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When You Mess Up

December 29, 2008

Ever wonder what might have happened had the first Adam reacted differently?

I don't mean if Adam wouldn't have eaten the forbidden fruit. I believe that somehow, on some level, that was a necessary component to our being human. We're not meant to be perfect angels, or mechanical robots, always following directions explicitly, and always doing the right thing. Temptation and failings, challenges and adventure is meant to be a part of our human journey.

But suppose Adam would have responded differently after he ate the fruit.

Suppose when G‑d confronted him about not obeying His explicit and only commandment, Adam would contritely have said, "Oh, my gosh! You know, you're so right! I can't believe that I did that.

"Here you gave me everything I could ever need or want on a silver platter and the only one thing You ask me not to do, I go ahead and do.

"I am so sorry. You must be so disappointed in me. Please, let me make that up to You, dear G‑d. Please forgive me my insensitivity, selfishness and lack of care."

I know it is hypothetical, but how do you think G‑d would have responded? It is kind of hard to admonish, punish, or even be angry at someone who so humbly and profusely apologizes for his misdeed.

I imagine G‑d would have said something like this, "Yes, Adam, you really did disappoint me. What you did was terribly wrong and you didn't live up to your true potential. But since you realize your mistake and feel so regretful about it, I hope that you've learned your lesson. You have earned my forgiveness."

Imagine how different human history would have turned out…!

But instead, after eating of the forbidden fruit, Adam hides from G‑d, as if G‑d wouldn't realize.

Then when G‑d calls to Adam, giving him an opportunity to express his regret, he messes up by lying, "I heard you calling and I was afraid because I am naked."

And finally, in his fait accompli, when G‑d rebukes him point blank about his sin, rather than owning up to it, Adam blames someone else for his actions—"the woman that You gave me," it was all her fault.

Fast forward thousands of years.

"My dear spouse, stop ignoring me. We need to talk!"

"Honey, I'm not avoiding you…I just had a lot on my head these last few days. And besides, I thought you were really angry, so I was afraid to speak with you. I thought I'd let you cool off first."

"You know that what you did was so insensitive! How could you humiliate me like that? Don't you care about my feelings? If there's one thing that I've asked you so many times not to do, it is that!"

"It's not true. I didn't…Or at least, I didn't mean to embarrass you. You are totally taking it the wrong way...

"In fact, come to think of it, you are always blaming me for things that go wrong....

"And besides, you could have made sure that you prepared me for this situation better. You really should have had more foresight…"

As humans, we will make mistakes. We will be tempted. We will succumb to our shortcomings and inevitably, there will be times when we will fail.

But how will we react to those failings? Hiding, denial and blaming someone else— or is there perhaps a better way?

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

The Worst Fifteen Seconds of Your Life

December 29, 2008

Every parent has had this heart-stopping, chilling experience at least once. And even once is once too many...

You are with your young toddler, inside a crowded shopping mall or walking along a downtown sidewalk facing a whir of oncoming traffic.

A second ago, your child's hand was warmly nestled into yours. Now he is suddenly gone. He has disappeared. Into thin air.

Your heart begins racing. Your palms become sweaty. Your stomach is caught in your throat. You feel faint from fright and you are finding it difficult to breathe. You frantically begin to search for him. You steel your gaze to pinpoint anything colored with the very pale shade of blue that is your son's shirt. In vain, you attempt to squelch the dooming thoughts ablaze in your mind...the horrors of what could happen...what might be the terrifying end result. The picture of little dismembered limbs stuck under screeching brakes or menacing kidnappers walking off with your child invades your brain.

Your mind is exploding. Tears begin forming in your eyes. You are running...blindly...frantically...You must find your perfect, sweet, little child.

And then, miracle of miracles, from the side of your eye, you notice him. You grab him tenderly, hugging him closely towards you, vowing never to let him go, to forever envelope him in your protective embrace. You heave a huge sigh of relief, forever grateful for your safe reunion.

It will take several more minutes for your pulse to stabilize, for your heavy breathing to settle and for your shaking arms to steady. But as you check your watch, you notice that what seemed like an interminable passage of excruciatingly painful time was indeed only...15 seconds.

Did you perhaps overreact? Given the short time that elapsed, was your fear completely unwarranted? No, you know very well, that 15 seconds is plenty of time for a deranged criminal to grab a hold of your child and make his way to the exit. Fifteen seconds is long enough for your energetic toddler to innocently jump off the pedestrian sidewalk right into the path of the racing traffic.

Fifteen seconds may sound like a short span of time, but not 15 seconds of torture. Not 15 seconds of absolute agony that could result in untold misery for the remainder of your life.

It was the worst 15 seconds that you have ever experienced.

Now multiply that one horrific experience of 15 seconds by twenty times. Every day. Imagine what the tension would do to your psyche.

Twenty times a day, every day. For an entire week. For months on end.

Imagine if after those interminable 15 seconds, you were not yet reunited with your child, but you heard a terrible, huge, loud explosion—one that crumbled cement buildings as if they were a deck of cards, and one that caused blazing fires to erupt all around you. One that destroyed homes, buildings, factories and outdoor playgrounds—and all who were unfortunate to be stuck underneath them.

Imagine now tightly you held your child when he was safely returned to you and then imagine if your arms, the warmth of your home or the protective walls of your child's school could never be adequate enough protection.

That he was vulnerable and in danger everywhere he went. Every moment of the day. Twenty times a day. And you could do nothing to stop it.

And as you imagine the horror you felt in those unforgettable 15 seconds, imagine the heart-throbbing 15 seconds after the alarming call of "RED ALERT—TZEVA ADOM" that every citizen in Sderot has experienced in trying to run to hoped for safety before a rocket came crashing down on them. Twenty times a day.

Six-thousand-five-hundred rockets have been fired into Israel, at all times of day and night. Two hundred and fifty thousand men and women, from the elderly to newborn infants, are under the direct threat of the rockets' firing zone. Hundreds of Israeli civilians have been wounded and several killed by these rockets.

And as you imagine all this, as well as how horrifying 15 seconds can be, you will not question why Israel has entered Gaza.

Instead you will ask this: if a government is appointed to care for and safeguard the lives of its citizens—what took them so long?!

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Light Up

December 24, 2008

Have you ever noticed…

How a little bit of light…

Can chase away a whole lot of darkness?

How a kind word, a smile, a nod of encouragement, a helping hand or a listening ear can brighten another person's day…or life?

But how? How can my little act dispel so much surrounding gloom, so much encompassing pain and suffering, so much sadness in our world? It doesn't seem possible.

Just follow the Chanuka example.

Chanuka is the holiday of lights. Every night we light the menorah, the special Chanukah lights. Follow these Chanukah steps to light up our world:

1) We light the menorah in the doorway or opening of our home—to share the light with as many others as possible.

Open up your door and your life to others. Don't wait for the opportunity to come to you. Create an opening to share your joy—and blessing—with those around you.

2) The Chanukah holiday falls at the darkest time of the year—the daylight hours are the shortest and the dark, cold, gloomy nights loom on and on. Into this darkness, we begin to light the candles, one at a time.

Don't despair from the looming darkness or hopelessness around you. Despite the darkest night, just add one light at a time, and you'll be surprised by how the darkness is dispelled.

3) And finally—every night we continue to add one additional candle.

Don't be satisfied with what goodness you've done. Strive to continually add just one more candle—a little bit more kindness, another mitzvah, another meaningful act.

This Chanukah, as we celebrate the festival of light, resolve to add more light in your life.

And then resolve to share that light with those around you. To completely light up your world.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

The Little Flame

December 21, 2008

Once upon a time, there was a little flame that glowed brightly.

Wherever this little flame went, it brought light and luminosity.

Even in the absolute black darkness, the flame twinkled and illuminated.

But wherever it went, there were also those who didn't like its radiance. And wanted to snuff it out.

There was the wind that wanted to blow it out...

The sand that wanted to stomp it out...

The water that wanted to drown it...

And the darkness that wanted to blacken it.

But the stubborn flame refused to be extinguished.

Sometimes, the flame itself wished for its end. It yearned to be as dim as the surrounding blackness.

The little flame would doubt its beautiful glow and question its unique sparkle.

During those moments, the flame would flicker and its sparkle seemed like it would fade into obscurity.

But no matter what, something inside the flame kept it shining.

Some called it stubbornness.

Others saw it as luck. Or perhaps, fate.

While others predicted its demise.

And a few recognized it as the greatest miracle ever.

Chanukah is the Festival of Light. We light our Menorahs to commemorate the miracle of the flames that refused to be extinguished. There was barely enough oil for one day, but the flames burned proudly for eight.

But Chanukah also commemorates the miracle of the Jewish people. A nation that refused—and continues to refuse—to be smothered into oblivion.

Because the little flame continues to shine light into the dark world around it.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

Save the Children

December 14, 2008

I've recently returned from a seven-day speaking tour, lecturing all across Europe. (Read my travel diary in my blog above...) It was an amazing experience to meet such a diverse group of people, some in small Jewish communities where the struggle to remain connected to Judaism is real. It was incredible, as well, to meet and get to know a little bit about the lives of the shluchim (Chabad emissaries) courageously stationed in these small communities, who persevere in their mission of igniting Jewish souls and spreading the light of our heritage.

In one of the communities, in The Hague of Holland, I was shown a letter that was written by the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, to my own grandfather, Rabbi Dov Yehudah Schochet, who served as rabbi to this community after World War II.

The letter so unnerved me that long after I returned home, it still haunts me.

The Rebbe writes to my grandfather in 1949, four long years after the war had ended. He tells my grandfather that many Jewish parents, terrified of the approaching Nazis, entrusted their children to the care of orphanages run by nuns or priests, in a desperate attempt to spare their children's lives. Now, years after the end of the Holocaust, many of those children still remained in these environments, being fed Christian doctrines along with their daily fare.

The Rebbe pleaded with my grandfather—and no doubt wrote similar letters to many other persons in position of influence—to "do whatever is in your power to find and save these children." He continues, chillingly, "For every day that these children remain in these foreign environments, their parents in the Afterlife suffer terrible agony for their sons and daughters."

Ominous words. "Save the children...every day...suffer terrible agony."

We are now more than half a century after the Holocaust, but the words of the sixth Chabad Rebbe still ring true, though in perhaps a slightly different context.

Assimilation is widespread in every community and in every country. I witness it in each and every one of my travels—and even back at home in as thriving a Jewish community as Toronto. There are far too many Jewish children in "foreign" environments that need to be "brought home" —shown the beauty, wisdom and depth of their own heritage.

Indeed, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, made this his mandate, sending out his emissaries to literally the four corners of the world – places as remote as Korea, Alaska and Tijuana – in order to save the Jewish children and reconnect them to their heritage. It is a daunting battle, but one which is being fought by valiant and courageous soldiers, who are taking it on, one Jewish soul at a time.

But as the letter to my grandfather reverberates through my mind, I think, too, how these words apply on an abstract level, to each and every one of us. And how the letter perhaps summarizes the mandate of Chassidic teachings.

The Chassidic movement began at a time when the Jewish people were experiencing a state of spiritual unconsciousness. The laws, or the body of the Torah, may have been observed, but lacked the passion, warmth, enthusiasm and vibrancy of the soul of the Torah.

These profound fiery teachings aimed to melt the ice enveloping our souls by unveiling the spiritual landscapes of our souls, our lives, and our world.

Life in exile means a distance, detachment and obstruction from our Source. No matter how comfortable we may feel in our homes and communities, we are in foreign territory, far away from the core essence that our souls crave—a genuine connection with our Creator.

These lofty, holy teachings were revealed – under great self-sacrifice – in order to "save the children." The children – you and I – children of G‑d, who may not be aware of just how alien and distant we have become. Our impassiveness just proves how spiritually lethargic we are, and how much we need to be brought home.

And for every day that we remain disconnected, in our alien environment of exile, our Father in Heaven is in terrible agony, awaiting a complete reunion—with each and every one of His children.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

My European Speaking Tour – Part VII

London, England

December 12, 2008 1:00 PM

Friday, November 7th, 2008, 12:10PM

I arrive in London Heathrow airport. For Shabbat, I will be hosted by the gracious Overlander family. Mrs. Sarah Leah Overlander and her daughter, Esther, are at the airport waiting to greet me, and we make a mad dash through London's notorious traffic to arrive in the Hendon section of London on time for Shabbat.


Friday night, the Chabad House is beautifully decorated for a single's event. The turn out is amazing—well over one-hundred singles show up, and those arriving without reservations need to be somehow fitted in. The group of young professionals in their 20s and 30s are vibrant and energized.

After arriving from the smaller Jewish communities, it impresses me to see such a vital program organized for this age group, to encourage them to meet, socialize and experience the beauty of Shabbat together, while inspired by Torah thoughts.

Saturday Night (Motzoei Shabbat) 8:00PM

Tonight, an elegant Melavah Malka, Saturday night dinner and fundraiser, has been organized for couples and supporters of the Chabad House of Hendon. People are here to show support for the amazing work and dedication of Rabbi Gershon and Rebbetzin Sarah Leah Overlander. The warmth and hospitality of the family over Shabbat is testimony to how the Overlanders run their Chabad House—with grace, warmth and total dedication.

Sunday, November 9th, 12:00PM

Today's the last day of my tour. Chaya Mushka, one of the Overlanders' teenaged daughters has volunteered to take me touring Central London. I readily accept the invitation and we begin our day riding London's famous double-decker buses, followed by a maze of subway trains into Central London.


Our destination is the Tower of London. We walk through a winding network of towers with a long history of kings, queens and warfare. In one tower, the famous and beautiful crown jewels are on display, with gorgeous, huge and colorful jewels, worn by the English monarchs at their respective coronations.

Another adjoining tower served as a lookout during battles. And yet another held famous prisoners and Jesuit priests.

Interestingly, however, in the very first tower that we enter, a short historical video shows information about King Edward, who lived here in the late 13th century. The words spoken just upon our entrance are eerily chilling. The narrator tells us how Edward was cruel to the Jews of his country, expelling them from their homes, when he suspected them for cheating in their money exchange.

It seems like everywhere in Europe is drenched with a history of such sorrow for my people.

As we walk by the last tower, holding the torture chambers, I tell Chaya Mushka that I will pass on this one—I can't stomach entering here and witnessing the horrific methods of torture, knowing that many of these may have been used on my ancestors, my brothers and sisters!


Tonight's lecture is for women at the Chabad House in Edgeware, which is directed by my first cousins, and Chabad emissaries, Rabbis Levi and Zalman Sudak and their incredibly hard working and devoted wives, Faigy and Nechomi. This is my final talk on this lecture tour and I am relieved to see that the large and diverse crowd from all different backgrounds is receptive. Faigy's and Nechomi's hard work and preparation for this event has more than paid off!


As I enter my hotel room, a short distance from Heathrow Airport from where I will depart tomorrow morning, an attendant helps me with my bags. I am reminded about one more incident that Chaya Mushka and I witnessed today at the Tower of London.

As we were standing on the roadside, two guards marched by heading resolutely to their new posts. Chaya Mushka and I both scrambled in different directions, certain that if we would have remained in the line of those marching guards, we were sure to be trampled! It seemed like nothing would get in their way or stop them.

And, of course, we took a final picture next to one of the famous London guards, who like the guards in Greece at the beginning of my trip, stood without flinching or moving, guarding his post with absolute stubborn determination.

I think of their stubbornness and I think of the Jewish people, my beautiful nation. Despite all those who want to do everything in their power to remove us from the world, these special souls—some so lost and so dispersed, in such small Jewish communities—remain true to our ancestors, true to our heritage and true to their inner selves, trying so hard to maintain their connection, without any logical explanation for doing so.

And I think of the many "guards" whom I have been privileged to meet over the last seven days. Guards who have been stationed at some of the remotest Jewish outposts around the world—stationed there by their beloved Rebbe who is concerned for the wellbeing of every Jew, no matter how far or how remote. These guards and emissaries remain at their posts, unflinching, until they too have brought back and ignited all the Jewish souls in their charge. These guards remain standing, encouraging, teaching, smiling and hosting—and won't leave their outposts, no matter how difficult the circumstances.

Because as Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak wrote to my grandfather in Den Haag—every Jewish child is so precious and needs to be brought home!

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

My European Speaking Tour – Part VI

The Hague

December 12, 2008

Thursday, November 6th, 2008, 4:00PM

My ride arrives to take me from Amsterdam to Den Haag, or The Hague, in Holland, where I will be speaking this evening. I am travelling home with the Katzman children, who leave their home in Den Haag daily at 7:00AM in order to attend the Jewish school in Amsterdam, and often don't arrive home, like tonight, due to traffic, until after 6:00PM. The car ride is supposed to be only forty-five minutes, but the heavy traffic delays us from reaching the home of Shmuel and Sara Katzman.


The audience tonight of both men and women is smaller in quantity than last night's but just as rich in quality! The lecture is titled, "A Soul on Fire," and is about Shabbat as well as the power of the Shabbat candles.

In truth, I feel as though it is these souls—so far away from a large Jewish community, so removed from the life that I've grown up with and take for granted—who are truly on fire. They each listen so attentively and are so inspired by any and every words or thoughts of Torah.

The lecture officially finishes after an hour, but they beg me to keep talking for several hours, wanting more and more inspiration, just as a thirsty man craves water in the desert. "My soul thirsts for you," says the Psalmist—and here in Den Haag, I see it in reality.

Friday, November 7th, 9:00AM

Over breakfast, I learn from Sara Katzman that her husband, originally from New York, now juggles the responsibility of being the rabbi of the two synagogues in Den Haag. Before the war, this was a thriving Jewish community.

Rabbi Katzman teaches me, as well, something very special and personal about my own family history. My own grandfather, Rabbi Dov Yehudah Schochet, served as the chief rabbi here for five years, after leaving Switzerland and before immigrating with my father's family to Canada.

I am shown a book with a picture of my grandfather, walking down these very streets with other community rabbis and delegates.

I am humored by Rabbi Katzman's story of my grandfather's interview by the community members for the position of rabbi. Apparently, my grandfather was asked if he had any children, to which he responded, "nein." The community members, assuming that he had meant, "no, none," then rented for him a one-bedroom apartment, adequate for him and his wife. Upon his arrival to Den Haag and seeing these modest accommodations, my grandfather asked, where he was to put up his family—all nine of his children?!

Amazingly, Rabbi Katzman shows me a letter sent by the Sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, to my grandfather, dated the ninth of Adar, 1949. In it, the Rebbe addresses my grandfather in his capacity as communal rabbi and asks him to do whatever is in his power to save the children—children who were left in nunneries during the war in order to save their lives—who still remained there after the war.

Chillingly, the Previous Rebbe writes: For every day that these children are not found, saved and placed in Jewish homes and environments, their parents in the After-world are in tremendous pain. Please do whatever is in your power to save these children!

My hand trembles as I read the content of this heart wrenching letter.

And now, his own granddaughter has returned to Den Haag, to do her small little part to ignite and inspire these children's children...

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

My European Speaking Tour – Part V

Touring Holland & Anne Frank’s Home

December 11, 2008

Thursday, November 6th, 2008, 12:00

Nechama Dina Spiero has arranged for two wonderful women from the community who were at my lecture last night to take me touring. Before they arrive, I have a chance to chat for a few minutes with Nechama Dina about life in Holland.

Nechama Dina is originally from Montreal, while her husband was born and bred in Holland. Over the years, she tells me, she has become used to the different cultural environment. Most of her children attend the local Jewish cheder (Jewish dayschool) while her oldest son learns and dorms in a yeshiva in France.

Marje and Susie arrive and it is time to leave. They tell me more about the Spieros and how this special family has touched so many individuals here in Amsterdam. "As you can see, we are not strictly religious," Susie explains, pointing to her jeans. "But Nechama Dina and her husband just accept us for what we are, without any pressure. They are just here to teach and inspire and be friendly."

Marje elaborates on how successful the Spieros are at making even the younger generation—young men and women in their teens and twenties—feel comfortable with them and their Judaism.

"Who would ever think our young people would be comfortable with such a religious rabbi?" Marje notes. "But Nechama Dina invites them for a Sukkot meal and they go! And happily too."

"Judging from her pastries last night, it must be her cooking," I joke.

Our first stop in Amsterdam is right around the corner—a real working mill. Who can leave Holland without a picture by the mill? We snap away!

Our next destination is the Sephardic Spanish Portuguese synagogue built around the 1600s. The structure is incredible and the architecture awe-inspiring. Huge beautiful brass lanterns adorn the synagogue, but instead of holding light bulbs, they are graced by long white candles. To date, the synagogue is still without any electricity and services are held regularly every Friday night by candlelight. I imagine how breathtaking it must be! The synagogue is so beautiful that weddings often take place here, even for those of non-Sephardic descent.

After being expelled from their country, a large segment of the Spanish/Portuguese community made their way here and built this stunning structure. I stand here in it, so overwhelmed with such a rich history. Yet I ponder on how so much of it was so tragic.

Next we're off to the house of Anne Frank. The mood here is serious and somber. These are the very rooms where Anne Frank hid during the early years of the Holocaust. These very rooms have been turned into an educational museum, to teach the world about the thoughts, feelings, fears and hopes of this brave young woman whose only crime was that she was a Jew.

The house is very moving and at several moments it evokes strong emotion. Anne's father owned a company which was located in the front part of this house, with the warehouse on the ground floor, and the offices and storeroom upstairs. The family hoped to escape being captured by the Nazis by going into hiding and the upstairs rooms were changed into living quarters.

The loneliness, betrayal, isolation and desperation that Ann and her family must have felt. How quiet they needed to be during the day, lest their footsteps be heard by the workers below. How black and dark the front rooms needed to remain, lest they be spotted from a window.

After more than two years, the family was betrayed and deported by the Nazis.

I read Anne's famous words, written on April 9th, 1944, inscribed on the wall of one of the rooms:

"One day this terrible war will be over. The time will come when we'll be people again and not just Jews! We can never be just Dutch, or just English or whatever, we will always be Jews as well. But then, we'll want to be."

Before exiting the house, we read as well the words of Primo Levi, writer and Auschwitz survivor:

"One single Anne Frank moves us more than the countless others who suffered just as she did, but whose faces have remained in the shadows. Perhaps it is better that way; if we were capable of taking in all the suffering of all those people, we would not be able to live."

Walking through these rooms, I think one of my recurrent thoughts. The greatest miracle today is truly the Jewish people—a nation who has suffered so much, has undergone such persecution, such tragedy, yet remains here today, still refusing to be swallowed up by the nations of the world around us. To have a people still questing for a connection to their roots, to their history and to their G‑d—despite their past, and present, being so drenched with Jewish blood, tears and horrors—is indeed the greatest miracle possible!

Next, we tour the harbor and some other areas around Amsterdam, including the center of town and the brand new and very modern biblioteque (library), which has a fabulous view from its top floor of the center of town. We pass, as well, the Weeping Tower, right near the harbor, where wives would weep as they parted from their husbands who were embarking on sea journeys, unsure of whether they would actually return. It was in this tower, as well, that the women became widows as they were informed of the ships that had sunk at sea.

We're ready to head back to the parking lot to our car. Here's when I can't resist snapping one more picture of the indoor parking lot. An entire floor is crowded not with parked cars, but parked bikes—the preferred method of transportation in Holland!

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

My European Speaking Tour – Part IV

Belgium & Holland

December 10, 2008

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008, 4:00AM

My alarm rings...I need to pry open my eyes and hurry...My flight from Spain to Brussels, Belgium, departs in two hours...


I arrive in Brussels National Airport. Rabbi Tawil is waiting to take me to his home to relax before the lunch lecture. He fills me in on the Brussels community as we drive. As of late, he tells me, Brussels has become like the Washington D.C. of Europe, with diplomats representing the European Union based here. As a result, aside from the local Brussels community, many European Jewish services are now based in Brussels to serve as the home for Jewish organizations throughout Europe. The Tawils have been brought here to serve this international European community in Brussels and have set up a beautiful Jewish Community Center right in its center, just opposite the many tall, and modern parliamentary buildings and offices.

The lecture is titled, "Finding Faith in Turbulent Times"; and with the financial crisis and politics as rocky as it is nowadays, the title is most appropriate.

At the lecture I am able to personally meet, among others, Rabbi Sholom and Leah Liberow, heads of the European Jewish Study Network, who have organized this tour and whose work includes bringing out speakers throughout Europe as well as arranging retreats, video conferencing and study networks.

We need to head out quickly after the lecture—Rabbi Liberow is driving me to the nearby city of Amsterdam, Holland. The drive is about three hours and we're hoping the traffic won't delay us further.

On the way, Rabbi Liberow tells me more about his work of reaching the smaller, outlying communities throughout Europe.


We arrive in Amsterdam, at the home of Yaakov and Nechama Dinah Spiero. Tonight's lecture, in an hour's time, will be for women only, and is titled, "Making the World More Feminine."

The large hall is filling quickly and soon every seat is taken. Nechama Dinah has worked hard to arrange this program and bring in as many people as she could reach. She looks very pleased—over one hundred women are present, an amazing turnout for any location, and especially here in the community of Amsterdam.

The audience is very diverse, from all different backgrounds, but are so eager to listen. After an hour, I finish my lecture, we pause to taste from Nechama's huge variety of delicious home-made refreshments and pastries before beginning a question and answer session. At first the questions trickle in slowly, but then, as though a floodgate has been released, they continue and continue, as an amazing discussion ensues on a whole assortment of questions: men and women, redemption, feminine values, Judaism, mitzvot and of course, feminism. The women linger for hours and our discussion continues. Afterwards, several more women approach me with yet some more personal issues.

One woman, who is here for her first time tonight, and has asked many interesting, intelligent and challenging questions, thanks me for the "new perspective" which she finds intriguing. She promises to give what I presented more thought and further study.

Another woman tells me how she never had a proper chupah (Jewish wedding), despite being married for several years, but now feels encouraged to work on convincing her husband to bring this blessing into their home.

Another woman approaches and asks what were the words that I was whispering to myself while still seated as the crowd was trickling in, before approaching the podium. I respond that I recited a chapter of Psalms so that my words be appropriate, enlightening and well received. She tells me that she wants to do the same before important events in her life. The moment makes me realize how much we are all observed, and how even small acts—good or bad—are so easily noted...

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

My European Speaking Tour – Part III

Rome & Spain

December 9, 2008

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008, 12:00PM

I'm at the airport in Athens en route to Spain, with a stop-over in Rome. I have a few minutes before boarding and I'm seeking souvenirs. I am deliberating over a number of trinkets and pieces before settling on some small picture frames, shot glasses, bookmarks and magnets—all with scenery of Greece or Athens—to bring back to my children.

And then I notice a small hand-held tambourine, with a picture of ancient Athens painted across it. To me, the tambourine is a trademark of the Jewish woman, centuries ago in Ancient Egypt. Despite their terrible oppression and servitude, the Jewish women prepared tambourines while still suffering the horrors of slavery in Egypt because they were so full of faith that G‑d would finally "remember" them and redeem them. The only concern of these righteous women was to be adequately prepared to express the proper praise and thanks—with appropriate instruments of joy—when that moment finally arrived. Indeed, after miraculously crossing the Red Sea, with the Egyptians safely drowned behind them, the women, with Miriam at their head, took out these long-waiting instruments, and used them to sing and dance as they thanked G‑d for their delivery.

The symbolism of the tambourine here in Greece, with scenery of Athens painted across it, was too much for me to resist. Ignoring the inflated price tag, I purchase it.

Soon, soon, as the fight against modern assimilation is finally over, and the Jewish people unite from across the four corners of the world, this symbolism of the staunch Jewish faith, even with an Athens scenery, shall also be used...


I've boarded the plane. Again my mind travels back centuries to the age of the Roman Empire—the empire that ruthlessly destroyed our Holy Temple and cruelly chased us from our Homeland into exile. We still remain in that very exile to this day, with Jews dispersed across the vast globe, clinging tenaciously to shreds of faith, so as not to lose our identity or our connection with our Jewish soul and our People.

We land in Rome, but the only Emperor's artifact remaining here in this modern city is the glitzy sign greeting me hanging above the airport terminal: Giorgio Armani Emporium.


Due to an unexpected thunderstorm in Rome, my flight is delayed. Even without this delay, my schedule was tight, with less than two hours to relax in Barcelona before my next lecture. Now, with this delay, I being to worry that I won't make the lecture at all! I quickly remind myself that these things are out of my hands, and worries will have no power to make my flight take off any sooner...There is a Higher Power running this world, exactly as it should be...


Very much delayed, we finally approach the Barcelona airport. We are passing over a large body of water and all I can think of at this moment is how many rivers of tears must have been cried at this very place, centuries ago, when all the Jews were expelled from their native homes in Spain. And worse, how many rivers of blood were spilled here, with terrible acts of cruelty and torture, in the name of a loving religion, in trying to cruelly force the Jews to convert to Christianity.

I gather my bags. My driver is waiting to whisk me off to the lecture. I am told that the synagogue is only moments away from the airport and a large crowd is already patiently waiting.


It is not easy to run (literally!) straight from the airport, after traveling since the morning, into a large, crowded room of people waiting for your lecture. But the spirit in the room was so warm, so comfortable, and the people so receptive and accepting that I immediately felt calm.

I stayed for a long while after the talk, conversing with people, hearing about their lives, answering their questions and even just playing Jewish Geography. En route to the hotel, I was finally able to hear a little from the Liebersohns, shluchim (Chabad emmisaries) to Barcelona, about their life in Spain.

Dovid and Nechama Dina Liebersohn arrived here several years ago. At first the synagogue was in their own home, and it took years until it sufficiently expanded and was able to move into its own quarters in its present location. The full capacity crowd, with hardly room for another chair, was proof of the Liebersohns' hard and diligent work. Services for special holidays, Nechama tells me, are conducted in larger premises at rented hotels, as much more space is needed for the large crowds wishing to attend. And even tonight, the packed room made it is clear that they already need even larger premises.

Nechama had just given birth to a baby, only four weeks ago, but that didn't stop her from organizing, attending and socializing at this program—as well as preparing for me her trademark delicious food. Until recently, she tells me, she home-schooled all her children; but now with an online program run by the Shluchim Office, her children are able to learn online and are also able to socialize via the internet with other children in similar remote Jewish locations around the world.

The hour is very late and I am exhausted, so I have only a short time to speak to the Liebersohns. But their indomitable spirit and devotion to building up life in Barcelona is unquestionably clear.

I marvel how five hundred years after every single Jew was expelled from this country, there are dedicated shluchim staying at their posts here, doing whatever is in their power to revitalize Jewish life in Spain.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

My European Speaking Tour – Part II

Touring & Speaking in Greece

December 8, 2008

Monday, November 3rd, 2008, 3:30PM

Somehow the excitement of being in this foreign land has given me a second wind and despite little sleep, I am no longer tired. When Nechama Hendel asks me if I want to go touring, I readily agree.

We climb up to the many steps of the famous ancient Greece Acropolis and view the Parthenon. The Acropolis is a flat-topped rock which rises almost 500 feet above sea level. Built in the 5th century BCE, the Parthenon is considered the most important surviving building of Classical Greece, and an enduring symbol of ancient Greece. Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art. The vast great pillars have intricate designs and superb architecture.

Throughout the ages, this area served as the center for Greek Temples, sanctuaries, cults and civic administrative center, churches during the Byzantine period and mosques after the Ottoman conquest.

From high up here, we look down the huge mountainside to view an incredible site of the large, crowded Metropolis. Closer by, we stand overlooking the remains of an ancient Greek theatre called the Theatre of Dionysus. A few hundred metres away, there is the now partially reconstructed Theatre of Herodes Atticus.

I shudder as I imagine what kind of entertainment went on here in ancient Greece, as I view the many sloped benches surrounding the theatre area.


We're now on the way back to the hotel. Nechama wants me to see the changing of the guards in front of the Parliament building, which occurs every hour on the hour. She jokes that knowing me from my writing she is sure I will learn some spiritual lesson from this too.

The statuesque guards stare ahead, not moving, completely unflinching. I notice a fly land and crawl up the cheek of one of the guards, but he resolutely remains standing straight, staring forward, arms at his side. He's at his post and he won't move, neither to the right nor to the left. He has a task to accomplish and nothing and no one will deter him. He wears a strange and cumbersome costume of white tights, a skirt, bulky shoes and a hat.

Finally, the new guard arrives and in exact precision, following precise protocol, the ceremony begins—marching forward, backwards and forward again, clicking their heals to the right and to the left in absolute unison as the guards change posts and the new ones undertake their mission, standing guard, unflinchingly for the entire next hour.

Nechama is correct. What an awe-inspiring lesson in perseverance, in sticking to the path and in fulfilling one's duty, irrespective of the circumstances surrounding you...


My lecture begins. I am speaking on the Kabbalistic understanding of the origins and spiritual expertise of men and women, and how these spiritual compositions affect the way we relate in our inter-personal relationships. The crowd is a very mixed one, older and younger, but all very receptive to the message. A simultaneous translator is set up in the back of the room, translating my speech into Greek, and heard by the small transistors worn as ear pieces by those who choose the translated version. I remind myself to talk slower, and allow for the longer translation time difference for a reaction from the crowd.

Afterwards, several people approach me to share, talk and ask questions. One woman who approaches me tells me that she's nearing 40 and has a long term relationship, off and on, with a non-Jew. She is in a quandary about her future. She explains how her marriage prospects with a Jewish male are slim and becoming less and less of a possibility in this small Jewish community as time progresses...and she's getting older and she so wants a child of her own...and yet at the same time, something in her soul is pulling at her, holding her back.

This is just one of the many examples of why the Hendels are living here, far from their own families, raising their children far from cousins and friends.

And the war against the Hellenist culture continues...

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

My European Speaking Tour – Part One

Toronto, Switzerland & Greece

December 7, 2008

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

I'm off!

I'm embarking on a week-long lecture tour all across Europe.

When Leah Liberow, who together with her husband heads the European Jewish Study Network, called me several months ago to ask me if I'd do this tour, I agreed without actually realizing what I was agreeing to, nor ever really believing it would materialize.

But here I am, getting ready to leave. I'll be speaking in eight different cities within a seven day period, traversing five countries and passing through several more en route, until my return home next Monday afternoon.

I'm excited, nervous, full of anticipation, and unsure of what to expect.

My flight leaves Toronto at 6:30PM. I won't be sleeping much tonight as I am scheduled to arrive in Zurich, Switzerland, around 8:00AM local time, or 2:00AM Toronto time...Ugh!

My husband and youngest daughter accompany me to the airport. After parking, as we walk to the terminal, my husband notices a sign: Note your zone, remember your location. It is reminding travelers to take note of their zone area and exact parking location, lest they forget it upon their return. But it's also an apt message to keep in mind throughout our life's journey—remember who and what you are, keep in mind where you are going and to where you are heading...

Monday, November 3rd, 8:00AM

Sleepy and bleary eyed, I reach my first stop, Zurich, Switzerland, en route to my first speaking destination, Athens, Greece. From the plane window, I note the tall, majestic Swiss Alps. Though this stop-over is a short one, it is significant for me.

My father was born in Basil, Switzerland, a stone's throw from Zurich. In this country, his family found a haven of safety and security as they, unlike too many unfortunate others, were spared the horrors of the Holocaust.

As we land, I quickly purchase a small souvenir to add to my shelf of souvenirs at home. I feel an indescribable fondness for my father's birthplace, where he, together with most of his ten siblings, spent their calm, early childhood years.


I arrive in Athens, Greece. I try to force my eyes open to view the spectacular scenic countryside—the vast brown mountains and the crowded high rise buildings heavily dotting this city's landscape. Over six million people live in Athens, but only about 3,000 are Jewish.

Rabbi and Mrs. Mendel and Nechama Hendel, shluchim (Chabad emissaries) to Greece, arrived here seven years ago, for the sake of these 3,000 people. Each one of these individuals is to them not a mere number, but a real person, with a story, a history and a connection to Judaism that the Hendels hope to rekindle and intensify.

Aside from the Hendels' personal challenges — learning a new language, culture and becoming acclimatized to a new country far away from friends and family — their task is a difficult one. As in many small Jewish communities the world over, assimilation here is rampant. The local Jewish school accepts children of families where at least one parent is Jewish; unfortunately the norm here for many families. When her child's school mate has the Greek surname "Stephanopoulos," Nechama explains, this means that the mother must be Jewish, but a surname like "Cohen" may be questionable.

For Nechama and her husband another daunting challenge is the difficulty of raising their family in an environment so different—and so sparse in Judaism—compared to their own upbringing. Nechama, from France, and Mendel, from Israel, grew up surrounded by family and friends leading lives similar to their own. But for their three children in Greece, life is very different.

As soon as my plane had landed in Athens, I noticed a parked plane on the runway, marked with the bold and proud words, "Hellenic Emporium." It brought my mind back to my history lessons back in grade school, where we went back thousands of years in time learning about the Greek and Hellenistic culture. The miracle of Chanukah was not only the victory of the small, Jewish army of Maccabees against the great Greek Empire and the ensuing small cruse of oil miraculously burning for eight days. But more significantly, it was a war of ideology, a fight for the very survival of the Jewish people—preventing the forces of the Hellenistic culture from pervading and extinguishing the Jewish flame of existence by enticing the small Jewish nation to be swallowed up and assimilated within the greater whole.

It was the small, flickering flame of Jewish faith that overcame and burned brightly, surviving and even flourishing, despite being surrounded by the darkness of the encompassing culture.

And, on a different level, Nechama and her husband are on the front lines facing this battle today, daily.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.

The Questions that We Need to Ask

Tragedy in Mumbai

December 1, 2008

It's now a few days since we've heard the tragic news.

Almost like an addict, I still search for any new bits of news. News about the last hours of Rivka or Gaby's life. News about the terrorist groups. News about what could have been done differently to save precious lives.

Almost like an addict, I still search for any new bits of news

It's almost as if these little bits of information will somehow quieten the large and unanswerable questions that still roam freely in my mind. Big questions like WHY? How could it be? How can I resolve this ultimate paradox of paradoxes that seems to fly against everything I believed about the power of good triumphing over evil?

As I wrote in my previous blog, my youngest son, like children and adults the world over, was also greatly affected by this tragedy. He diligently recited hours of extra Psalms and took on as many good deeds as he could muster in the hope of a positive outcome, one that we now know was not meant to be.

There is much that we can learn from children's perspectives—from their intuitive, simple way of thinking. Sometimes, much more than even the deepest philosophies.

I assumed that once my son would hear of the terrible murders, he would be filled with questions and doubt—the types of questions that I was having. And the types of questions that I knew I wouldn't be able to find any answers for, because perhaps, in our exile world, there are no answers.

And, yes, my young but intelligent son did have questions. Many questions. And sad questions.

How are bodies transported in a plane?

But the types of questions that my son asked were unlike the ones that I had expected.

He asked things like:

Did two year old Moshe ever meet his grandparents before? Would he know them and feel comfortable with them?

How old were his grandparents? Were they young enough to have the strength and energy to take care of a young toddler?

When would the funeral take place? How are bodies transported in a plane?

At what age could a young orphan recite the kaddish prayer for his departed parents?

And finally, what were people doing? What campaigns were being started and what good deeds should be taken on in the merit of the Holtzbergs and all the other innocent, holy victims?

These were all difficult and painful questions that I tried to answer as best as I could.

But as I answered my son's questions it dawned on me that his questions were of an entirely different genre than my own. While my questions were in the realm of the theoretical and philosophical, his were entirely practical.

While mine were about "why", his were "how"," when" and "what."

In his simplicity, it was almost like my son intuitively realized that the type of questions that were haunting me were unanswerable, beyond what we can ever fathom, and need to be accepted at a faith level. So why waste our energy and efforts contemplating them?

Because while the "why" squanders our energy, the "how" empowers us to work harder.

While "why" provides an excuse for lethargy, the "how" propels us into action.

There's much we can learn from our children

While "why" lets us hide cowardly behind its depth and magnitude, the "how" demands us to bravely take small, functional steps to make change in our world.

Now is the time for all of us to ask questions. Many questions.

But the questions have to be of the nature that heroically bring more light into our world, rather than get us stuck spinelessly in its darkness.

We need to ask questions like how can we be of help, what can we do to brighten someone else's life and how can we increase joy and meaning in our world.

There's much we can learn from our children.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
Often we need a break from our daily routine. A pause from life to help us appreciate life.

A little pat on the back to let us know when we're on track. A word of encouragement to help us through those bleak moments and difficult days.

Sometimes, we just yearn for some friendship and camaraderie, someone to share our heart with. And sometimes we need a little direction from someone who's been there.

So, take a short pause from the busyness of your day and join Chana Weisberg for a cup of coffee.

Chana Weisberg is the editor of She lectures internationally on issues relating to women, relationships, meaning, self-esteem and the Jewish soul. She is the author of six books. Her latest book, Shabbat Delights, is a two-volume series on the weekly Torah portion.
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