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Rabbi's Blog

Thoughts and Musings by Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky

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!

 

 

 

Airplane Encounter

Today I made a quick trip to New York to commemorate the birthday of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. George on Plane.jpg

On my flight I met George, an Orthodox Christian, who lives in LA but grew up in NYC. During his college years a Jewish friend of his took him to Brooklyn to meet the Rebbe. George merited to receive a blessing and a dollar bill from the Rebbe, something he cherishes until today. He flies planes as a hobby and always keeps that special dollar bill with him on his plane.

This encounter is just another reminder of how far reaching the Rebbe’s leadership and love extends, and continues to inspire, until this very day!

Join me today in doing a mitzvah in honor of the Rebbe!

 

All or Nothing?

All or Nothing?

On Rosh Hashana we are dedicated to change, to renewal. We try to make amends for the past, and start fresh for the next year. But what does change mean? Is it even possible?

In the ideal perspective, change is permanent and irrevocable. I can never go back to the way I once was. I am a changed man.

But, as we know quite well, this type of change, complete internal transformation, is not so easy. Sometimes it does more damage than good: Just knowing how hard it is to change, discourages us from even trying in the first place.

How many of us have not attempted something, because we are afraid of failure? Or given up on our dreams because we will never fulfil them perfectly? Do we look at things as all-or-nothing, and therefore don’t embark on jobs that we may never fully complete? Do we deprive ourselves of the gift of an individual mitzvah that is so dear to us, because we fear becoming ‘completely religious?’ We feel that if we don’t get it all right, we will get nothing right, and it is not worth the effort?

How many of us will not go to the gym because we can’t do it every other day? How many of us do not work on our marriage, because it will never be perfect? How many of us do not mend our relationships with family members, because there are too many demons in the closet? How many of us will not make a spiritual, moral change because it will not be 100 percent perfect?

Rosh Hashanah is here to tell us that G-d embraces every act of change. If I regret one mistake and change that, G-d accepts it fully. Any step forward you manage to take, towards a better more inspired, G-dly life, is infinitely treasured by G-d. It may be one small step by man; but a giant step for G-d.

So friends, this Rosh Hashanah make one change — for a day, a week, a month.

Whatever your struggle or challenge is, tackle it one day and one step at a time, just don’t stay in the same place you were yesterday. Broaden your horizons! Discover more! Learn more! Grow more – as a person and as a Jew.

Count each day – and make each day count!

L’shana Tova!

 

 

Our Trip to New York

Our Trip to New York

Last week I had the privilege of spending quality time in NYC, with a wonderful group of Houston friends. On Wednesday and Thursday, a group of men joined a whirlwind 28-hour ‘Leadership Journey’.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • An insightful meeting and conversations with one of the Jewish world’s leading philanthropists, Mr.George Rohr.
  • We visited and wrapped Tefillin at the renowned Chabad of Midtown on 5th Avenue.
  • A reflective visit to the resting place ‘Ohel’ of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Queens, guided by author and scholar Rabbi Shais Taub.
  • A superb dinner at New York’s preeminent Kosher steakhouse ‘Reserve Cut.’ 
    Times Sq..jpgUNSC.jpg

Highlights of the second day included:

  • An exclusive opportunity to sit in on a ‘UN Security Council’ session. We heard Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon speak, followed by US Ambassador Nikki Haley. We witnessed from up close in real time, how Israel truly is “a candle of light, in a very dark place.”
  • A guided tour of Chabad HQ with Rabbi Motti Seligson.
  • An insightful chat with Rabbi Yehudah Krinsky, Chairman of Chabad’s Global Network.
  • For Shabbat, four of us, including two women, joined 275 people from all over the country, for a beautiful Shabbaton in Brooklyn.

All participants had a remarkable experience and came home with a much needed boost of Jewish pride, a broader and deeper understanding of Judaism and the philosophy of the Chabad movement.

I am delighted to be home and look forward to seeing everyone in Shul tomorrow!

 

What If You Only Had 20 Minutes?

What If You Only Had 20 Minutes?

On Tuesday at 11:03 AM, the left engine of Southwest flight 1380 blew out. Shrapnel busted a window and tragically killed Jennifer Riordan. Our hearts and prayers go out to her family. At 11:23, captain Tammie Shults, displaying what one passenger called ‘nerves of steel’, safely landed the plane in Philadelphia.

But what happened between 11:03 and 11:23?

Media reports tell us that passengers onboard the plane, foreseeing the worst, frantically made contact with family members to say “I love you” one last time... Some even managed to buy Wi-Fi under those harrowing circumstances to text loved ones. Some said they had to prioritize who to call during their anticipated last moments.

Thank G-d for Tammie Shults, that awesome pilot who made a safe landing, but this story did get me thinking:

“What if I had only 20 minutes to live? How would I spend them? Who would I contact? And In what order? Who would I want to apologize to, or encourage one last time?”

And then I realized, why wait for the ‘end’ to do what’s most important, if I can do those things right now!

We all have important goals in life, which often end up on the backburner because of some pressing current reality. However, now and then, it’s important to recalibrate, and remind ourselves to prioritize our goals and ‘to do’ list, to truly reflect what matters most. Call your loved ones today!

Wishing you a wonderful Shabbat!

Rabbi Yossi Zaklikofsky 

 

 

We’ve Moved!

We’ve Moved!

We are very excited to be celebrating this Shabbat in the new, larger location of The Shul!

There are so many friends who invested time, energy and resources to bring us to this special moment and we look forward to acknowledging them in due time.

The objective of all our efforts is to create a warm space where any and every Jew; man, woman or child can forge a stronger and deeper bond with their heritage and with G-d.

But as it was with the first sanctuary constructed by our ancestors in the dessert, the pre-requisite to being able to draw down the presence of G-d was “Vayakhel” to gather the people together.

When we transcend our differences and unite together around a similar vision and mission, then we can create a sacred space, where every Jew feels welcomed, embraced and never judged for who they are, a space where Divine energy will be felt.

May we share many happy occasions and moments of Jewish celebration, education and pride, until we outgrow it, very soon!

 

Parkland

 Parkland

We are currently in middle of a JLI adult education course entitled The Art of Communication.  In a recent lesson we learned about the importance of Silence. Sometimes silence is the most appropriate response and best form of communication.

Human beings like to know what to say in any given circumstance. However, in the face of tragedy (G-d forbid) we really have nothing to say, we have no words… But, we are there for each other offering support, empathy and love, even without saying a word.

This comes to mind as we struggle to wrap our minds around yet another senseless act of violence, resulting in the tragic death of 17 young people... No parent should ever have to kiss their child goodbye as they head out the door to school… and never see them again…

Maimonides famously wrote: One should always view the world at every moment as hanging in the balance, equally, between good evil; our job is to be a force for goodness, to tilt the scale towards goodness.
 
Yes, Parkland is another reminder that there are forces of evil out there. Let's be sure we are always a force for good! Rather than passive despair, such a tragedy should propel us to push back; to do more in the realm of goodness and kindness, so that each of us is an even greater force for good than we were until now.
 
We pray that Hashem give strength and comfort to the families of those affected. And may we very speedily witness the fulfillment of Hashem's prophetic promise of Moshiach and Redemption, when all people will live in peace and brotherhood, and "G-d will wipe away the tears from every face."

 

Big Announcement

Big Announcement 

We are thrilled to announce that, after an extended search for the optimal solution, yesterday, The Shul of Bellaire signed a lease on a new location at 5307 Bissonnet St, Bellaire. We anticipate the move to take place in the next month or so!

The new space will unite the growing Shul, outstanding Hebrew School and all the very popular community holiday and social events, under one roof, for the first time since opening, seven years ago. This is a game-changer!

The purpose of the move is for The Shul to better accommodate YOU and your family’s needs, and this move would not have been possible if not for YOU, your generosity, friendship and encouragement. This endeavor is truly for the people by the people!

Esty and I are committed to giving our all to raise the level of Jewish awareness, pride and education for every individual in the community. This move will certainly help pave the way for even more involvement, more education and more growth, securing our bright and vibrant Jewish future! Lease.jpg

Among the many who helped bring this endeavor to fruition, there are several who took a leading role. We acknowledge and thank: Mr. Gary Davis and Family, Ron and Melissa JacobsGuillermo GuefenMarshall and Doreen LernerKenneth KatzAnn Miller. Thank you very much and we look forward to an opportunity to publicly thank all of you for being a constant source of strength and encouragement.

Mazel Tov!

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

 

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