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We’re Being Evicted?! But Why?

 Almost two years ago, on February 14, 2018, I received a notice that we had 30 days to vacate our Chabad center. We had been occupying our Chabad center for 10 years, where we had established a thriving Chabad center and preschool. The eviction notice caught me entirely by surprise and I consulted with lawyers as to our options.

It soon became apparent that this was the work of a disgruntled neighbor who disliked children and had used every opportunity to undermine us from day one. As the saying goes, “Every good rabbi must have an enemy combatant,” and we certainly had ours.
There is nothing in this world that is not Divinely ordained. Everything comes from G-d, even an eviction notice from a disgruntled neighbor.
And so I asked myself, what does G-d want?

Now, although we had established a thriving preschool, we had also run out of space. Every year we had to turn away many families whom we simply could not accommodate. And every year we’d been telling ourselves we need to move, but with Manhattan prices and the dearth of available spaces, finding a place was next to impossible. In fact, I wasn’t even sure which was harder—finding the money or finding an appropriate space! Neither seemed doable.
But when this eviction notice and subsequent lawsuit came, we had to take a closer look and ask ourselves what G-d really wants. And it was clear that the time had come to search aggressively.
So I called our trusted broker, and told her we need to find something ASAP. And guess what? We started re-examining spaces that we would have dismissed previously. We eventually found a place that had issues, but could work. Had we not been facing a pending lawsuit, we would have never negotiated so aggressively, and we most certainly would not have signed the deal.
It took us 10 months to locate a space and negotiate the lease, and another 14 months to do the construction and receive the permits. Thank G-d we were blessed with incredible friends—architects, lawyers, expeditors, and contractors. And through it all we’ve been in court, negotiating.
But not for one second did we think that this was anything but the work of G-d. Even when we were forced to make tough decisions and compromises, we knew it was all from G-d. His messengers come in mysterious ways!
Was the lawsuit a bother? Absolutely! Was it a pain in the neck? For sure. Was it a headache? An aggravation? Most definitely. But there is also no way we would have pushed ourselves so hard to work through this exhausting process to find a new space had we not been forced.
And the result? Well, it’s been two years and we have finally received our final permits. It’s brand new, state of the art, and built exactly the way we wanted. Best of all, it’s double the size we had until now, which means we can accommodate so many families we previously had to turn away.
We look forward to sharing many occasions and blessings in our new facility, at 1766 2nd Ave.

It Doesn't Matter What The Goyim Say, It Matters What the Jews Do!

I love jew.jpgIt has become blatantly obvious that we are witnessing a full-fledged epidemic of Anti-Semitic attacks. In the last week alone, there has been at least one incident each day. For the first time in modern US history, Jews are afraid to shop at kosher stores, afraid to go to shul, afraid to send their kids to Jewish schools. Simply walking around dressed Jewishly is making people uneasy, cautious, and frightened.

David Ben Gurion said, “It doesn’t matter what the non-Jews say, it matters what the Jews do.”

So, what will we do? How will we respond?

 Yes, we need to demand apologies, sign petitions, and organize protests. We need to insist on a sustained, get-tough, zero-tolerance policy by local and state officials. We need a policy that takes each incident equally seriously. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, and should not be tolerated, no matter who the perpetrator is.

But what else can we do to combat this toxic undercurrent seeping through society?

First, we need to understand and recognize the root cause of the hatred.

We know they don’t hate us because we’re successful; Jews have been persecuted back in the shtetls when they had nothing at all. They don’t hate us for being poor, because wealthy Jews have never been exempt.

They don’t hate us because we established the State of Israel; Hitler killed 6 million of us before that ever happened. There is nothing we can point to and say, “That’s why! That’s why they hate us. If we fix or change that, there’ll be no more anti-Semitism.”

Anti-Semitism is irrational. It’s a hatred that has always existed, and will continue as long as we remain in exile. There is no reason. It simply is.

So what should we do in the face of the current crisis? How can we combat the hatred staring us down?

 As counterintuitive as it might seem, by being prouder Jews!

They hate us? They hate Judaism? Well, let’s examine our own love for it. Do we feel it with a fiery passion? How can we reignite that, instill it in our children, awaken it in our friends, and show it off proudly?

By increasing our Jewish engagement.

Commit to putting on tefillin daily, and when you say Shema, remind yourself of your eternal and everlasting link to your ancestors, all the way back to Abraham. Picture the unbroken chain connecting you; it’s powerful!

Commit to lighting Shabbat candles every single week, and when you do, picture the light dispelling evil and hatred from the world. A small amount of light dispels great darkness. You may not see the significance of your two candles, but they are powerful!

Log on to Chabad.org and study Torah. Educate yourself and your children, reignite that passion and love for G-d and His Torah.

We have to be a light unto the nations. We have to inspire each other to be strong in our Jewish observance and proud of our identity. We cannot cower and hide away in fear. We must stand strong, proud, and united; it is the only way to fight the current upsurge in anti-Semitism.

We’re about to conclude the best decade in human history.

best decade ever.jpgIt’s hard to see in the moment, when we’re consumed by the constant churning of events. But now that it’s over, we can step out, look back, and analyze what really happened in the past 10 years.

There are two ways to look at it: From our own perspective, and through G-d’s lens.

From our view, a lot has gone on. There have been massive milestones and terrible catastrophes. Technology has accelerated beyond what we could have imagined. In 2010 Uber and Instagram launched, and it’s now hard to remember a time before they existed. Islamic State leaders Osama Bin Laden and Abu Bakr el Baghdadi were killed. The World population reached 7 billion people.

We’ve also struggled through devastating earthquakes and hurricanes, and the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. There have been far too many devastating mass shootings and terror attacks, including Sandy Hook elementary, Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida, Charlie Hedbo in Paris, the Boston Marathon, Orlando, Las Vegas, Chabad of Poway, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and the shooting in Jersey City last week.

Although it seems terrible and chaotic to us, from G-d’s perspective things look very different. There is a plan, a Boss, and reason for every event.

Of course, there were times that we clearly saw G-d’s intervention. Like when 12 young boys and their soccer coach were rescued from the cave in Thailand after being stuck for two weeks, or when two 16-year old students went missing in thick forest terrain in Florida, and were found safely the next day. Or for me personally, when my triplets were born, or when the entire Jewish world celebrated the bar mitzvah of Moishy Holzberg who survived the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

But from G-d’s perspective, all the other happenings—the ones we can’t understand—are connected, deliberate, and ultimately good.  

We don’t see it, but to G-d there are clear connections between Occupy Wall Street and the Pokemon Go craze; the murder of Eyal, Gilad and Naftali who were kidnapped in Israel in 2014, and the Arab Spring that sprung up across the Middle East; the election of Donald Trump and the ALS Ice Bucket challenge; the royal wedding and the world’s obsession with the gorilla Harambe…

So, when will we see the connection? When will we finally have the clarity to connect the dots and understand these events for what they really are? When will we look back at the dark and confusing moments and recognize G-d’s presence and purpose?

When the Baal Shem Tov asked Moshiach, “When are you coming?” he replied, “When your well springs shall be disseminated.” Over the past decade we have created unprecedented levels of access to Jewish learning. Chabad.org, WhatsApp, TorahCafe, and so many other sites are replete with free Jewich classes on virtually every subject.

So we are getting closer.

And when that time comes, we will be able to connect the dots and see how this was truly the Master Plan, even though it may not seem that way now.

This decade has brought us so much closer to the coming of Moshiach; without doubt, it has been the greatest 10 years in human history. 

Jersey City – Let’s All Target Kosher Supermarkets!

Leah Mindel Ferencz. Moshe Deutsch. Douglas Miguel Rodriguez. Detective Joseph Seals. Don’t just read their names; stop and say them out loud. Think about them. Their lives brutally ended far too early. Think about their families—their parents, children, friends, extended family… the number of people affected extends far beyond the four victims.

The Jersey City attack this week is one of the deadliest against Jews in U.S. history. Had the perpetrators succeeded in detonating the pipe bomb found in their truck, the carnage would have been even worse.


My dear brother-in-law Rabbi Moshe Z Schapiro runs the Chabad center in Hoboken and Jersey City with his wife, Shaindel. He often frequents the J.C. Grocery store where the attack took place, and regularly prays at the synagogue next door. He knew the victims and told me they were the loveliest individuals, full of life, who enjoyed providing kosher food to the locals—a vital service for any burgeoning Jewish community.

Surveillance footage shows undeniably that this was a targeted attack. The perpetrators can be seen driving through the city without stopping or shooting indiscriminately. Even when they jump out of the truck, they bypass everyone on the street and head straight for the store, where they sent out a hail of bullets, killing three and seriously injuring a fourth.

How do we respond to such devastation? To being clearly targeted by cold-blooded, anti-Semitic murderers?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught us to transform our pain and tears into action.

Although the temptation may be to avoid Jewish places - like shuls and kosher stores - we should do the opposite. Jews all over the world should make a point to patronize their local Jewish businesses and institutions.

Yes, there are challenges in keeping kosher, but if anti-Semites targeted kosher supermarkets, so can we—with love and support and our pocketbooks.

They went out of their way to find the kosher grocery; we can do the same. Wherever you live, seek out that store. And if you can’t find one, contact your local Chabad center and they’ll be happy to connect you with their suppliers.

This is how we can avenge the blood of our brothers and sisters, and fight the evil monstrosity that allowed this to happen. We pray for healing and comfort for all the families who have lost their loved ones.

Together with the Greenville Jewish community, Chabad of Jersey City has set up an emergency fund to help support the families of the victims. Please donate generously at www.JerseyCityVictims.com. May G-d avenge their blood.


Help! Triplets Locked in the Bathroom!

It was Shabbat morning and my one-year-old triplets were messing about—playing, laughing, giggling… nothing out of the norm. Their favorite hangout these days seems to be the bathroom, and two of them disappeared inside. Before we knew it, we heard the door slam. We jumped up and ran over, but just as we got there, they locked themselves inside.

To get them out, we tried talking through the door, coaxing the one who had turned the lock to do it now in the opposite direction. Alas, although he had managed to figure out how to lock himself (and his sister!) inside, he was unable to extricate himself. In the meantime, his sister started to cry. 

This was a classic case of pikuach nefesh, when one is not only allowed but actually obligated to violate the Shabbat. So I called the building super who dashed over and broke the lock and the door, enabling us to get the kids out. Whew!

After we calmed the kids (and ourselves!), I started to think, isn’t this the story of our lives? We get ourselves stuck in bad habits but struggle to extricate ourselves. Sometimes it seems like we really cannot get out at all. 

It’s easy to get into the habit of waking up late, but it’s a lot harder to get back on track. It’s easy to get used to running late; it’s far harder to become punctual. We can complain and complain, but how do we actually fix it? It’s no secret most of us make endless resolutions to improve our behavior and break bad habits, but how often do we succeed in following through? It’s a lot harder than it seems!  

In this week’s parshah, Yaakov is 63 years old when he is forced to begin a new life, away from everyone he knows and loves, away from his mother and father, and everything that is familiar to him. He has to break his familiar cycle and start new habits elsewhere, in a foreign environment, among people he doesn’t know.

To make such changes after 63 years would require immense effort, he knew. So what did he do? He lifted his eyes Heavenward and says, “G-d, I will do this with your help.” And that’s what we can and should do, too. We need to put forth our best effort, but also acknowledge that we can’t do it without His help. When we humble ourselves, recognize that we are not really in charge, and ask for His help, we can start to make strides in the right direction. Try it; you’ll see it works. 

Locked out of Shul!

LOCKED-OUT-OF-HOME-HOUSTON.jpgWe had just celebrated a month of holidays, which can definitely be called “busy season” for rabbis. Between writing sermons, raising funds, inspiring worshipers, blowing shofar, building sukkot, visiting the ill and housebound, and hosting yom tov meals, there’s nary a minute to breathe. And then the first Shabbat after Simchat Torah we had a huge bat mitzvah celebration.

So I decided to take a Shabbat off.

This may sound like a simple feat, but the arrangements that need to be made make it anything but. I have to ensure there is an assistant rabbi—someone who can give a decent sermon, read from the Torah, and lead the services. I have to call around and make sure there will be a minyan for all services, and I need to order the kiddush and check that it has been delivered.  

I asked my brother, a newly graduated rabbi, to fill in for me, and got to work on the rest of the preparations. I made sure our weekly newsletter and stories were printed for the congregation. I ordered the kiddush and ensured it was delivered. I sent out the times for services. I ran through every detail of the 25 hours to ensure that Shabbat would proceed smoothly in my absence, and then I set off for the weekend.

Just as I was settling in, minutes before candle lighting, my phone rings with an unfamiliar number. I hesitated. Should I pick up or should I ignore it?

It was my brother. “We have a massive problem!” he said.

“Oh no. Don’t tell me…” I groaned.

“When I tried to unlock the shul,” he explained, “the key snapped off. Half is in the lock, half is in my hand, and we can’t get in!”

Are you kidding me, I thought to myself. What on earth am I supposed to do now? There’s no other way to get in! There will be no services!

I began making a series of frantic calls to any locksmith I had in my phone, and any congregants I could think of who might be connected to a locksmith. But time was not on my side. As the 18 minutes ticked by, I came to the sinking realization that even if I found someone now, they would not have enough time to get there and fix the lock before Shabbat.

And that is when I realized that you can prepare and prepare and prepare, you can do everything in your power to ensure that things run smoothly, but ultimately it’s not up to us. We think we are in charge. We think we are the ones making decisions, making money, making plans…but when it comes down to it, there is G-d Almighty who is in charge of the world. He decides; not us. He plans; not us.

So I took a deep breath and let the One Who is truly in charge of the world continue to control it. I turned off my phone for Shabbat and disconnected from the world. What a gift He has given us! No internet, no phone, no Wifi, no stocks, no problems. Just us and G-d and Shabbat. Every week. No distractions.

As for what happened with the shul…one of our congregants managed to use the half key that was still inserted to break the lock and let everyone in. When they left that night, they had to leave the shul open, and when our cleaner arrived the following morning and saw the broken lock she hired her own locksmith, which meant everyone was locked out again the following morning until she arrived with the new key. At the end of the day, all is well! Shul ran in my absence, albeit with some hiccups, and I came back rejuvenated and ready to jump back into rabbi mode.  

5 Things we Learn From the Election

blogisrael.jpgIsrael held an unprecedented election redo this week, making it the second election in a single year.

The Baal Shem Tov, whose birthday we celebrate this week, taught that we can learn a lesson from everything we see. Here are five I’ve taken from the Israeli election that we can all adapt during this spiritual election season as we prepare for the High Holidays.

1. Never underestimate the power of an individual. We see how one individual has the power to decide the fate of an entire country, and on a personal level, the mitzvah of a single Jew can decide the fate of all Jewry forever. Never think that your good deed does not count. It counts and it counts a lot! 

2. In life, you always get a second chance. Just because you did not get the vote the first time around, does not mean you cannot get it the second time. G-d always give us another chance. Even if we sinned the whole year, it’s OK. G-d offers us the opportunity to come back, cast our vote differently, and regain His trust. 

3. Never take your voters for granted; just because they voted for you once does not mean they will vote for you again. Likewise, just because G-d voted for you last year, don’t assume you can sit back and coast through this election season. His vote is not guaranteed.

4. By the time the election rolls around, the candidates are hoarse from lack of sleep and constant campaigning. Politicians work hard, day and night, doing everything in their power to find favor with their voters. We need to work just as hard to curry favor with G-d and secure His vote for the upcoming year.

5. One of the greatest obstacles politicians face is apathy and voter fatigue. Yes, the voter may like the candidate and agree with his or her policies, but that’s not enough. The voter needs to be motivated enough to actually go out and vote on the pivotal day. We also struggle with apathy in our service of G-d, and we need to find ways to overcome that so we can serve Him with joy and vigor. Apathy is dangerous. 

 Each of us wants to go into Rosh Hashanah and say, “You chose us from all the other nations,” but we have to earn it. This is the season. We have the entire month of Elul to campaign and make commitments. We tell G-d we’ll pray more and give charity more generously in the coming year. We repent and hear the shofar every day this month. “Choose us!” we beg G-d. “Give us life, give us health, and make sure all our needs are met. We are worth your vote.”

As for Israel, who will lead? At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. G-d is in charge; He runs the world. We’re just along for the ride. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

“Tatty, There’s a Snake in my Room!”

It was 1:00am.

“Tatty! Tatty!” I hear through layers of heavy slumber.

“Tatty, Tatty, there’s a snake in my room!” my daughter pleads desperately.

Even in my groggy state I was able to articulate, “There is no snake in your room. Go back to bed.”

But she stood her ground. “No, there is a snake! I can’t sleep, Tatty, I’m scared.”

“What makes you think there’s a snake?”

“I can hear it!”

“Did you see it?”

“No, but I can definitely hear it and I cannot go back to my room until you kill it!”

So I got out of my bed, realizing she didn’t wake my wife because apparently I am the superior snake killer in this house. I followed her back to her room and said “OK, show me where the snake is.” But I was not getting off that easy, it seemed. “You find it, Tatty,” she insisted, and she hovered in the doorway watching me.

I went through all her drawers and closets, squeezed under her bed, and searched every nook and cranny of the room until she was satisfied there was no snake. Only then were her anxieties quieted and she was able to go back to sleep (as was I!).

We all have “snakes” in our lives: Fears. Anxieties. Worries. Concerns.

Perhaps you’re afraid of vulnerability or commitment, worried about your children’s futures, anxious about your livelihood, feeling uncertain about your marriage and what the future holds…but you are not alone. We all battle the same “snakes” at one time or another.

So how can we manage our anxieties? Who can we wake at 1:00am to deal with the “snake”?

During the month of Elul, which we have just begun, our Father in Heaven is particularly accessible. During the rest of the year, He is like a king in the palace—harder to reach. But during Elul He is like a king who travels through the fields to meet with his subjects—anybody can speak to Him.

That’s all we need to do. Talk to Him. Trust in him. Share our burdens and supplications with him, and ask him to remove the “snakes” from our lives so we can feel relaxed and energized and serve Him with purpose.

I’m Scared (Terrified!) of Heights

blogvigler.jpegI flew to Montreal on Sunday, to visit my son in camp. You may not know, but I have an intense fear of heights. I stay away from mountains and cliffs, and although I do fly frequently, every time I board a plane I am gripped with fear. Add in a smaller-than-usual aircraft and the fear increases exponentially. 

There is a prayer to say when travelling—Tefillat Haderech, and boy do I concentrate on saying it with the proper intention as the plane leaves the ground...

This time, I was traveling with my 8-year-old son. Thankfully, he has not inherited my fear of heights and requested a window seat so he could have a clear view—something I would never do!

He could not contain his excitement. “Tatty, look how small the cars are! Look at the clouds! See how little those buildings look!” I certainly don’t want to pass my fear on to him, so I forced myself to look and enthuse, all the while silently praying that we don’t crash. 

All I could think was, “What happens if we crash?” As we began our descent, I was busy calculating, “Would this be a safe distance to fall?” until the plane finally touched down and I breathed a sigh of relief. Safe at last. 

So how do I cope? It’s not like I can just avoid flying—I’ve traveled internationally three times in the last two months! I try to lay eyes on the pilot as I board, and I tell myself I have to trust the pilot’s training and experience. I tell myself that it’s safer to fly than to drive, and I try to relax as much as is possible. I don’t think I’ll ever be a calm flier, but I’m managing.

In this week’s haftarah, the prophet Micha describes the Jews as people who don’t rely on man. We rely only on G-d. All of us are on a journey, and we all have fears—health, livelihood, child-rearing...there is no lack of challenges.  

Although, of course, we are expected to make an effort, it’s important to recognize that it is G-d, our pilot, Who provides us with our needs. Yes, we need to go out and work, but ultimately the work doesn’t generate the income—G-d does. Yes, we need to take care of our bodies, see doctors, engage in healthy behaviors, but health is a gift from G-d. It is not a direct result of our efforts.  

No matter what life throws at us, the only one Who can help us is G-d. He is the one we have to turn to—in times of distress, and also in times of plenty. It is our responsibility to have utmost faith that He will take care of us, no matter what challenges come our way.  

So relax on your flight, G-d is the greatest pilot!

20 Hour Trip to Israel


Last week I traveled to Israel for a whirlwind 20 hours for a dear friend’s bar mitzvah. When I arrived at La Guardia I was told that most flights for the day had been cancelled or significantly delayed because of the heavy rain. Fortunately, mine was still scheduled to depart on time, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I had a connecting flight in Toronto, and a delay could mean I would miss my trip entirely. 

 So I checked in and headed towards my gate through the milling crowds of irritated travelers. Sure enough, minutes later the boards started showing my flight had been delayed. I did some quick calculations and realized if I really rushed off the plane in Toronto, I could still make it. So I stayed. 

But soon my flight was further delayed, and I realized that to make my Israel-bound connection I would need to leave behind my luggage (nothing personal for such a quick trip, just a package I had agreed to take for a friend) and sprint through the Toronto airport. Still doable, but only just. 

 When I saw that my flight was delayed by another hour, I knew there was no point hanging around. I would miss my flight to Israel entirely. So I asked for luggage back, left the airport, and headed home. 

 On the way I called my travel agent to explain the situation. “How badly do you want to go to Israel?” he asked. “Let me see if I can get you on another flight.”

 And just as I arrived home, he called me back and told me that if I left that minute, there was a flight from JFK to Israel (via Frankfurt) that would still make it on time for the bar mitzvah the following morning. 

 And this is when the real internal struggle happened. I realized I had the perfect excuse to avoid this crazy shlep for a bar mitzvah—two days of travel for less than 24 hours there. I’d tried. I’d made the effort. I could stay home in my dry, comfortable house without feeling bad. After all, I’d tried. 

 But can’t we do that with every mitzvah? It’s so easy to find excuses for ourselves. Don’t want to lend a friend money? Blame it on cash flow problems. Don’t want to visit someone in the hospital? Say you’re busy. We all are. Don’t want to host guests? Easy. It’s an invasion of privacy. There is no shortage of excuses when we’re looking to get out of something. 

 With every mitzvah and every sin we do, there is an “oy!” and there is an “ah!” The only difference is in the timing. When a person stretches themselves to do a mitzvah, while they are doing it they may feel the “oy!” But later, they can enjoy the “ah!” - the satisfaction of knowing they did the right thing even when it was hard. But when a person sins, they first get the “ah!” - this is pleasurable. But later, they are struck with the “Oy! What did I do?!”

With this in mind, I asked the travel agent to get me on that second flight and whisked myself out the door and off to JFK. The shlep was definitely an “oy,” but once I arrived and joined in celebrating my friend’s simcha (with a stop to pray at the Kotel), I knew I had done the right thing and was able to enjoy the “ah” that comes along with that. 

Terror at Chabad of Poway: Our Reaction!

poway image.jpgWhen the family of 8-year-old Noya Dahan, and her uncle Almog Peretz, wanted to escape the daily barrage of missile attacks in Sderot, they searched the world for a safe haven, ultimately settling in Poway, California. Here, they thought, Noya and her younger sister Lian could have a normal childhood, free from the constant sirens, rockets, and midnight bomb shelter runs. Here they would be safe.

Alas, their brief respite was shattered this week when Chabad of Poway was attacked by a deranged gunman during services on the last day of Pesach. Lori Kaye, may G-d avenge her blood, was murdered trying to protect the rabbi. Rabbi Goldstein was shot in his hands, losing a finger. Almog Peretz jumped into action shepherding the children to safety despite being shot in the leg himself, and his niece Noya was injured by flying shrapnel. And these are just the physical wounds. The psychological impact—for the injured and everyone else present—cannot be quantified.

This new wave of hatred is both predictable and unpredictable. We know, unfortunately, it’s going to surface with relative frequency—that has become all too predictable. What we don’t know, is when and where the next attack will be. Whether it’s San Bernardino, Orlando, Brussels, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Paris, or Poway, there is a single common denominator: blind hatred.

In the past, we knew our enemies. We knew how many tanks they had, how many troops we were up against, their strengths and their weaknesses. But today we have no idea. We are fighting a war, but not the kind we are familiar with. The new war is the lone gunman, often recruited through the dark web, who is filled with unbridled anger and hatred.

To defeat this kind of evil, we have to play using their rules. They’re crazy? Unpredictable? Wild? Out of control? Then that’s what we need to be, too.

If in the past you were content to have two children, go beyond your comfort zone and have one more. Don’t know how you will afford it? Who cares! The evil forces don’t care, so we cannot either.

Were you content to give 10 percent of your earnings to charity until now? Start giving 20 percent! It’s a lot of money? It doesn’t matter! It’s time to be crazy in a holy way.

Has keeping kosher seemed too difficult whenever you’ve considered it? Stop thinking and just do it! Yes, there’s peer pressure and increased expenses, but now’s the time to extend yourself. You can do it!

Don’t keep Shabbat yet? It’s difficult, definitely, but this is not the time for calculations. It’s a time for action. Go out there and keep Shabbat. Take the leap. Just do it.

The terror is so unpredictable; we need to be just as unpredictable in our holiness. It’s our best chance for countering the forces of evil that so strongly grip our society.

Let’s hope and pray for the recovery of the sick and wounded, and for the abolition of evil in its entirety. May G-d avenge Lori’s blood, and bring peace and healing to the entire congregation.

"Tatty I'm Hungry"

Blog_tattty.jpgMy three-year-old daughter came to services with me on Sunday morning. I had my tefillin on and was in the middle of praying when she began to nudge, “Tatty, I’m hungry!”

 I couldn’t talk, so I motioned to her, “later.” But she continued.

After ten minutes of her nudging “Tatty, I’m hungry,” one of the congregants came over with a bagel and cream cheese for her, explaining that he comes from a family of Holocaust survivors and cannot bear to see any child hungry.  

My daughter took the bagel but didn’t touch it even though she loves cream cheese. My friend was perplexed. “I thought she was starving,” he said. “Why isn’t she eating it?”

“You have to understand what she’s saying,” I explained with a smile. “Thank G-d, she ate a very good breakfast 30 minutes ago. Thank G-d, we have food in our house and don’t starve our kids! What she meant when she said ‘I’m hungry’ is actually ‘Tatty, I want candy!’”

When my kids come to shul, I like to give them candy so they’ll have sweet memories and positive associations. I had already given her one ten minutes prior, but thinking it would get her another one, she decided to try the “Tatty, I’m hungry” tactic. Now, there’s no way my friend could have known this, and I’m grateful he tried to help. It just shows how it’s all about understanding the underlying message.

As we sit around the Passover table, ready to begin the Seder, the first thing we say is, “All who are hungry, come and eat; all who are needy, come and celebrate.” Of course it is a mitzvah to invite people to eat and experience the beauty of the Seder with us, but the statement is much deeper than that.

Beyond the literal invitation, it’s a call to each and every one of us to feed our souls. The same way our bodies require a nourishing breakfast each morning, our souls require spiritual infusions and inspiration.

Like my daughter, our souls call out, “I’m hungry! I’m hungry!” And we mistakenly think that the void we feel needs to be filled with physical things—a newer car, fancier food, another vacation, more money, etc. Ever wonder why Jews are so disproportionately successful in the world? It’s because we feel a deep internal void that we try every which way to fill. But really it’s the soul. The soul is hungry and the Seder is our chance to give it the nourishment it so desperately craves.

When we eat matzah, drink four cups of wine, recite the haggadah, relive the story of our Exodus—this is the spiritual “candy” the soul yearns for.

And let’s not forget, our children will be at the Seder and they are hungry too! It’s our responsibility to make it engaging for them, so they learn to satiate their soul the right way from the very start.

Theft in Our Chabad

robbery.jpgLast Monday, a staff member approached me and asked if I knew what had happened to her ipod over the weekend. She had left it in a specific place on Friday, and it was no longer there.

I hadn’t seen it, but offered to look through our security camera footage and see if we could figure it out. Fortunately we have high resolution cameras recording at all times, so I rewound to Friday afternoon and we started watching. Lo and behold, we see that at 2:00pm our cleaner came—not our regular cleaner, but a new one the company had sent—walked around, and noticed the ipod and speakers. He looked over his shoulder, realized no one was watching, and calmly slipped it into his pocket.

So, great, now we know what happened, but what next? How do I deal with the thief?

Our Chassidic masters explain that there are two ways to deal with everything in life: the long-short way and the short-long way. In this instance, the long-short way would mean calling the thief, engaging him in real conversation to understand the underlying reason of why he stole. Perhaps he’s poor, or had a troubled upbringing, and maybe he was simply tempted in the moment and regretted it immediately afterwards. It would take time and patience to build a relationship and get to the point where the thief was able to be vulnerable enough to truly open up and expose himself. And then you can come up with a solution. That might entail giving him a job, or helping him find one on his own, maintaining a connection, etc. This is surely the best and most effective method, but it is undeniably long and all-consuming.

The short-long method, on the other hand, would be to threaten him with police involvement, which would solve the immediate problem only. He would return the ipod, but would likely steal again. Nothing has really changed.

When it comes to our own problems, we have the same methods at our disposal. We can use the short-long method, which might smooth things over in the here and now, but it’s not the real work. The real work is the long-short method, which takes year of introspection, analysis and character building, but yields true, long-term results.

In this case, I must confess that I chose the short-term solution. I confronted the thief, insisted he return the ipod immediately or I would call the police, and he did. But had I had more time to invest, I should have spent the time working with him to understand and resolve the underlying issues.

In the moment, it is harder. It takes time and the results are not as immediate. But in the long term, if we want to effect real change—in ourselves or others—there is only one way: the long short way

Moshiach's arrival? On Facebook Live!

Facebook suffered its worst outage in history this week and it didn’t go unnoticed. We’ve become so used to sharing everything instantly on social media—we don’t know what to do with ourselves when we can’t! A guy who just got engaged wanted to share the wonderful news but could not, politicians had to stop campaigning for 24 hours, Chabad rabbis couldn’t invite people to their Purim parties, fundraising campaigns ground to a halt, and—shockingly—there was a total cessation of selfie-sharing.  

Most frustrating of all? There was nowhere to share the frustration! There was no way to post, “Why can’t I post anything on Facebook?” or “OMG! My Instagram isn’t working!!!”

It was like a global 24-hour time out.

As you know, I do use Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp regularly, but after some minor frustration I decided to look at this from a different perspective. What would happen if Moshiach came right now? I wondered. How would we all know?

When he arrives, there will be a grand announcement. The entire world will watch it unfold. I picture a live Facebook stream of him ascending the Mount of Olives together with the recently resurrected Moses and Aaron. We’ll all see the Temple being rebuilt and the Priests and Levites assuming their Temple service.

But if Moshiach had come right then and there, in the middle of the social media outage, we would have had a big problem! We wouldn’t know about it at all.  

Alas, he would have to find another medium to tell the world.  

But then, perhaps the outage is the real taste of the world Moshiach will herald. For 24 hours we were forced to communicate directly—in person or on the phone. In our day and age, this is revolutionary. Reaching out to a friend yesterday (a real friend, not a Facebook friend) required actual physical reaching out. And when the other options are removed, we realize how much we miss out on by having so many of our interactions behind a screen.

We are so addicted to our social media (myself included), that perhaps this was a taste of what the Era of Redemption will actually be like. Fortunately, we do have the opportunity to experience a taste of this wonderful time every week—on Shabbat. And perhaps this is the main lesson we can take away from this week’s outage. See how valuable a technology detox is, and resolve to do it every week, from sunset Friday evening until after nightfall on Saturday. Feel what it’s like to really connect with people on a personal level. Soon you’ll wonder how you ever lived without it.


“Tatty, I Had a Bad Dream…”

sleep meme.jpgI found myself solo-parenting all eight kids last weekend while my wife went to London with her sisters. I knew it would be quite a task, but I psyched myself up with the good old, “I can do this!”

And then the first night began. I went to bed feeling confident and well-intentioned. At 2:58 a.m. one of the triplets started screaming. I gave it a few minutes to see if he would self-soothe and fall back asleep, but when triplet two woke up and joined the action, I figured I only had a minute or two until the third joined in. So I swooped in with bottles for all, and decided to push off the sleep training until my wife returned.

By 3:15 a.m., I was back in my bed, drifting off to peaceful silence...

Minutes later my five-year-old was at my side with complaints about a sore voice. “Your voice hurts you? Now? At 3:20 a.m.?!” I asked, bewildered.

“Yes!” and she started talking in a croaky voice to demonstrate.

“That’s what happens to everyone when they haven’t slept!” I explained. “Why would you wake up at 3:20 to test your voice! Go back to bed.” She refused, so I let her sleep in my bed and peace reigned once more...

I snoozed off for a few minutes, until my three-year-old showed up, wanting—of all things—to get dressed and go to school. Now, on the average morning it’s nearly impossible to get my kids up and dressed and ready for school, but here she is at 3:40 a.m. insisting we get ready immediately! It took about 15 minutes to convince her that it’s the middle of the night. I had to literally go over to the window and show her that it was still dark outside before she relented and went back to bed.

It’s now roughly 4:05 a.m. and I’m back in bed deciding if I should even bother trying to get back to sleep. Lo and behold, in comes my seven-year-old, “I had a bad dream, Tatty…” I thought to myself ‘hey, you not the only one buddy”

When my wife got back from London, I shared my ordeal with her, to which she replied, “Oh, that’s a typical night for me!” And yet, she does it with love and patience because these are her children and she loves them more than anything in the world.

The truth is, we do the same thing to our Father in Heaven. We cry out to him about our problems and issues. One Jew asks for livelihood, others for children, health, shidduchim, etc. We all turn to him, day and night, with our challenges and requests. And G-d listens to each of us lovingly. Even though He is busy running the entire universe, He listens to each of our supplications with patience and compassion. He never gets frustrated about the hour of day (or night!) or the amount of requests, because He loves each of us as an only child.

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