From the words of Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits
Chanukah represents the Jewish victory over the Greeks. Not just the physical victory that occurred over two thousand years ago, but also the victory over the attitudes and philosophies of Greece – those paradigms that continue to effect the way mankind thinks even today. Which aspect of Greece engages us in battle on Chanukah, 2007? The following verse sheds light on the essence of Greece: “The boastful, stubborn man is a leitz (a scoffer)” (Proverbs 21:24). What is a leitz? The Mesillas Yesharim(Path of the Just) explains that a leitz “mak[es] fun of things and not being serious to the extent that no matter how powerful and convincing an argument is, [his] jokes will make it completely ineffective.” What connection does the leitz have with Greece?
It’s worthwhile to begin by clarifying the relationship between Greek philosophy and the Greek pagan gods. Were the Greeks philosophers or pagans? How could a civilization posses such profound philosophical depth and yet demonstrate, on the other hand, such a lack of sophistication by being the civilization with more pagan deities than any other? Greek democracy tolerated worshipping any pagan god you wanted to. There was no forced worship of any god. In Greece, religion was created by man to take care of his own emotional shortcomings like the need for a life of meaning and security both in ones daily life and in answer to the big questions. It was just something cultural, and therefore could be tolerated, because everything is false.
Thus, although Greece was steeped in idolatry, we do not view them as nation of idol worshippers, but rather as a nation of deniers. The most dangerous aspect of Greece, was their tolerance of religion, and religion as a culture. This is what is considered to be the danger of the leitz. When nothing is serious, it can never penetrate you deeply and effect you in a real way. This phenomenon is very alive in current events where a vast majority of world Jewry today are cultural Jews. Religion is something that gives security and comfort when it is needed, but has nothing to do with meaning and makes no demands to change.
If Torah doesn’t change you, then you are a leitz and all you’re left with is Torah as an art form. We must understand that it wasn’t us who created G-d as an easy answer to the world’s problems but rather it was G-d who created us. The real story of Chanukah sees the battle of Greece (the epitome of a leitz) in which life is one big aesthetic experience fighting against those who understand that life is one long process of growth and that to be alive is to make demands on oneself. To be wise is to become a greater person - and not just more of an artist and see everything as an art form, as culture, as tradition, like a leitz.
The real story of Chanukah is the message that we are not leitzanim. It’s interesting that the first thing we learn in the laws of Chanukah is why this is not Purim. The first thing to know about Chanukah is that it's not Purim; they are in-fact opposites. The festival of Chanukah is to celebrate that we are not clowns. We are for real, and we grow and we make demands of ourselves. It’s work and we love it, and it’s the very fiber of who we are.
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As Northwestern University opened the doors of its fall 2006 semester on its Chicago metropolitan area campus, Jerusalem Kollel Alumni Josh and Tamar Livingstone opened the doors of their exciting new outreach program called Meor. Meor is an international campus outreach organization with affiliates in many large universities. In the short time that they’ve been on campus, the Livingstone’s have been tremendously active in initiating many programs. Aside from special Shabbos programming, they regularly welcome fifty guests to their Shabbos table. They also organize subsided two-week trips to Israel with classes that explore Judaism and an exciting itinerary that leaves them with an unforgettable of experience the land and its people. One particularly successful venture has been the Maimonides Jewish Leaders Fellowship, a ten-week learning course featuring world renowned speakers from across the globe and designed to help students tap into the wisdom of their Jewish heritage. The fellowship attracted a full-capacity enrolment. The Livingstone’s also oversee one-on-one study sessions for many students, and their events generally attract at least thirty students. The impact that they have had on Jewish life on campus and their success in forming relationships with the students can perhaps best be encapsulated in the words of the students themselves:
“The Rabbi and his wife are the most welcoming people I ever met.”
- Marguerite Summer, Human Development and Psychological Services School of Education and School Policy
“…the door opened and about forty smiling Northwestern faces greeted me while the delicious smell of home-baked challah drew me to the table.”
- Sirena Rubinoff, Medill 2007 (Broadcast Journalism)
“In addition to being approachable, easy to talk to and hilarious, Rabbi Livingstone helped me to understand some fundamental questions about Judaism in our one-on-one meetings.”
- Marc Cohen, Political Science Major
“The program was a great way for me to learn more about how Judaism fits in with my every day life.”
- Monica Gomberg, Biology Major
Rabbi Livingstone tells an incredible story which illuminates the fantastic work they are doing on the campus. “A certain student told me that both her mother's and father’s parents were Jewish, but had all converted to Christianity. They were divorced when she was very young, and she was then raised by her father. He did not practice any religion and, because he had felt unwelcome in the Christian church, he sent her to a Hindu prep school. She eventually came to Northwestern for college, where she applied for a Birthright trip in which she fell in love with Israel. The Jewish people were warm and welcoming to her, and she felt a sense of community, identity and belonging for the very first time. Once back on campus, she was directed by her friends towards us, and after meeting us and getting involved in Meor, she has now enrolled in our winter Israel trip and our learning programs, as well as coming for Shabbat and baking challah with my wife every week. She is so eager to learn and connect to the community that welcomed her. We feel so fortunate to be able to reach out to a Jew who was left so far away from her heritage.”
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Rabbi Gidon Moskovitz
Rabbi Gidon Moskovitz, a Jerusalem Kollel Alumnus, arrived with his family in South West Texas in 2005 to lead the Meyerland Minyan, a fledgling Houston synagogue. Since he joined the shul, membership has increased from 25 to 94 families and his influence has extended to all aspects of Jewish life in the community. The shul used to meet in the local JCC, but moved to its own premises almost two years ago, enabling them to increase the frequency of their services as well as the number of people attending them.
One of Rabbi Moskovitz’s priorities has been to expand the educational programming available to the shul and the community. Although his more traditional classes like the Shabbos afternoon in-depth “Laws of Shabbos” class are popular and well received, Rabbi Moskovitz has introduced some out-the-box thinking into his roster of classes as well. One such class is the “Sip of life” program which splits its forty to fifty participants up into small groups to study various aspects of Judaism while sipping Starbucks coffee. This class has become so popular, that one regular attendee remarked, “you’ll need to call it “a GULP of life” due to its popularity.”
One achievement that has been felt across the community is his initiative to restore the Eiruv that had fallen into disrepair over the years. After making the necessary repairs, he organized a crew that checks the Eiruv weekly to maintain its kashrus. This move has revolutionized the Shabbos experience of the people in his area. Now they can carry things to shul, and parents of young children can push their baby-strollers. It has suddenly become much easier to observe Shabbos, and much more opportunity has been added for community socializing and more potential for Shabbos enjoyment.
The Moskovitz’s have built many new relationships with people of varied levels of religious observance. One couple, who were advancing in their commitment to Torah and Mitzvos, discovered that their initial wedding ceremony might have been performed incorrectly. Some time after they got to know Rabbi Moskovitz, they began to consider having another chuppah. One morning, they decided that this was the day that they were going to ‘get married again.’ That evening, Rabbi Moskovitz was running an event at the local Fiozza Coffee House. A coffee house wedding was quickly arranged! With thirty people in attendance, Rabbi Moskovitz performed a deeply moving kosher wedding service for the couple, with a running commentary on the significance of each part of the ceremony and its meaning and origin. Many people were left in tears by this most emotional of life events and the beautiful way in which Rabbi Moskovitz brought meaning and depth to this couple’s new commitment to each other and to their enhanced appreciation of the place of Torah observance in their life.
Upcoming events: Internationally renowned speaker Lori Palatnik is coming to the Meyerland Minyan to conduct a special Shabbaton with the theme will be ‘Bridging the Gap’, focusing on building the relationship between those newly observant, and their friends and family who are dealing with this transition. Also, for Chanukah, a special singles Shabbaton is planned, and singles are expected from all over the country (as well as Mexico). There will be other special Chanukah events for both adults and children.
The Moskovitz family, with their warmth and sincerity and in their own unique style, are slowly but surely raising the flag of Judaism in this corner of South West Texas.
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The Jerusalem Kollel and Aish UK
Aish HaTorah’s London branch enjoys the greatest concentration of Jerusalem Kollel alumni anywhere in the world. Rabbi Daniel Rowe became educational director in 2004; Rabbi Saul Kelly opened the Birmingham branch in 2005; Rabbi Shlomo Farhi joined as head of Jewish School Activities in 2006; Rabbi Simon Nissim and Rabbi Joel Padowitz also came to London in 2006 to expand the focus of the Aish Central London branch to include young professionals aged 22-32; Rabbi Danny Smolowitz serves as outreach Director in Essex and Rabbi Andrew Savage joined in 2007 as campus outreach director in Oxford and Cambridge. In this short span of three years, the Aish London team (including many other Rabbis as well), has succeeded in creating a vibrant, dynamic hub of Jewish social, educational, and religious activity. Rabbi Nissim teaches classes in the center’s study hall every morning, while Rabbi Farhi and Rabbi Rowe give morning classes in local schools. At lunch times, the team teaches Jewish students on a weekly basis in six public schools and in sixteen Jewish high schools. The team also teaches on most major UK university campuses, as well as in various local businesses. Throughout the year, in addition to its own shul services, the team runs explanatory services in synagogues throughout the greater London area. For the High Holidays, Aish London ran services in fifteen local shuls. The group also takes hundreds upon hundreds of students on trips to Israel, Poland, USA, and South Africa, which include informative, professional and challenging Jewish programming.
The London center is home to major activities with upwards of one-hundred participants nearly every day. “Aish Lounge” is a program directed toward young professionals which is held on Monday nights. Tuesday evenings, for students ages sixteen to twenty-two, usually revolves around a unique theme. They then prepare décor, refreshments, music and often educational content that match the theme. Wednesday nights focus on home-study groups in which dozens learn with rabbis in a less formal setting and Thursday nights are reserved for more advanced programming. On Shabbos, the center offers prayer services and the team Rabbis and their families host students—more than one-hundred on a typical Shabbos! From time to time, the team plans large Friday night meals that are put on in the itself.
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The Jerusalem Kollel welcomes Shaya and Yehudis Kohn
Shaya grew up in Staten Island, N.Y, and studied in the Mir Yeshiva before joining the Jerusalem Kollel. Yehudis is from Baltimore. They were married 6 months ago.
Q: What are your motivations in pursuing outreach activities?
SK: As I was growing up, I always saw that I was much happier than all my non-religious friends, despite the fact that on the surface, they had so much in the way of material and physical benefits, that they really should have been happy too. I want to be able to share with them this happiness and to be able to show them the truth and reality that is Torah-true Judaism and to uncover for them the precious ‘jewel’ that the secular world tries so hard to cover. G-d has blessed me with many abilities and I want to use them to reach out to many people. I can organize, run things and most importantly, I get things done.
Q: What made you join the kollel?
SK: Initially, I had wanted to go do outreach work in the Ukraine immediately after my wedding. But then I realized that I would be a much more efficient and effective ‘activist’ if I would have the benefit of investing the next couple of years in a kollel program designed specifically for outreach and under the direction, tutelage and guidance of Rav Berkovits. Now that I’ve seen all that the Jerusalem Kollel has to offer – not only a special environment for the study of Jewish law and philosophy, but also outreach and community leadership training and practical Rabbinics – I can’t believe much more effective I will be able to be.
YK: Although it is my husband who is doing the intensive studying, the idea of an outreach training kollel was very appealing to me. The fact that the program includes an active women’s program with a curriculum designed to address contemporary issues pertinent to women will be extremely valuable. I realized that we would both be better equipped to achieve our goals after experiencing such a unique combination of studying and training from Rav Berkovits.
Q: What do you think you can gain from your relationship with Rav Berkovits?
SK: I feel tremendously privileged to be able to learn from such a ‘Torah and outreach’ personality such as Rav Berkovits. It is rare to find such a unique Torah scholar with a synthesis of knowledge of all areas of Judaism with an unbelievable ability to relate and to and touch people from all walks of life. In Rav Berkovits I have found someone who lives the Torah’s ideals and transmits them with such sincerity and integrity. It is a special opportunity to learn about authentic Torah ideas and to receive guidance on how to lead my life.