What's in a birthday?


I’ll never forget my 18th birthday. I’m not sure what caused it or how it came about but it was my most significant one, and it wasn’t because 18 is the legal age for drinking and getting a driver’s license in Australia:)

Something clicked within me about the significance of the day. I figured out that my birthday is the day that G-d decided to send my soul down to this earth, and that my mission on this earth was decided on that day. Suddenly my Jewish birthday went from being a day when everyone around me made me feel loved and appreciated, to a day of introspection and reflection. It became a day of trying to decipher what my mission is in this world and determine whether or not I am fulfilling my purpose on earth.

Birthdays weren’t widely celebrated as a Jewish thing until, in 1988 the Rebbe inaugurated a ‘Jewish Birthday Campaign’ . He asked that we all ‘utilize this most special day of our lives to its utmost. A day to recommit to the mission that G‑d entrusted to us—bettering and sanctifying ourselves and the world around us’.

The Jewish birthday became a personal Rosh Hashana, just as on the Jewish New Year we examine our previous year and make resolutions to improve for the coming year, the same takes place on our birthdays. In order to reach this space and allow the reflections to translate into actions we customarily celebrate with a farbrengen, (a Yiddish word that doesn’t have an English translation...) which is a get together with friends, the sharing of ideas and communication on a very real level aimed at personal growth coupled with encouragement of others to grow as well.

I think the farbrengen that I had on that particular birthday was the first time I experienced what a true farbrengen is. The very real cutting through layers of personality to communicate with friends in a profound way that is typical of what’s called a ‘good farbrengen happened there. I got to see firsthand the true power of a farbrengen as it should be. No, it didn’t require any alcohol, (there wasn’t any:) just some candles, dimmed lighting, a friend with her guitar and a group of girls who wanted to grow and connect.

The other fun thing about a birthday is that Jewish tradition teaches us that on your birthday your mazel is strengthened. Double luck on your special day, there are those who'll go out and buy a lottery ticket:) but don’t forget to give a blessing to your friends and family, your power on that day has additional potency.

I therefore take this opportunity to bless you with good health, happiness, success in all your endeavors and continued growth in your spiritual life!



Ps Calculate your Jewish birthday here and mark it on your calendar for a real Jewish celebration.

Picture of the week:

Purim feast at Chabad this year featured a Jewish knowledge quiz where participants texted in their responses and saw the results live on the screen.


In search of miracles



A few hours left until Purim, and counting!

The baking has been done, the boxes of goodies have been purchased (and hidden from little hands for obvious reasons) ready to be packed for distribution and the costumes have been shlepped up from the basement for mending and trying on for size.

Yes, the holiday of Purim is an exciting one.

When a holiday approaches and I find myself busy with the technical preparations I tend to search for a theme to focus on amidst the kerfuffle. Purim has multiple themes but the one that has been floating around in my mind is that of miracles.

Our history as a people is one filled with miracles and we have all the holidays to prove it. Pharoah didn’t want to let our people go, G-d took us out anyway; we celebrate Passover. The victory of the ‘few over the many’; we celebrate Chanukah. And then there’s Purim; Haman wanted to wipe out the Jewish people but instead got to hang out with his sons on the trees (pun intended:). All were miraculous occurrences but the way G-d carried them out differs.

Passover and Chanukah are examples of G-d flexing His proverbial muscle. Our deliverance from our oppressors was done with great theatrics and fan fare. Purim on the other hand, could actually be mistaken for a perfectly woven plot of chance encounters and coincidental happenings. In fact, G-d’s name is not even mentioned once in the entire story of Purim .

G-d hid himself within natural occurrences to rescue us from the evil Haman. It was a different kind of miracle but no less significant than an overt one.

There’s a great analogy I find apropos. If you and I are playing a game of chess, I have two options for how to win the game. I could either play very well and beat you or I could wait until you leave the room for a moment, grab a bunch of your pieces and then go ahead and win the game in two moves.

G-d can 'win the game’ by breaking the laws of nature, think splitting the Red Sea and the ten plagues, or He could maneuver things around to reach the same conclusion without anyone noticing. Blink and you might miss it.

And the best part is that He continues to do just that nowadays as well.

How many times have we had wonderful coincidences take place in our own lives; like the time our tire blew out on the Turnpike at 2am and after managing to maneuver our way into the nearest rest area, somewhere in the dark woods of New Jersey, we found our good friends from Center City who happily drove us home (I think we still had a pager in those days, cell phones weren’t yet quite so popular). A beautiful moment we can all agree.

And then there are the less obvious coincidences; like the time a car pulled out just when I needed its spot downtown. If you’ve tried parking a car in Center City you know that circling in search of a parking space for 45 minutes could be considered a good day but would we necessarily call that a miracle? Probably not, but maybe we should, maybe that’s just what the story of Purim is all about.

The story of Purim teaches us that G-d is involved and directs all the details of our lives, even the minutest ones. Sometimes He enables us to see/understand His ways and sometimes He doesn’t; either way He’s directing traffic and that is a comforting thought.

Let’s celebrate Purim this tonight and tomorrow with good food, fine wines, gifts to the needy and offerings to friends . Let’s also hear the message of Purim as we listen to the megillah and spend some time this week pondering the miracles in our daily lives, and thank G-d for caring about the smallest details.

Let me know how you go:)

Wishing you and yours a joyous and uplifting Purim, and as my father always says (in Yiddish) ‘have a happy Purim and a happy always’,


Picture of the week:


Purim prep in the Haskelevich household.



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