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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

G-d is Steering Shabbat Shalom Chanukah Sameach from Thailand

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Miracles. Happening all around us. Let’s open our eyes and recognize them….

Here is a small example.

Ten years ago, in 2009 we decided to try and broaden our reach with the kindling of the Menorah at Siam Paragon.

The intention was, to pull in people who may not otherwise have attended a Chanukah program at the Synagogue. Siam Paragon is one of the most successful malls in this city and there is almost no one who has not visited there one time or another. The Infinicity Hall located just outside the theater was a wonderful venue to host our Menorah Lighting and delicious Chanukah dinner (traditional doughnuts and all).

Being that the theme of Chanukah is to light up the darkness in the street, Siam Paragon while indeed a very classy mall, represents in the spiritual sense what would be on the darker side (certainly compared to a Synagogue). The lighting of the Menorah there, resonated ever so powerfully…

Choosing this venue was a bold move at the time. Till then we had always held the Chanukah parties in the courtyard of the Synagogue. 

Moving the party to an outside venue, especially a mall, immediately brought a much larger crowd and fit well with the theme of ‘lighting up the darkness in the street’ in the most public and accessible way.

To be honest, we would have loved to light the Menorah somewhere even more public, out in the street where thousands of people would see it. The message of the Menorah, that G-d makes miracles and that light dispels darkness is a universal one and must be shared with the world at large.

To quote a letter penned by the Rebbe “To all participants in the Public Lighting of the Chanukah Menorah:

Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, recalls the victory—more than 2100 years ago—of a militarily weak but spiritually strong Jewish people over the mighty forces of a ruthless enemy that had overrun the Holy Land and threatened to engulf the land and its people in darkness.

The miraculous victory—culminating with the rededication of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem and the rekindling of the Menorah which had been desecrated and extinguished by the enemy—has been celebrated annually ever since during these eight days of Chanukah, especially by lighting the Chanukah Menorah, also as a symbol and message of the triumph of freedom over oppression, of spirit over matter, of light over darkness.

It is a timely and reassuring message, for the forces of darkness are ever present. Moreover, the danger does not come exclusively from outside; it often lurks close to home, in the form of insidious erosion of time-honored values and principles that are at the foundation of any decent human society. Needless to say, darkness is not chased away by brooms and sticks, but by illumination. Our Sages said, “A little light expels a lot of darkness.”

The Chanukah Lights remind us in a most obvious way that illumination begins at home, within oneself and one’s family, by increasing and intensifying the light of the Torah and Mitzvos in the everyday experience, even as the Chanukah Lights are kindled in growing numbers from day to day. But though it begins at home, it does not stop there. Such is the nature of light that when one kindles a light for one’s own benefit, it benefits also all who are in the vicinity. Indeed, the Chanukah Lights are expressly meant to illuminate the “outside,” symbolically alluding to the duty to bring light also to those who, for one reason or another, still walk in darkness.

The move to Siam Paragon Mall was a blessed one.

We continued to light the Menorah at that venue for four years with much fanfare and success.

At year five we had a hitch. 

Or what we thought was a hitch!

A few months before Chanukah 2013 after we got confirmation for holding our main Chanukah event at the Siam Paragon Mall, we suddenly got a note cancelling our reservation. It seemed as if there was a scheduling conflict with another party and our reservation was cancelled. We were understandably upset and proceeded to look for other Malls or similar public venues in the area. Our efforts to find a similar venue bore no fruit so reluctantly we booked the ballroom at the Grand Millenium Sukhumvit Hotel on Soi Asok.

You may recall that in November of 2013 the political situation in Thailand started to become turbulent again. Demonstrations began increasing in their intensity as time went on. Over the weekend they were particularly intense and resulted in some fatalities and casualties. 

On Sunday morning December 1, 2013, the fourth day of Chanukah just a few hours before the Chanukah celebration was to begin, we received word that the Siam Paragon Mall as well as all other similar venues had been ordered closed on Sunday due to the danger posed by the demonstrations. This meant that were we to have planned our Chanukah Celebration at the Siam Paragon Mall we would have had to cancel our major Chanukah event. But thank G-d Who had made sure that we did not get what we THOUGHT would be best, but we got the Hotel venue that would be best under the circumstances.

And what a party it was…. 

People called me and asked me ‘how did you know not to hold the event in Siam Paragon this year?’ 

Now you know the truth. We had no idea. But G-d did.

When I made the blessing at the Chanukah Party thanking G-d who made miracles during ‘those days, in these times’ I really felt the deep meaning of those words. Indeed G-d makes miracles in our times also. May we all be blessed to see the constant miraculous guiding hand of G-d in our lives!

The Chanukah parties continued at the Millennium hotel (which changed its name in the interim to the Pullman Hotel). The celebrations were amazing. The venue was superb and the reputation of this being THE CHANUKAH PARTY NOT TO MISS grew from year to year thank G-d.

Oh no, I said when I was informed earlier this year that the Pullman Hotel was not able to provide us with space due to a competing multi-day event. The staff there was very accommodating and suggested we go to the Landmark Hotel.

If you attended the party, you know.

The Landmark Hotel venue was EVEN BETTER than the previous one. It was bigger, roomier and just provided a more pleasant background for the five hundred or so guests who gathered to celebrate Chanukah in the heart of Bangkok.

I tell this story because this is what Chanukah is all about.

Miracles. 

Winning the war. The Maccabees are victorious over a vastly bigger Greek army. Outnumbered and overpowered though they be, G-d miraculously granted them a decisive victory.

And the miracles of the oil. Finding the jug of uncontaminated oil. They searched high and low and thank G-d their efforts were blessed with success and they found the pure oil.

The oil that was meant to last for one day, lasted for eight. 

Every night we make the blessings on the kindling of the Menorah and we praise G-d for the miracles He has performed for our forefathers in those days at this time period.

And we praise G-d for the miracles that He does for us NOW IN OUR TIMES.

Our lives are full of G-dly blessings. Every time we open our eyes. The sun that rises every morning. The car that starts. The gift of having ample nourishing food to eat. The ability to help others through a kind word, a warm smile or tzedakah help. And perhaps the greatest blessing of all. The awesome and inspiring awareness that our presence here on earth is of value and importance to Almighty G-d Creator of Heaven and Earth and the gift of Torah and Mitzvahs that He has communicated to us.

So, next time something doesn’t work out exactly the way you thought it would, stop for a moment before you despair. Think about Chanukah and the lesson it teaches us. 

Miracles abound. Just close your eyes for a minute. Breathe in deeply and exhale slowly. Think about the good things you have been blessed with. Give thanks to G-d for the miracles He performs for you with every breath.

Sometimes it takes time till you see the happy ending. But never give up. And try as hard as you can to stay positive and joyous.

Joyous about what?

Well, if the oil is burning, and everything is going well, rejoice. 

What will happen tomorrow? If there is a way to make new oil, go ahead and prepare for tomorrow. 

But if there is absolutely nothing you can do, worrying won’t help either. It will only disturb. 

And the worrying may really be a waste. As Chanukah teaches us that if G-d wishes, it will continue burning for as long as needed. 

Imagine how silly you will feel if you walk around worried about what may go wrong and then it lands up going right.

And how wise you will have been if you didn’t fret and get anxious and the end everything worked out. 

When it continues burning remember to give thanks and praise to the Almighty.

Shabbat Shalom, 

Chodesh Tov

Chanukah Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS THIS YEAR WE WILL BE TAKING CHANUKAH TO THE STREETS LITERALLY. PLEASE JOIN US FOR THE GRAND FINALE MENORAH LIGHTING OUTSIDE MBK ZONE C. DETAILS IN FLYER BELOW.







Long/Short Shabbat Shalom, Happy Chanukah From Bangkok!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

CHANUKA IS AROUND THE CORNER. 

THIS SUNDAY NIGHT IS THE FIRST NIGHT OF CHANUKA.

We have a big COMMUNITY CHANUKAH PARTY on Sunday afternoon at the Landmark Hotel

The largest Jewish event of the year in Bangkok is undoubtedly the Community Chanukah Party. 

If you take a little tour at the international Chanuka Events directory you will see that Chanukah is intensely celebrated around the world. 

Very possibly Chanukah is the most widely celebrated Jewish holiday. 

It’s certainly the most ‘outgoing’ and ‘publicly displayed’ holiday!

Not at all limited to the Synagogue or even to the confines of the home. Chanukah goes out to the streets. Literally. 

Click here to see some of the things that make Chanukah such a special holiday. And here if like me you love the ‘oh Chanuka’ song.

The Chanukah Menorah lighting is a mitzvah that is universally celebrated. Almost every Jewish person I know, celebrates Chanukah by kindling lights. 

It provides a GIANT LEAP. 

A ‘turbo-charged’ boost of Jewishness. 

It ignites our Jewish souls. 

Bolsters our Jewish pride.

Empowers us to illuminate the darkness.

It’s a Mitzvah that we bring to the streets to proclaim that G-d made miracles for us at this season of the year.  

When we celebrate communally and publicly the effect is extremely powerful.

For many kids, their first Jewish memory is Chanukah. The kindling of candles, the giving and receiving of chanukah ‘gelt’ (money gifts), the sizzling latkes, the jelly filled donuts, all of these things come together and allow the child to absorb the vitality and energy of Judaism in a joyous and fun way.

BOTTOM LINE:

PLEASE JOIN US IF YOU ARE IN BANGKOK at our community celebration.

WHEREVER YOU ARE, KINDLE LIGHTS ON SUNDAY and the subsequent seven nights. You can even make a makeshift menorah or line up ‘tea-lights’ in a straight line and kindle them. DIY MENORAH LIGHTING

And treat your kids to Chanukah Gelt, edible treats and most importantly the gift of your TIME AND ATTENTION. Gather around the candles with your children and together with them, gaze at the candles and listen to the stories that the candles share (ahem, put away that phone…). 

If we listen carefully to the flames they will tell us a story - a story that empowers us to live a more meaningful life, enabling us to rise up against challenge and overcome difficulty. 

Shabbat Shalom

& Happy Chanukah!!!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS before I sign off… there was a little thought I wanted to share.

It was sparked by a terrible piece of news that I got from a friend who just found out that he is basically broke. To make a long story short. He had placed his ‘nest-egg’ that he intended to retire on, in the hands of an expert elderly investor. The returns on the stock investments were way up in the double digits. Things were great in the beginning. His money was making nice money. Till a year ago. Turns out that the elderly investor had some ‘senior moments. He managed to lose almost all the money in the same stock markets that he had previously made money. My heart goes out to my friend and I pray that G-d shower him with blessings so that he once more be comfortable and well-off. 

It got me thinking. In making money there is a short way. And there is a long way. 

There is a joke about getting rich quick:

‘When asked how I made my fortune the answer is, I collected used cans from the garbage bins, brought them to the recycling plant, did that for three years...Then my uncle died and left me five hundred million dollars…’

Today, getting rich quick it is not such a joke. And nobody needs to die. 

All you need to do is create the right app. 

Like the Google guys. Wow, they have really catapulted to the top.

Or make the right lucky investments and presto, overnight you could be raking in the money. Just like had happened to my friend. Initially.

It works for many people.

I will call that the ‘short way’. 

There is also a ‘long way’.

The old-fashioned way of buying and selling, turning a reasonable profit year after year, losing some customers getting some customers, that takes much longer. 

There is an upside and a downside to both. 

The upside to making it big quickly is that you can achieve your financial aspirations more quickly and successfully.

The downside is that if your vehicle for success falls through, you may find yourself with nothing left to rely on.

Really, the best thing is a healthy combination. 

Invest in some things that are solid and have gradual growth, like trying to own a house for example. And then open yourself up to some opportunities that have the possibility for growth. Like a (smallish) investment in something with great potential. You never know, you may hit the jackpot. 

I am not a financial advisor and am only using finances as an analogy. I certainly am not judging my friend. I feel for him and an amazed at how he is accepting this financial catastrophe with such level-headedness and faith in G-d. 

My mission is to motivate people to a deeper connection with G-d, His Torah and Mitzvahs. 

In Torah and Mitvahs there is the long way and short way as well.

There are some mitzvahs and Jewish experiences that contribute to the relationship building with G-d in a methodical, dependable and gradually increasing way. Like saying the Shma daily for example. Rain or shine, mundane Wednesday or holy Yom Kippur, it is a mitzva to recite the Shma every morning and every evening. Studying Torah and increasing your appreciation of G-d’s Wisdom is a process that takes time and efforts. No short cuts. It is the long way.

Then there are some mitzvahs’ that are incredibly inspirational. That cause us to have a strong feeling of affinity and even love to G-d.

There are some mitzvahs that generate such intense positive Jewish emotions that they are like inheriting great wealth without working for it. 

The Chanukah holiday and its associated mitzvahs seems to me to be the ‘short way’ that catapults a Jew to soaring heights of spirituality.

It uncovers within the Jew the jar of oil that has not been tainted and can never been tainted. The quintessential Jewish spark is always there. It but awaits being activated. 

Chanukah activates the Jewish soul in a fantastic way.

From my experience, the observance of Chanukah serves as a ‘gateway mitzvah’ and really fan the flames of Jewishness in the heart and soul of every single Jew. 

This is why I am prepared so spend considerable funds to make the Chanukah party accessible and inviting. Not even taking the chance to charge an entrance fee. Just in case paying a fee will deter a Jew from coming.

I would like to ask you to please think for a few moments about fellow Jews who may not be planning to celebrate Chanukah and invite them to a Chanukah event and inspire them to kindle their own menorah at home.

We need to observe all kinds of Mitzvahs. 

The exciting once-a-year ones, and the consistent everyday ones. Keep on saying the Shma daily. And come get fired up by an inspiring Chanukah event! 

A healthy blend of ‘short path and long path’ will yield the best results for both body and soul!!!

HAPPY CHANUKA

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PPS Please bring as many Jewish friends as possible to our community party! (If you are able, You can help sponsor this event, I am counting on the generosity of my fellow Jews who recognize the enormous importance of this event).


 



 


Small but Enduring

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘Moshe is thirteen years old now… Since then I have been reciting the Shma… Do you remember this card?’

My brother-in-law Rabbi Paltiel shared this with me last week. It was just after I got back from attending Moshe Holtzberg’s Barmitzvah in Israel.

Moshe was raised by his maternal grandparents and the Barmitzva was a bittersweet affair.  How could it not be?

Baby Moshe’s miraculous rescue from the inferno of the Chabad House in Mumbai in the hands of Sandra his Indian nanny, was broadcast live via the news channels. The collective sigh of relief and joy for the saving of the boy were muted due to the overwhelming tragedy of the tragic murder of Moshe’s parents. At his Barmitzva too, the joy was weighed down by the glaring absence of his parents. 

Once again, earlier this week, Jews have been killed. For no other reason than being Jews. In Jersey City this time. A stones-throw away from New York City. 

What needs to be our reaction?

The Rebbe always insisted that just as one consults a medical professional for medical questions, a security expert should be consulted for security related questions. I am not a security expert. I will leave security decisions to be made by experts in that field. 

When it comes to our spiritual response to evil and darkness, regarding this I am not a stranger.

 (If you have time to hear a class on this topic click here)

Our Torah states clearly that darkness is not to be banished with brooms or mops. There is only one way to banish darkness. 

Darkness is dispelled by light.

This month is the month of LIGHT. 

The holiday of Chanukah is just around the corner. 

On Chanukah we kindle the Menorah for eight days and announce to the world that G-d makes miracles in his world. The one cruse of oil that was meant to last for one day, lasted miraculously for eight days.

Our response to tragedy needs to be focused and vigorous. We dare not remain passive. We need to fortify ourselves and our communities with additional acts of goodness and kindness. 

We must take more mitzvahs upon ourselves. The souls of those whose lives have been snuffed out await our response. 

Flowers are meaningless to a departed soul. 

In the world of souls, it is Mitzvahs performed by earthly beings that bring nachas and joy to their souls.

But we must be practical. 

Studies show that ‘new year resolutions’ often don’t get implemented for long. Simply, people try to take on too much. For a good resolution to have longevity it needs to be within reach. 

Like saying the Shema twice daily for those who don’t yet say it.

Eleven years later, a Jewess in New York reports that she is still saying Shema Yisrael twice daily… because of a good resolution she took back then.

It is impossible to even begin to imagine how much nachas the souls of R’ Gabi and Rivka Holtzberg must be having in heaven from the mitzvahs fueled by their memory. 

How much light and holiness has been added to this world by this community undertaking. 

It may have seemed like something small. But it was eminently achievable and it endures till today. 

Let’s add more light in the world during these turbulent times. 

If you say the Shema already, take another mitzvah. Or upgrade your performance of a Mitzvah that you are already doing!

Do something. Achievable. Not grandiose. But not too easy either. 

A list of suggestions can be found here.

And of course, the ‘order-of-the-day’ mitzvah starting from Sunday night December 22.

LIGHT A MENORAH FOR THE EIGHT NIGHTS OF CHANUKAH

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

BIG NEWS: This year we will be taking Chanukah to the streets. A public Menorah lighting will be held at the plaza just outside MBK Center on the last night of Chanukah. Sunday December 29 @ 6:00 PM. Stay tuned for more details.

This Stays the Same

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I recently met a friend who is several decades older than me. When I asked him how business is going, as thank G-d he is still sprightly and active in the business world, he told me ‘better don’t ask’. So of course, I did ask…. 

It turns out that he is facing a considerable tax liability. That puzzled me. Twenty years ago, this friend had told me that his tax status was set up in a very efficient manner. What had changed I asked him? To which my friend replied with a sigh, ‘the companies I established remained the same. However, the tax laws have changed several times’. 

It seems that what was an perfectly acceptable tax arrangement years ago, has now turned into a liability. 

I was saddened to hear that at eighty plus years old, my friend may have to make serious changes in his lifestyle. Not because he did anything wrong or hadn’t planned well. Simply because the laws had changed.

We are living in a time of radical change. 

To cite but a few examples: 

The USA/China trade war and the tariffs that have been imposed have changed the entire manufacturing landscape of the world. I see this firsthand as businesspeople have started flocking to Thailand and its neighboring countries looking for new manufacturing opportunities to replace China.

Hong Kong, for so many decades was a great success story. Who can now even pretend to know what will happen there?

Many people who came to Thailand to retire based their calculations on fixed pensions that they receive in their home country. Someone complained to me that fourteen years ago when he decided to retire in Thailand, he was receiving seventy-seven THB to the GBP. Now he gets only thirty-nine baht to the pound. Additionally, the cost of living has gone up.  He is considering moving away from Thailand. Another elderly person told me before he passed away that he had lived beyond his life expectancy and had used up his savings. When he had saved for old age it was expected that he would not be alive by age eighty. By the time he reached the ages of eighty, the average life expectancy went up and he lived for many more years, becoming impoverished at some stage. 

Things don’t remain the same.

People who said or did things that were in the vogue several decades ago, now find themselves sounding like insensitive boors when held to todays standards. 

Vaping was in. Vaping is out. 

Marijuana was an outlawed drug almost everywhere till very recently. Today its not so simple. Depends where. 

I think you get my point.

One thing is for certain.

Hashem! 

His Torah. 

His people. 

They are here to stay!

Even the NY Times editors recognized that. In the mock edition of the NY Times year 2100 edition, the Shabbat candle lighting times are printed in the bottom corner. The editor said, we don't know what will be. But one thing is certain. Jewish women and girls will be lighting the Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon.

Judaism is about fulfilling G-ds commandments.

G-d is infinite and unchanging. 

G-d’s mitzvahs are eternal.

We may not always find it easy to live up to the fulfillment of Almighty G-d’s commandments. We must work on ourselves to get better at fulfilling the mitzvahs. Not G-d forbid change the mitzvahs to accommodate our ever-evolving lifestyles. 

Talking about taxation laws, there is an interesting connection to this weeks Parsha of Vayetze

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov, while running away from his brother Esav, pledges to give a tithe to G-d from everything G-d will give him.

This ‘tax structure’ of sorts, the ten percent tithing that Jews are obligated to give to charity, has been around for four thousand years. And it aint goin’ anywhere. It’s here to stay!

Besides for being the right thing to do, it also brings with it the ability to do more. For our Sages taught that giving ten percent to Tzedaka of one’s earnings is the surest way to earn G-d’s blessings of wealth. More wealth means more opportunity to give.

Tzedaka, just like all the other mitzvahs, is a mitzvah that is here for eternity. 

Not just on ‘Giving Tuesday’.

Tzedakah is a mitzvah EVERY DAY!

The more you exercise the ‘muscle’ of giving, the stronger it becomes. The easier it is to give. The more you want and enjoy to give.

Besides for the ‘bigger’ donations at various occasions, or to pet causes, make sure to make giving a regular activity in your life. At least once a day (besides for Shabbat and Chagim when you must give before the onset of Shabbat).

Take a moment every day to put a coin into a Tzedaka box. Or give a gift to a poor person. Or do it via your ‘best friend’ your phone… (and thus bring some more holiness into the mundane world of electronics) and give an electronic donation to tzedakah.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Same Same but Different (Reflections on the Kinus)

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘What was your favorite part of the Kinus conference’? 

I have been asked that question by many.

It is truly a hard question to answer… 

There were so many highlights and special moments. Sleep was hard to come by as the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) was not just a phobia. With five thousand likeminded colleagues and friends in a ten-block radius there was bound to be action around the clock.

In my dear parents home on Eastern Parkway the action was nonstop thank G-d. There were ‘kugel summits’ and ‘coffee and cake summits’ with our parents around the kitchen table. For my brothers, brothers in law and I, there was ‘study and laughter’ in the car on the way to the banquet in New Jersey and good natured teasing about the ‘snoring competition’  taking place nightly in the family basement during those few precious hours we actually slept. 

Last Friday I read this post (click on link) by my fellow-Shliach in Calabasas CA !!! 

DON'T BELIEVE THIS PHOTO

If there is ever a contest for "World's Most Misunderstood Photo" the annual class photo of the Shluchim (Chabad rabbis) will surely be a finalist.

You know the one I'm talking about? About six thousand Shluchim (G-d bless them) convene in New York every year for an annual conference and Shabbaton and on Sunday morning they pose in front of 770 (Chabad World Headquarters) for a massive group photo. (This year's conference is this weekend.)

When you look at the photo, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone had taken a picture of a Shliach (Chabad rabbi) wearing a black fedora and black suit and then hit copy and paste 6,000 times. Aside from the beard colors (black, white, gray and red) very little differentiates one rabbi from the next and on the surface it seems like a conformist convention.

And that is exactly what it isn't. It would be an injustice to the Shluchim to believe that they are all the same with identical stories, attitudes or personalities. The beauty in the deluge of black and white is the colorful diversity hidden everywhere in the picture.

You look at one face, you're looking at a prominent community leader, rabbi and spiritual leader to 2,000 people in a large American suburb. Grinning right next to him is the Shliach in a South American village, a man whose only struggle greater than making a living is the struggle to assemble a Minyan so a local can say Kaddish.

Pan over to the next Shliach and find the chief rabbi of a massive European country. He rubs shoulders with billionaires. And next to him - the Shliach to Nowhere, USA. He can't rub together two pennies.

In this one picture you have newlyweds, middle-aged parents, fresh grandparents, and patriarchs of massive families with legions of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, often in the hundreds, kinehora.

The guy with the red beard over there spends most of his time behind bars tending to the desperate needs of local Jewish prisoners. The short, salt-and-pepper beard behind him started off as a local youth director at the age of 23 and is still at it, devoted to his third generation of kids 30 years later. (And that short beard is rolled up; it's two feet long. I've seen it!)

Scroll down to that guy there with the black beard. Ten years ago, this guy didn't know what a Mezuzah was. He was the starting quarterback on his high school varsity team and his chances of ending up a Shliach were as good as his chances of ending up starting for the Cowboys. But here he is, flush with excitement, living the dream (the Shliach one, not the Cowboys one.) The very tall one next to him was a successful business attorney who yearned to do more, so he traded in his law practice for a campus Chabad post. He admits that his 401(k) is poorer but that his life is much richer.

And just above him, with the silky white beard, is the rabbi's rabbi, an expert in Jewish law, a genius of enormous proportions, a man with miles of Torah on the tip of his tongue and a heart of gold in his chest. Just one of the guys.

That one over there brought Tefillin to Sandy Koufax. That one put Tefillin on Sid Caesar. That one put Tefillin on the president of Ukraine. That one put on Tefillin with Bob Dylan. That one put on Tefillin in Auschwitz. That one sent Tefillin into space with Ilan Ramon. The serious-looking one there put on Tefillin with virtually every Jewish man in his city. (And don't let the look fool you - he's one of the funniest men in the group.)

This guy here grew up in a mansion in Missouri and he's a beloved spiritual mentor to Yeshiva students. The guy talking to him grew up in a matchbox in Michigan and he's growing a community in Colorado.

This Italian here runs Chabad in Utah; the Italian there runs Russia; and yet another Italian runs Sweden. That Russian runs Texas. This Israeli runs Alabama. That Brazilian runs New Jersey. This Australian runs Georgia. And of course, these boys from Brooklyn are running Nevada, Montana, Louisiana, and Nebraska. And Germany. And Ghana.

This tall one saves lost backpackers in Thailand. That short one saves lost souls in Nepal. The gray-bearded one lives 5,500 miles away in Siberia and he's laughing with his old friend who lives three miles away in Flatbush.

Some of them have encountered astonishing success, like in Paris, where half the Shluchim were inspired to Jewish observance by the other half. And some of these men have encountered astonishing resistance, like the man who has loyally served an American Jewish community for twenty years and still needs to argue with the locals about the importance of Yom Kippur.

This shy scholar here? He is in the midst of a $20 million building campaign. The charismatic gentlemen listening to him is in the midst of a $300,000 foreclosure. The thin man next to him just opened a Glatt Kosher restaurant in Mexico, just like the guy behind him who just opened a Kosher eatery in China. But the rabbi behind them, serving the Russian hinterlands, hasn't seen a Kosher restaurant since last year's conference and has been slaughtering and koshering his own meat for fifteen years.

The rabbi in the corner is part of a family that has been Chabad since Chabad began 230 years ago. His classmate and colleague embracing him is the child of two ex-hippies who searched their way to Chabad in the 60's and reversed four generations of assimilation.

Most of these men speak Yiddish, Hebrew and some English. But if you listen closely you can hear the conversations accented by countless languages and dialects. Most of these men are of Ashkenazic background, but many are Sefardic, some are Yemenite, some are Persian. Many are fourth or fifth generation Americans.

Some are natural extroverts, some are painful introverts. Some are born optimists. Others struggle to maintain their optimism. Some are naturally exuberant; others, melancholy.

The differences never end. Each and every person in this photo is genuinely unique and each of them has a one-of-a-kind story that will yet be told.

But what they have in common is so powerful that it unites them together like a family. Their love for the Rebbe spills over into a love for each other and a love for every single Jew. Their love for the Rebbe's mission and vision of a world conquered by goodness, kindness and Yiddishkeit unites them like brothers around a singular, unstoppable sense of purpose.

Drenched in that family vibe, all the colorful languages, backgrounds, upbringings, personalities and living conditions blend together brilliantly. They produce a spiritual harmony the likes of which has never been seen before.

Shabbat Shalom, good Shabbos.

Rabbi Eli Friedman
Chabad of Calabasas


I was touched and inspired by his words. It helped me choose my most poignant moment of this year’s Kinus. 

The picture!

But here is the thing, I actually MISSED the picture.

The picture was taken in front of Lubavitch World Headquarters 770 Eastern Parkway, on Sunday morning 9 am.

I had decided to pay an additional visit to the Rebbe’s Ohel for prayer. 

(My ‘main’ visit to the Ohel was on Friday morning. As part of the schedule of the conference I had joined the thousands of Shluchim to pray together for our families, supporters and respective communities (if you get this message you are one of those I prayed for…). It is always the most sacred and holy part of the weekend). 

But that visit was not enough for me. Living so far away, I took advantage of the proximity and visited the Ohel several other times. Knowing that the picture was at 9am I made sure to finish my prayers and head back off to Brooklyn with just enough time to arrive at the picture.

Arrive in time I did. The people that I gave a lift home, jumped out of the car and got into position for the picture. I kept my eyes open for parking. 

A perfect parking spot opened up. Three cars in front of me. Problem was that that the second car in front of me indicated with his blinker and proceeded to parallel part in ‘my’ spot.

I saw a sticker saying ‘Honda of Wesport’ on the back of the car. My brother Yehuda is the rabbi of Chabad of Westport (CT) and I wondered if perhaps it was him. Yep, as I drove by that perfect parking spot, I saw that it was my brother who got it. 

He made it into the picture. I continued to circle around the block looking for parking. I didn’t make it into the picture. So, my brothers all decided to make another picture just for the Kantor brothers (see below). At least it would make our parents happy. 

Brothers.

Brotherly Love.

One brother should rejoice in the success of his brother. Even if it means that he is not successful. After all they are all children of one father. 

When you lose a parking spot to a brother whom you love and care for, you haven’t really lost anything. It’s still ‘in the family’. If I would have got the spot and he would have needed to go around the block, he would have missed out. I was thankful that he made it into the picture. 

It doesn’t always work that way though.

This week’s parsha describes the rift between Yaakov and Esav that stretches throughout history and will only be resolved when Mashiach comes.

The fight between them was an almost unavoidable one. It represents the struggle between the intensely powerful chaotic and unchanneled raw energy of Esav vs the refined, serene, bright and holy energy of Yaakov. Esav had a great potential. It needs to be harnessed and developed to be able to be useful. That will be recognized and appreciated when Mashiach comes. Until then, Esav will oppose Yaakov (as we are witness to, with the continual anti-Semitism we face). 

Yaakov goes on to father twelve sons who are the progenitors of the people of Israel (Yisrael being the second name of Yaakov). It is Yaakov’s descendants, us, who will bring the world to the advent of Mashiach.

Ever since that irreparable rift between those two archetypal brothers, Esav and Yaakov, we, the children of Yaakov are expected to have only deep love and respect for our siblings. No irreparable rifts G-d forbid. 

Not because we are all the same.

I have included the picture of my four brothers and I. All of us are Shluchim thank G-d. Each of us in quite a different place and situation. 

Brother Yehuda is the ebullient head of Chabad of Westport Brother Zalman is a scholarly head of Chabad of Rancho S. Margarita Southern California. Brother Baruch is the lively ‘redhead’ head of Chabad of Temple University in Philadelphia. Youngest brother Yaakov is the intense yet hilarious director of Chabad of Lugano. He is the only member of our family besides me, to live outside of the USA. 

Me? I am in Thailand. Totally different than any of the above places.

Brothers come from the same parents. Yet, they are not exactly the same. The Torah expects them to get along. To appreciate and enjoy each other. Not despite their differences. Rather the differences between us are what make it so exciting.

In a sense, the five thousand of us who gathered last week are brothers. It was exhilarating to realize that. 

And if you take that just one small step further, all of our people, Am Yisrael in its entirety is ONE people. Brothers and sisters.

We are not Esav and Yaakov who get ripped apart till the end of times.

We are all the ‘people of Israel’, sons and daughters of Avraham, Yitschok and Yaakov. Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah who stick together through thick and thin. We have lived through nearly two thousand years of exile. We have come through inquisitions, the Crusades and the Holocaust. We are one undivided people. 

When one of us succeeds we ought to all rejoice.

When G-d forbid one of us has not such good news we must all rally to his or her support. Like we should and would do for an immediate sibling.

Next time you lose your parking spot, or the ten million dollar order to your manufacturing company, pray that it is your brother who got it. If he did? Rejoice!

It takes a spirit of largesse to rejoice when your friend succeeds more than you. Once you realize it is YOUR OWN FAMILY, you should have a much easier time with it.

Shabbat Shalom Sister, Shabbat Shalom Brother!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS Yesterday was the Yartzeit of Rabbi & Mrs. Gavriel & Rivka Holtzberg who were murdered al Kidush Hashem in their Chabad House in Mumbai eleven years ago.

Tomorrow is the bar mitzvah of their miraculously surviving son Moshe. I will be attending the Bar Mitzvah celebration in Israel on Sunday please G-d.








 

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