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Counted & Blessed

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As soon as we got into the car, the Rebbe expressed concern. Might the photographer have been offended by his blessing? After all, the Rebbe said, she wasn’t Jewish, and she would not be celebrating Rosh Hashanah as her new year. The Rebbe suggested that I call Mr. Goldman and ask him to explain to Ms. Washington that on the Jewish New Year we pray for all of humanity.

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Jewish Children Put War Out of Mind at Camp Gan Israel — Kharkiv, Ukraine

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For children from the beleaguered city of Kharkiv, near the border with Russia in northeastern Ukraine, the sounds of war have been a part of their lives for more than 18 months. But this summer, Kharkiv’s Jewish children were able to put the trauma, pain and loss aside for a few weeks and join Camp Gan Israel — just like Jewish kids around the world do.

The Kharkiv Jewish Community — led by Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz — partnered with the Jewish Relief Network Ukraine (JRNU) to overcome the practical and logistical hurdles inherent in creating a summer camp in the middle of a war zone.

Parents found out about the camp as they ventured from their homes to pick up the aid packages provided by Chabad-Lubavitch and JRNU. Children brought their friends — for many of whom this was the first time they learned about their Jewish heritage. 

The campers enjoyed two fun-filled weeks of swimming, sports, study, and crafts. They went bowling and played laser tag. They went rowing and horseback riding. They visited an amusement park and an escape room. They helped pack and deliver humanitarian aid packages for local residents. And they baked challah, prayed each day, and studied Torah.

For those few weeks, the sights and sounds of war were almost forgotten as the children enjoyed a genuine Jewish day camp experience, despite everything.

And on the last day of camp, they paused for reflection. They wrote letters to be sent to the Ohel — the gravesite of the Rebbe — asking for a blessing for peace and an end to the destruction they have witnessed. 

City Names Street “Chabad Way,” Recognizing Chabad at University of Illinois’ 20-Year-Anniversary

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When the 4,000 or so Jewish students who call the University of Illinois home walk down Armory Ave. in Champaign, Illinois, they’ll notice a new sign up among the fraternities and sororities that dot the street. 

That’s because the City of Champaign’s City Council recently voted to rename the stretch of Armory Ave. that runs past the Chabad House to “Honorary Chabad Way,” recognizing the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life and Living at U of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, directed by Rabbi Dovid and Goldie Tiechtel. 

In the years since it was founded, the Illini Chabad Center, as it’s often referred to, has grown in leaps and bounds. Back in 2017, they opened a hospitality house for students and their families, and more recently, they opened university-affiliated Jewish student housing with a full kosher meal program as they recently purchased and moved into an expansive new building on Armory Ave., right on fraternity row.  

“We are honored by this recognition and look forward to many great things ahead,” said Rabbi Dovid Tiechtel, “We are excited to welcome back the thousands of students to campus and Chabad way. As we enter our third decade, look out for many more amazing things to come! We are just beginning!”

Spotting Moshiach In Midtown

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What signs will tell us when the Moshiach (the Messiah) has finally arrived?

That question was far from my mind when, recently, I booked a short stay in New York City.  I made a reservation at a convenient hotel and received, along with a confirmation of my reservation, a letter from the manager.  He wrote that a “diplomat” would be staying at the hotel during the days I had booked, and, as a result, there would be heightened security in place.  None of that, he assured me, would detract from my stay.

I promptly forgot about the letter… until I arrived.  The hotel’s perimeter was ringed by massive concrete blocks, each about a meter apart from the next.  It looked like the builders of Stonehenge had been at work on Park Avenue.  61st Street, which bordered the hotel to the south, was closed to traffic.  Police were guarding the street, questioning would-be pedestrians before allowing them to pass.

There was more: besides the New York City police surrounding the hotel, there were teams of body-armored officers with guns strapped to their chests, tasked with searching everyone who went into the hotel.  “Secret Service”  was stenciled in bold yellow letters on their vests, making their identity less than a mystery.  Searches were conducted with an x-ray machine, wands, a bomb-sniffing dog, and plenty of pat-downs.

The mystery that had the guests guessing, of course, was the identity of this “diplomat.”  To my inexpert eye, the security looked heavy enough for the world’s most powerful leader, President Biden, or perhaps its most threatened one, Ukraine’s President Zelensky.  According to news accounts, neither was in town.  But, because the United Nations General Assembly was meeting then, there were many other leaders nearby.  Which one, we asked each other, were we sharing the hotel with?  Which of them had sufficient status to require locking down the block and deploying a small army around the building?

My first clue came when I went to the gym on the first morning of my stay.  Two young, super-fit men were pushing each other to the limit of their strength and endurance, urging each other on in rapid-fire Hebrew.

Confirming evidence came from a fellow guest, a balding man wearing green shorts and horn-rimmed glasses.  He and I rode the elevator to the lobby with six heavily armed not-so Secret Service members. 

“Well, at least we can feel safe,” I said.

“They’re here for Herzog… the president of Israel,” he said.

I asked him how he knew.  He wrinkled his nose and said, “Why do you think there are so many yarmulkes around?”

On the morning of my last day, all the security—the concrete blocks, steel gates, x-ray machine, small army and sniffing dog—vanished without a trace, as they had been part of a dream.  A hotel employee said, yes, President Herzog had indeed been staying there.  He had addressed the General Assembly, a reasonable walk from the hotel.

The president of Israel is a largely ceremonial role. The office has prestige but little power.  Sadly though, it is an office that requires heavy security.

I wondered if, on his way to his speech, Mr. Herzog had lingered at the monument outside the UN on which Isaiah’s prophecy of an age of eternal peace is carved: “Nation shall not lift sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

In the same verse, Isaiah foresees that nations “will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

And, reflecting on what I had seen, I would add that when that golden age of peace arrives, the President of Israel shall walk alone from Park to First and will fear no evil.  For, in that time, Israel’s head of state will be protected not by concrete and steel but rather by “the law… from Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.”

May that time be at hand.

The writer welcomes comments from readers, and invites you to comment below or email him at

Alex Troy worked at two Jewish schools, teaching history at one and serving as head of the other. He has written a novel inspired by his time as an educator, which will be published in 2023. Alex also worked as a lawyer and investor. He and his wife, Dale, have three grown daughters. They live in Florida and Connecticut.

Remembering the Rebbe’s Father

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The 20th of Av (corresponding this year to August 7) marks 79 years since the passing of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson (1878-1944), father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was a renowned scholar who served as the chief rabbi of Yekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine) for thirty-two years, until he was arrested by Soviet authorities and interrogated for his activism on behalf of the Jewish community. He was sentenced to five years of exile and sent to Chi’ili, Kazakhstan, in the remote Aqtobe region in Central Asia. His wife, Rebbetzin Chana, followed him there soon after, and even here, the couple found ways to help, sustain and inspire Jews in distress and need.

The handwritten notes on this page were made with ink derived from berries.

After serving his term, now physically weakened by the hardship of his exile, the Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and his wife moved to Almaty, Kazakhstan, where his health continued to deteriorate. He passed away shortly thereafter.

While in exile, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wrote voluminous notes of his own commentary on themes in Torah, most of them esoteric, Kabbalistic. With little provision of paper and no ink, he wrote most of his notes in the margins of books, using ink that his wife made from locally grown berries. His legacy lives on in his surviving works, which were eventually published into a five-volume set entitled Likkutei Levi Yitzchak.

To study Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s works, now published in English, view this link


Established by the Rebbe in 1964 in honor of his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, the fund provides short term loans to educational institutions and school teachers.

To donate:

The Songs of the Soul on Shakedown Street

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In a unique cultural phenomenon, an outsize percentage of Deadheads — fans of the Grateful Dead band — are Jewish, and when Phish did a three-day run in Alpharetta, Georgia recently, those fans found a warm welcome and an opportunity to turn their experience into one that was spiritually uplifting.

Outside of Grateful Dead-adjacent concerts an impromptu vending area called Shakedown Street often springs up, and Rabbi Noah Pawliger realized that here was a unique opportunity to offer opportunities for mitzvahs. 

“The Rebbe spoke about the tremendous potential in hippies, as they don’t accept the status quo, and that they can be the agents for positive change,” Pawliger — who runs an organization aiding neurodiverse children in the Atlanta area — said. “My meeting with these unique fans has taught me that there’s potential for good everywhere you go — ‘you just gotta poke around.’”

Following the footsteps of legendary campus shliach Rabbi Nosson Gurary, Pawliger hand-wrote a few signs reading “Free P.O.T. and L.S.D.” with an asterisk explaining that this was an acronym for “Put On Tefillin and Let’s Start Davening (praying).” He began by simply walking up to Shakedown Street outside Phish or Dead and Co. concerts, toting his homemade signs, a pair of tefillin, and Shabbat candles. 

The overwhelmingly positive response inspired him to expand, and this year, Pawliger came prepared with a tent, a folding table, and more handwritten signs. In keeping with the spirit of giving and the impromptu vendors selling “hippie food,” as Pawliger put it, he also brought a griddle, loaves of bread, and Chalav Yisrael cheese, offering grilled cheese sandwiches for the price of a dollar or a mitzvah.

They brought — and distributed — 90 Shabbat Candle kits homemade by Pawliger’s daughter and festooned with lyrics to make a spiritual point. “The light is growing brighter now,” the Shabbat candle kits read. “One way or another, the darkness got to give.”

Pawliger also invited fellow lay people as well as local Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries to join in the mitzvah efforts, and a number of them did so, putting on tefillin and sharing the opportunity to do mitzvot with concertgoers.

“The fans have this wonderful spirit of connectivity; people sharing with each other and greeting each other as if they’re family,” Pawliger said. “And during the Year of Hakhel, how apropos to channel that spirit of connectivity to Jewish growth.”