Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Smiling for a Change!

After solemnly holding tight onto a pitchfork for over seven decades, the dour-faced Depression era couple is almost breaking into a “Happy Chanukah!” smile.
Indeed, the picture has changed as the stern stick-in-the-mud style has branched out right and left with warm and welcoming outreach to one and all. Lo and behold, the cold sharp iron implement has gracefully metamorphosed into a warm and bright Menorah.
When Grant Woods painted the austere rural American Gothic in 1930, he could never have imagined a Menorah standing in the center of his masterpiece. Neither could most of us envision that Chanukah would one day light up the contemporary American scene.
The festival of Chanukah has finally arrived, even here, deep in the heartland. Although once low profile and almost in hiding, the shy and bashful Chanukah is now embraced and celebrated, in homes, halls and malls across the country. Rather than restricted to a tiny notice tucked away in back of the religion section, Chanukah has now blossomed into a full color front page story.
It’s not that our smiling couple just discovered Chanukah out on the street. Note that they’ve already kindled their personal household Menorah in the window, and have come out front to publicly and proudly display a Menorah for all to see. The cherished Constitutional Freedom of Religion that we enjoy in this country is surely a good reason for us all to smile along.
These adorable folks may also be smiling at how times have changed since they starred in the original Gothic. Long past its heyday, the pitchfork has fallen into disuse, an archaic relic that rusts in the barnyard or is confined to museums. By contrast, the Menorah of twenty five centuries ago is full of energy, meaning and purpose. The vital and vibrant Menorah reflects the past and burns with a fiery passion for the future, shining forth as strong as ever.
The painting’s original expression of the precious values of Thrift, Endurance and Faith are depicted beautifully in the new rendition. But rather than standing stoically and tight lipped, Chanukah poignantly delivers a three pronged message that emanates warmth.
Thrift: The little cruse of oil that illuminated the Holy Temple in Jerusalem for eight days and nights demonstrates the victory of Quality over Quantity and the triumph of the few over the many.
Endurance: The Menorah highlights the brave and courageous Maccabees who struggled to overcome great challenges and obstacles.
Faith: Standing tall and proud, the Menorah encourages our faith in G-d and strengthens our confidence in Jewish destiny and future.
The Menorah inspires today, just as it inspired the Jewish people when they were liberated from Greek-Syrian oppression and influence. We preface the Menorah lighting by reciting the blessing for the miracles “in those days, in our time.” The Menorah’s bright rays help dispel the surrounding darkness and confusion and fear of war and terrorism in our time.
Retire, the old trusty pitchfork, must, but first with final respects to its association with the rich symbolism of Messianic universal peace. That is when “nations will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning shears.” (Isaiah 2:4)

By Rabbi Israel Rubin

Albany, NY

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

International Convention of Chabad Emissaries

Four thousand hats, four thousand beards, sixty five countries, forty seven states. There is no hall large enough in the entire borough of Brooklyn, NY to hold them. They are gathered at Pier 94 on the west side of Manhattan, which has been converted in to a gigantic banquet hall.

Welcome to the International Convention of the World-Wide Chabad Lubavitch Movement.
The annual gathering of Chabad emissaries is the highlight of our year. Our mission to reach every single Jew is evident throughout the entire ballroom.

Rabbis from every corner of the world are here today, yet tomorrow they will be off to their faraway destinations, placing them within the reach of every single Jew in the entire universe.

The guest speaker is Mr. Levi Leviev, the powerful diamond magnate, who personally bankrolls hundreds of Chabad institutions in the former Soviet Union. He tells the tale of ten Chabad envoys who one hundred years ago arrived in Samarkand to inspire the Bucharian Jewish community. To their chagrin, only ten boys agreed to attend their small cheder. The entire generation was engulfed by a wave of assimilation, yet those ten boys in the cheder remained steadfast in their Jewish observance. One of those boys was Mr. Leviev's grandfather.

It was this committment to the individual, to every single Jew, that Chabad displayed to his grandfather and continues to display to every single Jew that inspires him to stand side by side with the Chabad movement, ensuring that no Jew will be left behind.

The highlight of his talk was the story of a girl from the country of Tatarstan who was born to a Jewish mother and non-Jewish father. The mother felt an obligation to give her daughter a Jewish education and enrolled her in the local Chabad day school. The father went along with it initially, but gradually changed his mind and decided to baptize her as a Christian. As they prepared for the ceremony on a Friday evening, the girl asked the priest for some candles, and he complied with her wishes. She took the candles, lit them and proceeded to say," Baruch ata adon-ai... Lehadlik ner shel shabbat kodesh .... Needless to say, there was not a dry eye in the audience.

May we all merit to reach every Jew and inspire them to give their children a love and passion for the Jewish faith.

By Rabbi Dov Mandel