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Chabad Hosts Jewish RNC Guests Stranded By Flight Cancellations

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Thousands of Jewish visitors who had come to Wisconsin for the Republican National Convention, found a warm welcome at Lubavitch of Wisconsin. When they were unable to return home Friday, after an IT outage caused thousands of flights to be canceled or delayed, Chabad once again welcomed Shabbat observers stranded in Milwaukee for the weekend.

As the extent of the outage became clear early Friday morning, the calls started coming in to Lubavitch of Wisconsin — and the phone is still ringing. “With so many travelers stranded, this is a true all-hands operation,” said Rabbi Shea Shmotkin. “Travelers are being hosted in area Chabad centers as well as in the homes of generous community members, and each area Chabad shliach will be hosting expanded Shabbat meals to accommodate everyone in need.”

Many travelers got to know Chabad over the course of the week. A Chabad Hospitality Hub set up outside the convention served some 600 kosher meals each day, provided minyanim for prayers, and offered a place to relax, recharge and connect amid the bustle of the convention.

Additionally, a Chabad booth inside the convention offered the opportunity for Tefillin and to learn about the Seven Noahide Laws, while student rabbis met with visiting delegates, elected officials, and public figures, encouraging them to support the Jewish community and the Land of Israel.

“Chabad is like Visa—everywhere you want to be,” said Dan Huff, a visitor in town for the convention, who will be joining Chabad this Shabbat. “I’m very grateful to them for making it easy to be Jewishly observant in Milwaukee.” 

“Their system was a much-needed failsafe this Shabbos.”

Northernmost Chabad to Open in Fairbanks, Alaska

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Rabbi Heshy and Chani Wolf will be launching Chabad’s northernmost outpost in Fairbanks, just 140 miles south of the Arctic Circle in Alaska’s heartland.

The Wolfs will serve the local community of 1,000 or so hardy Jews who call the frigid city home year-round, as well as tourists who visit to enjoy Alaska’s natural beauty and mild summers. The Chabad couple will also serve Jewish students on campus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and military personnel stationed at nearby Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base.

Jay Ramras, a prominent hotelier, philanthropist and former three-term Alaska State Representative, extended a warm welcome to the Chabad emissaries. Ramras purchased a building that will serve as the new Fairbanks Chabad House, situated on an acre of land just south of Downtown Fairbanks. Ramras is doing so to encourage the Wolfs “To create the foundations of the Fairbanks Jewish community that will last forever,” he said.

Rabbi Heshy Wolf shares Passover Shmurah Matzah in Fairbanks

While the Wolfs are the city’s first permanent Chabad reps, Fairbanks has a long history of involvement with Chabad. In 1976, fifteen years before Chabad had a permanent presence in Alaska, Rabbi Moshe Feller, director of Chabad of Minnesota—then the northernmost Chabad in the U.S.—dispatched a young Chabad rabbi to visit Fairbanks for Purim.

Chabad centers in Minnesota, Washington State, and Alaska sent visiting rabbis to provide for the community’s Jewish needs. With the opening of a full time Chabad center in Fairbanks, Chabad-Lubavitch has a new northernmost outpost, a fulfillment of the Rebbe’s oft-repeated call to reach Jews wherever they are. 

The Wolfs meet with Jewish military personnel

“Rabbi Heshy and Chani Wolf visited Fairbanks last summer and met many community members while conducting various activities with children and adults throughout their visit,” said Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, regional director of Chabad of Alaska. “They visited again this winter, to get the feel of Alaskan life and the dark and cold winter days of Fairbanks. But they felt the welcome embrace and the warmth of many Fairbanks community members.”

Chani Wolf leads a Challah Bake in Fairbanks, Alaska
Tefillin in Fairbanks, Alaska

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