Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When a Jew Dies Far from Home

Jews take life very seriously. They also take death very seriously. The story we heard on Shabbat from the Chabad Rabbi in Bangalore was about an Israeli man who chose to live in some far off Indian village, as far from what he had known in his life as he could possibly get.

I don’t know if the man was a husband, but he was certainly a father, an Israeli. He chose to leave his family (son and perhaps wife or ex-wife) behind to find himself in India, or perhaps to lose himself. I don’t know which. I do know, from what I heard about him, that he was not a bad man, but a good man who made some bad choices. He died in some distant village in India. To his son, he was a very bad man who had abandoned him. To the village in India, he was nothing short of amazing. He helped everyone in the village and was loved and praised. One man...two different impressions.

His child, now grown, married and a father himself, lives in Israel and was contacted when his father died. It's not hard to understand that the son was very bitter and wanted nothing to do with the father who abandoned him.
Normally, if a foreigner dies in India…the country representatives and the family are notified and they quickly make arrangements.

The body is flown home to the grieving family and buried. Here, rather than a grieving family, the initial contacts resulted in bringing forth the anger of the now-grown up child, a man with a family and children of his own. Perhaps in loving his own children, he was even more hurt and upset about his father’s desertion.

The son had no intention of making arrangements for his father’s body to be flown back to Israel; mainly, he just wanted to be done with it. Sadly, it is not an unusual event to hear that an Israeli dies in some distant land. And almost immediately, the Foreign Ministry, at the urging of the family, makes arrangements to bring the body home for burial.

At this moment, a team of Israelis is searching for the body of an Israeli who was killed when a German co-pilot steered his plane into the side of a mountain, killing everyone on board.

As for this older man who died alone...news of his death in India got to the Chabad rabbi in Bangalore who, from the moment he heard, was haunted by the responsibility he felt to find the body and ensure the deceased was given a Jewish funeral, buried among Jews - if not in Israel, at least in a Jewish cemetery in India.

When a Jew dies, the body is given a shomer, a human “guard” who never leaves it unattended until it is buried. Not for a second, around the clock, is teh body alone,  until it can be returned to the earth. From dust we were created, we are told and to dust we return. But not alone...never alone.

Rav Zvi Rivkin used every connection he had, did all he could. He spoke to the son and demanded that the son give him permission to take custody of the body. As his own expense, Rav Rivkin assured the son, he would see this Jew buried according to Jewish law.

It took a while, precious hours, for Zvi to get permission, to find out what village.…but as soon as he did, he set out across India. He arrived to find that the villagers had approached the son and demanded the right to bury a man they respected. The son didn't care and so gave the villagers permission. It was to this scene that Zvi arrived.

It had been decided that they would do an autopsy and then would bury the body in the Christian cemetery. The Rav called the man’s son and at first, in anger, the son, now a man, said he didn’t care. It took time and anger and persuasion and more, until the son agreed and the Chabad Rabbi finally was given the body.

During the debates, the international phone calls and more – people came and told Zvi about the man who had died. These stories, Zvi stored away, hoping someday to share with the man's family. There is no question that this man who abandoned his child, caused great pain and trauma, but in his later years he worked hard to help others. He took care of people who needed his help and watched over, cared for others in his village.

Exhausted from almost no sleep and barely any food, Zvi brought the man back to Bangalore hours before the Jewish Sabbath, where he was buried with dignity and honor.

What possessions the man had were given to Zvi, intended for the man's son in Israel. Slowly, as travelers heading home to Israel have room, they are being shared and someday, someday, Zvi hopes either the man's son, or at least his grandchildren, will some day visit the man's grave.

What Zvi understood right away was that through the anger of the boy, the son, was the need of the man he had grown into to come to terms with his father, to forgive him and ultimately to learn more about who his father had been.

It is a story that can have no winners and yet through the caring and devotion of a Chabad Rabbi in Bangalore, the story had no losers. Sometimes in life and death, that’s the most you can ask for.

May God bless the memory of this man who did wrong and did right, and may God bless the man’s son who in learning to accept is able to reclaim a bit of what his father was.

And, of course, may God bless the Chabad Rabbi, his wife and children, and the holy work they perform, simply for being there to help others...even those who have moved on to the next world.


More stories yet to come....

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Stories He Could Tell

I don’t think Chabad rabbis anywhere ever tell all the amazing stories of their lives, of people who they have encountered, of deeds they have done. Hundreds pass through their doors without hearing some of what we heard. Perhaps it is because most of their visitors are either visiting on business in a rush to get home, or are young and intent on their next port of call. Most are not religious but come to feel a need for home and if home is something you can’t bring with you, the connection to another Jew is readily available here in the warmth Chabad families offer their guests.

Most come for a meal, listen, eat, perhaps join the rabbi in prayer or song, and then quickly leave. By contrast, we stayed. On a warm and humid Shabbat in Bangalore, we stayed to talk Friday night and then the Rav Zvi Rivkin and his wife, Noa, and their three young children all walked us back to the nearby hotel – even the little two year old who loved the rare opportunity to go outside and see the world.
Bangalore is a thriving city but like most cities in India, attempting to cross a street is challenging; doing it with a two year old could be terrifying. When we thought to book the hotel across the street from Chabad, the rabbi guided us to another place – a bit further away, but close enough not to have to cross any large streets.

We came back Saturday for lunch – something the other Israelis who were visiting the city did not do. We normally nap on Saturday afternoon – this time, we were enjoying the conversation so much, we stayed. We heard about life in India and in particular, two stories that live in my mind. As they were shared with me, I knew they had to be written down, shared. It is very likely stories like this could happen in many countries. They are less typical of India as they are typical of the type of dedication and devotion Chabad rabbis bring to wherever they are stationed. And yes, stationed is the correct word. They are, in a very real sense, soldiers on the forefront of a war. Their goal is to provide that connection to home. They are like a very long line and all you have to do if you feel yourself getting lost, is to reach out and grab on, and they will pull you home.

To understand why these men put themselves and their families so far from their own comfortable communities, you have to remember that what a Jew cherishes above all, is life – whether his own life or the lives of his family, his neighbors, his community, another Jew, or simply another human being.

First, I’ll tell you the story of a Jewish man who died. I won’t tell you his name because though it a person’s name always matters, in this case it is less about who he was, as what was done to bring him home.


Then, I'll tell you the story of two babies in Bangalore.


And I'll try to share other stories as well. India is an amazing place...so many stories...stay tuned.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Where there is a Need

People, Jews, who travel the world and go to unusual places know that where they have a need – for kosher food, for a place to spend the Sabbath, anything…they can call the local Chabad house and ask for assistance. While we were in India, we got a phone call and my husband went downstairs to see if he could help.

Two Israelis had arrived in India and somehow managed to get in the country without the appropriate visa. The visa had been issued but not given to them and so without certain forms, they were in limbo. Without hesitation, they went straight to the local Chabad.

The form they needed had to be signed by a hotel – and so, because the Chabad house has formed a special connection with the hotels nearby and often send them guests, the hotel where we were staying rushed to help the two Israeli travelers (even though they weren't even staying in the hotel).

We needed a place to eat on the Sabbath – without hesitation, this was provided. We needed to understand what things should cost – without hesitation, every phone call was answered and advice given. We needed a driver – they gave us numbers of people we could trust. We needed food – they gave us. Our British Airways flight from Bangalore to London, a nine hour flight, came with no option for Kosher food – Chabad packed sandwiches and salads for us.

Wherever there is a need – Chabad steps in. This is so well known, I don't really have to write about it. What isn't know, however, is that Chabad has needs too. A few days before we left Israel, a friend asked me if I had asked Chabad in Bangalore if they needed anything. And to my great shame, I had to answer that it never occurred to me to ask.

These are people who live where kosher food is not readily available. The comforts of having anything and everything are far off. Even getting milk is a story for them. Vegetables and eggs are plentiful, but kosher cheese has to be made; kosher bread has to be baked.

We had to be at the airport in the early hours of Sunday morning. Only on Thursday, did I get around to asking if they needed anything and within minutes it became clear they did…in a big way! The Chabad rabbi immediately said he did need us to bring something and asked how much space we had.

When I mentioned that we could each bring another full suitcase – he immediately offered to pay for it. Late Saturday night, a Chabad rabbi in Israel brought us 50 kilos of matzah and four bottles of wine.

While we were in India, the Bangalore Chabad rabbi kept telling us where "our" matzah was going – to other Chabad houses all over India! And what I learned from this is that just as we need Chabad, they need us. They live there with almost no kosher food readily available - even products that we know are kosher in the US, Israel or England cannot be trusted as kosher in India because many companies save money by "repackaging" or manufacturing their products in India. Much of Rabbi Rivkin's work involves kashrut supervision but without his knowledge, it's almost impossible to eat there. And with small children - our great treat was a simple bag of soup nuts thrown in to the suitcase for the Rivkin family at the last minute.

So, if you're ever going somewhere and you call Chabad to ask for help…ask them if you can help them, if you can bring them something. Take chocolates to their wives, bamba and the like for their children.

Not only can you have the honor of helping so many others and take a small part in the amazing work that Chabad does, you might even personally make a small Jewish child smile at the gift of something special that they can't get there.


According to the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, these families have built lives and homes in distant places, just waiting for Jewish travelers to ask for assistance...so when you go...you can join a bit in the amazing mitzvah they do.

A Special Place in Hell

...belongs to Marcia Freedman.

Listen to how she rewrites history. Listen to how she feeds the audience the nonsense that Palestinians are attempting to thrust into history as truth. It's not. We did not displace them. We did not take their land. Only the idiots at J-Street would applaud this absurd speech. And only a Jew steeped in the ghetto could come up with the nonsense she spouts. Clearly, she learned nothing from history.

It amazes me how ignorant this woman is, how blind, how incredibly moronic. She is, in many ways, the most dangerous enemy we have because she has the nerve to present herself as one of us...she has existed since time began...she is the Cain that murdered Abel, she is the Jew that questioned God and demanded more in the wilderness. She is the Jew left behind in Egypt because of her lack of faith, the kapo that joined the Nazis to persecute her brothers. She is the one who chose to save herself, causing the deaths of others. She is the one eternal ghetto Jew who is most threatened by the proud Jew, the proud Israeli of today.

She can't stand that Israel is an amazing nation of innovation, discovery and humanity. At all cost, she must deny the amazing life we have given to our Arab minority - more freedom, healthcare and respect than they get in any Arab neighboring state.

She is, above all else, the epitome of the self-hating Jew. Most of all, she is a dying minority as we awaken and arise from 2,000+ years of slumber.

True democracy is having more than 70% of the voters in a nation come forward without coercion and put forth their choice.

I thought of how to respond best to this drivel, and then, an amazing thing happened. YouTube responded for me. If you wait after watching a video, speechless and furious as I was, YouTube will automatically move to another video chosen by some algorithm that only it understands.

Without hesitation, YouTube offered me the full speech by Benjamin Netanyahu at the US Congress this month. What a brilliant answer to this idiot woman...

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