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Chabad Scales Steep Slope in Steamboat Springs

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Rabbi Isaac and Chaya Abelsky recently founded Chabad in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Nestled in the Rocky Mountains in northwestern Colorado, the town is famous for its skiing. Unique weather conditions create what skiers call “champagne powder,” particularly dry snow that is ideal for winter sports. More Olympic skiers have originated here than any other town in the United States.

The mountain town of some 13,000 full-time residents has a small Jewish community of several hundred, but those numbers swell during the winter skiing season and the summer hiking season, when visitors and part-time residents from around the world fill the town.  

Much of the Steamboat local community is made up of people who moved here specifically for the outdoor beauty, expecting little in the way of religious life.

Rabbi Isaac Abelsky shares matzah with a snowboarder in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

“People move here because they’re very engaged with the outdoors,” Irv Edelman, a Steamboat Springs resident told Lubavitch.com. “They move here assuming that if you want something Jewish, they would have to do it on their own.”

Edelman and his family were such people.

They moved to Steamboat from Madison, Wisconsin, and enjoy the beauty and seclusion of the small community—”the smallest I’ve ever lived in,” Edelman says. But while student rabbis regularly visited Steamboat and invited Edelman to join Passover seders and other events, Irv says he wasn’t really interested in what they had to offer. “When I grew up, for some reason there was a sense that Chabad was the ‘other,’” he said. 

Passover is welcomed at the Abelsky home in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

But then October 7 happened, and Edelman’s soul was ignited. “In response to October 7 I’ve become more observant; I pray three times a day and put on tefillin each day,” he said. This moment of personal spiritual awakening coincided with the arrival of the Abelskys, who hosted the community for Purim and Passover events and have begun hosting regular services and classes.

“Rabbi Abelsky is a genuinely gracious man,” Edelman said. “We met up and spoke, and it resonated with me.” Edelman took up the Abelskys on their invitation, and they exchanged visits several times. 

“It’s wonderful to have them as a resource for people who want a more observant experience here,” Edelman said. “I’m hoping to participate in Chabad and learn with and from Rabbi Abelsky.”

Rabbi Isaac Abelsky does a mitzvah with a fellow Jew in Steamboat Springs, Colorado
Rabbi Isaac Abelsky reads the Megillah in Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, 74, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch

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The international Chabad-Lubavitch and Jewish communities mourn the passing of Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Kotlarsky, Tuesday, 27 Iyar 5784.

Rabbi Kotlarsky passed just shy of his 75th birthday, at home in Brooklyn, NY, after battling a long illness. 

His relentless work advancing the proliferation of Chabad centers around the world made him an indefatigable and well-known figure. Visiting cities and towns around the globe to assess their respective Jewish communal and religious needs, Rabbi Kotlarsky became the point person, on behalf of Merkos, for the establishment of Chabad centers. 

Rabbi Kotlarsky also presided over the renowned International Conferences of Chabad Emissaries where upwards of 5000 shluchim and shluchos representing Jewish communities around the globe were feted at five-day conferences, respectively. As well, he was a key figure at regional conferences of Chabad shluchim

Concerned about fostering the economic sustainability of Chabad centers, he developed and nurtured relationships with many philanthropists and Chabad’s major supporters, acting as the liaison between them and Chabad centers and institutions who would benefit from their investment. 

“Rabbi Kotlarsky’s passing leaves an enormous, aching void,” said Mr. George Rohr, President of NCH Capital and Chairman of the Chabad on Campus International Foundation and the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. “I was so blessed to work together with him for over forty years. It is hard to fathom the Jewish world without him, his love and endless care for the Rebbe’s shluchim, and his powerful, relentless drive to build Yiddishkeit worldwide.”

Rabbi Moshe Yehuda Kotlarsky was born in 1949 in Brooklyn, New York, to Rabbi Hershel and Golda Kotlarsky. Upon his marriage, in 1968, to Rivka Kazen, he entered the employ of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch—the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, under the aegis of the Rebbe. In 1998 he joined the Merkos board of directors and was subsequently appointed its vice chairman. 

“Rabbi Kotlarsky was passionate about facilitating the growth of Chabad centers. He worked tirelessly, and with remarkable success towards this objective across so many demographics,” said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch. “His lifelong dedication to the Rebbe’s vision has profoundly impacted the vitality of Jewish life around the world.”

The Story of Private First Class Ray J. Kaufmann

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As war raged in 1943, Ray J. Kaufmann knew what he had to do, and he wouldn’t let a little thing like his age get in the way.

“He felt it was his duty to do so, like everyone else at that time, and he was proud to do so,” recalled his son Lenny. Kaufmann’s brothers were already in the army, and his father an auxilliary policeman.

At age 17, Ray J. enlisted in the U.S. Army, lying about his age to get in. After basic training, he was shipped off to Europe. Accompanying him was a mezuzah his mom had given him. Although mezuzahs are installed on doorways, people often carry a mezuzah with them, or keep it near their bed as a protective measure. Private First Class Kaufmann carried the mezuzah in a small metal case hanging from a chain around his neck.

His unit was deployed to man a fort on the Maginot Line near Metz, France, as the Allies pushed towards Germany. At 1 a.m. one night, PFC Kaufmann was awakened by his buddies. Climbing out of his foxhole, he was asked to escort a sick soldier to the aid station in the rear. 

“After we were about 10 minutes en route, I heard a tingling, as if bracelets or ringlets were banging together,” Kufmann recalled in his memoir. “I opened my jacket to see if my dog tag chain and mezuzah were the source of the noise. They were. As I touched them, I could feel where they had been damaged.”

“Then I passed out.”

Kaufmann had been hit in the chest by shrapnel from a German 88-millimeter artillery round. When he came to, he was on a stretcher being put into an ambulance.

“After the repair surgery was finished, and I was in the ward, I was told that a piece of shrapnel from an 88 had pierced my chest a fraction of an inch from my heart, proceeded through my left lung, pierced my diaphragm, and lodged somewhere in my bowels,” he wrote. 

“I believe that the shrapnel had been deflected away from my heart by my mezuzah, and I was lucky to be alive.”

Kaufmann came home a decorated veteran, with the Bronze Star for carrying his buddy to the aid station under fire, the Purple Heart for his wounds, and the Combat Infantryman Badge for engaging in ground combat with the enemy. 

But his greatest pride was his family, and he passed on the love for Judaism which had saved his life to his children and grandchildren.

“Dad and Mom made sure all six of us children were brought up in a very Jewish home and had a strong connection to Yiddishkeit,” said Ray J’s son, Bruce. “We got up every morning to make sure there was a minyan. They provided a strong Jewish foundation that was carried out to the next generation of children.”

Ray J. discouraged his children from following his footsteps and joining the Army. When his son Avrum was considering enlisting, Ray told him, “The military is no place for a Jewish boy.” 

“But Dad, you enlisted!” Avrum wondered. “It was different then,” Ray responded. “There was something that had to get done, so I got up and did it.”

Sixty years after Ray took off his uniform, something again had to get done, and another Kaufmann put the uniform on. Chaim Baruch Kaufmann, Ray J.’s grandson, is a captain in one of the IDF Paratroopers reservist divisions. What he does is classified, but he continues in the family tradition: proud of their Yiddishkeit, not eager and gung-ho, but ready to serve and risk life and limb for their country and the Jewish People.

CPT Chaim Kaufmann, IDF

New Student Lounge at Pratt Chabad “Comes at the Right Time”

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Esther Sonnenschine has eaten lunch in her car more times than she cares to count.

For the graduating architecture student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, since Pratt eliminated the kosher options in the cafeteria, “there isn’t really anything to eat on campus for many Jewish students.”

And the dearth of kosher options wasn’t the only thing making Pratt’s 1,000 Jewish students feel unwelcome. Red handprints painted on trees, chants of “Intifada” on Friday afternoons, and hostility from classmates have left many feeling vulnerable and alone.

So Sonnenschine was thrilled to learn that Chabad of Pratt would be creating a student lounge and study hall.

Rabbi Yossi Elliav said that the climate on campus compelled this move. “I get calls every day from Jewish students who want us to do more to support them. In my four years at Pratt, the students have never felt more unsafe and intimidated just walking through the campus.” The Chabad representative and his wife Chana created the new off-campus space “so that students don’t have to feel threatened just walking to and from their dorms or study halls.”

The combination student lounge and study hall, connected to Chabad’s off-campus building, will contain a fully stocked fridge and freezer, with kosher meal items like frozen pizza available to students. There will be a kosher kitchen with ovens and a microwave; couches and lounge chairs; free WiFi; and extra-large desks — “because art students need a lot of space to work,” Sonnenschine explained. 

“This year, more than any other year, with all the craziness going on on campus, Jewish students have become closer than ever,” said Sonnenschine. “Having a place to connect with other Jewish students informally is something we’re very excited about.” 

Rabbi Yossi Eliav meets with Pratt Institute faculty
A challah bake with Chabad at Pratt
Rabbi Yossi and Chaya Eliav affix a mezuzah with a Jewish student

Today In Chabad History: Bais Iyar

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Today in Chabad History:

Today is Bet (2) Iyar, the birthday of Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, also known as the Rebbe Maharash. Rabbi Shmuel was born in the Russian town of Lubavitch in the year 1834.

After his father, Rabbi Menachem Mendel (aka the Tzemach Tzedek) passed away, the Maharash, who was the youngest of his 6 brothers, became the Rebbe of Lubavitch.

Rabbi Shmuel was fluent in multiple languages and used this skill when he traveled throughout Russia to lobby for better treatment of the Jews living there.

It was the Maharash who coined the concept of “Lechatchila Ariber,” (he famously declared, “The world says if you can’t go under [a hurdle], go over; I say, from the beginning, jump over!) which became axiomatic in Chabad—this is the idea of a kind of holy chutzpah that empowers the Chasid to confront challenges with courage and a boldness of spirit so that they don’t become obstacles on his path in avodat haShem.

The Maharash continued in his father’s path, but with new emphasis on certain ideas and themes that were not until then closely considered. One idea that was explicitly stressed by Maharash but wasn’t that central before is the perspective of reality despite the absolute belief in acosmism. Originally, Chabad taught that relative to Divine reality, our own reality is not authentic. In his discourse Mi Kamocha 5629 (1869), the Maharash argued that, notwithstanding Chabad’s attitude until now that all existence was perceived as null, the world in fact does have an authentic reality, even from a Divine perspective. The last Lubavitcher Rebbe would frequently pick up on this theme and employ it in his own talks and discourses to support his call to engage with our environment and effect change in the world as we know it.

Rabbi Shmuel led the Chabad movement from 1866 until 1882, when he passed away at the young age of 48 after years of illness. Many of his works have been published and are widely studied today.

On Fear And Faith

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The Jewish holidays, we are taught, are not meant merely to recall historic events. If their purpose were only commemorative, it would be enough to mark them on the calendar and take the days off of work. The much belabored, intricate laws—such as we have on the holiday of Passover—would not be necessary. 

Rather, the holidays offer us the opportunity to return, as it were, to the foundational mileposts of our nation. The Passover rituals, for example, facilitate not only a recollection but a return to the experience of the Israelite Exodus from bondage. As we work our way through the Haggadah—tasting for ourselves the bitterness and tears of our enslaved forebears—their fears and their faith become our own. 

We imagine our ancestors, a minority enslaved for centuries, rising up against their cruel masters. We think of the courage it took for them to make their daring exit, to abandon the miserable security of their existence in Egypt and walk out into the unknown.  

It is yet more difficult to understand their march into a vast, howling wilderness with no basic survival resources. Courage alone would not be enough to explain their readiness to trace a meandering route through the desert. 

Their fortitude, as the prophet Jeremiah (2:2) tells us, lay in the hearts, not in the minds, of the newborn nation:

Thus said G-d: 

I accounted to your favor

The devotion of your youth,

Your love as a bride—

How you followed Me in the wilderness,

In a land not sown.”

It was love, a spiritual, idealistic yearning, that impelled the Jews to follow G-d into the wilderness. It was their faith. In fact, in a stunning rejoinder to Moses who was worried about the depth of their commitment earlier in the Exodus narrative, G-d says “The children of Israel are believers, the children of believers.” 

This belief—call it faith, call it love—that has been passed down to us through the generations is the answer to our endurance through a history of persecution and oppression. We have seen it time and again through all our travails, and most recently in the terrible events of October 7.

If our enemies and detractors expected that the attacks against our people would be our undoing, they found themselves greatly mistaken. Had they learned their history, they would have known that “The more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites” (Exodus 1:12). The horror they unleashed upon Israel, with the intention of defeating and weakening Israel, would prove a resounding failure. 

Rather, it emboldened the Jewish people in awe-inspiring ways: militarily, socially, and perhaps most surprising, spiritually. We saw an awakening of faith—the embrace of G-d despite His inexplicable ways—by the Children of Israel who turned toward Him in equally inexplicable expressions of love. 

Since that awful day, Jews of all denominations around the world have united in prayer and supplication, beseeching an end to Jewish suffering. And they have opened their hearts wide, giving to those affected by the war with the unmeasured kindness that has characterized our people from its inception.   

If G-d credits us for our unconditional faith, as He says He does, we insist that the credit is long past due. We expect, we trust, we believe that we will live to see this long, bitter journey finally near its end. 

As we celebrate the Festival of Freedom this Passover, let us do so with intention so that our generation will be blessed to experience the Divine miracles and revelation by which our forebears prevailed over their oppressors. 

May G-d’s illuminated presence and protection during the historic Exodus become evident for all to see and acknowledge. May we finally merit the redemption of the Jewish nation when peace and goodness prevail, as the Torah promises:

And you will live in security in your land.

I will grant peace in the land,

and you shall lie down untroubled by anyone . . .

and no sword shall cross your land (Leviticus 26).

Campus Chabads Boost Jewish Pride to Counter Hate-Filled Encampments

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Dylan Zouber is a first-year student at the University of Minnesota. The Deerfield, Illinois native said the protests he encountered on campus gave him a different view of the university. 

“I saw people that I didn’t expect to see participating at the protests and chanting things that I thought I’d never hear in my life,” Zouber told Lubavitch.com. “Coming from a family of Holocaust survivors, along with having family in Israel, it is something that I am concerned and worried about.”

Zouber knew he’d find a safe and welcoming environment at Chabad and joined them for the Passover Seders, where Rabbi Yitzi and Chavie Steiner welcomed him and scores of other students while turmoil raged along University Avenue. “Being able to have Chabad as a place of safety, comfort and community has definitely helped control my emotions,” Zouber said.

Rabbi Yitzi Steiner of Chabad at the University of Minnesota

That sentiment—of Chabad providing safety and refuge—is shared by Jewish students at many colleges that have seen a wave of antisemitism in recent weeks. At Columbia University in Manhattan, New York, as protests increased in intensity in the days leading up to Passover, Chabad Rabbi Yuda Drizin escorted Jewish students who had been stuck on campus as they were told to “go back to Poland” and that “Jews have no culture,” among many other blatantly antisemitic phrases and epithets. 

“Chabad has been a space where you really feel free to express yourself; free to be a Jew without caveats and explanations; without justification and apology. You can be unapologetically Jewish at our Chabad house,” said Ariella, a sophomore at Columbia College. She says students by and large do not fear for their physical safety, but that “when you leave your house to the sound of chanting in your street for the death of your family, you can’t help feeling hated.”

“Chabad has been amazing in counteracting that,” she said. “You feel unconditionally loved in the Chabad House. The only way to combat sinat chinam (baseless hatred) is ahavat chinam (unconditional love). Chabad excels at that.”

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel of KU Chabad

Chabad hosted Passover Seders and saw their largest turnout yet. As the Seder began, Drizin got on a chair and proposed, “Let’s refrain from discussing what is going on outside.” Outside the doors (and beyond the armed security protecting the event), bull horns blared antisemitic slogans. Inside, students sang of G-d’s protection and danced to “next year in Jerusalem.”

Annika Erickson was one of the 165 students who joined the Passover Seders at Columbia Chabad. The Barnard College senior said that it was “very poignant to be sitting at a Seder, recounting the story of our Exodus, and to know what’s going on outside the doors.” She said that Rabbi Drizin’s message has resonated with Jewish students. “What Rabbi Drizin has been reiterating is that nobody else gets to tell you how to be Jewish, and that the best resistance is Jewish living.”

Rabbi Dovid Gurevitch brings matzah to Jewish people at UCLA

At the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, after protesters gathered outside Fraser Hall on KU’s campus, Chabad has been providing moral support to Jewish students, setting up a stand at this central campus location and offering the opportunity to do mitzvot. “In Judaism we are taught that we fight darkness with light and we fight hate with more love,” said Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel, who directs KU Chabad with his wife Nechama.

Adina Thompson, a sophomore at KU, says the encampments made the campus environment very tense and uncomfortable for Jewish students. But the Skokie, Illinois native says she also saw so much pride. “So many Jewish students came out and showed that they are proud of who we are. We’re all proud of who we are, and we’re not going anywhere.”

Students pose inside the Chabad dance truck at Columbia University

“Rabbi Zalman and Nechama have been extremely supportive,” Thompson told Lubavitch.com. “They’re so good at empowering Jewish students to not back down; not to shy away; to wrap tefillin in the center of campus. They let students know there’s a safe space they can come to.”

At Indiana University Bloomington, protestors encamped on Dunn Meadow, across the street from Chabad at IU. Jewish students were spat on, stalked and harassed, while protesters chanted violent slogans and repeatedly trespassed Chabad’s property.

Naomi Drizin speaks with a student at Chabad at Columbia University

Rabbi Levi and Sheina Cunin issued a statement saying that while the violence and Jew-hatred are nothing new, “what is new since October 7th is how the IU Jewish community has responded to this hatred: more students are sporting kippahs; more students are wearing jewelry bearing Jewish symbols; more mezuzahs on doors throughout campus; more Jews donning tefillin on the street,” they wrote. “More Jewish students are identifying and joining the community, and more Jewish students are walking around with pride and courage.”

At UCLA in Los Angeles, California, Rabbi Dovid Gurevitch distributed Shabbat candles and matzah as protests raged on campus during Passover. On the Thursday evening following the conclusion of Passover, several dozen Jewish students gathered for a challah bake, and 500 students are expected to join Chabad’s Mega Shabbat next weekend. 

Rabbi Dovid Gurevitch of Chabad at UCLA

“In times like these, we’re reminded of the enduring spirit of our people, a spirit that has persisted through the generations, including ours,” the Drizins wrote to their community. Citing the biblical Nachshon, the leader of the Tribe of Judah, who was the first to step into the waters of the Red Sea, they wrote, “We, too, must move forward with the same pride and confidence in our identity as Jews. Each step we take in faith has the potential to part the waters of adversity.”

On the first of the intermediate days of Passover, the Drizins hired a dance truck which slowly wove its way around campus, picking up Jewish students for joyous holiday dancing and blaring Jewish music proudly. “We are going a little overboard because when things are rough, we need to work harder to be joyous,” Naomi Drizin said.

And that joy and sense of pride in their Judaism has empowered Jewish students around the country. “Knowing I have Chabad, I have this Jewish community behind me, supporting me through everything, makes it possible to keep going,” said Thompson. “We’re very proud to be Jewish, and we’re not going to let this bring us down.”

Jewish students gather for a kosher for Passover lunch at Chabad of Columbia

Hebrew School Hits the Road

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It’s late Monday evening when Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld loads a half-dozen plastic containers of canvases, crayons, and children’s Hebrew workbooks into his minivan. As directors of British Columbia Regional Hebrew School, he and his wife, Chaya, make the two-hour commute between Vancouver and the small northern mountain town of Whistler, British Columbia, every week so that parents don’t have to. “We’re the only ones crazy enough to do this,” he laughs. 

A tiny village nestled in the Pacific Coast Mountains, Whistler boasts one of North America’s largest ski resorts, glacier-capped peaks, alpine lakes, and exceptional mountain biking trails—but no Jewish community. When Julie Persofsky moved to Whistler from Ontario with her young family just a few years ago, she worried about the isolation. “Our biggest concern was that there weren’t other Jewish families and our children wouldn’t receive a Jewish education,” she says. 

In fact, the Persofskys discovered, they were not alone. As the cost of living in Vancouver has risen, many families have moved far beyond the city limits to small towns and suburbs. While running a summer camp and Hebrew school for Chabad of British Columbia in Vancouver, Rabbi Rosenfeld met families who’d left the city but returned for camp each year. 

“They’d ask me, ‘What can we do for a bat mitzvah?’ ‘How can we keep our children Jewishly engaged?’” he says. “Jewish families kept moving to the outlying areas but lacked access to basic Jewish resources.”

Then, in 2018, a group of Israeli families in Langley, some thirty-two miles southeast of the city, asked the Rosenfelds to run a weekly program for eighteen local children. 

The Rosenfelds—together with an ever-expanding team of teachers and volunteers—began packing up the BC Regional Hebrew School week after week, bringing their engaging program to rented classrooms in remote communities. Today, their traveling school serves twenty-five children in Langley, fifty children in Port Coquitlam, twenty-five in central Vancouver, and twenty-two in Whistler and neighboring Squamish—over one hundred and twenty in all.

But numbers alone don’t tell the full story. When the Hebrew school came to town, Jewish families who had lived alongside one another for years met for the first time. “There had never been any center for Jewish life in these towns,” the rabbi says. “We saw whole communities come together.” Sure enough, within three years of opening their program in Port Coquitlam, the parents and grandparents they’d met asked for a permanent Jewish center in the town. 

In November 2022, Rabbi Mottel and Nechama Gurevitz opened Chabad of Coquitlam. “It started with Hebrew school,” Rabbi Gurevitz says, “but it’s become a real community.” Already the couple hosts Shabbat meals for forty local Jews and a weekly Torah class alongside the Hebrew school.

In Whistler, a group of parents asked Rabbi Rosenfeld for a weekly Torah class of their own, and the many eager volunteers have made the Hebrew school a hub of Jewish activity.

In all four locations, the parent body is as diverse as American Jewry. Still, they share a common desire to pass their Jewish identity on to the next generation. “We were so excited when the Hebrew School opened here,” says Julie Persofsky, whose two children attended the Whistler location this past year. “It’s incredible to see them come home with crafts they’ve made. At the Seder table this year, they all used Seder plates they made in school—that was meaningful.”

“All of a sudden, our kids are getting a Jewish education alongside peers their age,” she says. “It’s been wonderful.” 

Dan Anolik moved to Squamish with his wife and young daughter shortly before the 2022-2023 school year. Like Persofsky, he worried that his children wouldn’t find Jewish friends in the area. “Moving here was tough for my daughter. She felt like the only Jew in town.” Anolik says. “But when she first stepped into the Hebrew school classroom, it looked familiar, and it was like a load came off her. She jumped right in, and all three of us shed a little tear of joy. “

The Haggadah Collection At The Library Of Agudas Chassidei Chabad

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The prestigious Haggadah collection of Chabad’s Central Library began in December 1924, when the sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, acquired the collection of bibliographer Shmuel Wiener, consisting of approximately five thousand rare books. The acquisition included some four hundred printed editions of the Passover Haggadah. Since then, the Library has added many more to its collection.

Today, the Library houses about two thousand editions of the Haggadah published over the past 450 years—approximately half of all Haggadahs published during this time. Among them are many hitherto unknown editions. In 1938, the Library’s then-director, Rabbi Chaim Lieberman, listed thirty-two editions of the Haggadah not mentioned elsewhere. 

The earliest bibliography of Haggadahs was compiled by Shmuel Wiener himself, who listed 909 editions. A more complete list—from the invention of the printing press until 1960—catalogued 2,717. Bibliographer Avraham Yaari notes in his introduction that he consulted the Chabad Library, among others (Bibliography of the Passover Haggadah, Jerusalem, 1960). Several years later, Theodore Wiener published an appendix to Yaari’s work (Studies in Bibliography and Booklore, vol. VII, Cincinnati, 1965). After searching through sixteen prestigious libraries worldwide, he discovered 330 more Haggadahs, of which over forty were in the Chabad Library. 

In the spring of 1996, the Chabad Library held an exhibition featuring more than two hundred international editions of the Haggadah, including ancient, handwritten scrolls, printed Haggadahs, and bibliographies.

Captions for article main photo:

  • The renowned, magnificent “Kittsee Haggadah,” written and illuminated on parchment by the famous calligrapher Chaim ben R. Asher Anshel of Kittsee, near Pressburg, Hungary, 1760. A facsimile edition of the Kittsee Haggadah is available at kehot.com.
  • Handwritten Haggadah with commentary and Kabbalistic meditations from the works of Rabbi Isaac Luria.
  • The oldest record of musical notation in Jewish literature is in this Haggadah with Latin translation, first published in 1644. The second edition was published in Frankfurt, Germany, 1698.
  • Haggadah with commentary by Don Isaac Abarbanel, with woodcuts, Amsterdam, 1712.
  • Illustrated Haggadah with maps of the Israelites’ travels in the desert, the land of Israel, and the Temple in Jerusalem, Amsterdam, 1695.

The Annotated Seder Plate: Insights, Tidbits, and Fun Facts

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Haggadah

Since escaping Egypt, the Jewish people have celebrated Passover by telling the story of the Exodus. Over time, the story became more formal and elaborate—the word seder means “order”—as customs developed and coalesced. Around the turn of the previous millennium, a selection of scriptural verses, a Mishnaic-era exegesis, and a guide to the laws and customs of the Seder night were compiled into a single text, and the Haggadah was born. The oldest physical fragments of a Haggadah (literally “to tell”), found in the Cairo Genizah, date back to roughly this time. Since then, the text has gone on to inspire an astonishing array of versions, commentaries, and companion works—more than any other book in the Jewish library excluding the Bible. According to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, since the fifteenth century there have been more than 2,700 editions!

Matzah

On all other nights we eat leavened and unleavened breadtonight, only Matzah. The puffed-up and inflated character of bread, the Chassidic masters tell us, represents arrogance and ego, the inclination to evil itself. “Master of the Universe,” the Talmudic sage Rabbi Alexandri used to pray, “our will is to perform Your will, yet what prevents us? The yeast in the dough . . .” (Talmud Bavli, 17a). Strange, then, that we are so committed to eradicating chameitz on Pesach, but tolerate it the rest of the year.

The ego is an unavoidable part of the human condition, but it doesn’t need to be its organizing principle. For eight days, we surrender to a higher consciousness, an exercise in extremes meant to reorient our lives toward a higher purpose. Not just the base of the Seder plate, the matzah is the basis of the entire year.  

Wine

The Kiddush cup is only the first of four drunk at the Seder. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, these cups of wine correspond to four promises G-d made to the Jewish people: “I will take you out . . . I will save you . . . I will redeem you . . .” and finally, “I will take you to Me as a people.”

The Israelites were rushed out of Egypt in a daze. Degraded by years of oppression, it would take time for them to process the remarkable relationship G-d had just initiated with them. All four “expressions of redemption” reflect this dynamic: G-d is the active agent, while we are passively acted upon. The last one, however, puts the ball in our court: Whether we are truly worthy of being called a “G-dly people” depends on us.

Zroa

The roasted chicken shankbone, or neck bone, in Chabad custom, represents the paschal offering.

In Temple times, each paschal lamb was brought by, and then subsequently distributed among, a mini-collective, like a large family or a few neighbors. While all other sacrifices are either individual or communal, the paschal offering was somewhere in between, or both at once. 

Passover reminds us that we have both individual and communal identities. At times, these identities can clash, and we are called upon to rise above our narrow personal preferences on behalf of a greater whole. But the inverse is also true: no community is ever too big or important to let the needs of an individual member go unnoticed.

Beitzah

Like the roasted zroa, the cooked egg (roasted or boiled) on the Seder plate symbolizes one of the sacrifices brought in the Temple: the Chagigah, a “festive” offering that ensured there would be plenty to eat on the holiday. In many communities, the egg is peeled and eaten around halfway through the Seder, just before the main meal.

The egg is a symbol of latent birth. It is both fully formed, and not quite there, the birth only complete after the hatching. The Rebbes of Izhbitz explain that Pesach signifies only the beginning of a process that was fully realized with the giving of the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot. Even now, we recognize that the Exodus story remains incomplete until the future, ultimate redemption.

Charoset

From Morocco to Russia to the Italian Piedmont, there have been more takes on charoset than on any other Seder-plate fixture. Chabad’s minimalist version blends apple or pear together with walnuts and wine, although some texts recommend adding cinnamon and ginger, and the Arizal, that great mystic of Safed, was said to use seven kinds of fruit and three spices.

The name of the dish comes from the Hebrew for clay, cheres, since its paste-like texture is meant to recall the mud and mortar that the enslaved Israelites worked with in Egypt. Maimonides makes this clear with the recipe included in his twelfth-century magnum opus, Mishneh Torah: “How is it made? Take dates, dried figs, or raisins and the like, crush them, add vinegar, and mix them in with spices, just as clay is mixed into straw.”

Maror

Bitter herbs, intended to recall the sharp sting of slavery, are eaten twice during the Seder: First alone and then inside Hillel’s famous matzah sandwich. Both times, however, the discomfort caused by the maror is tempered by lightly dipping the horseradish or romaine lettuce into the sweet charoset relish. 

One might wonder: If tonight is all about celebrating the sweet taste of freedom, why are we eating maror at all? In truth, says Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger, the bitter and the sweet often come together. In Egypt, the depths of our suffering prompted G-d’s miraculous intervention, and as we look back, we see how the slavery itself was just a step on the long road to true national liberation—this was G-d’s plan all along. So too, at the Seder, we wrap the bitterness of exile together with the bread of freedom. Suffering has a way of clarifying things, of ultimately leaving us stronger and more determined. 

Chazeret

The Mishnah lists five different vegetables that may be used to fulfill the obligation of eating bitter herbs at the Seder. There is some disagreement regarding their modern-day counterparts, but tradition holds that one, called tamcha, is horseradish; and another, olashin, endives. The most common is chazeret, romaine lettuce. 

According to the Talmud, chazeret is the preferred bitter herb, because, when left unharvested, the sweet leaves of the lettuce turn bitter and unpleasant, much like the Israelites’ experience in Egypt. In colder climates, however, such lettuce can be hard to come by in the spring. So for many Jews in Northern and Eastern Europe, horseradish became the herb of choice, and the custom stuck. In Chabad, the lettuce and the horseradish are used together for both the Maror and Korach stages of the Seder, and are therefore placed on both spots of the Seder plate. 

Karpas

Several reasons have been suggested for the odd custom of dipping karpastraditionally onion, potato, or parsley—in saltwater on the Seder night. The classic explanation, however, is just that: it’s odd. It is the first thing we do at the Seder that is conspicuously different from a regular Friday night meal: We make Kiddush, wash our hands, but then, instead of eating bread, we veer left, and dip an onion in salt water. This ploy is specifically intended to catch the attention of the younger Seder-participant, “to intrigue the children,” as it says in the halachic literature. 

In our day, efforts to attract the next generation to the Seder continue. There are Passover-themed hand puppets, Martha Stewart-endorsed DIY Ten Plagues kits, and extravagant afikoman prizes. No matter how sophisticated or simple, the object remains the same: to make the Exodus story relevant and engaging to even the littlest among us. It’s the job of every parent and Seder-leader to include everyone at the table—especially those who might one day be leading a Seder of their own.

Parting Words

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In the Spring of 1977, I was working on my PhD in English literature, at the State University of New York at Buffalo when I decided to take a semester off to live and study in Crown Heights, Brooklyn at the Chabad Lubavitch world center. I was a spiritual seeker, and the Chabad rabbis in Buffalo had begun to connect me to Judaism. I wanted to try living it fully immersed—to test out its truth.

My mother met this announcement with deep concern and chagrin. I risked, she warned, being swallowed up in a backward community that had room for women only in the kitchen. I would be throwing away my academic career.

She was the youngest of eight children of devout Orthodox parents, Shmuel and Freida Katzin, who emigrated to Chicago at the turn-of-the-century from a small town near Kovno, Lithuania. She told me that at her father’s funeral in Chicago, in the late 1930s, he was praised as one of “the last of the real talmidei hachamim [Torah scholars].” Alas, that was not something he was able to pass down to his Americanizing children in a time of assimilation and economic stress. “He couldn’t fight America,” she said. 

After two months of my living in Crown Heights, my mother bravely ventured to Brooklyn from Chicago to see what had become of her daughter. I sensed her discomfort at seeing masses of black hatted, long-bearded Chasidim and bewigged women. But she was a composed, polite and gracious woman. She began to enjoy meeting my friends, and the Lubavitch families to whom we were invited for the Shabbat meals. They did not at all fit her fearful stereotypes.

On Friday night, we stood in the women’s section of the large, crowded central Chabad synagogue, known as “770.” When the Rebbe appeared, making the long walk from his office to his place near the Holy Ark, she turned to me and said, “What a beautiful and dignified man!” 

On Sunday afternoon, before her departure, I said to her: “Let’s go stand in the little alcove near the front door of 770. The Rebbe goes out of his office there to pray Mincha, the afternoon prayer, every day with the yeshiva students across the hall. People who are traveling come to get his blessings.” She agreed.

There were about a dozen people gathered in the small space. I positioned her in front of me for a better view. The Rebbe came out, passing closely by our small knot of people, on his way. The short prayers ended. I glimpsed him again close by, returning to his office. I saw his head turn towards our group and softly say something, which I didn’t understand, then continue on, and disappear.

My mother turned around towards me, and as she did, I saw tears streaming down her face. 

“What’s wrong?” I asked, quite concerned. My mother, who raised my brother and myself alone after my father died in 1959, was not a person who cried easily and especially in public. 

But now the tears were quietly flowing down her reddened face.   

“Are you okay?” I asked again.

“Yes.”

“Why are you crying?”

“I don’t know… He turned to me and said, ‘Fohrt Gezunterheit.’ That’s what my father used to say to me when I would go on a trip. It means ‘Travel safely—go in good health’ in Yiddish.”

She daubed her tears with a tissue. It was time to go to the airport.

Long after, when we discussed that moment, she said to me, “I don’t know why I was crying. He touched something deep in my soul.”

After her visit, she decided that she wanted to keep kosher and Shabbat, as she had in her parents’ home. And she did.

My mother came to Brooklyn terrified that I was throwing my life away. But the memory of a simple Yiddish phrase that her father would say to her when she traveled, spoken quietly by a man whose face and being embodied the world of Torah of her father, reconnected her to her father, to Torah, and to her deepest soul.


Susan Handelman is Professor Emeritus of English Literature at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv, Israel. She is the author of many books and articles including The Slayers of Moses: The Emergence of Rabbinic Interpretation in Modern Literary Theory, and Fragments of Redemption: Jewish Thought and Literary Theory in Scholem, Benjamin and Levinas.

Sons And Daughters At The Seder Table

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It was unseasonably cold on the first night of Passover back in 1979. Snow had fallen the day before and melted into slush puddles that made walking unpleasant. The evening prayers had ended, and everyone was hurrying home to finally begin the Seder. 

Not the Rebbe. Before returning to his home to make the Seder with his wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Moussia, the Rebbe took an hour-long detour, visiting several large Seders in Chabad yeshivah dormitories. Among them was one for young women celebrating what may have been their first Seder ever, and another for children and teenagers from Iran: several weeks earlier, after the Islamic Revolution, more than a thousand Jewish girls and boys had been airlifted out of the country at the Rebbe’s behest—a stunning rescue operation conducted by the late Rabbi Jacob J. Hecht—and settled into homes in the community.

I was part of a small entourage that accompanied the Rebbe on those Seder-night rounds. I observed the Rebbe as he walked through the snowy streets, cold slush penetrating his shoes. The joy he took in visiting the students at their Seder tables, it seemed, eclipsed any discomfort he may have felt. To the Rebbe, Zman Cheirutenu, the Festival of Our Freedom, was a time flush with the power to make us—individuals and the Jewish collective—soar to a higher realm. 

As far as the Rebbe was concerned, the matzah, maror, and four cups of wine were more than symbols of an ancient story. They were the very means by which we connect—to G-d, but also to each other. Earlier that day, the Rebbe had asked Rabbi Hecht, who had organized the Seder for the young Iranian escapees, for some of the maror that they would be eating. He wanted to partake of their bitter herbs, to feel their suffering.

***

Each year, during the weeks leading up to the Passover holiday, the Rebbe wrote a public letter, addressed “To the Sons and Daughters of Our People Israel, Everywhere.” In these letters, the Rebbe wrote often, with great pathos, about the “fifth child,” the one who does not show up to the Seder table. Who would look out for those children, adrift in a world far from the family? 

Even before the advent of Chabad Houses, the Rebbe’s efforts to find these “sons and daughters” who had fallen off the radar are the stuff of legends. In the 1970s, Chabad Houses began sprouting up; the table extensions came out and the guests came in. 

Around the same time, young Jews in search of meaning began making their way to Chabad’s adult men’s and women’s yeshivahs, among them young Jews who returned disenchanted from ashrams in India, spent by the countercultural movement, and Russian Jews who made it out of the Soviet Union for their first taste of freedom. 

That night in 1979 was truly different from all others. The Rebbe visited the boys’ yeshivah, the women’s yeshivah, the Seder for Russian Jews, and the Seders of the recently arrived Iranians. At each place, he patiently took the time to note details, to see that everyone had what they needed. At each, he spoke to the students for a few minutes, and blessed them. 

The Rebbe and Rebbetzin did not have children of their own. As I observed the Rebbe on that Seder night, I saw the love of a parent who longs for his children, and I understood. These were the Rebbe’s sons and daughters, and he, like a father, beamed with joy to finally see them at his Seder table.