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Rabbi's Blog

Thoughts and Musings by Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

Falling over the edge?

Social media these days is abuzz with college drop offs and of course, the mandatory first day of school pictures. Clearly, it is the season when many are venturing into previously uncharted territory.

Embarking on any venture, like a new school year, moving into a new house, starting a business or a new budding relationship is oftentimes fraught with risks and dangers, and as we know, can also become a source of anxiety.

So what is the secret to a successful transition?

The Torah tells us "When you build a new home, you shall build a fence over your roof." A fence offers definition to a space, as well as protection from the inevitable dangers of rooftops without guardrails. 

To succeed in a new venture, we should look ahead for all potential scenarios and plan accordingly.  When moving away from our comfort zone and going out into the world, various elements may test our most sacred values and convictions. Erecting a fence symbolically means to create personal guardrails to protect our integrity, honesty and morality.

Jewish wisdom guarantees us that creating personal boundaries is the best way of preventing us from “falling over the edge.”

On Campaign Trail

We are now in the month of Elul, uniquely described as the days when the ‘King is in the field’. Normally, in order to gain an audience with a president, one must go through a lengthy procedure. Long travel, waiting for an appointment which would be short and very formal. When actually in the meeting, being so overwhelmed, one may even forget to actually submit his request.

However, when the president is campaigning, he often arrives without the bells, whistles and regalia that he is accustomed to. He may let go of formalities, mingle with the people, ‘shaking hands and kissing babies’, approachable to all.

During this month of Elul, the ‘King is in the field’. G-d Almighty is more readily accessible. We need only make the effort to step out of our comfort zone, to go out and greet Him.

The word Elul is an acronym for ‘Ani ledodi vedodi li’ – ‘I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me.’ This is a reference to the two-way relationship between G-d and the Jewish people. This relationship always exists, but it is on full display during this month.

By utilizing these final weeks of the year to ‘enter the zone’, we will be better positioned for our formal ‘meeting’ on the Awesome days ahead of us.

My Time in Surfside

It is not uncommon for friends in the community to compliment us on the forthright and catchy name of our Synagogue "The Shul". I always respond by giving the credit to the pioneering Rabbi Shalom Lipskar of "The Shul" of Bal Harbor and Surfside in Miami.

During my year of study at the Yeshiva in Miami Beach in 1998, a highlight of my week was visiting Surfside/Bal Harbour every Friday afternoon, where we shared a Torah thought, a Mitzvah (or just chatted) with Jewish businessmen and women before Shabbat. This included frequent visits to Rabbi Lipskar and his magnificent, world-renowned Shul.

Yesterday, watching Rabbi Lipskar on Wolf Blitzer's CNN show, just meters away from the site of the collapsed Condo towers where the rescue workers are still searching for his congregants, he shared something fascinating:

Just last week the Governor of Florida has signed two pieces of legislation at his Shul; 1. Recognizing the Jewish run ‘Hatzalah’ as an official Emergency Service in the State of Florida, and 2. Mandating the ‘Moment of Silence’ as a part of the Public School system in Florida.

"And this morning, those are the only two things that were working."

While the experiences of the last year and a half feel like they are breaking us, the truth is, as Rabbi Lipskar explained on CNN, that "we accept it and we have to learn, as we do in our culture, resilience and to move forward because challenges don't hold us back."

Please G-d may Hashem bring miracles of salvation to all those who need it, and the miracle of redemption to a world that needs it more than ever.

Thankful in the Dark

This week we were hit with another ‘unprecedented’ event. Most of us in Houston were severely impacted by a once-in-a-lifetime storm and freezing weather. Millions were left without power and water. If you or someone you know remains in need, please reach out to me and we will do our best to assist.

Like so many others, we lost power in our home for about 45 hours. We spent three cold nights under piles of blankets, while our days were in sweaters, coats or with friends to warm up. As of late Wednesday evening, power and some water pressure have returned, though the 'boil water' advisory remains in effect for now.

This was yet another stark reminder that essentials should never be taken for granted. Even heat and water that we so rely on in the cold of winter, can be taken away from us in an instant.

In our ‘Grace after Meal’ we recite a total of four blessings. Do you know when the fourth one, a prayer of Thanksgiving, was instituted?

It was composed after the Roman conquest of Israel, as a prayer of thanksgiving to G-d, for the Romans finally allowing the Jews to bury the myriad of corpses, more than a decade after they were brutally murdered. Can you believe that? Even in the aftermath of such a horrible tragedy, when there are rays of light or comfort we ought to offer thanks to G-d for them.

Let us show our gratitude by gathering our families to light Shabbat candles this evening at 5:56, enjoy a Kiddush and Shabbat dinner together and please join us for services tomorrow morning at The Shul.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom, a great week and a Happy Purim!

Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky

New Year New Normal

New Year New Normal

It’s hard to believe that five months have already passed since the start of the awful Coronavirus pandemic. The unique way in which the passing of time is experienced under Covid, is just one more chapter that can be written into a book called: “The New Normal”.

As we approach the High Holidays, there is still no end in sight. Esty and I send our prayers to all those who lost loved ones and to anyone suffering from the virus. May G-d bring healing and comfort to you and your family.

Regardless of how you will be experiencing the High Holidays this year, here are 3 ideas that you can keep in your mind and heart as you prepare to usher in the Jewish New Year:

1. Now that many details of life have come to an abrupt halt, you are free to focus on what matters most. Your priorities, morals, goals and relationships. This whole Corona thing is actually a great ‘rebooting cleanse’ for your soul, which is the essence of the Jewish New Year. Think about it: Clearly, you are not in control. You are in G-d’s hands. So instead of panic and despair try to tap into your own deep reservoirs of faith and prayer. Yes, houses of worship may be closed this year, but you can turn your own home into a mini-sanctuary for prayer and connection.

2. The craziest thing about the Coronavirus is that you can be spreading it without even knowing it. This is a great reminder of the tremendously positive impact you can be having on the people around you, in your community. Even a small gesture of kindness, a good morning, a smile, a wave, a phone call or a text, can potentially be wildly contagious, without you even realizing it. This New Year, be a carrier of kindness.

3. This virus is having such a life altering effect on literally billions of people around the world. But here’s the thing: it began with just one person. If we flip this idea over to the positive, it really is no longer just a slogan or a soundbite, but a truth of epic proportions: “Indeed, even just one person taking one positive action can change the entire world for good.”

Also, that one person can potentially be you.

L’Shana Tova!

Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

 

Launching New Series

Launching New Series 

Before his passing, Moses spoke to the Jewish people about what their lives would look like once they would enter the land of Israel. Moses did not only speak to them in Hebrew, he also translated the Torah into the 70 languages of the original 70 nations of the world.

By doing so, Moses instituted the possibility for Torah thought to be communicated in different figurative “languages” as well.  For people of all backgrounds, lifestyles, communities, and even generations; Torah, can and must be translated to the “languages” of their understanding. Simply put: The timeless lessons of Torah need to be packaged and communicated in a way that people can relate to.

This very idea was my inspiration for launching a new weekly series on Facebook Live called: “What’s Your Story?”

On this platform, I look forward to inviting notable Houston individuals to ‘share their story’ in 30 minutes, while incorporating meaningful and life-enriching ideas, with a Jewish twist. Through compelling ‘interview style’ dialogue and personal anecdotes on life, family, business and how to make a difference, this program is sure to inform, uplift and inspire a wide audience across the community.

Click here for a playback of episode #1 with my study partner and good friend Jonathan Baliff, former President & CEO of Bristow Group, the largest helicopter company in the world. Stay tuned for more! 

Considering a Road Trip?

Have you been (considering) road tripping this summer?

On Tuesday, our family returned from a 3,600 mile road trip. Our primary destination was Michigan, where three of our kids are now in camp. We also spent Shabbat with Esty’s sister and family in Minneapolis.

Since I have made a commitment to honor my father with reciting Kaddish every morning and evening for 11 months, this trip brought me to many communities where I participated in masked prayer services, in Synagogue sanctuaries or parking lots. I was warmly welcomed at Shul’s in: Memphis, Louisville, Indianapolis, Detroit, Chicago, Minneapolis and Kansas.

How appropriate and timely for this week, as we recount the 40-year 'road-trip' of our ancestors in the dessert. For them, each of the 42 ‘small’ stops provided another perspective and layer of meaning as they moved toward their big destination, the Holy Land.

On the proverbial 'road-trip' of life itself, we often find ourselves focused on the bigger goals or destinations. This week we were reminded to 'zoom-in' to the small and often overlooked stops along the way. Insignificant as they may appear, they too have a lot to teach us. A Manichewitz stocked Kosher aisle in small town America, a Kaddish recited in a parking lot or dancing at a Car-Mitzvah, can create permanent mile-markers in our connection to G-d and our People. Sometimes the journey turns out to be more of the destination.

Drive safe!

Raise Others Up

There is a question raised about the peculiar wording the Torah uses, where it describes the daily menorah-lighting in the Temple, by Aaron the High Priest.

The Torah says: “When you raise up the flames” rather than simply: “light the flames.”

The basic explanation for this choice of wording is to instruct the Menorah lighter to actually hold the torch to each wick until its flame would be able to ‘rise up’ as a strong and independent light.

On a deeper level, this specific choice of words can be understood as a message for each individual. For each individual has their own inner Menorah flame, a.k.a ‘soul’ which has the potential to shine and illuminate the way for others. Those who provide education and guidance are compared to the ‘High Priests’ who light up this soul ‘menorah’.

A true leader or teacher, is not defined by the size or devotion of his or her following. No matter how far they may ‘trend’ or ‘influence’, a true leader is mainly defined by his or her ability to ‘raise others up’ to the extent that they can then shine brightly and lead independently. 

In our lifetime, we were fortunate to witness an extraordinary leader who did just that. The Rebbe was a leader and spiritual guide who impacted millions of people, the scope of his teachings and reach are literally unprecedented in Jewish history. Yet, to quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks: “Good leaders create followers, great leaders create leaders.” The Rebbe inspired souls to shine so brightly, that they themselves became inflamed with a passion for Yiddishkeit, and now seek to share that passion with others.

As we approach the Rebbe's 26th Yahrtzeit, (June 25th) we are inspired to continue what he started, to reach out to others with unconditional love.

When we are able to reach out with love and unity, beyond our social circles, echo chambers and comfort zones, we are empowered like never before to fix the brokenness in our world.

 

My Shiva in Isolation

My Shiva in Isolation

My last week was a 24/6 marathon of non-stop calls, ‘Zooms’, emails and messages, as I sat Shiva, in isolation, for my dear father, of blessed memory. I am still deeply overwhelmed by the enormous outpouring of love and support from near and far, as I have come to learn how each message of comfort truly makes a difference.

With the new-world-order of Corona, in-person Shiva visits were replaced by very meaningful Zoom Shiva ‘meetings’. Hours upon hours of daily Zoom sessions with friends, family and community members logging in for virtual Shiva ‘visits’.

Now that Shiva has ended, I am facing the reality that I will never be able to hug my father, discuss Torah insights with him, or speak to him ever again. I think it’s the finality of his passing that is most difficult to accept. Me and Ta Gala.JPG

Over the past two weeks my family and I have heard from hundreds of people of all backgrounds, ages and stages, who were positively impacted by my father. Rabbis, colleagues, and young students alike shared their unique anecdotes and memories of ‘Rabbi Z.’. Most compelling, were the common themes that were repeated over and over again: “He lifted people up.” “He genuinely cared.” “He was there for me in my time of need.” “He was nonjudgmental and helped me through a challenging time.”

How fortunate I am to have been raised by such an unassuming and humble ‘quiet giant’. Each testimony is so valuable and I will do what I can to incorporate my father’s lessons into my own life. Hopefully, this will help me move forward.

One of the most critical tools for a happy life is knowing how to deal with challenges. My father sure had his share of challenges, yet he was blessed with the tools and wisdom to endure them with grace. His staunch faith in G-d, determination and love, helped him embrace each day as an integral part of his life’s unique mission. He was the greatest role model and living example to all of us. All we had to do was watch. He never preached, he just lived.

I have been thinking about how timely my father’s lessons are, considering the current challenges we are all now facing, personally and communally. Here is how my father would deal with the Covid-19 reality: He would never lose his cool. He would move forward, one day at a time. He would keep his faith strong and his attitude positive. He would never allow his inner conviction to slide. I truly hope I can emulate his ways.

The Rebbe taught us, that following the loss of a loved one, our focus should turn to the teaching of Ecclesiastes: “The living shall take to heart”. I know that I will miss my father dearly, but by devoting my life to living by his example, I hope to find a measure of comfort.

Shabbat Shalom and have a great week ahead!

Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

 

Announcing Launch of Bellaire Torah Campaign

We are very excited to announce the launch of the Raphael and Lila Sinuk - Unity Torah Campaign, generously dedicated by their son, our dear friend, Mr. Jack Sinuk.

For nine years The Shul has been serving as a vibrant hub of spirituality and social activities for Jewish adult professionals and children, right in the center of Houston. A new Torah scroll is a sign of a vibrant community—a healthy community, a robust and flourishing community that is brimming with a vigorous Jewish pride. Here at The Shul, we are writing a new chapter of Jewish history: We are in the process of writing our community’s second Torah scroll.

Please join in writing history for our bright Jewish future, by generously participating in the Bellaire Unity Torah.

You may refer to the Participate page to make your selection, honoring yourself and your family or to eternalize the memory of a loved one. For any inquiries, please feel free to reach out.

We look forward to completing and welcoming the new Torah at The Shul in the coming months, please stay tuned.

With endless gratitude,
Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky

 

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Bellaire is grieving today

image.pngBellaire is grieving today. A young life snuffed out. Cesar Cortes had a whole life, a life of service, ahead of him. His family will never see him again. We are all in shock. How could this happen in our midst? Right here at Bellaire?

Firstly, Esty and I are here for anyone who needs assistance or support. Any student who feels the need to talk to a Rabbi, please reach out, whenever.

Second, when we encounter darkness and a tragedy of this nature, our job is to double down on bringing more goodness into our world, our community and our schools. I want to urge you to go out of your way today. Do something good and kind for another. Let's brighten the world today. Resolve a dispute, act selflessly to another, especially toward someone who thinks or looks different than you. Let's unite, let's begin to fix our broken world. You. Me. Now.

Is this the New Normal?


I spent a day in Brooklyn, NY this week.

This was the first time I actually felt the unsettling change in atmosphere. From the visible security beef up, to the signs in store windows, advertising: "We now carry pepper spray". We are all now asking the obvious question: "Is this the new normal?" 
 
While we don't have a definite answer to that question, we Jews are very well primed in how to respond. Aside from the obvious need for extra security and vigilance we must also send a strong message: Anti-Semites and hate filled people will never dictate or define who we are as Jews, or how we practice our Judaism.
 
We are Jews and we are proud! If we hide that fact, and cower in fear, then they have won the battle! 
 
We must not let them be victorious. Ironically, the very story of Chanukah demonstrates this message. The Jews refused to let the Greeks dictate their Judaism. They fought back against the tyranny. We need to increase in our Jewish pride at this time and never retreat! 
 
Here are a few ideas:
 
1. Get yourself a Mezuzah ASAP. The mezuzah is the Jewish spiritual security blanket and every Jewish home and business should have one. Please contact me to help you purchase one and have it posted.
 
2. Educate yourself. Become a more knowledgeable Jew! Buy a Jewish book for yourself or another, as the saying goes "knowledge is power"! (feel free to reach out for suggestions). Attend a class on Judaism, a great opportunity is the upcoming JLI course entitled “Judaism’s Gifts to the World” click here.
 
3. Go to Shul. Strengthen your Jewish identity and join with community on Shabbat.
 
May G-d bless us that 2020 be a much better year for Jewish people everywhere.
 
Rabbi Yossi and Esty Zaklikofsky

Abuzz With Activity

This week The Shul was abuzz with activity!

Friday Night Live’ was a smashing success, with a lively group of families, including many children, who joined together for a uniquely joyous and delicious Shabbat experience. We look forward to FNL next month on 12/13. This was followed the next day with Shabbat morning services and then a great day at Sunday School!

On Monday we continued with the second session of the new JLI course, with 25 registered students, the largest course ever. The ideas are powerful and potentially life changing!

On Tuesday was the annual JWOW women’s event, with lots of thought provoking ‘leadership’ ideas! For PICTURES CLICK HERE.

Last night a great group of guys gathered for the first ‘Jews, Booze and Schmooze’ of the season. We shared brotherhood, inspiration, great networking and a few L’chaims as well. Thank you so much Steven Kaufman for hosting.

The very first Jew in history, Abraham, set up the world’s first ‘Chabad House’! His tent had openings on all four sides, so whichever direction a potential guest was coming from, they would be easily welcomed into Abraham and Sarah’s tent. Like Abraham, all of us together, here in Bellaire, have created a space where every Jew is welcome. Regardless of which ‘direction’ in life they may be coming from, they all receive a warm welcome and find a space of comfort, peace and inspiration.

Esty and I are blessed to have you all as partners in this great endeavor!

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and a great week ahead!

This Morning at Starbucks

This Morning at Starbucks

I started my day at Starbucks at 6:30 AM, studying Torah with a good friend. One of the ideas we discussed helped me process an amazing experience I had last weekend.

About 7,500 people spent last Shabbat in close proximity to the Ohel of the Rebbe, marking his 25th Yahrzeit. It was a Shabbat filled with learning, prayer, discussion and warm camaraderie.

It's hard to believe that it’s been so long since his passing, because he feels more present now, than ever before. The amount of centers around the world, opened in response to his call, has doubled since then, as did the amount of men and women dedicated to this sacred mission. While the number of Jews and non-Jews impacted by his teachings and example, numbers in the millions.

This morning, David and I discussed that the name of this week’s Torah reading is Chukat. Its meaning is also , “chiseling” or “engraving.” A letter chiseled into a block of stone (like on the two tablets) is part and parcel of that stone, not a second entity grafted onto it, as is the case with a letter written with ink on parchment or paper. The engraved letter cannot be erased from the stone, at least not without damaging the stone, the connection between the letter and the stone is permanent.

Our relationship with G-d should be, not only like two entities attached to each other, but actually ‘written in stone’. Then, regardless of the circumstances, it cannot be undone.

I think more than anything else, the Rebbe exemplified a life, where a Jew and G-d are not two separate entities, but one and the same, it is our very life itself. When you achieve that, you can be a proud, observant Jew in Russia under communism, in Anchorage, Houston or Salt Lake City, just like you can be in Brooklyn or Jerusalem.

 

We're Here to Stay!

Meet Mikelos, our kind neighbor in Bellaire, Texas. Neighbor Ozd Hungary.jpg

During our first Passover here, we needed to enlist a gentile to help us with food related preps (prohibited on the holiday.) A few doors away I met Mikelos working his lawn. I attempted a 30 second crash course on the religious observances of Passover. Less than halfway through my intro, Mikelos was nodding his head with enthusiasm: “Let’s go, I’ll help you, you don’t need to say another word."

“How did you know what I wanted without me telling you?” I asked.

 

Mikelos explained: “I knew exactly what you wanted. You see, I grew up in Ozd, Hungary, and before they came to take the Jews away, I had a Rabbi who lived on my street. When I was ten years old they would call on me to do the same thing you just asked me to do.”

77 years later Mikelos again lives on the same street as a Rabbi, a grandson of holocaust survivors. We are here to stay. Am Yisroel Chai!

 

 

 

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