Argentina’s president adopts Jewish godson

Argentina’s president has accepted an official Jewish godson for the first time in the country’s history.

President Christina Fernandez described in seven tweets her meeting with her new godson, Yair Tawil, a member of a Chabad-Lubavitch family.

He was adopted as a godson under a law passed in the 1920s. The law was passed in order to counteract a legend that led to the death of Argentine boys. According to the legend, the seventh son, born after six boys without any girls in-between, becomes a werewolf whose bite can turn others into a werewolf.

The belief in the legend was so widespread that families were abandoning, giving up for adoption and even killing their own sons.

The law only applied to the biological children of Catholic families until the enacting of a presidential decree in 2009, which allows children from other religions to qualify.

The boys receive presidential protection, a gold medal and a scholarship for all studies until his 21st birthday.

Shlomo and Nehama Tawil, parents of seven boys, in 1993 wrote a letter to the president asking for the honor and were denied. But this year Yair wrote a letter to the president citing the 2009 decree, and asking for the designation of godson.

Yair Tawil on Tuesday became the first Jewish godson of a president in Argentina’s history.  Fernandez received the Yair, his parents and three of his brothers in her office, where they lit Chanukah candles together on a Chanukah menorah from Israel presented to the president by the Tawil family.

The president in her tweets and photos described to her 3.4 million Twitter followers the “magical moment” with a “marvelous family.” She described Yair as “a total sweety,” and his mother a “Queen Esther.”

She tweeted that the Tawils “are a very special family. They have a sort of peace, happiness and a lot of love that is not common.” The tweet included a link to the presidential blog, which includes more photos from the meeting.

Shlomo Tawil is the director of the Chabad House in Rosario, located in central Argentina


In wake of rabbi’s murder, Miami Jews fretting over security

The streets of North Miami Beach look different since the murder of Rabbi Joseph Raksin. At Northeast 175th Street and 8th Court, in the heavily Orthodox neighborhood where he was killed, a memorial of candles is arranged in a Star of David that the community keeps lit. Police officers have stepped up their patrols, filling the streets at all hours.

Raksin, a member of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic sect who was in town from Brooklyn, N.Y., to visit his grandchildren, was shot on the morning of Aug. 9 while walking to synagogue on the Sabbath. Though police say no evidence has emerged that anti-Semitism was a motive in the crime, or that the killing was linked to several other recent hate crimes, Raksin’s murder has raised unsettling questions about security in the Miami Jewish community.

It also has the community contemplating security measures already common at Jewish institutions throughout Europe and South America.

“We don’t know if Rabbi Raksin’s murder was a hate crime or not,” said Jacob Solomon, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. “We do know that it followed local anti-Semitic incidents. We do know that it happened in a climate of a worldwide dramatic increase in anti-Semitic behavior. It happened in a climate of peak concern about anti-Semitism.”

About two weeks before Raksin was killed, a North Miami Beach synagogue was spray-painted with swastikas and the word “Hamas.” Cars in nearby Miami Beach were smeared with “Jew” and “Hamas” in cream cheese. The day after Raksin was killed, a vandal scratched a swastika and an iron cross on the door of a car parked for the rabbi’s memorial service.

The incidents raised the specter that anti-Semitism, which has been on the upswing worldwide since the start of hostilities in Israel and Gaza, is a growing risk on the sunny streets of southern Florida.

The Miami-Dade Police Department has said that all indications in its investigation point to the killing as being an armed robbery gone wrong, and Jewish communal officials have praised the police handling of the matter. Still, the murder has placed the Jewish community on edge.

“A lot of people are convinced that this is a hate crime,” said Mark Rosenberg, a local resident and a chaplain for the Florida Highway Patrol.

As a result, local Jewish organizations have intensified their focus on security. In a joint statement by the Anti-Defamation League, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, the American Jewish Committee, the Greater Miami Rabbinical Association and Chabad, local leaders said they were refocusing on coordinating security with police, increasing security training and greater public awareness. A spokesman for the Chabad community of North Miami Beach also told JTA that local institutions were hiring additional armed security guards and planning to install more security cameras.

“For decades, institutions in South America and Europe have been hardened, meaning bollards in front of their doors or large cement planters or guards or volunteer groups that provide neighborhood watch services,” said the federation’s Solomon. “Climatically, we are definitely moving in that direction.”

Solomon also noted that while there were anti-Semitic overtones to some local protests of Israel’s military actions in Gaza, the protests generally were small, isolated events.

Crime is also nothing new to the residents of North Miami Beach.

“North Miami Beach in particular is open to neighborhoods that are not good neighborhoods,” said Rabbi Phineas Weberman, a chaplain with the Miami-Dade Police Department.

According to statistics compiled on, the rate of rapes, assaults and robberies in the city of North Miami Beach, which covers part of the area’s heavily Jewish neighborhood, have all been significantly higher than the national average for more than a decade. Alvaro Zabaleta, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade Police, which protects the rest of the neighborhood, said the district had been “an active area” for shootings in 2014.

For now, daily life has resumed, but with a fearful edge. CBS 4 Miami reported that on the most recent Sabbath, residents walked to synagogue in clusters for safety. The local community has raised a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Raksin’s two assailants, who remain at large.

“From a Jewish perspective, from a moral perspective, of course a hate crime makes a huge difference,” Rosenberg said. “But from a safety perspective, for a residential neighborhood, it doesn’t really matter. You don’t want to live in a neighborhood where people get shot.”


Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, father of Jewish Renewal, dies

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, the father of the Jewish Renewal movement, has died at age 89.

A maverick rabbi who started out in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, Schachter-Shalomi transitioned over time toward a New Age, neo-Chasidic approach, gaining a substantial following on his own but also influencing other Jewish denominations.

His nontraditional approaches to Jewish spirituality, including services marked by ecstatic prayer, drumming and dancing, eventually morphed into the Jewish Renewal movement.

Known to friends and followers as Reb Zalman, he lived out his later years in Boulder, Colo., where he died Thursday morning after being ill for some time. An associate told JTA that he had been battling a pneumonia infection in recent weeks.

The movement he started had its origins in the 1960s, when Schachter-Shalomi began instituting meditation and dance during prayer services. He sought to fuse the mystical traditions of his Lubavitch background with the sensibilities of the modern world in an effort to revitalize a synagogue practice he found stultifying.

He eventually broke with Chabad, founding the P’nai Or Religious Fellowship in 1962 and a havurah — a lay-led congregation with no central leader — in Sommerville, Mass., in 1968. He ordained the first Renewal rabbi, Daniel Siegel, in 1974.

Schachter-Shalomi led prayers in English set to popular tunes, translated Hasidic texts on mysticism into English, promoted ecologically friendly kashrut and encouraged Jews to create their own colorful tallitot, or prayer shawls.

In 1993, P’nai Or merged with Rabbi Arthur Waskow’s Shalom Center to become Aleph, the Alliance for Jewish Renewal. The Philadelphia-based institution has ordained some 80 rabbis.

Born in Poland in 1924 and raised in Vienna, Schachter-Shalomi’s family fled the Nazis and eventually landed in Brooklyn in 1941. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1947 by the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Yosef Yitzchok Schneerson. He later got a master’s degree from Boston University in the psychology of religion, and a doctorate from Hebrew Union College, which is affiliated with the Reform movement.

His last teaching post was at Naropa University, a Buddhist-inspired Colorado institution that is now home to Schachter-Shalomi’s archives.

“This man is a Chasid,” Rebecca Alpert, a professor of religion at Temple University, told JTA several years ago in an interview about Schachter-Shalomi’s influence. “No one could possibly duplicate his sagacity, presence and magic.”

Shabbat dinner sets Guinness record

More than 2,000 people in Tel Aviv set the Guinness World Record for largest Shabbat dinner.

At a June 13 evening event hosted by White City Shabbat, a Tel Aviv organization that hosts and coordinates Shabbat meals, and co-sponsored by Chabad-Lubavitch, 2,226 people gathered for what was billed as the largest Shabbat dinner ever. An official representative of Guinness World Records present at the event certified that the dinner had set the mark.

The organizers for the dinner — held in a large atrium at the Tel Aviv Port — purchased 800 bottles of wine, 80 bottles of vodka, 50 bottles of whiskey, 2,000 challah rolls, 1,800 pieces of chicken, 1,000 pieces of beef and 250 vegetarian meals. 

Chabad representatives led Orthodox services before the dinner, which was dedicated to the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher rebbe who died in 1994.

Among those on hand were Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and former Israeli Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau.

“The jubilation in the room when Guinness World Records announced the official results was palpable,” White City Shabbat co-director Deborah Danan said in a statement. “We are witnessing the transition of Tel Aviv as being the new capital for Jews — not just for those with professional impetuses but also for those who want to see the revival in Jewish life continue.”

Schools caution on alcohol during Simchat Torah

Dozens of men sit around a few tables, humming a soft Chasidic niggun (tune), swaying slowly back and forth, noshing on cold cuts, salads and light snacks. Some are sipping on small cups of vodka. Most wear white dress shirts, black dress pants and a long black coat. 

This is a Chabad-Lubavitch farbrengen, and save for the brand-name foods and Styrofoam plates, it’s a scene that has been re-created countless times for centuries around the world. Yiddish for “joyous gathering,” this particular farbrengen took place after Shabbat morning services earlier this summer at Congregation Levi Yitzchok in Hancock Park.

“Think of it as a Kiddush, a sit-down Kiddush,” albeit one with its own unique Chasidic twist, said Rabbi Gershon Schusterman, a regular at Levi Yitzchok.

Farbrengens, conducted thousands of times per year at Chabad houses across the world, are one of the movement’s favorite methods for transmitting wisdom — through Chasidic stories, personal experiences and teachings from previous leaders (rebbes) of the Chabad movement. Every element of the celebration is meant to encourage one thing, according to Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum, a Levi Yitzchok attendee: “to inspire one in the service of HaShem.”

Alcohol appears in moderation, he said, to assist attendees find inspiration that may help them improve their connection to God and Judaism.

“Alcohol is not the driving factor of the farbrengen. You can have a wonderful farbrengen without any alcohol,” Greenbaum said. “At times the function of a little bit of alcohol will help them rise past their certain inhibitions or challenges or be able to help them in the process.” 

In Shusterman’s words, alcohol can help people be more “receptive” to the ideas being discussed.

A normal farbrengen, part of holidays and lifecycle celebrations, is low-key, with drinking ranging from none to at most a few l’chaims and quiet tunes sung with everyone seated. Come Simchat Torah, though, that all changes. 

At Levi Yitzchok and dozens of other congregations across Los Angeles, the alcohol will be flowing, food will be piled high, feet will be sore from dancing, and most, if not all, the tunes will be sung loudly. In fact, the partying at Levi Yitzchok will begin the night before Simchat Torah, on the evening of the holiday of Shemini Atzeret, when the congregation will perform hakafot (reading prayers while carrying a Torah around the bimah) and eat a festive meal under the sukkah

Save for sleeping, eating and some occasional traditional praying, the beginning of Shemini Atzeret until the end of Simchat Torah is, according to Greenbaum, an “ongoing farbrengen for 48 hours.”

As a preemptive caution for parents heading into the holiday, heads of school from four local Orthodox high schools (YULA Boys, YULA Girls, Shalhevet and Valley Torah) wrote an e-mail to parents to look after their children on Simchat Torah. 

In a phone conversation with the Journal, the head of school of Shalhevet, Rabbi Ari Segal, said that while its nice “when a shul can have alcoholic beverages served in a responsible way,” he hopes that parents and community members model “normal alcoholic consumption” for area youths.

“We are not waiting until someone ends up in the hospital with alcohol poisoning,” Segal said. “They [minors] are kind of trying to imitate the adult behavior I see, but without the level of responsibility and care.”

Rabbi Dov Emerson, the head of school of YULA Boys, wrote to the Journal in an e-mail that the high school plans to host about 150 students, parents, rabbis and relatives for hakafot and a holiday meal on Simchat Torah evening that he said would be safe and uplifting.

At Levi Yitzchok, Greenbaum said that a few hundred men will gather on Sept. 27 at the close of Simchat Torah to sing melodies that have passed down through Chabad over hundreds of years. With a packed house and an intensely celebratory holiday winding down, it won’t resemble in style Levi Yitzchok’s typical, laid back Shabbat farbrengen. But its purpose — to help people overcome their spiritual and religious challenges by bringing together Jews to eat and sing — will be exactly the same.

“It’s easier to battle the yetzer hara [evil inclination] when you have a few yetzer tovs [good inclinations] working together,” Greenbaum said.

Putin: First Soviet government was mostly Jewish

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that at least 80 percent of the members of the first Soviet government were Jewish.

“I thought about something just now: The decision to nationalize this library was made by the first Soviet government, whose composition was 80-85 percent Jewish,” Putin said June 13 during a visit to Moscow’s Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center.

Putin was referencing the library of Rabbi Joseph I. Schneerson, the late leader of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. The books, which are claimed by Chabad representatives in the United States, began being moved to the museum in Moscow this month.

According to the official transcription of Putin’s speech at the museum, he went on to say that the politicians on the predominantly Jewish Soviet government “were guided by false ideological considerations and supported the arrest and repression of Jews, Russian Orthodox Christians, Muslims and members of other faiths. They grouped everyone into the same category.

“Thankfully, those ideological goggles and faulty ideological perceptions collapsed. And today, we are essentially returning these books to the Jewish community with a happy smile.”

Widely seen as the first Soviet government, the Council of People’s Commissars was formed in 1917 and comprised 16 leaders, including chairman Vladimir Lenin, foreign affairs chief Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin, who was in charge of the People’s Commissariat of Nationalities.

Rabbi denies he knew of sexual abuse at Jewish school

A man under investigation for allegedly sexually abusing boys at a Sydney Jewish day school told police that senior rabbis knew of his actions but failed to report them to authorities, a newspaper reported.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Wednesday that the man told New South Wales police, who are investigating allegations that two men associated with the Yeshiva Centre in Bondi sexually abused children during the 1970s and 1980s, that he confessed to Rabbi PInchus Feldman 25 years ago, and was told to “take steps to avoid it.”

American-born Feldman, the chief rabbi of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Sydney, denied any awareness of child sexual abuse inside his Orthodox institution, despite the allegations.

A statement issued Wednesday by Chabad in Sydney said: “This morning there was a media report that an anonymous individual currently under criminal investigation has alleged to have over a quarter of a century ago privately confessed child sex abuse crimes to Rabbi Feldman. Rabbi Feldman does not have any recollection of such a confession.”

Feldman, who was sent to Australia by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1964, added: “To make my position absolutely clear, I endorse the unequivocal rabbinical rulings encouraging victims of abuse to report to the police and I will continue to support the efforts of law enforcement agencies in investigating and taking action against these heinous crimes.”

Manny Waks, an advocate for child sex abuse victims, said he believed Chabad officials have “privately acknowledged that it was indeed aware of the abuse allegations” in the 1980s.

Waks claimed he’d been approached with information “alleging that the Yeshiva leadership responded to an alleged incident of child sexual abuse by apparently sending the perpetrator overseas.”

News of the police investigation of the two alleged Jewish cases of child sex abuse in Sydney, one of which is believed to involve a former employee of Chabad-Lubavitch, became public last week, according to the newspaper.

Neither of the men has been publicly named by the New South Wales police. The second alleged perpetrator, also Jewish, is understood to have moved overseas.

The allegations in Sydney come in the wake of multiple cases of alleged child sex abuse in Melbourne, most within the Orthodox community.

Melbourne sex abuse probes spread to Sydney Jewish community

Allegations of child sex abuse, rampant in Melbourne’s Jewish community, have spread to Sydney, with police mounting investigations into two individuals.

Police in New South Wales state said at least one of the alleged perpetrators under investigation is believed to be a former employee of a religious institution associated with Chabad-Lubavitch. Neither of the men have been publicly named.

The allegations date back to the late 1970s or 1980s, a police spokesperson said.

Rabbi Eli Feldman, a spokesperson for the Yeshiva Center, the headquarters of Chabad in NSW, said in a statement Thursday that police had not contacted them.

“Yeshiva unequivocally condemns any form of abuse, including child sexual abuse,” the statement said. “We welcome any police investigation to uncover any improprieties, especially regarding alleged crimes against children.”

Child abuse victim Manny Waks, the head of Tzedek, an advocacy group for Jewish survivors and victims in Australia, welcomed the news.

“This is yet a further positive development,” he said. “The Sydney Yeshiva Center has made its position crystal clear: that it does not tolerate any forms of abuse, it encourages victims to go to the police, it commits to fully cooperating with the police, it offers victims and survivors an acknowledgement of what they may have experienced, and importantly, it offers them support and assistance in a practical and sensitive manner.”

Yeshivah College, the Chabad-run school in Melbourne, has been at the center of multiple child sex abuse allegations. Two former employees – David Kramer and David Cyprys – face multiple charges, including indecent acts on minors and child rape.

On Friday, a magistrate set April 23-24 as the dates for Kramer’s committal hearing, which will determine whether his case goes to trial. Kramer appeared in the Melbourne Magistrates Court via video-link from jail.

Waks also said a new victim had come forward with allegations that she was sexually abused as a child by a congregant of a synagogue in Melbourne in the 1990s.

Chabad Telethon raises $4 million

Hollywood stars and dancing rabbis came together for the 32nd annual Chabad “To Life” Telethon on Sept. 9. Held for the first time at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, the high-profile fundraiser raised approximately $4 million for Chabad of California.

“At Chabad, there’s no greater joy than the joy of giving,” declared Larry King, whose hosting duties and interviews were recorded days earlier at KCET in Burbank and shown on screens straddling the stage.

KTLA Morning News’ Sam Rubin, “Good Morning Arizona” anchor Stella Inger and comedian Elon Gold co-hosted the event live, playing to a small studio audience at the Art Deco theater.

The three-hour telethon aired locally on KTLA 5, from 8 to 11 p.m., and was carried nationwide by cable and satellite providers, as well as stations in San Diego, San Francisco, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.   

Actor Jon Voight, one of the evening’s main celebrities, remains an active supporter of Israel and Chabad, having appeared in multiple telethons. 

“I’ve had many major roles in motion pictures, but one of my favorite roles is taking part in Chabad’s” yearly telethon, he said. 

Onstage throughout the evening, Voight was in good spirits, surrounded by a house band, a rotating crew of people working the phone banks and an active tote board. He danced with black-suited Chabadniks young and old. “I’m learning new steps every day,” Voight said. 

Then, catching his breath, he delivered his spiel, asking viewers to call the phone number that appeared on the bottom of their television screens and donate what they could. 

In addition to Voight, speakers included actors Tom Arnold, David Arquette and Howie Mandel, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, L.A. City Councilmen Paul Koretz and Dennis Zine, Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles David Siegel and philanthropist Stanley Black.

Among the featured performers were 11-year-old piano prodigy Ethan Bortnick, Chasidic rock-and-pop duo the 8th Day and Chasidic singer and composer Lipa Schmeltzer. 

The $4.03 million raised on Sunday — last year’s telethon raised $4.2 million — will benefit the international Chasidic movement’s social services and programs, including summer camp scholarships, support for children with special needs, community outreach centers, crisis intervention and drug and alcohol rehabilitation. 

Seated near L.A. Clipper forward Trey Thompkins at the phone bank, actor-comedian Arnold made his pitch for Chabad. Never shy, Arnold highlighted his past as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict when requesting donations in support of Chabad’s drug rehabilitation services.

“They do wonderful work there and they help everybody,” Arnold said.

Highlights from the Chabad “To Life” Telethon: 

7:58 p.m.: Backstage, two minutes until showtime, production assistants scramble to prepare performers, including Voight and dancing rabbis, for their cue. 

8 p.m.: A message from King segues into Bortnick’s piano performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The rabbis follow — young men grab one another’s hands or shoulders, kicking up their feet as they dance in circles. 

8:12 p.m.: Dressed in black sneakers to match his suit, comedian Gold warms up the crowd: “You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the Chabad Telethon, but it helps,” Gold says.

8:55 p.m.: King interviews Arquette about what it took to get sober. Building “a connection to God” and learning how to manage self-critical thinking both played a role in his road to sobriety, Arquette says. 

9:10 p.m.: Consul General Siegel, City Councilman Koretz, County Supervisor Yaroslavsky and philanthropist Black share the stage with Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director of West Coast Chabad. Black announces his own pledge for $250,000.

9:35 p.m.: Looking out at the theater’s numerous empty seats, Arnold quips from the phone bank, “How about a hand for all of Clint Eastwood’s chairs out there,” referring to Eastwood’s controversial speech at the Republican National Convention.

9:40 to 10 p.m.: Entertainment attorney and Chabad Telethon co-chairman Marshall Grossman pledges $25,000. Television producer Kevin Bright (“Friends”), who was not in attendance, pledges $180,000 and Ralphs supermarket representative Jose Martinez hands over a jumbo-check for $20,000.

10:10: An interview between King and TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal president David Suissa is screened. “Chabad means ‘love’ more than anything,” Suissa says.

10:55 p.m.: The tote board jumps to more than $4 million for the evening’s final total. The rabbis return for a final dance — until next year.

Rebbe on the go

It’s one thing to feel holiness when you enter a synagogue on Shabbat or a holy day. You go in expecting holiness. You expect that the rabbi’s sermon will inspire you; that you will have a spiritual experience and connect with God.

But what if it’s not Shabbat or a holy day? What if you’re right in the middle of a hectic workday, negotiating better prices for buttons or zippers and stressing out because a major shipment to your No. 1 customer is already two days late?

And what if right in the middle of this crazy workday, you take a time out and walk around the block to attend a prayer service or a Torah class?

Well, that should give you a little idea of how Chabad of California has transformed Jewish life in downtown Los Angeles over the past five years.

I got a taste of it the other day when I took the San Pedro Street exit off the 10 Freeway and found myself on a desolate stretch of Los Angeles that felt like a movie set for “Repo Man.”

Instead of the signage and logos that I’m used to seeing on the Westside — slick neon signs for dry cleaners, toy stores, furniture stores or restaurants, and giant-sized Coke billboards urging you to “open happiness”— all I saw here were old, worn-out signs for textile companies painted on old, worn-out buildings with tall chain-link security fences that look like they’re never open.

It was behind one of those chain-link fences on Griffith Avenue that I saw a man walk briskly toward me, like someone ready to make a quick deal. The man in question wore a black hat and had a black beard — his name is Rabbi Moshe Levin, one of the mainstays of Chabad’s effort to bring Jewish love and Torah to downtown.

Levin opened the gate, gave me a big hug (“Shalom, Rav Dovid!”), hustled me past workers who were moving pallets on forklift trucks, and then led me toward a small door next to a large, open warehouse entrance.

Behind us, the sound of moving trucks was competing with the sound of a worker yelling orders in Spanish. As Levin opened the little door, I heard a third sound: words of Hebrew spoken loudly by a Persian man learning the parasha of the week. I was now inside a synagogue. That’s right, a synagogue, designed with a Sephardic flair by local designer Sacha Chalom Louza.

How did this happen? A few years ago, Levin convinced the Jewish owner of the business that Jews who worked in the neighborhood needed a holy place where they could come learn, pray, commune with other Jews, and inhale some peace and holiness in the middle of their crazy day.

Thus, the “forklift shul” was born.

If you know anything about Chabad, none of this should surprise you. Over the years, I’ve seen with my own eyes how followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe have pulled off similar miracles in places like Costa Rica, Puerto Rico, Casablanca and Hawaii, and even exotic locales like Beverly Hills and Pacific Palisades.

The “forklift shul,” also known as Chabad of Downtown East Los Angeles, is one of several weekday shuls that have sprouted throughout the area over the past few years, in addition to some makeshift minyans in office buildings. The trail was blazed by the hundreds of Chabad yeshiva students who have been trekking downtown every Friday afternoon for more than 20 years to hand out Shabbat candles and ask Jewish men if they want to lay tefillin.

The headquarters, and heart and soul, of downtown Chabad is on Broadway and Seventh Street, where Rabbi Moshe Greenwald lives with his wife and children, surrounded by bars, fast-food restaurants, and countless gold and jewelry shops that all seem to sell the same items.

Greenwald lives in a double loft where one side is devoted to hosting large Shabbat gatherings for the Jews who live in the neighborhood (many of them of Hispanic descent), while the other side has two bedrooms to accommodate his family. The play area for the kids is in a corner that measures no more than 4 feet on either side.

Greenwald’s own playground is on the streets. He knows all the Jewish merchants by first name, and he’s even friendly with a Muslim Palestinian merchant whom he introduced me to as we walked through the neighborhood.

This area will not remind you of Santa Monica or Brentwood. This is hard-core urban living, where masses of humanity collide and congregate to get through another day.

Greenwald came here five years ago with the dream of catering to the Jews who live and work in the area. He opened a full-time synagogue and learning center in the building where he now lives, formally called the Jewish Community Center Chabad of Downtown Los Angeles. Of all the shuls in the area, this is the one that offers services for Shabbat and holy days.

How did he pull it off? He persuaded the Jewish owner of the building that the Jews of the neighborhood needed a place where they could commune with other Jews and find a little holiness. Sound familiar?

Patti Berman, who has lived in the area for 12 years and is president of the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, told me that “before Rabbi Greenwald and his wife, Rivky, came to downtown, there was no Jewish life here. Now we are a community with a place to go to services, special events and gatherings.”

The rabbi estimates there now may be as many as 40,000 Jews who work downtown and as many as 3,000 Jews who live there full time.

Ask Rabbi Levin or Rabbi Greenwald what keeps them going, and they’ll give you the same answer you’ll hear from any Chabadnik: Their Rebbe. Wherever there are Jews, the Rebbe told them, you must go and bring them love, holiness and Torah.

Nothing seems to get in the way of this mission, not even the occassional noisy truck.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at

Relief funds assisting Colorado fire victims

As residents of Colorado Springs return to their homes following widespread wild fires, U.S. Jewish communities are raising money for relief funds.

The Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, in conjunction with local synagogues, community organizations and national partners, has launched the Colorado Fire Relief Fund to help victims, firefighters, first responders and others affected by the fires.

Jewish federations have been directing donors to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund online or to send checks with the notation “Colorado Fire Relief Fund” to Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, 300 S. Dahlia, Suite 300, Denver, CO 80246.

All the donations to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund will go to directly combat the fire and help victims. There will be no administrative fees taken out of these funds, according to a Jewish Federations of North America statement.

Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado Springs also has set up a relief fund.

Amid the ravages of wildfires, Colorado Jews band together

The Sidmans are among the lucky ones: Their Colorado Springs home is still standing, nearly untouched by the flames that left many of their neighbors’ houses in ashes.

“I was just sobbing uncontrollably, even though my house was perfect,” Renee Sidman told the Colorado Springs Gazette.

For the past week Sidman and her family—among some 30,000 Colorado residents who were evacuated from their homes as wildfires spread—have found refuge with fellow congregants from Temple Shalom, which was not in the evacuation area.

As of Tuesday, the fire in Waldo Canyon, which sits on the western edge of Colorado Springs, had destroyed at least 347 homes and claimed two lives, according to the Denver Post.

Temple Shalom, which is affiliated with both the Reform and Conservative movements, had about 20 member families evacuated, according to the Sidmans’ host, Julie Richman.

“It’s been kind of a blur,” Richman told JTA about having her family of four now sharing their home with the four Sidmans.

Ironically, Richman’s younger son, Adam, 13, and the Sidmans’ son, Daniel, 12, had just spent two weeks together as bunk mates at summer camp.

The temple’s Facebook page helped to ensure that everyone was accounted for, Richman said, noting that “Everybody in the congregation was kind of tracked down within about 24 hours.”

She said the synagogue also served as a temporary home to the Alpine Autism Center for a few days.

The communal sense was widespread, both in and out of the Jewish community, Richman added. The Jewish-owned Poor Richard’s restaurant gave out free meals to evacuees, individuals picked up restaurant tabs for police and residents put up signs thanking firefighters for keeping them safe.

“Everybody here has been struck by the extremely strong sense of community,” Richman said, reporting that the shelters set in place for evacuees never reached capacity because most people found home hospitality.

Temple Shalom held a healing service Friday night.

“When we Jews suffer pain and tragedy, we come together to strengthen one another. That is how we begin to heal,” said a notice sent to congregants by Rabbi Mel Glazer.

Unlike Temple Shalom and the city’s other synagogue, Temple Beit Torah, Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado Springs was in the evacuation area.

Chabad’s Rabbi Moshe Liberow and his family evacuated ahead of the flames on June 26, finding refuge in Denver. He returned two days later with rabbinical student Zalman Popack to volunteer at one of the shelters.

Police escorted them to his home and synagogue, so they could retrieve some items. The rabbi was relieved to see that there was no damage to his home or synagogue, or his community’s mikvah.

At his home he picked up a cotton candy machine, which he and Popack took along with beverages and other snacks to one of the Red Cross-run shelters.

“People so enjoyed it; adults and children were lining up for the cotton candy,” he said.

Popack has established a relief fund, as has the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, in conjunction with local synagogues, community organizations and national partners.

Jewish federations throughout the United States have been directing donors to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund online or to send checks with the notation “Colorado Fire Relief Fund” to the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, 300 S. Dahlia, Suite 300, Denver, CO 80246.

The donations to the Colorado Fire Relief Fund will go to directly combat the fire and help victims. There will be no administrative fees taken out, said Melissa Gelfand, the federation’s marketing and public relations director.

“We’re working locally with the local VOAD [National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster] to help victims, firefighters and any other first responders,” she said.

As of Monday, she was not certain how much money the federation fund had raised nationally, but said $30,000 had been raised locally.

The Robert E. Loup Jewish Community Center is serving as a Red Cross drop-off location for supplies.

Chabad-Lubavitch of Colorado Springs is also is collecting relief funds.

“Our heart goes out to those affected,” Liberow said. “We want those people to feel uplifted. Hopefully their lives will be on the mend.”

Rabbi David Wolpe tops Newsweek’s L.A.-heavy list of ‘most influential’ rabbis

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple is officially the top rabbi in America, according to Newsweek and the Daily Beast.

The sixth annual installment of the “Top 50 Rabbis” list, published on April 2, included rabbis who head religious movements, rabbis who lead political and community organizations, and rabbis known for their scholarship and teaching.

Wolpe, who is a frequent contributor to The Jewish Journal and was listed at No. 2 on Newsweek’s 2011 list, bumped Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky down to No. 2 from the top spot. Krinsky, the chairman of Chabad-Lubavitch’s educational and social services network, was No. 1 in 2011 and 2010.

While many Los Angeles-based rabbis have made it onto Newsweek’s list in past years — which might be due to the clustering of prominent rabbis, major seminaries, Jews and Jewish philanthropists in this city, but also could be attributed to the list’s creators residing here — five of this year’s top 10 spots are filled by rabbis based in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR was listed at No. 5 this year (No. 10 in 2011), becoming the first woman to crack the top five. Rabbi Robert Wexler, president of American Jewish University, maintained his position as No. 6 on this year’s list, while Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, who are dean and associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, respectively, jointly occupied No. 8. (In 2011, Hier, was listed at No. 5, Cooper was listed at No. 28.) Rounding out the top 10 is Rabbi Steven Leder, senior rabbi at Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who dropped two places from his 2011 No. 8 ranking.

Other Angelenos on the list are Rabbi Naomi Levy, founder and leader of Nashuva, at No. 23 (No. 19 in 2011); Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, No. 40, the founder and president of the Modern Orthodox social justice organization Uri L’Tzedek, who is new to the list; and, at No. 47 for the second year in a row, Rabbi Laura Geller, senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills.

The list was created in 2006 by Time Warner Inc. Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg and Sony Corp. of America CEO Michael Lynton with help from Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles President Jay Sanderson, who was then the CEO of Jewish Television Network. 

Even as the list commands a good deal of attention — it’s common to see a rabbi’s ranking on a synagogue’s Web site or a book’s author bio block — some are uneasy about (or downright dismissive of) the Newsweek/Daily Beast list.

“We weight the list toward what’s been newsworthy in the last year,” writes Abigail Pogrebin in one of eight disclaimers that serve as an introduction to the list, “because we want to let readers know what’s new in the world of Jewish clergy.”

The list’s creators also acknowledge that the list is subjective and not comprehensive, and that it skews male and bicoastal.

Quit Facebook or risk expulsion, N.Y. Orthodox school orders students

An Orthodox Jewish girls’ high school in Brooklyn has ordered its 11th-grade students to close their Facebook accounts and pay a fine.

Administrators at the Beis Rivkah High School, which is associated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, reportedly called each 11th-grader with Facebook account out of class to issue her a written ultimatum to either delete the account and pay a $100 fine or be expelled, reported last week. About half the 11th-graders reportedly have Facebook accounts.

Some parents and students are upset by the crackdown, reported, saying that students had been urged to create the accounts last year in order to vote for Beis Rivkah in the Kohl’s Cares charity giveaway, which gave money to the schools with the most votes via Facebook.

An unnamed school administrator told that the school was eliminating Facebook from its students’ lives in an effort to restore a higher level of modesty among the students.

Joplin’s small Jewish community hit by tornado

At least two Jewish brothers are missing in the wake of a deadly tornado that tore through Joplin, Mo.

Other members of the small Jewish community there are in need of basic supplies, reported late Monday.

Rabbi Yehuda Weg, the Tulsa-based director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Oklahoma, drove to Joplin Monday night with a list of Jewish community members in need or missing and a car full of supplies, joining volunteers from the American Red Cross and local disaster agencies, according to

Weg travels to Joplin twice a month to supervise kosher production lines at several food manufacturers and to meet with the 15 to 20 Jews living there.

Weg said that those missing following the tornado included two brothers active in the Jewish community.

Some 116 people are confirmed dead and dozens are missing following what is being called the second-deadliest tornado in U.S. history. The tornado cut through Joplin Sunday evening, one of several tornadoes that hit the Midwest over the weekend due to a system of severe thunderstorms that also have caused massive flooding.

Ex-Sen. George Allen to announce bid to regain seat

Former U.S. Sen. George Allen, who said the denial of his Jewish roots helped bring about his ouster, is running for his old seat.

Allen was set to formally announce a bid Monday to replace Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who replaced Allen in 2006, The Washington Post reported.

Allen, addressing a Chabad Lubavitch event in August, said he believed denying his Jewish past helped cost him re-election.

During the 2006 campaign Allen, who lost by just 10,000 votes, heatedly denied any Jewish heritage, although research by the Forward and other Jewish media outlets made it clear that he had Jewish ancestors.

Allen’s use of the word “macaca,” a slur against people of color that is commonplace in North Africa, at a rally prompted the digging into his past.

He subsequently revealed that his Tunisian-born mother, traumatized by the Nazi occupation of her native land, had sworn him to secrecy about his Jewish roots.

“All sorts of things happened in that 2006 campaign, which we lost by 4/10ths of 1 percent,” he said at the August event.

His biggest takeaway, Allen said at the event, was greater sensitivity to minority rights. He said using the word macaca to needle a Webb campaign volunteer of Indian descent was a mistake, but he denied knowing that the term was a slur.

Matisyahu — reggae king without a crown?

Has Orthodox reggae star Matishayu severed his ties with Chabad-Lubavitch? Is he a bad influence on religious youth? And is he still frum?

Blogs have been buzzing over these questions since Matisyahu appeared to distance himself from Chabad last month.

“My initial ties were through the Lubavitch sect,” he told Miami New Times. “At this point I don’t necessarily identify with it anymore. I’m really religious, but the more I’m learning about other types of Jews, I don’t want to exclude myself. I felt boxed in.”

In the article, Matisyahu — who’ll perform in Irvine on Aug. 19 — said that to prepare for concerts, he prays and meditates, then sips wine and listens to rapper Jay-Z.

Some Orthodox readers saw red: “I’m officially off the Matisyahu fan club train,” Chaim Rubin wrote in his “Life of Rubin” blog.

“His lyrics no longer really reflect deep Jewish spirituality, and his behavior onstage is becoming increasingly secular,” Rabbi Levi Brackman wrote on his blog. “Now that he has publicly distanced himself from Chabad-Lubavitch, I am admitting that I was wrong to ever promote Matisyahu. It is my hope that he keeps his faith and does not go off the deep end and thus take others with him.”

Other bloggers fiercely defended 28-year-old Matisyahu. Y-Love, an Orthodox rapper, said that the musician is experiencing the typical growing pains of a baal teshuvah: “The first few years after making the transition to Torah are often marked by a lot of soul searching.”

Matisyahu could not be reached for comment, but previously has said he spent part of his youth as a self-professed “Deadhead,” taking hallucinogenic drugs and following Phish on tour. He became observant around 2001 after discovering Chabad, and has become perhaps the quintessential frum hipster, performing songs that merged Jewish spirituality with popular music. Billboard named him top reggae artist of 2006.

Around the same time, the musician raised eyebrows when he left his managers at JDub records, a company that promotes Jewish artists; at that point he said he left for more experienced representation. If he is again sparking debate, it’s perhaps because some of his appeal lies in his efforts to bridge two very different worlds — the fact that he, at times, has difficulty navigating them means he is only human.

Chabad insiders interviewed say bloggers have taken Matisyahu’s recent quotes out of context — and blown them out of proportion. They say that the artist is continuing to stay with (and pray with) Lubavitch friends and rabbis at times on his current tour. At a recent concert, Matisyahu reportedly alluded to the New Times controversy, then, as if to answer questions about his Judaism and his feelings about Chabad, he launched into a Lubavitch melody.

Rabbi Chaim Cunin, CEO of Chabad of California, said he first met Matisyahu before the musician performed on the national Chabad Telethon several years ago where Matisyahu sang his hit “King Without a Crown” and some Chasidic niggunim (melodies).

The two men have kept in touch since.

“Matisyahu is a beautiful, honest, straightforward person, and he is largely misunderstood by the Jewish community, especially those who obsessively follow his every move on the Internet,” Cunin said. “When he became a household name, he never saw himself as an official representative of Chasidis, or Chabad or the Jewish faith. He’s a man who is on a very personal spiritual journey, and he’s sharing that in a creative and meaningful way with the world. That’s why people connect with him, and that’s something that should be embraced.”

Briefs: Survey to catalog landmark Boyle Heights buildings to prevent destruction; Chabad expands on

Survey to catalog landmark Boyle Heights buildings to prevent destruction

A survey of historic landmark buildings in Boyle Heights will start shortly, spurred in part by the mysterious demolition of a former Jewish Community Center last year.

To prevent such thoughtless destruction in the future, City Councilman Jose Huizar announced funding of a survey to identify “sites of cultural and historic significance, enabling the city and community to proactively protect these cultural treasures.”

Huizar emphasized that “after the Boyle Heights community lost the Jewish Community Center at Soto and Michigan — and The Jewish Journal reported the tragic loss — I redoubled my efforts to catalogue and preserve our cultural landmarks.”

In the 1930s and ’40s, Boyle Heights was the oldest and largest Jewish enclave in Los Angeles, with approximately 35,000 to 40,000 Jews living in 10,000 homes. It was dotted with small Jewish stores and such impressive houses of worship as the Breed Street Shul, currently being renovated and converted into a joint Latino-Jewish center.

The early Jewish, African American and Asian residents have now been largely replaced by Latinos, but, said Huizar, “Boyle Heights is filled with Victorian homes, stately synagogues and other precious remnants of our shared history, and we must protect them.”

The survey will focus on the Adelante Eastside Project Area in Boyle heights, containing some of the oldest buildings in Los Angeles.Encompassing 2,200 acres with 2,800 separate parcels of land, the project area is roughly bounded by Indiana Street on the west, the Los Angeles River on the east, Valley Boulevard on the north and Washington Boulevard on the south.

The survey will be largely funded and conducted by a partnership of three municipal entities: Huizar’s office, the Community Redevelopment Agency and the Office of Historic Preservation.

The razed Jewish Community Center was an outstanding example of the architectural style known as California Modernism and was designed in the late 1930s by Raphael Soriano, a Sephardic native of Rhodes.

One year ago, The Journal first reported that the building had been hastily demolished without a permit and without notification to the appropriate city department or neighborhood organizations. An investigation by The Journal found that the culprit was the federal government, which acquired the property to erect a Social Security regional office.

After protests by the Los Angeles Conservancy and Jewish Historical Society, a U.S. government spokesman apologized and promised to take steps to avoid the razing of historical buildings in the future.Huizar said that the survey is expected to begin this spring and should be completed within 12 months.

— Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Chabad expanding West Coast operation

Chabad-Lubavitch, the Chasidic organization known in the Jewish world for its success in outreach, is redoubling its efforts on the West Coast. At its 42nd annual West Coast convention last month, the organization announced that the coming year will see an additional 36 new shluchim, or emissaries. This is in addition to the 220 emissaries already on the West Coast, operating some 150 centers, as well as summer camps, university locales and operational centers.

The Feb. 17-19 convention in Glendale, attended by 212 shluchim from California and Nevada as well as supporters, hosted workshops and presentations designed to better help the rabbis perform outreach in their communities.

Sessions focused on the financial (“Managing Your Finances,” “Making the Dream a Reality: How to build a Chabad Center”), youth (two parts on both “Engaging Your Students” and “Harnessing the Power of Student Participation”) and negotiating in the non-Chabad world (“Resolving Conflicts and Managing Differences,” “Walking on Eggshells: How to Discuss Sensitive Issues”).

“This is one of the most inspiring events of the year for Chabad,” said Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, the head of West Coast Chabad-Lubavitch. “It’s a gathering of people who dedicate themselves every day to helping those in need — whether it’s at hospitals, shelters, preschools, senior centers or on college campuses.”

Unveiled at the conference were the prototypes of the new “Chabad-mobile,” a fleet of mobile mitzvah units that will drive through the streets, attend Jewish events — both Chabad and non-Chabad — to offer passersby the opportunity to do mitzvahs, study and get involved with Chabad. There will be 20 new Chabad mobiles to start, although, as with everything Chabad, they hope to increase the number soon. The new colorful design, by artist Marc Lumer, features a businesswoman holding a cup of coffee, a surfer, a “Fiddler on the Roof” character, a Chabad rabbi and more.

“They needed a facelift,” Rabbi Chaim Cunin, communications director of Chabad said of the fleet. “We wanted to make it represent what Chabad is really about: A place where everyone feels completely at home — both in the centers and in the mobiles.”

— Amy Klein, Religion Editor

Rabbis and doctors gather at Brandeis for Jewish healing conclave

In January, the Kalsman Institute on Judaism and Health held its fourth biennial Partner Gathering at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute. The event drew more than 100 rabbis, physicians, social workers and others from the United States, Israel and Brazil whose work or interest involves Judaism’s role in healing.

Tom Cole, director of the Center for Health, Humanities and the Human Spirit at the University of Texas, delivered the keynote address on “Aging and the Changing Nature of the Human.” He spoke about modern medicine’s potential to dramatically increase the human life span, and the implications of such longevity. “Judaism lacks a vision of the good life for our elder years,” said Cole. “We need to create authentically Jewish visions of later life.”

The gathering allowed participants to “learn, network and recharge,” said Associate Director Michele Prince. “Themes of memory and aging were explored during this retreat, and will influence the ways the Kalsman Partners work with one another, their patients, congregants and students.”

“A special element of the Kalsman Gatherings,” she added, “is that we, as a department of the Reform movement seminary, are able to bring together leaders from across the spectrum of Jewish life — from secular Israeli to modern Orthodox. This transdenominational effort is more than symbolic, and it gave us great pleasure as we davened, learned, networked and recharged together.”

At an evening reception, Rabbi Richard Address, director of the Union for Reform Judaism’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns, was honored with the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s Sherut L’Am Award for “revolutionary work in Jewish congregational life.”

Address has been instrumental in creating congregational programs dealing with such issues as the changing nature of the Jewish family, bioethics, aging and illness.

— Nancy Sokoler Steiner, Contributing Writer

Life of a Footsoldier

Shmuel Marcus is a bit like the lucky son of an ambitious frontier storekeeper, who relies on family to staff a second storefront.

Since January, Marcus, 27, has operated Orange County’s newest Chabad from a living room alcove of the second-floor Cypress apartment he shares with his 25-year-old wife, Bluma, and two young children.

Scion of an unusual family, Marcus has joined the equally unusual society of shluchim (emissaries). They are foot soldiers for a powerful ideology of outreach by the Chabad-Lubavitch branch of Orthodox Judaism. Trailblazers like Marcus must solicit their own financial support and, with their wives, make a lifetime commitment to remain in often-remote areas, ranging from Armenia to Zaire. In not-so-remote California, 20 new sites are planned this year alone in places such as Calabasas and Monterey. The Golden State already has the largest concentration of Chabad centers outside of Israel.

Orange County is already home to 18 synagogues of various denominations and now 10 Chabad centers, including Cypress. No. 11 is to open in Santa Ana this month, manned by Rabbi Yehoshua Eliezrie, son of David Eliezrie, Yorba Linda’s Chabad rabbi.

“California is the new frontier,” Cunin said. Innovations from its centers, such as demonstration “factories” for shofars and matzah, become models used at Chabad sites in 56 countries.

“By giving so many young couples the honor of being shluchim, they are responsible for bringing the love of the Rebbe to anybody we come in contact with,” said Cunin, referring to the Lubavitch spiritual leader, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

For Chabadniks, being an emissary is a central life goal, so they open centers to satisfy this personal as well as ideological need, said David Berger, history professor of New York’s Brooklyn College and author of “The Rebbe, the Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference” (Littman Library, 2001).

Stagnating Jewish population figures suggest Chabad’s explosive growth is not reflected in a revival of Judaism. Instead, its popularity reflects heightened interest in religious beliefs and practices, said Sue L. Fishkoff, whose book, “The Rebbe’s Army: Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch,” will be published by Schocken Books in April.

The proliferation of Chabad sites, which generally do not charge membership dues, can siphon members from existing institutions and cause friction, but also attract the unaffiliated, said Fishkoff, who cited anecdotal evidence. The rivalry, cordial in some communities and contentious in others, often prods greater adherence to Jewish practices by non-Chabad groups. “Hillel consciously adapted Chabad programs on campus because they are so vital,” she said.

Chabad’s brand of low-cost Judaism may be its initial draw, she said. “But nobody stays for that reason. Those who stay are finding something they like.”

Shmuel is the third Marcus son to become a Chabad rabbi and take the career path of the family patriarch, Yitzchok. He is the 17-year rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Yisroel in Los Alamitos. Together, he and his wife, Ita, have seven children. Another son, Zalman, is the spiritual leader of Mission Viejo’s Chabad.

“It’s a very unusual family,” said Rabbi Yitzchok Newman, dean of Huntington Beach’s Hebrew Academy, where Ita Marcus teaches. “It’s a sign of dedication. It’s not there was a flourishing community; it’s dedicating themselves to the Jewish cause.”

The youngest Marcus rabbi was deployed to a “red zone,” mapped at Lubavitch headquarters in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. Cypress is considered a battlefield because of its extremely high intermarriage rate. Seeing a need to cultivate relationships with a more youthful audience, his father suggested the daunting assignment.

Without a building, Marcus organizes events in people’s homes or at his father’s center. So far, he has taught five Hebrew classes for three students. His wife taught a women’s group to make kreplach, meat-filled dumplings. Fifteen children registered for holiday-crafts classes.

“Many Chabads started with one kid,” said Marcus, seemingly unfazed by the meager start.

“You can’t educate a 25-year-old,” his wife said.

“Unfortunately, you have to start when they are 4,” he added.

Marcus, who holds a second job as director of outreach and marketing at Chabad’s West Coast headquarters, wrote about his 1996 stay in the former Soviet Union as an assistant rabbi. Safire of San Francisco published “Chicken Kiev” in February. It’s based on epistolary e-mail snapshots of modern Jewish life in a spare, verse-like text. Posted at, it generated enough interest he figured it had book potential.

He’s not anticipating a best seller, though.

It ends on a conversation with a poet, who notes Shakespeare has been translated into Ukranian. “It would only be fair, wouldn’t it, for them to publish my work in English?”

Marcus writes: “He would be astounded to hear that in America verse writing is not a particularly lucrative profession, unlike the Ukraine where poets are respected as heroes and pillars of society.”