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Automated messages

In my never-ending quest to reach out to people, inspire them and draw them to our programs and events, I rely heavily on the use of technology. At first I’d send out weekly e-mails. But over time, the e-mails started to lose effectiveness as people realized that the messages weren’t addressed solely to them, but rather to a broader crowd. As my friend Jake put it, “Every time I open an e-mail that begins with the words, “Dear Jake”, I delete it immediately.” So I opened Facebook and Twitter pages. When that also seemed to lose its touch, I switched to good old texting. But no matter how colloquial “r u comin’ to shul?” sounded, I simply couldn’t convince people that the texts were personal, and so, they stopped replying to those as well.

Eventually I got smart. What can be more individualized than a phone call? And so, I sent an automated message to 2000 people, inviting them to attend our Yom Kippur services at our new location. The plan worked like a charm- within an hour, I must’ve received at least 200 replies. “Hey Rabbi!” the first one told me, “I saw a missed call from your number...” Another guy e-mailed me with a request to remove him off my contact list pronto. But it was the third reply that set my wheels in motion. It was a text message that read, “Rabbi, I’m impressed. Soon we’ll have automated Kol Nidrei services!”

Seeing that last message, I wondered just how much of our lives are automated and how much is real. Take Yom Kippur, for example. The most intense day on our calendar, a time associated with hours spent in shul fasting and resembling angels, begging G-d for forgiveness for our sins. But the question is, who is the real me- the year round transgressor or the ardent Yom Kippur worshipper? At which point are we in auto-mode, and when does our true self emerge? How is it that we manage to fool G-d every year, over and over again, with promises to repent and live upright and righteous lives, only to slip back into our regular sinful routines mere hours later? Does our hypocrisy not glare G-d in the face?

The truth is that deep at the core of each and every Jew burns a flame of G-d, a spark that yearns to cleave to its Maker and to all that is good. The core forms the essence of the Jew and is in fact what lends him his identity. So the guy who pours out his soul before G-d on Yom Kippur is no hypocrite, he is merely exposing his true self. It is only when he returns to the daily grind that he firmly fixes his mask in place.

As the festival of Sukkot dawns upon us, Chabad Israel Center invites you to unleash your inner self and overcome all your inhibitions by celebrating with us in the Sukka while shaking the lulav and etrog.

[Our Sukka is located in Ruppert Park on the corner of 91st and 2nd ave.]

Lesson from my fish

Over the summer, Chabad Israel Center kiddie camp ran a day camp for young kids. During the last week of camp,  the counsellors bought a goldfish for the campers to help bring to life the weekly theme - discovering fish. Once camp was over, however, my own kids got it into their heads that it was their job to care for the poor fish. It’s been a week since camp ended, and all I’ve been hearing is, let’s feed the fish! Let’s play with the fish! Good shabbos fish! Hello fish! Bye fish! It was only after the request that the fish sleep in their room that I decided to take a closer look at the object of my children’s obsession.

Peering into the glass bowl, I wondered how the little creature kept himself entertained. His entire existence revolves (literally) around his next meal. In between meals, he swims round and round, with only my kids’ noses magnified against the glass to provide comic relief. And I thought I had it tough!

But if you think about it, we humans live exactly the same mundane life, only ours is a larger tank. We swim merrily from our home to our office, from meeting to meeting, and once in a while we wade into the further waters of a summer vacation. Our lives are governed by the schedules we adhere to and the deadlines we stress to meet. Amidst the constant buzz, we’ve completely lost focus. More and more often we tend to overlook our true priorities; a conference becomes more important than my son’s football match, my daughter’s homework will wait until after a phone call with my boss. We manage to convince ourselves that what we’re doing is what really counts, but in reality we lead nothing more than a fishbowl existence.

We stand now barely a week before Rosh Hashanah. This year, on the ultimate day of purpose and meaning, let us each resolve to infuse our lives with a dose of significance, to introduce a glimmer of light into our pathetic tanks. The cry of the shofar on this holy day shatters our carefully built routines, piercing through all our illusions. Where are you? It demands.

To lead a meaningful life you don’t need to climb mountains. All it takes is a shift in focus, a re-evaluation of what truly matters to you. Do a Mitzvah! Befriend your neighbor! Study Torah! Once you recognize where your priorities lie and commit to a life of purpose, you’ll suddenly notice that your daily swim has turned into a deep-sea dive.

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