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To sit with the nobles of His people

Dear friends,

Seven years ago my mother came to help us make our first Pesach in Victoria. She was brave to do this. It was a great learning experience for all of us...

When the last days of Pesach were approaching, she asked me "will you have a Minyan for Yizkor on the last day?" It was just a few years after the passing of my father and I obviously never missed the opportunity to say this special prayer for his memory since.

"Ima, I explained, to get a Minyan in Victoria for a mid-week service is close to impossible..." Spending that day at home wasn’t a happy experience. I remember that to lift my spirit I closed my eyes and tried to imagine being a Chazan of a full synagogue, just as in my previous home...

This year, thank G-d, I didn’t need to imagine. I was the Chazan on Tuesday morning, the last day of Pesach. The shul was full, the singing was great, the kohanim gave their traditional blessings and the atmosphere was uplifting.

It was then that I fully appreciated what had happened here. To me growing up with Yom Tov services and these traditions - I don't know of any other way of celebrating, and besides, I'm a Rabbi. What else can I do on the last day of Pesach?... But to see others who didn't grow up with this, adapting it with such love and joy - this was so uplifting, I stand among special men and women.

When I got to the verses of the Hallel prayer "He raises the poor from the dust... to sit with the nobles of His people" my throat was choked with tears.

Pesach's Bris

 Dear friends,

Today’s date, thirteen years ago, was the first time I had the privilege to be the Sandek ("Godfather") at a Bris; strangely enough I happened to be younger than the "newborn". 

We were 19 years old when my friend Mendy and I, accepted the mandate to lead Pesach in Uzhgorod, Ukraine. I can probably write a book about the experience of running a public Seder in a town, where Jews hadn't practiced Judaism in public for many decades. There are many small and big stories from that short mission, but one of them remained prominent in my mind.

Peter, a man in the mid 20’s, who we met at the Seder, told my friend Mendy that he wasn't circumcised as a child, like almost all children in the Soviet Union, and he felt that he needs to have it done in order to be a member of the Jewish people, but he was scared... Being that Mendy had helped other boys in summer camps to go through the process of a bris, he spent the night sharing  his past experience, and by the end of the night, Peter agreed.

We called an adult Mohel from South Ukraine; the next morning the mohel embarked on a 16 hour journey to arrive on time for the Bris.

Meanwhile Peter went through ups and down, but on the appointed day he showed up at the hotel suite, which was converted into an operating room... After the Bris we sat down for an emotional celebration at the old synagogue of the town. Peter, who by then had chosen for himself the name Pesach(...) looked uncomfortable but satisfied, although he didn't say much. The next day we left to another city, where we spent the last days of Pesach.

We were hoping to stay in touch, but before emails and facebook, it didn't really happen... Nevertheless very often I found myself thinking of Pesach and hoping to meet him one day...

A few years ago we got a regards from him. A rabbi from Israel who knew Mendy, told him that he met Peter who had made Aliyah and built a family in Israel. Pesach related to him that his real reassociation with his roots began with the bris done with the help of two young Yeshiva students on the fifth floor of a hotel in his birth town.  

Golden chain

When I woke up one morning this week, the children seemed very busy. I moved in closer, somewhat hesitant of what I was going to find out this time.

I saw Mussi and Rivky sitting on the floor, taking apart a golden metal chain. They placed the rings from the chain on their fingers as their jewellery. Seeing the surprise on my face, Mussi explained, "You said at the chuppah this week that the ring that the groom gives the bride is like another ring in the golden chain of Judaism, so we found this chain and we made it into many rings so that we can be part of it, too…".

I thought the kids were playing at the time of the chuppah, but they were listening very well. They always do. 

Disappointment turned to joy

Dear friends,

As you may know, the Purim party last month was a great success, but it wasn't until last week that I got to fully appreciate the impact of this celebration.

Let me share with you some of what happened behind the scenes in preparation for the party.

After we thought we had a hall for the event - we were very disappointed to hear that the arrangement fell apart. We started desperately searching three weeks before the party for an appropriate place. As you know, there was a good ending to the story – the celebration took place at the White Eagle Hall.

benjy.jpgLast week, Mr. Benjy Gorodenitsky passed away. When I met his wife, Katarina, the first thing she wanted to share was her gratitude for making the Purim party at that hall.

"As you know," she explained, "Benjy wasn't doing well and as a result he wasn't going to any functions or celebrations. When he heard that your Purim Party was going to be so close to our home, he agreed to go. That was the first time in a while that he was celebrating, and that was his last happy event.” (in the picture: Benjy at the Party).

If the whole party was meant to bring moments of joy to Benjy - it was well worth the effort.

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