Grapevine: A Chabad celebration

Esteemed rabbi associated with chief Lubavitcher Rebbe attends grandson's Israel wedding to bride from Kiryat Gat.

June 11, 2013 21:48
Chabad Center in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood

Chabad Center in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood 370. (photo credit: courtesy)

In Israel last week for the wedding of his grandson Shmaya Krinsky of Crown Heights, New York, to Rivkah Stosgofsky of Kiryat Gat, was Rabbi Chaim Yehuda Krinsky, who was the chief spokesman for the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, and sole executor of the rebbe’s will.

The Boston-born Krinsky, who at age 12 was sent by his parents to study at the Chabad central yeshiva in Brooklyn, first met Schneerson in 1947, when the latter was head of the newly founded educational arm of Chabad – which over the years developed a global reach. Krinsky, who is today considered the most powerful person in Chabad, joined Schneerson’s staff in 1957, six years after Schneerson succeeded his father-in-law Yosef Yitzhak Schneersohn as the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe. Krinsky worked in various capacities for the rebbe, rising to the position of his personal secretary, a post that he held for many years.

For a long time, concurrent with his other positions in Chabad, he was also the rebbe’s chauffeur.

Krinsky, his family and several of the wedding guests spent last Shabbat in Jerusalem, where they attended Chabad services at the Great Synagogue, which has made provision for Chabad because its Rehavia Center around the corner has become too small to hold its ever-growing congregation. The wedding was last Thursday, and on Saturday, the groom’s parents, Rabbi Hillel David and Shterna Sarah Krinsky, hosted a sheva brachot post-wedding luncheon at the center, in the basement area of the Rehavia Windmill. The groom’s mother is the daughter of Rabbi Gershon Mendel Garelik, who for more than a half-century has been chief rabbi of Milan. Her brother, Rabbi Levi Garelik, who was also present at the sheva brachot, is an internationally renowned multilingual lecturer and currently the spiritual leader of the Great Synagogue of Europe in Brussels, located across the road from the Council of the European Union.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldberg, the dynamic young Chabad emissary who heads the Chabad Rehavia Center, had a more personal reason for celebrating. On the day of the wedding, his wife Shoshi gave birth to a daughter, Miriam, who had been named during the synagogue service on Shabbat. In the year and a half since he has established the center, Goldberg has made sure that there has been an ample kiddush every Shabbat. Until last Shabbat, however, eating utensils were disposable, there were no flowers on the tables, and the quality and quantity of the menu did not measure up to the generous banquet hosted by the groom’s parents.

What was truly amazing was that it all came out of the center’s tiny hole-in-the-wall kitchen, which barely has room for two people at once.

Yehuda Krinsky, who was with Schneerson day and night until the rebbe’s passing, had to return to New York at the beginning of this week to participate in memorial services on Gimmel Tammuz, the Hebrew date of the rebbe’s demise – originally June 12, 1994. This year, as happens every 19 years, the Hebrew calendar anniversary coincided with that of the Gregorian calendar.

Krinsky, who was asked to speak, could have told any number of stories about the rebbe’s intellect or the important people who sought his advice, but instead chose to focus on the rebbe’s sensitivity. Krinsky was still a teenager when he started chauffeuring the rebbe around, who at that time lived in a simple threeroom, fourth-floor apartment in Brooklyn. Krinsky had driven him home one afternoon and was supposed to return in the evening to pick him up for a major get-together (farbrengen) that was to take place at 9:30 p.m. at Lubavitch headquarters at 770 Eastern Parkway – but forgot to ask what time the rebbe wanted him to return. Realizing this a little too late, Krinsky went back to the rebbe’s home and with some trepidation knocked on the door, which was opened by the rebbe’s wife, Chaya Mushka, a great personality in her own right. He told her why he had come and she ushered him into the small kitchen, sat him down at the table, and even though it was a hot summer’s day, gave him a boiling cup of tea and some cake. She told him to drink up while she went to talk to the rebbe.

The tea was far too hot, but when she returned she said the rebbe wanted to leave almost immediately. Not wanting to insult the rebbetzin, Krinsky gulped down the tea, which all but burned his insides. Later that evening when the rebbe was giving a discourse, he suddenly introduced a topic that had absolutely no connection with what he had said before or said after. He explained that he had never understood why it had been a custom among hassidic families in Europe, especially in the home of a rebbe, to give the visitor a boiling hot cup of tea at the height of summer.

But that’s the way it was, and that’s the way it is, he had concluded.

For Krinsky, this was a sure sign of the rebbe’s awareness of his discomfort and his empathy for what he had suffered in drinking the tea.

Goldberg also had a story to tell about the rebbe, but of a somewhat different nature. When he and his family came to Israel three years ago, after having served in Monsey, New York, the Canadian-born Goldberg and his wife went to a different synagogue each week to try to learn about the Rehavia community. For more than a year, he debated with himself about whether to open a Chabad center in the neighborhood, or whether to simply be an emissary without a center, since there seemed to be too many obstacles in the way.

Then one day, when visiting another emissary – a member of the groom’s family, in fact – he watched a video of the rebbe talking about the opening of Chabad centers. In it, he said anyone who has doubts about opening a center should not give in to them, but should go ahead and open one – because once the center is there, the people will come.

That was the deciding factor for Goldberg, and the rebbe’s words proved true. Not only has the center become too small over a very short span of time, but Goldberg’s aptitude for outreach has ensured the cooperation of both the Great Synagogue and Yeshurun Synagogue, as well as numerous commercial enterprises.

On Purim of this year, Goldberg held megila readings in various cafes and coffee shops throughout the neighborhood, including Shosh Café on Keren Kayemeth Street. All the venues were packed, but Shosh Café had the largest attendance since it has the most space. Goldberg, who is forever dreaming up new ideas, reached an agreement with Shosh Café whereby every Friday morning at 10:30, he conducts a 45-minute lesson on Kabbala over a light breakfast, which each week is sponsored by one of his supporters.

Participants need no prior knowledge of Kabbala nor do they have to pay for the breakfast, other than a voluntary symbolic contribution.

Even secularists have begun to take an interest.

■ CONVENTIONAL WISDOM says that women in executive positions do not like working with other talented and powerful women, and see them as a threat. This is certainly not true of either businesswoman Shari Arison or Irena Nevzlin Kogan of the NADAV Foundation, each of whom works well with other women and gives them every chance to advance.

Kogan, who is the foundation’s president, recently announced the appointment of 38-year-old Michal Kelman Avital as its CEO, after three years as its external relations manager.

During that period, she developed close relationships with Jewish organizations and institutions around the globe, and initiated a variety of projects on Jewish peoplehood. She was previously director of marketing and external relations at JVP, a Jerusalembased venture capital company that specializes in start-up investments.

As part of its mission, the NADAV Foundation promotes dialogue between different streams and sectors of Judaism, to ensure that pluralism remains an integral feature of the Jewish world. It is also a member of the Jewish Funders Network, which brings together philanthropists from around the world who contribute to Jewish causes.

■ THE POSTPONEMENT of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Israel on Tuesday left US Ambassador Dan Shapiro with more time to focus on a farewell party for his deputy chief of mission Thomas Goldberger and his wife, Eden. He also has the time to attend Tuesday’s annual Excellence Awards Gala Dinner at the Tel Aviv Hilton, hosted by the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, before the family leaves Israel today on vacation.

At the farewell that Shapiro and his wife Julie Fisher hosted on the spacious lawn of their residence overlooking the sea in Herzliya Pituah, Shapiro said that choosing a deputy chief of mission can be the best or worst decision that an ambassador can make. He had previously worked with Goldberger in Washington, so he knew he would be a great fit for the position – and that assessment was correct.

Shapiro, describing Goldberger as “amazing,” explained that just as it’s lonely at the top for leaders of organizations, it’s also lonely at the top for ambassadors. But Goldberger has proven to be not only “an outstanding diplomat and treasured member of the embassy community,” but “an absolute partner” in everything Shapiro did. Shapiro praised Goldberger’s wise counsel, superior managerial abilities, brilliant mind for policy, and intuitive understanding of the Israeli mind. Aside from all that, Goldberger knows the names of all 700+ members of the embassy staff, and gives them advice and looks out for their health and safety.

Goldberger will be taking his talents to Baghdad, where he will serve for a year as political counselor and will also prepare his successor, Bill Grant, who will be coming from Iraq to Israel.

Shapiro quipped that Grant will be getting the better end of the deal.

Eden Goldberger, who has been extremely active in the Diplomatic Spouses’ Club and the International Women’s Club, will not accompany her husband to Baghdad, but will remain in Israel, albeit in a different residence than that of the past three years.

Shapiro commented that just as he and Goldberger were friends as well as colleagues, so their wives and daughters were also friends. He said that while he and his family are away, Goldberger will remain in Israel for almost another month to take care of the next Kerry visit and to prepare the annual Fourth of July celebrations.

Goldberger said it was very hard to leave after his wonderful experience in Israel. He was as appreciative of the relationship between the two families as Shapiro had been, and said it had been a privilege for him and his wife to help strengthen the relationship between the US and Israel. For three years prior to coming to Israel, he had worked in the Israel affairs section in Washington, but he said the real highlight was to actually serve in Israel.

“Israel is an amazing story and it is a privilege for us to be associated with that story,” he said.

Goldberger also mentioned the warmth of the welcome that he and his wife had received from the diplomatic community, and spoke with enthusiasm about the “outstanding team” at the US Embassy, especially his assistant Judy Brooks, who is also leaving soon and will be returning to her home in Florida with her husband, John. Goldberger was pleased that his daughter Emily had been a student at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya for two years, and that his other daughter, Hannah, who is in the US, had spent many holidays in Israel “and will spend more.”

Eden Goldberger said that of all the tours abroad to which she and her husband have been assigned, “our time in Israel was the most special.”

She was grateful to the many Israelis who welcomed them into their homes and their hearts.

■ NOT ALL of the masses who converged on Tel Aviv last Friday were there for the Gay Pride Parade. Several hundred, who came from many parts of Israel, were at the Habimah Theater to celebrate the ongoing success of college4all, otherwise known as Hinuch Lepsagot or Education for Excellence. The project is designed to reduce social gaps by enabling talented youngsters living in peripheral communities to receive a broad-based education that will allow them to realize their potential.

Education for Excellence chairwoman Shula Recanati said that she had agreed to chair the organization 12 years ago, after visiting a rundown school with peeling walls in Tel Kabir in south Tel Aviv. When she went into the basement, she saw a group of enthusiastic, sparking-eyed youngsters gathered around a student leader.

Their thirst for knowledge was unmistakable, and she instantly realized that others like them must be given the same educational opportunities as those of youngsters in more affluent areas. The youth in these programs gain more self-confidence and a belief in their own abilities, and later become achievers in the army and academic studies, as well as in their workplaces and in doing community service. “It’s because we give them the tools,” she said.

The Education Ministry is one of the organization’s partners in the project, and director-general Dalit Stauber is its main contact. She stated: “Society must never trample on the dreams of any child. It is the right of every child to be educated and to realize their potential. We have to encourage children to dream and to realize those dreams regardless of their socioeconomic status.”

The morning was devoted to different perspectives on excellence, with speakers who are all achievers in different fields. They included entrepreneur Yanki Margalit, who is currently chairman of Space IL, a nonprofit space technology organization competing for the Google Lunar X $20 million prize to put a robot on the moon; Benny Landa, the pioneer of digital printing in Israel, who is now into nanography; Karen Tal, the inspired and inspiring educator, who until recently was principal of the acclaimed Bialik-Rogozin School in south Tel Aviv, where the bulk of the students are children of migrant workers; conductor Itay Talgam, who also teaches harmony beyond the world of music; and Dan Ariely, an Israeli- American professor of psychology and behavioral economics, who spoke about what motivates people.

But the speaker who got the loudest and most sustained applause followed by a standing ovation was 17-year-old Havivit Takela, an 11th-grade student from Netanya and a member of that city’s large Ethiopian community.

Her parents came to Israel in the 1980s and went through a very difficult absorption process, but still managed to complete high school and earn matriculation certificates.

Although they impressed the importance of education upon their four children, the environment in which they live has not been not conducive to that philosophy. “I come from a place where excellence is not a priority,” she said.

Nonetheless, Takela joined the Psagot program when she was in fifth grade and has stayed with it ever since, becoming a model for her three younger siblings. Her main interests are medicine, politics, biology and chemistry, but she has not yet made up her mind about a future career. As a result of her being part of the Psagot program, she feels she is a good representative of the Ethiopian community, “and I can choose to be anything I want.”

■ ALTHOUGH THERE have been some discordant vibes between Israel and Sweden in recent years, the diplomatic ties are still firm, and in truth Israel can never forget the debt that it and the Jewish people owe to Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg – who while serving in Hungary, saved many thousands of Jews who might otherwise have numbered among the victims of the Holocaust.

Thus, it came as no surprise when Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat, attending the Swedish National Day reception hosted by ambassador (designate) Carl Magnus Nesser, recalled that last year Sweden and the Jewish people marked the 100th anniversary of Wallenberg’s birth, thereby creating a platform for public discussion about the Holocaust, old world anti-Semitism and current manifestations of anti-Semitism. In comparing Sweden with Israel, Livnat noted that both face a common challenge in immigration, and commended Sweden on being a leading European country in its integration of many immigrants from different countries.

Another similarity Livnat pointed out was in assisting countries and regions in conflict. Sweden does so through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), while Israel does so through Mashav, Israel’s Agency for International Development Cooperation. The essential difference is that SIDA’s budget equals almost 1 percent of Sweden’s GNP – something that Israel cannot afford.

Nesser, speaking in the garden of his residence, guaranteed that he will be invited to social events all year long.

Gifted with a quick and lively sense of humor, he had his guests chuckling as he interspersed his formal remarks with delicious little wisecracks. If he ever decides to chuck diplomacy, he can always get a job as a stand-up comedian. Although he has not been in Israel long enough to present his credentials, his parents have already come to visit and naturally were at the reception, having arrived two days earlier. “They spent eight hours on the beach yesterday, so if you see two severely sunburned people, it’s probably them,” said Nesser.

Explaining why Sweden’s National Day is on June 6, he said it was in honor of the election in 1523 of Gustav Vasa as king, which signified the end of the Danish-ruled Kalmar Union and the beginning of Swedish independence.

On the same date in 1809, Sweden adopted a new constitution that included the establishment of civil rights and liberties. Another important event on June 6 was the birth of Sweden’s international tennis champion Björn Borg – though Nesser wryly commented he doubted this had anything to do with his country’s national day.

Among new developments in relations between Israel and Sweden is the opening by SAS of direct flights from Israel to Stockholm. Nesser also spoke of steadily growing trade between the two countries and the priority that both place on innovation.

It has become very trendy for ambassadors to say something in Hebrew when delivering an address. Some manage a whole speech, some make a few introductory remarks and then switch to English or their own native tongue, and others still struggling with the language manage a sentence or two – as did Nesser, who stated he wanted to say something in Hebrew but would have to defer it until next year, because he had just begun learning Hebrew. Livnat congratulated him on his excellent enunciation, but was not about to let him off the hook. There were too many things to discuss, such as cultural exchanges, “and we can do that in English,” she said.

■ COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, who visited Israel this week, told President Shimon Peres that he knew of quite a number of Colombians who would be in Israel next week for the president’s 90th birthday celebrations.

He was sorry that other commitments prevented him from staying to join in the festivities, but took the opportunity to say an early “happy birthday.”

Everyone and his mother are probably aware by now that the many dignitaries and celebrities in attendance will include timeless singer Barbra Streisand and former US president Bill Clinton. Some of the other personalities who have indicated they also want to be on-hand when the world’s youngest 90-year-old, who is simultaneously the oldest head of state, moves into his next decade, include: actress Sharon Stone; Middle East Quartet envoy Tony Blair; former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev; Prince Albert of Monaco; former prime minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik; women’s rights activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Chicago Mayor and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel; former US ambassador Dan Kurtzer; inimitable American/Israeli sexologist Dr.

Ruth Westheimer, who has attended every Presidential Facing Tomorrow Conference to date; plus at least five Nobel Prize laureates and the stars of the Israeli firmament, headed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and outgoing Gov. of the Bank of Israel, Stanley Fischer.

Israel Maimon, who has chaired each of the Presidential Facing Tomorrow conferences, says they have become an important meeting place for public figures and world leaders from all sectors. There are actually quite a lot of people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who keep coming back time after time – adding a whole new dimension to “next year in Jerusalem.”

■ ARGENTINIAN BILLIONAIRE Eduardo Elsztain, who has offered to bail out embattled IDB chairman Nochi Dankner, was recently elected to the new board of the World Jewish Congress, and serves as chairman of the WJC Business Advisory Council. Both Elsztain and Dankner have been generous benefactors to the so-called wonder and kabbalist, Rabbi Yoshiyahu Yosef Pinto, who last year got himself into a spot of trouble over allegations of bribery. The two were seated together last month at the head table with Pinto at his son’s bar mitzva in Manhattan. It is widely speculated that Pinto was involved in Elsztain’s willingness to help Dankner overcome his financial problems.

■ CURRENTLY VISITING Israel is Aura Levin Lipski, founder and CEO of the Jewish Australia website, a comprehensive gateway to all things Jewish in Australia. The site has an extraordinary “Seeking People” section, in which not only Australians but Jews from other parts of the world may attempt to find information about lost relatives or friends. There is also an extensive genealogy section, a wonderful transliterated section on Hebrew songs, and a mechanism to learn Yiddish online. The multi-talented Lipski is also a singer, songwriter, teacher, public speaker and exponent of Israeli folk dancing.

■ STILL ON the subject of Australian Jews, Australian born Joan Fisher, who came on aliya in 1992 and lives in Jerusalem, says that 65 direct blood descendants of her late parents, Naomi and Emanuel Marks of Sydney, are now living in Israel.

Altogether, 91 members of the Marks family live in Israel, while 33 still live in Australia. Fisher is one of five siblings, two of whom came to Israel with their families, and two others have children and grandchildren living in Israel. She has no idea whether this is a record in numerical terms, especially with regard to families from down under.

The Marks family may have some competition from the very large Feiglin family, whose forebears were the first Chabadniks in Australia, arriving there more than 100 years ago. In fact, Likud MK Moshe Feiglin is named after the ancestor who pioneered Chabad in Australia – and that ancestor had nine children, many of whose own children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are living in Israel.

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