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From Birobijan to Conejo Valley

By , CONEJO VALLEY, CA

When the shofar was sounded this Rosh Hashanah for the first time in hundreds of locations worldwide, among them places far removed from Jewish life, its call beckoned with an unmistakable message: it’s not where you live that matters, but that you live Jewishly wherever you are.

In Durham, North Carolina, Duke University’s newly arrived Chabad representatives—Rabbi Zalman and Yehudis Bluming, worked at breakneck speed setting up for Rosh Hashanah on campus. They rented a hall in the center of the campus, reserved a Chazan whom they flew in for High Holy Days; created a menu for the festive meals, and then set about spreading the word. They sent out e-mails, hung dozens of flyers around the campus, and then, just to be sure, Zalman and Yehudis walked the length and breadth of the campus approaching every Jewish student they saw, telling them about Chabad’s Rosh Hashana plans.

Their efforts paid off. A first on this campus, sixty-five students and community members joined the Blumings at services and for meals and kiddushim, setting the tone for a stimulating, exciting year with Chabad at Duke.

On the country’s west coast, in keeping with a tradition that began eight years ago, 1,500 people joined Rabbi Moshe and Matty Bryski and Chabad of the Conejo Valley, at the Hyatt Westlake Plaza Hotel. The congregation, which includes personalities such as Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Professor Dennis Preger, prayed for the security of our country and our servicemen, led by U.S. congressman Brad Sherman who recited a prayer the previous Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, had instituted during the second World War.

As one guest, himself a retired conservative rabbi, told Rabbi Bryski: “Lubavitchers often talk of miracles the Rebbe performed. To me, the greatest miracle is observing so diverse a group of Jews of such varied affiliations and levels of observance, united together in prayer at Chabad.” For Yom Kippur services, Chabad is expecting an even larger, more diverse crowd—in all likelihood reaching and possibly surpassing the 2,000 mark.

And where the iron curtain once cast its dark shadow on Jewish life, the sounding of the shofar reverberated in well over two-dozen cities across Russia. For the first time in nearly a century, Rosh Hashana services were held in the very remote city of Birobijan in the country’s far east, and in many other new locations, with thousands participating nationally.

Rabbi Berel Lazar, Russia’s chief rabbi, introduced services at Moscow’s Marina Roscha Synagogue with a concert that began an hour before sundown on Friday, drawing 3,500 people from across the city. Five hundred students attended services with the Jewish student organization, Arevim, on Sunday, and more than one hundred families participated in Chabad’s English services for foreign journalists, professors and businesspeople.

“The sheer numbers of locations and people who got to hear the shofar this year as a result of Chabad’s efforts are enormous,” says Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky of Lubavitch World Headquarters. “This reflects the success of our Shluchim who work relentlessly toward fulfilling the Rebbe’s vision.”

And just in case the heavenly gates hadn’t yet been penetrated, 1,000 Israeli tourists gathered, not far from Mount Everest–earth’s closest point to heaven–with Chabad’s Rabbi Yechezkel Lifschitz, in Kathmandu, Nepal, their prayers joining with those of millions of Jews worldwide in the hope for a year of peace and happiness.

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