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Thoughts and Musings by Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

Sukkot TV Interview

Holiday Roundup 

A month of incredible Holidays may have passed, but the inspiration has certainly not! 

Whether you were with us at The Shul for the High Holidays, the Shabbaton preparing for them, a meal in the Sukkah, or if you were in on the amazing Simchas Torah celebration; we hope that the energy of those most auspicious days continue to enrich your life and motivate you to appreciate every moment during this New Year.

When Harvey visited Houston and left so much havoc and uncertainty behind, it was not exactly clear how we would get through the month of Holidays. Where would we live? Where would we build a Sukkah this year?

Yet, with the blessings of G-d almighty and the love, care and concern of an amazing community, this past month has been the most amazing Holiday season yet! Close to 400 experienced The Shul of Bellaire at some point, with 200 people visiting our (temporary) Sukkah behind our (temporary) home.

As the story of Noah teaches us, even with the floodwaters raging all around us, with the help of G-d we are able to create a space for our family and community to be together and appreciate life's blessings. As a friend wrote to me: “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain."

CLICK HERE FOR TV INTERVIEW

I would like to thank some of those who were so helpful over this Holiday season:

First and foremost to my dear wife Esty who selflessly carries out her responsibilities regardless of the circumstances and always with grace and a smile.

Thank you so much to my dear brother, our Cantor Mendel for all the moving prayers. Thank you to Dede Aronack at Acme Rentals for your generosity. Thank you to Ann Miller and the DavisJacobs, Leventon and Kaufman families and all the incredibly generous friends who helped sponsor the Kiddush lunches, and to all the staff who helped with the children’s programs and everyone who participated to make it the most beautiful High Holiday season yet. 

Hope to see you tomorrow in Shul! 

 

The Crescendo

The Crescendo

What is your most meaningful moment of the Holidays? Which element do you most anticipate?

Is it the family time or the delicious tastes at Rosh Hashana dinner? Alone time in the Synagogue? The Rabbi’s sermon? (Not!) The moving blasts of the Shofar?

For me, and I suspect many others, the crescendo of the entire High Holiday experience is at the concluding moments of Yom Kippur, as the entire congregation calls out in one voice “Shema Yisroel… – Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God; the Lord is one.”

It is the single most powerful and well-known Jewish prayer. It is short—just six words—but it encapsulates the very creed of Judaism.

What is it about this prayer that is able to move us to the core, to bring us to tears? What is it about this prayer that reminded Jewish children, hidden in convents during the Holocaust, of their true heritage? What is it that motivates people on their death beds to muster up the strength to say these words after weeks of silence?

Is it merely a feeling of nostalgia? Or is it an arousal of latent Jewishness within each and every one of us?

I believe it’s the latter. Because deep inside every Jew there is a spark just waiting to be ignited, and the Shema serves as the lighter.

This is true all year round, but especially on Yom Kippur, after a day of reflection, prayer and deep connection, that we are able to access our Divine core, more than any other time of year.

This time, let’s take those moments with us to the rest of the year. Let’s make sure to not just say the Shema daily, but to ponder and internalize this powerful prayer. It provides the fire we so desperately need to keep our flame, and that of our family, burning all year round.

K’tiva V’chatima Tova!

Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky 


 

 

Visiting My Father In the Hospital

Visiting My Father In the Hospital 

After a series of tests, prompted due to memory loss symptoms, on Thursday, June 8th my father was unfortunately diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Needless to say, this hit my family and me like a ton of bricks.

Several days later, my father underwent surgery at New York Presbyterian - Columbia Hospital. The surgery was very successful, and Thank G-d, they were able to remove nearly 98% of the tumor. After recovering for several days he was moved to Rehab, where he was expected to spend anywhere between 10 to 14 days.

During a visit to see my father at Columbia, I struck up a conversation with one of the therapists – Matthew. As it turned out, Matthew was Jewish, but had never put on Tefillin in his life, though he was Bar Mitzvah’d on Long Island! After he was done working with my father, Mendel and I helped Matthew wrap Tefillin and we wished him a hearty ‘Mazal Tov’!

A few days later he shared that the night after he put on Tefillin, he had a dream of his grandfather showing him his own set of Tefillin… Matthew was deeply moved and thrilled by the whole experience.

After several days, the doctors were so pleased with the speed of my father’s recovery and he was able to return home to Brooklyn, earlier than expected. Thank G-d, my father continues to receive excellent medical care and we are delighted to see his daily improvements!

A few days after my father got home from the hospital, I ‘randomly’ heard the following story:

Back in the 80’s, Gershon Jacobson, who was the publisher of the Algemeiner Journal, suffered a minor stroke and was admitted to the hospital prior to Rosh Hashana. The following week, the Lubavitcher Rebbe was distributing sweet honey cake to many hundreds who lined up to meet the Rebbe and receive his blessings for the New Year.

When Gershon’s son, Simon, approached, The Rebbe said to him: “Please bring this honey cake to your father and tell him that he’s in the hospital with a mission. As soon as he accomplishes that mission, he will be discharged.”

As soon as Gershon got this message, he began speaking to the Jewish doctors and nurses about Yiddishkeit, offering Shabbat candles to women and Tefillin to the men, and generally helping those around him. Soon after, Gershon was discharged from the hospital and for years later, the family heard from people who were positively impacted by Gershon’s outreach efforts in the hospital.

This got me thinking about my father’s therapist, Matthew. Perhaps as soon as he was able to fulfill the Mitzvah of Tefillin for the first time, my father’s ‘mission’ at the hospital was completed, and therefore was able to return home earlier than expected… Who knows? Therapist.jpg

Friends, it’s at times like these, that all the petty things that tend to create distance between people, melt away.
I encourage all of you to cherish the loving relationships in your life and take a minute to reach out to a parent, a sibling or friend and tell them how much you love them.

Thank you very much to all those who reached out with calls, emails or text messages. The friendship and the love means a great to deal to us.

Thank you as well to all who joined in prayer for my father, please continue to have him in mind as he proceeds with treatment, his name is Moshe ben MatilFather.jpg

Please G-d we will continue to see blessings and a complete recovery very soon!
 

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky 

Meet Oren and Nama – Story From Israel!

Meet Oren and Nama – A Story From Israel!

Over the past month, we have had the great joy of officiating the Bar and Bat Mitzvahs of several Bellaire Hebrew School students. Last Shabbat, Esty and I had the opportunity to join the Lazar family for Elliott’s Bar Mitzvah in Israel!

We spent Shabbat at the Moshav Yodfat in northern Israel, where we were warmly welcomed by the Lazars, their relatives and the entire Yodfat community.View.jpg

The view from our room of the upper galilee was breathtaking, like nothing we’ve ever seen before. On Shabbat morning we joined the community at the Synagogue, where Elliott did a superb job reading from the Torah and delivering his speech.

Later, on Shabbat afternoon, we visited with a fellow named Oren and his lovely wife Nama (and a few of their friends). Oren and Nama were not raised religious, but over the years had slowly embraced Jewish observance.

Oren shared with us that as of last year, after 10 years of marriage, he and Nama had still not been blessed with a child. Of course, this was a tremendously painful struggle for them.

About a year ago, he had a very vivid dream where he saw the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe looked at him and said: “Your child is in the hands of Shimon”, and that was it. Oren explained how he was not typically the one who remembered dreams, also, he had never met the Rebbe in person nor was he part of the Chabad community in any way. Nevertheless, this dream was as clear as day!

Very soon after that dream, a friend by the name of Shimon (!) reached out to him with an offer to travel together to the tomb of the great sage Rabbi Shimon (!) in the city of Meron, about 30 minutes north of his home in Yodfat.  

Oren prayed at the resting place of Rabbi Shimon and soon after, his prayers were finally answered… Oren and Nama are now expecting their first child (due in less than 2 months, G-d willing)!

We shared a joyous L’chaim and many blessings with Oren and Nama and asked them to share the good news with us in due time. Oren and Nama’s gentle sincerity and faith left a tremendous impression on us! 

Lazar Kotel.jpgAfter Shabbat, on Monday morning, Elliott was called to the Torah at the Kotel.

It was a very special moment for Elliott to be standing at the same sacred spot as his ancestors have stood, over the past 3000 years, connecting to the same Torah, as he was embracing Jewish adulthood with much love and pride!

Mazal Tov Elliott!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky

Anti-Semitism... What can we do?

Anti-Semitism... What can we do?

In recent weeks, we have experienced a wave of anti-Semitic acts throughout the USA, including a bomb threat right here at Houston’s JCC. Thankfully an arrest was made earlier today and we thank the law enforcement and all those addressing the issue from a security stand point.

What about the rest of us? What can we do?

In a bit over a week we will celebrate the exciting holiday of Purim. At that time, Jewish people spread throughout the Persian Empire, were threatened with total annihilation. The evil Haman, a despicable Jew-hater, had gained the favor of the King. Together they decreed the execution of the entire Jewish people.

Jewish people were well integrated into Persian culture. Their leader, Mordechai, held a prestigious position at the kings’ court, and had been a trusted advisor to the king for years. What’s more, the Queen herself – Esther – was Jewish!

You would think that the threat should have first and foremost been dealt with by utilizing these connections. Yet, when Mordechai and Esther learned of Haman's decree, the first thing they did was lead the community in prayer, repentance and good deeds. Only after days of fasting and introspection, did Esther use her position as the wife of the king and attempt to influence him to obliterate the decree against the Jews.

Now, if Esther wished to impress her husband, she should have gone to a beauty parlor – why was she busy fasting?

Yet, Mordechai & Esther knew that the survival of the Jewish people, despite everything they’ve been through, was miraculous. It is our connection to G-d, and His Divine Providence, that allows us to survive and thrive, despite all odds. Indeed, they certainly did utilize their influence, but that came only after strengthening their connection to G-d!

Today, while we certainly must employ every natural means to combat the ugly Jew hatred rearing its head, we must first and foremost strengthen our connection to our Judaism. Internalizing that it is G-d who is the source of all our blessings.

So let’s take action! Think of one more Mitzvah that you can improve on or introduce into your life, and take the plunge!… I am here to help, so hit me up, if necessary.


 

An annoying delayed flight?

An annoying delayed flight?

On Monday of this week I traveled to New York for the day. When I got to Hobby Airport I discovered that my flight was delayed 45 minutes due to the weather. My initial reaction was: "Ugh!"... but it did not take long for me to realize just how timely this 'schedule delay' really was.

At the terminal, I walked past a fellow wearing a necklace with a Star of David. I said hello, he was Jewish. With tears in his eyes, he told me about his recent cancer diagnosis and trip to MD Anderson from his home in Florida.

I suggested that we do a Mitzvah together. We wrapped Tefillin and prayed. His wife joined us in saying the Shema and together we prayed for a speedy recovery.

I posted a picture of us on Facebook Hobby airport.jpgand many others from around the world joined in praying for this special man (add your message to him by clicking here).

This story moved me so deeply. It also reminded me, yet again, how in the Journey of life, there are no coincidences. Each step is part of a master-plan. Usually we trudge along with that belief in the back of our minds, but some moments help to highlight and remind us of this eternal truth. 

That a 'schedule delay' can really just be an opportunity for a Jew to connect and pray for healing, and of course, experience an 'Airport Bar Mitzvah'! 

Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

 

You and Only You!

You and Only You!

I recently had coffee with a woman who expressed how insignificant her Jewish practice seemed to her.

I hear these similar sentiments all too often:

 “A packed synagogue of Jews praying may be awesome, but when I stand there, often feeling lost in the crowd, I wonder if my individual prayer even matters at all!”

The Real question is:

“Do my Mitzvot really matter to G-d? Or are they just a bunch of fuzzy, feel good, traditional platitudes?”

This sort of reminds me of another question I get all the time: “Rabbi, what’s it like having so many children?”

The answer is: “They’re a great bunch, but I only have one of each.”

As parents, we know how we infinitely love each of our children. Would we trade one in for anything? 

Judaism uses this same parent/child dynamic to explain the relationship between a Jew and G-d.

“Each Jew is like G-d’s only child.”

I one heard a story of how a 93 year old Grandmother cries every Friday as she lights her Shabbat candles. Her grandson once asked her: “Why do you cry each and every time?  I can understand if it’s a special occasion, but to tear up each time? I don’t get it…”

She explained to him that she cries each week because of what her grandfather told her when she was a little girl:

“Each time you light the Shabbat candles, G-d is present before you and answers Amen to your blessing; and after lighting them, as you uncover your eyes to welcome Shabbat, He turns to you, embraces you and wishes you Shabbat Shalom.”

“So how can I not cry?” she concluded.

I think about this story often, and now, with the Jewish New Year approaching I’d like to share its powerful message with you:

You’re not one of millions of Jewish women lighting Shabbat candles. You’re not one of millions of Jewish men wrapping those Tefillin. To our father in Heaven, you are the only one! It is you and only you.

This year, consider approaching your Jewishness with the thought that no one can light your candle, no one can give your charity or say your prayer. Only you can.

L’Shana Tova!

Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

Trouble Reembracing Routine?

Trouble Reembracing Routine?

This week, Mendel returned home from overnight camp in Michigan. And as of yesterday, all the kids started their new year at school and we are all starting to adjust back to our routine! (Check out Esty's 'back-to-school' video here)

Many other friends have also returned home this week and are getting ready to re-embrace their routines at home.

So, how do we keep it fresh even as the sights, sounds and relaxation experienced at our paradise-like vacations, begin to fade?

Here’s an idea: Try to think of small positive resolutions that can be incorporated into the daily grind and routine. Small consistent outlets to invest ‘vacation energy’ into, to bring it home and make it last! Inserting small doses of volunteerism or spirituality can really help breathe new life into our schedules, commitments and work. Try it.

My Facebook Post

My Facebook Post 

A few hours ago I posted this short message on Facebook:

Friends... Bellaire Hebrew School is in need of a new iPad for the upcoming school year, if you are up to this generous Mitzvah please send me a private message. Thank you!

Within the hour, we already had two people who came forward, one of whom already personally dropped off a brand new iPad which will be used to enhance the Jewish education at Bellaire Hebrew School.

Thank you so much to Liora and Jerry Cohen for the gift in loving memory of your dear son, Justin. This act of instinctive kindness is so heartwarming and may all the enhanced high-tech Torah learning be a great merit for Justin's soul. Thank you so much as well to Paul and Donna Silverman.

*** 

Today is the 1st day of the Hebrew month of Av; we're almost at the peak of the " Season of Mourning", when we mark the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem and other national tragedies (see below for Tisha bav program ).

The Talmud says "Anyone who has not seen the reconstruction of the Temple in their time, it is as if they actually witnessed the destruction of the Temple in their time". In simple terms, we're not just mourning a tragedy of the past, we must take responsibility to rectify that tragedy in the present.

The Mitzvah’s that we do, the Tzedakah that we give have a direct impact on the state of the world - society suffers from strife and destruction, and charity has the ability to reverse, repair and rectify that trend.

So, like the Cohen’s, you too can join in the reconstruction of the Temple, by performing an act of goodness or kindness and hopefully very soon we will witness the rebuilding of the Temple in our lifetime!

 

Do You Matter?

Do You Matter?

It is not uncommon for people, often young people, to ask themselves: "What value does my life have”? Or, they think to themselves:  “The world would be perfectly fine without me”.

Thankfully, once a year on our birthday we get a strong reminder about the Jewish perspective on the value of life!

Here it is from Esty… 


 

Elie Wiesel and my Rebbe!

Elie Wiesel and my Rebbe

Last Shabbat the world lost who President Obama called "the conscience of the world." A champion of the human spirit, a symbol of hope and an author of unmatched eloquence.
Weisel.jpg
It is not by coincidence that his family concludes Shiva as the world readies to observe the 22nd Yahrtzeit of the one whose guidance and inspiration would deeply impact Elie Wiesel, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, my Rebbe.

Their first encounter, which Wiesel called “transformative," lasted until the early hours of the morning, during which they discussed some of Wiesel’s works, and what Wiesel referred to then as his “anger at G‑d."

From their first meeting in the early 1960s, Wiesel formed a deep relationship with the Rebbe, whom he considered to be his spiritual guide and with whom he engaged in deep correspondences regarding G‑d, life after the Holocaust, issues of personal faith and family matters.

Understandably, Weisel was hesitant to marry and have children, for how can he welcome a child into a world, home to the evil atrocities that he himself was witness to. It was the Rebbe who persuaded Wiesel to marry "if you will not marry and bring more Jewish children into the world, that will be a victory for Hitler." Enough said.

Weisel recalled years later: “The greatest bouquet of flowers I ever received was from the Rebbe for my wedding.”

What the Rebbe did for Weisel, breathing new life into a shattered soul, he did for world Jewry after the Holocaust. When Jews and Jewish leadership saw a bleak future for Judaism in a post Holocaust world, the Rebbe would turn darkness into light. He encouraged his students to find a community anywhere in the world in need of Jewish education and leadership, move there, make it your permanent home and transform it into a bastion of love, pride, wisdom and Jewish celebration.

Motivated by our personal encounters with the Rebbe in our youth and by delving into his vast legacy of life-enriching teachings ever since then, Esty and I are blessed with the privilege to have responded to the Rebbe's call, making Bellaire our family's permanent home, and sharing the wisdom and beauty of Judaism with our community.

Over the next 24 hours I encourage you to glean insight and inspiration from the Rebbe's teachings and by so doing, you too can be his ambassador by making yourself, your home or office a source of Jewish inspiration to others.

Click here to learn more about the Rebbe.

Shabbat Shalom and have a great week!

Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky

Bat Mitzvah!

Mazel Tov!  

We wish a very warm Mazel Tov to Ingrid and Dr. Jacob Nurko on the occasion of their daughter Andrea's Bat Mitzvah; to be celebrated this evening at The Shul. 

This week the Torah reminds us about true Jewish spirituality. Sometimes when we think of connecting to G-d, we imagine it being limited to Prayer, Torah study or rituals. In truth however, authentic Jewish spirituality must also reflect itself even in our most mundane daily encounters and experiences: Being a 'Mentch', helping others, holding the door open, passing the salt and smiling - are all examples of true integrated spirituality!

Andrea, a graduate of the Bellaire Hebrew School, exemplifies this Jewish ideal to the maximum. She spent many months deep in study in preparing for this special day, growing her knowledge in Torah and Judaism. Yet, with her super caring heart she is always sensitive and kind to anyone around her in need, always there to help with a nice word or a helping hand.

Mazel Tov to the entire family and Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

The Shul’s Inaugural Gala Dinner was a magical evening and will surely be remembered forever! The positive energy, feelings of love, friendship and solidarity were felt by everyone in the room.

We congratulate Mauro, Steven, Andrea, Kenny, Erika and Mannie for their well-deserved honors and we thank them for their devotion and love. We look forward to celebrating many more beautiful occasions together.

We were thrilled by the participation and address by Ambassador Danny Danon.

Words alone cannot adequately express our feelings of gratitude towards each and every one of you we have had the privilege of getting to know over the past five years. Thank you for welcoming us so warmly to the community. Thank you for joining forces with us in our efforts of sharing the joys of Judaism with every individual in our community. Thank you for all that you do to help The Shul and its mission to grow and expand, enriching the lives of thousands of people with the message of goodness and kindness to all.

If you are proud of the amazing success of the first five years of The Shul, you might as well turn around and pat yourself on the back. You are The Shul of Bellaire.

We could not have done this without the outstanding leadership of our Gala Chairs Dana and Kenneth Katz, who skillfully led this effort together with an amazing, selfless group of people who made it all happen:

Karen Feldman, Elyse Freed, Nancy Freed, Courtney Haas, Roslyn Haikin, Jacquie Jaffe, Julie Kaplow, Sharon Katz, Monique Kaufman, Diane Kraitman, Donna Lane, Dionne Miller, Deborah Rose, Ellen Taer, Ilana Unterhalter, Denise Yudovich, Jennifer Zach, Nephele Zimmerman.

Thank you as well to Elisheva Golani (Photography), Abraham Hakakian (Plants N Petals), Sholom Laine (The Print House), Syma Levy (Oulala!), Rabbi Betzalel MarinovskyLevi Marinovsky (MKT), Randy McKinney (Photography), Ruchie Stillman (coordinator), Jenny Tavor (Catering) and a very special thank you to Stephen Zimmerman (La Colombe d’Or).

FACEBOOK PHOTO GALLERY

WEB PHOTO GALLERY

HONOREE & SMILING FACES VIDEOS

Feature on the International Chabad News site CLICK HERE

Presidential Greeting here.

Shabbat Shalom! 

Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky

 

Own it!

Own it! 

Can you think back to the most recent time you received a beautiful new gift? The thrill of unwrapping, receiving a kind gesture and being pleasantly surprised...

Surely, you’ve also heard the analogy of how the Torah (G-d's manual for life) is the greatest gift which G-d has given to the Jews. While this is certainly the right idea on some level, in essence, the Torah is more like an inheritance than a gift.

Why? Gifts are given for a reason (usually). An inheritance is automatic. It’s a birthright.

The Torah is “Morasha Kehilat Yaakov” – The inheritance of every Jew and each Jew has an equal share and ownership of this most awesome inheritance!

I always loved this idea, and feel so empowered by Torah study for this very reason: More than unwrapping a gift, I am taking ownership of my inheritance.

«First Name or Friend», I invite you to join me this Thursday for the incredible “Jewish Course of Why”. Through this 6 week course we will explore 50 fascinating Jewish questions that will entertain, illuminate and inform.

The truth is, it’s yours already, so why not own it?

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER 

 

An Empty Menorah?

An Empty Menorah?

Chanukah begins this Sunday evening, is your Menorah ready?

Typically we use a Menorah that has eight candle holders (plus the shamash). But in the first few days the Menorah always seems very empty and incomplete. Wouldn't it be more logical to kindle these flames in single candlesticks, so we can avoid that empty feeling?

Here’s the deal, the Menorah brings together two perspectives 1. Focus on the present and 2. Aspirations for the future. Successful growth - spiritual, intellectual or emotional - must always combine two very different approaches. On the one hand we should always appreciate the infinite potential of our soul and its unlimited capacity to grow into something much greater than we are now. True growth is not just a small token improvement, but rather a fundamental dramatic change of mindset and attitude. On the other hand, we cannot implement this change in one go. While the ultimate goal is drastic change, it has to be accomplished by taking one step at a time. 

This is the lesson of the Chanukah Menorah. We light one small flame at a time, representing small and responsible steps. At the same time we stare at the empty candle holders, reminding ourselves of the greater goal.

See y’all on Monday at the Bellaire Chanukah Festival!

Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

 

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