I'll take some tradition please

snQJ6400971.jpgWhen you walk into a store in Brooklyn during the week leading up to a Jewish holiday, there’s something electric in the air. The lines are longer than usual, tips and suggestions are being shared while people wait in line, and the wares for sale are predominantly relevant to the upcoming holiday.  

Before Sukkot there are palm branches, citron fruit and wooden paneling lining the streets. For Purim, all kinds of costumes and graggers emerge and before Passover, you’ll find a large array of Seder plates, wines galore, sink liners, pots, dishes and lots of aluminium foil. The excitement and buzz is contagious and adds a spring into your step.

When I walked into Produce Junction in Wynnefield a few days before Passover this year I was in for a surprise. The lines were unusually long and the wagons were piled high. I wondered if it could be due to the Passover rush, but figured it was probably the wrong neighborhood for that. A black woman walked in behind me and commented about never seeing such lines, her friend said that she had been there that morning as well and it had been the same.

With a closer look it became obvious that Passover was actually in the air, even on Bryn Mawr Ave. One woman was piling up the bags of romaine lettuce, another was there with a to-do list that was a few pages long stapled together (she mistakenly left her list on the table, and when I returned it to her, she gave me a look of gratitude as though I’d just saved her from being hit by a car). Even people, who didn’t outwardly look like they might have been preparing for Passover, had a bunch of parsley leaves and a root of horseradish amongst their shopping.

The woman behind me was still marveling at the wait time so I turned around and smiled, “think Thanksgiving for eight days straight”, her eyes grew wide and she just shook her head.

I walked out of Produce Junction with a pre-holiday spring in my step. 

Something about this holiday, even with all the hard work and preparation, makes it well observed and endearing.

At the Chabad Seders, as we do every Shabbat, we have an old tradition of going around the tables and asking everyone to introduce themselves and share a thought. On Passover we ask our guests to share something memorable about a previous Passover. We heard touching stories of gifts from grandparents who have since passed away, food was a big focus but hands down it was the Afikoman searching stories that received the most mention.

When the Rebbe explained the order of the Four Questions according to different traditions, the Rebbe spoke about the importance of Jewish Customs and that in a way they make more of an indelible impression on children than the Laws that we fulfill. The unusual things that we do at the Seder, such as dipping, leaning and even searching for the Afikoman remain with a child as he or she grows into an adult. It is these memories that keep the Jewish people celebrating the holiday and wanting to pass the traditions on to the next generation. Whether it involves parsley sprigs and horseradish root or a very competitive hunt for the Afikoman.

As old Tevye would say, ‘trrrradtiooooon, tradition!’

We’re having a wonderful Passover and hope you are too:-)

Chag Sameach,


Picture of the week:  


Distributing 'Rolls Royce Shmurah Matzah' on Locust Walk.


Let Freedom Ring


As the festival of our freedom as a People approaches, I like to sederplate.jpgcontemplate what freedom truly is.

Even though some people, like British philosopher Bertrand Russell, define freedom as the “absence of obstacles to the realization of desires”, I think it can't mean just any desire.

Is freedom really the ability to do whatever I choose? If we all do exactly as we please then the world would not necessarily be a pretty place – complete anarchy basically. If I choose to kill, I can.  If I choose to steal, I’m free to do that as well. Anarchy takes away our freedom and security.

So perhaps freedom to live a civilized existence is true freedom. But then who is to define what ‘civilized’ is? And if I create the definition, who’s to say someone else won’t re-define it in a way that is detrimental to others? That’s not freedom either.

When G-d took us out of Egypt he took us out “so that you shall serve me” (Exodus 7:16). We were freed from servitude under Pharaoh in order to serve G-d. Doesn’t seem like much time for freedom in between or perhaps that’s just what true freedom actually is.

If you think about when we feel most free, it’s usually when we are comfortable in our surroundings. When at home, amongst people we feel comfortable with and not being forced to do things that go against our grain, we are the most able to express who we are. No feelings of self consciousness or concern about critique get in the way. It is in that environment that we feel most happy and calm. Natural and free.

Chassidism teaches that the deepest and most essential part of us is our soul, and that a soul is a “part of G-d Himself, literally” (Tanya chapter 2). Therefore, a soul has a natural and constant desire to connect with its source and do what G-d wants it to. The time at which the soul feels most free and natural is when the body surrounding it is in sync with its source.

We are actually free when serving G-d because at the very core of our beings, that is what we want. It is an integral and unchangeable part of our selves. And with that freedom comes a sense of happiness and calm that’s all pervasive.

As we celebrate this year’s holiday of freedom, let’s thank G-d for the ability to serve Him freely. We don’t have to look as far back into our history as our stint as slaves in Egypt, to know that how we live today is an incredible blessing. Anything that gets in the way of our serving our Maker is usually self-imposed.

Let’s think about the soul within each and every one of us and set it free:)

Wishing you and yours a kosher and very happy Passover.

May we merit the final redemption!


Picture of the week:


Chabad Leadership Committee met with Mr. Ilan Kaufthal, Senior Advisor at Irving Place Capital during a mentoring trip to NY.

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