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Saving a Life

Yesterday when I picked up the phone, I heard a voice on the other end "I want to tell you that you saved my life, you are a hero!" I recognized the voice very well but I had no idea what she was talking about. 

"Do you remember when I called you about chemotherapy?” she asked. I remembered vaguely.

It must have been two years ago when this young woman from our community who I have known for a while called me. She informed me with sadness that she has just been notified that she had breast cancer which has spread. I told her how sad I was to hear the news, I asked her to tell us if there is any way we can help and I assured her that we will have her in our prayers and thoughts.

As I was about to say goodbye and end the conversation, She continued “O Rabbi Kaplan, I want to ask you something too... the Doctor said that I need to go through massive chemotherapy treatment, but I don’t want to. I really don’t like the invasive medical intervention. My family and friends suggest I should, I want to know what Halacha (Jewish Law) says on the matter".

I explained that Jewish law teaches us that our life is a deposit from G–d and we need to preserve and protect it. Many lives have been saved with this treatment, and "if the doctor thinks that it may heal you – Halacha says that you must do it”. I ended the conversation with good wishes.

While I entirely forgot this conversation, She remembered. She called me yesterday, two years later, to tell me that the cancer is gone.

I was touched to the core, and realized, once again, that at times things we do with no effort, may mean for someone else their life.


A work of art which has been created over the last two years by a Jewish local artist is going to be dedicated tomorrow at Chabad Family Shul. This piece is the first of three, which will be much more than a decoration to our Shul. 

As you may know, traditional Jewish law calls for the separation of the sexes during prayer in the Synagogue. This is done mainly to minimize distractions and contribute to a praying experience devoted entirely to G-d. In between the two sections there is a "Mechitza" - a partition separating between men and women.

Over the last two years, Naomi Spiers, an accomplished artist from Salt Spring Island, designed a Mechitzah, which is a stunning piece of art. Frankly I believe it is the nicest Mechitzahs ever created.

Naomi and her husband Reuven OBM came four years ago to Chabad Family Shul to celebrate Rosh Hashanah. Later I learned that on that day Naomi had already decided to contribute her great talents to glorify our little Shul.

A year after I met this wonderful couple, Reuven was diagnosed with a critical illness, shortly afterwards he passed on. Naomi didn’t let the grief dominate her life and decided to start this project immediately as a commemoration for her beloved Reuven.

After the unveiling of the stone in Reuven's resting place, Naomi started to translate her inspiration into action. It was only then that I realized the magnificence of her work. When I met her to see the Mechitzah’s development, she told me that Reuven is on our side making sure that she is doing it right… Although I have seen her work in its earlier stages, when Naomi brought the first panel yesterday to the Shul, I was truly overwhelmed by the amazing outcome.

Reuven himself was a talented artist. Years ago when Reuven and Naomi lived in Israel, he built beautiful furniture for the local synagogue. When Reuven passed away, I called their Rabbi in Tzfat. “Do you remember Reuven?” I asked. "How can I forget Reuven?! He left a beautiful mark on our synagogue with his golden hands; he did the most incredible work, not expecting anything in return".

When I heard these words I realized why Naomi put in so much into making the "Mechitza" in his memory. It became clear to me why Reuven has come to help Naomi with volunteering her skills…

You are invited to join us tomorrow to see this amazing master piece. We’ll say l'chaim with Naomi and Reuven's brother Martin, who helped to complete the project; we'll remember Reuven's life and we'll celebrate the legacy that he left in Tzfat, and now in Victoria.

There is the timely message as well: the theme of this panel is “the Seven Fruits of Israel” – a symbol of the G-dly blessings to the Jewish homeland. On this Shabbat we will remind ourselves of the blessings of the Almighty to the people of Israel and the promise that “the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps”, and we'll pray for the peace and security of our brothers and sisters in Israel and in the world over. May it truly be a Shabbat Shalom!

When Hurricane Sandy hit my home

Dear Friends,

I’d like to share with you the personal impact that Hurricane Sandy had on my life. While I have been in Victoria during this storm, it has come as close as can be to my home.

Last summer, Chani and I traveled with the family to a wedding in Florida. Prior to the Simcha, we spent a week in New York. Being a family of 8, thank G-d, we needed a home which was ready to have our family “take-over”...

Rivky, Chani’s cousin, lives together with her husband Rabbi Chaim Brikman and their children in Seagate, New York. They serve as the Rabbi and Rebbetzin of the main Synagogue in the neighborhood and they extend their reach to the Jewish population of the entire Coney Island. For the last 20 years, they have given everything to this community, who responded to them with appreciation and love.

When they heard that we are looking for a home for a week, Rivky said “our home is yours”, and they meant it. They opened their house to us with warmth and generosity that is hard to describe. They have moved their children away to make more room for us; they went above and beyond to make our stay pleasant and comfortable. At times we felt that we owned the house and they were our guest... When we wanted to thank them for their generosity, they frankly refused, telling us that the thanks goes to us for giving them the honour...

The Seagate neighborhood is a gated community of private homes at the tip of Coney Island on the Atlantic Ocean. When Sandy hit New York, it started with Seagate. The storm hit more forcefully than expected and many houses were totally destroyed and the rest were unimaginably damaged. The entire neighborhood looks now like a war zone. The stormy water broke through all the blockades that the Brikmans had in place and flooded the basement of the house with more than 2 meters of water. That large space holds Rabbi and Mrs. Brikman's offices, their library and storage for many of their valuables.

Like everyone else, I was shocked to see the terrible destruction that this storm left behind on the east coast, but I know how I can make difference. I will try and help this generous family recover from their great lost. I’ll help them rebuild their home, which has been mine for a week in the summer...

I spoke to Rabbi Brikman this morning. “I want to help”, I said. “Yes, we need help for so many in our community who don’t know how they are going to carry on” he answered. Chaim, as always, was thinking about others first. I told Chaim that our small contribution will go to help renovate his house and restore the library and offices from where he and his wife carried out their message of love and kindness.

I call you today to join the effort of helping the Seagate Jewish community. Our sages teach us “it is not upon you to complete the task but you are not free to idle from it”. It is not enough to shake our head at the TV screen or to tell our friends how terrible it is; we must make the difference we can. Judaism teaches us that the only way to react to a disaster is with a helping hand.

Click here to make a direct donation to the Seagate Jewish community.

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