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Rabbi Fishel's Blog

Celebrate the Joy — Eradicate the Oy!

I recently was delighted to meet a former Hebrew School student and his mother.

The woman proudly shared that her son was active in combating anti-semitism in his school by reporting certain negative activity and publicly condemning the hostility some of the students were experiencing.

I congratulated the boy’s sense of justice and asked him my usual question about what his favorite mitzvah is.

“Fighting hate crimes. Making sure every person feels safe in my school and in my neighborhood.”

Unfortunately, we are aware that incidents related to anti-semitism are increasing and are a large problem in Jewish life today. Anti-semitism is undeniably on campuses and some elementary schools, too, and along with the subtle and not-so-subtle occurrences comes the obligation to stand up and condemn them and prevent them from happening again.

I could give you a whole slew of examples, many of which you are likely to be somewhat familiar with.

We (understandably) become preoccupied with Jew hatred-preoccupying ourselves with proclaiming what we are not-- that we tend to not focus enough on what we are.

Fighting anti-semitism is certainly a noble preoccupation; it is ultimately our obligation!

And I said as much to the boy at the market, congratulating him on his courage and commitment.

But at the same time, we have to embrace the joy of Judaism, embracing the beauty of our traditions.

Anyone in a thriving business knows that with all the PR in the world, and all the attempts to purge the Internet’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram pages from negative reviews, without a really good product, you have nothing.

So I suggest that we choose a time and place, together with friends or family, to bask in the priceless product: what we are. Let’s look at the values that Jews not only died for but lived for. Let’s bask in the knowledge that today we are a vibrant nation of survivors, where millions of Jews are learning about their Judaic culture and history more than at any other time in history. Let’s explore and experience the Joys of Judaism: the glow of the Shabbat candles, the wine of the Kiddush, the crusty Challah, the words of our timeless Torah to uplift and invigorate us all. Let’s practice the prayers that connect us to our Creator, all in a tech-free zone, where we’re not just hearing each other, but really listening and absorbing.  Let’s show the world not only our intolerance for racism, but that Jewish people love being Jewish.

Judaism is alive and well and living in this century.

I remember my father sharing this with us at the Shabbat table: in general, we human beings are drawn to the sensational. There’s a reason that bad news is always front and center in virtually every magazine, newspaper and TV channel, while the good news follows afterwards. Bad news gets our attention and sells. It fascinates and preoccupies the mind. But it does more than that, as it traps our thinking and we begin to view the world as a dark and fearful place. When we look at the world through the TV news lens, our world will look shattered. When we learn about a corner of our world that is suffering, we must do everything in our power to condemn those who are perpetrating misery, and work to alleviate the suffering.

Let’s not define our world by the darkness that exists within it. Let’s define our world by all of the blessings we enjoy, and the kindnesses we receive.  When many people do that constantly, we become aware of a brighter, hopeful side of humanity. And most importantly, let’s all work to that end by doing an act of goodness and kindness today. Keep your eye on the joy and take the time to perform a mitzvah or two.

Step up to a challenge!

Dear Friends,

Just before the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, they seem to have hesitated and been a little suspicious about what was waiting for them there. When they came up with the idea of sending an advance party of scouts or spies, G-d said they could go ahead with this plan of theirs, but he was not commanding them to do it and, in fact, He seemed to wonder why it was required.  

Now why was this such a big deal? Isn’t it wise to be cautious? Before you invest in anything you want to do research. Before you buy real estate, you do a survey and examine the property. What was so wrong that the Jews wanted to send spies to scout the land? It seemed that G-d saw it was a bad idea even before it ended up going bad.

When making decisions, we can consider one of two routes: ideas and words versus experience and action. As “People of the Book” we are great with ideas and words, but what enables us to reach great heights and superb accomplishments that truly make a difference is action and experiences.  

King David said one could taste and see that G-d is good. Why just taste, when we can analyze or study? I can tell you all about cheesecake, but you won't truly appreciate it until you taste it: action is paramount.

With the spies: finally, G-d told them, here you are finally going to Israel, the long-awaited dream, and what do you say? Well, we need to do an analytical study. What! Are you kidding? You want to take this amazing experience and water it down to a study? A third- hand report?  
G-d knew that no report or study would capture the essence of Israel (As you will have the opportunity to see when you join our excursion next year).

There is a time for contemplation and study and there is time for action.  Knowing what to choose and when makes the difference.

We sit here today on a campus with the names of Alex and Carol Glassman on it. Alex and Carol had their time for ideas and words but were always people of action. From the moment we met, Carol wrote an article about our first Chanukah at the Waterside shops, and then again and again stepped forward with articles to help make us known in the community. And then dedicating a classroom, understanding when we needed it most. It was action first that inspired Carol to do something special for the community by bringing her plans with Alex to fruition. Of course, Carol could easily have made all sorts of reasoned calculations and analyses as to why not to do what she did – when she did it. After all, “Why jump the gun?”... “Why not wait and see if there might be better uses for those funds, or perhaps a different schedule with which to roll them out?”

All of those could certainly be seen as valid and legitimate approaches. But Carol did not opt for any of those! Instead, she took one look at the situation, saw how much this community needed those funds at THIS time in order to take the next big step, and she just plunged ahead and took this incredibly magnanimous and meaningful action in a swift and timely manner. Instead of asking for proof of purpose, what we got was a no-strings-attached gift.  

There is a lesson here - and I am not encouraging you to be foolhardy and dive blindly into situations. When faced with challenges, don't look for excuses (or you will always find one…)-- plunge forward and do what needs to be done, thus opening the channels of blessings. There is no doubt that Alex's neshama is deriving much nachas and as we gather in shul on his yaehrzeit may his neshama have Aliyah and inspire the action first to do a mitzvah and then you will see the blessings.  Although we always encourage study, the idea is not to get frozen in time by analysis paralysis - don’t wait for the results of studies and analysis - plunge right in and reap your blessings.

With love & Blessings,

Rabbi Fishel & Ettie Zaklos

Our Mitzvot travel with us

 Charles ridge.jpgnice pic Tefilin.jpg

Dear Friends,


Shabbat shalom from Prague! Now that's not a greeting you hear every week but it’s every bit as sincere as it would be coming from the heart of Naples.  

I feel blessed to be here with my children and Ettie, celebrating her niece’s (oldest brother's daughter’s) wedding. Ettie's brother Rabbi Manis and his wife Dini, the Chabad Rabbi and Rebbitzin of Prague, have been serving here for 23 years, illuminating souls and creating a vibrant Jewish community. This wedding is a testament to their incredible community as hundreds of dear friends joined in the celebration, sharing their joy. It's an historic wedding, and also very meaningful for her parents since this is the first Barash grandchild to get married. Most of Ettie's family including siblings came, which created the perfect environment for a magical family reunion. 

Ettie always admired her older brother and in fact, when we were dating, she always dreamed of establishing a Chabad center just as he did. How special to come full circle as we are here to celebrate with his family, who ignited so much of the inspiration for us! We will return on Sunday, rejuvenated and bringing renewed inspiration.

We will be with you in spirit only this Shabbat, as Rabbi Choni Teitelbaum will lead services followed by kiddush sponsored by the Mizrachi family in honor of his father's birthday. Mazel tov on this blessed occasion!

This week’s Torah  portion is Behhaalotecha. It talks about  kindling lamps: Aaron, the high priest, was commanded to raise the lights. Every literal story has a message for all times and here the spiritual meaning is that each of us is meant to kindle lamps, as we are asked to illuminate souls and inspire each other to do good by filling the world with light.

In keeping with the message of sharing mitzvot, we enjoyed another very special moment. I had told Mendel and Yitzi wherever we go, we bring our Tefilin because it’s not only about putting it on ourselves but it’s also about sharing with others.
As we were taking a little tour and found ourselves on the Charles Bridge, we heard a few people speaking Hebrew and we ended up putting Tefilin on them. The last time he put on was at his bar mitzvah and we all danced and rejoiced together. How special it was to share and participate in such a meaningful event, not missing an opportunity to kindle yet another lamp.

Good Shabbas from the Zaklos family in Prague!
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