Monday, October 31, 2005

Aliyah: An Un-Orthodox Demand? (Pinchas weighs in…)

Okay – so this is an issue of which, that as the co-founder of SingOlim, I obviously have A LOT to say. Which is why it’s so upsetting that right now I don’t have all that much time to say it. So I’ll say it in a nutshell. Someone that does not even have Aliyah in the cards and does not even consider it a remote possibility obviously has an flawed understanding of what it means to be part of the Jewish PEOPLE. A well known professional shaddchin once told me that if you want aliyah you should CERTIANLY only be looking for someone else that wants Aliyah – because with that in place a whole slew of other characteristics that are important to make the couple compatible fall into place. So let me reassure the blogger quoted below that even if the girl seems to have a lot in common with him nothing could be futher from the truth. Things are not always as they appear. And to the fine young lady whose profile the blogger was quoting from – do what I and thousands of other singles have already done – JUST MAKE ALIYAH! Come on home! See you soon...

Arutz-7 reports:

Aliyah: An Un-Orthodox Demand?
Sunday, October 30, 2005 / 27 Tishrei 5766

Is Religious Zionism's emphasis on Aliyah harmful to the U.S. singles community? An intense e-conversation on this charge is underway in the Jewish Orthodox blogosphere.

Entitled Is Religious Zionism Destructive For Orthodox Singles?, the discussion was initiated by a man who felt that a prospective soulmate's insistence on Aliyah [immigration to Israel] as a possible option was destructive. "I can't believe," he writes, "you [the woman whose profile on a singles' site included Aliyah as an important condition] would give up on our future, our potentially amazing compatibility, just because of that one line! Just because you have a love for the Holy Land, does it necessitate giving up on a possible soulmate because you are convinced that you must live in Israel?"

The man wrote that though he loves Israel, and feels "the siren song of its holiness, the heavy and intoxicating weight of our history embedded in every square foot of the land," he cannot consider Aliyah: "The notion of moving away from friends and family, our [Torah classes] and rabbis, from our hard fought and well established careers and livelihoods, from our community and [kindness projects] involvements, and most of all not being able to see our darling nephews and nieces grow and blossom, is counterproductive to the kind of lives we seek."

The posting elicited a wave of responses, largely opposed to his view. "Living in Israel is not [merely] a 'spiritual indulgence,'" one wrote. "It is essential to our survival as individuals and as a people... The way I see this, you are taking a long, hard and cold look at a mitzvah [Torah precept] that's unpleasant to you and you are not only declaring that you will not follow it, but you are sniping testily at those around you who strive honestly to do so."

Another person wrote, "I think you're off base. How is this different than any other extremely important goal a person may have in life which they are committed to?"

Shoshana, on the other hand, agreed with the original writer: "I feel that, in relation to dating, it is important to keep an open mind about many things rather than counting potential dates out because of certain aspects or disagreements in viewpoint."

Another reader wrote: "Your whole premise about marriage disregards one main motivating factor of marriage - Children! That beautiful woman wants to have her children grow up in Israel, in the Jewish land, speaking Hebrew, going up to Yerushalayim - living the dream! Teaneck-living is not for her offspring - she wants a FULL Jewish life for them... and she wants a husband who will give her that life... I have seen it over and over again - Olim [new immigrant] couples are beautiful. It's so exciting for singles with a common background and language to meet here in Israel, or to make Aliyah together. It's realizing a dream, overcoming odds, growing together through a joint endeavor... The Aliyah movement is going to get only bigger - this very conversation testifies to that new reality."

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Succos Wrap-up (Photos!)

If you haven't made Aliyah yet what are you waiting for? Here are some pictures of Sukkos 5766 in Jerusalem to show you what you're missing!

Well if there was a lulav shortage you couldn't tell by visiting the "Arabah Minim Shuk" on Rachov Strauss...

There were "Simcha Beit Hashoavos" all over the Land. Here's the band "Simply Tsfat" playing at Shappel's.

And of course the traditional "Birchas Cohanim" at the Kotel where thousands of people from all over our Land are "Oleh Regel" to visit Jerusalem.

(Photo Credit: Woman Section Photos taken by "Leah").

Rain Threatened...

...But the sun persevered.

The Chief Rabbis were on hand...

...and in the Sukkah nearby.

A concert in the Old City's "Rova."

Ahh...cotton candy and popcorn. It must be Sukkos!

Singing and dancing at the Mir Yeshiva...

And at any of the many random enormous Sukkos around...

Sometimes even with a "Rebbe."

Yep... cotton candy and popcorn.

And at the Kotel on Hoshana Rabba Night...

...reading "Sefer Davarim" for "Mishna Torah..."

...While at Jerusalem's Great Synagogue Rav Herschel Schecter teaches Torah as part of the minhag to learn Torah all night.

Next Year - experience it LIVE!

(Cross-posted at Kumah).

Friday, October 21, 2005

A7: Leading Kabbalist Urges Jews to Israel - More Disasters Coming

From Arutz-7:
By Baruch Gordon

On Thursday night, Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri said, "Jews must come to the land of Israel to receive our righteous Mashiach (Messiah), who has begun his influence and will reveal himself in the future."

It was during the meal after the 24-hour Yom Kippur fast that several followers approached the 104-year-old leading known Kabbalist Rabbi in Israel. A family member asked him about his remarks last month regarding natural disasters in the world. The Rabbi said that the disasters are directly related to the redemption process, which will culminate in the coming of the Mashiach.

The Rabbi added that in the near future, another wave of natural disasters will strike the world.

Rabbi Kaduri [center] and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu [in garment on right] at cornerstone laying ceremony for Nachalat Yitzhak Yeshiva

Last week before Yom Kippur, Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri's grandson, Rabbi Yosef Kaduri had a private audience with the elder Rabbi, along with an Arutz-7 journalist who is closely linked to Kaduri's court. Rabbi Yosef Kaduri said to his grandfather, "Not many Jews are coming from overseas. Why should they come?" The Kabbalist answered, "Because of impending danger." Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri then added a quote from Deuteronomy 4:15: "Be extremely protective of your lives."

According to Rabbi Yosef Kaduri and the Arutz-7 journalist, the Kabbalist elder referred to a known esoteric concept of a "struggle between the oceans," and said that the large oceans [Haokeanus hagadol] would strike the world. Rabbi Yosef Kaduri said that grandfather's warning includes were Jews of the Americas.

The elder Rabbi Kaduri told the two that on Yom Kippur he would have more things to say.

During the afternoon Mincha prayer on Yom Kippur, the Kabbalist scholar surprised his students and fellow worshippers with secrets relating to the coming of the Mashiach. During the service, Rabbi Kaduri lowered his head and entered a deep mystical concentration which lasted uninterrupted for some 45 minutes. The Rabbi covered his eyes as though reciting the Sh'ma prayer and only his lips were seen moving.

Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri covering his eyes in concentration. (Archived photo)

Students who thought the elderly Rabbi was suffering an attack of sort tried to communicate with him, but he did not break his intense concentration for a moment, even to nod.

Only after some 45 minutes, the Rabbi raised his head and looked around the room at the students and worshippers who were gathered at his Nachalat Yitzhak Yeshiva, in the Bucharim neighborhood of Jerusalem. With a broad smile on his face familiar to his students when he has a revelation, he declared, "With the help of G-d, the soul of the Mashiach has attached itself to a person in Israel" [In the original Hebrew: 'Hit'abra bezrat hashem nishmat mashiach b'adam m'yisrael'].

At the conclusion of his short declaration, murmuring was heard among the congregants as the Kabbalists' words were repeated for those who could not hear.

Rabbi Kaduri has spoken repeatedly about the Final Redemption and referred to the calculations of the Vilna Gaon regarding the redemption, which appear in the Gaon's writings and are considered difficult to decipher.

The Vilna Gaon (1720 - 1797)

According to the writings of the Vilna Gaon, a sign of the Gog and Magog war is its breaking out on the Jewish holiday of Hoshana Rabba (the 7th day of the Sukkot holiday), just after the conclusion of the 7th or shemittah [agricultural sabbatical] year.

On September 24, 2001, Channel One Israel TV broadcast an item on what Torah and other mystics were saying in the wake of the World Trade Center attack. Speaking from the room adjacent to where Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri receives visitors, Arutz Sheva Hebrew radio showhost Yehoshua Meiri, a close confident of the Kabbalist, explained to the cameras Rabbi Kaduri's understanding of the events based on the calculations of the Vilna Gaon: "On Hashanah Rabba, the actual war of Gog and Magog will commence and will last for some seven years," said Meiri. [ Click here to view the Channel One clip in Hebrew and Rabbi Kaduri's prediction communicated by Meiri at the 1:40 minute mark.]

Precise to the minute, 13 days later on October 7th as the sun was setting and the Jewish holiday of Hoshana Rabba was ushered in, US and British forces began an aerial bombing campaign targeting Taliban forces and Al-Qaida. That year was the Hoshana Rabba just after the shemitta year of 5761.

According to the calculation, a 7-year count from that Hoshana Rabba is the date of a major revelation associated with Mashiach. Those close to Rabbi Kaduri say in his name that the 5th year of this redemption process is now beginning.

They explain that the above-mentioned "attaching" of a righteous soul to a person of Israel makes the recipient a candidate for Mashiach, but not yet the actual Mashiach. This person gets an additional soul which finds expression in the adding of a letter to his name, without changing its pronunciation. The elder Rabbi Kaduri says that the letter added to this person's name is "vav" and the secret of his power is a Star of David hidden in his attire.

Before he reached the age of 13, the young Yitzhak Kaduri studied with the renowned Rabbi Yosef Chaim (the Ben Ish Chai) of Iraq. Rabbi Kaduri tells that the Ben Ish Chai blessed him that he would live to see the revelation of the Mashiach. The Ben Ish Chai passed away, and Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri immigrated to Israel soon after.

A Sukkot JIF Movie Clip

A new clip from the Jewish Impact Film Folks.

Monday, October 17, 2005

AP Reports: Americans Are Rude... And Vain!

Busy, Busy, busy with the Chagim so not much time to blog... but I did read two very noteworthy articles about America in the past week. The first one is for all those of you out there that call Israelis rude. Well it seems America is not doing all that great itself lately in the manners department. And guess what – it’s only going to get worse!

The second article I just had to post because of the wording of letter quoted in it about “the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake - in a word, financial decadence.” And no he wasn’t talking about Jewish Brooklyn – though he might as well have been...

Modern Americans: A rude, boorish lot?
WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans' fast-paced, high-tech existence has taken a toll on the civil in society.

From road rage in the morning commute to high decibel cell-phone conversations that ruin dinner out, men and women behaving badly has become the hallmark of a hurry-up world. An increasing informality — flip-flops at the White House, even — combined with self-absorbed communication gadgets and a demand for instant gratification have strained common courtesies to the breaking point. (Related: Poll results)

"All of these things lead to a world with more stress, more chances for people to be rude to each other," said Peter Post, a descendent of etiquette expert Emily Post and an instructor on business manners through the Emily Post Institute in Burlington, Vt.

In some cases, the harried single parent has replaced the traditional nuclear family and there's little time to teach the basics of polite living, let alone how to hold a knife and fork, according to Post.
A slippage in manners is obvious to many Americans. Nearly 70% questioned in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll said people are ruder than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The trend is noticed in large and small places alike, although more urban people report bad manners, 74%, then do people in rural areas, 67%.

Peggy Newfield, founder and president of Personal Best, said the generation that came of age in the times-a-changin' 1960s and 1970s are now parents who don't stress the importance of manners, such as opening a door for a female.
So it was no surprise to Newfield that those children wouldn't understand how impolite it was to wear flip-flops to a White House meeting with the president — as some members of the Northwestern women's lacrosse team did in the summer.
A whopping 93% in the AP-Ipsos poll faulted parents for failing to teach their children well.

"Parents are very much to blame," said Newfield, whose Atlanta-based company started teaching etiquette to young people and now focuses on corporate employees. "And the media."

Sulking athletes and boorish celebrities grab the headlines while television and Hollywood often glorify crude behavior.

"It's not like the old shows Father Knows Best," said Norm Demers, 47, of Sutton, Mass. "People just copy it. How do you change it?" Demers would like to see more family friendly television but isn't holding his breath.

Nearly everyone has a story of the rude or the crude, but fewer are willing to fess up to boorish behavior themselves.

Only 13% in the poll would admit to making an obscene gesture while driving; only 8% said they had used their cellphones in a loud or annoying manner around others. But 37% in the survey of 1,001 adults questioned Aug. 22-23 said they had used a swear word in public.

Yvette Sienkiewicz, 41, a claims adjustor from Wilmington, Del., recalled in frustration how a bigger boy cut in front of her 8-year-old son as he waited in line to play a game at the local Chuck E. Cheese.

"It wasn't my thing to say something to the little boy," said Sienkiewicz, who remembered that the adult accompanying the child never acknowledged what he had done. In the AP-Ipsos poll, 38% said they have asked someone to stop behaving rudely.
More and more, manners are taught less and less.

Carole Krohn, 71, a retired school bus driver in Deer Park, Wash., said she has seen children's behavior deteriorate over the years, including one time when a boy tossed a snowball at the back of another driver's head. In this litigious society, she argued, a grown-up risks trouble correcting someone else's kid.

One solution for bad behavior "is to put a kid off in the middle of the road. Nowadays all people want to do is sue, to say you're to blame, get you fired," Krohn said.

Krohn, who often greeted students by name and with a hearty "good morning," once was asked by a child if she got tired of offering pleasantries.

Sienkiewicz, whose job requires hours in a car, said she tries to avoid rush-hour traffic because of drivers with a me-first attitude. The most common complaint about rudeness in the poll was aggressive or reckless driving, with 91% citing it as the most frequent discourtesy.

Margaret Hahn-Dupont, a 39-year-old law professor from Oradell, N.J., noticed that some of her students showed little respect for authority and felt free to express their discontent and demand better grades.

Close on the heels of the baby boomers are the affluent teens and young adults who have known nothing but the conveniences of computers and cellphones, devices that take them away from face-to-face encounters and can be downright annoying in a crowd.
"They got a lot of things and feel entitled to get a lot of things," said Hahn-Dupont.

Bernard F. Scanlon, 79, of Sayville, N.Y., would like to see one railroad car set aside for cellphone users to ensure peace and quiet for the rest. Amtrak has taken a stab at that by banning cellphones and other loud devices in one car of some trains, especially on chatty Northeast and West Coast routes.

But if those trains are sold out, the Quiet Car service is suspended and anything goes.

How rude.


L.I. Principal Nixes School's Senior Prom

UNIONDALE, N.Y. (AP) -- Brother Kenneth M. Hoagland had heard all the stories about prom-night debauchery at his Long Island high school: Students putting down $10,000 to rent a party house in the Hamptons. Pre-prom cocktail parties followed by a trip to the dance in a liquor-loaded limo. Fathers chartering a boat for their children's late-night "booze cruise."

Enough was enough, Hoagland said. So the principal of Kellenberg Memorial High School canceled the spring prom in a 2,000-word letter to parents this fall.

"It is not primarily the sex/booze/drugs that surround this event, as problematic as they might be; it is rather the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity's sake _ in a word, financial decadence," Hoagland said, fed up with what he called the "bacchanalian aspects."

"Each year it gets worse _ becomes more exaggerated, more expensive, more emotionally traumatic," he added. "We are withdrawing from the battle and allowing the parents full responsibility. (Kellenberg) is willing to sponsor a prom, but not an orgy."

The move brought a mixed, albeit passionate, reaction from students and parents at the Roman Catholic school, which is owned by the Society of Mary (Marianists), a religious order of priests and brothers.

"I don't think it's fair, obviously, that they canceled prom," said senior Alyssa Johnson of Westbury. "There are problems with the prom, but I don't think their reasons or the actions they took solved anything."

Hoagland began talking about the future of the prom last spring after 46 Kellenberg seniors made a $10,000 down payment on a $20,000 rental in the Hamptons for a post-prom party. When school officials found out, they forced the students to cancel the deal; the kids got their money back and the prom went on as planned.

But some parents went ahead and rented a Hamptons house anyway, Hoagland said.

Amy Best, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at George Mason University in Virginia and the author of "Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture," said this is the first time she has heard of a school canceling the prom for such reasons.

"A lot of people have lamented the growing consumption that surrounds the prom," she said, noting it is not uncommon for students to pay $1,000 on the dance and surrounding folderol: expensive dresses, tuxedo rentals, flowers, limousines, pre- and post-prom parties.

Best pinned some of the blame for the burgeoning costs on parents, who are often willing to open their wallets for whatever their child demands. "It is a huge misperception that the kids themselves are totally driving this."

Edward Lawson, the father of a Kellenberg senior, said he and other parents are discussing whether to organize a prom without the sponsorship of the 2,500-student school.

"This is my fourth child to go through Kellenberg and I don't think they have a right to judge what goes on after the prom," he said. "They put everybody in the category of drinkers and drug addicts. I don't believe that's the right thing to do."

Some parents waiting to pick up their children on a recent afternoon said they support Hoagland.

"The school has excellent values," said Margaret Cameron of Plainview. "We send our children here because we support the values and the administration of the school and I totally back everything they do."

Hoagland said in an interview that parents, who pay $6,025 in annual tuition, have expressed appreciation for his stern stand. "For some, it (the letter) was an eye-opener," he said. "Others feel relieved that the pressure is off of them."

Chris Laine, a senior from Rockville Centre, said the cancellation was "unfortunate, but you can't really argue with the facts they present. ... It's just what it's evolved into. It's not what it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago. It's turned into something it wasn't originally intended to be."

Besides, Laine noted, the senior class still has a four-day trip to Disney World scheduled for April.

"We go to all the parks with our friends," he said just before hopping into his jet-black Infiniti and driving off to meet friends for an after-school snack. "We fly down together and stay in the same hotel and so it's not like we're totally losing everything."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Erev Yom Kippur In Yerushalayim (Photos!)

It's that time of year again...

Yom Kippur Eve...

At the Kotel...

There was singing and dancing!

And in nearby Meah Sharim...

Chickens, chickens, everywhere!

And guess what? It's beginning...

To feel a bit like like...

Chag HaSukkot!

Don't you just love the holiday season?!

Monday, October 10, 2005

In 1492... and in 2004!!!


Well how time flies. Today "Point of Pinchas" turns one year old! Things have certainly changed since a year ago. For one thing I’m no longer working on Wall Street. I’ve made Aliyah! (As if my blog readers didn’t already know that!) In any case I’m reposting the post that started it all in 2004...

So one of the perks of working on Wall Street is you get off on Columbus Day. After all, the entire Banking Sector has to honor the bankers that financed the New World Expedition, which made America possible. Speaking of which I read an interesting essay on Columbus by Phyllis Eckelman who argues since times were so bad for Jews (remember a little something called the Spanish Inquisition?)and Jews were once again fighting to survive, they actually had lots to do with discovering America. As Eckelman puts it:

Old Jewish dreams and longings for a land where they could live unmolested, began to reawaken with the excitement of the AGE OF DISCOVERY. These longings had accompanied the Jews on their wanderings ever since they had been driven from their homeland in Biblical times.

Wow. Sounds like Jewish dreams don't change very much at all, do they? I wonder if these Jews were alive today, would they be funding the Aliyah Revolution?

Here's another very exciting excerpt:

Columbus, having failed to convince the Portuguese King, John II, about his dream of finding LAND TO THE WEST, WENT TO SPAIN. There he would have been met with the same type of rejection except for one outstanding and overruling factor: THE JEWISH ELEMENT. Namely a converted Jew, LUIS DE SANTANGEL, finance member of King Ferdinand's Court, who "saw through" Columbus, but realized that because of his invincible single- mindedness, he should be entrusted with the venture to discover LAND TO THE WEST. Rightly or wrongly, he believed Columbus to be Jewish. He proceeded to press his opinions on the Monarchs. THIS MAN "MADE THE DIFFERENCE" IN THEIR DECISION.

Because the royal treasury was without sufficient funds to pay for this expedition, LUIS DE SANTANGEL offered to advance the throne the cost of the voyage out of his own pocket in the amount equivalent to $4,500.00 (U.S. Dollars).

Thus establishing the following propositions:

- The New World was discovered by an expedition TOTALLY financed by Jewish money.

- Money for the first voyage was voluntarily given because the Jews believed in the enterprise.

- Most of the money to finance subsequent exploitations was confiscated by the Spanish Monarchs from Jewish sources... But neither the Jews or the Moslems were permitted to settle in the New World until after 1502.

Friday, October 07, 2005

An Idea for Katrina-stricken New Orleans and Nefesh B'Nefesh

Below are two very important articles that appeared on the Jewish Internet over the past few weeks. In the first, a New Orleans Rabbi laments the dire situation, is touched by support from the Jewish community (with a cameo appearance by Queens!) and is confident that with help the New Orleans Jewish community will be rebuilt.

The second is a letter from the “people of Israel” – it too agrees the Jewish communities of Louisiana should be rebuilt – but why not rebuild them in Eretz Yisrael?!

I have to say as a volunteer for Kumah, we have received several letters asking us to encourage Nefesh B’Nefesh to create some sort of program specifically designed to help these Jews come home. I personally think it’s an amazing idea and I know that NBN has run similar programs in the past such as the “Applebaum Fellowship for Physicians.”

In fact, Yishai Fleisher, the co-founder of Kumah even personally forwarded this open letter directly to the co-founder of Nefesh B’Nefesh, Rabbi Yehoshua Fass. NBN responded by posting the letter on their website:

In any case if NBN is planning such a program we wish them much success. And to the people of New Orleans – our thoughts and prayers are with you. Information on how to donate to them is included in this blog posting.


The Rabbi and Katrina
By: Rabbi Yisroel Shiff

Life can change so quickly. On Sunday, one week before Katrina hit New Orleans, we had a wonderful event at our synagogue: a baby-naming for our new daughter. The entire community attended, and everyone's spirits were high. It was a beautiful way to start the week.

Sure, we'd heard that Katrina was coming, but ongoing projections were that the storm was going to cross over Florida and head north -- nowhere near New Orleans.

So I was rather surprised when I arrived at shul that Shabbos morning, and one of my congregants said, "So, rabbi, are you planning to evacuate?" I hadn't yet heard, but the storm's path had switched dramatically and was headed straight at us.

I stayed up late Saturday night nailing boards over the windows of my house. I caught a few hours of sleep, and then awoke at 4 a.m. to check the weather forecast.

It was clear that we had to evacuate. We threw a few days worth of clothing into a bag, and at 5 a.m. loaded our family into the car and headed for Memphis, a six-hour drive away.

On Monday we received the worst news possible: The levee wall of the 17th Street Canal had been breeched. Our neighborhood is protected by that levee, so every building -- including our shul and our home -- was submerged by 8-10 feet of water.

Bottom line: Most of the homes in our neighborhood have been totally destroyed. And we have been thrust into a state of doubt: Where will we live? Where will our children attend school? When will we return to home?

Everyone is being forced to start life anew.

This is the message of Rosh Hashana. There is no guarantee from one moment to the next. Nothing is to be taken for granted. We need to make an accounting of who we are, what we really need, and what is our place in this world. Each moment, we are granted life afresh. Are we deserving? How will we utilize that life?

Accepting Charity

Those displaced by the storm are also faced with one of the most difficult questions of all: How will I support myself? Professionals -- doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, teachers -- have no office, no patients, no clients, no students. Everyone is looking for a job.

In this regard, the Jewish world has been incredible. Just about every Jewish community in America has contacted me offering homes and free day school tuition for any of my congregants who needs.

And therein lies one of the most painful and bittersweet aspects of this storm: Right now, many of us are being supported through charity. My garage here in Memphis is filled wall-to-wall with a truckload of clothing that was sent from the Jewish community of Queens, New York. I've had trouble distributing the clothing, because people are reluctant to take these clothes; the reminder of being homeless and living off of charity is too painful to bear.

I recently spoke with a Jewish man in New York who is sending me a truckload of essential household needs. I expressed to him how difficult it is to be on the receiving end of charity. And this man, whom I've never met, replied: "We are all family, and this is what family does for one another."

So while the tragedy is overwhelming, it is also phenomenal in the positive sense of knowing that everyone cares. It is a great source of comfort to know that we have something to fall back on.

I recently received an anonymous letter, written on notebook paper. It said: "I know this isn't a lot of money, but it's what I saved from babysitting. I'm sending it to you, to let you know that I care." Enclosed was $10. Deep down, this girl feels that the Jews of New Orleans are her extended family.

Rescuing the Torah Scrolls

In the aftermath of the storm, one of my congregants died. He didn't drown in the flooding. He was old and infirmed, and when they evacuated his nursing home, he died, most likely from the stress.

A volunteer from the search-and-rescue squad Zaka was going to New Orleans to retrieve the body, and we arranged that he would also go to the shul and take out the Torah scrolls. Our seven scrolls are all over 100 years old from pre-war Europe, and they are precious for both their financial and spiritual value.

About five miles from the synagogue, the Zaka volunteer had to stop because the neighborhood was so flooded. So with the help of various Jewish and governmental agencies, we arranged for a helicopter to fly him within a mile of the synagogue, and from there he boarded a small boat.

The synagogue was still swamped by four feet of water, and the Zaka volunteer had to wear rubber pants up to his waist. When he opened the holy ark, he discovered with great distress that all the scrolls were damaged beyond repair. He removed them and had them buried.

It's heartbreaking. New Orleans is a beautiful historic Jewish community, and for over 100 years, our synagogue has been an oasis of Torah on the Central Gulf Coast. We're known for offering the only regular daily minyan in a 350-mile radius.

Now that is gone.

In Contact

Thanks to email, I have been able to stay in contact with Beth Israel's 175 member families.

For most of them, the future is uncertain. Many have moved into rental apartments -- in Houston, Memphis, Atlanta and elsewhere -- and are trying to return to some level of normalcy: finding a job, furnishing their home, putting their children in school.

Financially, this has been extremely difficult for people. Most have insurance, but it will be months before they can get back to New Orleans, assess the damage, meet with an insurance adjustor, and actually receive a check.

So my primary role right now as rabbi of the community is to assist people financially. I am collecting money and distributing it. That's what people need right now.

Before the storm, nearly all our congregants evacuated New Orleans, but there were a few who stayed. One middle-aged man, for example, refused to evacuate and in the midst of the storm, he called me and said, "Rabbi, it's bad here. Really, really bad."

I didn't hear from him for another week, and I wasn't sure if he'd survived. It turns out that the roof of his one-story house had blown off, and the floodwaters completely engulfed his home. He had a rowboat, and made his way to another rooftop where he was rescued by firefighters. They dropped him off in downtown New Orleans and he had to walk down Canal Street in waist-high water. From there he was taken to the airport where he slept on a runway for two days without food. He was then given a small of parcel of food to share with 20 other people.

This man was totally traumatized. Besides the destruction of the storm, and the death of all his pets, what shook him most was what he witnessed during the looting and chaos: other human beings completely degrading themselves. That alone is giving him nightmares.

After a few days, he was so distressed that he stole a bicycle and made his way to one of the suburbs. He has now rented a house and is putting the word out that other members of the congregation are welcome to stay there as necessary. And perhaps that is the most amazing aspect of his story: Amidst his own devastating loss, he is still focusing on ways that he can help others.

Asking 'Why?'

In life, nothing is random. God runs the world (quite precisely, in fact) and everything happens for a very good reason. The lesson of Katrina is that material things are totally unimportant. Because when they've been taken away -- as in this case -- you still have what really matters: your relationship with God and your family.

I can say that for me personally, since the storm, these relationships have only gotten better. Because I know that to be happy, I don't need much: just my family, God, and a little food and shelter.

This is the message of Sukkot, the culmination of the High Holiday season. On Sukkot, we leave the comfort and security of our homes, and spend one week in a flimsy shack, enjoying the company of family and friends, protected only by the Almighty's presence.

And it is precisely when we feel that vulnerability that we can ask life's deepest questions: Where am I going? What am I living for?

I am impressed and amazed that not one of my congregants has asked, "Why me?" Rather everyone accepts the righteousness of God's judgment. What they want to know is: What's next? How do I take this experience and use it to grow?

A number of my congregants have already decided to turn this into an opportunity -- to move to a larger Jewish community where, for example, there are broader prospects for children's education and for Torah study.

On some level, people have a sense of relief and gratitude at being given the opportunity to ask these questions, and to ultimately understand themselves better. And I believe that as the initial shock subsides, that feeling will grow.

The Future

So where will we go from here?

I think about the many expulsions the Jewish people have endured over the centuries. And in one respect that gives me strength, for indeed, we are experts at rebuilding from the ashes.

Of course, this time there is a big difference: Historically when a Jewish community evacuates, they are never to return. In our case, there is a group who is strongly committed to going back to New Orleans to rebuild. And thank God, with the help of so many people who care, we have the resources, the energy, and the freedom to do so.

We are determined, as the saying goes, that this synagogue "will rise again."

Those wishing to assist Congregation Beth Israel -- to replace the Torah scrolls, rebuild the synagogue, and/or help families in need -- can do so online at:

From Arutz-7:

An Open Letter to Louisiana Jewry
by Ariel Fendel

Dear fellow Jews from Katrina-stricken New Orleans,

We continue to be saddened at the terrible tragedy that has befallen the southern coast of the United States. We would like to express our pain and share in your sorrow over your family's misfortune and over the disintegration of your community.

All of Israel is bound to and responsible for one another. In this spirit, we pray for your welfare and wish to help out in whichever ways we can.

The prospect of rebuilding your lives in a new location must be very foreboding. New schools, new work, new communities, new homes. Many of us are ourselves facing similar challenges, though under different circumstances - as a result of the "disengagement".

Could it be that this is the right opportunity for you to rebuild with us, here in Israel?

Aliyah to Israel in normal circumstances is not easy, from several standpoints. But now that you have been forced to make such a sharp switch, might it not be a good idea to grab the bull by the horns and turn it into the ideal Zionist, Jewish turnabout?

We are living in a complex, puzzling and difficult period, with many crises facing us both nationally and across the world. Confusion, bewilderment and frustration are our lot at present. The challenges are great, but the rewards can be even greater. Amidst it all, we believe in the light of the Redemption of Israel, of the revival of the Jewish People in our Land, and in the delicate but strong light that will arise from the darkness.

Housing, employment and educational opportunities abound here in Israel, and we can help find them for you. You can choose from small communities in Judea and Samaria, to large cities in central Israel, and many different options in between. We invite you to start anew here with us in the Land of Israel, the Land of our forefathers, "to build and to be rebuilt."

Since we can't reach you personally, given your present plight, please contact us directly , or contact one of the organizations that can help you with aliyah - Nefesh B'Nefesh, Bnei Akiva of Houston or others.

May we all merit to see your rebuilding together with the rebuilding of the Land of Israel and Jerusalem.


Jews from Israel