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Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Will The Real Yaacov Haber Please Stand Up!

Someone recently thanked me for an inspiring story that I posted on . After graciously accepting the compliment I inspected the website to learn that indeed I did not report the story at all; it was the other Rabbi Yaakov Haber. Yes, there is another Yaakov Haber, who tends to spell Yaakov with a ‘k’ rather than a ‘c’. Thank G-d, Rabbi Haber is a wonderful Talmid Chacham so when people mistaken me for him it is always an upgrade. Anyway, I read the story and was duly inspired, so I thought I would pass it along. Thank you Rabbi Yaakov Haber.

The story concerns an American Oleh of some time ago who is a Rav Tz’va’i, an Israeli army Rabbi.

As the soldiers got the call for the ground incursion last Shabbos, the Rav, together with his colleagues debated the halachic permissibility of their riding with them to the embarkation point to provide moral support. They compared this case to a husband traveling with his wife in labor to the hospital which is permitted according to many for similar reasons. They went and took a Sefer Torah with them for Mincha (presumably also for morale boosting purposes). When they arrived, the Rav, after exiting the bus, requested of a soldier to pass him the Sefer Torah from the bus to minimize the prohibition of carrying. After waiting a while with the Torah not coming, the Rav re-entered the bus to find each soldier hugging and kissing the Sefer Torah not wishing to part with it. Finally when they left the bus, one Rav was wrapped in a Tallis, the other held the Sefer Torah, looking like Kohanei M’shuchei Milchama perhaps. The soldiers one by one approached the Rabbanim asking for b’rachot. (Mostly the secular , not the Yeshiva boys!) Due to time constraints and the great demand, the Rabbanim spread the Tallis over a group of soldiers’ heads as on Simchat Torah and blessed them all together. Some soldiers told the Rabbanim that their presence strengthened them more than all of the professional talks they received from their commanders earlier! As the soldiers entered into Gaza, the Rabbanim, with Torah in hand, called out after them, “Hashem Imachem!” (Hashem is with you) “Y’varech’cha Hashem!” (Bless Hashem) and passages from the Rambam’s directives in the Mishnah Torah to Jewish soldiers. The soldiers, in turn, turned back to kiss the Torah as they passed it.

Posted on 01/14 at 02:41 PM • Permalink
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Monday, January 05, 2009

It’s The Least We Can Do!

Last night my son Eliyahu was in a taxi in Yerushalayim on a “Your man in Jerusalem” mission and the driver shared with him his beautiful simcha. His wife had given birth to a baby just two weeks earlier.

During their short conversation the taxi driver received a phone call from the Israeli Army. He was instructed to report for reserve duty on a particular corner of Jerusalem at midnight last night, where he would be taken into the Gaza Strip. He told Eliyahu that he is a tank driver and an expert in the area of the Gaza Strip battlefield. He also told him that his name is Yaakov ben Tikva. Eliyahu said he will keep him in his prayers. I have been doing the same.

During the Second Lebanon War my wife Bayle said to me that everyone of us that is not actually fighting the war should adopt one Israeli soldier to care about, pray for and study Torah in his zchus.

Today I learned that thanks to the wonders of modern technology the mechanism has been put into place and “Operation Tefillah, Torah & Troops,” has been launched. Endorsed and guided by Rabbi Simcha HaCohen Kook, the Chief Rabbi of Rehovot, Israel, and the Bostoner Rebbe (Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Horowitz) of Har Nof, Israel, people from around the world are partnered with soldiers in the IDF. Each person who takes part in “Operation Tefillah, Torah & Troops” is paired with an Israeli soldier, and is responsible to say tefillot (prayers), learn Torah, and do special acts of chesed (kindness) on behalf of that soldier.

Rabbi Kook and the Bostoner Rebbe note that this concept is one that has been a part of the Jewish people for thousands of years. When Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) led the Jewish people to war with the nation of Midyon, for every person who went to battle, there was a designated person who was responsible for praying and learning for him. Throughout his reign, David HaMelech (King David) utilized this practice as well.

To participate in “Operation Tefillah, Torah & Troops” and receive the name of an Israeli soldier who needs your prayers,
send an e-mail to the office of Rabbi Kook at

Every tefillah makes a difference! It’s the least we can do.

Posted on 01/05 at 09:00 PM • Permalink
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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Klal Yisrael at Risk

A preview to an interview with Horizon Magazine

by Yisrael Rutman

Rabbi Yaacov Haber has for many years been one of the most creative forces in Torah education. He was National Director of Jewish Education for the Orthodox Union, and founder of the Australian Institute of Torah and the Torah Center of Buffalo. He is also one of the founding members of AJOP, the Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals. Presently, he is Rav of Kehillah Shivtei Yeshurun in Ramat Beit Shemesh and head of TorahLab, which furnishes materials for adult education.

Horizons: I just recently came across another warning against the dangers of the internet to the spiritual wellbeing of our children. Maybe we can begin our discussion by asking how much is the internet to blame for “kids at risk”? Or is that merely scapegoating?

Rabbi Haber: The internet has proven to be capable of a great amount of damage to Jews of all ages. However, it is important to remember that the internet is a reality. There will come a time in the not-so-distant future when it will be impossible to pay a bill, bank, make a phone call or even turn on a light in your house without using the Internet. Instead of forbidding the Internet and non-kosher cell phones, it would seem to be more prudent to teach students how to interact with the Internet responsibly. If we were to forbid everything that we can use the wrong way we must include cars, mp3 players, and for that matter---women! We have to be very careful with internet technology---but forbidding it is not the answer in the long term.

When a teenager leaves us for a more exciting lifestyle, we have to ask ourselves why they are not finding that excitement in our homes and communities. In his remarkable sefer, Tzav V’Ziruz, the Piacezner Rebbe teaches an important lesson in education: Nature abhors a vacuum. The sustenance of the neshama is regesh (emotion). The neshama wants to be filled with a regesh of kedushah. If it doesn’t find kedusha, it will search for any form of regesh, even violent or disgusting regesh. We have to fill our children’s neshamos with healthy Torah regesh. Then the urge to look elsewhere will disappear.

H: So it’s we, the parents and teachers, who are responsible for “kids at risk”?

RH: I don’t think the issue is “kids at risk.” That expression is used because it makes us feel good. It implies that it’s the kids’ fault, that something is wrong with them. The underlying assumption is that the system is okay, just something went wrong with this or that kid who “fell through the cracks.” Really, the opposite is true. They are being pushed through, not cracks, but gaping ditches and huge holes. We have to decide if we’re willing to lose them.

H: You make it sound as if we were making a conscious decision of some kind to send them away…

RH: That’s right. They are lost by design. Our educational system is elitist. It caters to the brightest students. Most teachers do not pay much attention to the average and below-average students. Those who do not excel academically are offered no option. Everything is stigmatized. To tell a kid to get vocational training is tantamount to calling him mentally retarded. Or in Israel to serve in the army, is like telling him he’s a failure. The kids understand this and feel rejected. They say to themselves, “I don’t see myself in this system, so I’ll find my own way.” They find their way on the streetcorners of Har Nof and Ben Yehuda.

H: How did this elitism come about?

RH:  There was a decision made after the Holocaust that Yiddishkeit in the U.S. and Israel has to be rebuilt. And that meant producing gedolim, the next Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the next Brisker Rav. And I’ve heard it said that it was understood, perhaps even stated at the time, that since not everybody is going to be a gadol b’Torah, “we are going to have to lose a few.”

What took place over the next forty years was the rise of an elitist system. When I was growing up and went to school, the teachers would speak to the average student, trying to involve and reach everyone in the class. But in an educational system geared to the elite, the teacher cares primarily about the geniuses, certainly not the slower students.

In this system, there are certain known yeshivos at the top, and everybody wants to get into them. From the earliest years, parents and their kids are aspiring and planning to achieve acceptance in those elite schools. The teachers and principals are also caught up in it.

Nor is the issue only one of getting into yeshivos. Even for those in the ‘right” yeshivos, they must have highly trained and capable eyes to learn about each individual talmid and advance him according to his unique potential. The yeshivos all advertise that they cater to the individual. But do they?

H: What reaction do you get when you say things like this?

RH: They admit it’s so, but they say, “What can I do? If I lower my admissions standards, then the parents won’t send their kids to my school. And if I don’t get the best students, I’ll lose my standing with the yeshiva ketanos.” The yeshiva ketanos are in the same bind, having to provide the top students for the yeshivah gedolos, who will accept nothing less. Certain yeshiva high schools offer virtually automatic entry into the elite yeshivos.

H: And naturally parents are ambitious for their kids and want the best for them.

RH: It’s an issue of shidduchim too.

H: An elite shidduch for an elite school graduate.

RH: No, it’s getting into the top yeshiva in order to get the best shidduch. And, of course, that translates into financial support for the future rosh yeshiva who will continue learning in kollel. There’s a joke going around that they want to lift the ban of Rabbeinu Gershom against having more than one wife, because the financial situation being what it is, you need two fathers-in-law to provide support…

I want to emphasize that nothing I am saying here should be taken as a criticism of Gedolei Yisrael. I have the greatest respect for them, have never I made a serious move in my life without consulting gedolim. And they understand that we have to address the needs of all the children. For example, HaRav Aharon Leib Steinman shlit"a endorsed the establishment of Nachal Charedi (a special Israeli army unit for the Torah-observant, which affords boys who do not see their future in Torah learning to discharge their military obligations in a suitable environment prior to entering the work force---Y.R.)Rav Shach zatza"l advocated a quota to ensure the acceptance of Sephardi boys in the Lithuanian yeshivos. They fully realize that Jewish education does not exist for any one group.

Throughout history, Gedolei HaDor that were faced with unusual challenges used Hora’as Sha’ah (emergency measures) to save the day. Often a Horaas Shaa requires a sacrifice of the individual for the Tzibur, but they did what they had to do. From Hillel to the Rambam to pre-war Europe, “work” was never considered a dirty word and was always the option for the majority of frum Jews. The question for today’s Gedolei HaDor is, “Given today’s realities, is it time to go back to tradition, or should this be a permanent change in the culture of Judaism?”

H: Here’s a stupid question: Why not assemble all the educators whose fault it isn’t, and have them decide all at once together a broader admissions policy so that nobody loses standing relative to anyone else in the competition for the top students?

RH: Well, there’s a problem with achdus.

H: Oh.

RH: You know, not everybody can be the tsadik of the generation. Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twersky tells of a discussion he once had during a visit with the Steipler Gaon, whom people often consulted for medical advice. Since he had heard that Rabbi Twersky was a psychiatrist, he inquired about medications for mental illnesses.

“Is anything available that can cure someone from delusions?” asked the Steipler. Dr. Twersky replied that there wasn’t much in the way of medicine for delusional thinking.

“But what if someone has the delusion that he is the greatest tzaddik in the generation?” the Gaon asked.

“No medication can cure that,” Dr. Twersky laughed.

The Gaon shook his head sadly. “Too bad,” he said. “That malady is so widespread.”

H: Sounds like the system is designed to spread the malady.

RH: You know, I would say that it’s not “kids at risk, it’s “Klal Yisrael at risk.” I have worked with hundreds of so-called “kids at risk.” Most of the time these young people are the cream of the crop.  Adel, sweet, caring individuals. The kind that, if you say “Well, I have to be going into the city now,” they’ll immediately offer to give you a ride. And it’s often because they are not aggressive or bullying by nature that they are swayed by bad influences, make bad decisions. But they are good kids.

You have to ask yourself : What would happen if they would not fall through the cracks? They have tremendous potential and a role to fill in the Jewish people. There are so many different mandates: tefilah, chesed, writers, administration, etcetera. In an eltist system, these are all b’dieved. But is that really the emes? No one should be an extra. Everyone should feel needed and important---because they are. This is how Yaakov Avinu spoke and blessed all of his children before he left this world: “Each man according to his blessing did he bless them.”

So, if we allow them to fall thorugh the gaps, Klal Yisrael loses. So it’s not just a matter of saving this kid or that kid; but of saving Klal Yisrael. As I said, we have to decide if we can afford to lose them.

H: Do you have a solution?

RH: Well, the beginning of a solution starts in our description of the problem; we have to change the terminology. Calling them “kids at risk” only exacerbates the problem because it makes it sound like they have an illness. Somebody actually suggested that if one in ten children fall into this category, it could be that they are the same one in ten who suffer from learning disabilities.

We need to create options, without a stigma, to encourage respect for ba’alei batim, for people who work and are not roshei yeshivos. And if there’s someone who can start a school which is not elitist, that would, of course, help.

H: Thank you, Rabbi Haber.

RH: Thank you.

Posted on 12/14 at 09:58 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ordained By The Shoah

Here’s a story as it appeared in the New York Jewish Week as part of an article entitled “Ordained By The Shoah” by Steve Lipman

A stranger who called Rabbi Yaacov Haber in Buffalo had an unusual accent and a more unusual request.

The stranger, a minister in the Hungarian Reformed Church, wanted to meet to discuss the “Old Testament.”

Rabbi Haber, spiritual leader of a small Orthodox synagogue and director of an educational outreach center, usually was wary of possibly missionary-inclined Christian clergy. But he invited the stranger – the rabbi, who now lives in Jerusalem, calls him Rev. Andre Fekete, a pseudonym, to protect his anonymity – to his study.

Why are you so interested in Jewish scriptures, Rabbi Haber asked.

“I’m Jewish,” Rev. Fekete answered.

“What do you mean you’re Jewish?”

Rev. Fekete explained – raised in a secular Jewish home in Budapest, he and his sister were sheltered in a convent on the outskirts of the capital after the Nazis occupied Hungary in 1944. Bar mitzvah age then, he stayed in the convent after liberation and converted to Christianity; he eventually married a Jewish girl who also had been protected by the nuns, became a minister in the Hungarian section of the Protestant church, moved to the United States after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, took over a pulpit in Buffalo, and struggled with his Christian faith.

Then he read an article about Rabbi Haber and requested a meeting.

The day after his first meeting with Rabbi Haber, he went to a class at the rabbi’s Torah Center of Buffalo. He kept going for more than a year, attending Shabbat services at the Saranac Synagogue and becoming a frequent guest at the Habers’ Shabbat meals.

The more he learned about Judaism, the more Rev. Fekete came to doubt the tenets of Christianity. He and his wife raised their children, he told Rabbi Haber, without a religious tradition.

How did he preach on Sundays without mentioning Jesus?

“I listen to your sermon” on Saturday “and I say it over in Hungarian” the next day, Rev. Fekete told the rabbi.

He began coming less frequently to Shabbat services, to avoid driving on Shabbat.

Finally, tired of “living a lie,” Rev. Fekete left his church. He quit his job, and with his wife, a nurse, opened a nursing home in a wealthy suburb of Buffalo.

Before he died about a decade ago, Fekete, no longer a reverend, lived as an identified, if not a fully observant, member of the Jewish community.

“He definitely lived as a Jew,” Rabbi Haber says. “He definitely died as a Jew.”

Posted on 11/13 at 05:24 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Grandfather From Izmir

This is a story about my mothers father Eliyahu Canyaz that I heard as a child. It was recently beautifully written by Pesi Dinnerstein and published in Small Miracles of the Holocaust: Extraordinary Coincidences of Faith, Hope, and Survival. I would like to share it with you.

“Bonjour, Monsieur Canyaz. Running a little late today, aren’t you?”

“Bonjour, mon ami. Yes, running a little late, as usual.”

Eliyahu Canyaz was a familiar figure on the streets of Marseilles, traveling from home to home, a bit behind schedule most days, delivering fresh eggs to his Jewish and non-Jewish neighbors. An exceptionally tall and stately man, clean-shaven, with his beret tipped slightly to one side, he looked as if he could have fit comfortably in either world.

But any Jew living in France in 1942 knew exactly which world he belonged to. Hitler and his steadily advancing army made certain of that.
Eliyahu, however, needed no reminding.

An Orthodox Jew whose life was totally immersed in his religion, he never forgot for a moment who he was or why he was here. Even in these difficult times, his commitment remained unshaken.

Originally from Turkey, Eliyahu and his family found a warm and welcoming community of Sephardic Jews in Marseilles. Here, he also found the most beautiful synagogue he had ever seen in his life. And seeing was not something that Eliyahu Canyaz took lightly.

Even with his bottle-thick glasses, he could barely recognize a figure two feet in front of him. Nevertheless, within his limited circle of vision, he managed to engage in most of the meaningful activities of his daily life. With a considerable amount of squinting and repositioning, he was usually able to see his family and friends, the customers to whom he sold his eggs, and the holy books with which he studied and prayed every day.

Beyond that point, however, the rest of his world seemed to be enveloped in a shadowy cloud of haze, a sad fact of life which Eliyahu endured with relative equanimity. Except, that is, when it came to his synagogue. Not being able to experience the full richness of its beauty was profoundly disturbing to him.

He knew that the synagogue was magnificent, embodying the simple elegance and fine craftsmanship of another age, an edifice worthy of the spiritual treasures it contained. And he appreciated the special beauty of each element--the delicately arched windows, the hand-carved wood, the translucent tiles of polished marble, even the graceful chandelier spiraling down from the cathedral ceiling, far beyond the reach of his sight.

But, more than anything, he longed to see the majesty of his synagogue in one grand, expansive sweep; a never-experienced panoramic view. Instead, he had to settle for a series of individual close-ups, each frame disconnected from the next, as he drew near enough to bring the scenes, one by one, into his narrow sphere of vision. Only in his mind’s eye did all the fragments converge into a single breathtaking picture.

Although Eliyahu would never be able to see the synagogue as others did, he dedicated his life to caring for it and preserving its sanctity. Eventually, he became the official shamesh, the person who enables the synagogue to function spiritually by attending to all of its physical needs. In the Sephardic community of Marseilles, this was a position second in importance and holiness only to that of the rabbi; and Eliyahu took the responsibility very much to heart.

Orthodox Jews meet three times a day in the synagogue for prayer, and Eliyahu--although not generally known for his punctuality--made certain that whenever the congregatlon arrived, the large wooden door was unlocked, the tea kettle was boiling, the chairs were neatly arranged, and the service was ready to begin. Even as Hitler’s troops marched steadily through France, Eliyahu saw to it that the synagogue offered comfort and refuge to the Jews of Marseilles.

But by 1942, there was little left for Jews anywhere to call their own. And, so, it should have come as no surprise that one day, as the men of Marseilles approached their synagogue, they were greeted by a large sign announcing that the building had been officially confiscated by the Nazis and would henceforth be used as a clubhouse. Expected or not, the news came as a crushing blow.

However, a curious thing happened. Several weeks passed, and the Nazis never returned. Whenever members of the community walked by, they saw that the building was obviously not in use. But, still, to risk their lives and go in....No one was ready to do that just yet. Until, one day, Eliyahu couldn’t bear it any longer.

Determined to reclaim his synagogue at any cost, he showed up early one morning, as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, and started to prepare for services. Little by little, inspired by his courage, the members gradually came back. The Nazis, it seemed, had forgotten all about this building and gone on to bigger conquests. Before long, the men were once again assembling for prayer three times a day, and Eliyahu was busy attending to their needs. Many months passed with no disruption. Life seemed to have returned to normal.

But, as history has since taught us, for the Jews of Europe in the 1940’s, life would never return to anything even remotely resembling normal.

The day that would forever be remembered by the Jews of Marseilles began, as any other, with the men walking together to the synagogue and chatting pleasantly along the way.

“Spring is in the air this morning, Avraham, don’t you think?”

“Oui, Binyomin. Any day now, I’ll be planting my garden. I can already taste the tomatoes. An early spring this year, for sure, wouldn’t you say, Yaacov?”

“Non, non, mes amis, not just yet. Winter, I’m afraid, will return once more.”

Slowly, the men walked into the synagogue, stopping, as Orthodox Jews traditionally do, to raise their right arm toward the ark that holds the sacred Torah scrolls and, then, to touch their fingers to their lips, signifying their love of G-d’s holy words. Each man then donned his tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries), opened his siddur (prayer book), and began to recite the morning blessings, the sweet harmony of their voices echoing gently throughout the room.

Suddenly, without a second’s warning, the heavy wooden door crashed open. Before anyone had time to react, a group of enraged Nazis in full uniform burst into the sanctuary, with rifles raised and ready to fire.

“Jewish cockroaches!” they screamed. “How dare you defy our orders and trespass upon our property?!”

The Jews of Marseilles immediately found themselves surrounded, with no chance of escape. Shouting at the terrified men in French and German, the Nazis tore the prayer shawls from their shoulders and pushed them to the back of the synagogue.

At that moment, the large wooden door began to open once again, but this time the movement was extremely slow and deliberate. A tense silence filled the room, as all eyes turned toward the entrance. No one knew whether the door was being pushed by Nazi sympathizers, armed Partisans, or more unsuspecting Jews. Whoever walked in, however, would surely see a sight never to be forgotten--a historical synagogue of legendary beauty about to become a blood-stained dot on Hitler’s map.

Finally, the door opened all the way, and in stepped the one person incapable of beholding such a sight.

Eliyahu Canyaz, totally oblivious to what was transpiring, did what he usually did when he arrived a bit late. He stood quietly in the doorway, gently placed his boxes of eggs on the floor, and raised his right arm toward the Torah scrolls. In that moment, two antithetical realities collided, and an unexpected miracle was produced.

In Eliyahu’s reality, he was entering the synagogue that he loved and that he risked his life three times a day to care for and pray in. And, as he always did, he lifted his arm in the direction of the ark to bring his mind and body closer to the Torah, to link heaven and earth in the service of G-d.

But the Nazis existed in a separate reality. When they looked at Eliyahu stepping through the door, they saw a tall, beret-clad Frenchman, whose only purpose in coming to the synagogue was obviously to deliver eggs to the Jews. And in his arm-raising gesture of connection to a higher world, the Nazis saw an unmistakable salute to their Fuhrer.

“Heil Hitler!,” they shouted to a startled Eliyahu, as they raised their arms and sharply clicked their heels in response.

Before Eliyahu could fully grasp what was happening so far beyond the range of his vision, one of the Nazis called out to him in French, “Leave immediately, Monsieur! You have no reason to be here.”
Without a word, Eliyahu Canyaz turned and walked away. As he stumbled toward the street, he began to pray intensely for all of his friends trapped inside. Then, with tears streaming down his face, he thanked G-d for helping him to escape--and, in the process, for answering the one question that had haunted him for as long as he could remember.

Now, at last, he understood that, rather than being a curse, his poor eyesight was, in fact, a very special blessing. It was, after all, only because of his virtual blindness, coupled with the distorted vision of the Nazis, that he was still alive. And it was also, perhaps, only because of his selfless devotion to a synagogue he could never fully see, that G-d chose to make it the site of the miracle through which his life was spared.

Posted on 10/23 at 06:54 PM • Permalink
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Monday, September 29, 2008

Exciting New Beginnings

Rosh HaShanah is tonight and I’m actually very excited about it. I love change; I love the opportunity to begin anew; I love new people and new challenges and I love Rosh Hashanah.

What’s new?

First of all we have a new granddaughter. Reb Moshe and Ester Malka Becker gave birth to a brand new baby girl on Shabbos in Yerushalayim. By the time Shabbos ended the new baby already had a name, Naama, inspired by the beautiful view of the sun setting over Yerushalayim ushering in a new Shabbos and an all new and precious neshamah.

Second, this evening I begin my new position as Rav of Kehilas Shivtei Yeshurun in Ramat Beit Shemesh. I am very excited about the opportunity to teach and lead a community of young families that don’t seem to have anything on their mind or agenda other then growing in Torah and becoming close to Hashem. A rabbi’s dream!

Of course that means that this year, with G-d’s help, we will be moving into a new home, (which is really nothing new to us being our eighteenth move!)

Most important is the new year - 5759. Life is not one long continuum. Every year on Rosh Hashanah Hashem positions us anew. He gives us the chance to start fresh - what can be happier then that?

I wish all my friends a year full of fresh new blessings full of peace in your families, in Klal Yisroel and in the world.

Yaacov Haber

Posted on 09/29 at 02:28 PM • Permalink
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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Georgia, Russia and Bnei Brak

From my research it seems this story is verified and true. This is an article in this mornings Jerusalem Post.

Aug 12, 2008 16:57 | Updated Aug 13, 2008 1:22
Georgia’s PM asks for rabbi’s blessing

Georgian Prime Minister Vladimer (Lado) Gurgenidze made a special call to Israel Tuesday morning to receive a blessing from one of the haredi community’s most important rabbis and spiritual leaders, Rabbi Aharon Leib Steinman.

The nonagenarian rabbi from Bnei Brak, known as the father of the yeshiva world, acquiesced to Gurgenidze’s request and blessed the Jewish community of Georgia “and all who live in that place.”

According to Steinman’s followers, shortly after the rabbi uttered the blessing Russia announced a cease-fire with war-torn Georgia.

During Tuesday’s morning prayers, Rabbi Shimon Bruk, the chairman of the Israel branch of The Council for Saving Lost Jews (Hava’ad L’hatzalat Nidchei Yisrael), a haredi organization that builds educational institutions in Eastern Europe, received a phone call from Georgia.

“I was in the middle of my prayers so all I could do was grunt into the phone,” recalled Bruk.

“Shortly after I finished praying the amida my phone rang again. ‘This is Prime Minister of Georgia Vladimer Gurgenidze speaking. You brought me a letter from a man named Stumen [sic]. Is he still alive? I’ve heard that he is a holy man. I want him to pray for us and our state.’”

Bruk said he had met with Steinman around noon on Tuesday and presented Gurgenidze’s request to the rabbi.

“There were a lot of raised eyebrows when shortly after Rabbi Steinman made the blessing, we heard about the cease-fire,” recalled Bruk.

Bruk had met with Georgia’s prime minister in March to thank him for his support for Jewish educational institutions built in Georgia by the council. During the meeting Bruk presented Gurgenidze with a letter from Steinman in which the rabbi referred to the Georgian government as a “regime of loving-kindness.”

Steinman’s letter is reportedly hanging on the wall of Gurgenidze’s office.

The council has been operating in Eastern Europe since before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

In Tbilisi, Georgia, the council runs a nursery school, two grade schools, a yeshiva for boys and a high school for girls. Many of Tbilisi’s Jewish educators and rabbis, including Chief Rabbi of Georgia Ariel Levine, are products of the local educational institutions.

... and from YNET: “You can’t ignore the fact that during the precise moments in which the meeting took place at Rabbi Shteinman’s house, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced a ceasefire,” the Vaad’s public relations representative, Betzalel Kahan, told Ynet.

Posted on 08/13 at 03:14 PM • Permalink
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Monday, August 11, 2008

The New Way To Teach Torah

Yesterday, Rabbi David Aaron, Rabbi David Fohrman and I taught Torah online. Nothing new about that. To be sure there are hundreds of online shiurim and MP3 downloads available to anyone in the world with internet acsess.

What was different about this program was the interactivity. As I spoke questions and comments came pouring in in real time. It was a conversation without borders and without any geographical limitations. There were glitches, but as those glitches appeared I told myself that I have to become more comfortable with the features and controls of the software; the technical end has to be polished up a bit; and the program itself needs some improvements. (It would be much easier if the participant questions would come up in a font someone over the age of 20 can read.)

I believe we are ushering in a new era of Torah learning. We are creating an environment, not only where people can hear words of Torah and even see their teachers, but where everyone can join the conversation of Torah and make their contribution.

Thanks to my friends Rabbi Refael Butler, Ricky Magder and Afikim for giving me this wonderful opportunity. Let’s do it again!




Posted on 08/11 at 05:17 PM • Permalink
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Friday, August 08, 2008

An Exciting New Initiative

There is nothing I love more than being part of initiatives that bring Jews together.

The Internet is a tool, that when used correctly, can do just that. The good people at Afikim have put together a system wherein thousand of Jews can interact and study Torah together. This Sunday, Tisha B’Av, I will have the privilege of being part of a beta seminar which you too can tune in to. Scroll down and join the crowd!

Project Sinai is beta testing their new and exciting technology that will allow us to deliver regular live and fully interactive classes that allow you the viewer to participate in the class with me directly.

Note that not all the links on Project Sinai are active as of yet.

Thanks for participating with us.  We look forward to your feedback. 


Posted on 08/08 at 01:05 PM • Permalink
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Friday, July 11, 2008

In Honor of Henna Gittels Wedding

There is no greater nachas then when your children not only listen and appreciate your Torah but expand and improve upon it. In this essay I present my son Rabbi Sender Haber of Norfolk VA. who spoke in honor of my daughter, Henna Gittel’s wedding, which took place in Jerusalem overlooking the Har HaBayit. It was not only an amazing view but an amazing spiritual experience. Thank G-d.


Rabbi Sender Haber

There is a mountain in the Talpiyot neighborhood of Yerushalayim overlooking the Har Habayis and the Makom Hamikdosh. It was called, for many years, “The Hill of Evil Counsel”. This was the location of the summer home of Keifa where Jesus was allegedly sentenced to death. Much later, the British Mandate built a palace there as a residence for the governing rulers.

Most importantly, this was the place where 3,683 years ago Avraham Avinu stopped on the third day of his journey to sacrifice his son Yitzchak. He tied up the donkey and left his servants Yishmael and Eliezer behind, as he continued up to Yerushalayim with Yitzchak. Rashi explains that it was at this spot that the test truly began. The Akeidah ceased to be an abstract concept and became a reality. The Torah records that Avraham stood there and “saw the place [of the Kodesh Hakodoshim] from afar”. The Medrash writes that Avraham Avinu saw the Shechina, the divine presence, as he caught his first glimpse of Har Habayis.

Last week, my sister got married on that exact same mountain high above Yerushalyim overlooking the Makom Hamikdosh.

Under the chupa my father explained that when Avraham gazed at the Beis Hamikdosh before making the last part of journey he saw the Shechina in a way that it can only be seen from afar. Like many things in life, when we look at the Shechina and the actions of Hashem from up close they are not always clear, but when we see them from afar we are able to see a broader, more understandable picture.

It was specifically from far away that Avraham was able to see the Shechina and it was in this way that Avraham Avinu drew strength to continue on his journey. By looking at the big picture, he realized that by overcoming his own overwhelming trait of Chessed, by overriding his own perception of right and of wrong, he could pass a test that would impact the world as we know it and affect all of his children and grandchildren for thousands of years.

Human nature is to judge good and bad, possible and impossible by the way we see it up close as it is happening. Hashem doesn’t see things that way. Hashem plans for our greater good, he looks at the big picture.

When something tough is going on it is hard to see the silver lining. Nachum ish Gamzu was able to say ‘Gam zu Letovah’ or ‘this too is good’ but most people will find it easier to follow Rebbe Akiva’s model of taking a step back and realizing that ‘Everything that Hashem does is for an ultimate good’.

In Parshas Chukas, the Jews in the desert complained to Moshe (again) and were subsequently attacked by snakes. People were dying and Hashem commanded him to put a copper snake on on a stick. If someone was bitten and looked at the snake, they would live.

The Mishna finds this incredible: Can a snake make someone live or die? After all, they were dying because of their lack of gratitude and their constant complaining; the snakes were just the messenger. The Mishna clarifies that, indeed, it was not the snake that caused life or death: if a Jew turned to Hashem and placed his hope in Hashem he would live; if he did not, he would die.

The commentaries ask the obvious question: Why put the snake on the stick at all? Why didn’t Moshe just instruct the Jews to put their faith in Hashem?

The Nefesh Hachayim writes, based on the Ramban, that this was an exercise in faith. The nature of a person who is dying of a snake bite is to become completely consumed by the issue at hand. Everywhere he looks he sees snakes, he dreams of snakes and he thinks about snakes constantly. He cannot think of anything other than the snake.

Sometimes something happens in our lives and we become obsessed and think only about it, to the exclusion of anything else in our lives.

The problem with the Jews’ in the desert was that they didn’t look at the big picture. They forgot that there were coming from the worst place in the world and going to the best place in the world; they only saw their momentary pain could not stop complaining about the lack of food.

Moshe wanted to teach the people to realize that the uppermost issue on a person’s mind is not necessarily the most important one. He told the people dying of snake bites to stare at the snake, look it straight in the eye, and say “it is not the snake that decides whether I will live or die; it is Hashem”.

When we are confronted with a situation and we cannot get past our initial justified feelings of hatred or of despair, we need to force ourselves to see the big picture.

Shalom means peace, but it also means perfection. After Davening and speaking to Hashem about our many needs, we take three steps back and realize that ultimately there is a bigger picture. He who makes everything perfect on high can also make every perfect for us and for all of the Jewish people.

Hashem sits on high, yet He lowers himself to watch and look out for every person and every creation in the heavens and the earth.

In the same way, we need to develop the ability to look at all the little things – to sweat the small stuff. At the same time we need to be able to take three steps back and, like Avraham, gaze from afar and see the Shechina.

Posted on 07/11 at 10:06 PM • Permalink
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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

My New Book!

Exciting News! We are very proud to announce that my new book “Sefiros” is at the printer and it will be released next week!

Given my general obsession with finding new tools for spiritual enhancement, the counting of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuos was a natural fertile territory.

Even at its simplest historical level, during these 49 days the People of Israel needed to transform their mentality from slavery to freedom. They had to stop being ordinary and start being kingly. They had only a short time to get ready to become a light to the nation and a moral example to all. These forty nine days became the key to what it means to be a Jew.

We can take advantage of this dynamic energy every year. The Kabbalists helped by teaching us how during each one of the forty-nine days we receive a specific energy through one of the sub-categories of the Sefiros.

Together with my colleague here at TorahLab, Rabbi David Sedley, we discussed, expounded, argued and analyzed every sefirah and sub sefirah and tried to figure out what it means in terms of practical deeds for the day.
Call someone you don’t like calling; dress a bit more modestly; do something for your community school etc. etc. The book was beautifully designed in sefirah multi-color by our own very talented Daniella.

By keeping the 49 day program, by the time Shavuos comes around we should be ready to accept what it means to behave like a Jew.

Sefiros is published by TorahLab and will be distributed in the United States by Judaica Press. It is available at for an introductory price of $19.95.

We think it is the perfect Pesach present for anyone who wants to experience the spirituality of this awesome time of year.

So, if you are interested in understanding accessing and utilizing the awesome days we are about to approach, please order your copy of Sefiros today.

Posted on 04/01 at 02:46 PM • Permalink
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Thursday, March 20, 2008

Jerusalem Needs Help

I’m just making the final rounds Erev Purim to try to help some very worthy and needy families here in Yerushalayim. I bless you with all the wonderful brochos of the Torah. Shalom, gezunt, parnosa, nachas!

As Purim approaches I have been receiving desperate calls from families that just can’t make it on their own. In years past your contribution has made a real difference to them and their children.

All funds raised will be distributed on Purim day to hard working, honest people that I know personally. None of your charity money will go into overhead expenses. We absorb the cost of processing credit cards so whatever amount you give goes directly to help someone in need. Making your contribution in advance of Purim allows me to distribute the funds more efficiently. Please help me help these families. Please make your contribution now.

This is a wonderful opportunity to fulfill the Mitzvah of Matanot L’Evyonim.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

To contribute online: click To email a contribution,

To call: (VOIP) 212 561 5131 or + 972 2 644 7308. 

To shmooze with Rabbi Haber: Dial + 972 52 539 5216 (Israel is 6 hours ahead of the United States).

Posted on 03/20 at 08:05 PM • Permalink
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Monday, March 03, 2008

I Hit the Kid! part 2

Everyone is asking for the end of the story.

Friday afternoon, right before Shabbos the kids ran downstairs to my study to tell me ‘the boy is here - the boy is here’.

I came upstairs to find my smiling little friend supported by crutches eager to meet me in perhaps a less engaging fashion. His father, who was standing beside him, explained that they just wanted to show me that ‘everything was okay - Toda La’El.’  He explained to me that I shouldn’t be alarmed by the crutches, the doctor just wanted to keep the pressure off his knee for a couple of days. He thanked me for the plate of candy I sent over the night before. He told me that they were so thrilled with the gift that they all put on Kipaot and together made a Brochah on the candy. It was a celebration of G-ds kindness to them.

He then shared with me a remarkable thing. He told me that from his window he watched his son run wildly down the steps to the street to catch his bus. As he watched the boy run, for the first time that he could remember, he found himself uttering a prayer. ‘Please Elokim - Shelo Tidros" (G-d! Make sure he doesn’t get hurt by a car!) Seconds later his son got hit by my car!

I told the father that I was so wondering what was happening in the Heavens that this boy merited such a miracle. Was it zchut avot? Was this child a future leader of the Jewish people ? Suddenly I understood. His father uttered a prayer.

Does a story ever end?

Yaacov Haber

Posted on 03/03 at 09:00 PM • Permalink
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Friday, February 29, 2008

I Hit the Kid

Yesterday I experienced the worst moment of my life.

At about 7:55 AM I was driving at a normal speed peacefully down a street in Jerusalem, close to my home. I had driven this street a thousand times before. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a twelve-ish year old boy ran into the street to catch a bus on the other side. He ran right in front of my car.

I hit the boy!

This is not a mashal or a fictitious dramatization to introduce a dvar Torah – I hit the kid! Everyone’s worse nightmare just happened to me. My brakes screeched, I felt the impact, I heard a scream, and the boy went out of my sight. I was afraid what I would find as I got out of the car.

The boy was lying on the ground crying and shivering. He looked at me and said: ‘slichah’ (I’m sorry).

I didn’t know exactly what to do. As I pulled out my cell phone to call an ambulance a crowd of neighbors (my neighbors) gathered, cars stopped, Hatzoloh arrived, his mother arrived in her bathrobe and I was sitting on the ground trying to comfort the child. Within minutes an ambulance came and took Gilad to Hadassah Hospital.  All the judges of the block, including the boy’s mother concurred that I did nothing wrong and that the kid ran straight into traffic. The boy’s mother told me to go home; I left her my phone number and I couldn’t stop shaking.

If you have ever had a doubt that every child has his own angel watching over him, your doubt should end here. My colleague, Rabbi David Sedley, helped me find the mothers cell phone number. I was afraid to call because I was afraid of what I would hear. I called anyway.

“Please don’t worry”, the mother explained to me in Hebrew, “When he fell backward he fell onto his back pack so his head was protected and his neck wasn’t whip lashed. He has no breaks or fractures, no sprains and no cuts. He’s a bit shaken up but he should be fine by the evening and be able to go to school tomorrow. Thank you for comforting the child and telling him he wasn’t bad. Please don’t worry – we’ll be in touch.”

Last night I sent the kid a tray of candy and apparently I had a much more difficult time sleeping than Gilad did. But for the chesed of Hashem … who knows? This situation could have turned out so much worse. Boruch Hashem!

I’m racking my brains. Why did this happen to me? What is the message? What is G-d trying to teach me?

Maybe it’s this: Hitting a child with a car is a very real thing. That moment of impact flashes back into my mind every few minutes. But what about when we insult children? What about when parents or teachers say hurtful things to children that may stay with them for years? What about when parents and teachers do things wrong and shift the blame onto children?

Gilad went to school today but I woke up with a new awareness of the value of a human being. I realized that the more subtle impact of abuse can sometimes do more damage than a Mac truck. It can take far longer to get over. I resolved to drive even more carefully and be more careful with what I say. I will try to do something, even something small, to make sure that we are all more aware of the impact we can have on the delicate physical and spiritual makeup of our children.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Posted on 02/29 at 01:14 AM • Permalink
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Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Friend Jerry Weisberg

“Behold! The dreamer is coming!”

 Since the time of Yaakov Avinu dreamers stood apart. Yosef dreamt and shared his dreams. His holy parents held him in prophetic esteem; his own brothers held him in disdain.  Some saw in him a leader of men with a new dream and a fresh horizon while others couldn’t tolerate change or were overcome with a crippling sense of jealousy.

 Twenty one years ago I was a kiruv worker in my home town of Buffalo, New York. We founded an organization called the Torah Center of Buffalo and little by little a community grew and people from all walks of life joined in.  At that time there was no name for my profession, except for Chabdnik – which didn’t describe me very well. I wasn’t affiliated with any group or movement. For me and the handful of others in my situation, there was no organization to turn to; no chevra to exchange ideas with and to help shoulder burdens; and no funding available from anywhere to help promote the changes in the Jewish people I prayed for everyday. The few of us that were doing community outreach suffered identity crises, loneliness and poverty. 

And then the phone rang. Deep in the middle of a snowy Buffalo winter I received a phone call. “This is Jerry Weisberg – I’m staying in the Red Roof Inn and I’d like to meet with you tonight”.  I didn’t know who Jerry Weisberg was or exactly what he wanted to talk about but following a hunch and a kiruv axiom to never say ‘no’ I found myself sitting across the table with him in an undersized motel room in Buffalo.  He came to help. He told me about Sanford Bernstien, about men and women across the country that were doing similar work to mine and about the possibility of some sort of convention that would bring Kiruv Professionals (this was the first time anyone ever called me a professional) together in one place to talk. As he described his search for men and women with a ‘fire in the belly’ I realized that it was Jerry who was on fire. As he spoke about bringing together people with a dream I realized that Jerry was the dreamer. 

We became friends. My loneliness ended as Jerry introduced me to people around the country. Jerry never missed an opportunity to help me. The Avichai Convention was a hit of historical proportions. There were attendees from the field that broke down in tears as they watched individuals become a community and kiruv become a respectable profession before their very eyes. At that convention outreach suddenly became an option alongside teaching and rabbinic positions. Together Jerry and I pulled together ten good men and with the backing of Avichai founded AJOP. The Association for Jewish Outreach Professionals still exists today, but that’s not what is really important. What is important is that today, Boruch Hashem, the mainstream Yeshivah world is involved in outreach activities on university campuses, in out of town synagogues, in youth groups and where ever G-d is found. Kiruv has become a profession and its workers have become professionals. People in kiruv are not as ignored, not as lonely, and not as poor as they used to be and to a large degree this is because of the dream of Jerry Weisberg. 

As it was with Yosef there were dissenters, jealousy and fear and they caused much pain. But Hashem’s will endured, outreach became a force and there are thousands of Baalei Teshuvah. Hashem chose His shaliach well.  Tonight is the Shloshim for Jerry and there is much to learn from this man. First of all, don’t be afraid to dream – twenty years will tell the story.  Second, if there is a cause you believe in don’t be afraid to give it everything you’ve got. Hashem will help you succeed.  And perhaps most important, be a good friend. Everyone needs a friend like Jerry. 

Yaacov Haber


Posted on 12/13 at 05:13 AM • Permalink
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Meet Rabbi Yaacov Haber

Rabbi Yaacov HaberRabbi Haber has been a leading force in Jewish Outreach for the past 25 years. A founding trustee of AJOP, the Association of Jewish Outreach Professionals, he was the founder and director of the Torah Center of Buffalo from 1980-1990 while serving as a community rabbi in Buffalo. From Buffalo he and his family traveled to Melbourne, Australia where as a project of Kollel Bais HaTalmud he founded the Australian Institute of Torah, a national outreach and adult education program. He directed that program from 1990-1995, at which time he was sought out as National Director of Jewish Education for the Orthodox Union in the United States where he created the Internationally acclaimed and highly successful "Pardes Project."

In addition to his duties at the OU, in 1996 he replaced Rabbi Berel Wein as the spiritual leader of Congregation Bais Torah in Monsey, NY. In keeping with the position of Congregation Bais Torah in the Monsey community, Rabbi Haber was involved in issues involving the greater Monsey community, and counseled hundreds of individuals in the surrounding area.

Rabbi Yaacov Haber is the founder and driving force behind TorahLab. Through TorahLab, Rabbi Haber is bringing together educational and media specialists to create dynamic learning experiences which will be accessible to adults of all backgrounds and levels. Rabbi Haber has published numerous articles and books and is a sought after international lecturer.

Rabbi Haber and his family are presently living in Ramat Beit Shemesh where he is the Rabbi of Kehillas Shivtei Yeshurun.

Rabbi Haber can be contacted at