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Blog1.jpgI met Jack* a couple of weeks ago when he walked into our preschool office to pick up his granddaughter. He was 10 minutes early so we chatted and eventually, like any good Chabadnik, I asked, “Have you put on tefillin today?” He hadn’t, and politely declined. “I don’t have time,” he said. “Dismissal isn’t for another six minutes and this will only take two,” I cajoled. He agreed.

We began and I asked if he had ever done this before at all and he hadn’t. It is a mitzvah every time someone puts on tefillin, but the very first time is a particular privilege, so I was thrilled. He started to repeat the blessing after me, but something was niggling at the edge of my mind. “Hold on, are you Jewish?”

I hadn’t asked earlier, just assumed. But my sudden bout of intuition proved correct, because Jack confirmed that he was not at all Jewish.

My initial reaction was, “What a letdown!”

But then I reframed my perspective and realized there is definitely something here to rejoice. Here is a woman who drifted so far from Judaism that she married a non-Jewish man, and raised her children in a secular environment. But her Jewish daughter sought out a Chabad school for her children. She wants her jewish children to receive a sound Jewish education, and this reason to celebrate!

This is the message and the spirit of Chabad, which I witnessed in full force this past weekend at the annual conference of Shluchim where 5,000 Chabad rabbis come together to learn, share, inspire, and refuel. At the grand banquet which concludes the weekend, it was announced that Chabad has now reached 100 countries, with its latest outpost in Uganda.

Uganda! How many Jews can there possibly be in that far-flung country? But this was the Rebbe’s relentless mission. Find those Jews, wherever they are, and help them do a mitzvah. One Jew at a time. One mitzvah at a time.

You don’t have to be an official shliach to do it either. We can all reach out to those we interact with in our day-to-day lives and influence them to be kinder, more giving, attend a Torah class, join a minyan, give some charity, help another Jew in whichever way they can. That mission belongs to ALL of us.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

I love you! Oops. No I don't.

Blog.jpegWe all know the feeling: That first flutter of concern, the fleeting hope, the quick scramble to double and triple check, and the elevated heart rate turned full blown panic as we realize it's done, sent, no way out.

Yes, I'm talking about the universal and undeniable panic that sets in upon realizing you've sent a text, email, or voice note to the wrong person. 

We've all done it. And it happened to me again this week. I accidentally messaged "I love you" to the wrong person. Ouch.

I was Whatsapping with my dear friend Jack* about our upcoming gala dinner. He had questions, I had answers, I asked him to buy a full table, and by the end of our conversation he had committed to two tables—double my initial request! Thrilled, I wrote back, "I love you!"

But, like virtually everyone else in 2017, I was doing multiple things at the same time, including having other Whatsapp conversions with different people on entirely different topics. 

And that's how it happened. The "I love you" message intended as an expression of appreciation for Jack (with whom I have been friends for many years) ended up being sent to someone who would have certainly been taken aback to receive that from a Chabad rabbi.

So I panicked. Panicked hard.

But then I remembered that Whatsapp has a very new and highly useful feature you can use to un-send messages within seven minutes of sending them. I could see the person had not yet read my message, so I quickly deleted it, and the only remaining evidence was the "this message has been deleted" that Whatsapp replaces the erased message with.

Crisis averted. Whew. Wipe brow; resume life. 

But what if we could mimic Whatsapp's un-send feature in real life? Imagine if we could un-send the harsh words we spoke, undo our poor decisions, and retract actions we regret? 

What would life look like if we had a window—even just seven minutes—to re-evaluate our behavior before it hits the other person?  Would we do things differently?

The truth is, we do have that feature! The Alter Rebbe explains in Tanya that we have the ability to transform our sins into mitzvot. It takes time and hard work, but if you do it correctly, you can literally undo all your past misdeeds, erasing any signs of them from your soul.

It requires deep soul searching, sincere apologies and regret, forgiveness from those you've hurt, honest repentance, and a determination to behave differently when faced with the same situation again. But it is doable. 

So who's in? I know I am!

The Ultimate Love Story

Blog.jpgMazal tov! This week I flew to Israel to officiate at the miraculous wedding of a very special couple: Sarah and Ido. 

I met Ido Kahlon last year, when he came to New York with fellow wounded soldiers as part of our Belev Echad program. Ido served in the Golani Brigade and was severely injured in 2003. He lay unconscious for many months, and when he woke up he required more than two years of intensive rehab. 

I first met Sarah Morgan on Sukkot a few years ago at Chabad of Chester County where we were spending the holiday with my brother-in-law and his wife, Rabbi Yossi and Mrs. Tickey Kaplan. 

Later, Sarah moved to the Upper East Side and began attending our events and parties. She found she had a soft spot for our Belev Echad program and volunteered her help wherever needed with each new group of soldiers. 

On one occasion a soldier had a medical emergency and I needed someone to accompany him to a local hospital. Who was on my speed dial? Sarah, of course, who dropped everything and came running. 

As it turns out, all that volunteering paid off….

In March 2016 we hosted another delegation of wounded soldiers and Sarah offered to take a day off work to help. I took her up on the offer. She joined us on our trip to the Statue of Liberty, and it was there that she met Ido. The attraction was instant. They spent all day together. 

Days later, Ido spoke at one of our events, about both his injury and his recovery. He described how difficult it had been, and his choice not to let his injuries overcome him. Sarah listened, captivated by his strength and optimism, and they spent much of the remainder of the trip together. 

As they say, the rest is history. 

Sarah and Ido fell in love. Sarah made Aliyah, and her mom plans to join her before the year is up. 

I was honored to attend the wedding in Hadera this week, along with my brother-in-law Rabbi Kaplan, and my other brother-in-law Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, who runs the Chabad center that Sarah’s mom attends in Hoboken NJ. 

Ido’s father was choked with emotion and gratitude for the opportunity to see his son not only alive after being so severely wounded, but standing under the chuppah with a wonderful woman like Sarah. A dream come true! 

Our sages teach that when a person gives, he/she receives much more in return. Sarah’s story of love demonstrates just that. For years she volunteered with our wounded soldiers, and ultimately through our program she met her wonderful life partner. Mazal tov!

We wish the couple blessings for mazal, health, children, and success in all their endeavors. 

Who Was the First Terrorist?

Blog.jpgTerror struck again this week, this time in my own backyard. 

Unfortunately, terrorist attacks are only becoming stronger and more frequent, but it’s always different when it strikes close to home. I’ve driven down that road countless times, many of my friends ride their bikes there on a regular basis, and just blocks away the deadliest terror attack in US history took place 16 years ago.

Sayfullo Saipov clearly intended to martyr himself. He left a handwritten note proclaiming, “The Islamic State will endure forever!” Not “I love you, Mom” or “Remember me, dear children”. He wanted to be remembered first and foremost as a caliphate soldier.

As shocking as we find each new incident of terrorism, it is nothing new. Allow me to introduce you to the very first terrorist in history: the giant Og.

We read about him in this week’s parshah. He was the strongest man alive, giant in physical stature as well as in power and influence. He was the only person outside of the Ark who survived the flood. He gripped onto the outside and held tight throughout the thrashing waters, the hot and cold waters, the rain, the wind, and the many days and nights. A legend!

But Og hated the Jews and he made no secret of it. For years, he took every opportunity to badmouth them, making public speeches against the Jews, and claiming that the Jewish nation was destined to die out. And he had proof! Abraham was already 100 years old, Sarah was 90, and they had no children. Og was positively gleeful. Judaism was almost over! Yippee!

But then, as we know, G-d miraculously granted Abraham and Sarah the child they had so longed for—Isaac, whose brit milah is celebrated grandly in this week’s parshah. And the people asked Og, “What now? It looks like Judaism will survive!”

“With my little finger I will crush Isaac, and the Jews and all that comes with their lifestyle, will be well and truly gone,” he maintained. And he was a real, credible threat. A tiny newborn being threatened by the largest, strongest man alive!

But G-d refused to allow Og to completely wipe out our nation. Moreover, He promised that we would destroy Og, which later came to fruition with Moses.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once wrote a letter to a bar mitzvah boy, and he mentioned the story of Og, explaining that if there is ever another terrorist who threatens us, we needn’t worry, because G-d’s promise to Abraham still stands: evil will cease to exist and the Jewish nation will last forever.  

And so, we can confidently proclaim to any terrorists who threaten us: We will prevail! We will overcome. We are stronger than you and we are stronger than you think. New Yorkers are resilient and New York is a strong city. We won’t give in to terror; we will continue to live our lives without fear or drastic changes. You will not win.

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