Sunday, November 30, 2008

What is a "Chabad House"

Now that the tragic events in India appear to have ended non-Jews (and possibly many Jews) the world over are wondering about this Jewish group in Mumbai called Chabad. I liked this interview on CNN with Professor Mel Konner and I think he explained things quite well.

Also, for those in Melbourne, there will be a gathering at Yeshivah Shul tomorrow night (Monday, 1 December) at 8:00pm. The notice says:

In light of the recent tragic events,
the community is urged and
encouraged, to take part in a Kinnus
(הקהל) gathering, to hear words of
inspiration and guidance.

לזכר ולעילוי נשמת:

Siyum Sefer Torah - Carnegie

Photos by Zelig Shaul of the Siyum Sefer Torah today for the new Carnegie Chabad House - formerly the Carnegie Minyan.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A WarmTribute

Piece on the JTA website by Benjamin Holtzman:

Remembering Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg


By Benjamin Holtzman

Just minutes ago I heard the terrible news that five Israeli hostages were found dead inside the Chabad center at Nariman house in Mumbai. Although the media hasn’t officially confirmed their identities yet, it seems quite certain that they are Chabad Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg, his wife Rivka, an Israeli couple and another Israeli.

After having been glued to the news for two days straight, relentlessly combing through twitter updates, news reports, and blogs, I am totally exhausted, yet feel compelled to write something about these great people I knew.

I lived in Mumbai for six months last year, and would go to the Beit Chabad with friends for a Shabbat meal about every second week. Over the course of six months, we got to know the rabbi and his wife quite well.

They were wonderful people: warm, inviting and engaging. Gabi would get visibly excited to have so many guests for Shabbat; you could tell it really made his week. He would have a grin on his face almost the entire meal, including during his dvar Torah. He was always so eager to create a communal feeling that he insisted everyone go around the table and say a few words to the group, giving guests four options: either delivering a dvar Torah, relating an inspirational story, declaring to take on a mitzvah or leading a song.

As most of the guests were Israeli backpackers and other passers-through, they might have found this quite novel. For us regulars, it was just Gabi’s shtick. I can still hear him reciting those four options to the group now, as if he had discovered some miraculous way to make everyone involved in the Shabbat with no escape, impressed by his own genius week in and out. He had a devilish smile; you could really see the child still in him, just beneath the surface.

Gabi was also exceptionally thoughtful. Though most of the guests were Israeli, Gabi would give his dvar Torah in English for the sake of the few of us English speakers there with sketchy Hebrew, so we’d understand. Sometimes he spoke line by line first in English, then Hebrew. Gabi would start discussions and made it his personal mission to get everyone talking, to make a group of disconnected Jews feel like a family. It worked. That was Gabi.

Rivki was a certified sweetheart. She’d generally sit apart from Gabi, to spread herself out, and usually sat with the girls. She too relished Friday night dinners -- I think she needed her weekly female bonding time. She’d talk to the girls about the challenges of keeping kosher in India and share exciting new finds at the market together.

You could tell she was far from home, in this dense Mumbai jungle, but she was tough and really made the best of it. She would balance Gabi’s presence, occasionally making comments to people at her table while Gabi was speaking -- not as a sign of disrespect, but to keep the people around her having a good time. That was Rivki: brave, fun-loving and super sweet.

Perhaps the greatest testament to their character was simply the fact that they lived in downtown Mumbai for years on end. Having lived there for just six months, I understand how incredibly taxing just existing in the city is. Even when trying to relax, the city still seems to suck the life out of you. Living as Westerners in modest conditions in the thick of Mumbai, with the restrictions of kashrut and Shabbat, is certainly no small feat.

I’m not sure if they were thrilled with their placement in Mumbai, but they certainly made a good go of it. They were only a few years older than me, in their late 20s, and despite being far from friends and family and perhaps not in the most exciting Chabad placement (compared to Bangkok, Bogota or Bondi), they kept positive and built a beautiful bastion of Jewey goodness.

They chose a life that demonstrated such altruism and care, in the truest sense. The Mumbai Chabad really made a difference to my time in India, and made me feel that much more at home in such a foreign country.

It was at Gabi and Rivki’s where I met Joseph Telushkin, the famous Jewish author. It was at Gabi and Rivki’s where I randomly bumped into friends of friends from back home. It was to Gabi and Rivki’s where we brought our non-Jewish Indian friends who became curious in Judaism. It was at Gabi and Rivki’s where a girl I would later fall for first developed feelings for me, when I brought her some water while she lay sick on the sofa from Indian food poisoning. She was being nursed by Rivki.

We often hear about tragedies in distant, disconnected places and feel frustratingly estranged from them. We want to connect, but can't; we feel as though in a different world. And mere numbers, names and images don’t amount to much. I hope I’ve been able to paint a small picture of two of the victims of the Mumbai terror attacks, which claimed more tha 140 lives and left hundreds injured.

I know they would have been brave throughout the whole ordeal. Though unconfirmed, it is likely they would have been murdered right as Shabbat was coming in. I feel that this would have provided them with comfort, knowing that they departed this world in a time of peace. I also know the knowledge that their 2-year old son Moishe managed to escape in the arms of his nanny would have provided them with great comfort in their final hours. When I would look at the young Moishe I would see Gabi’s face and Rivki’s carefree spirit.

Chabad lost two soldiers today, emissaries and keepers of the Jewish people. Let us honor their work and their lives in our prayers, in our thoughts and in our deeds, and let us pray for the families of the dozens of other victims of these attacks. May all their souls rest in peace, and may we see an end to violence in our time.

The Worst News

We come out of Shabbos here in Australia with the sad news that Rabbi Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg have not survived the siege at the Chabad House. While we are just hearing this those in the United States were aware of this before Shabbos in their time zone.

The feelings are still raw. This news article on JTA states the facts and talks about the Holtzbergs and their impact on India. The article below - by Rabbi Shimon Posner of Chabad of Rancho Mirage - begins to express the anguish that most of us are feeling.


It's happened. We held out against what we didn't want to hear but now we've heard it... and what do we do? Do we rant? Do we shut up?

We mourn. In silence. But if we stay home and mourn in silence, how is anyone to think anything other than we are just taking a nice long bath? So we mourn silently in public. Without speaking of hope, without speaking of pain; we speak only of the matter at hand – the burial which is now incumbent upon us.

I am sure that there on the other side of the globe competent people are going about that grim task. We sit here and we watch them without seeing. We watch them with our hearts. Not the gruesome scene: whom would that honor, the martyrs or the cowards? No, we watch the sanctity, the pure and sacred bodies who served You with joy in life, and in death did not part from You – and by extension not from us either. And we hear echoes of times past and other places which move forward with glaring clarity -- remarkably en courante?

Rabbi Chananya ben Tradyon is being publically murdered by the Romans. They wrap his body in a Torah and light it on fire. And the saintly one proclaims –in his anguish – "the parchment I see burning but the letters they soar into the air! "

The archive footage comes back to us again of a young exuberant couple: "Hi my name is Rivkie!" And he, with a smile that is open and somehow knowing beyond his years. Beyond his innocence. Baking challah for hundreds, shechting chickens for hundreds, dancing, davening. And then footage of Nariman House surrounded on November 28, 2008.

And we cannot yet mourn because the grim service must still be done. And oh! I nearly forgot! Shabbos is coming! Work must be done! Giving out challahs, verifying the minyan, cleaning, shopping...

And somewhere deep in our psyche we remember; Shabbos we cannot mourn. Shabbos we must rejoice...we are commanded thus. So it is written in no less an authority than children's stories we read decades ago. So Eli Wiesel confirmed in his story of Jews under Communist rule The Jews of Silence. The elderly chossid who cries bitterly at a farbrengen and then "remembers" it is Simchat Torah and he demands everyone rejoice because they will not dictate when we mourn and when we rejoice; only the Torah dictates.

Our medium is virtual and we virtually gather together waiting for a grim and awful funeral procession to commence. We watch the letters floating in the air and we hear the cries of two mothers, two fathers, brothers and sisters and one two-year baby looking for Mommy.
Shabbos is coming towards us and we must go out and greet her. We will go into Shabbos knowing that Sunday looks grim. We will wish that Shabbos will just last all week. A Shabbos that would not end. A Shabbos that would permeate every corner of the globe and every cranny of the human psyche and envelope it in its warmth and glow and melt all evil from hearts which were not born evil or corrupt, until they too – they especially—will sing Shabbos!

I've digressed, and it is this digression which the Jew considers the straightest of lines, obscured though it might be by glaring headlines and the painful present. Good Shabbos... Shabbat Shalom. And as my children have taught me to say: TTYL.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Good News?

Zelig Shaul sent me news from IBN News that the hostages, including the Rabbi Holtzberg and his wife, have been released from the Chabad House. I could not find confirmation of this from any other news source and hope and pray that it is correct. Hopefully when Shabbos is over the drama will also be over with a good outcome.

The news item below - relating to the situation and how Chabad is responding to it - is from Israeli English news.

Mumbai Update

Commandos abseiling into the Jewish Centre

Reports in the Age and on ABC have stated that commandos stormed the Jewish Centre but as yet it is not known if the hostages have been released.

We should keep saying tehillim for all people - Jewish and non-Jewish - who are caught up in this tragedy.

No Definitive News

The nanny escaping with Moshe Holtzberg, the son of the shluchim

As I woke this morning there is still no definitive news about the situation in the Chabad House, Nariman House, where the shluchim and others have been held. Reports are that all the hostages have been released but the Chabad sites and others are still unclear about the fate and condition of the hostages.

Israel National News
ABC News
The Age

Please continue saying tehillim for all the hostages and injured. Hopefully this situation will end soon with no more killed or injured.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

India Update

From COL:

12:21 AM: After 12 hours in captivity, 3 hostages escaped the Chabad House building. Footage shows a woman and her 2 year-old daughter of "foreign nationality" rushing into an ambulance. They reported of 5-6 terrorists in the building.

12:42 AM: A woman who is the maid, and Moshe Holtzberg - child of Chabad Shliach where rescued, also rescued is the cook lady for Chabad.

1:44 AM: Lubavitch spokesman Zalman Shmotkin said that "the terrorists commandeered a police vehicle which allowed them easy access to the area of the Chabad house and threw a grenade at a gas pump nearby, blowing it up."

1:59 AM: Holtzberg's mother-in-law Yehudis Rosenberg: "The nanny said they were alive but unconscious."

I am assuming these are New York times which would make the latest report 90 minutes ago.

Dire Situation

I didn't post this previously as most other Jewish websites have been reporting on this but I have had requests from a few people to publicise the situation.

As most of you know there has been a series of terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India with the terrorists apparently targeting Americans and the English. Some of these attacks occured in the vicinity of the Chabad House and apparently three Israelis have been killed r"l and the Shluchim, Rabbi Gavriel & Rivka Holtzberg and their child haven't been heard from for a number of hours.

Please say tehillim and give tzedokah for:
Gavriel Noach ben Freida Bluma
Rivka bas Yehudis Holtzberg
Moshe Tzvi ben Rivka

and for all the missing and injured.

COL has some breaking news

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Last Photo (I hope)

Thanks to Moshe D for sending me this.   I comes from here and shows most of the Aussies at the Kinnus.  It is not such good quality and it is difficult to see everyone but appears to include lots of bochrim who are in Crown Heights.

I intend this to be the last photo of the Kinnus this year.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Spotted at the Kinnus - 2

Reb Arel Serebryanski

Chaim Tzvi Groner (towards the left)

Ya'akov Barber

Yoram Ulman (L)

Michael Goldhirsh & sons and Morry Wolko (towards the top in the middle)

Morry Wolko, Sholom Mendel Kluwgant, Yisroel Sufrin, 
Yitzchok Reisenberg & Reuvi Cooper at the Banquet

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Spotted at the Kinnus

Chaim Tzvi Groner (R)

Benyomin Serebryanski (L)

Yossi (ben R' Arel) Serebryanski 

Sholom Mendel Kluwgant (centre),  Yisroel Sufrin (far right)

Elozor Gorelik (L)

Mendel Groner (guest speaker at a Thursday night session)

Moshe New (centre)

Yitzchok Reisenberg (left side of table)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Boruch Dayan Hoemes

We were all saddened to hear the passing of Rabbi Velvel Krinsky ob"m who was niftar on Friday just an hour before Shabbos.   He was the eldest sibling in his family and was well known in Australia as a Shochet and Mohel and for his distinctive chazzanus.  He was 93 years of age and the oldest chossid in Australia. For the last few years he had lived with his wife at the Montefiore Homes in Melbourne where she still resides.

The levaya will be at Springvale on Sunday at 2:00pm according to the Chevra Kadisha website.

 COL has a nice article about him which I am reproducing below.

Rabbi Velvel Krinsky, an elder Chossid of the Lubavitch community in Australia, has passed away today, Friday, in Melbourne some 10 minutes before Shabbos candle lighting.

He was 93.

American born and bred, Krinsky was an army veteran who served in the U.S. army on aircraft carriers in World War II.

Born Ze'ev Arye Krinsky in Plymouth, MA, his father R' Shmaya Krinsky OBM raised him and his siblings in a Chassidic environment, in great contrast to the spirit of the liberal state.

He lived in Worcester, MA, before moving to Australia where he was active in religious affairs as a Schochet, Mohel and Chazzan.

He is survived by his siblings: Mrs. Rivka Hecht, New Haven, CT; Mrs. Chava Shusterman, Chicago, IL; Mrs. Sofie Goodman, Ashdod, Israel; R' Yosef Krinsky, Crown Heights; Rabbi Pinchas Krinsky, Boston, MA; Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Crown Heights; Mrs.Yochi Goldberg, Boston, MA.

And his children: Mrs. Chaya Raisel Glick, Melbourne; R' Hershel Krinsky, Crown Heights; R' Avraham Shmaryahu Krinsky, Melbourne; R' Dovid Reuven Krinsky, Sydney; Mrs. Fraida Teitelbaum, Montreal, Canada.

The Levaya will take place on Sunday (Motzoei Shabbos in the U.S.) 

The family in the U.S. will be sitting Shivah at 1450 President Street, Brooklyn, NY. Shachris - 9:40am, Mincha - 4:15pm, Maariv - Bizman

Mrs. Shusterman and Mrs. Goodman are sitting shiva at 6211 North Whipple St in Chicago.

Hamokom Yenachem eschem Besoch Shaar Avaylay Tzion VeYerushalayim. Vehukeetzu Veranenu Shochnay Ufur vehu besochom

Friday, November 21, 2008

Historic Photo

Rav EE HaCohen Yolles, Rav Mordechai Mentlik, 
Rabbeinu, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Levitin, 
Rav MDB Rivkin, Rav Shlomo Aron Kazarnovsky, Zichronom LiVrochoh

I was just about to post this wonderful photo from 5724 (1964) when I saw that Circus Tent had beat me to it.  The advantage that Circus Tent has over me is that he knows all the people pictured - I only recognised the Rebbe and Rabbi Mentlik.

Thanks again to Menachem Kirschenbaum for publicising this photo and for the stories of the Rebbe and pictures each week on his Portrait of a Leader blog.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Kinnus HaShluchim 5769

Well the International Kinnus HaShluchim has started in Crown Heights and I have started my perusal of the dozens of photographs to seek out the Aussies there.  So far photos have appeared on Shturem, Shmais and COL which also has this fairly professional video.

2008 Shluchim Conference Opens from on Vimeo.

Yosef Chaim Kantor (R)

Yossel New (L)

Dovid Sebban (R)

Please let me know if you see someone I have missed.

Monday, November 17, 2008

On a more positive note...

I just read this post on Circus Tent and was quite moved by the story.  It is more "real" than many other stories of tzaddikim and quite easy to imagine it actually happening.


Assorted Mixed Nuts

This recent article on - one of the main meshichist websites - struck me as funny and sad.   These nutty "shluchim" shlepped their little kids 4 or 5 hours from Montreal to New York for their Opshiren - which was held downstairs in 770 at 2:00am.  The reason for the weird time and short trip was so that they would be able to get back to Montreal before Shabbos.

I know that this is not such earth shattering news but to me it is just another example of how far away these people are straying from normal society.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Shul Antics

Emmanuel has written an interesting editorial about the state of Yeshivah Shul. The issues he brings up are just part of the problem of the entire Yeshivah Centre which has been discussed at length here.

While there are a few dedicated people who try to keep things running without expecting pats on the back etc. And while the gabboim are doing a better job than the majority of gabboim in the past, there is still a great lack in a number of areas. The most obvious are lack of leadership and accountability.

I will let Emmanuel say it in his own unique way:


While recently contemplating the myriad of empty seats in the Shul one Shabbos, it occurred to me that the current Shul situation (vis a vis it’s diminishing relevance to people in the general Lubavitch community) has a striking resemblance to a recurring image that I have of the anecdotal Nero who fiddled on the hills overlooking Rome while the city burned!

As more and more people seem to be contemplating what may have been (5 years ago or more) the previously unthinkable idea of davening elsewhere, it befuddles me (I know, that isn’t very difficult to do) that those with the power to make change…resist it so strongly! I suppose this can be considered a “cheftza/gavra” issue…is the moisod the ikar at all costs or is the moisod a reflection of the community that daven there, in that it represents/serves the community (within the confines, of course, of Lubavitch philosophy and minhag)…and never the twain shall meet!

Seemingly, the former has been the direction taken by those that are responsible for the Shul given that the Shul has been neglected for decades to the needs of the Centre in general, and the school in particular!

Is it mind boggling therefore, that those responsible for the Yeshivah Centre (and by extension the Shul) seem to be finally responding to this gradual (and not so gradual) exodus of people from the Shul in a most unique and innovative way…they are again going on a drive to enlist new members for the same old Shul committee!?

Is the brief of these new saviours to represent the Shul and demand the autonomy and respect that the Shul needs as an independent, community moisod or will they continue the current committee traditions to make sure that there is enough herring and gefilte fish for farbrengens, listen patronizingly to mispallel issues that arise from time to time and, maybe be there at 9:30 on Shabbos morning so that the minyan can start on time!

Is this a bold new vision to build on for the future or just fiddling around the edges, trying to placate an ever restless community whose apathy seems to be fast changing to…anger?!

In a time where, dare I say, our Shul seems to feel no more than a venue - 4 walls and a roof where people get together on Shabbos to daven a little in between conversations – those with the wherewithal to make bold and far reaching decisions upon which the future of our congregation can be built, are sitting on the sidelines trying to maintain an increasingly shaky status quo that is spiraling ever downward…like fiddlers on our Shul roof!


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama Causes Hysteria - among Yidden!

I was in two minds about writing anything regarding the election in America. What does it matter what I - or anyone outside of the US - says as we have no input into their elections. The bottom line is that America is the strongest and richest country in the world. The only country with a global foreign policy and this therefore affects almost every country on this planet. Therefore, despite having no say in president-elect Obama's selection, his victory touches us all to a greater or lesser degree.

From thousands of miles away - and thousands of miles away from the hysteria of the pro and anti Obama factions - his victory seems like a great and historic occasion for America and Americans. Once Obama actually takes charge the realities of running the country things will be quite different from the rhetoric of the election campaign. The president is the leader of that country but I don't believe that he makes decisions in a vaccum. There are many advisors and elected officials who also have a major say in America's policies. Obama will not be able - or probably even want to - change established procedures and policies without much thought and planning.

In any case it will be at least 12 months until we see what type of president he makes and whether the electorate made a good decision or a catastrophic one. has dozens of comments on their piece about Obabma's win. They also published an interesting article by Shmueli Boteach. Even after many years of viewing these websites the rudeness (and ignorance) of some of the commenters still surprises me.