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The Chabad.org Blog

Metzora: Redemption Through Study

March 30, 2014

Dear Friend,

As Passover approaches, I’m faced with the yearly challenge of making the Seder meaningful for myself, my family, and the guests who will be joining us at our Chabad House.

How can we feel connected with something that happened to our ancestors so long ago? How do we relate to G‑d when we don’t see or hear Him?

Here’s a timely lesson:

Rabbi Sholom Dovber of Lubavitch, the fifth Chabad rebbe (1860–1920), passed away on the second of Nissan, a date we mark this Wednesday. Before his soul departed, the rebbe told his son, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak, “I am going to heaven, but my manuscripts I leave you.”

His writings are where he invested his very self: his thoughts, feelings and personality. I find that when I study his writings (and there are a lot of them), I feel like I am meeting and connecting to him.

The same applies when connecting with the divine. Tanya teaches that Torah study fosters a unique connection with G‑d, deeper than any other mitzvah.

Preparing for the Seder by studying relevant Torah teachings, and sharing what I’ve learned with my guests, helps me (and, hopefully, them) to have a personal direct encounter with the Exodus—and G‑d.

Shmary Brownstein,
Responder for Ask the Rabbi @ Chabad.org

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New App to Lend a Big Hand to Passover Preparations

March 27, 2014 12:34 PM
Neatly organized around a circular shmurah matzah, the “Passover Assistant” app’s features range from a Passover meal planner and shopping list to a customizable “Mah Nishtanah” trainer.
Neatly organized around a circular shmurah matzah, the “Passover Assistant” app’s features range from a Passover meal planner and shopping list to a customizable “Mah Nishtanah” trainer.

Preparing for Passover is a family affair, and can be daunting for one and all, no matter how experienced. Whether shopping or schlepping, learning or burning, cooking up a storm or selling the chametz (leaven)… there is lots of work to be done in preparation for the holiday. And it all has to be finished by the time the sun sets on Passover eve—with some important tasks to be completed well in advance of the holiday’s onset.

Enter Chabad.org’s Passover app.

Aptly called “Passover Assistant,” the app has just been released in Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store for iOS and Android devices, respectively, and can be downloaded free of charge.

Neatly organized around a circular shmurah matzah, the "Passover Assistant” app’s features range from a Passover meal planner and shopping list to an interactive “Mah Nishtanah” trainer for learning to chant the Four Questions.

The Passover checklist allows people to customize a “To Do” list with multiple tiers of items, check the items off when they are completed and even track what percentage of Passover prep work has been done.

The eight-day Passover holiday, which begins this year at sundown on Monday, April 14, is the culmination of weeks of preparation, as homes and businesses are purged of non-Passover food and cleaned scrupulously for the holiday. The highlight is the seder feast (held the first two nights of the holiday, and on the first night in Israel), during which families gather over tables groaning with ceremonial foods and wine to recite familiar texts that date back to biblical times.

The meal planner and shopping list features are tightly integrated with Chabad.org’s selection of 150 tried-and-true Passover recipes, allowing people to choose a recipe, add it to a day’s meal and then affix the ingredients to a master shopping list.

The meal planner and shopping list features are tightly integrated with Chabad.org’s selection of 150 tried-and-true Passover recipes, allowing people to choose a recipe, add it to a day’s meal and then affix the ingredients to a master shopping list.
The meal planner and shopping list features are tightly integrated with Chabad.org’s selection of 150 tried-and-true Passover recipes, allowing people to choose a recipe, add it to a day’s meal and then affix the ingredients to a master shopping list.

Harnessing Chabad.org’s Jewish calendar technology, the app supplies minute-to-minute times, helping a user remember, for example, when to stop eating chametz, when to burn the chametz or what time to light the holiday candles.

From the Practical to the Spiritual

According to Dov Dukes, lead developer at Chabad.org’s app development team, users have the option of allowing their mobile device’s GPS to automatically set their location for the calendar. He explains that programmers had to pay extra attention to this detail. Many places change to Daylight Saving Time in the weeks before Passover; the app picks up on that change and moves along with them.

Other key features include a “sell your chametz” module, where people can appoint a rabbi to sell their leaven foodstuffs to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday; a seder locator, which allows users to find Passover celebrations hosted by Chabad centers just about anywhere in the world; and even an “Ask the Rabbi” option, where anyone can communicate directly with members of Chabad.org’s “Ask the Rabbi” team.

To round it all off, another feature offers a concise collection of tips for preparing for the seder, from the practical to the spiritual.

Chabad.org Apps Suite Expands

The “Passover Assistant” app joins Chabad.org’s Jewish Apps Suite, in strategically leveraging Chabad.org’s content and know-how to other platforms.

Through the vision and generosity of a group of funders, “Passover Assistant” joins the “Jewish.tv” video app, the “Shabbat Times” app, a JewishKids.org app for children, and others—all designed to help bring Jewish wisdom and tools to the fingertips of users. Additional apps are in the planning and developmental stages by an international Chabad.org team.

The drive, vision for and underwriting of the apps, which are available free of charge, come from the generous partnership of Dovid and Malkie Smetana, Alan and Lori Zekelman, the Meromim Fund, and Moris and Lillian Tabacinic—all of whom are dedicated to spreading the wisdom and practice of Judaism worldwide.

“The possibilities in app development for a Jewish audience are virtually endless,” says Chabad.org’s managing director, Rabbi Meir Simcha Kogan, “and we are determined to implement the drive and vision of our generous partners and our staff to use the best practices and highest standards in strategic planning and application.”

“Passover Assistant” is available free of charge on Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store for iOS and Android devices.

Tazria: Revisiting Beilis

March 23, 2014

Dear Friend,

As we stand between Purim and Passover, I am reminded of their joint theme: Throughout the generations, people have sought to subjugate and destroy our people. Yet human action and divine destiny always ensure that we endure and flourish.

Just over a century ago, around this time of year, the body of a young boy was discovered on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine, and the highest echelons of the czarist government conspired to falsely accuse a Jew, Mendel Beilis, of murdering the child to use his blood to bake matzah.

Chabad.org has just released a documentary film featuring new research into the case. Expert interviews, period press cuttings, and original photographs bring the story and its dramatic cast of characters to life. Click here to watch the film, and here to learn more about the trial.

Even today, the blood libel is used to fuel anti-Semitic agitation, and there are still those who threaten the world with evil. The Beilis case is more than an interesting historical episode; it’s a compelling lesson about the human capacity to stand up for truth and justice in the face of hate and power.

May we celebrate Passover, “the season of our freedom,” knowing that our positive actions bring redemption to the entire world.

Eli Rubin,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

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Shemini: The Passing of the Righteous

March 16, 2014

Dear Friend,

I’m grappling with shocking news. Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, my father’s friend and colleague, whom I had known literally since I was born, suddenly passed away at the age of 59, leaving behind nine children and hundreds of congregants. As a family friend, I was in shock. As a reporter at Chabad.org/News, I immediately began collecting data for our obituary for the man who led Chabad in Illinois for as long as I’ve been alive. All throughout the night, my mind kept on wandering, thoughts drifting back to the bereaved family and the nightmare that was just beginning for them.

Among the seven bookcases that adorn my living room, there is one section dedicated to various editions of the Torah (yes, we have a lot). One edition is especially precious to me. It was my first sefer (holy book), a gift from Rabbi and Mrs. Moscowitz on the occasion of my upsherin (third birthday and first haircutting).

Tonight, I think I will take the slim red volume with the peeling binding down from the bookshelf and use it to learn with my kids.

It will be my way to perpetuate a life that was dedicated to Torah and Judaism.

Menachem Posner,
on behalf of the Chabad.org Editorial Team

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JewishKids.org Gets a Boost, Goes Mobile, Making an Already Popular Site Even Better

March 5, 2014 8:01 PM
JewishKids.org has received a major makeover. The changes have more than tripled traffic to the already popular site, with more good things to come for kids and parents alike.
JewishKids.org has received a major makeover. The changes have more than tripled traffic to the already popular site, with more good things to come for kids and parents alike.

Yaakov Lubin likes many things about JewishKids.org, but his favorite is how it keeps him connected.

“I read the parshah [Torah portion] of the week on the website,” he says, and during the Shabbat group for kids that he attends at his synagogue, “I can talk about it with my friends.”

The seventh-grader—in a special-education program at a public school in New York—spends time at home on the site with his father, Harris Lubin, reading articles, watching videos and learning about the Jewish holidays.

“It’s helpful because he can understand it very easily,” says Lubin, who lives in Forest Hills, N.Y., and teaches social studies. They have been incorporating JewishKids.org into their schedule for about four years now, he says, noting that his son and daughter-in-law in Houston also use the site frequently for their young children.

Recently, JewishKids.org got a major makeover. The changes have more than tripled traffic to the already popular site, which includes more than 2,000 pages of content, including 250 Jewish-themed children’s videos; more than 300 audio recordings and Jewish songs; more than 100 games and activities; and some 500 stories and educational and informative pages.

In addition, a new mobile version of the site has been launched, making the site even more accessible for those logging in via phones, tablets and other hand-held devices.

Changes in Stages

The site is being improved in many ways, starting with a new child- and adult-friendly homepage; a cleaner and more intuitive navigation system; an overall facelift improving the look and feel of the site; and the reorganization and restructuring of its vast amount of material.

These changes are being implemented in stages. They began with the new homepage, which offers a colorful, cartoon-like view of a city street, complete with animated buildings that present a choice of different activities for children. A more streamlined, adult-friendly navigation bar is included at the top of the screen, as well as an area to search for kid-friendly content.

It is a more user-friendly experience, allowing children and their parents to enter and navigate easily through the content-rich site, says Dini Druk, who directs JewishKids.org. “Much of our audience includes parents and teachers, and the mix of navigation and search functions make finding material easy for kids and grownups alike.”

A new mobile version of the site has been launched, making the site even more accessible for those logging in via phones, tablets and other hand-held devices.
A new mobile version of the site has been launched, making the site even more accessible for those logging in via phones, tablets and other hand-held devices.

Overall, she adds, the upgraded site offers a more efficient, educational and entertaining experience: “There’s loads of useful information—more than in most children’s sites, so no matter how much you find, there’s always more.”

Orah Soller, of London, England, teaches Jewish studies to children ages 6 to 11. A few years ago, a colleague told her about the website, and she has been using it enthusiastically ever since.

Soller likes the simple, clear way the site explains the parshah. Her students especially enjoy the videos, which she says they ask to see again and again. The site has been especially helpful, she adds, for one child with major behavioral issues, who is captivated by the sounds and images of the videos.

She took an informal poll in class, and the kids came up with the following replies. Bryce says: “I love watching the videos!” Abigail responds: “I love the games, videos and information!” Pnina notes: “I like the videos! Please make more?” And as for Eitan, “I like everything!”

“Kids are fascinated by it,” says Soller. “It’s an amazing tool for children. They’re learning without even realizing they are learning. It really helps teachers … It gives huge access to the Jewish world.”

The largest Jewish website of its kind, JewishKids.org was launched in 2005. Its goal was to engage Jewish children around the world, regardless of background or affiliation, as part of a global online community.

‘More in the Works’

Since the first changes were rolled out last year, the volume of traffic has tripled, now attracting more than 7,000 visits daily and more than 15,000 visitors a day during Jewish holiday seasons.

The site is a joint project of Chabad.org, the largest Jewish-content website; and Tzivos Hashem, a worldwide educational program that the Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—initiated 33 years ago. As part of that program, children serve as G‑d’s representatives to bring light and goodness to the world by performing mitzvahs, explains Druk, who was a teacher for 10 years.

Essentially, JewishKids.org brings three decades worth of high-quality, well-respected printed, audio and visual materials to the Internet.

"My Tzivos Hashem" includes a "credit-card" system, whereby children can accrue points for doing mitzvahs (good deeds) and then trade the points for prizes.
"My Tzivos Hashem" includes a "credit-card" system, whereby children can accrue points for doing mitzvahs (good deeds) and then trade the points for prizes.

Over the last five years, Tzivos Hashem has also implemented an incentive program for kids. It includes a “credit-card” system, whereby children can accrue points for doing mitzvahs (“good deeds”) and then trade the points for prizes. This taps into a child’s natural tendency to want to help others, and as they do more and more, they progress in their efforts and move up in rank.

The program is now in place for children affiliated with Chabad Houses in 25 cities, and is being integrated with the JewishKids.org website, where parents can log their children’s points.

“This helps make the website even more relevant and meaningful,” says the program’s creator, Shimmy Weinbaum.

Part of the website project included animating old cartoons from the program’s archives, explains Druk, bringing them back to life for a new generation of Jewish children. More and more content will be added, and updating will continue to be implemented for the inside pages.

“We have a lot more in the works,” says Rabbi Yerachmiel Benjaminson, executive director of Tzivos Hashem. “In the next few months, we hope to unveil additional content and useful features that will continue to inspire our young audience.”

Last fall the website hosted the annual “Jewish Kids Got Talent” competition, attracting 100,000 fans who actively followed the submissions at the various stages of the contest.
Last fall the website hosted the annual “Jewish Kids Got Talent” competition, attracting 100,000 fans who actively followed the submissions at the various stages of the contest.

Rabbi Zalman Glick of Tzivos Hashem, and Rabbi Meir Simcha Kogan, managing director at Chabad.org have also helped to lead this ongoing project, along with their groups’ education and technology-development teams.

The technology team most recently launched a mobile version of the kids site using responsive html technology, ensuring that kids can continue to access and enjoy the site’s content and features from mobile devices. Mobile traffic now accounts for nearly a third of all Internet usage and continues to grow almost daily.

“We want to ensure that the website is technologically up-to-date,” says Glick, “so that our educational content continues to be accessible to the widest possible audience.”

Contest Attracts 100,000 People

Last fall, the website hosted the annual “Jewish Kids Got Talent” competition, attracting 100,000 fans who actively followed the submissions at the various stages of the contest.

“Every year—in terms of technology and the Internet—is a light year,” says Druk. “So many things have changed and advanced. Children have more access than ever to the Internet, and have become comfortable using tablets and mobile devices. For those reasons, it was important to bring the website up-to-date and make it more accessible for all.”

She says this is the only place online that offers such a depth and breadth of Jewish education for young people—education that includes Jewish background and history, stories, Torah, mitzvahs, what it means to be Jewish and so much more.

“There’s a big need for this, and we realize that,” stresses Druk. “People are seeing there’s more life and lift to the site, and because of that, they keep coming back.”

Tzav - Purim

March 9, 2014

Dear Friend,

There is a famous joke told of a man desperately looking for parking in midtown Manhattan. After twenty minutes of circling as the moments tick by, he lifts his eyes heavenward and promises, “G‑d, if You help me find a spot, I will donate ten percent of my profit to charity.”

Just then, he notices a place opening up just ahead of him. “It’s okay, G‑d,” he says. “I managed to find a place without You.”

This Saturday night and Sunday, we will once again listen to the reading of the book of Esther. On the surface, we’ll simply hear a fascinating tale of coincidences. Ahasuerus decides to replace his wife; it just happens that Esther is chosen to be the queen; Mordechai happens to be at the right place at the right time to save the king’s life; and Haman seems to run out of good luck just in the nick of time.

But, in truth, G‑d is behind it all. In fact, the sages of the Talmud associate the name of the book, “Esther,” with G‑d’s hiddenness. Because He is there just below the surface, making sure everything happens just in time.

May G‑d grant that we each perceive His presence in our lives. Always.

Happy Purim!

The Chabad.org Editorial Team

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