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Unread 08-25-2004, 12:32 AM   #1
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Good reviews!

Chabad gets some great reviews from some of the commenters at this post

For those that don't know, there are two fairly active Jewish forums
Weird Jews and Weird Jews 2 (which is more traditional and broke off after the original got a little too weird)
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Unread 08-25-2004, 12:36 AM   #2
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Also check out this article (i've pasted it here because it might go away)

Mission from God

They´ve been in Santa Cruz five years, but now a Jewish Lubavitcher family seems to just be getting started on their lifelong mission to bring Jews back to Judaism.

By ******a Martin

Yochanan Friedman declines to shake my outstretched hand. An awkward moment lingers between us. He smiles, lightening the mood: his pink lips are slits of color between a dark, bushy beard and a full moustache.

We sit. He takes off his black fedora and rests it upside down on the table. Remaining on his freshly trimmed hair is a kippa, a perfectly saucer-shaped head covering. It looks as if it´s glued to the back of his head, the same spot where some men begin to bald. Friedman, a Chassidic Jew, has been wearing a kippa since he was 3.

The fedora, the kippa and his fuzzy, full beard are mystical traditions, Friedman says, worn by members of the 250-year-old Chassidic Jewish movement. The Chabad followers, called Lubavitchers, tend to be lesser known (publicly) in comparison to other sects of Jews, including Conservative, Reform and Renewal. These various groups differ on Biblical interpretations and the extensiveness of cultural practices. Whereas Reform followers are considered liberal, members the Chabad are considered very traditional or conservative—hence the hat, the beard and a string of other habits or behaviors (also called mitzvah´s, or commandments, in the Bible). This includes no handshaking with members of the opposite sex, which Friedman gets right down to explaining.

“There´s a tradition, out of respect for modesty and the true depth of inter-gender relationships, where all physical contact between men and women is reserved for within the marriage,” he says, clarifying that he declined to shake my hand out of respect, not disrespect. “So just this morning I was at the barber shop and a woman (hairdresser) there was going to invite me into the [haircutting] chair, but a woman who knows me said, ‘he can´t have you do it.´” (A man later cut his hair.)

What happens if he accidentally brushes against a woman on the street or somewhere jam-packed like the vegetable-infested Farmers Market? “It happens; it´s not a cardinal sin,” he says.

His formal attire aside, Friedman, 32, isn´t stuffy. He has a lot of underlying wit. While he doesn´t make light of his cultural practices, he´s able to understand that such behaviors might boggle the minds of outsiders. Instead of lecturing or trying to change someone to understand his way of thinking and being, he simply offers an endearing smile and cracks great jokes and puns along the way. Friedman is a study in contrasts: living a vastly conservative lifestyle, but maintaining an open-minded attitude toward people. He doesn´t pass judgment. “The only thing we should have no tolerance for is the lack of tolerance,” Friedman says.

This attitude of immediately accepting people, Jews and non-Jews, and introducing or reintroducing them to Jewish culture and beliefs, is why Friedman, his 28-year-old wife, Bailly, and their four children are in Santa Cruz, a long way from his childhood home of Minnesota, and especially far from the Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, N.Y. The couple runs the aptly named Chabad by the Sea center on Mission Street.

It´s there in the Big Apple that people like Friedman are everywhere, bustling about in their black hats and full beards. That´s why this rabbi makes sure his fedora has a nametag inside it.

“When we get to New York everybody has one of these,” Friedman says, thumbing the fedora. “Like, 6,000 people in one room, and being a Friedman doesn´t help. There are 1,000 of them in the room [at Chabad meetings]. That´s why [the nametag] is there,” he says, gesturing to the “Yochanan” sewn inside his hat.

These modestly dressed New Yorkers that he refers to are a distinctive sect of Jews. Although the men especially are not hard to spot, they´re often misunderstood on a number of levels, among strangers and even within their own people.

“I´ll be walking down the street in full garb, and this has happened more times than I care to remember,” Friedman says. “[Someone will approach me] and say, ‘Are you Amish?´ And I´ll go, ‘No.´ ‘Oh really, what are you?´ ‘Jewish,´ and they go, ‘Oh.´ What happened? I´m not cute and quaint anymore? Now that you know I´m Jewish, I´m not adorable?”

Friedman sees the humor in the mistaken identity run-in. He´s here in Santa Cruz for a novel purpose. The Chabad headquarters sent the Friedman family here to reintroduce Jews back to Judaism. They are like the other 1,000 couples in the United States called shlichim. One couple is sent to a town to do this work for God and for the Chabad movement. Unlike other faiths, which might send out the troops to convert and proselytize, the Lubavitchers reach out to their own people and not only hope, but plan, to make Judaism accessible and appealing to Jews, especially Jews who have grown up without the “privilege” of knowing about their history, culture and religion.

Additionally, unlike other religions whose disciples, emissaries or spokespeople might report conversion numbers to their higher ups, the Lubavitchers are independent of their headquarters. They say they don´t number crunch, or phone in complaints. They´re out to reach the Jews, one mitzvah at a time.

Rites of Passage

Five years ago Yochanan and his wife Bailly landed in Santa Cruz for just that purpose. There is no Lubavitch community here—one couple, Shlomo and Devora Chein, were transplanted here 10 months ago by the request of the Friedmans as an extension arm of Chabad by the Sea (Friedman´s domain). (A third couple has also become observant.) The Cheins reach out to UC Santa Cruz students. As part of the Chabad´s philosophy, the Friedmans and the Cheins will stay here for the rest of their lives, dedicated to meeting, greeting and reminding Jews of their rich history, culture and religion. The Friedmans seem to relish the job.

“People are so open to everything [here] and accept us,” Bailly says. She wears just a splash of mascara on her eyelashes and some rosy lipstick—little things to accentuate her femininity, which is important to Lubavitchers.

“While a Jewish woman is free and encouraged to flaunt her beauty, nobody is encouraged to flaunt their sensuality,” Yochanan says, gazing at his wife, indicating that he indeed finds her beautiful. There is a secret the couple shares: only Yochanan knows what her real hair looks like. During the day she wears a wig; at home she usually dons a scarf. Both are head coverings, hiding her sensuality from the potential wandering eyes of the public.

“Part of Jewish law is that a woman´s hair is sensual,” Yochanan explains. “Anything sensual is determined private.”

Bailly´s dark, straight haired wig falls just past her shoulders. Her natural locks are quite similar she says. The wig is incredibly real in appearance; there´s not even a hint that she wears a hairpiece. Bailly´s four children have never seen their mother´s real hair. This head covering tradition commences when a woman gets married.

“We often tease each other,” Bailly says. “He says it´s hot with his beard. I say, yeah, try wearing a wig all day.”

Pop princesses of today could take a few lessons from Bailly. The sleeves on her shirts can go no higher than her elbows. Miniskirts, whether fashionable or not, are not acceptable; the shortest acceptable length for skirts is at the knees. Stockings or socks must always cover her legs. The dress code for men is just a bit more lax: shirtsleeves for the gents can be shorter. But Yochanan more often than not has on his Sabbath best: pressed pants, a collared shirt, dress shoes. Sometimes he eschews a tie in favor of a loosened-up look. Still, he´s never without the beard and hat, his warm presence or the trademark wit.

The Friedmans admit that their appearance musters up some misconceptions.

“The preconceived notions are not entirely dreamed up,” Yochanan says. “There is a reality [of obscurity] in every group [of people]. Be careful not to paint with too thick of a brush.”

Because of the wigs, the conservative dress and numerous other lifestyle specifics, the Lubavitchers have acquired a twofold reputation: They´re known for big arms that welcome people into Judaism and, at the same time, critics shout out that the Chabad movement is down on women, and that its shlichim are on a mission to convert every Jew to their way of thinking and living. Not true says Yochanan.

“Myth: Chabad is looking to make everyone in town Chassidic,” Yochanan says, firmly pushing away stereotypes. “Fact: Chabad is in town to get everybody to do something good today that they didn´t do yesterday. That´s what we´re here for: To increase the goodness, to increase the mitzvahs, to increase the Jewish awareness. And we believe women are inferior? Where did that come from? No.”

He also dispels outsiders´ assumptions that if they attend Friday night or Saturday morning Shabbat services wearing anything other than the buttoned-up clothes of Yochanan or Bailly, that they will offend Yochanan. (By the way, it´s pretty tough to offend this rabbi.) Additionally, another hang-up some have is that only Orthodox or traditional Jews are the ones attending Chabad by the Sea services. Another negative. In fact, even some non-Jews attend Shabbat services, like Marge Paylow who says she´s spiritually in a place of discovery, with inclinations toward Judaism.

Knowing the Rabbi

On a recent summer evening in August, I escaped the madness in downtown Santa Cruz and attended a Friday night service where Yochanan and others will usher in the Sabbath, a biblically commanded day of rest from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. These Shabbat services are just one of the many offerings from Chabad by the Sea. The establishment also offers Hebrew Sunday school for children, various educational classes and holiday services as well.

I arrive at the makeshift temple/office building/big room with a kitchenette, for Shabbat service. Thirty minutes early and the only people wandering about the room are Rabbi Friedman and two of his children: Mushka, a girl of 8, with long, flowing, curly chestnut locks, and a 6-year-old boy, Yitzchak.

What was formerly a multi-purpose room has been converted into a holy space. A piece of furniture, vaguely resembling a giant pulpit, stands at the front and center of the room, facing East, toward Jerusalem. The chairs follow suit. Cut right down the middle, shaving the room into halves, is a gauzy, cream, see-through veil that stands nearly six feet tall. It separates the seats into a men´s side and a women´s side. Peculiar? Yes, for outsiders. But for those who arrive, the partition may physically separate them, but that´s where the division seems to stop. Although there may be some conjecture about the separation of the sexes, Yochanan explains, “Traditional synagogues have it. It goes back to the temple where men and women worshipped. The reason is to focus on talking to God. It´s not a segregation issue. … The Talmud, oral rabbinic tradition, was anything but anti-woman.”

The children, the rabbi and I sit on the female side of the partition until people start to arrive. Who will come tonight, I ask him. Maybe an independent film producer, a psychotherapist, a lawyer, a retired high-tech person, a former career sports writer … we´ll see who shows, he says. Little Yitzchak tells me he wants to grow up to be a rabbi, like his dad, and his father before him. In fact there are at least five generations of rabbis in this Friedman lineage. Not long ago Yitzchak wanted to be a fireman, but it seems the ways of the Chabad have already captured him, much like they did his father.

“I grew up with my father, seeing what he was doing … the difference he made in people´s lives and how meaningful it was,” Yochanan says. “You can´t grow up with that much admiration for something and not want to be a part of it.”

Although it´s not expected for the adorable Yitzchak to one day become a rabbi, it´s not discouraged either. The boy will grow up in an inimitable environment, attending Judaic studies in the mornings during the school year in Palo Alto, followed by home schooling with a tutor back in Santa Cruz. He will wear his kippa henceforth, except for the occasional moment during service when no one is looking and he swipes it off his head to show me its design. Then his sister promptly snatches it from his hand and places it back on his sandy-colored hair. Yitzchak will attend Hebrew Sunday school that the Chabad offers where he´ll learn to read Hebrew and discover the mysteries of his people´s history. If he follows the same footsteps of his father, he´ll forego secular higher education and instead attend yeshiva—schooling that prepares him to be a shliach. But for now, the 6-year-old is content to play in the adjoining room with the other handful of children as the evening´s Shabbat service kicks off at 7 p.m.

People begin to slowly file in. Only four women are present (myself included). There´s Marge Paylow, the non-Jew who seems to be headed down the road of conversion, Ellen Abrams, the current president of the board of directors for Hillel Foundation of Santa Cruz, and Allison Gilbert (her husband Geoffrey sits on the other side of the curtain). Ten men in total are aligned on the other half of the room. Each male wears a kippa or hat of some sort. In fact, everyone in the room has a head covering on except Allison and myself.

Service begins. Yochanan instructs the 14 people to turn to page 44 in a softbound booklet that contains both prayers and songs, mostly in Hebrew, with some English translations. The men sing with sturdy voices, the most powerful sound coming from Yochanan, who by no means holds back his praise. The women appear to either not know the songs or are shy; a few look like they´re mouthing the words at different times, but they are vastly quiet. During one song everyone stands and remains that way for most of the service, punctuated by a moment when the men circle the pulpit, lightly thumping their fists on it and singing. It sounds ethereal.

Little Yitzchak pops out of his playroom a few times, creeps up to his dad and looks like he´s asking a question in Yiddish—the children speak primarily Yiddish with Yochanan and Bailly. Yitzchak´s interruption is not distracting for Yochanan or the others present. Somehow, while still singing in his robust voice, Yochanan communicates his answer to his son. Yitzchak skirts back to the play room, and as he closes the door behind him, announces in English, “My father said …”

The service ends about 8 p.m. and although I´m not Jewish I feel that I was ushered into something special. Although he doesn´t do outreach to non-Jews, Yochanan says “We believe Judaism is the way for the Jews, and Torah [also] has a prescription for life for the Gentile as well, which are the seven Noahide laws. … It does apply to everyone in the world, not only Jews.”

Life As They Know It

In the five years since the Friedmans stepped their East Coast “covered” feet into this progressive coastal town, they´ve melded into our community, and their work has not gone unnoticed, at least by other Jewish groups in town who are familiar with the Chabad´s presence and don´t seem threatened by it, or in competition with it. Yochanan says he and Rabbi Litvak from the Reform Temple Beth El have positive relations; the same between Yochanan and Rabbi Shalom Bochner, the executive director of Hillel Foundation of Santa Cruz, a college student-focused outreach community program that supplies both religious and social opportunities for Jewish students. While Litvak´s Temple is perhaps the best known in town, the Chabad, although much smaller, continues to drum up curiosity.

When the Friedmans arrived here, much work was ahead of them, including growing accustomed to a new environment, and installing outreach techniques. For Bailly, she admits that it took a good year to feel settled. The pair were East Coasters through and through. She was straight from Lubavitch central: Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He was from Minnesota. After dating and then marrying—she was 19, he was 23—they spent a year in New York and then returned to his home state. where they resided for a few years. Both came from Lubavitch families with Yochanan the offspring of a widely respected Chabad rabbi, Manis Friedman. Because of Manis´ stature among their sect, it wasn´t uncommon for celebrities such as Bob Dylan to pop by Yochanan´s childhood home for Shabbat or Passover dinners.

“[Bob Dylan] looked to my father for spiritual guidance,” Yochanan says. “I was probably in my early teens. At the time I didn´t realize who he was. I knew he was famous but I didn´t know [the extent]. My father has had incredible people call to him [including] the Duchess of York. People have turned to him from all walks of life, for guidance of all kinds. He lectures all over the world. Any time a book is written on the Chabad, his name is there.”

This is so with one of the more recent powerhouse books on the Chabad, “The Rebbe´s Army,” by Sue Fishkoff. The subtitle, “Inside the World of Chabad-Lubavitch,” gives away the content. Fishkoff, a Monterey Bay Area-based writer, has become an expert of sorts on the Chabad movement. Her name and her 344-page book seem well respected among local Jews. Fishkoff mentions Manis Friedman several times in her 2003-released book. There´s also a brief quote included in the text from Yochanan.

Fishkoff spent a year and a half researching and writing about the movement, talking to the men, interacting with the women and investigating every morsel of these Chassidic Jews. Her work was done mostly in New York. She says that with only about 1,000 outreach workers in the country, stretching out their philosophies to the 5 million reported Jews in America, the Chabad is “extraordinary, the impact they have had.” Her non-fiction tell-all, which dives deep into both the good and the reported “bad” of the Chabad, was named one of the seven best religious books of the year by Publisher´s Weekly.

êIt´s quite extraordinary how this Chassidic group of people who live a very rigid lifestyle and with very specific beliefs manage to capture [the attention] of such a large number of modern American irreligious Jews,” Fishkoff says.

So what´s getting secular, unaffiliated or disinterested Jews interested in reconnecting with their people, culture and history? Fishkoff believes they´re responding to the joy and passion that Chabad shlichim exude, instead of “the sterility of the typical American religious Jewish experience, where you sit in pews and have a rabbi talk to you.”

It´s the way their rebbe taught them to do it, Fishkoff explains. The “rebbe” is a leading holy man of the Chabad movement. Its most recent rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, died in 1994. Fishkoff says the rebbe will most likely not be replaced until the current generations of Lubavitchers have passed on—those who were under his leadership. “It would be seen as a desecration of his memory,” Fishkoff says.

Fishkoff is a Conservative Jew. Her father was Jewish, her mother was not. A person is only recognized as being Jewish if the bloodline comes down through the mother, so Fishkoff chose to convert and is now recognized. Being a Conservative Jew is much different than being Orthodox which she says is a complete commitment to a lifestyle that means you only eat kosher food and don´t use electrical appliances from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. And although Fishkoff was surrounded by the Chabad experience during her course of writing this book, she came out no closer to being an Orthodox Jew than she was when she tackled the project. But she admits to feeling more at home in any Jewish setting around the world, including Orthodox. Yet, did the Lubavitchers do their job and succeed in reaching out to her?

“It´s almost like a little dance you do with them,” Fishkoff says. “‘Rabbi, I know you want me to eat only kosher.´ Then he laughs and says, ‘how about just today?´ They keep it light and loving, not horrible fire and brimstone. It´s always seen as a process with them. … Their idea that Jews are hungry for Judaism is correct.”

Such was the case with the Gilbert family, Geoffrey and Allison, who attended the same, recent Friday night Shabbat services as I did. Allison grew up attending a Reform temple as a child and was somewhat familiar with the Chabad movement. In her adult years she explored other religions including Buddhism and meditation practices but wasn´t satisfied until she “realized that Judaism was my fit for me.” At the time she was living in Hermosa Beach, down south, and began attending a Chabad there. Five years ago, when her family moved to Santa Cruz, someone connected her with the local Chabad by the Sea. She attends the Shabbat services and a Sunday morning Torah class. Her children attend the Chabad´s Hebrew school and the family attends many of the Chabad´s functions and holiday festivities.

“They bring things to Judaism that you can´t find anywhere else, it´s the real stuff,” says the 45-year-old Allison. “I get to learn about the wealth, the gems that are in my history, my tradition. … I get to learn how great Judaism is. … I´m so grateful for [the Friedmans] and for what they do and the sacrifices that they make in their own lives to educate people like me and bring [Judaism] to the far corners of the Earth.”

One mitzvah at a time … for if the Friedmans can encourage just one Jew to perform a mitzvah, that not only brings that person closer to God, but the whole world closer to God, they say. The rabbi and his wife tell this story, which exemplifies why they do what they do: On a Saturday afternoon at the Chabad, a group was sitting around having kiddush, a blessing of the wine that they make every Saturday. On this day it was also a celebration of a child´s birthday. The child´s father was bubbling with emotion when he shared about how his daughter had recently come home from school where she had declined eating dessert at lunch because the students had eaten chicken for the mid-day meal, and ice cream was being offered for dessert. (It is a mitzvah to not mix dairy and meat.) They are not an Orthodox family, Yochanan says.

“That was pay day,” beams the Santa Cruz rabbi with the long beard. “This kid did an awesome thing. That is worth the world.” Awesome indeed.

Chabad by the Sea is at 406 Mission St., Santa Cruz. Reach Rabbi Yochanan Friedman by calling the Chabad at 454-0101. Or, visit the Web site,


Law of the Land
by Swan Huntley

A mitzvah is a commandment described by Jewish law, as outlined in the Torah. There are 613 commandments. Opinions vary about how closely the commandments should be followed. Orthodox and Chassidic Jews are the strictest followers of the Torah. Conservative Jews interpret it more broadly, and Reform Jews are the most liberal and flexible in translating traditional teachings in a modern context. According to Rabbi Richard Litvak of Temple Beth El in Aptos (which follows a Reform approach), “the Torah is the Constitution for the Jewish people, but every sect interprets it differently.” Despite different re-interpretations, mitzvahs are a point of reference for all Jews. The following is a look at some mitzvahs.

Some mitzvahs are basic things you´d expect from any religion: To know there is a God—the first commandment in the Torah; to love Jews (No. 13); to learn Torah (No. 22).

Others are specific to Jewish beliefs:

No. 24: Not to inquire into idolatry. Idolatry is the worshipping of a false divine entity rather than a true deity. In Judaism, God has no shape or form because His essence isn´t tangible.

No. 76: To say the Sherma twice daily. The Sherma is the Jewish statement of belief. Often times, on the doorposts of Jewish homes, is a little scroll-shaped container attached at a slant. This is a mezuzah, which contains part of the Sherma, and some Jews touch it as they enter or leave their houses.

No. 86: To circumcise all males on the eighth day after birth. This ceremony, in which the Jewish boy is given a Hebrew name, is called Brit Mila.

No. 87: To rest on the seventh day. The seventh day of the Jewish week, which is from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, is called Sabbath. Traditionally, Jews will go to Temple on Friday night and return home for a traditional meal, called Shabbat. Shabbat dinner has to be prepared before sunset because when it gets dark the time of rest begins. This means no working, writing, phoning or traveling by car unless it´s a dire emergency.

No. 176-203: The Laws of Forbidden Foods. Jews eat kosher, or permitted foods. Milk and meat products are not to be eaten together. This is because of a passage in the Torah that reads, “Thou shalt not seethe a kid in its mother´s milk” (Ex. 23:19). Many Jews have separate cooking vessels for meat and milk dishes. If, for example, a meat fork touches milk, it is boiled in salt water to be sterilized. Animals that chew cud and have hooves are kosher. How they are killed is also a factor. Cows, for example, are slaughtered in a kosher slaughterhouse. They are killed quickly with a very sharp blade to minimize pain. Only fish with fins and scales are kosher. And pork is treif, or forbidden.

Jewish holidays, which are specified in separate mitzvahs, are also explicitly Jewish. They deserve their own category because there are so many of them:

Passover (or Pesach in Hebrew) is a spring festival that celebrates the exodus of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. The eight-day event begins with a meal called Seder, during which the story of Exodus is told. During Passover, Jews are not to eat chometz (or leaven products) so they substitute it with matzah, a flat unleavened bread known as the “bread of affliction.” Traditionally, Jews remove all chometz from their houses, or put it somewhere they can´t see it, and silverware and cooking vessels are stowed away as well.

Rosh Hashana is the first day of the Jewish New Year. For these 10 Days of Penitence, Jews meditate on the sins they´ve committed.

Yom Kippur marks the end of Rosh Hashana. On this Day of Atonement, Jews fast for 25 hours (this includes not drinking water) as a sign of their desire to be better in the years to come.

Chanukah, known as the “Festival of Lights,” celebrates the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Jews light one of eight candles on the menorah each night for eight nights while saying a prayer. The traditional Chanukah game is played with a dreidel, a four-sided top with a Hebrew letter on each side. Kids bet raisins, chocolate coins, etc. Today, it is customary for Jews to give one small gift a night to family members and friends.

Purim is like Jewish Halloween. It celebrates a story told in the book of Esther about the Jews´ salvation from extermination. Children dress like the story´s characters, Haman, Mordechai and Esther, and are allowed to drink alcohol.

A Bar Mtizvah celebrates the 13th birthday of a Jewish boy, in which he reads a passage from the Torah in Hebrew. A Bat Mitzvah is the equivalent for Jewish girls, but is only observed by progressive Jews.
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