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Banking On A New Space, Chabad of Clearwater Expands

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As bank closures swept across the country in late March, a shuttered Bank of America building in Clearwater, Florida, found new life as a vibrant Chabad center.

Rabbi Levi & Miriam Hodakov, directors of Chabad of Clearwater, had been eyeing the property since June 2021. Situated in a prime location on a bustling street corner that attracts thousands of passing cars on a regular basis, it would be an ideal space to host Chabad’s expanding activities and community needs.

Chabad of Clearwater has been around the block before in its search for a suitable space.  In 2017, with the generous support of donors Moris & Lillian Tabacinic and Marvin & Linda Feldman, they purchased a neighboring lot, and broke ground on construction in October 2019. But with the onset of the pandemic, the project faced setbacks and plans came to a halt. “We were left spinning our wheels, trying to figure out what to do,” says Rabbi Hodakov.

The Hodakovs and their community members continued to look into other options, and from time to time, the rabbi inquired with Bank of America’s transaction manager for updates on the status of the building, but each time the answer was the same: The bank was not for sale.

Signs from Above

Until it was. In March 2022, the bank announced permanent closure. Sofie Menachem, a realtor and close friend of the family who had been an integral part of the property search, put the rabbi in touch with a commercial broker in her office.

When the building was finally listed and a public bidding process was initiated, members of the Clearwater community and beyond signed a petition to encourage the bank to sell to the Chabad center. Frank Hibbard, then-mayor of Clearwater, also wrote a letter on behalf of Chabad. 

During this time period, Rabbi Hodakov received a call from a chaplain at a local hospital requesting his presence. A deteriorating patient wanted a rabbi to come say prayers with her. To his surprise, the patient’s son turned out to be Louis Fanelli, whose wife, Susann, had served as the former manager of the bank. Rabbi Hodakov and the Fanellis made plans to stay in touch. A short while later, toward the end of January, Chabad of Clearwater received the good news: the bank was theirs. 

Closing and Opening

Chabad closed on the property on the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. An auspicious date, explains the rabbi, for on this day, the Jewish people inaugurated the establishment of the mishkan (Tabernacle, or the roving sanctuary) in the desert. “It was the perfect day to set up our mishkan here in Clearwater.” 

Rabbi Hodakov invited Susann and her husband to come tour the property with him after the closing. She showed him around the place she had known well for years. And then, inaugurating the new facility with a Jewish rite of passage, they celebrated an impromptu bar mitzvah. Louis stood inside the building and wrapped tefillin for the first time in his life. It was a special moment symbolic of the building’s transformation from a financial institution to a center of spiritual wealth.

A recent class in the new Chabad house

The wait for the building was long but worth it. “It was very exciting to spend our first Shabbat there,” Sofie says. “It was very emotional for me, since we had gone through such a long process to get there.” 

At the community’s first Seder in the bank-turned-Chabad House, the children searched for the afikoman hidden in the vault that held over 800 safe deposit boxes. The boxes have since been removed and the vault will be repurposed for the Chabad center’s storage needs.

Some features of the bank will be reimagined. Hodakov hopes to convert the bank’s drive-through into an attraction unique to the Southern United States: a kosher drive-through selling everything from food to Judaica items.

Most of the space will be remodeled.  “It is a shul, after all, and not a bank lobby,” Rabbi Hodakov laughs. “We are making plans for repainting, taking down the glass teller walls, and buying furnishings in anticipation of the grand opening at the end of the summer.”

The Hodakovs are also exploring the possibility of opening a full-service sit-down deli. They already run a grocery store, Clearwater Kosher, featuring imported kosher staples such as meat products, dairy items, and favorite Israeli snacks from bamba to bourekas.

Lead donors Marvin Feldman and his wife Linda, are thrilled with the outcome of their involvement. “The fact that one can be proud to walk around with a yarmulke on or to go out on the beach and light a public menorah is truly phenomenal,” Marvin says.

Review: My Quarrel With Hersh Rasseyner by Chaim Grade

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The year is 1948. Two Holocaust survivors run into each other on a Paris subway. Though each had assumed the other was killed in the Holocaust, they waste little time exchanging questions about wartime experiences or polite inquiries about the well-being of family and friends. Instead, the two fall back into an argument they had begun many years before, in the period preceding World War II. Both are graduates of the Novardok yeshiva in Lithuania, and their argument is intellectual, philosophical, and also deeply personal. They debate the question of how a Jew should relate to the world around them. One believes the world outside of Judaism is rich with insight and enlightenment. The other maintains that the Torah is the only source of meaning in this life, and all other endeavors amount to nothing but vanity and self-destruction. 

Chaim Vilner, a left-leaning Yiddish writer, admires secular humanist attempts to reform and improve the world. When he was younger, he was a student of Mussar, a Jewish movement that pursues spiritual and ethical perfection. He studied at Novardok, an extreme outpost of the Mussar movement where students would willingly engage in seemingly humiliating, self-abnegating behavior in order to break free from the physical world. Nearly all of the world of Novardok was wiped out during the Holocaust, with few surviving adherents. Hersh Rasseyner, Vilner’s interlocutor, is one of them.  

For Rasseyener, the only path towards moral improvement is through actions—the fulfillment of mitzvahs—and not through lofty philosophical abstraction. In Rasseyner’s view, all of the wisdom of Western Civilization amounts to very little. After all, it did nothing to forestall the horrors of the first half of the twentieth century. As he tells Vilner: “You thought the world was striving to become better, but you discovered that is was striving for our blood.”

The substance of this argument forms the bulk of the iconic Yiddish story, “My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner,” first published by the Yiddish writer Chaim Grade (pronounced: grah-deh) in 1951. “My Quarrel” is a classic of Yiddish literature, due in large part to an early English translation by Milton Himmelfarb. This translation drew attention when it first appeared in Commentary Magazine in 1953. It was also canonized in Irving Howe’s famous anthology of Yiddish stories. Yet Himmelfarb’s elegant translation, accessible for an audience with minimal Jewish background, takes liberties with the original, downplaying many of Grade’s rabbinic or Jewish expressions, and even deleting some parts of the story entirely. 

Chaim Grade meets with the local leadership of Kfar Chabad, Israel 1964

Enter Ruth Wisse, a scholar of Yiddish and Jewish literature, whose new translation of “The Quarrel” restores the Jewish texture of the debate while presenting a more complete version of the story. Wisse’s translation includes heretofore excluded passages, and also quotes many rabbinic phrases in their original Hebrew. The new edition, published by a partnership between Toby Press and the Tikvah Fund, even includes Grade’s original Yiddish text alongside the English. In doing so, this version highlights dimensions of Grade’s own Jewish identity that may have been less apparent in the story’s previous English incarnation. 

Grade himself, in his biography and chosen profession, strongly resembles the maskil (enlightened) Vilner. He too spent time studying in Novardok and then abandoned the yeshiva, along with much of his religious observance—at least for a period of time. There are hints that the character Rasseyner is also based on a real acquaintance of Grade’s. Yet the story itself is remarkably even-handed, and one almost feels that, through Rasseyner, Grade allows himself to articulate certain truths that would have been unacceptable for him to express in his urbane literary milieu. This, in fact, is what makes the story so powerful and spiritual.

Rasseyner argues that the horrific experiences of anti-semitism during the Holocaust and throughout Jewish history prove that Jewish assimilation is doomed to fail. Even mild attempts at secularization, or moderation, of “lightening the burden” of Jewish tradition, are futile in Rasseyner’s view. As he says, “a half truth is no truth.” In keeping with Novardok’s tradition of strident rebuke, Rasseyner does not hesitate to attack Vilner’s sensibilities, his career, or even his personhood: “Instead of looking for solace in the Master of the World and in the Community of Israel,” Rasseyner says, “you’re looking for the glass splinters of your shattered dreams. And as little as you’ll have of the world to come, you have even less of this world.”  

Chaim Grade’s letter to the Rebbe, dated the eve of Passover, 1976.
Written in Yiddish rhyme, Grade is effusive in his praise of the Rebbe for—among other things—his impact on the Jewish people, and personally, “for drawing him [Grade] out of dark places.” He wishes the Rebbe long life at the helm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

One particularly illustrative section, which was excluded from the Himmelfarb translation and is restored by Wisse, involves the only additional character in the story—a student of Rasseyner’s named Yehoshua who happens to come upon Vilner and Rasseyner in the middle of their debate. Rasseyner saved Yehoshua in the concentration camps and nourished him back to life physically and also spiritually, through Torah learning. Though he’s initially respectful, Yehoshua turns critical and angry at the bareheaded Vilner for his life choices. In her introduction, Wisse suggests that Grade wrote Yehoshua as a critique of the ultra-Orthodox, especially when they lack maturity and perspective. Yet Yehoshua’s fiery presence in the story also reflects a different light on Rasseyner himself, who appears more gentle and mature by contrast.  

Through Yehoshua’s moving account of how Rasseyner saved his life in a concentration camp, we see Rasseyner’s ideals in action. We are allowed to experience, and not just intellectually absorb, how for Rasseyner, religious fervor and human empathy go hand in hand. At one point in their conversation, Vilner asks Rasseyner if he remembered to daven Mincha, the afternoon prayer, that day. Rasseyner tells him that, even if he had not, “I wouldn’t have left you.” Rasseyner may be critical and even harsh, but he is as uncompromising in his concern for Vilner as he is in his religious principles. 

Still, while Wisse’s translation makes Rasseyner’s arguments more sympathetic than ever, Vilner continues to voice his part. He does not refute Rasseyner point by point, but rather appeals to the logic of those same arguments to make his own case for tolerance and inclusiveness. Vilner counters that Rasseyner’s dismissal of secular, enlightened Jews is wrongheaded. Many of these ordinary assimilated Jews worked hard, tried to provide for and protect their families, and suffered in the catastrophes of the era just the same. Then Vilner extends a similar defense to the non-Jewish world, not the great artists and thinkers—who, he seems to implicitly cede to Rasseyner, did not do much to avert moral catastrophe—but two righteous gentiles, an elderly Pole and a Lithuanian, who quietly risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. “Where in your world,” Vilner asks Rasseyner, “is there a corner for these two old people?” 

In the end, Vilner concludes that despite all the theological doubt and confusion wrought by the Holocaust and Communism, his love for his fellow Jews has become “more anxious and deeper.” While his quarrel with Rasseyner allows Vilner to clarify and outline everything that he objects to about religious Judaism, in the process of arguing he discovers that his affection for his fellow Jews has only strengthened despite, or perhaps as a result, of this extended debate. Vilner turns toward Rasseyner much in the way that Rasseyner turns toward him, and says, “I love you with all my soul.” Before they part, the supposedly secular Vilner tells Rasseyner, “I say to you as the Almighty said to the Jews assembled in Jerusalem on the Holy Days: ‘I want to be with you one day more, it is hard for me to part from you.’” 

“My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner” reads less like a “war” and more like an attempt at integration. While the fiercely logical debate takes place between two Lithuanian yeshiva graduates with a high-level Talmudic background, there is something distinctly romantic, and one could also say Chasidic, about the holistic mode that the story and the arguers embrace at the end. 

In her wonderful introduction to the story, Wisse recounts a debate over the translation of the story’s title, “Mein Krig Mit Hersh Rasseyner.” Should “Krig” be translated as the technically-correct “War” or the gentler “Quarrel?” Ultimately, the story reads less like a “war” and more like an attempt at integration. While the book’s fiercely logical debate takes place between two Lithuanian yeshiva graduates with Talmudic backgrounds, there is something distinctly romantic, and one could also say Chasidic, about the holistic mode that the story and the arguers embrace at the end. 

Interestingly, this pivot is anticipated elsewhere in the story in a short, infrequently cited exchange that is left out of the Himmelfarb translation, but which Wisse thankfully includes. Even before they begin to quarrel, Vilner notices that something has changed about Rasseyner’s once-harsh mannerisms. “Reb Hersh,” he tells him, “you’re not speaking like a student of Novardok, but more like a Chasid of Lubavitch who is studying the Tanya.” 

Rasseyner answers that, for skeptics like Vilner, Chasidism and Mussar may seem like opposing points of view. But, on a deeper level, “they are one and the same…when I feel overpowered in the struggle of life, I study Mussar. And when Mussar leads me too far into gloom and seclusion and tears me away from the community of Israel and love for my fellow Jews—then I turn to Chasidism.” 

This passage is interesting because it broadens Rasseyner’s worldview beyond the confines of the Novardok yeshiva and positions him as a representative of the diversity of religious Jewry. Perhaps the fact that Chasidism now features more prominently in his worldview is part of what ultimately allows Rasseyner and Vilner to relate to one another in a manner that they were unable to before. 

In fact Grade himself, despite his complicated religious identity, and his Lithuanian yeshiva background (he was also close with Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, the Chazon Ish) seems to have harbored a warm spot for Chabad Chasidut. After Grade’s passing, his close friend, the late Chasid, Yisroel Duchman, wrote a remarkable obituary for Grade in the Algemeiner Journal that detailed some of this Lubavitch connection. Duchman spoke to Grade’s time in Kfar Chabad after the war, as well as to his unique relationship with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. 

Wisse’s translation includes heretofore excluded passages, and also quotes many rabbinic phrases in their original Hebrew. The new edition, published by a partnership between Toby Press and the Tikvah Fund, even includes Grade’s original Yiddish text alongside the English. In doing so, this version highlights dimensions of Grade’s own Jewish identity that may have been less apparent in the story’s previous English incarnation. 

Like his characters Rasseyner and Vilner, Grade endured many difficulties during the Shoah. His wife and mother were murdered by the Germans, and his childhood community of Vilna was decimated. Even after having survived, Grade also encountered coldness from former friends and acquaintances from his Novardok yeshiva past, precisely when he needed warmth. Duchman quoted Grade as having said, “in Kfar Chabad I was warmed.”

In reflecting upon his relationship with Grade, Duchman made the following observation, which could easily be applied to “My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner” as well: “When we met we used to talk about Jews and Judaism and about the world at large. We didn’t always agree with one another and oftentimes we argued, but our differences of opinions never detracted from our friendship, and until his very last day, Grade remained a close and loyal friend.” In addition to raising many fascinating theological issues and debates, “My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner” explores the way in which two mens’ religious sensibilities (or lack thereof) are inextricably bound up with their feelings toward one another. 

“My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner” ends at a kind of impasse, with neither side a clear victor.  Chaim Grade’s own life, however, ended with his instructions to be buried in the beautiful woolen tallit with which he prayed each day—a final hint as to which side his heart and soul ultimately belonged.  

This article appeared in the Spring-Summer 2023 issue of the Lubavitch International magazine. To download the full magazine and to gain access to previous issues please click here.

Zelda: Remembering an Israeli Poet

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Among the poets in Israel’s literary circles, many quietly remembered Zelda Schneurson Mishkovsky on Tuesday (April 18) 27 Nissan. That Zelda, as she was simply called, died (in 1984) on the same day designated by the state of Israel as Holocaust Remembrance day, is in itself poetic; her poetry, for which she received the Bialik and Brenner Prizes in literature, speaks of death and darkness but also of renewal and transcendence.

Born in Ukraine in 1914, Zelda was the daughter Rabbi Sholom Shlomo and Rachel Schneurson. Her father was a brother of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, father of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, making Zelda first cousins with the Rebbe.

Zelda’s mother Rachel, was the daughter of a distinguished Chasid, Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Chen, who also descended from a long line of Chabad rabbis. In 1928, she immigrated with her family to Israel. Her father died shortly afterwards. In 1950, at age 36, she married Chayim Aryeh Mishkovsky.

Zelda’s students, translators and critics of her work discerned influences of her Chasidic background in her poetry. Indeed, one reviewer described her work as “a poetic expression of the tenets of Chabad, to which the poet was linked by family ties and spiritual leanings.”

Her poems, all in Hebrew and now widely translated in numerous languages, are filtered through a uniquely Chabad spiritual perspective that manages to startle readers—no matter their orientation. Contemplative as they are, they shatter fixed ideas yet find their footing at the kitchen table, making her—poet, woman, Chasidic Jew–an anomaly both within and outside of the literary world.

In her introduction to The Spectacular Difference (HUC PRESS), Marcia Falk, author and translator of Zelda’s poems recalls her first visit to the author’s Jerusalem home in the 1970s:

“I showed up at her doorstep in a knee-length skirt and a sleeveless blouse, a kerchief on my head. I had debated with myself about the skirt and blouse, knowing that the very religious do not approve of women revealing bare arms or legs; but the heat was oppressive that day and I had heard that Zelda was tolerant by nature. I didn’t give a thought about the kerchief, which looked, I later realized like the traditional tikhl worn by some Orthodox married women to cover their hair in public. I had worn it only as protection from the beating sun.

When Zelda opened her door to me, a bemused smile spread across her face. “You have a secular body,” she commented wryly, “but a religious head.” Her poems had not prepared me for her sense of humor. . . Little about Zelda turned out to be predictable. In that first visit I found her to be soft spoken, unassuming and even shy. But more than anything else, she was utterly original. I’d never heard anyone speak quite they way she did, and I was almost in awe of her for this . . .”

Amos Oz, Zelda’s student in second grade, recalled his teacher fondly in one of his recent books:

“Teacher Zelda also revealed a Hebrew language to me that I had never encountered before … a strange, anarchic Hebrew, the Hebrew of stories of saints, Hasidic tales, folk sayings, Hebrew leavened with Yiddish . . . But what vitality those tales had! … As though the writer had dipped the pen in wine: the words reeled and staggered in your mouth.”

Imagery and concepts from Jewish traditional and mystical sources abound in Zelda’s work, prompting readers to linger over her lyrical allusions to the infinite, the supernal, the otherworldly, as in this excerpt from A Sabbath Candle, translated by Varda Koch Ocker:

The candle’s sparks are palaces,
and in the midst of the palaces
mothers sing to the heavens
to endless generations.
And she wanders in their midst
toward God, with a barefoot baby
and with the murdered.
The soft of heart comes in dance
in the golden Holy of Holies, inside a spark.

In one poem, named My Mother’s Room Was Lit, Zelda mentions the distinguished Chabad scholar, Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin, who was editor-in-chief of the Talmudic Encyclopedia and a prolific author of many works, among them the classic Sippurei Chasidim.

 And on the table, through the tales of the righteous, the golden
(that Rabbi Zevin gathered, collected),
a mountain breeze leafs slowly slowly,
mixing snowy landscapes with an arid landscape.
My mother is praying–on her head, silken checkers.

An only child, and childless herself, Zelda was broken by her husband’s death, and would continue to grieve for him for the rest of her life. She kept up a long correspondence with her cousin, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Some of his letters to her have been published in various volumes of his Igrot Kodesh. Though her letters to the Rebbe remain unpublished, it is possible to infer some of what she must have written by his responses to her.

In one particular letter to Zelda following the death of her husband, in the summer of 1970, the discussion turns to coping with loss, the ascent of the soul and the imperative upon the survivors for life. The Rebbe urges his cousin not to become resigned to loneliness, and insists that the experience of the death of a loved one should rather stir a desire to live more intensely in a social environment.

Perhaps responding to one of her thoughts on the metaphysical, the Rebbe rejects the notion that physical illness affects the soul and its eternity:

“The change [in death] is only in terms of the connection between the soul and the body which restricts the soul, and when that association ends [with death] so do the constraints upon the soul, and the positive actions [in this world, by survivors of the deceased] are immediately known to the soul, as it is no longer confined.”

The Rebbe addressed his letters “To my cousin Shaina Zelda,” and concludes this one with a postscript:

“Obviously, I hope you will let me know how you are faring, especially with respect to your finances, and I trust that you will tell me things as they are—being that we are family, and especially as only very few remain among our surviving relatives.”

Appreciating her artistic achievements which no doubt derived largely from her identity with darkness, the Rebbe was nevertheless was pained by her angst, and often implored his cousin to turn her focus to the brighter side of life. In one letter, dated 1974, he chides her good naturedly, saying, “From the spirit of your letters, I get the impression that though I keep writing you to take a more joyful perspective . . . my words have made no mark . . . But I will persist, and repeat myself even 100 times, and you will forgive me . . .”

Maybe, the Rebbe’s words did leave their mark on his cousin’s poetry. That same year, Zelda published this poem—one of the few in her volume, Be Not Far (in the collection translated by Marcia Falk) that ends on a brighter note:

Enchanted Bird

When the feeble body
is about to fall
and reveals its fear of death
to the soul
the lowly tree of routine,
devoured by dust,
suddenly sprouts green leaves.
For out of the scent of Nothingness—
the tree blossoms—
glorious, beautiful.
and in its crown—
an enchanted bird.

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.

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
  • 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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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!


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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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. 


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. 


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.

Statement By Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters On Thwarted Attack In Greece

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We are grateful to local authorities in Greece who thwarted a recent terror attack aimed at various Jewish targets in the country, among them Chabad of Athens. Rabbi Mendel Hendel, Chabad representative in Athens, has confirmed that Passover plans are continuing in Greece as usual with additional security precautions in place and in tandem with local authorities.

“We are as well grateful to law-enforcement authorities who work with the Jewish leadership in hundreds of cities around the world to ensure the safety of their communities all year-round,” said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky at Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters.

“Events like these should strengthen our resolve to stand strong in our Jewish identity. I urge Jews everywhere to celebrate our heritage, and enhance their Passover celebrations with pride and joy. 

“Passover marks our exodus from enslavement and the beginning of our phenomenal and miraculous peoplehood. Let us all experience the richness and meaning of this historic tradition. Chabad-Lubavitch wishes Jewish people everywhere a redemptive, healing and joyous Passover. May this Festival of Freedom bring blessings of peace and unity to all of Am Yisrael, and to the world at large. 

A League of Their Own

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As the Supreme Court prepares to issue decisions in two cases challenging affirmative action, a flurry of articles, podcasts, and op-eds have looked back at the Ivy League’s history of excluding Jews. Less attention has been paid, however, to what Jewish life in the Ivies looks like now, and what it tells us about the Jewish future—on campus and off

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Make Her Name Great

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My world turned upside down in the early hours of Monday, February 6th.  The time of the call—3:00 am—and the caller—my mother’s nursing home—telegraphed the news before the words were spoken. An unfamiliar voice told me that my mother, 87 and in poor health, had passed away.

 “How do we proceed,” I replied in a voice that sounded far away. Later, replaying that brief exchange, I suspect that I was asking about something larger than funeral logistics.  How do we move forward without parents? Having lost my father in 2013, my mother’s passing felt as if the “N” had fallen off the compass face, leaving the magnetic needle swinging this way and that, unable to settle in its customary position.

I am not young. I have lived an independent, flourishing life for decades.  And yet, without parents I often feel shorn of rootedness and direction.  Their love shaped and guided my sister and me.  With every act and word they built us up, impressing on us that our lives are precious. Where would we be, what would we be, without them? In the beginning, our parents give us our names.  The Sages teach that parents receive a touch of prophecy when choosing names, and so the given name influences the child’s character and destiny. 

As a little boy, I asked my mother about my name, which stood out among the Joes and Bobs and Billys who were my playmates. She told me about Alexander the Great sparing the Temple and treating the Jews with respect. That “teachable moment,” likely my first Jewish history lesson, came back to me while mourning her.  The recollection seemed to hold some spiritual message which required decoding.

A few days later an old friend, a rabbi, called me. When I told him that reciting the Kaddish was helpful, he responded with a question. (He is a rabbi, after all.)  “Who is the ‘great name’” mentioned in the prayer’s opening verse? The answer seemed so obvious that I prepared for the classic I-never-would-have-imagined answer that often follows a rabbinic question. Not this time: my friend said that of course “great name” refers to God. But then he offered a secondary interpretation. “You are keeping your mother’s name great by not letting it be forgotten.”  

In the first days after the news, I felt as though I stood at the bottom of a deep and dark pit.  The prayer’s Aramaic words, the guttural chets and hehs, the clicking nuns, acted like ropes and spikes, helping me climb upward, towards the light.  My friend’s insight connected my mother’s bestowing my name on me with what I could now do for hers by saying Kaddish. It seemed he had uncovered a hidden spiritual truth that I had only sensed.

This connection received swift confirmation when I told another friend I wouldn’t be able to get to services one morning. He offered to say Kaddish for my mother, and asked me her Hebrew name. Later he told me that when he was in mourning for his mother, he had developed the custom of saying his mother’s name to himself before reciting the Kaddish

As we say at the Passover Seder, dayenu, that should have been benefit enough from one prayer. But there is more. I am lifted up by the sound of the Kaddish. The steady, sonorous chant of many voices, the call and response between mourners and congregants, seem to tell the story of my people and of my mother.

Yit-gadel v’yit-kadash shmay rabo . . .

In the measured cadences I hear the steady march of the Hebrews through the wilderness, following the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night.  It keeps time as they walk between the parted sea, a wall of water on either side, through a harsh landscape, and over treacherous mountain passes.  Always, they keep moving forward.  The prayer’s beat conveys an unshakeable determination to continue, without faltering, to the Promised Land.  

That was how my mom lived her life. Born in humble circumstances, she worked tirelessly to better herself. I hear her footsteps too in the Kaddish, moving, always moving forward to escape the dreary Bronx apartment of her childhood, the one that lacked a room for her. The building had dark corridors, a slow, stuttering elevator, and only a fire escape to cool off on summer nights. It was also a place of cramped expectations.  Her parents encouraged her to be a secretary. Instead, she got a master’s in economics and became a university administrator. Like her ancestors who left Egypt, she followed a twisting path towards a better place, a place of promise.

And just as surely as she gave me my name, Alexander ben Aryeh Leib, so I will rise from my seat in the days ahead and recite the prayer that elevates, ever higher, the name Shulamit bat Moshe.

This column is devoted to the memory of Sandra Troy, Shulamit bat Moshe (June 24, 1935 – February 6, 2023).  May her memory be a blessing always.

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.