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JewQ International Championship Puts Jewish Learning Onstage

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Shifra Reuben wasn’t always this excited about Jewish learning. But that changed when she joined 1,000 others from 25 countries at the Ckids Shabbaton.

The 12-year-old middle schooler lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her brother and her parents, who immigrated to the United States from India, members of the Bene Israel Indian Jewish community. When Chabad opened in the Tri-Valley area, led by Rabbi Raleigh and Fruma Resnick, it didn’t take long for the Reubens to recognize the value it could bring to their family.

“We realized Chabad is a good place to learn about Judaism and maintain our Jewish identity and get involved in the community,” said Ron Reuben, Shifra’s father. “Our daughter has a peer group that’s Jewish; she’s getting into the Jewish roots earlier rather than later in life.”

Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302

The Resnicks soon opened a branch of CKids, the international Chabad children’s network directed by Merkos 302. They launched JewQ, which challenges Jewish children to study and be tested on Jewish knowledge over the span of four months each year. And Shifra joined.

Shifra won the silver medal and an invitation to join the live game show in Stamford, CT, where two teams of high-scoring finalists competed in a Jewish knowledge showdown in front of a live audience. But first she got to enjoy a weekend with 1000 finalists, family members and friends celebrating Shabbat together in a spirit of Jewish unity and pride.

The JewQ Championship Stage – Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302

Tali Naor is another finalist who joined the weekend, accompanied by her mom, Olga Bakayeva, and her little sister Liri. “Tali is a voracious reader; she got the book and got to work studying; she did quite a lot independently,” said Bakayeva. Tali’s hard work paid off, as she won bronze in the competition and was invited to join the weekend as well. 

“I’m constantly trying to get more for my children; that they should have the skills they have to explore more of their Judaism,” said Bakayeva. “And I’m glad we joined the Shabbaton; the kids had a great time.”

As for Shifra Reuben, the Shabbaton was a watershed moment for her connection to and enthusiasm for Judaism. And now, says her dad, “my wife and I were discussing that it may be time to send Shifra to a Jewish summer camp.”

Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302
Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302
Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302
Credit Sholem Srugo, Yossi Jerufi – Merkos 302

Serving G-d and Country: Senator Joe Lieberman

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Senator Joe Lieberman, who died March 27, 2024 at the age of 82, was the most prominent Torah-observant politician. He kept Shabbat throughout his storied career, which included four terms as a United States Senator and nomination as the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 2002. 

In his book The Gift of Rest, published in 2012 (one of many he authored), Lieberman recounted Shabbat experiences with political colleagues such as Bill Clinton, Al and Tipper Gore, John McCain, Colin Powell, George W. Bush, Bob Dole, and others, and showed how observance of Shabbat enriched his personal life and enhanced his career.

Mourned by Chabad community leaders around the country, Joseph Lieberman first met the Rebbe in the 1960s as a student at Yale. “The senator was a close friend and had a long, warm relationship with Chabad over many years,” said Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch and Machne Israel. 

L-R: Rabbi Yisroel Deren, Regional Director of Chabad Lubavitch of Western and Southern New England; Rabbi Berel Lazar, Chief Rabbi of Russia and Regional Director of Chabad in Russia; Senator Joe Lieberman; and philanthropist Mr. George Rohr

The senator was eulogized by colleagues who filled the Congregation Agudath Sholom Synagogue in Stamford, Connecticut. Many compared him to the biblical Joseph who sought to elevate the world. At his funeral this past Friday, his daughter said “You followed in the way of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, constantly on a mission in this world ‘to repair the world through the Almighty’s sovereignty.’” 

In 1988, Lieberman ran for the United States Senate against three-term incumbent Lowell Weicker. “It was doubtful, at the time, that he would win—he was up against an incumbent senator,” recalled Rabbi Krinsky. The first International Kinus Hashluchim took place several days before the November 8, 1988 election. “Lieberman came to the International Conference of Chabad Emissaries, the shluchim gave him a blessing—and he won.” 

Senators Rudy Boschwitz and Joe Lieberman converse at Chabad Lubavitch of Minnesota’s 40th anniversary dinner

As he rose through the ranks in his political career, Lieberman stayed in close contact with the Derens and was delighted to find them waiting to greet him when he got to the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. “But they went one better,” he told Lubavitch.com. “They printed a sefer [book] that had Mincha and Maariv and Bentching [Grace After Meals] in it, and on the front it had, ‘Democratic National Convention, 2000, nominating our own Senator Joe Lieberman.’”

Two years after that 2000 presidential bid, Lieberman again demonstrated the value he placed on his Judaism and his friendship with the Chabad-Lubavitch community. The occasion was the 40th anniversary celebration of Chabad-Lubavitch of Minnesota. At the celebratory gala dinner, Republican Senator Rudy Boschwitz was honored for his decades of friendship and support for Chabad. Keynoting the event was one of the country’s most prominent Democrats: Joe Lieberman. 

At opposite ends of the political spectrum, the two senators shared a love and reverence for Rebbe—whose hundredth year was also celebrated at the dinner, named “Celebration 100/40.” “The Lubavitcher Rebbe was the most eminent Jewish leader of our time,” Lieberman said, as he shared personal anecdotes of his experiences with the Rebbe.

Sen. Joe Lieberman at Chabad of Greater Boynton Beach in 2006 as Beit Blumi student presents Tzedakah Pushka

Rabbi Moshe Feller, Director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Minnesota described the unusual event. “A world-famous Democrat presenting a prominent Republican with an award for his support of Lubavitch is a sight you don’t see everyday. It tells the world a great deal about their extraordinary love and dedication to Yiddishkeit.”

Visiting Chabad of Greater Boynton Beach in 2006, Lieberman spoke to the community, and then visited the center’s preschool, Beit Blumi. “As if he had not another worry in the world, after addressing the community and taking many questions, he proceeded to the preschool where he sat in ‘circle time’ with the students and staff,” recalled Rabbi Sholom Ciment of Chabad Lubavitch of Greater Boynton Beach. 

Joseph Lieberman is survived by his wife, children and grandchildren. He will be remembered for the stellar example he set serving G-d and country. 

“He was a mensch,” said Rabbi Krinsky.

Rachel’s Cookies: The Treats that Defeated Terrorists

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When terrorists stormed into Rachel Edri’s home in Ofakim, Israel on October 7, taking her and her husband hostage and barricading themselves in her home, she stayed calm. She offered them snacks, including her home-baked cookies. She chatted with them, offering to bandage an injury for one. Eventually, counter-terrorist forces arrived and ended the Edris’ long ordeal.

As the war with Hamas continues, Jewish people are preparing to mark the festival of Purim, which celebrates our nation’s salvation from a plot of extermination. On Purim, we eat hamantashen, triangular cookies that recall the downfall of the wicked Haman and G-d’s salvation of the Jewish People. 

This Purim, there’s another cookie we can add to the menu: the cookies that Rachel Edri used to thwart the evil plans of those terrorists on that dark day.  

Rachel recently shared her recipe, which we are including here (amounts have been translated from metric to imperial).

2 c. flour

½ c. brown sugar

1 Tbsp sugar

1 Tbsp baking powder

2 eggs

⅔ c. softened butter (substitute margarine for the butter for a pareve option).

8 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350°F

Combine ingredients in a large bowl. Form the cookie dough into small balls about 1” in diameter and flatten slightly. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving 1” of space between cookies. Bake for 14 minutes and allow to cool.

Chabad-Lubavitch Partners With JFNA

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JFNA and local Federations have worked together with Chabad-Lubavitch for many years on a wide variety of projects. Most recently, JFNA and Chabad have partnered in providing emergency assistance to the Jews affected by the conflict in Ukraine. Now they are expanding that cooperation to the present crisis in Israel.

“Jewish Federations of North America are dedicated to the welfare of Jews around the world, and Chabad is a vital partner in that work,” said Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Chabad’s partnership in this campaign is meaningful and logical, he noted, as it enhances JFNA’s fundraising efforts and allocations to those in need.

“I am looking forward to seeing how Chabad can use its vast network–not only in raising funds but also in the allocation on the ground in Israel,” said J. David Heller. Heller is the immediate past board chair of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland and campaign chair for the Emergency Campaign for Israel. 

Heller is the chair of the second phase in the JFNA’s Ukraine relief effort. “I saw the work Chabad is doing on the ground in Ukraine. I was in Israel as well, where I met orphans taken by Chabad from harm’s way in Ukraine to freedom in Israel. Watching that, and watching how Chabad worked together with the JFNA through that crisis, it only made sense to me that Chabad should be part of this effort as well.”

Rabbi David Eliezrie, who has spearheaded the Chabad partnership with JFNA, said, “Chabad has the boots on the ground, disbursing resources to the survivors. This includes medical care, and trauma treatment; addressing the needs of the broader society in Israel and the hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes, and eventually, the efforts to rebuild that which was destroyed by terrorists.”

“Throughout the US, Chabad and local Federations have partnered in many projects,” Eliezrie noted. “And we’re honored to work together with JFNA on a global level.”

Chabad’s relationship with the Federation has a long history. Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, Chairman of Chabad’s educational and social services, recalled the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s endorsement 43 years ago, of a UJA/Federation joint campaign. “In view of the growing needs of our brethren, both here and overseas, in particular in the area of Jewish education, I earnestly trust that everyone who is approached for a contribution to this campaign will respond warmly and generously,”  the Rebbe had said.

Now again, said Rabbi Krinsky, Chabad will partner with the Federation “to ameliorate the suffering from the savage attack and ongoing war in our homeland.”

With Mitzvahs and Prayers, Jewish Communities Celebrate Hostage Rescue

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When 70-year-old Louis Har and 60-year-old Fernando Simon Marman were rescued in a daring joint operation involving the IDF and Israeli police and intelligence, Jewish communities everywhere celebrated their homecoming. The hostages, who were abducted from Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7, had been held for 127 days in Gaza. 

As Har and Marman’s family members celebrate the return of their beloved relatives, they are joined by the communities who prayed with them, cried with them, and stood by their side throughout the months of uncertainty and crisis.

During the attacks on October 7, five people were kidnapped by Hamas from one room in Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak: Louis Har, Clara Marman, her siblings Fernando Marman and Gabriela Leimberg, and Gabriela’s daughter Mia.

One month after the kidnapping, two of Louis’ daughters, Rinat Har Sheleg and Natali Har Afgan, were in New York to raise awareness for the plight of their father and the other hostages. They contacted Chabad of the Five Towns on Long Island. Would the Chabad representatives, Chanie Wolowik and her husband, Rabbi Zalman, accompany them to the Ohel—the Rebbe’s resting place—to pray for their family in captivity? 

“Our community has gone to the Ohel to pray for them every day since then,” Chanie Wolowik told Lubavitch.com. “We have a group coordinated by local women from the Five Towns who go every day to the Ohel to pray in a rotation. We pray for all the hostages and for Israel.” 

Then, the first miracle.

On November 28, Gabriela, Mia, and Clara were released by the terrorists. Louis and Fernando, however, languished in captivity. 

In early January, Chabad of the Five Towns led an Israel Solidarity mission, and Wolowik invited the entire family—including those who’d been recently freed from captivity—to come and celebrate Shabbat with the Five Towns community in the Old City of Jerusalem.

“That Friday evening was the first time Clara and Karin ever lit Shabbat candles,” Wolowik said. “We said the Shehecheyanu prayer, thanking G-d for allowing us to live to this moment.”

Natali and her husband Tom Afgan later traveled to Florida to continue raising awareness of their plight. On Chanie Wolowik’s suggestion, they visited The Shul of Bal Harbour in Surfside. Chabad representative Chana Lipskar invited them to address the Shabbat class she leads for women of the community. 

After Tom and Natali spoke about her father Louis, Mrs. Lipskar challenged her audience. 

“A tremendous change has happened in the Jewish world,” she told the 100 women gathered. “And each of us has to be willing to do more.” The women each resolved to commit to a mitzvah.

Natali pledged to light Shabbat candles each week. Lipskar then asked if Tom would agree to put tefillin on every day in the merit of his father-in-law. Tom agreed. 

Natali, feeling confident that the multitude of prayers would be answered by her father’s safe return, then asked Mrs. Lipskar for a second pair of tefillin, “so that when my father comes home, he will also be able to put them on each day” 

The IDF’s bold operation to rescue Louis and Fernando made world news. At the Chabad Centers on Long Island, in Surfside, in Israel and around the world—joy erupted, with great thanksgiving, while prayers continue for the return of the remaining hostages.

California Chabad Rabbi Donates Kidney

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Paul, a resident of Northern California’s Bay Area, was not likely to make it to his 60th birthday. Advanced kidney disease meant that he’d need a transplant to live. 

“At that time I turned to our community,” said Paul, who asked that his last name be withheld. After a five-year search for a kidney donor came up short, he decided to turn to his Chabad reps, Rabbi Raleigh and Fruma Resnick.

“When I contacted the Rabbi, he and Fruma jumped into action,” Paul told Lubavitch.com. “Rabbi Resnick sent out a letter to our community explaining my situation and made a call for volunteer donors.”

But the rabbi felt a sense of urgency to do better. “I went home that night and thought about it,” Resnick told Lubavitch.com “Being in a position of leadership and guidance instills within you the urgency that you’re expressing to others.” 

He would be the donor.

As it turned out, of all the community members who volunteered, Rabbi Resnick was the only one in good enough health to donate his kidney. Alas, Resnick’s blood type wasn’t a match for Paul’s.

There was a way around it. The University of California, San Francisco Medical Center’s Kidney Transplant Center, which is part of the national Kidney Registry program, offers a sophisticated swapping program allowing people to donate an organ on behalf of a patient in need. 

Resnick would donate his kidney to another patient and get Paul on the shortlist for a kidney of his own.

“By Rabbi Resnick donating a kidney for me to get a match, he gave me a brand new life,” Paul said. “I am no longer tied to dialysis three times a week for five hours at a time. I am no longer feeling run down and in much discomfort.  My food restrictions have been lifted so I am able to enjoy food and drinks and celebrate life. I am back to a fully healthy life where I can enjoy my time with my family, my community, travel, go to the gym and be a normal person again.”

This Shabbat, Paul and Rabbi Resnick will lead a discussion over lunch marking a year since the kidney donation.

Resnick is at least the second kidney donation by a Chabad rabbi. In 2010, Rabbi Ephraim Simon of Bergen County, NJ, donated a kidney and then, in 2019, he donated his liver, respectively, to strangers.

Resnick says it’s important to remember that anyone can be a donor—you don’t have to be a match; you just need to want to give.

“The Rebbe emphasized love for a fellow Jew; giving them whatever they need, both materially and spiritually,” Resnick said. “Donating my kidney was simply something that, as a shliach, I felt I should do.”

Speaker of the Knesset Visits Chabad Headquarters

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Speaker of the Knesset Amir Ohana, who is visiting New York, met with Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky at Chabad-Lubavitch World Headquarters Saturday night. 

Ohana shared warm words with Krinsky, the chairman of Chabad’s worldwide educational and social services divisions. He expressed appreciation for the work that Chabad does on behalf of world Jewry and presented Rabbi Krinsky with the gift from the Knesset: a Book of Psalms. 

Israel is a nation in trauma, said Ohana. “But we will come back stronger than ever.” Rabbi Krinsky lauded the strong stance of the government on making the security of the country and the return of the hostages paramount in the face of international pressure. 

Following the meeting with Rabbi Krinsky and members of Chabad leadership, the Knesset Speaker visited the Rebbe’s office where he spent some time in prayer, as well as the Chabad Headquarters communications center from where the Rebbe’s talks were broadcast to Israel and around the world.

Photo Gallery Credit: Yossi Jerufi