‘Small man in stature, large man in spirit’ was how Zeidy was described this week. 4ft something at this point in his life and of small build, but still managing to fight off three nurses as they try to adjust something for him.

But that’s not surprising as Zeidy has spent most of his life fighting.

Studying Torah as a child in Russia under the noses of the communists, Zeidy was sent to a Cheder that consisted of a few children and a teacher, moving from place to place so as not to be caught for their illegal activities. At some points they studied quietly in the shule attic under a scorching tin roof, not moving during services so the men below wouldn’t know they were there and word wouldn’t reach the KGB.

Eventually he was caught, and was sent to a Siberian gulag for seven years. The frigid temperatures, lack of basic provisions, starvation were all reasons not to survive. But Zeidy fought. He fought not to work on Shabbos and he fought to stay alive. When asked what kept him going each day digging for gold in -40F degree temperatures, he told us how the other prisoners would sing their folk songs but he sang the niggun Poltava, a haunting song of yearning and connectedness.

When he returned home to Kiev after his imprisonment, he found his whole family had been wiped out in Babi Yar, and he went right back to teaching Torah. He studied to become a shochet and mohel, both highly illegal trades, and provided the Jews of Moscow and surrounding areas with kosher meat and circumcisions. Always moving to another town when he got wind that the authorities were on to him.

Yuli Edelstein, an Israeli politician who currently serves as Speaker of the Knesset, describes a bris he once attended in Moscow in the early 1980’s. Family and friends were gathered in a basement with windows blackened by sheets, a few minutes before the bris began the KGB arrived banging on the door and dispersed a terrified crowd. Zeidy, the mohel, had seen the commotion as he was about to arrive and waited across the street. Minutes after the KGB left, Zeidy strode in, performed the bris and went home. Another Jewish child was brought into the covenant of Abraham our forefather because Zeidy knew that there was no alternative, and fear was simply not an obstacle.

In 1973 a relative asked the Rebbe if Zeidy could leave Russia to visit New York. The Rebbe asked, ‘then who will serve as shochet and mohel for the Jews in Moscow?’. Zeidy stayed. Until finally in 1993, when more shochets and mohels emerged in Russia, he joined his family in America.

From the early years of my joining Zeidy’s family, I was always moved by hisIMG_0001.jpg exclamations at family get-togethers. “All I prayed for in Siberia was a Jewish burial and not to be left to be eaten by the dogs; never in my wildest dreams would I have thought of children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren”.

Last year I was in New York for a conference and decided to visit Zeidy for havdallah after Shabbos, I stood there holding the candle as he shuffled around his apartment gathering all he needed, annoyed when I offered to help. He adjusted his two pairs of glasses, the lamp and siddur beneath his nose to overcome his challenges and read the prayer. After havdallah he had more prayers to read, and I was utterly amazed by his unwavering determination to do what he needed to without giving in.

Zeidy had a health set back this week, but his doctors know he’s a fighter and now so do his nurses. Our love and prayers are with him and we hope with all our might that he comes home soon to continue his schedule of davening, learning Torah and showering his descendants with Torino chocolate bars.

L’chaim for Boruch Mordechai ben Fruma Sarah who has shown us that Yiddishkeit is not something to compromise, not under any circumstances.


For a glimpse into his life under communism click here.

Article in Hamodia magazine.

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Crunchy brownie baking - finger licking good! 

In need of some Shabbat


Studies in neuroscience have found that the human brain cannot possibly process all the information it is exposed to and with the rate at which technology is advancing and speeding up our lives, I start to wonder if the invention of Shabbat was specifically created for our generation.

When more than now have we needed some time out, some powering down from everything that is constantly grabbing at our attention? Some time to choose what we focus on rather than allowing everyone else to decide for us.

But how easy is it to do just that? Just the thought of it brings a dread of all that we’ll miss out on. Which is probably why when G-d told us to observe the Shabbat, (in this week’s Torah portion) He wrote “for six days the work shall be done, and on the seventh day you shall have sanctity, a day of complete rest to the L-rd”.

Rather than writing ‘you shall do work’, He wrote ‘the work shall be done’ (in hebrew te’oseh connotes the work being done as if automatically). The reason for this is to teach us that if we approach our week load of work with an attitude that the job will get done; i.e. we will put in the effort and with G-d’s blessing it will succeed, then our Shabbat will be a truly blissful day of rest.

If we believe that our personal input is all that matters in our work, then our Shabbat will be spent worrying about what we could have and should have done differently, and what we need to do that just can’t wait until Saturday night.

If we understand that the break for Shabbat is mandated by the same source as that which completes and blesses our work then we won’t feel any pressure to finish our job on Shabbat, so as not to miss out on that blessing.

Going back only a few generations, we can see how the tide has shifted.

In the 1930s in America if a person did not show up to work on Saturday they were out of a job by Monday. In the early 1900s for a Jewish family living on the prairie in North Dakota, when all it took was one flash flood to destroy an entire year’s worth of work potentially sending your family to starvation, the pull to run out and save what you could was tremendously strong, even as in some cases if it needed to be done on Shabbat.

In those times the forces pulling our people from observing Shabbat were more external. Nowadays, they seem far more internal. No longer are we required to be in the office on a Saturday if we opt to come in on a Sunday, and no longer are we as dependant on the elements as we once were.

The pull, however, is no less powerful but if we recognize that it’s more our perception than the reality perhaps it will be a little less challenging to resist.

So join me for a therapeutically relaxing Shabbat, you deserve it:)


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Hot chocolate on the Walk, mmmm:)

People who need people...


In a stressful and fast paced environment, there’s nothing like a good friend to set things back on track. Living in an age where we are connected to more people than ever before, we are still left feeling disconnected from those around us. We might know when 150 people last sneezed but do we know when two people last felt overwhelmed? Or needed our support?

Reaching out to another person and connecting with them in a genuine and concerned way doesn’t just make the other person happy and isn’t just an act of altruistic kindness, rather it is a significant key to our own happiness as well.

“Close friends not only prolong people’s lives; but on a day-to-day basis they contribute more to most adults’ happiness than even their children do” says Dennis Prager author of Happiness is a Serious Problem. Friends are able to give perspective in difficult situations and their care just makes troubles feel lighter. As it says in Ethics of our Fathers ‘you should ‘buy’ for yourself a friend’.

When it came to counting the Jewish people (in this week’s Torah portion), G-d wanted to give us just that message. Everything that was used for the building of the tabernacle was of the finest quality and was required to be a complete and perfect object. Animals for sacrifices could not be missing a limb, Priests serving in the temple could not be maimed, materials could not have a scratch or hole etc, but the donation given to the Tabernacle as part of the census had to be specifically a ‘half a shekel’.

G-d told Moses to count the Jewish people by having them donate a half shekel coin to the Tabernacle. The Torah continues by telling us that half a shekel is the equivalent of ten geirah. With ten being a more whole and complete number, when the emphasis had thus far been on complete items, the need to specify thehalf shekel is intriguing.

The reason for the half shekel and not a whole was to teach us that essentially we are all incomplete beings, and that only when we connect with another person do we attain completeness for ourselves.

By doing a kindness for another we achieve a feeling of wholeness that envelopes us with a sense of joy, and what better way to acquire a friend than to be a good one.

Stay safe and warm,


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Law School lunch and learn got off to a great start!  

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