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“They’re Hungry for This”

April 29, 2011 4:47 PM

Those were the words a father said to us as at the Model Matzah bakery we had arranged. He wasn’t just referring to the Matzah the children had made. The Jewish community in Destin, FL, has been gathering on their own, holding services in a storefront without a Rabbi. They were thrilled that we had arrived to revitalize them in time for the holiday of Passover.

After only a couple of phone calls, we had a roomful of children, and their parents, eagerly involved in the process of making Matzah, singing Jewish songs as they worked. The parents were so grateful that their children had the opportunity to experience Judaism hands-on, especially in a place where Jewish education is not (yet) available. In addition to their homemade Matzah, we distributed Shmurah Matzah to every child, instructing them to save it for their Seder.

Needless to say, we were happy to see many of the same smiling faces at our Seder, held both nights of Passover at the Wingate Hotel.

Child Asks the 5th Question

April 22, 2011 4:26 PM

Our seder was a remarkable experience. For more than 5 hours the community smiled and sang together, with many deep and meaningful discussions interspersed throughout the evening.

But perhaps the most memorable moment took place before the seder had even begun. Being that we started before candle lighting time, we offered the men the opportunity to put on Tefillin. One man, attending the seder along with his seven year old son, politely refused.

The young boy, curious about the strange looking black leather boxes and straps, asked his father, “Vos is dos? - what is this?” The father then decided that he would put on Tefillin, as a lesson to his child that there is more to being Jewish than attending a Passover seder once a year.

Children are the primary focus on Passover, from the four questions, to the rituals we perform solely to make the children ask. This desire to impart Jewish knowledge and pride to a child from a man who barely had any Jewish knowledge of his own, and who had only moments before refused to take part in it, epitomizes the Passover spirit.

A Minyan at the Prague Airport

April 22, 2011 11:53 AM

On our way from New York to Warsaw, Poland, we had a short stopover in Prague. Along with the four of us traveling to Poland, there were two fellow Roving Rabbis heading to Romania, and yet another two heading to Siberia!

Already eight, we figured we could find another two men and pray with a minyan - the quorum of ten required for communal prayer. A French student heading on his way to Israel for Passover meant we had nine. Just one to go.

And so, we set out on a search for a tenth, in this most unlikely of places.

We soon found an Israeli bussinesman on his way to Germany. He agreed to sit with us, despite seeming total uninterested in praying, or Judaism in general. We were extremely grateful that he gave of his time strictly to do us a favour. That generosity of spirit make the Prague Airport a place we will never forget.

A Bar Mitzvah in the Ghetto

April 18, 2011 9:22 AM

You can imagine the frustration when hearing your flight is delayed, especially when you have a connecting flight. When your connecting flight is in Warsaw, Poland, we can tell you: your worries triple.

When the flight finally did leave, we thought we had enough time to make it. But after a long security line in Warsaw, we sped over to our gate, only to be told we were too late to board the plane, even though the plane hadn’t yet left the gate.

It was 9:30 in the morning. The next flight would only be at 5:30 that afternoon. You can understand how frustrated we were. Instead of spending the day at the airport, we made our way to the old Jewish Ghetto.

While we toured the Ghetto, we met a Polish Jewish couple. The husband only spoke Polish, but his wife had a passable understanding of English. After a teeth-breaking conversation, we asked if he would like to put on Tefillin. His wife had never even heard of Tefillin, while he had once seen them, but never put them on.

As we strapped his arm and head, tears fell from eyes. Emotionally, he said the Shema prayer, and with his wife serving as an interpreter, he thanked us profusely.

We told him of our travel annoyances, and said this clearly was Divine providence; G‑d had engineered the days events to ensure we would meet them and give them the opportunity to reignite their souls. Smiling, they agreed and thanked us once again.

Before we returned the airport to catch our connecting flight, we made sure they had Matzah and a place for the seder.

We might have thought that our mission hadn’t begun yet. We hadn’t even arrived at our destination. Clearly, our mission is constant. We are always on call for when a Jewish soul cries out.

Who could have envisioned such an emotional Bar Mitzvah, filled with joy and hope, taking place at a historic land filled with painful, tragic memories? It is a moment we will never forget. A Memory we will always cherish.

With the Bar Mitzvah boy.

In front of the old Jewish ghetto.

Don’t Cry Over Spilled Wine

April 17, 2011 12:16 AM

Our stay so far in Maracaibo, the second largest city in Venezuela, has been nothing short of exciting. While our boxes of Kosher for Passover food ripped and bottles of wine broke, we’ve managed to pull through, and our seder preparations are well underway.

The community is very excited to see us, especially the large amount of kids. Our pre-seder kids program hosted more than 40 children. We had a blast together doing fun Passover activities and learning about the holiday.

Before Shabbat, 10 men had put on Tefillin with us, and we are sure many more will enjoy our services up to and during Passover.

Wherever the seder finds you, we hope it is enjoyable and meaningful.

Five Star Seder with Grand Ocean View

April 17, 2011 12:16 AM

Taganga is a small fishing town surrounded by stunning mountains on the Colombian coast. There are many Israeli backpackers touring the area, as well as other Jewish tourists.

As we strolled through the city spreading the word about our upcoming seder, which will be held in the magnificent Hotel Benjamin, overlooking the ocean, we have been met with a tremendous response.

People are thrilled with the opportunity to celebrate Passover, and many are volunteering to help advertise and prepare the seder. Dor the curator at a popular Israeli hostel “Casa Bait” has made it his mission to help us reach as many Jews as possible.

We have put on Tefillin and held long meaningful discussions with many tourists. The enthusiasm and excitement is palpable, as people anticipate the festivities.

From an extremely hot and sunny Taganga.

Live From Panama Beach City

As we get closer to Passover, we’re making our way around the Florida Panhandle in search of Jewish people who may need a place for the seder, a box of matzah or a listening ear.

Already, we’ve seen much success, and people are very glad to meet and chat with us. This area is filled with Israeli and Moroccan immigrants, many of whom are searching to “rekindle the spark” and enjoy the Passover experience they had as children.

One of the Israelis we met initially showed skepticism and refused to put on Tefillin. Well, after we spoke for an hour and a half, sharing many inspirational thoughts with each other, we quickly became friends. Here he is pictured wearing Tefillin proudly.

We have many other stories to share, but we’ll save those for when things calm down a bit and we have time to write them. For now, enjoy the pictures, and let us know if you know of any Jews in the area who could benefit from a visit, some Matzah, or phone call.

Two doctors, who enjoyed a pre Passover chat, and are grateful for the Matzah we shared.

Army of Rabbinical Students Dispatched to Farthest Corners of Globe

April 14, 2011 1:00 PM
(Photo: Bentzi Sasson)
(Photo: Bentzi Sasson)

With destinations stretching from Rwanda and Ghana to Poland and Russia, China and India to Texas and California, Greece, Iceland, and all points in between, 650 rabbinical students set out from Brooklyn, N.Y., to run Passover Seders for Jewish communities large and small, all over the world.

Dispatched by Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, under its popularly-known “Roving Rabbis” program, the students spent the last few days getting briefed on their assignments and learning the ins and outs of any problems that might arise when Passover arrives April 18.

“While you may look like a wreck after having worked for days on end to prepare the Seder, it is important the guests don’t see that side of you,” Rabbi Tzali Wilshansky, a veteran of such efforts who today serves as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary in Kenosha, Wis., advised the young men. “There is no excuse for not looking presentable.”

Saadia Weingarten of Grand Rapids, Mich., found the conference and send-off to be “fascinating.”

“I feel far better prepared to be able to perform the Seder with maximum efficiency and responsibility,” said the rabbinical student, who will be coordinating Seders in Pristina, Kosovo.

The students left New York with boxes of Haggadahs and handmade matzah, cartons of kosher meat, and other necessities.

“We have done everything possible to ensure a smooth experience for each of these rabbinical students who are giving up spending Passover with their families to help their fellow Jews,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch.

For a complete photo gallery click here.

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