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Our small but great bubby

I’d like to write today about a special woman I had the merit to meet and know. She represented, in the fullest way, the beauty of a Jewish mother and grandmother. I’m talking about Chani’s bubby, Mrs. Gita Ceitlin, who passed away last week in Montreal.

It’s impossible to summarize the eighty eight years of her life, from being born in communist Russia, to raising a beautiful family in Canada. I’ll share with you one episode that occurred just days before her passing, which perhaps demonstrates the values she lived by and instilled in her children and grandchildren.

Mrs. Ceitlin had great difficulty breathing even with her respirator. As a result, she was taken into the ICU of a Montreal Hospital on Friday afternoon. While in the hospital unit, she indicated to her daughter to come close, pointing at a woman who just came in, as she would like to say something. “She looks Jewish,” she said, “can you go speak to her?” Chani's aunt wasn’t too keen on going after this patient, but her mother insisted. “You should tell her about Shabbat candles,” she said in a very low voice. After her daughter completed her mission, she had some additional instructions: “Please go to my room,” she requested, “and get a Jewish calendar to give her, so she'll know the appropriate time to light candles every Friday”...

To go beyond yourself in times of such weakness and pain, to think about light you can bring to another when your world is glooming, is a great virtue; however, that attention to the fine details, to confirm that it will be done in the ideal way – I believe this describes the character of bubby. She didn’t only always want to do the right thing; she wanted to do it perfectly. I believe she passed this quality on to her future generations...

Mrs. Ceitlin was a very small lady, and one of the most humble people you would ever meet. Even at the weddings of her grandchildren, she would be found sitting quietly in the corner, with a shy smile... She stayed away from any attention or Kovod. I know she wouldn’t approve of me writing her praise, yet if she knew that this incident might inspire somebody, I’m sure she'd be pleased to give up even her humility for the sake of bringing more light to another...

May she rest in peace and may her memory be a blessing for her entire family.

The Menorah is standing tall and shining bright!

Just as last year, this Chanukah we have organized Menorah Lightings in cities across Vancouver Island and the Golf Islands. It was only after I left the Menorah lighting in Nanaimo City Hall that I came to this realization. 

I thought about the conversations I just had with the wonderful group of people that we met at the ceremony, some for the first time.

One couple who is expecting a baby boy, asked about a Bris. Another family inquired about a baby naming for their new granddaughter. We discussed Bar Mitzvah lessons over Skype for a young boy. There was a young woman, whose father was Jewish and wanted to convert in accordance to Jewish law. Then a family whose grandmother fell ill and asked about arrangements for a proper Jewish burial.

Here we are, more than two thousands years after the Syrian Greeks contaminated the Menorah and thought to bring an end to Jewish practice, and now, all of us, no matter where we live and what kind of "label" we may attach to ourselves, are still so committed to our faith and observance. The Menorah is standing tall and shining bright!

A regards from Agassiz, BC

 About a year ago, a generous member of the community started to sponsor the printing of the "Think Jewish" weekly magazine for Victoria. The pamphlet is read every week by people who attend Shabbat services, by the weekly recipients of the Light of Shabbat boxes, and by many who come through the doors of Chabad Centre during the week. The feedback has been amazing. Readers seem to take pleasure in it immensely, and some make sure to drop by the Shul during the week to pick-up their own copy. I didn’t know the degree of the impact of this brochure, until I received a letter this week from a Jewish inmate in a prison in Agassiz, BC.

"Shalom Aleichem,

I am one of several Jewish persons serving time at Mountain Institution. Every so often when Cantor Soosman can come here one of the things he blesses us with is the odd copies of your weekly “Think Jewish” publication. This past week he brought us a few. However, it is not a regular thing to get them and I find them very helpful and a blessing. For one thing being absent from my Jewish roots for so long it allows me to remember traditions and aspects of Judaism that are sometimes only faint in my mind until my memory is jogged by your insightful publication. It reminds me what I love about being Jewish and G-d in a place like this it is very important. It also has helped in making celebrating our Holidays more meaningful and to remember that following my faith is a day to day, hour by hour, minute by minute proposition.

To that end, I wonder if it is possible to ask to receive it on a weekly basis. Perhaps you could even send me two of them and I will ensure they are passed around to the other men. Unless, it is better for them to each write you themselves. I thank you for your consideration and look forward to receiving them. The most recent one’s I have is June 3, 2011 and September 16, and 23, 2011.

Blessings. Todah rabbah".

The sincerity of this note really touched my heart and I was so amazed to see how an act of kindness travels... Since the pamphlet comes here too soon to Shabbat to send it back on time to Agassiz, we have immediately made a special order to be sent to these thirsty souls in this difficult place.

I would like to end this blog with a request, as year 2011 comes to an end:

If you think that the work done by Chabad of Vancouver Island, on behalf of Jewish people on our Island and beyond, is a worthy cause, please consider - before the end of the tax year - to participate in this effort with a tax deductible donation. Please know that Chabad of Vancouver Island is not funded by any head office and the funds for its activities are raised only locally, from generous people in our community, such as you.

Donations can be made online here, or you can call me directly at 250-858-6770. Thank you!

The power of Chanukah doughnuts

December 2003. Our first Chanukah in Victoria, Chani, planned a women's and girls' evening of making Sufganiyot (Chanukah doughnuts). Hours before the event the phone was ringing, "can men come too?"

"It is really an event for women" I said "but if you are very interested perhaps we can work something out"...

"I'll tell you the truth", he said. "I'm not so interested in making a doughnut, as I am in eating one... I'm an Israeli student studying in a college in Manitoba; I decided to take the bus on winter break back west, to get a bit warmer.... When I arrived at the motel and checked the local newspaper, I saw you are hosting this Sufganiyot making evening, growing up in Israel I was just 'dying' to have one..."

Later that evening the young man was in our home. He didn’t only have a doughnut, he lit a Menorah, sang songs and we had a wonderful Chanukah together. "You know what" he said "I think it wasn't the doughnut that I was craving; it was to the feeling of home I was longing for, to be back with my people... I never knew I would miss it so badly. I thought I came back west because I was physically cold, I was wrong. It was my soul who needed to warm up..."

Walking on Fort Street 5 years later, a car stopped next to me, "Shabbat Shalom!" the man said, I turned my head and I immediately recognized him. "Are you the student from Manitoba who came to us on Chanukah?" he was shocked "Are you the Rabbi who I spent that night with?"....

We have kept in touch since, many times he tells me that Chanukah evening reminded him that you can never run away from yourself, you can never escape your soul.

Do you have any better example of "the way to a man's (Jewish) heart is through his stomach"?...

Watch the energy

Dear friends,

I want to write to you about the conference of Chabad Rabbis which I return from this week - but I can't find the words which will describe even close to what it is; I wish to describe to you the energy in pier 12 in Brooklyn when thousands of Rabbis celebrate together – and I simply can’t; I wish to express the emotion of seeing the dream of the Rebbe come true - but I don't know how to convey it adequately.

Please watch for yourself, one of the highlights of the Kinus this year, the address by Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth Dr. Jonathan Sacks at the banquet of the convention:


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