Friday, July 17, 2015

Building Community Life in Kearney!

Our sages taught that "Charity saves from Death". There are different kinds of charity and different types of death. There is the ten percent tithe we are commanded to give to the poor, the corners of our fields that we are to leave for the poor, the tithes to support the Kohanim, who have no property and dedicate themselves to service on our behalf. There is also charity that supports institutions of Torah learning, and spiritual outreach. The former can be easily understood to be life saving. A poor person without food and money to live will die. The latter is a bit harder to understand, yet falls under the same teaching, that "charity saves from death".
The Jewish sage, Choni HaMagel, said "Give me Chavruta, or give me death" The word Chavruta means companionship, it also is the term used for people studying Torah together. These are the foundations of Jewish community life. Life without companionship is worse than death. The companionship Choni spoke of was one formed out of a common goal and desire to come close to G-d. Our sages warned us that living outside of the community is a recipe for disaster. "Join the community, for the wolf snatches only the stray sheep that leave the flock".
In Nebraska, as in many places around america, there are People who are yearning for community. From Jews involved in the various Kashrut organizations that supervise manufacturing plants throughout the heartland, to teachers and students involved in the University of Kearney. There are also non-Jews who strive to keep the Noahide laws, but are bereft of community life, left searching for answers on google instead of the "priest among nations".
The challenges of Jewish community life in a place like Kearney, are vast. Most Jews I meet are Intermarried. Some have abandoned Judaism completely without ever really experiencing Jewish life, opting to seek community in churches instead. It's hard to blame such a person when the nearest synagogue is 135 miles away.
Baruch Hashem, Thank G-d, The Torah is strong enough to conquer all obstacles. Baruch Hashem, there are people in Kearney dedicated to building an open and welcoming Jewish community. There are Torah scholars that work nearby who are willing and excited to help teach and create a Jewish community environment.
What is missing is a central location for these activities to take place. A synagogue is more than a place to come together to pray. It's a second home. A place for classes, study partners, and shmoozing over kiddush. It's a classroom for an extra curricular hebrew school program, and a children's summer camp. It's a place for guest speakers traveling through the heartland to speak to and strengthen our community. It's a spot where women can get together for the Rosh Chodesh women's group. A synagogue is the heart of Jewish life.
Unfortunately, it takes time for a small community to grow enough to support itself, and without a synagogue this growth simply won't happen.
If you are able in anyway, whether by donating yourselves or approaching friends to help, the merit of future generations may rest in your hands. Please help by donating to this important cause through the GoFundMe account below:

Jewish Kearney is Hassidic in its roots and customs with a warmth and welcoming of all individuals. We understand that every person has a story about why they...

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Breishit, Good vs Evil round one!

I hope Everybody had an uplifting High Holidays and were able to start the newest round of Torah study on the right foot.  My family and I had an amazing Simchas Torah and Shobbos Breishit in Omaha. We were privileged to experience a unique Holiday atmosphere arranged and lead by Rabbi Dembitzer and Rabbi Weiss, and added to greatly by the YU students that came out as part of Torah Tours. I came away really inspired and ready to start this new year on a whole new foot.

The Hakofos were incredible, the classes were well prepared, the drashas were inspiring and our hosts were gracious. All that said, the highlight of  the whole experience for me happened at a more private setting. On Erev Shobbos I had the chance to sit down with Dr. Shyken and his son , my host, Reb Gary Shyken, to learn one of the most essential teachings of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. The teaching known in Breslov circles as "Azamra".  As we began, I pointed out that in Breslov each chapter in Rebbe Nachmans magnum opus "Likutie Mohoran" is referred to as a "Torah".  The reason being that Rebbe Nachman taught that each chapter is a commentary on the entire Torah and one could learn the the entire Torah through the "glasses" of any given chapter.

We began learning about the Rabbinic teaching, "Havei don et kol adam lkav zchut/Judge every person on the side of merit." We spoke about how the Rabbis are not implying that we should justify wrong doings by making excuses for them, but rather our sages are teaching us a much harder lesson. Judging a person according to his merits means just that, to judge them based solely on their good deeds. This requires us to hide our eyes from the bad they do, just as we would like others to ignore our shortcomings and focus instead on our merits.  Rebbe Nachman goes as far as to say, that even should we encounter a completely wicked person, it is our DUTY to search beneath the surface as far as necessary and to find some good that we can "exploit" in order to build a positive view of this person.

The obvious question at this point to me is, how? How do we overcome a life time of training by our surroundings, the media, and our own natural innate desire to somehow feel superior to those around us? Rebbe Nachman immediately addresses this. His answer...Just as we have to search and seek out the good in others until we find it, so to do we have to search for the good inside ourselves! Even if when we look at the good we've done and find it to be lacking, we need to search deeper until we find the point of good were there is only good. Through judging ourselves according to the good we've accomplished, we have the ability to lift ourselves out of even deep spiritual depression. By doing so we can bring ourselves to a higher spiritual level than we previously knew.

When we are able to see the good in ourselves and feel confident in our positive attributes, abilities and accomplishments, we have the power to look past the shortcomings of others and see the goodness every person possesses. Best of all, our positive judgment of others has the ability to uplift them from their lowly state and give them the strength to better themselves.

As we began to learn The Torah from the beginning on Shobbos I was thinking about this teaching and trying to understand the parsha through the "glasses" of Azamra. This is what I found:

The Parsha starts off introducing us to Hashem's attitude and outlook on his creations. Every day He finishes His work and sees it's "Good". He doesn't evaluate it's strength's verse it's weakness's and say "These animals are not so smart" or "Bugs are important but they're kind of ichy." He looks and only sees good. Hashem tells us this story to teach us what goodness looks like and what Hashem's "Way" looks like. Later when He approaches Cain He again teaches us how to not see. Sometimes we have to close our eyes and refocus. Hashem asks Cain, "Where is your brother?" He never says I saw what you did. He says "your brother's blood is crying out to me." There's a problem we have to fix. Not your an evil murderer. Hashem sees all, but HE decides where to look. Just like we have the power to decide what we choose to set our focus on when looking at others and ourselves.

Now lets examine the actions of the serpent. The serpent tells Eve, "Hashem is trying to hold you down, He just doesn't want you to become a god like Him." The Serpent looks to find evil, even when none exists. He uses Hashems own "Torah" to find faults in others, even in Hashem Himself. That is what Evil looks like. The Zohar teaches that the serpents teachings still circulate among us. We can spot them through this test: Any time the Torah is used to find fault in others, rather than improve ourselves, that is the "Serpents Torah" or "Torat Hanachash".

Every time we open our eyes in the morning we have the opportunity to choose which path we take. Every time we look in the mirror we have the choice to look at ourselves through G-dly eyes, and seek out our good points. One good point, and another good point until we see our selves as truly good people.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Interfaith education for Red Cloud Nebraska

Wednsday night I had the unique opportunity of addressing the youth fellowship of The United Methodist church in Red Cloud Nebraska! They came along with other members of their congregation to learn a bit about  Judaism. 

The event was arranged by lay minister, Roger Hamond, and was part of an inter-faith program the youth fellowship is running. Last week they started their program with a presentation on Islam and they continued this week with Judaism.  

The idea is to help prepare the youth of their small town for their eventual entrance into the "college scene" where inevitably they'll be exposed to people of all faiths and backgrounds. 

For me it served an additional purpose as well. It was an opportunity to expose my fellow man to their rich spiritual history. The history of man from Adam and Noah. Along with the depth of knowledge that was passed down to mankind from Hashem through our forebarers. 
It also gave their congregation a chance to hear a little bit about Jewish history from a Jewish perspective.  Something that is becoming exceedingly rear in this generation of youtube, google and wiki's, not to mention the flood of "messianic jews"," jews for jesus" and the self proclaimed "black israelites".

I was pleasantly surprised by the question and answer portion of the presentation. The questions were all on topic and showed sincere interest and desire to understand judaism. 

My warmest appreciation goes out to Mr Hammond for arranging this event. As well as to Pastor Rathbun and the youth fellowship for their warm welcome. 

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Monday, April 29, 2013

Lag B'omer: Success

Here are some photo's of our second annual Lag B'omer BBQ for those that couldn't make it! We had a great time with good food and lot's of fun.

Rabbi Yisrael Luke was kind enough to give us a demonstration on how a kosher mezuzah is created, and afterwards we auctioned off one of his finished mezuzas. Deb and Keith won the prize, and we all had the privilege of participating in the first community mezuza dedication!

Now we can really start preparing for Shavuos. I'm thinking ice cream party at the park!

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Monday, April 22, 2013

2nd Annual Kearney Lag B'Omer celebration!

This year's Lag B'Omer BBQ promises to be bigger, better, and tastier than last year! This sunday we will all get together to commemorate the yartzeit of one of the greatest of all Jewish sages and mystics, Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai.

Known by the acronym Rashbi, He was the author of the Holy Zohar and an essential authority on Jewish law in the Mishna.

The Talmud is full of miraculous stories surrounding both Rebbi Shimon and his son Elazar. Though i believe the most impressive of all is the following, found in the Zohar itself:

The sages were discussing the grim prospects of the future of our people, and contended unanimously that one day the the Torah will be completely forgotten from the nation of Israel!
Rebbe Shimon, who was among the younger sages, stood up and proclaimed that it would not, for the Torah states, "Because it won't be forgotten from the mouth of your children"
That very passage that he used as proof contains an amazing secret! The last letter of every word spell out the name "Yochai".
A hint to something Rebbi Shimon promised in the introduction to the Zohar, "With this book (the Zohar) we will go out of exile."
Though it may seem like an outrageous claim, that this one book can hold the torch until the final redemption, the facts speak for themselves. Since the revelation of the Zohar in the 13th century, every spiritual renewal of the Jewish people has been influenced if not completely based on, the teachings found in the Zohar.
Even concepts as simple and universally accepted as serving G-d with joy, can trace their roots back to the teachings of Rebbi Shimon!

So this Lag B'Omer we will be celebrating more than the yartziet of one of our peoples greatest scholars and mystics, we will gather and celebrate the continued existence of Judaism itself!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Chanukah is coming to a close

Well, were wrapping up a very exciting Chanukah, and i just wanted to share a few recaps for anybody that missed out.

Last sunday we hosted our first Chanukah party in Kearney and it was a blast. The kids played Dreidel, the women danced, and the Men upped the ante a bit with a dreidel for charity tournament! Congratulations to Kevin Balter on winning that!

On tuesday, Laila and I went over to the kearney public school early education program to teach the kids (and their teachers) a little bit about Chanukah. They were very grateful and the kids loved making dreidels and designing their own sufganyot!

Here are some videos from those two events, Enjoy!

Friday, December 14, 2012

A brighter future

Our hearts go out to the families of those murdered in the elementary school shooting. It's a horrible reminder of just how much the world needs to be repaired. My prayers are with the injured victims fir a speedy recovery, and the whole world for its speedy redemption from atrocities such as this, and the pain that accompanies them.
Wishing everone a good Shobbos. Remember to light the Chanukah menorah, we need all the light we can get.

(Tonight is the seventh night of Chanukah.)