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Kinus Torah - Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

The Rabbinical College of Australia & New Zealand (Yeshivah Gedolah – Melbourne) hosted a communal Kinus Torah on Tuesday the eighth of Sivan (May 29, 2012). The Kinus was convened in conjunction with Shavuos, as per the Rebbe’s directive that a Kinus be held on, or immediately after, each Yom Tov.

The Kinus was coordinated and chaired by Shliach Yisroel Ohana, and began with an in-depth analysis of a Ma’amar (Chassidic discourse), delivered by Shliach Menachem Mendel Begun. Rabbi Zvi Telsner (Yeshivah Centre) focussed on the story of Megillas Rus, and his talk included an expanded discussion regarding the processes of Geirus (conversion) and the method of acquisition known as Challifin. Next, Menachem Aron (student at Mesivtah) delivered a Shiur on the first page of Kiddushin.

Rabbi Yonasan Johnson (Kollel Menachem) explained and defined the approach of the Alter Rebbe regarding the Laws of Borer (selection) on Yom Tov. He was followed by Yosef Aron (student at Yeshivah Gedolah) who provided the reasons for a number of Minhagim (customs) practiced each Motzei Shabbos.

Finally, Rabbi Mottel Krasnjanski (Ohr Chadash – Caulfield Shul) delivered an intricate discourse on the intent of the first Rashi in Kiddushin.Rabbi Krasnjanski elucidated Rashi’s perspective on the mechanisms of ownership and Kinyanim (methods of acquisition) in general, and how they differ within the framework of marriage.

The event featured a large and diverse crowd, who thoroughly enjoyed the wide variety of subjects addressed at this year’s Kinus.

Photo Credits: Dovi Straiton 

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Kinus Torah Shavuos 5772

Pesach in Seoul, South Korea

Pesach in South Korea

We are international students at Yeshivah Gedolah, and spending Pesach with our families in North America was not really an option. Instead, we called the various Chabad Shluchim (emissaries) in Asia to offer our services. It turned out that Rabbi Osher Litzman, in Seoul, needed lots of help with his Pesach activities. We concluded our conversation, and began organizing our travel plans. 

As we were due to land in Seoul shortly after midnight, Rabbi Litzman suggested that we take an airport shuttle to a hotel situated a short five minute walk from his house. Little did we know that the shuttle did not run after 10:00pm.

When realization struck, we really did not know what to do. We were exhausted after the long international flight, and weighed down with luggage. There was no available transportation for hire, not even taxies. There were no public telephones in sight, and it wouldn’t have mattered if there were, because we did not have Rabbi Litzman’s phone number with us. We couldn’t even approach anyone for help in this country where almost no one speaks English. We were out of ideas. To the few people remaining in the airport, we were a most curious sight to behold.

Out of nowhere, a Korean appeared and spoke to us in English. Yes, English. Most Koreans can’t communicate in English, but this guy was fluent! The Korean’s first word was, “Shalom!” Wow! He knew we were Jewish, and he even spoke a bit of Hebrew! Of course, we looked Jewish, but that wouldn’t have meant much to someone unfamiliar with Jews – including most Koreans.

We soon discovered that we were talking to a Korean who loves Jews. He offered to take us wherever we needed to go. We were a bit apprehensive, but the guy seemed genuine, and we really had no other choice. Besides, we were on the Rebbe’s Shlichus, and we were sure that things would work out for the best. We got into his car, and arrived at the Chabad House at 3:00 in the morning, where Rabbi Litzman was anxiously awaiting us.

We woke up early the next morning to a most interesting surprise. Although Pesach was only three days away, the preparations at the Chabad House had not yet begun. The reason for this became apparent soon enough. From early morning to late evening, there was a steady stream of people flowing through the Chabad House doors. Many of the visitors sought Rabbi Litzman’s guidance, and some came to sell their Chometz and the like. The Chabad House is also the only place in South Korea where imported Kosher food can be obtained, and the week before Pesach was naturally a very busy time.

Under those conditions, it was impossible for Rabbi Litzman to prepare for Pesach single-handedly. For the next three days, we worked the entire time, cooking and cleaning. When the Chabad House filled with visitors, we made everyone feel welcome, and put Tefillin on many of the guests.

Aside from Chabad, there is one other organization in South Korea that provides Jewish services; the chaplaincy of the U.S. army. South Korea is home to approximately 30,000 U.S. military personnel. Naturally, this includes a small number of Jews. Non-military personnel are allowed to attend the Jewish events conducted by the U.S. military, but no effort is made to impart to them a sense of belonging. We therefore encouraged everyone we met to attend the Seder at the Chabad House, where they would be guaranteed a memorable experience.

When Seder night arrived, Rabbi Litzman quickly realized that the crowd was mostly English-speaking. [The Government of South Korea is keen for English to be taught in Korean schools, and they provide generous packages for foreign English-Language teachers. Most of the Seder participants were English-Language teachers from Canada temporarily based in South Korea.] Not much of an English speaker himself, Rabbi Litzman asked us to lead the Seder, and he offered to help from the sidelines.

There were about seventy participants at the first Seder, and almost sixty at the second. As the Seder progressed, we sang and danced, and there was an unmistakable vibe and a strong feeling of unity. After Yom-Tov, the Chabad House received many calls thanking us for our efforts, and for providing such an incredible experience.

During Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days of Pesach), we travelled all the way to the border of North Korea. Our goal was to connect with even the most far-flung Jew. Wherever we went, we received a lot of perplexed stares from people who were wondering just who or what we were. Korean culture regards beards as unrefined and socially unacceptable, and some Koreans went so far as to rebuke us (in Korean) whilst gesturing towards our beards. [Other curiosities of Korean culture include the prevalence of facial masks to combat the pollution, mobile phones the size of iPads, and restaurant signs advertising dog meat and whale meat.]

Of course, our conspicuousness worked to our advantage. We were quickly and easily noticed by any Jew who happened to be in the vicinity. Nearly seven million tourists pour into Korea every single year, and many of them are Jews. We also met Jewish soldiers in the U.S. military. Most of the people we met did not even know that there was a Chabad presence in Korea, and that Kosher food could be obtained there.

On one of our travels, a Korean gentleman stopped us in the street and presented us with his dilemma: He did a lot of business with Israelis, and he always felt bad that he did not have Kosher food available when he hosted them in Korea – even though the Israelis themselves did not seem to care. Of course, we told him all about the Kosher store at the Chabad House. He promised us that he would stock up and henceforth provide Kosher food for his Israeli guests in the future.

This year, we celebrated Pesach in the shadows of nuclear North-Korea; next year in Jerusalem!

Chabad House in Seoul, South Korea

Rabbi Litzman of Seoul, South Korea

Tefillin in South Korea

Tefillin in South Korea

Seder preparations in South Korea

Pesach in South Korea

Pesach in Shenzhen, China

Tefillin at The Peak

Shenzhen is a major city in south China, situated immediately north of Hong Kong. By Chinese standards, Shenzhen is a modern city with a vibrant economy, and is extremely popular with foreign business people and visitors. It was to Shenzhen that we headed, to help the local Chabad Shliach (emissary), Rabbi Sholom Ben Chazan, conduct programs for Pesach.

Enroute from Melbourne, we stopped in Hong-Kong for several days, in order to obtain entry visas into Mainland China. We made sure that our time in Hong-Kong was not wasted. One particular highlight was meeting an Israeli at the world-class tourist attraction known locally as The Peak, a summit which offers stunning panoramic views of Hong-Kong. The Israeli quite happily put on Tefillin, marvelling that he was doing it at The Peak.

We arrived in Shenzhen shortly before Pesach, and quickly got involved in the last minute Pesach preparations. We played an important role at the Seder, because the non-English-speaking Shliach could not really communicate with the English-speaking segment of the two-hundred strong crowd. We relayed several Divrei Torah, and we tried as best as possible to personally interact with the Seder participants.

At the first Seder, an American conversing with Ephraim got to talking about how obsessed he was with playing tennis. Before long, he was challenging Ephraim to a game. The game took place after Yom-Tov, with Ephraim soundly defeating his opponent. The American was so impressed that a Yeshivah student was as skilled on the court as he is with his Jewish studies that he donated 1,000 Renminbi (the local Chinese currency) to Chabad.

On the same night, Eli spent some quality time with two people visiting from Toronto. They were so inspired that they cancelled their trip to Beijing the following day, in order to stay in Shenzhen for the second Seder.

At the second Seder, Ephraim introduced himself to a guest from Atlanta. When he heard that Ephraim was from Australia, the Atlantan remarked that he had recently visited some cousins in Perth. Although Ephraim was quite sure that he knew nobody in Perth, he nevertheless asked who the cousin was. The Atlantan responded that his own name was Simon Mattis (not his real name), and that his cousin was Shawn Mattis (also not his real name). Ephraim could not believe his ears; he had visited Shawn for several years on his weekly Friday Mivtzoyim route in Melbourne, before Shawn had moved to Perth. What Hashgocha Protis (Divine intervention)!

During Chol Hamoed (the intermediate days of Pesach), we were travelling on a train when a local Chinese woman noticed us and came over. We were absolutely floored when we saw what she pulled out of her purse – a pocket Tehillim with a picture of the Rebbe on the front cover. She had received it from a friend who advised her to carry it around constantly. We tried to convince her to give us the Tehillim, in order to ensure that its sanctity be preserved in accordance with the applicable Halachos (Jewish laws). However, she firmly insisted that it remain with her; she could not imagine being without it.

As Pesach drew to a close, we conducted a Kinus Torah, delighting the audience with insights, stories and Divrei Torah.

On the day after Pesach, we visited a local park which is a popular hangout for the local Israeli families. We spoke with a number of them, and we put Tefillin on one of the men. On our way back to the Chabad House, we made a last-minute detour via the pier. Sitting in one of the coffee-shops was a family of South African tourists whom we had met at the Chabad House during Pesach. We sat down and farbrenged with them, although we were not successful in convincing them to put on Tefillin.

Eventually, we had to return to the Chabad House to ready ourselves for the return flight to Melbourne. As we were about to leave to the airport, in walked Jonas, a young teenager of French origin with whom we had become close friends. Jonas had come to say his goodbyes. He wanted our farewell to be special, so we had him wrapped in Tefillin in no time. It was the perfect way to conclude our inspiring stay on the Asian continent.

Setting up the Pesach seder in Shenzhen

The Pesach seder in Shenzhen

Shenzhen

Shenzhen

Chinese woman and a Tehillim

Shenzhen

Tefillin in Shenzhen

Tefillin in Shenzhen

Pesach in Taipei, Taiwan

Pesach in Taipei, Taiwan

We very much wanted to devote our Pesach break to reaching out and helping fellow Jews connect with Yiddishkeit. We heard that the Chabad Shliach (emissary) in Taipei, Rabbi Shlomi Tabib, was looking for help. We quickly contacted him and volunteered.

Jewish life in Taipei has been undergoing a transformation under the leadership of Rabbi Tabib. Before Rabbi Tabib’s arrival less than a year ago, the local Jews didn’t mingle much with each other, except on certain Jewish holidays and special occasions. In fact, when Rabbi Tabib initially inquired about the size of the Jewish population of Taipei, he was told that there were no more than two-hundred. Since his arrival, Rabbi Tabib has already met several hundred Jewish residents who had previously been unaffiliated with the existing Jewish community. He also tends to the spiritual needs of the scores of Jewish tourists and business travellers who pass through.

We flew to Taiwan on 11 Nissan, which marks the anniversary of the Rebbe’s birthday. Rabbi Tabib met us at the airport, and we were quickly introduced to the new culture when the Rabbi flagged down a taxi and began bargaining with the driver over what must have been less than two Australian dollars. Over the next several days, we helped Rabbi Tabib with Pesach shopping, cooking and preparations.

In the past, the Jewish community in Taiwan would conduct an annual Pesach event at the Sheraton Hotel, although it could not really be described as a Pesach Seder. In fact, the menu at these events typically included such items as bread rolls and swordfish. The assimilated Jewish community simply did not know better.

This Pesach – Rabbi Tabib’s first in Taipei – was very different. Rabbi Tabib arranged for the annual community event to be fully Kosher for Pesach, and he organized Matzah and other traditional Seder foods. To that end, we spent two full days at the Sheraton kitchens, making sure it was Kosher for Pesach, and supervising the chefs. The kitchen staff found all the nuances of Kosher quite confusing. They made a number of mistakes, some of which required us to re-Kosher some parts of the kitchen.

Aside from the community event, Rabbi Tabib arranged another Seder at his home for those interested in a more traditional Seder. On the first night of Pesach, Rabbi Tabib attended the community event and infused it with as much Yiddishkeit as possible. At the same time, we conducted the Seder at Rabbi Tabib’s house for a crowd of Israeli and American businessmen and students. By the end of the evening, even the most nonchalant attendees were enthusiastically singing all the Seder songs.

Since there was no community event the second night, Rabbi Tabib led the Seder at his home. It was amazing to watch the diverse crowd of Americans and Israelis – ranging from company CEOs to college students – merge into one cohesive and joyous group.

The rest of Pesach was focussed on individual outreach with local Jews. Just walking the streets was itself an experience. With our hats and beards and Jewish looks, we did not exactly blend into the crowd of pedestrians. This was a good thing, because we became like walking magnets, attracting many Jews who were so excited to see “Chabadnikim” where they would least expect it. This made our job all the more easier. The non-Jews were curious as well, with many of them taking pictures of us.

This year in Taiwan; next year in Jerusalem!

Shopping for Pesach in Taipei, Taiwan

Outreach in Taipei, Taiwan

Koshering the Sheraton for Pesach in Taipei, Taiwan

Koshering the Sheraton for Pesach in Taipei, Taiwan

Chabad House in Taipei, Taiwan

YG Celebrates Lag B'Omer

This past Lag B’Omer, students of the Rabbinical College celebrated at the Chabad House of Bentleigh, which is directed by Rabbi Mendel Raskin. The Bochurim were served a barbecue dinner, which was followed by dancing and a Chassidishe Kumzits (sing-a-long) around the bonfire.

Afterwards, the Bochurim moved indoors for a farbrengen led by the head Mashpia of Yeshivah Gedolah, Rabbi Yaakov Winner. Special thanks to the Shluchim for organizing the event, and to Chabad of Bentleigh for hosting the event.

Photo Credits: Dovi Straiton 

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