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A One Hour Visit to Port Alberni?

Dear friends,

On Monday night when I was driving down the steep path from Port Alberni in a heavy snow, I was petrified; if you drove that road before – you would understand why...

How did I end up in Port Alberni for a one hour visit on a snowy day? This is a story that started about 5 years ago.

Ed, a man who was taking treatment for cancer in the Victoria center, contacted me and asked me if I'd come to visit him one afternoon. I came and met him, a man in his sixties, who greeted me right away as a close friend.

He very quickly shared his story with me. He was born in the Warsaw Ghetto, grew up there after the war, eventually immigrated to Canada and for the last thirty five years lived in Port Alberni.  "I thought I could live a life in a peaceful town, dismissing my roots and connection," he said.

"When I fell ill," Ed continued, "the first concern I had was, how can I end my life without my brothers and sisters, the Jewish people? I decided I must reclaim my connection to Judaism; please help me..." He then told me of the first time he put on Tefilin in 1968 with a Lubavitcher in the center of Tel Aviv.

"Will you put on Tefillin with me?" he asked. The Tefillin were so special to him, that he asked me if I could get him his own set, so he can put them on often. Since that meeting, we have been in touch on a regular bases; I even visited him with the Sukkah Mobile one year... 

Recently, Ed had a recurrence of the cancer, and got very sick again. A few weeks ago he moved to a home in his town, where he will have nurses looking after him, and caring for his well being. When I found out about his condition I promised I'd visit; he was very excited and said, "If you can help me put on Tefillin, I'll be very grateful to you.” A few days later I was in his room.

After a short greeting, Ed wanted to know how we will be putting on Tefillin.  It was then that I understood his question; his hand was so swollen, it was impossible to wrap the Tefillin around it. "Lets just put on the head Tefillin", I said, and so it happened.  I started saying the Shema with him, while he repeated word for word after me. When we took off the Tefillin, he was ready for me to leave, as far as he was concerned the mission was accomplished, he had put on Tefillin...

I insisted that since I’d made it all the way out there - we may as well have a chat... As I left the room Ed thanked me above all for helping him with the Tefillin. When I left the home I realized what the Tefillin were doing for Ed, it was connecting him with his people, so he feels tied to his family, even while living in Port Alberni.

Driving down from Port Alberni wasn't fun, but I still had no regrets for making the trip...

Answering the call for "Jewish Visit"

Dear friends,

I was fairly new to Victoria, close to 6 years ago, when I received a phone call from a seniors’ home saying, "we have two Jewish ladies here, who would appreciate a visit from a Rabbi.” I think this call was fully answered just minutes ago.

Following that phone conversation, I made my way the next Friday with two Challas to the home. On this visit, I found only one woman, Sara. She was all dressed for the occasion, and although she wasn't in full mental capacity, it was clear that she was overly excited by the visit. It seemed that what brought to her great joy was the fact that this was a "Jewish visit".   

I thought right then about the idea of starting "Jewish visits" to seniors in Victoria. The next Chanukah children of our Hebrew School visited Sara and eight other men and women in other homes, gave them latkes they prepared, Chanukah cards they created and even sang Chanukah songs with them... Over the years many were touched by this initiative and the response from the seniors and their families was overwhelming.

This year we unfortunately forgot to arrange the seniors’ home Chanukah visit. Although our Chanukah was, thank G-d, very busy and successful, we felt that we have failed by forgetting the elderly...

Sara Tafler, the woman who I met that Friday afternoon with a Challah - in the visit which inspired us to start this project - past away this week. While walking behind her coffin at the funeral just minutes ago, I promised myself that we will make every effort not to forget the elders of our community who cannot attend community celebration, and do what we can to bring them the joy and warmth of Judaism which is so dear to them! May this recommitment be in her memory.

Sara Tafler.JPG

Sara Tafler with children of Chabad Hebrew School, Chanukah 2005. 

Determination of friendship

Dear Friends,  

Chani, the children and I spent the past week in Bellevue, WA. While I participated in an advanced course in Jewish Law, Chani and the children had a peaceful time in a house we rented by Sammamish lake.

One of the great treats was to go out to the Kosher restaurant. One day we went to "Island Crust" on Mercer Island. 

When we were ready to leave the restaurant, I was surprised to meet my old time friend from Yeshiva, Mendy, who I hadn’t seen in years. After a friendly chat, we started to make our way to the car. Walking by the cashier, I overheard a conversation where Mendy was asking the attendant to reverse the charges on my card for our family's dinner so he could pay for it.  I got involved in the conversation, and refused, but Mendy insisted that his card would be charged.  "I know what kind of a luxury it is for your family to eat out - I want to pay for it!"

I'm writing about this little incident to share with you the determination of friendship. Above all the advanced studies I gained this week, I hope to take this lesson home with me.

Igniting Souls on Chanukah

Dear Friends,

As most are probably aware, this Chanukah we started a new initiative, spreading the light of Chanukah throughout Vancouver Island, with public Menorah lighting in 5 different cities. The success was beyond any expectation and the response was overwhelming.  There was one meeting in particular that I will never forget.

When arrived at Campbell River City Hall, one hour prior to the event and, there was a man waiting there, looking anxious and excited. After we started setting up I walked over to him.  He said "Shalom, Rabbi!" and started weeping...rabbi and salomon.JPG

"Excuse my emotion" he said, "It is been many years since I have said hello to a Rabbi.” As we had a short while until the event began, I had a nice chat with this man, who by now I knew that his name was Salomon Rosenberg.

Salomon has lived in Campbell River for close to thirty years. When he arrived he knew of a few older Jews, who passed away shortly after, and since then he had never met a Jewish soul on the Island.

Reading in the newspaper about the lighting of the Menorah in front of city hall excited him greatly, he was hoping to meet other Jews, and reclaim connection. "I'm pinching myself, I can’t believe that this is happening here, in Campbell River" he told me.

At the end of the event - the locals got to know the new member of the community, and Salomon was inspired to get involved in Jewish life.

Salomon grew up in a Jewish home, had a Bar Mitzvah and celebrated Jewish holidays in his youth, but since he had moved to Campbell River his Jewish soul wasn't expressed, it was reignited in front of the candles on the 5th day of Chanukah 5771. 

Turning flames to a great light!

Dear Friends,

While we are enjoying the peacefulness and beauty of our Chanukah flames, a violent and frightening forest fire is raging in northern Israel. This fire has claimed the lives of 41 young guards-in-training, both men and women, who were on their way to help evacuate a prison.

This tragedy has brought great darkness and sadness to our land this Chanukah. As a native Israeli please allow me to give some perspective. 

According to estimations so far, nearly 7,000 acres of forest have burned.  For BC this may not seem like a lot, but for Israel this is about 5% of its forest land.

But above and beyond all, 41 young lives of Israel were killed in a fire trap while on their way to save the lives of others. These young men and women were from every part of this small country, and the impact of their death is - in percentage -like losing two thousand lives in the US. This is why the country is in mourning.

I will never forget the feeling in the air in Israel during a time of tragedy. Just like a family, at times we may experience divisiveness and argument, and on the surface the sense of family seems to be lost. In a time of tragedy, the reality comes out very clear: we are all in it together; we are one united family!

Unfortunately, in Israel we experience the many differences and rifts between our people which can overshadow our sense of a united entity. In a time of tragedy we reveal our true united essence, we feel the pain of each other as our own.

As we are praying for the recovery of the injured men and women, and for this disaster to end, it may be a good opportunity to make sure that this deep realization doesn't leave us when the flames are gone.

Let's make every effort to turn this tragedy into a lead, in the spirit of Chanukah let's turn these flames into a great light. 

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