asking in the best interests of Yitzchok. Eliezer had convinced himself that he truly sought Avrohom’s guidance should he fail in his mission to find Yitzchok a suitable wife.

It was only when he recounted the episode to Rivka’s family that Eliezer realized his real motives. Only from a vantage point of objective distance could Eliezer finally see that his well-intentioned request had truly been prompted by personal bias.

And so we find no inconsistency in the sages’ portrayal of Eliezer. He was indeed a true eved. But even a true eved is not immune to the seductive influence of self-interest, and even a true eved may be unable to recognize personal bias at the moment when it afflicts him. The same Eliezer for whom the way was miraculously shortened, for whom the waters rose to identify Rivka as Yitzchok’s match, for whom the curse of Ham transformed into a blessing, this same Eliezer who so loyally served Avrohom could not identify in himself the self-deception that sought to undermine Avrohom’s plans to find Yitzchok’s bashert.

So too, perhaps, the students of Rabbi Akiva. Rav Mendel Weinbach explains that Rabbi Akiva intended to impress upon his talmidim a sense of responsibility not only to themselves but also to future generations. What would have happened had Sara not devoted every moment of her 127 years to her service of HaShem? Without her merit, Esther would not have become queen. And had Esther not become queen, she would not have been positioned in the house of King Achashverosh to save the Jewish people.

Rabbi Akiva admonished his students by impressing upon them that, even if each might be willing to forgo his own portion in the World to Come, future generations might need the merit of their learning just as Esther had needed Sara’s merit so that she could save the Jewish people. You may be prepared to sacrifice a measure of your own reward, Rabbi Akiva suggested, but are you prepared to sacrifice your children and grandchildren as well?

Indeed, Rabbi Akiva’s rebuke to his talmidim reminds us how easily we make excuses for our own lack of mesiras nefesh (self-sacrifice) and how cheaply we are prepared to sell the priceless benefits of our portion in the World to Come. The momentary attraction of slackening in our divine service, of taking the line of least resistance even at the expense of our own heavenly reward, seems so reasonable that we our own rationalization for what it is – the most subtle tactic of the yeitzer hara.

Like Eliezer, however, the students of Rabbi Akiva could be shaken out of their lethargy, both literally and figuratively. The words of their rebbe penetrated their momentary carelessness and roused them to return to their study of the Divine Word. How inspiring that those students allowed themselves to be so easily inspired!

But we are not merely careless. We are committed to our carelessness, determined to sink into the drowsiness of indifference and ignore our rebbes’ reproof, whether that reproof comes from the rabbi or the rosh yeshiva, or even from the Torah itself. We offer a whole litany of excuses why we don’t need reexamine our ways, indulging the routine of habit just like, the Mesillas Yesharim tells us, a blind man walking in darkness.

We all have moments, however, when a window of opportunity opens, when our resistance to self-awareness drops, if only for a moment, and we can look back and take stock of ourselves. And, as those fleeting moments become fewer and fewer, they become ever more precious.

If we are honest with ourselves then, in the light of objectivity, we all know what’s at stake. No matter how difficult it is to be consistent models of kindness, of character, of diligence, of kiddush HaShem before our children’s eyes, we appreciate the potential cost and risk. If we make excuses for our laxity, if we exempt ourselves from our service, then we will have failed not some distant generation, as Rabbi Akiva warned his talmidim. Rather, we will be failing the next generation, our own children whom we brought into the world and with whose spiritual development HaShem has entrusted us.

The 127 years of Sara’s life, years equal in beauty and righteousness, did not end with Sara’s death. The blessings of Sara’s tent continued in the next generation through the merit of Rivka, and Sara’s own merit transcended a thousand years to the generation of Esther. The benefits of her effort and her service are beyond measure, and they teach us that ours can be, too, if we strive to live as she did.

Visit Rabbi Goldson’s website at Torah Ideals – Seeking Direction in a Misdirected Worlds.

Them and Us

By From Within

BTs. FFBs. So much has been written about how different we are, and, at the same time, how similar.

And that’s just it, right? If we were just either one – so similar or so different from one another – there would be no conflict, no comparison. All the attendant feelings, on both sides – and the counter-reactions or defences to those feelings from “the other side” – just wouldn’t be an issue.

Much has been made of the FFB’s failure to understand that as much as we are different from them, we’re also that similar, too. Some FFBs clearly think BTs are from a distant planet in another solar system. Some hide their lack of understanding better than others. Some BTs have a great, boulder-sized chip on their shoulder and scorn all those who didn’t have to take the hard route (as if they had been given any more of a choice than that FFB, that they can take credit for coming up with this character-building exercise, all on their own…).

The funny thing is, I can’t figure out who Them or Us are. And I’m feeling like if we could just crack this problem and see who we are talking about – or talking to – we might be on to something. Maybe we could eliminate the tension. Get rid of the comparisons, for better or for worse. Just stop it all and help everyone get on with it so they can get what they need to advance – because, after all, that’s one goal we can all agree on.

So, who are these mythical Them?

By nature, an epithet like this means they are separate, identifiably unique from Us. So, let’s try to identify the players here:

Ask a conflicted BT and he may say, an FFB is someone who doesn’t have the internal struggles that I do. I’m not sure I really want to be like him but maybe I should be jealous. He took it all in with his mother’s milk and his choices are so much easier than what I deal with every day…

Ask a conflicted FFB and he may say, a BT is someone who thinks every single thing in life has to be meaningful and I can’t stand to hear him go on and on about how much he is shteiging…

Ask a supercilious BT and he may say, an FFB is the guy who never thinks about anything, he just does whatever Tatty and Zeidy did, whether he understands it or not – or ever even bothered trying to understand it…

Ask a supercilious FFB and he may say, a BT is someone who doesn’t begin to understand what difference Mesorah and zechus avos make in your life and that, try as hard as he might, he’ll never have that.

Ask an insecure BT and he may say, an FFB is the guy who helps me in the store who promised that the angle of my hat is just perfect now, he wears his just like that too, and he said he’d never have dreamed I am a BT…

Ask an insecure FFB and he may say, a BT is the guy who seems to always be trying to catch me on a shvere Tosfos, and gives me dirty looks when I talk during chazaras hashatz. Doesn’t he know I learned those halachos way back when, while he was still eating cheeseburgers?…

Ask a well-adjusted BT and he may say, an FFB is the guy who is way far ahead of me in what I know right now in Gemara, but maybe one day we can learn together.

Ask a well-adjusted FFB and he may say, a BT is the guy who’s trying so much harder than I am, I can’t come to his toes in my avodas Hashem. I love talking to him because he injects me with some of his enthusiasm….

And the funny thing is, each one of us can be all of these people at different times of our life/year/day.

So. Where has this imaginary sampling gotten us? How can we expect to understand, identify and agree with BTs if we are FFB – or vice versa – when we can’t even agree with our own reps?

The other issue that has me confused is that the lines are just so blurry. On one hand, both sides of the game seem to agree (while putting this admission on opposite sides of the same argument) that BT or FFB status is not something that can be instantly shed or acquired. BTs feel sad that they can never get away from the label, never feel they’ve finally arrived to some extent, when they still feel so compromised and comparatively disadvantaged. FFBs feel BTs can’t just expect to walk the walk and talk the talk (even with the proper pronunciation) and, presto! – you have been transformed into a kadosh merechem…

But most stunning of all is another little issue that I’m not sure anyone else noticed. I don’t understand why no one else has been talking about it, but it’s pretty major. That is – They are Us.

Take a look around you and for one moment, step back and try to put everyone into one of two boxes: BT or FFB. How easy a task is that?

Ok, well, sure, there will be a couple of easy ones, the people whose backgrounds you know well enough to classify them clearly. And lots of people you think you know…But do you really?

Looking around in my life has netted me the understanding that there are many less pure laine FFBs than many people would have thought.

Many more of us have morphed along the way than you might have thought. For sure, more than most FFBs think…Look again: The woman who teaches your child’s preschool class, the special ed Rebbe, the guy who runs the local kashrus organization – you know, the ones you are always comparing yourself to? Well, they sat next to me in day school.

The BTs of my school years weren’t those college kids-cum-yeshiva students we hear about today. The Discovery Seminars we attended weren’t as condensed as the ones running now – the first segment back then lasted eight years, with another four years as sequel. There was one – count ‘em, one­ – kid in my class whose mother covered her hair. Most weren’t shomer Shabbos. (What a sensation it was when Abie’s bar mitzvah featured a belly dancer, of all things…) And my experience is no where near being unique. There are lots and lots of people like me, whose education Baruch Hashem continued and continues and you may never know whether we wore kippahs or yarmulkas or kapplach when we were your son’s age…How did kids like this get to day school, you may ask? Well, that depends. Hakadosh Baruch Hu had so many different schemes to get us there. Regional differences played themselves out. For our family friend Reb Mordechai, for instance, it was a teacher’s strike in public school that brought his parents to enrol him in the day school. For mine, it was the racial tension in our city, where a little black boy threatened me on the school bus when I was in second grade…

Some of us were yet further blessed and we made our way over to Yeshiva or Bais Yaakov and on. Today, people with educational resumes just like mine and my classmates’ are very well represented in all fields of askanus, and especially in chinuch. Is it that we feel we must give back? That we yet feel that tug, which brought us to where we are, and so must in turn try our own hand at pulling it, too?…

In any case, you wouldn’t know this about me if you had not heard it from me. Try to put me in one of your boxes, and I’m not sure you’d have an easy time of figuring out just where I should go. I know I don’t find it easy.

That’s why I think it’s hilarious when I read all these nice, Jewish Observer-ease articles written for “the greater frum public” (me and you included) about kiruv, where they speak of the topic as if they were approaching it from a point far removed from the actual subject. And every time I read one of these, I wonder – how much longer will everyone – FFBs and BTs alike – still think it’s “us” and “them”???

We are them, and they are us. Period. L’chaim!

A Practical Guide to Paying a Shiva Call

By Lori Palatnik

When one pays a shiva call, the focus is on comforting the mourners in their time of greatest grief. Traditionally, one enters the shiva house quietly with a small knock so as not to startle those inside. No one needs to greet visitors; they simply enter on their own.

Food or drinks are not laid out for the visitors, because the mourners are not hosts. They do not greet the visitors, rise for them, or see them out.

When entering the house, you should not greet the mourners. In fact, it is best to come in silently and sit down close to them. Take your cue from the mourners. If they feel like speaking, let them indicate it by speaking first. Let them lead and talk about what they want to talk about. It is best to speak about the one who has passed away, and if you have any stories or memories to share with the mourner, this is the time to do so.

This is not a time to distract them from mourning. Out of nervousness, we often make small talk because we do not know what to say. Don’t fill in the time talking about happy subjects or inconsequential topics like politics or business.

Often, the best thing to say is nothing. A shiva call can sometimes be completely silent. If the mourner does not feel like talking at that time, so be it. Your goal is not to get them to talk; it is to comfort them. Your presence alone is doing that. By sitting there silently, you are saying more than words can. You are saying: “I am here for you. I feel your pain. There are no words.”

And sometimes there aren’t any. Here are examples of things not to say:

• “How are you?” (They’re not so good.)

• “I know how you feel.” (No you don’t. Each person feels a unique loss.)

• “At least she lived a long life.” (Longer would have been better.)

• “It’s good that you have other children,” or, “Don’t worry, you’ll have more.” (The loss of a child, no matter what age, is completely devastating.)

• “Cheer up – in a few months you’ll meet someone new.” (He/she has just lost the other half of their soul!)

• “Let’s talk about happy things.” (Maybe later.)

Remember that speaking about the loved one they lost is comforting. It’s alright if they cry; they are in mourning. It is all part of the important process of coming to grips with such a loss.

You should not overstay your visit. Twenty minutes will suffice. When other visitors arrive and space is a concern, it is certainly time to leave.

Before leaving, one stands up, approaches the mourner and recites, “HaMakom yenacheim etchem betoch sha’ar aveiliei Tzion v’Yerushalayim” — May the Almighty comfort you among those who mourn for Zion and Jerusalem. One can read this phrase from a sheet of paper.

Upon leaving the house of the mourner, it is customary to give charity in memory of the one who passed away, may his soul be elevated.

Originally printed on from Lori’s book, Remember My Soul.
See Lori’s video blog each week on “Lori Almost Live”

Parenting Expo by Priority-1 on Sunday, November 16th

Parents are constantly worried about the daily challenges their children face. But as the nature and severity of these challenges evolve faster than ever before, it becomes nearly impossible to keep track of what we’re supposed to be worried about.

“By the time parents have a handle on one problem, their children are already struggling with something entirely different,” says Rabbi Shaya Cohen, founder of Priority-1 and Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Zichron Aryeh.

This disconnect has serious consequences. “When parents don’t know what the problem is, there’s almost no way to help,” says Rabbi Cohen. “It’s like driving a car blindfolded. You may be the best driver on the road — but you still can’t see where you’re going.”

The solution, according to Rabbi Cohen, is parent training. For the last several years, Priority-1, through its Community Training Initiative, has taught hundreds of parents the skills they need to counter the issues frum children face, while providing resources to help teens enhance their love for Yiddishkeit and Torah learning.

Now parents have a unique opportunity to supercharge their parenting skills at the first ever Priority-1 Parenting Expo, on Sunday, November 16th.

At the Parenting Expo, parents will learn essential, practical parenting skills at workshops led by experts in Chinuch, and social and emotional child development. These workshops address challenges such as peer pressure, learning strategies, Tefillah, Hashkafah, and a multitude of issues related to the child psychology.

Parents will have opportunities for confidential talk time with experts in Hashkafah and mental health, and will receive free material that contains valuable strategies for raising healthy, happy, frum teenagers. Light refreshments will be served.

Among the many experts at the Parenting Expo are renowned psychologist, Dr. David Pelcovitz, and Rabbi Yaakov Bender, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Darchei Torah. Other speakers include Rabbi Zev Freundlich, Menahel of Mesivta Shaarei Arazim, Rabbi Yossie Feintuch, Principal of Torah Academy of Lawrence Cedarhurst, Rabbi Yitzchok Goldberg, Principal at Yeshiva Darchei Torah and Mr. Philip Rosenthal, Computer Forensic Investigator.

“Happy, healthy, frum children typically come from strong, nurturing families led by caring, involved parents,” says Rabbi Cohen. “And parents who educate and prepare themselves have the best chance of succeeding.”

The Priority-1 2008 Parenting Expo is from 6:00 p.m. — 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, November 16, 2008 at the Holiday Inn at JFK Airport. For more information, or for sponsorship opportunities, please visit Priority-1 or call 516-295-5700. There is a $25 suggested donation.

Avoiding Middos Sedom

In this week Parsha, we learn about the destruction of Sedom, primarily because of their lack of chesed. The Gemora in Bava Basra 12B, says that one who does not allow a transaction where he doesn’t lose anything, and the other person will benefit, as Middos Sedom.

The Mishnah in Avos teaches that:

One Who Says: “My property is mine and yours is yours” is an average character type, but some say that this is the characteristic of Sodom.

The Maharal explains that a person has a perfect right to keep his property to himself according to Torah law. This person is average in that he is not scrupulously pious with his possessions, but at the same time he isn’t covetous of others’ things.

The people of Sedom hated giving to help others so much, that they were willing to forgo receiving help in their own time of need. According to the view that “what is mine is mine” is an evil trait the person will not lend his possessions even if it doesn’t cost him anything because he begrudges helping others. In the same vein he doesn’t say “What is yours is yours” out of respect for people’s property, but rather as a pretext to justify not helping others.

Whether “Mine is mine, yours is yours ” is average or evil depends on the intent of the person. The test of intent comes when someone wants to use something in a way that will not cause loss to the owner. The person with evil intent will not lend claiming “Mine is mine, yours is yours”. The average person doesn’t link respect for another person’s property to his own rights of ownership and will lend things if it causes him no loss.

In practice, the pothole here is calculating whether there really is a loss. There are situations in the Gemora where it looks like a loss, but it is really Middos Sedom. Perhaps we need to be careful and make sure that we don’t gently edge over the line and become people acting on the negative character trait of Middos Sedom.

Dealing With Doubts on the Teshuva Process

I recently read a D’var Torah that really spoke to me. Part of it focused on Devarim (Deuteronomy) 25: 17-19

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt. That he encountered you on the way and cut off those lagging to your rear, when you were tired and exhausted; he did not fear G-d. Therefore… you must obliterate the memory of Amalek from under the heavens. Do not forget.”

It then brought us back to Shemoth (Exodus) 17:1-8, when the Jewish people just left Egypt and camped in Rephidim. There was no water to drink. The people questioned “Is G-d in our midst or not?” This was right after departing Egypt, after the 10 plagues, the miracle of the parting of the Reed Sea, etc. After such miraculous events, how could they question “Is G-d with us?” Moses is so annoyed that he names the place “Challenge and Strife.” Then, right after the Jews showed doubt in Hashem, the nation of Amalek attacked from the rear, picking out the weakest and destroying them.

Next, the D’var torah pointed out that the Hebrew word for doubt (safek) has a gematria, or numerical value of 240. This is the same numerical value for Amalek. And when words have the same value, it shows they are interconnected. Thus the fight against Amalek can also be seen as a fight against doubt.

For me as someone trying to become more observant, this is something I constantly face. Why do I try so hard to keep kosher? It would be so much easier for me if I went back to only keeping kosher in the home, but eating anything, or even just “vegetarian” outside the home. Why do I bother being Shomor Shabbos? Does it really make that much of an impact that I don’t check my email, or watch TV? After all, I survived for many years not keeping it. Why keep struggling?

And the biggest doubt of all. Why am I becoming observant at all? Is it really worth doing? Who the heck am I doing it for anyway? Does G-d really care what I do? Little ol’ me? After all, I’m just a speck in the grand scheme of everything.

The D’var torah ends by talking about how to defeat Amalek, and thus doubt. It points out that Amalek is irrational and counterintuitive. To overcome him, we need Faith/Emunah. It is not something we develop, but rather it’s something already inside of us that needs to be unveiled.

And subconsciously, that’s what I’ve been using most of the time to quell these doubts. I’m doing it because I’m seeing the truth in the Torah, and how it relates to all people, even little ol’ me. And if that’s true, then the Torah as a whole shouldn’t be treated as a “Chinese Menu” (e.g. I’ll take two from column A, and 1 from column B, I don’t need anything from column C.) I have faith that there is a reason for everything, even if I don’t yet know what it is. Seeing it spelled out, especially with the allegory of Amalek helps to strengthen my faith even more. Will I ever completely defeat doubt? Probably not. Like all epic battles, it’ll probably be one fought through the ages (at least until the Moshiach comes). But at least the tools to fight it off are more clear.


When I first started going to shul I was originally annoyed that people talked during davening, because it disturbed my concentration and seemed to go against what being in shul was all about. I would often give a cold stare or a loud shhhhhh.

A friend pointed out that talking is permissible in certain parts of the service for mitzvah related reason. He also said I should realize that many people grew up in shuls where talking was the norm and it is hard to break these life long habits, so some benefit of the doubt might be in order. Lastly embarrassing somebody in public by shhhh’ing them could be worse than the talking itself.

The shul I daven at is generally quiet but the little talking that goes on still bothers me but I feel that I have no effective way to deal with the situation.

Has anybody discovered any effective ways to keep talking to an absolute minimum without offending or embarrassing those who talk? Or should I just get over the little talking that takes place?

– Steve

It Takes a Village – Part 1

When I attend a wedding, Bar Mitzvah, or other simcha in the frum Jewish community, I am more than a guest. I am a researcher. I study all the details, always poignantly aware that I have no sister, mother, or Bubbe to guide me down the path of planning a simcha. While I look forward to these milestone events in our family’s future, B’ezras Hashem, they also terrify me. How will I know what to do? Even more importantly, what not to do? There are so many rules, so many accepted norms. I have no history dotted with family simchas to look back on, and no relatives to call with an urgent, “Is this the way to do it?” question. For this wisdom, I am counting on my friends and community. They will light the way for me, as if I am an orphan taken under their wing.

Hilary Rodham Clinton first coined the infamous expression: “It takes a village to raise a child.” For Robin Black, a bala’as teshuvah adult, it took a frum community to get her to the chuppah, and no less than 100 people were actively involved in setting Robin and her now husband, Dan, on the frum derech of chassan and kallah.

Robin relates how the frum community, (and too many special mentors to count), was instrumental in her journey:

When I looked around the wedding hall after the chuppah, the first thing I thought was, ‘all of these people got me here!

“I was living in Somerset NJ, and Hashem placed me in, of all things, a Masters in Speech Therapy program (where just a few frum students were attending!). I was Jewish, but not the least bit observant, married to a secular Jew, and the mother of a baby boy. I met my very special friend, Hadassa P. who was also a student in the program, an observant Jew from Monsey. I’m a very curious person by nature, and I started asking Hadassa random questions like, ‘why do you wear skirts all the time?’, and ‘why, during Chol Hamoed, Sukkos were there so many girls in the class who wouldn’t write?’ Then one day, she and I were in the bathroom at the end of the school day together and I saw her stop for a moment, mumble something to herself, and keep walking. I asked her if she was okay and she told me about Asher Yatzar. I was totally fascinated. Hadassa recommended that we became Partners in Torah, learning over the phone each week, and I very enthusiastically said, “Yes!”

“That was in February of 2004. I never stopped asking her questions, and I started my journey with one small step – I decided to take one hour out on Friday nights away from watching television! By July 2005, I had given up pork and shellfish and eating milk and meat together. And then, in August of 2005, my marriage fell apart. I didn’t want to be home on the weekend with my soon to be ex-husband, so Hadassa invited me to her house for Shabbos, and the next two Shabbosim, and by then I decided that Shabbos observance was a practice I wanted to keep.

“This is when the frum community really sprang into action. There were nine frum girls in my class, and I rotated between all of their houses and even their parents’ houses, never missing a Shabbos, and then the clocks changed and I had a problem. I was working in an internship and couldn’t get to Passaic, Brooklyn, or Lakewood before Shabbos began. This so-called problem was gam zu letovah.

“My friend, Hadassa was a mentor at Moodus, (now known as Sinai Retreats) which is a summertime kiruv program located near Lake George, NY for college students and professionals. She knew Rabbi Drucker, Rav of Agudath Israel of Highland Park, NJ from this program, and I called him on her recommendation. He set me up with the Feuers of Highland Park for Shabbos. The Feuers are pillars of the community, and my community rapidly started expanding. Zehava introduced me to many of her friends, who were very welcoming, so then I started rotating Shabbosim in Highland Park amongst her friends. When Zehava went to the country in the summer, she introduced me to Rikki Samel, a phenomenal sheitle machor in town who knows just about everyone. Rikki introduced me to a whole new set of friends, and then I met Adina Pruzansky, another well-connected member of the community and Adina introduced me to everyone she knew. My circle got wider, and wider, until it seems as if I was meeting, and eating by just about every frum family in Highland Park/Edison, NJ! How could I not commit to becoming a fully Shomer-Shabbos observant Jew with all of these wonderful people inspiring me?

“Chol Haomed Pesach of 2007, my divorce was final and I moved to my own apartment in Highland Park. The community did not rest until I met my bashert, Dan Black on December 4, 2007, and then we needed help with absolutely everything related to getting married, from planning a vort, to a wedding shower, to a wedding, to sheva brachas.

“My mother finally understood what I love so much about being frum, when she saw the love that the community poured all over Dan and me. One moment I will never forget: Under the chuppah, Rikki Samel saw that my mother was standing alone. She left her seat and went to stand next to my mother, to explain to her everything that was happening under the chuppah. Zehava Feuer, Hadassa, and a large group of women undertook every detail of my wedding day and Sheva Brachas – all Dan and I had to do is show up! When I looked around the wedding hall after the chuppah, the first thing I thought was, ‘all of these people got me here!

“Dan and me and my son, Zach now live in Highland Park as full-fledge frum members of the community. Dan has been as welcomed as much as I was. The community arranged for him to have the right seat in shul. The community helped offer guidance about my son’s educational choices, and they continue to feed us. We’ve been married for six months and I have yet to make a Shabbos lunch!”

Being a mentor doesn’t just involve the fun stuff. Making a shiva visit to an observant friend who is sitting together with non-observant family members is also a great opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem. – and to help mend fences. (Rabbi Eli Gewirtz)

Robin’s story does not at all surprise Rabbi Eli Gewirtz, Founder and National Director of Partners in Torah, since 1993. Partners in Torah matches Jewish men and women who have an interest in Judaism but who lack the necessary foundation with a carefully selected frum mentor, for up to an hour a week of in-person or over-the-phone study and camaraderie. Their goal is to provide unaffiliated Jews with a personal connection to Judaism and to offer them the support or the space to decide how they want to incorporate their knowledge into practice. With13,000+ weekly participants now in action, and 30,000 Jewish adults from over 1,100 cities who have participated, not a week, or even a day, goes by without Rabbi Gewirtz hearing of a mentor’s involvement in their partner’s life in an expanded way beyond the hour-long commitment of Torah study. Rabbi Gewirtz explains:
“The needs of people who have become observant are quite different than those of a person in the learning process. Very often, it’s not a question of whether they should do this or that but ‘how am I going to manage?” FFB’s sometimes don’t understand the anxiety of coping, for example, with Pesach preparations or the psychological pain of spending Yom Tov alone. To say, “it’s not easy” to have no family to go to for Yom Tov is the understatement of the year. But worse than that is the situation where people who were falling all over them to invite them for Shabbos and Yom Tov before they became observant , now almost forget that they exist. It’s always a good idea to check in with baalei teshuva to make sure they’ve gotten their Yom Tov plans taken care of.

“More often than not, mentors get very involved with their Torah partners; some for many years after their formal learning comes to a close. Many treat their partners as extended family members – whether or not the person has become fully observant. I’ve been to numerous weddings, Sheva Brachos and Bar Mitzvos where I was introduced to a family member’s Torah partner who traveled a long distance to be at their mentor’s simcha. It’s a special thrill to see partners standing together in a family picture. I’ve actually been to a few “re-do” weddings (where they were previously married but not k’din) that were fully arranged by the mentor. One such wedding took place recently in Lakewood at the home of Avi and Tzippy Braude. Everything from the flowers, to the chuppah, to the music, to the meal was as elegant as it would have been in the fanciest hall. The whole community got involved. When partners go beyond the call of duty like this, it goes a long way in reassuring their previously non-observant partner that their mentor is their lifelong friend and that they have a community they can call ‘home’.

Rabbi Gewirtz continues with this warning: “A mentor’s involvement is undeniably essential with a simcha involving non-observant family, but it’s essential to be tuned in to the family dynamics. Family members may sometimes welcome your involvement; at other times it may be best to stay in the background. Adjusting to a daughter’s or brother’s newly observant lifestyle isn’t always easy. As strange it may sound, a wedding for some family members can be viewed as a tragedy. A wedding can as easily be seen as gaining a new son-in-law as it can be seen as losing a daughter. It’s incredibly important to be sensitive to this. The last thing they want is an outsider acting as if it’s their simcha.

“When it’s done well, the mentor meets the family, is introduced as a close friend, and expresses pleasure to meet the people he/she has heard so much about. The mentor might say: ‘I don’t know if you’ve previously been to an Orthodox wedding but there are many customs you may be unfamiliar with. If you’d like, I can go through the ceremony with you.’ The mentor may show them their own wedding pictures so that they can really get a feel for what to expect. This is almost always appreciated, but it’s important to first ask if they want or need your help.

Being a mentor doesn’t just involve the fun stuff. Making a shiva visit to an observant friend who is sitting together with non-observant family members is also a great opportunity to make a Kiddush Hashem. – and to help mend fences. Resentments sometimes felt by parents or siblings can melt away while people are grieving and experiencing life from a different lens.

“Explaining the Jewish approach to mourning and some of the minhagim is one way to help. In fact, Partners in Torah just launched a new website to help such people acquire a deeper understanding of the Jewish way of mourning. Physically being there however, and getting them to talk about the niftar is even more important, and can permanently alter long-held resentment. In general, when the family sees that the mentor really cares, and that he or she is not trying to impose his or her halachos on the non observant family, their involvement is usually gratefully welcomed.”

Rabbi Gewirtz’s words ring true to me. Over the last seven years, I have learned with two partners in Torah mentors. Although I will always give PIT the credit for making the shidduch, long ago, I stopped thinking of these dear women as my PIT mentors, and started thinking of them as friends whom I hope will be a part of my life for many years to come. The title of “mentor” makes it sound as if one person is the teacher, and the other, the student. I can safely say, because my mentors have told me this, that on more than one occasion, I was a teacher for them as well. They know more halacha than me, and they have a longer history of being frum than I do, but we have discussed concerns as Jewish women, wives, and mothers, as equals, and as friends. I dare say they would tell you that I have helped them as much as they have helped me, and we now think of ourselves as friends who learn together, instead of mentor and mentee.

This article was originally published in Mishpacha, Family First, on 11/5/08. Part 2 will be published next week.

Voting Closes Tomorrow!! Help Make A $100,000.00 Dream Come True

Please vote if you haven’t already.

My daughters are fans of Yaldah Magazine. It is a magazine for Jewish girls created, written and edited by Jewish girls. Leah Larson, who started and runs Yaldah is a finalist in Wells Fargo’s “Someday Stories” contest and she is running neck and neck to win the grand prize of $100,000.00.

Take a look at the video here; Our contestant is Evelyn from MA.

And then vote for Evelyn from MA ;(Leah’s mom) to help make Leah’s dream come true.

Hat tip: Ezzie

The Three Unique Approaches To Understanding Hashem

Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl – writes:

We begin our Shmone Esrei with Baruch Ata Hashem Elokenu v’Elokei avotenu Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, ve’Elokei Yaakov: Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d and the G-d of our forefathers, G-d of Avraham, G-d of Yitzchak, and G-d of Yaakov. Why do we need to mention that Hashem is G-d of all three forefathers? Would it not have sufficed to say Elokei Avraham or at the very most Elokei Avraham, Yitzchak, v’Yaakov? Why do we make a separate mention of Hashem as the G-d of Avraham, the G-d of Yitzchak, and the G-d of Yaakov? The phrase Elokei Avraham, Elokei Yitzchak, v’Elokei Yaakov actually appears in the Torah (see Shmot 3:6), if so the question remains; why does the Torah describe Hashem as the G-d of each of the forefathers separately?

Each of the forefathers had his own unique understanding of Hashem and how to spread word of His existence. Avraham Avinu, as we mentioned, epitomized the Attribute of Chesed. We spoke last week about Noach’s chesed but Noach only had animals to do chesed with. Avraham introduced the idea of chesed with human beings. Yitzchak Avinu was certainly a man of chesed but the Attribute he focused on was the one of din, Judgment. Yaakov personified the trait of rachamim, mercy which lies between chesed and din. Each had his own unique way of knowing and teaching about Hashem, with one emphasizing chesed, one emphasizing din, and one emphasizing rachamim.

Rabbi Dessler in Strive for Truth – Vol 5 (page 53) takes this a step further:

Generally a person’s character is based mainly on one of the three dominant forces discussed above. We usually find that all a person’s thoughts and deeds are influenced and guided by his dominating quality.

When a person decides to devote his life to the service of Hashem, his first act should be to discover and recognize his dominating quality. He should then try to develop it, perfect it and remain true to it to the best of his ability. But he should not be satisfied with this. There are other qualities hidden within him, and to reach his full potential he must try to develop these too.

Check out Aish’s parsha page and the Internet Parsha Sheet for more divrei Torah on the Parsha.

Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall…..

By Little Frumhouse on the Prairie

Dixie Yid wrote an interesting post entitled, Where to Focus When Adults Go Off the Derech. The post was in response to Harry Maryles, who wrote about a few men who went off the derech. One of the men was a Talmud Chacham who lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh. Despite being a respected scholar and authoring several seforim, he recently went off the derech and is no longer religious. Both Dixie Yid and Rabbi Maryles presented their arguments for why adults go off the derech.

Dixie Yid feels that certain negative personality types – the glass is always half empty – are prone to this type of disengagement. This negative tendency not only splinters their relationship with the Jewish community, but also with family, friends, coworkers and any other relationship that requires compromise, patience, and being dan l’chaf zchus.

Rabbi Maryles feels that the frum community is at fault when an adult goes off the derech. He touched on the issue of poverty in the frum community as being an issue that can challenge faith. When the Ramat Beit Shemesh Talmud Chacham was desperate to feed his family, the only advice he was offered was to sweep doorsteps to earn a few shekels. Another man was consumed with loneliness, and took no pleasure in Shabbos or Yom Tov without a family to share it with. His isolation was so great that he felt he would get more satisfaction and concrete results from working on Shabbos and Yom Tov than simply sitting in shul and davening for parnassah.

Rabbi Maryles feels that when a frum person reaches out to leaders/teachers/community members with questions or statements that can indicate a growing lapse of faith, instead of being taken under wing, leaders/teachers/community members chastise the person or attempt to silence them. A person who asks such questions could be a bad influence on impressionable people within the community. Better to have that “bad apple” go off the derech instead of taking the risk that they might rot the whole bushel. In a way the sacrifice can be seen as pekuach nefesh – sacrificing the unbelieving rodef for the good of maintaining the believers. Whether this is an acknowledged systematic approach or simply the inability of the frum community to deal with the questions that arise from a crisis of faith, the result is the same.

Both Dixie Yid and Rabbi Maryles raise interesting arguments on where to point the blame when a frum yid goes off the derech. I think that their theories apply to those who are frum from birth, but I think that the baal teshuvah (BT) angle differs. Of course, personality type, poverty, and community support or lack thereof, can also have a tremendous effect on whether a BT stays committed to yiddishkeit. However, sometimes none of these things determine someone leaving the fold.

As a BT myself, and as someone who has known quite a few BT’s who have both “stayed the course” as well as those who left the frum lifestyle, I offer a different perspective. Obviously, this is just one type of perspective. The illustration I offer below is a generic compilation of experiences from some of the BT’s I have known who decided frumkeit was not for them. While some people turn to yiddishkeit precisely because their origins were abusive or unsatisfying, I am offering the viewpoint of the opposite.

Picture growing up as a non-frum Jewish girl.
Read more Humpty Dumpty Had a Great Fall…..

Many Say Moshiach is Coming – What is the Appropriate Response?

In recent months many great Rebbeim have stated publicly that Moshiach’s arrival is imminent. Teshuva and improving our learning, davening, chesed and not wasting time are always appropriate acts for a Jew, but should we intensify our efforts at this time or stick to the pace we’re already following?

What have people heard from their Rebbeim?

Does it make sense to intensify our efforts at this point?

– Sara

PS – Here is an email that I recently received on the subject.

1. Bircat HaHamah – The Blessing on the Sun – Once every 28 years

Since creation, there was only two times that the year we say Birkat HaHamah fell out on the 1st Day of Passover.
The first was the year Hashem redeemed Israel form Egypt.
The second was the year of Purim, when Hashem saved the Jews from the evil Haman, who wanted to kill and destroy all Jews.
This year Birkat HaHamah falls out on the 1st Day of Passover. (which will be the 3rd time in history)
When it was told to Hacham Ovadia Yosef, that this year Birkat HaHamah falls out on the 1st Day of Passover, he started crying like a baby.

2. Chofetz Chaim in a Dream to His Student

Recently the Chofetz Chaim came to one of his last living students in a dream several times and said that Mashiach is born. When this was told to Rabbi Elya Svei, he said he knew about this for over ten years.

3. Rabbi Elya Svei Mashiach 2009, told to him from his Rebbe, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman

In 2004 at a funeral of a Rebbe of Mirrer Yeshiva, Rabbi Elya Svei said that Mashiach is coming in 2009. He said its was told to him and calculated by his Rebbe, Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman, who was the top student of the Chofetz Chaim. Incidentally Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman wrote books and spoke about that the timing of Maschiach is comparable to a pregnant lady in her 9th month, which at any moment can give birth. Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman was murdered in the Holocaust, over 70 years ago, so in his times if Mashiach was so close, how much more so in our times more than 70 years later.

4. The Collapse of the Stock Market, Wall Street, Financial Markets, Housing Markets, Mortgage Markets, Insurance Markets, Real Estate Markets, Bear Sterns, Lehman Brothers, AIG, Merill Lynch, Wachovia, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Washington Mutual, Goldman Sachs
And surely MORE to come.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average broke 8000 and dropped to a low of 7882

5. The Iran dictator (Yemach Shemo) declaring he wants to wipe Israel of the globe and definitely has Nuclear Weapons.

Since Hashem sent us a very good President George Bush, who is a true friend of Israel as well as shown that he want to eradicate terrorists, the Iranian Animal is petrified to start with Israel, but with this years election of a new President, who know what can happen.

6. Barak Obama as President

He’s young and inexperienced as well as questionable loyalty and friendship to Israel.
With all that’s going on with our economy and global markets, in addition to Obama’s liberal viewpoints it seams very dangerous to have him as a commander in chief.

7. Iceland & Greenland Ice Packs

Iceland and Greenland is mostly comprised of ice. Scientist discovered that due to Global Warming, the shrinking of the Ozone Layer and the change in weather patterns, the ice packs in these two countries are starting to melt. They predict that in 5 to 10 years it will fully melt and the water (melted ice) would be added to the worlds oceans. This extra water, would increase sea level around the globe by 20 feet.
Basically all homes, buildings etc, that are built on locations that are at sea level (which is a good portion society), will be under water. Hashem promised NEVER to bring a Mabul (flood) again. If this is set in motion to take place, then Mashiach, must come before this happens.

8. Brisker Rav

The Brisker Rav said during the Holocaust, that within 70 years Mashiach will come. 2009 is the 70th year.

9. Rabbi Elya Ber Wachtfogel said this past Yom Kippur 2008, was the last Yom Kippur. He’s been telling everyone to do Teshuva before Mashiach comes.

10. Rav Chaim Kanievsky

Chazon Ish (his Grandfather) and Rav Shach (one of his Rabbi’s) came to Rav Chaim Kanievsky in a dream and both told him to tell everyone to do Teshuva in order to get ready for Mashiach, whom is coming very soon.

Its time to do TESHUVA!!!!!
The Chofetz Chaim said that people whom are not worthy won’t even realize that Mashiach is here and whats going on.
We MUST ALL make Teshuba and come close to Hashem.
Send this to all the Jews you know.
We need Moshiach desperately.

Some Thoughts On Kiruv By Non-Kiruv Professionals

I was recently asked how likely it is that a non-Kiruv professional will help a non-observant person become observant?. Well, after a Shabbos afternoon (3 hours) of watching my 6 yr old daughter and her friend at the park, I have a few thoughts.

My view is that helping a ‘person become more observant’ doesn’t always mean that the person will become frum. I know that this is a very unpopular view, but with intermarriage out of control, and plenty of bad press in the news about Torah observant Jews, any positive connection or view of our Torah lifestyle is a major ‘win’. I know that the pressure of being able to help someone shomer Torah u’Mitzvos, is in fact, the major reason that most non-kiruv ‘professionals’ don’t think that they can ‘do kiruv’. Perhaps that’s one of the goals of the current kiruv seminars (from Project Inspire) that were scheduled in the NYC area.

When I worked for 7 yrs for NCSY, there was always this inner-debate about quality vs quantity of NCSY advisors. One opinion was that only certain people had the ‘skills’ and ‘sechel’ to really be ‘good advisors’. The other view was that because different NCSYers had different types of personalities, we need a larger staff so that each NCSY had an opportunity to connect with someone they might make a kesher with.

As I look back today the advisors who were viewed as having kiruv ‘skills/sechel’ were sort of the ‘kiruv professionals’ and everyone else were the ‘non kiruv pros’. I think that each has their place.

Whenever I read or end up taking about kiruv I always think of a great story about the Chofetz Chaim and one of the early Aguath Israel meetings. It’s online here:

Many years ago I was privileged to hear the ‘Magid of Yerushalayim,’ Rav Shalom Shwadron Shlit’a. When he began to speak, he said over a Moshol of the Chofetz Chaim, which he had heard from Rav Teitelbaum zt’l, who heard it from the Chofetz Chaim.

The Chofetz Chaim was speaking at the K’naisia Gedolah – The Great Assembly (of Agudas Yisroel, where the Torah leaders of the generation gathered together to discuss the spiritual status of Klal Yisroel). The Chofetz Chaim spoke once in the morning, and then strangely enough, he requested to speak again later. Naturally, they let him speak. He pointed out that he spoke in the morning requiring everyone to spread Torah in different places, but that he was not happy with the reaction. The people were saying that of course the Chofetz Chaim is right, but who am I to go and spread Torah among others? I’m far from perfect; The Chofetz Chayim’s address was referring to those who have already have perfected themselves; they have a right and obligation to work on others. As chazal say (Baba Basra 60b) ‘First adorn (work on) yourself, then adorn others.’

The Chofetz Chaim continued, ‘I want to tell you a moshol – a parable about the feudal system. During that period the lords of the manor had the power of life and death in their hands. One of these lords came for a visit, and naturally they made a big reception for him. At the end they gave him a glass of tea, but since the water system wasn’t so clean, the tea was very muddy. When the lord tasted it he spat it out. They explained to him the problem of the water system, so he made a new law. From now on no water may be used unless it was sterilized and cooked first. Some time later the lord heard that this town burned down. When he came to see why they couldn’t put out the fire, they told him that they tried, but as the new law required, they had to cook the water first, and by that time the fire had burned down the town. The lord was furious, and he told them, ‘You fools, when you want to serve tea then you need to sterilize the water first, but when there is a fire burning, you are not choosy as to what kind of water to use; you use any kind of water.’

‘So too, when are you choosy about who should spread Torah? When there is no fire of ignorance burning, but currently there is a fire raging out there, this is not a time to be picky. Anybody who knows something, even if he is not perfect, should try to give it over to others.’
Rav Shalom said that even though he is not worthy to speak, he uses this moshol of the Chofetz Chaim as a license to speak. I too certainly have to rely on it to be able to speak.

This is the situation today (I should really post that story online). We are losing Jews left and right everything from inter-marriage to, sadly, very effective marketing by both the reform and conservative ‘movements’.

To return to the question, I think anytime a Torah observant person makes a Kiddush Hashem we are, at least, planting a seed in the mind and eyes of a non-observant person that our lifestyle isn’t so bad. Being honest in the workplace, a mensch on the subway or LIRR, sending Rosh HaShannah cards or calling your non-frum relatives (something that I really don’t do as much as I should), or being the token ‘Frum Jew’ in the office that people ask questions to brings others closer to the Emes of Torah. A network and community, like that described on the website, has that potential. As you know, there are many things that can light a spark (as Rabbi Shafran wrote) within another Jew. If a kiruv minded person (professional or non-pro) keeps their eyes open, opportunities do come up.

It would only make sense in an age where you don’t need a recording contract to put out a CD, a contract with a national newspaper or publishing house to get people to read what you write (I’m still floored that anyone even ends up reading anything I write), a degree in film making to get people to watch a short video you make, that a ‘grass-roots’ counter kiruv “professional” movement would, and should start up. Aish HaTorah and Chabad have always been at the forefront of outreach, especially as the world has gone digital. Aish seems willing to accept the power of the lay person, and rightfully so.

As most people write, being sincere and non-threatening (yet religiously anchored), is key. Knowing that we don’t have all the answers and being able to consult those more experienced in Kiruv than us is also key. Ultimately we have to realize that we are merely a k’lei, vessel, that Hashem is using to bring another Jew back and, as R Simcha Wasserman z’tl said (and I actually asked R Akiva Tatz about this a few months ago in Chicago), fullfill the mitzvah of Hashavas Aveidah, returning a lost object to its’ owner. In the case of Kiruv, the lost object is a neshama that yearns to be reunited with its creator.