Category Archives: March
Due to the current restrictions on group gatherings and for the safety of our congregation members during this Coronavirus crisis, the Aitz Chaim Board has made the decision to cancel our community Seder this year. Other seders and gatherings around the state are also being cancelled. Congregation President Laura Weiss said in an email: “Stay home, read a good book, stay well.” Rabbi Ruz said in an email, “… we’ll reschedule when it becomes possible! Take care, everyone!!💜
Shavuah tov, my friends!
So it looks like best practices, as dictated by the CDC, state regulations, and my children, dictate that I NOT fly there for the Pesach community gathering. 🥺 It’s looking like we have to push our plans back about six weeks.
Let’s turn the lemons into lemonade: we can have an amazing Shavuot celebration! It would be wonderful to learn about and enjoy this holiday together, a first!!
Please let me know what you think about that idea ASAP, so that rather than getting a refund on my ticket I can switch it to that time.
Meanwhile, I beg you to observe the social distancing and hygiene practices that Washington state had to wake up to on our own, thanks to that orange menace!!
Life here is so strange: everywhere is deserted, and grocery stores are barely half stocked. No school, no Shul, no anything.
My daughter’s partner works for a funeral home, transporting dead people from their homes to the mortuary. He has been, obviously, way too busy. And as my daughter is immunosuppressed with a chronic illness, we are really scared. Dystopia indeed!
Please check on my Facebook page to find some wonderful prayer and healing services that are being broadcast online by some incredible musicians and clergy!
Stay safe and, as everybody keep saying, WASH YOUR HANDS!!
Sent from my iPhone March 14, 2020
From: Montana Hadassah
Sent: Friday, March 13, 2020 10:58 AM
Subject: IMPORTANT: HADASSAH DMR
Please see the following two letters from Region and National.
Yours in health,
From: Roni Ogin
Sent: Wednesday, March 11, 2020 1:43 PM
Subject: IMPORTANT: HADASSAH DMR
Dear Hadassah Region Board Members,
It is with deep regret that I am writing to let you know that the Region Board Meeting and Training scheduled for April 25-27 in Las Vegas is being indefinitely postponed. This has been a difficult decision for all involved. We are looking at the possibility of rescheduling in late May, but no one can yet predict how the COVID-19 virus will play out. As events unfold, we will continue to make decisions that protect the health of our members. We also will look into virtual meetings.
Hadassah is committed to protecting and promoting our members health and safety in the face of COVID-19 concerns, particularly as they relate to members in a compromised category and the need to to minimize risk. I am including the letter from Rhoda Smolow, Hadassah’s National President regarding the cancellation of “all national in-person meetings” through the end of April. I just received clarification that a Region meeting is considered a National meeting and therefore must be postponed. As for Chapter events, please stay abreast of CDC warnings and guidelines and adhere to them as they pertain to your upcoming events. Your local county health department should also be a good source of informaiton.
I know that many of you have already made plane reservations, paid your registration fee and booked the hotel. We will refund your registration fee over the next few weeks. We will be cancelling the hotel reservations under the block, so look for a cancellation notice. Meanwhile, please cancel your travel. Many airlines are allowing booked passengers to cancel or reuse the airfare, and many of you booked on Southwest, which offers a credit for your airfare for up to one year. If you still have out-of-pocket travel pockets, DMR will reimburse you. Please send the completed voucher (attached) and your receipt, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to Cathy Olswing, 3748 North Sabino Ridge Place, Tucson, AZ 85750. (Shawna has temporarily stepped down as Treasurer.)
I wish you all good health and good spirits as we navigate this difficult time. Each of you is important to me and your safety is my highest priority. I hope we see each other soon. Thank you for all you do on behalf of Hadassah.
From: Rhoda Smolow
Sent: Monday, March 9, 2020 3:26 PM
Subject: Status of Corona Virus at Hadassah
We would like to assure you that Hadassah is deeply committed to the health and wellness of our community. Your safety is paramount to us and we have established procedures to ensure your well-being.
At this writing, the overall message from our government officials is that the health risk from COVID-19 is still considered low. However, we understand the discomfort that this rapidly changing situation has caused for all of us.
Please be advised that all national in-person meetings have been canceled through the end of April. When you are making decisions about local events, please check with your local department of health to see if there are any guidelines specific to your area and please err on the side of caution. In addition, all national travel has been canceled through the end of April. If your travel plans are not mission critical, please see if there are alternative ways to hold these meetings such as conference calls or through other virtual means.
In addition, we are setting up an e-mail hotline for employees and volunteers who think they may have been exposed to the coronavirus or who have questions about their personal situation related to the outbreak. Please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for this purpose. Of course, if you think you may have symptoms of the coronavirus, please contact your healthcare professional for instructions regarding your health.
Please know that we recognize the uncertainty felt by our members and volunteers and we are continuing to monitor the situation closely and will update you as necessary.
In the meantime, we appreciate your continued calm and cooperation in the face of this dynamic and unusual situation.
Rhoda Smolow Janice Weinman
National President CEO/Executive Director
The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
40 Wall Street, 8th FL 40 Wall Street, 8th FL
New York, NY 10005 New York, NY 10005
T: 212-303-8220 T: 212-303-8011
F: 212-303-8282 F: 212-303-8282
‘Theodor Herzl’ Review: Prophet of Self-Determination
Admirers thought him a latter-day Moses. For others, his dream of a homeland was delusional, even blasphemous.
By Benjamin Balint
Feb. 28, 2020 10:27 am ET
• On Theodor Herzl’s untimely death in Austria in 1904, a 17-year-old in a Polish village wrote: “The sun is gone, but its light will shine again, the seeds of renaissance which he sowed in our hearts will not remain frozen forever!” The teenager’s name was David Ben-Gurion; 44 years later, he would stand beneath Herzl’s portrait and read out Israel’s declaration of independence. Soon after, as prime minister, he would reinter Herzl’s remains atop one of Jerusalem’s hills.
As Derek Penslar observes in his biography of the father of Zionism, Herzl’s astonishing transformation from journalist, obscure playwright and political neophyte to visionary statesman was no foregone fate. Mr. Penslar, a professor of Jewish history at Harvard, sets out to show “how Herzl’s psychological anguish nourished his political passion.” Drawing from Herzl’s 6,000 letters and extensive diaries, Mr. Penslar presents a vivid portrait. But what sets this book apart from the shelf of previous studies of Herzl is its emphasis on its subject’s psyche. “Herzl desperately needed a project to fill his life with meaning,” Mr. Penslar writes, “and keep the blackness of depression at bay.” Mr. Penslar portrays a man capable of “electrifying charisma” and “mesmerizing oratory” but also “plagued by bursts of melancholy.”
Theodor Herzl in Basel, Switzerland, during the first Zionist Congress in 1897.
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
THEODOR HERZL: THE CHARISMATIC LEADER
By Derek Penslar
Yale, 239 pages, $26
As a young man in Vienna, the Budapest-born Herzl studied law, embarked on a miserable marriage and penned lighthearted cultural observations known as feuilletons. Only during his four years as Paris correspondent for the prestigious newspaper Neue Freie Presse did Herzl acquire weightier concerns. He covered the show trial and public degradation of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a French Jew wrongly convicted of treason, and came to understand that, despite Europe’s emancipation project, Jews were still regarded as strangers in countries in which they had lived for centuries.
Catalyzed by the 1895 election of Karl Lueger, an anti-Semitic demagogue, as mayor of Vienna, and by the virulence of new strains of Jew-hatred in Germany, the highly assimilated Herzl grasped that assimilation could not stanch anti-Semitism. Over the course of several frenzied weeks, Herzl, then 35, experienced an epiphany: Resurgent anti-Semitism would be stemmed only by ending the Jews’ homelessness and establishing a sovereign state. “During these days I have more than once been afraid I was losing my mind,” he wrote. “This is how tempestuously the trains of thought have raced through my soul.”
From now on, Mr. Penslar writes, Zionism would nourish “his identity, creative drive, and will to live.” Torn between vision and Realpolitik, however, Herzl didn’t know whether to convey his urgent message in the form of a political program or a utopian novel. Nor was he much clearer on the question of exactly where to establish a Jewish homeland, variously proposing Argentina, an area of British East Africa near Lake Victoria, and the northern coast of the Sinai Peninsula. Only later, Mr. Penslar observes, when Herzl had experienced “a gradual but steady process of intensified Judaic identity,” did he arrive at “greater awareness of, and attraction to, Palestine.”
Nor did Herzl know how to win approval for his fantastic scheme. He tried without success to enlist Jewish magnates like the Rothschilds. He then brought his cause into the courts and chancelleries of the great European powers. He secured audiences with the Ottoman sultan (Herzl would visit Constantinople five times); the British colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain (father of Neville); the Russian interior minister; King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy; Pope Pius X; and the German emperor, Wilhelm II.
It was at Kaiser Wilhelm’s invitation that in 1898 Herzl made his one fleeting visit to Palestine, where he remarked on Jerusalem’s “musty deposits of two-thousand years of inhumanity, intolerance, and uncleanliness.”
When his diplomatic endeavors came to naught, Herzl called into being a political mass movement by sheer force of personality—and by attunement to the Zeitgeist. With theatrical flair, he crystallized Jewish political will by convening an annual congress. In his diary, Herzl assesses the First Zionist Congress, which gathered in Switzerland in August 1897: “At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years, and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.”
His literary efforts meanwhile gained new force. He founded the Zionist newspaper Die Welt and staged a play called “The New Ghetto” (which caused Sigmund Freud, having attended a performance, to worry “about the future of one’s children to whom one cannot give a country of their own”). He wrote the epoch-making manifesto “The Jewish State” (1896), with its terse step-by-step plan for a mass exodus to the homeland. Most remarkably, he gave his vision fictional form in the popular and widely translated novel “Old-New Land” (1902).
One can dislike what Mr. Penslar calls the novel’s “contrived plot, flat characters, and wooden dialogue.” Even though there was no Arab national movement at the time, one can deplore with hindsight how seldom native Arabs—and the likelihood of their antagonism—figure in its narrative.
But looking past the kitsch, one cannot fail to admire Herzl’s free play of imagination in the service of a national mission, one called to higher values than a mere scramble for territory. He maps not just a country of modern technological marvels but also a tolerant society that affords its citizens both freedom and a sense of belonging, its laborers a seven-hour workday and ample leisure, its women and Arabs equal rights, its retirees generous pensions, and its children a free education. “If you will it,” the novel’s motto advises, “it is no dream.”
Mr. Penslar writes that admirers venerated Herzl “as a latter-day Moses, a prince raised in the court of the Pharaoh who was called to return to his people and lead them out of bondage.” Like Moses, Herzl led a fractious and often thankless tribe of naysayers.
Many a detractor thought their untiring prophet of self-determination misguided or mad. His wife worried about his reputation as a crackpot. The Zionist ideologue Nahum Sokolow called Herzl a “Viennese feuilletonist who is playing at diplomacy.” Orthodox pietists regarded as blasphemous Herzl’s attempt to hasten the divinely promised return to the Promised Land. The high-minded Hebrew essayist Ahad Ha’am, who saw cultural renewal as a far more pressing matter than political machinations, faulted Herzl as tone-deaf to the spiritual distinctiveness of the Hebrew language and its literature. In a caustic attack on “Old-New Land,” he insisted that there was nothing particularly Jewish about Herzl’s Jewish state. One Hebrew newspaper, though ultimately praising him as a “penitent,” lamented that Herzl was uneducated in his own religion, “with scarcely a sign of Jewish spirit, like a dry bone.”
But even dry bones, as in the biblical prophet Ezekiel’s vision, can be restored to life. Indeed, a sense of the miraculous informed how Herzl saw himself. “Perhaps a fair-minded historian,” he wrote, “will find that it was something, after all, if an impecunious Jewish journalist, in the midst of the deepest degradation of the Jewish people and at a time of the most disgusting anti-Semitism, made a flag out of a rag and a people out of a decadent rabble, a people that rallies erect around that flag.”
In bringing Herzl’s tragedies and triumphs to life, Mr. Penslar is that fair-minded historian. He renders an engrossing account of a leader who, by converting despair into strength, gave an exiled people both political purpose and the means to attain it.
—Mr. Balint, a writer living in Jerusalem, is the author most recently of “Kafka’s Last Trial”
Allen Gorin of Idaho sent this. Jerry
Create and download a customized Passover Haggadah! It’s easy and free. Edit and print your modern Haggadah in minutes. Your Seder deserves the upgrade!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Even though Purim and International Women’s Day were celebrated last Monday, this is still good food for thought.
This blog is written by Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman for the IMPJ. Rabbi Weiman-Kelman is the founder of the IMPJ’s Kehilat “Kol HaNeshama” in Jerusalem and in June 2018 was appointed to the position of President of the Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) organization.
Purim is a crazy, topsy-turvy holiday that, in most congregations, is oriented towards children. Here in Israel, the air is filled with pressure as parents rush and struggle to find the right costumes for their children. But Purim is not just a holiday for children to receive candy. It is also possible to look at the holiday through adult eyes and see what it can teach us. This year, the proximity of International Women’s Day and Purim feels fortuitous! Purim is a holiday with strong women.
The story of Esther provides a model of female leadership that is based on Esther’s beauty and wisdom. This is actually part of a Biblical tradition of stories where the survival of the Jewish people is dependent on women – thanks to their beauty, they are able to covertly insert themselves into positions of power with non-Jewish kings. In all such cases, there is a severe famine (Jewish survival is at stake) that leads to emigration out of Israel.
In the first case (Genesis 13) Abram (not yet Abraham) goes to Egypt. He instructs Sarai (not yet Sarah) to say she is his sister. Otherwise, he claims, they will kill me. “Let me live,” he says, “that I might live thanks to you.” All ends well for Abram and Sarah – crisis averted.
The scenario repeats itself when Abraham moved to Gerar (Genesis 20). In Genesis 26, Isaac (like father, like son as the saying goes) goes to Gerar and Abimelek (the king of the Philistines), who wants Rebecca on account of her beauty. Jewish men don’t come off very well in these stories, hiding behind their wives. This model comes to full glory in the Purim story where Esther’s proximity to power and her wisdom prevail to rescue the Jewish people.
Today we are blessed with women in positions of power and leadership that have higher status, are more influential and not dependent on physical beauty. What a great opportunity to celebrate women’s leadership in the Jewish world – especially in our Movement in Israel. We are blessed with learned, charismatic, dedicated women, as rabbis, educators and more.
Wishing you a Chag Purim Same’ach!
Rabbi Levi Weiman Kelman
Israel Movement for Reform & Progressive Judaism
13 King David St.
This is appearing now in the publication Aish Ha Torah
Rabbi Chaim and his wife Chavie are very important in Jewish Life in Montana and to us as well. We know Chavie originally through her father Rabbi Chaim Block, now of San Antonio, Texas, well before he married her mother. He traveled through Montana as a student Rabbi and stayed with us.
Adopting Five Children in Montana
Feb 29, 2020 | by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller
Chavie and Chaim Bruk built their Jewish family through adoption.
In 2009, Rabbi Chaim Bruk and his wife Chavie had it all. The young couple moved to Montana to set up the state’s first Chabad-Lubavitch synagogue and headquarters, and they planned to start a family in their new home. But as time went on, the children they longed for didn’t come. “We were diagnosed with infertility,” Rabbi Bruk recalled in a recent Aish.com interview, “and it was beyond painful.”
Creating a family through adoption was an option, but Chaim and Chavie hadn’t yet decided to embark on that route. Adoption can take a long time and be emotionally grueling, and in some corners of the Jewish world there is a potential stigma. The Bruks were weighing their options when Chaim travelled to New York for the annual gathering of Chabad rabbis around the world. That trip changed their lives.
The Saturday night of the conference, Chaim joined thousands of other rabbis to watch a series of previously unreleased videos of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe was speaking with several women who were struggling with infertility and advising some to build their families through adoption.
We didn’t forget about the challenges of infertility, but as soon as we held our new daughter the pain disappeared.
Chaim couldn’t believe it. He felt he was getting a very specific message that he needed to hear. Chaim immediately called Chavie and told her about the videos. “We’ve considered adoption for long enough – we felt it was time to act.”
Chaim and Chavie adopted a baby girl and named her Chaya. She was born premature and faced grave medical problems, but Chaim and Chavie never hesitated. “We went from being an infertile couple to parents of a beautiful baby girl,” Chaim said. “We didn’t forget about the challenges of infertility, but as soon as we held our new daughter the pain disappeared,” Chaim recalled.
Once they became parents through adoption, Chaim began noticing the many instances of adoption in the Torah and Jewish history. Moses was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, Esther was an orphan and was raised by her cousin Mordechai. “The idea of adoption is not foreign to Judaism,” Chaim said. “In fact the Talmud teaches that anyone who raises a child – whether through adoption or as a foster parent – it’s considered as if you gave birth to that child.”
Meeting Our Baby Daughter at Car Rental in New Jersey
Soon after adopting Chaya, Chaim and Chavie got a phone call from a Chabad rabbi in New Jersey who heard they adopted a baby and wanted advice in placing another baby up for adoption. Chaim and Chavie immediately said they would take the baby, and a few months later they became parents to another little baby girl named Zeesy.
Zeesy was born on Shemini Atzeret which posed a challenge to the Bruks. They had only three days to show up and complete the paperwork for their new daughter and couldn’t travel all the way to New Jersey in time due to the Jewish holiday. Chaim’s brother took care of the paperwork, and the first time Chaim and Chavie met their beloved little daughter was in Newark Airport the following day. “We met our daughter for the first time at Enterprise Rent a Car in Newark,” Chaim recalled with a chuckle. “It was a magical moment, despite the location.”
It soon became apparent that Zeesy also had serious health issues. After four years she was finally diagnosed with Glut 1 deficiency syndrome, a rare genetic metabolic disorder that causes seizures. The Bruks have been able to manage Zeesy’s condition and today she’s a studious girl who loves discussing the weekly Torah portion with her parents, but she will have a lifelong journey of health challenges.
Our Biracial Son, the Only Black Jew in Montana
Three years after adopting the girls, the Bruks received another phone call: a biracial baby was going to be put up for adoption. Chaim and Chavie wanted to adopt another baby and discussed the potential challenges inherent in raising a biracial child. “Chavie was on board immediately,” Chaim recalled, “but I was concerned that a biracial Jewish child might face prejudice from within the Jewish community and from the wider non-Jewish community too.”
Eventually, Chaim and Chavie decided to embrace this opportunity. “We decided that if God sends us a beautiful baby who needs a loving Jewish home, who are we to disagree?” In April 2013, they welcomed their son Menny into their family.
Instead of facing prejudice, Chaim has been blown away by the warm embrace Menny has received by the community.
Becoming a multi-racial family altered Chaim’s view of the world. “We live in Montana where the black population is next to zero. Here’s this Orthodox Jewish kid with a yarmulke and tzitzis, and he’s Black.” Instead of facing prejudice, Chaim has been “blown away” by the warm embrace Menny has received by the community.
“It’s been an incredible journey for us to understand what it’s like for a person of color to be in the observant community,” Chaim said. “We have not experienced racism, but there is some confusion. Menny doesn’t neatly fix into people’s typical boxes.”
“Throughout his life Menny is going to have challenges based on his skin color,” Chaim said. In addition to studying Torah, playing sports and music, Chaim and Chavie have make a point of talking about Black culture and emphasizing Black role models with their kids.
Menny recently told Chaim that he wants to be White. “I responded that I want to be Black and showed him photos Barak Obama, Colin Powell, Oprah Winfrey and Condoleeza Rice, emphasizing that many accomplished people are Black.” The family also enjoys the music of Nissim Black, an American Black Hasidic rapper who converted to Judaism and sings about being Jewish and worshipping God.
Having Menny in their family has benefited the entire community in Montana. “People see me with my Black child and it reminds us that Black people are real people, not theoretical people living in New York and other big cities. They’re real, wonderful people who need to be treated well.”
Two More Daughters
After adopting Menny, the Bruks adopted two more girls, each with a unique compelling story.
Their oldest daughter, Shoshana, faced many challenges in her earlier life. When she was a preteen she spent some time staying with the Bruks so she could attend their summer camp. She then asked if she might become part of their family too. The thought of adopting a much older girl gave Chaim and Chavie pause. “We eventually realized that God literally put Shoshana on our doorstep and we had to make a choice: do we answer that opportunity that God put before us?”
They decided to adopt her and she chose the name Shoshana, which means rose in Hebrew, because of her resilience and determination. She felt like a rose plucked from amid the thorns of a difficult situation to join the Bruk’s family. Shoshana also chose the Yael as her middle name, like Yael in the Prophets who fought for the Jewish people. “We call her our Warrior Rose,” Chaim said. “She fought for what she has.”
It wasn’t always easy to expand their family but today they couldn’t imagine their family without their brave teenage daughter.
Their youngest child is their most recently adopted. Chaim received a phone call in 2017 saying a baby was going to need a home and Chaim immediately knew that he and Chavie would want to adopt this baby themselves. In August 2017 Chana Laya joined the family. She was named for Chaim’s mother who passed away in 2010 after a 12-year battle with breast cancer. All of Chaim’s siblings had been able to name daughters after their mother, and it meant a great deal to Chaim to do so as well.
When we talk about unity or respect for Jewish people, it shouldn’t be just for someone who looks and sounds like you. It should be respect for all people.
Chaim and Chavie have received phone calls from people all over the world with questions about adopting. Chaim believes that adoption is becoming more common in the Orthodox Jewish world and has seen more of a willingness to adopt non-white children. “When we talk about unity or respect for Jewish people, it shouldn’t be just for someone who looks and sounds like you. It should be respect for all people.” Adopting children, raising kids with special needs and becoming a multi-racial family have made Chaim more aware than ever before of the crucial need to be sensitive and recognize the inherent value and worth in every human being.
Sometimes people tell Chaim that they hope one day he’s blessed with his own children. “I don’t get offended,” he said, “and I explain that God has already blessed me and my wife with our own children.”
Chaim encourages couples facing infertility to consider adoption. “Infertility is one of the most painful problems a couple can have, but you don’t have to live a life in silence and inner pain, crying whenever you see a baby stroller.” Adoption isn’t easy, but for some families it is the right course.
“When I gaze at our family at the Shabbat table each week, I see the beautiful rainbow of the human experience.” Each of his children is different, with their own unique path by which they came to be a family. “Each one in this family has had a different background and set of experiences,” Chaim said, “and we embrace it.”
Submitted by Jerry weissman
EDITOR’S NOTE: If anyone has received an email like this proported to be from Rabbi Ruz Gulko, it is a scam. It is not from her.
Hi , How are you doing?
I urgently need a Favor from you,Kindly reply here as soon as you get this Message.
Congregation Aitz Chaim
The Great Falls
This is a reminder about the lay services led by Devorah Werner the first Friday of the month, March 6, 2020, at 6:00 P.M. at the Bethel, with a milchig (dairy) potluck to follow.
The address for the Bethel is 1009 18th Avenue Southwest. click here for map and directions.
Hope to see as many of you there as possible.