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Rabbi Fishel's Blog

Yossi, my role model! ~ His precious soul lives on

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Yossi, my role model!

Tonight on the seventh day of Passover, is my brother Yossi’s anniversary of passing. My mother recently said, “When I pray in the Shul with you at the Alex and Carol Glassman Chabad of Naples Center and you hold the Torah, dedicated in his loving memory, saying Sh’ma, I see two brothers embracing each other.”

THAT to me is huge. It brought and brings so much comfort and I want to share that with you. Wherever you are in your life, whatever your situation, please know that as I recite from his loving Torah and embrace Yossi with love, I embrace all of you.

Allow me to explain why you should get to know my brother Yossi. It's VERY long:) If you need a coffee in the middle, please don't hesitate to grab one.

In spite of our hopes and dreams of a complete recovery, in 1997 on the seventh day of Pesach, this precious soul I loved totally and unreservedly was taken back to a special place in heaven. What I want to share is how, for the whole Naples community and beyond, this is a unique day which really began with the writing of the Naples Community Torah, in his loving memory. You should also get to know Yossi, as knowing him assures us that wherever he finds himself in a beautiful place up in heaven, he is advocating on our behalf, with his courageous and fearless nature, praying for each and every one of us, to ensure that this Naples community Torah will serve as a spiritual protection for our community, our families and for the world at large. This may sound like a large order for such a young soul, but knowing Yossi you would understand that he would take it in stride.

Here is why.

On Sunday, December 14, 2008 close to 500 community members gathered to complete the writing after a yearlong commissioning of a Torah that started at the Ritz Beach House in January 2008. Moments before we completed the Naples Community Torah, I looked around at a beautiful crowd of brothers and sisters and I felt comforted knowing that all came together to celebrate the light of Torah and to transform arguably the most painful experience in my family’s life into something great and beautiful. The Torah has given us the strength, the courage, and spiritual fortitude to defy the odds, to roll with the punches.

It’s what draws on our greatest ideals and directs us to a higher calling. To live for others. It inspires us to a selfless commitment to one another, a humanitarian commitment that binds us together as one.

But we don’t always realize it. In our pursuit of success and happiness we sometimes overlook what’s really important and we forget where true happiness comes from. So then we come across people, at some point or another in our lives, who seem to exude an inner peace and sense of direction that reminds us of who we are and what really makes us tick.

That was my brother Yossi.

Yossi didn’t just follow or listen to the Torah. Yossi lived Torah. He lived for others.

When I saw him getting up a half hour earlier than his normal 6 am wake up time so that he could help one of his classmates get ready for an exam, or when I watched him motivate his whole school into a new project to reach out to a fellow in need, I saw the true meaning of life; I saw the true meaning of Torah.

When he got wind of a young student who couldn’t afford tuition in Yeshiva, it was he who quietly and discreetly approached members of the community to allow his friend to continue his studies, with pride and dignity intact.

He was our role model of what it meant to be there for other people, to serve, to help, to care, especially for those whom everyone else overlooked. It wasn’t a once a week contribution to others, it was his life, his passion.

Yossi’s calling was obvious.

He often spoke, almost dreamily, of what it would be like one day when he too would be able to take up his position in Shlichus, to reach out to a community, to make a difference and touch others, to create a warm and loving place where people could come to enjoy the warmth and beauty of Judaism,

Every time he spent a Shabbat at a different Chabad center I heard his ideas and thoughts develop on how he wanted to one day have his community, his Chabad center, his place to share and to celebrate the Torah.

And then it all changed.

When Yossi was diagnosed with a life- threatening illness, Ewing Sarcoma, one would have thought that at least now he would spend his time caring for himself and postpone his selfless and ever-giving character.

Not Yossi.

As I sat at his bedside in Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, for two years, I watched in amazement how doctors and nurses who thought they were stopping in to his room to lift his spirits, actually ended up leaving his bedside inspired by this wellspring of joy and happiness.

As I wheeled him through the hallways he asked me to slow down so he could share a joke with a little girl who had no hair to frame her innocent face, or just to smile to another elderly patient sitting in the ward. In spite of our hopes and dreams of a complete recovery, in 1997 on the seventh day of Pesach, this precious soul I loved with every fiber of my being was taken back to a special place in heaven. Those days were the darkest and hardest I could ever imagine. While the tears seemed to flow endlessly, in those moments of loss and pain, the hole in my heart and void in my life seemed to grow along with them. My innocence would never be the same.

I knew how much life Yossi still possessed. I knew his thoughts, I felt his dreams. I felt as if a part of me was also denied an opportunity to live out the dreams of a childhood. But as in moments of doubt and pain that many had experienced for thousands of years before me, I learned from Yossi: that somehow, somewhere in my life, Yossi would still have a chance to live out his dreams. On a November day, two dear community families Dr. & Mrs Mark & Lou Moskowitz and Dr. & Mrs Arthur M Seigel & Ellen Seigel broached the idea of writing a Torah in the memory of my dear brother, to perpetuate his legacy. They too were inspired by the life of Yossi through the words, feelings and stories, shared at the Chabad center over the previous years and spearheaded the community project. I suddenly felt a spark flicker.

And today through this Torah, Yossi lives on.

I also owe special mention and thanks to Mr. Ed Staros of the Ritz Carlton who met me and after an instant connection he said he wanted to help bring the vision and mission to our community. He hosted these two events generously at his own expense, elevating how we were perceived, so new to this community. Ed continued to open his huge home and his huge heart to us.

Each and every one of you -- men, women and children of all ages and background, from every affiliation and denomination, you all came forward to participate, to dedicate a word, a letter, and another statement in the eternity of his soul and his dreams.

This community, this Chabad center, is a reflection of each and every one of you. In previous years I had a feeling in my heart that Yossi was watching our community and taking pride in us. I felt as if we were living his life here for him. We, Chabad in Naples in our magnificent growth over the last few years are giving him a chance to prove his immortality. Can you imagine what he is feeling now!

Knowing Yossi, I can promise that whatever beautiful place he finds himself in up in heaven he is advocating on our behalf. With his courageous and fearless nature, he is praying for each and every one of us, to ensure that this Torah will serve as a spiritual protection for our community, our families and for the world at large.

As I read from the Torah tomorrow I know Yossi continues to live on.

My mother shared two statements with me with regard to this Torah. They made a huge impact and I want to share them with you. One was at the completion of the Torah in 2008 and the other when she visited here in January 2016.

When we completed the Torah, my mother said, “Fishel, you know… the pain was just seething and piercing. Knowing that his legacy continues in this Torah and this community, I now feel for the first time a little comfort."

I know it brought tremendous comfort to her.

Her second statement, more recently, she said, “When I pray in the Shul with you at the Alex and Carol Glassman Chabad Center and you hold the Torah saying Sh’ma, I see two brothers embracing each other.”

THAT to me is huge. It brought and brings so much comfort and I want to share that with others who are feeling pain and loss and might find by perhaps doing something meaningful or powerful it may bring just a little comfort.

This Torah is a living testament, to those souls both past and present, who put their lives on the line to help others and ensure liberty, democracy and freedom for all.

So by being in Naples as it is the Naples community Torah, and all who joined and will join, you have made our family your family.

Today, my brother Yossi is your brother Yossi.

In prayer let us hold hands and together form a large circle of life.

Let our circle of love and common purpose extend far beyond the borders of this Chabad of Naples and reach out to all of our brothers and sisters, wherever they may be.

Wherever you are in your life, whatever your situation, please know that as I recite from his loving Torah and embrace Yossi with love, I embrace all of you.

To continue the conversation, or to share the inspiration click here

With love and blessings for a Zissen last days of Pesach. 

May all the days of Passover be sweet and full of blessings  for you and your family.

Rabbi Fishel & Ettie Zaklos

How does your gratitude meter read these days?

20160422_092733_resized.jpgIf there is one song from the Seder that epitomizes Passover completely, it is Dayenu.  I can't imagine a Seder without it.  As the centerpiece of the dinner, each of its stanzas highlights how G-d historically acted in such gracious ways to the Jewish people, and we responded in such ungrateful ways. The entire concept of the song reflects on our history, and event by event, how G-d was good to us and how each even should have been enough -- and yet we failed to show the slightest appreciation for all He did.  

It's not too late.

Dayenu reminds us that Pesach is not only the time to learn how to be grateful for the present and to express it, but also it's time to set ourselves free by paying our debts; we need to look back on our lives, and identify the people who made such a positive difference to us, whom we may have neglected, and express our thanks for what they have done. This song and Passover itself remind us to get busy, use any means we can from the facebook to the Internet, to track down those who were helpful to us in the past so that we can reach out and thank them for the positive difference they made in our lives. Whether our list is long or short, we shouldn't forget to ask ourselves if we expressed enough appreciation to the person who gave us our first job?  To the person who introduced us to our spouses?  To the person who safely delivered our children? To all of our families, friends, mentors, and neighbors whose efforts are responsible for who we are and where we  are today? 

As we realize many of our Chabad family, which has now grown to several hundreds, will be celebrating Passover in their own homes, we want each and every one of you to know that while we are celebrating at our sold-out Seder, we will be thinking of each one of you and we will be saying L'chaim to all.  Now you know that requires a lot of wine to be consumed but please know that every one of you who has made a difference will be in our minds and in our hearts and will be thanked personally. 

And so we address you all here, to thank every single person, to tell you how very much you all mean to us and never to forget that you were there to help lay the foundation for what we have achieved today.

Every one of you has a unique glow and every one of you has contributed to this beautiful Chabad of Naples home, where everyone who walks through its doors is valued and appreciated by a community that accepts you non-judgmentally and unconditionally. With open arms we welcome the rich and the poor, the affiliated and non-affiliated, observant and less observant - we focus on our commonalities, not our differences -- and each one of you has made a significant contribution in his own way.

So let's learn the lesson for Passover: be generous with gratitude.  Thank you to each and every one of you for contributing to our success and just for being here for us.

With love from our Seder table to yours.

This evening, may the Gates of Heaven open for you with a fountain of blessings pouring down upon you … just as they showered down upon our brave, holy ancestors 3,328 years ago.

May you experience true freedom in all areas of your life.

May your relationships blossom, your faith be strengthened and may you experience much "nachat" in your world.

May you taste the healing and faith of the matzah.

Blessings for a Happy Pesach!

 Rabbi Fishel & Ettie Zaklos

What a difference a matzah can make

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What a difference a matzah can make --- 

This Shabbat is special. It is called the Great Shabbat - "the great one" because the Jewish people finally stood up and confronted their oppressors. 

this week is also the birthday of my teacher and mentor, the Rebbe of blessed memory. The Rebbe uplifted and inspired us all to be great, the best we could possibly be, to live fully, not half-inspired and merely glowing but to burst forth and shine brightly. So our goal for this Shabbat is to make life great.  I am so grateful to the Rebbe for inspiring us to live up to our greatest potential, he taught us not to shrink or shirk from what life offers: whoever you were until now, this is your time to be even greater - - a leader. Think about it:  when the Jewish people united to leave Egypt, they were unapologetic and not burdened by an inferiority complex.  

Sometimes we look at Passover as nothing more than just a ritual retelling of the story of how we endured ancient bondage and were led to  liberation. But we all know that on Passover we are commanded to taste the salt water and bitter herbs, to live through the tears and suffering, to eat the poor man's bread, to drink a few cups of wine to feel that elation and emotion  of happiness. But here is the real question: is the story still relevant today? After all, we are free people! It’s America, the land of the free! What do we know of slavery? Oppression?

The answer is a resounding “Yes! Of course it is relevant!”  We may be free and a shout out to America, the country which gave us freedom and enabled us to live as free people to do as we wish, to be proud of our heritage.  But at times and to a certain extent although we may be free there are things that enslave us in a different manner.  There can be a broken and shattered will; crushed dreams and ambitions;  lost  goals that you cherished  so much;  you future may seem bleak  -- you feel uninspired, lacking stamina and energy, paralyzed . You are so addicted and glued to your Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat that you can’t have a regular dinner with your family or a proper discussion with a friend. You wish for a simpler, less complicated time. 

This is  this is what Passover is all about as we remind ourselves it's far  easier to take a man out of prison that it is to take a prison out of man. When Passover comes the message we repeat to ourselves is that we can accomplish our dreams and our goals. Passover reminds us that no matter how dark and hopeless it seems, we can always come bouncing back with renewed energy and power.  

For this I want to thank my dear Rebbe of blessed memory, for this is what he instilled in his students and encouraged them to share with everyone: YOU ARE GREAT! YOU have full potential! YOU CAN make a difference! 

My wife and I were so privileged to be among the many in whom he instilled these beliefs.

You may not feel up to the task every day -- but wait -- that's you talking as an imprisoned, enslaved soul.  Passover especially is a time and an opportunity to liberate yourself, to break out of those inhibiting and impoverished thoughts.  

This will be our fifth year celebrating Passover in the sprawling campus --the Alex & Carol Glassman Chabad Naples Center and it has been almost 13  years since we established Chabad in Naples.  

This is our story, the Jewish people’s story. We were given a sour plate and we turned it into a Seder plate.

Join us to celebrate and rejoice in our freedom! 

It began with a matzoh ---

On the left:

The Rebbe always urged us to shoot for the stars.  When we arrived in Naples in 2004, not knowing a soul,  I headed straight for the mayor’s office, introduced myself to Mayor Bill Barnett and handed him some shmurah matzah. Since then we have become friends. 

On the right:  same characters, 12 years later and still friends, fresh shmurah matzah!

 Rabbi Fishel & Ettie Zaklos

Passover is fast approaching!

That's not good enough!

Dear Friends,

Passover (beginning April 22nd) is fast approaching. The focal point of the holiday is the famed Passover Seder when families get together to celebrate OUR national and personal freedom. More than simply a chapter in HIS-story, it is OUR story, and we are writing the next chapter. I recall how special our family Seder was as all 8 of us were growing up and each taking a turn to share personal insights. No wonder the Seder took so long! 

Pesach ('Peh-sach'....the mouth speaks) reminds us that we are free and have the liberty to use words at our disposal. That is really the difference between a free person and one who is not. How we choose to use our words and when we choose to use them can have such a powerful result on their effectiveness and just how much of a blessing they can be. Whether we speak to a spouse, children, loved ones, colleagues, neighbors or friends, we have to bear in mind our ability to lift people with words of cheer, warmth, and support.

Sometimes we become so comfortable in our relationships that we tend to go on auto-pilot and assume people will know how we feel. That's not good enough! Taking our cue from Pesach, we wish to say how much we love and appreciate our dear Naples Chabad family and partners and look forward to a special night, May 12, when we can express it to you in words.

Rabbi Fishel Zaklos

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