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The Wonder of Chanukah 5778

This week I would like to share with you a very recent story, one of the most moving and empowering incidents I have experienced in our fourteen years on the Island.  It left me in awe and its lessons, please G-d, will remain with me for the rest of my life.

In the weeks leading up to Chanukah, we were preoccupied with the planning of the various holiday events, including the public Lighting of the first candle on the front steps of the Legislature.

This year, we were very excited about the confirmed participation of the Premier and were working hard on all the details to ensure the event’s success. One of the logistical challenges that we experience every Chanukah is the transportation of Chanukah doughnuts (sufganiyot) from the Garden City Bakery on the mainland. Every year we need to come up with a new solution for delivering a couple hundred fresh doughnuts to Victoria.

I was therefore thrilled to hear from a member of the community that he was planning to come over from Vancouver on the day of the event and could transport the doughnuts. On Monday night however, less than 24 hours before the event, he informed me that circumstances had changed and he would not be coming over that day.

Without much time to make alternative plans, I decided to take the last ferry to Vancouver, spend the night at my colleague’s home in Richmond and catch the early morning ferry back with the fresh doughnuts.  I didn't mind the ferry sailing, as I would have an opportunity to sit quietly, relax, read and study...

By the time I arrived at my friend’s house it was close to midnight.  We had a nice schmooze and before I knew it there wasn’t much time left to sleep… At 6:00am I got up and made my way to the bakery. I loaded the car with 300 doughnuts and rushed to catch the 9am ferry.

After a quick coffee at the BC Ferries terminal, I was ready to daven shachrit (the Morning Prayer) so I opened the trunk to get my Talit and Tefillin. I was stunned. My bag wasn’t there…

Thinking quickly about my movements that morning, I realized what happened. When loading the sufganiyot, I took out the bag containing my Talit and Tefillin to make more room in the trunk and left it on the sidewalk outside the bakery.

I immediately called the bakery. “Let me check”, said the lady on the other side of the line. After a few difficult minutes of waiting she returned and said: “It was here earlier but I don’t see it anymore!”

I began to worry. Did someone steal the bag with my Talit and Tefillin? I asked the bakery for the names and numbers of all the stores in the mall, hoping that an honest person might have picked up the bag and left it in one of the stores. I called every store, only to hear that they had nothing to report. I then called the mall management office and the only information they had was that the outdoor cameras weren’t working that morning! As a last resort, I filed a lost item police report and resigned myself to the fact that I have done everything in my power to retrieve my bag and the matter was now out of my hands.

As soon as I arrived home I used my son’s Tefillin (purchased in anticipation of his upcoming Bar Mitzvah). You can imagine what I was praying for...

The day was filled with countless preparations for the event and I tried (not always successfully) to keep my mind off of the lost precious items. After the event which, thank G-d, was a great success, the realization that I will not see my Tefillin again started to sink in. While falling asleep that night I struggled to forgive myself for being so irresponsible. How could I have left behind my bag with the Talit and Tefillin?

Early the following morning my phone rang and the ring sounded promising. I leaped to pick up the call “Is this Meir Kaplan?” said the voice on the other side. “This is Juan. I have your briefcase; I found it next to the bakery in Richmond…” I literally jumped for joy “This is amazing! Thank you so much!” I responded with great excitement. “This bag is so important to me. You wouldn’t believe how relieved I am. I can’t thank you enough!”

Juan was very happy to hear that he found the bag’s owner. “Can you please courier it over to my home in Victoria?” I asked. “I’ll cover the costs”. “I’m actually here on a tour of British Columbia and plan to visit Victoria on Sunday. I’ll be happy to meet you and personally hand you your lost item” he said.

On Sunday at 11:30am Juan, a young Mexican man, pulled up in a pick-up truck in front of the Chabad Centre. “Juan”, I said, while offloading the suitcase, “You must understand. Inside this bag I have an item that I can’t really buy here. It’s a Jewish religious article called Tefillin that we use every day when we pray. It’s irreplaceable!”

Juan looked at me “I know what Tefillin is, and I know how important it is for you. In fact, my great grandmother was Jewish” he tells me while watching my jaw drop. “My great grandmother immigrated to Mexico and married a catholic man and since then our family has been Christian but I was always interested in her story and background”. When I heard that Juan was talking about his maternal great grandmother I almost fell backwards. “This means that you are Jewish!” I told Juan. “What unbelievable Divine providence brought us together!”

“Yes”, Juan said “for quite some time now I have been wanting to learn more about my family’s heritage and when I saw on the bag’s tag that you were a Rabbi I was very excited”.

Juan followed me into the Centre, where I opened my bag. “Would you like to put on Tefillin?’ I asked. “I would be honoured” he answered.

Juan was standing in a Synagogue wearing Tefillin for the first time in his life, his eyes closed and a big smile on his face as he recited after me "Shema Yisrael"...

Chani who knew that I was awaiting this delivery walked into the Centre and through the glass doors of the Shul saw me, the bag and the Mexican man wearing Tefillin and her eyes were filled with tears...

I have no idea why I had the merit to ignite that soul, but on that morning, it was clearer to me than ever before, that G-d works great wonders through us, even with our mistakes. 

Juan, me and the suitcase 

Regards from NY!

Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you from the annual Conference of Shluchim (Chabbad Rabbis) in New York. It is very difficult to describe the atmosphere and the energy. I know many of you enjoy the photo of the thousands of us standing together by Chabad Head Quarters; the short video clip below provides a background to that photo-up and the inspiration of this entire weekend. I hope you will enjoy watching it:

 Rabbi Mendy Minkowitz, our High Holiday Chazan will lead services On Shabbat and Sunday. Please be there!

From New York I join Chani and the children in wishing you Shabat Shalom!

I am overwhelmed...

Dear Friends,

I'm overwhelmed.  Not with work, though it was a very busy week between moving the Shul, the building campaign, Camp Gan Israel and others... I'm overwhelmed right now for a different reason.

The volunteering spirit of this community, and the constant care we received this week from so many of you warm our hearts and make us feel so fortunate to be part of this community.

Last week I announced that we are moving the Shul and that we needed some help packing.  On Sunday morning after tefillin club I rushed to a discussion group at the JCC where I was asked to speak.  Meanwhile, I told the volunteers they can start the packing.  Ninety minutes later I got a call: "We are all done."  Apperantly more than ten volunteers came to pack the boxes.  On Wednesday, it was again members of the community schlepping boxes and unpacking them beautifully at the Shul.

Yesterday I posted on Facebook that there is not yet a sponsor for the Kiddush this week.  Hours later we got two sponsorships for the Kiddush.

This morning I was on my way to buy plants to complete the Mechitzah in the Shul.  A woman texted me: "I heard that you need plants for the Mechitzah? Can I donate them?"  Within thirty minutes I met her at the store, where she paid for the most beautiful decorative trees.

We are humbled by the unity, love, and care that you showed again this week.  This is truly overwhelming.

Getting an Aliyah...

Dear Friends,

Last Shabbat, as of every summer Shabbat, there were a significant number of guests from out of town.  Amongst them there was a man who will be playing a very important role in a world event that started from our little 'Shtetl'. 

Dr. Peter Gary, an accomplished composer and conductor and a member of our community, wrote an oratorio in memory of the victims of the Holocaust.  This oratorio, the first one ever written by a survivor, will be performed in Jerusalem on April 16th of next year.

Barak Tal, a well known Israeli conductor took it upon himself to conduct this historical concert.  Last week, he came to Victoria to meet Peter and to plan this great world premier.  Peter, who is a regular at our Shul, schlepped Barak along to Shabbat morning services.

At the luncheon Kiddush, Barak asked to share a few words.  

"This is my first time in services outside of Israel and this has been the most amazing service. The atmosphere in this synagogue is outstanding."

"I am very thankful for being called to the Torah. The first time I got an Aliyah was at my Bar Mitzvah, the second was on the Shabbat before my wedding, and this morning was the third time!"  It was clear that Barak was very moved by the experience.

In close radius of Barak's home there are hundreds of Shuls, but it took traveling half way across the world to get an Aliyah.

I have a feeling that next time I meet Barak it will be after he has had many Aliyahs and visits to the local Shul.

You are amazing!...

Dear Friends,


Many have thanked me for posting the video of the Rebbe last week and told me how inspiring and moving it was for them to watch it. Today, I'd like to share with you a short video clip that perhaps will tell you a bit more of who the Rebbe was.

As you may know, at the age of 86, due to the many thousands who wanted to see the Rebbe, he started a new practice of opening his door on Sunday morning to anyone who wished to see him.  The Rebbe did it every single Sunday until he fell ill at the age of 90.

The Rebbe would stand for 6-7 hours with no break (!) and see thousands of people, to which he would give a dollar to give to charity and respond to their requests and questions.  In the following one minute clip you will see what the Rebbe answered to someone who told him "Rebbe! You are amazing!"

Activist Mr. Gordon Zacks to the Rebbe "You're Amazing", WATCH the Rebbe's response.

Posted by Living Torah on Monday, June 22, 2015

Why am I in New York?

Dear Friends,

I'm writing to you from New York, where I came in honour of the Rebbe's Yahrtzeit.  Over the years, I have been asked many times about my connection to the Rebbe, and how does this individual still have such an impact on my life.

Instead of trying to answer by writing (which is very difficult), I'm inserting a ten minute video which I hope you'll find the time to watch.  I believe it brings out somewhat of who the Rebbe was and is to so many people: 

Invitation to the king

Dear Friends,

Following the picture I included last week of my grandfather in the palace with the King of Belgium, many asked me to share the background to this occasion.

It was a few months ago that my grandfather, Rabbi David Lieberman, the senior of European Rabbis and the Chief Rabbi of Antwerp, got the invitation to the King's palace.

Rabbi Lieberman, who was serving as Rabbi for close to seventy years, was invited in honour of his 90th birthday to a kosher lunch that was catered last week at the king's palace.  My Zaidy, whose mother was brutally murdered by the Nazis in the streets of Belgium, received the highest honour that a citizen of that country can get.  

Last week I called my mother to find out how the meeting went.  My mother told me that she called her father with the same question, and this was his response: "The visit was OK, it's past, it's over, but Shavuos - Shavuos was really wonderful!"

What a powerful lesson.  Inner joy doesn't come from honours, it comes from meaning, and for that we don't need to be invited to meet kings.  We were invited already to join the Creator in repairing the world, on Shavuot, some 3327 years ago.

Kindness in Nepal

Dear Friends,


The past week was emotionally rocking with many events on the national and international level, but for me there is no doubt who are the heroes of the week.

Rabbi Chezki and his wife Chani Lifshitz have been leading Chabad in Nepal for 15 years.  Tens of thousands of Israeli backpackers came through their home, and were touched by their kindness and love.  They selflessly live in a nepal 2.jpgcountry that doesn't provide them with their basic necessities, let alone the proximity of extended family, for one and only one reason – to offer an open house for people whom they may see only once in their lifetime.

They showed their love and care for everyone who is created in the image of G-d, including picking up a child from the street and adopting him as part of their nine person family.


This week, following the devastating earthquake in Nepal, Rabbi and Mrs. Lifshitz unleashed an earthquake of increasing love, care, and devotion.  Their Chabad house instantly became a shelter for hundreds of people to whom they are serving hundreds of meals daily.  In less than a week they have served over 10,000 meals.  Rabbi Lifshitz took a helicopter and went out to rescue Israelis stuck in the mountains, while his wife Chani ran the Kathmandu operation, looking after hundreds of Israelis and many locals who were desperate for help.

I have been looking at these images, and the kindness and care that came from those individuals was indiscernible; they looked like kindness itself.  But a few images they shared made me cry.

You see, Chezki and Chani have young children who grew up in Katmandu nepal 3.jpgand as you can imagine are charged with the great attributes they received at home.  After the earthquake, when their parents realized that it wasn’t safe any longer in the city, they decided that they needed to send their children to a safe haven.  But Rabbi Chezki and Chani couldn't leave the country; they were now needed more than ever.

Chani and Chezki sent their children on the first flight to Israel with some Israeli friends.  I was thinking how difficult it is for parents who need to send their children at such a young age by themselves, and how trying it would be for the children to be without their parents.

But my second thought was that the absence of the Lifshitz parents made them even more present in the children’s lives.  By sending their children with 'strangers' – they taught them what goodness, kindness, selflessness, and generosity is.  Is there anything better you can do for your children?


70 years later..

Dear Friends,

During Services of the last day of Pesach, last Shabbat, I shared in my sermon a stirring story (from The Hidden beauty of the Shema by Lisa Aiken), here is the gist of it:

In May, 1945, Rabbi Eliezer Silver from the United States and Dayan Grunfeld from England were sent as Chaplains to liberate some of the death camps. While there, they were told that many Jewish children had been placed in a monastery in Alsace-Lorraine. The Rabbis went there to reclaim them.

When they approached the Priest in charge, they asked that the Jewish children be released into the Rabbis' care. "I'm sorry," the Priest responded, "But there is no way of knowing which children here came from Jewish families. You must have documentation if you wish me to do what you ask."

Of course, the kind of documentation that the Priest wanted was unobtainable at the end of the war. One of the Rabbis had a brilliant idea. "We'd like to come back again this evening while you put the children to sleep."

The Priest reluctantly agreed.

That evening the Rabbis came to the dormitory, where row upon row of little beds were arranged. The children, many of whom had been in the monastery since the war started in 1939, were going to sleep. The Rabbis walked through the aisles of beds, calling out, "Shema Yisrael - Hear, Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One!" One by one, children burst into tears and shrieked, "Mommy!" "Maman!" "Momma!" "Mamushka!" each in their native tongues.

 After I had ended my talk, I walked to the end of the Shul, where a man that I had met before turned to me and said, “Thank you for the beautiful story. I connected with it very much, since TODAY I’m marking 70 years since I was liberated from a Christian orphanage, where my life was saved during the holocaust.” I was stunned.

Later I learnt that it was David Korn, who was visiting from Halifax, whose story has been published in the Chronicle Herald two years ago (here). I was shocked by the divine providence of sharing this particular story on the morning that David marked this anniversary in his own life.

A few minutes later David was reciting the Yizkor prayers for the martyrs and victims of the Holocaust. It was one of the most moving moments in this past Holiday of Liberation.



Brotherly love...


As many Jews around the world I have been watching the Israeli election, as an Israeli perhaps a bit closer than others. Following any election could be difficult; following the Israeli election campaigns is disturbing.

The fact that people have different opinions and ideas is great but the rift between one people is painful. It hurts to see the insults and disrespect, the sharp and personal attacks and delegitimization of others... 

I must say that as a former Israeli I believe that this doesn’t reflect the truth of the spirit of the Israelis, our brothers and sister living in our homeland. 

man in 80th2.jpg

Benyamin, a 80 year old man from Petach Tikvah was marking yesterday the Yahrzeit of his late wife, he wanted to go to the cemetery to say Kaddish by her resting place in the Segulah cemetery. His son, Rafi, was concerned that there will not be a Minyan, so he posted on Facebook asking people to come in the middle of the business day to help his father get a Minyan.

When Benyamin arrived, hundreds of people, who never met him, left everything behind and came to be there for him..

Benyamin was crying when he said Kaddish, it wasn’t about the loss of his wife it was about the love of his brothers. This is the real spirit of Israel.

The Jewish Family...

Dear Friends,

On Tuesday, we were at the Jewish Cemetery laying Evgeny Minenberg to rest.  Looking around at the funeral, I witnessed the power of our community.

Evgeny fled the Nazis with his family as a young child, survived very difficult years in Siberia, and ultimately, became a Ship Captain in communist Russia until he immigrated to Canada at the end of the last century.

Evgeny’s life story is no doubt a fascinating one but today I would like to write to you about the beauty of our community and the power each one of us has to have everlasting impact on another life.

Evegeny came to Victoria by himself in his mid 80s, and didn’t manage to make any friends, or to get involved in the community. He was a lone man.

At his funeral people still shed a tear; it was man and woman, volunteers in organizations of kindness in our community.

It was the Light of Shabbat volunteers, who visited him every few weeks and shared with him the joy of Shabbat, and became his friend and assisted him in times of needs. Sharon Fitch, Robert Anderson, Inna Smolov, Baruch Irmin and Igal Yagudaev are just a few of these generous members of our community.

The Jewish Family Services had been there for Evgeny in times of need, and their volunteers helped him receive the funding he deserved as an holocaust survivor, and assisted him in his last days of his life including helping him in making the decision to be buried as a Jew. The JFSVI was led by Fiona Prince and later Beverly Merson, and the volunteers include Michael Friedman who gave many hours of his time to help Evgeny, and Don Morris, who was with him in the last days of his life. 

At the funeral I realized that Evegeny had family in Victoria. It was all of us.

Gidi's last Rosh Hashana

Dear Friends,

On Monday I walked, together with hundreds of members of the community, to give the last honor to a friend and a teacher to many, Gidi Nashon Z”l.  One scene was going through my mind during these gloomy moments.  

It was on the second day of Rosh Hashana.  As of every year, soon after we came back from Shul, we got ready to walk to the Jubilee Hospital to visit Jewish patients and sound the Shofar for them.  Our Chazan, Rabbi Minkowitz and our three oldest children helped me pack a nice portion of Rosh Hashana dinner and a honey cake for each patient and we were on our way.

The level of excitement with which the patients accept us is beyond discription.  The joy that the surprise is bringing to the men and women who find themselves on the High Holidays in their least desirable place makes it a very rewarding experience.  But last Rosh Hashana it was more than that.

After visiting some friends the hour was late and Shabbat was approaching, so I asked our Chazan to take the children back home while I was going up to visit Gidi.  When I asked for him in the ward I was told that he was really not up for seeing visitors.  I explained what I was coming for and the nurse allowed me to walk in carefully.

gidi.jpgI walked in behind the curtain and saw Gidi laying there fragile and weak. As soon as he saw me there was a half smile, somewhat bitter on his pale face.  I told Gidi that I came to blow the Shofar for him for Rosh Hashana. Suddenly Gidi’s face was changed.  He was glowing with a full broad smile. After saying the blessings I blew the Shofar,  Gidi closed his eyes and it looked like he was transcending to a different world with profound peacefulness.

In our short conversation thereafter Gidi told me that a few hours earlier he was told that he had cancer and it is not treatable.  The body of Gidi was failing but his soul was in full strength.

I left the room and dashed down the stairs to make it back home before the sun set and Shabbat began. Coming up the stairs was a Jewish nurse I knew, and I offered to blow the Shofar for her. 

As I was leaving the patient care centre I realized that I had only 14 minutes to get home, and the only way I’d get there on time would be if I ran, and so I did . While panting all the way home all I was able to think about was that dramatic change in Gidi as soon as he knew that he was going to hear the Shofar.

This same image was in front of me when saying goodbye to Gidi.  I hope this memory will inspire me forever. 


This week I'm on my own; Chani is attending the annual conference of Shluchot (Chabad Rebbetzins from around the world).  Many of you contacted me to find out how I'm managing with the children, so while it is not an easy task, this is not really what it is all about. 

Yes, it is correct that no one can nurture the children like their mother, and no one has the infinite patience like Chani has, but I think there is something that you may not be fully aware of and I would like to share it with you.

The Rebbe of blessed memory, who established the outreach movement of Chabad, did a conceptual revolution that is perhaps one of the most radical paradigmatic shift of his teachings.

For generations the Rebbetzin was the wife of the Rabbi.  A lady who was dominant in the home and the education of the children, and a source of support for her husband who was holding the communal position.

The Rebbe didn’t send Rabbis to revive community and increase Jewish life, he sent couples to do that. In his view, the communal responsibility and the mission is shared equally by the husband and wife.  The Rebbetzin is a community leader and a source of teaching, guidance, and inspiration no less than the Rabbi.

This is what Chani and a few thousand of her colleagues do at the conference in New York.  They are not discussing how to be a wife of a Rabbi, but they come together to strengthen their roles as spiritual leaders and driving forces for Jewish life in their communities.

These days it isn’t only the house that is not in order, it is Chabad that is not functioning properly until Chani will return and get things back in order.

One thing I can do only when she is away – write a blog as the one I'm writing now.  If she was here – it wouldn’t have passed... 

Biological clock of the Jewish soul

On Wednesday, Leon Zetler, owner of “Aubergine", called me.  “Rabbi, are you coming to see me today? I have a special gift for you”…

I enjoy visiting Leon anytime; aside from shmoozing with a good friend, and being the only store that sells Kosher meat and Israeli products on the Island, often I get to meet other members of the community shopping there.  In fact, a few of our good friends I met first at this specialty food grocery in Fernwood.  However, the 'special gift' got me really curious.

Leon.jpgAs I walked into Aubergine later that day, Leon handed me a huge case of mandarin oranges.  “I just got these beautiful and tasty oranges from Israel. It’s a gift for your family!"

After thanking Leon for the nice gesture, I ask with excitement "Do you know what’s the date today?”

“February fourth, why are you asking?” was his response.

“You wouldn’t believe it!"  I told Leon, “You have given us the most perfect gift! Today is Tu Bshvat and as I’m sure you know there is a Jewish custom to eat fruits from the land of Israel TODAY!”.

Leon was shocked from the coincidence.  To me it was clear that it was the biological clock of the Jewish soul that gave him this random idea!

On Tu B’shvat our family joined many generations of Jews who made great efforts to taste fruits from our homeland.  By us though it came with no effort...

The story of a Facebook picture...

Dear Friends,

In the midst of days that we have been horrified with terrible news, I would like to share a story that came to a very happy ending this week.

A year ago, a woman who lived in New York whom I never met, wrote to me on Facebook with an unusual request:    

"Rabbi, whenever I see your beautiful children's pictures, I feel moved to write this message to you.  I would like to request that you pray for me.  I've been married for a long time and we don’t have any children, even though me and my husband don't have any problems.”

The first thought that came to my mind was the story that I heard first hand from a woman in our community.  She was married for many years and wanted desperately to have children but wasn’t blessed with any.  A friend suggested to her to visit the Rebbe.  The Rebbe received her graciously, gave her a blessing, and suggested that she should start keeping the Mitzvah of Taharat Hamishpacha and use the Mikvah.  Shortly after she and her husband started to followd this Mitzvah, they were blessed with a beautiful baby, who until today she calls, “The Rebbe’s boy.”

“We will definately add you to our prayers,”  I wrote back to my new Facebook friend.  “But I would recommend that you start following the laws of Taharat Hamishpacha, and may we hear good news".

To make a long story short, this week I got a message from the lady that she gave birth to healthy twins, a boy and a girl, with beautiful pictures attached.


I don’t dismiss anymore the concept of Facebook “friends” or the idea of posting statuses or pictures; I know that any tool that can connect us could have startling results.

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