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Auschwitz story of freedom

Dear Friends,   

I was honoured to be invited to a lecture by Mr. George Pal, a survivor of Auschwitz and two other labour camps. The lecture was this past Wednesday at Uvic. Besides the fact that the days leading to Pesach are quite busy, I also wasn't sure that this was the talk I needed to hear before Pesach. After all, Pesach is a festival of joy and freedom, ideas that probably don’t mesh so well with a Holocaust story. To my surprise, I left the lecture with a very strong and unique lesson for Pesach! 

The lecture was very moving. Mr. Pal shared "snapshots" from his horrific story with the students and guests. As many times as you hear Holocaust stories, it is still so difficult to accept how evil humans can become and how survivors actually lived through such horrors.

George’s description of his arrival to Auschwitz was heart-rending: the shock of what they saw; meeting "the angel of death," Josef Mengele; the separation from his family; and other very difficult details of that awful experience. Then, George shared the following episode:

"While standing with my father, I saw my grandfather weeping. I walked over to him. He looked at me and said, 'George, all my life I ate only Kosher food, and now, in the cart on the way here, I ate bacon. That’s all I was able to get to eat."

Can you imagine? The man was going to a death camp and was separating from his family, and what was on his mind? That he was unable to keep to his standards of spiritual expectation that he has set for himself. Isn't that the deepest expression of freedom, for one to be able to stand for ones values under such unbearable circumstances?

So when we come to celebrate our liberation, I'll remember this message of freedom. Being able to keep to our beliefs in the most difficult of times comes from a sense of independence, a freedom to be who we are, to express it, and to live by it.

I must complete this post with a happier “Zeide story" which happened yesterday, when I was rushing through Hillside shopping centre. Sandy, a young woman selling at one of the shopping booths turned to me, a bit hesitent "do you know when Pesach is?" to which I replied "Pesach is Monday, and you are invited to join us for the Seder", and I told her when and where.

Sandy was excited beyond words. "I’m certainly joining you. My grandfather in Montreal will be so proud of me. You know what? I'm calling him right now..." 

The light spreads...

 

Dear Friends,  

How much influence does Vancouver Island have on North America? How much on the entire world? What's the impact of the Jewish community in Victoria on the Jewish world today? I would have agreed with you - not much, until the email I received this week from Rabbi Mendy Teldon, a Chabad Rabbi in Commack, New York:

Dear Meir,

A few months ago, my wife and I watched the YouTube video of the Light of Shabbat project and were extremely inspired. We thought that this would be a wonderful project for our community. When I mentioned the idea to John, a good friend of ours, he got so excited and gave us, on his own initiative, a donation of $12,000, sponsoring 100 Shabbat boxes for the next 12 weeks. At this point we didn't have a choice and undertook the project... The response from the community was overwhelming. It turned out to be a huge success, beyond any expectation.

Last week I met with John, he said he has a plan; he wants to make this project international! he’ll sponsor 100 Chabad Houses around the world to join the Light of Shabbat project!

I just want you to know what the project you started in your Chabad house is becoming... We will also establish a committee, who will help in building this campaign, and I’d like you to be on it.

Cheers,

Mendy

The light of Shabbat project in Victoria, with currently 20 regular volunteers is going to have an impact on one hundred communities across the world and bring the light of Shabbat to thousands of homes!

 The power of a Mitzvah on a little island on the pacific....

Chazak, Chazak V'nitchazek!

 

Dear Friends,  

During my first visit to Toronto after we moved to Victoria, I recall being shocked by how little Canadians know about their own country: "An Island next to Vancouver where there is no bridge over?" "Is Vancouver an island?"... until I met Dr. Bryan, a regular at my cousin's Shul in Toronto. "I'm actually going to be in Vancouver for a medical conference in a few weeks” he told me. “I'd love to come over for Shabbat." "It will be my pleasure," I answered, and we planned to stay in touch.

On the Wednesday of the week Bryan was in Vancouver, he called. "So how do I get to you?" When I explained to him that in order to get here before Shabbat he will need to take the 1:00 PM ferry, which meant leaving the conference at 11:30 AM, he couldn't believe it. "You can just spend Shabbat in Vancouver... I can speak to the local Chabad Rabbi," I offered. "I promised I would come,” he said, “and I'd like to keep to my word.” 

On Friday afternoon, two hours before Shabbat, I went to pick up Bryan from the Helicopter port downtown. I saw on his face a look of uncertainty, as if he wasn’t too sure why he went through such trouble.

Shabbat morning, Bryan was the tenth man of our minyan. This was our first minyan on Shabbat, held in our home, six years ago. When we took the torah out of the little ark, Bryan couldn't stop smiling.

I remembered the story of our first Shabbat minyan, since this Shabbat we will mark a special milestone. With the torah reading tomorrow, we will be completing the book of Shmot (Exodus).  It will be the first time that we, at Chabad Family Shul in Victoria, will have read all the portions of the book of Shmot from the Torah. The last time that an entire book was read in Victoria in consecutive weeks was likely as far back as many decades.

It is customary to announce following the completion of each book of the Torah "Chazak, Chazak, Vnitchazek,"  “Be strong, be strong, and may we be strengthened!". This means that we are congratulating the congregation for the achievement of the reading of the entire book - "Chazak". However, we are never satisfied with our spiritual achievement, so we add "Vnitchazek" - may we be strengthened!

Chazak, Chazak, Vnitchazek!

Not on our own...

Dear Friends,  

After the Purim Party was over, when Chani and I were being congratulated for the success and thanked by many for "putting it all together", we both felt that something was wrong. 

It is true that we came to Victoria with Mussi all on our own, but since then, something has happened.

The work of Chabad Vancouver Island is being done by many members of the community who offer their help with everything being done and dedicate time and effort for its success. Thinking about the party, I knew how much of a joint effort it was. One friend brought the burgers from Vancouver; another brought the hotdogs. One member of the community took care of the comedian’s transportation and another provided him accommodations. A devoted friend was in charge of all the technology and organisation at the event and another spent the entire day cooking and preparing the food, and the list goes on... These people did not only help, but all of us, together, made this event happen.

This is the way it has become in all the activities of Chabad Vancouver Island. Although we didn't assign people to jobs and responsibilities, people have stepped up with their generosity and created a body of volunteers who perform services for Chabad regularly – not as assistants, but as equal partners in building up the services of Chabad of Vancouver Island.

There are many who provide their time and help as needed throughout the year, and there are others who have adopted a job and have become staff members. We have decided to create a web page with the names of our staff and volunteers in order to acknowledge their contribution and to show gratitude to these dedicated friends who give their time and talent in order to enrich Jewish life on our Island.  Check it out here.

Thank you Jewish community for being so kind, some with sponsorship, some with volunteering, and others with enhancing the spirit. Together we got to where we are now, and together we will grow, with G-ds help, to new heights.

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