August 15, 2011

'Roving Rabbis' seek out elusive South Side Jews

Orthodox yeshiva students are an unusual sight near Hyde Park, but they hope to be a sign of comfort for their isolated brethren

By Andy Grimm, Tribune reporter  Click here for the article at 

August 15, 2011



It's not every day residents on Chicago's South Side see two men in Orthodox Jewish garb walking the streets. But they might see them every day for the rest of the month.

In their black suits and broad-brimmed black hats, yeshiva students Yessi Edelkopf and Shaul Wolf cut an unusual figure as they roam the neighborhoods near the University of Chicago's Hyde Park campus and parts south, seeking out fellow Jews to engage in brief conversations and perhaps to give a box of Shabbat candles.

In three days of searching, the earnest, young duo said they have greeted about a half-dozen South Side Jews. The rabbinical students have proved a spectacle so unusual, they have been asked to pose for pictures with residents who have never laid eyes on an Orthodox Jew.

"A lot of people think we're Amish," said Edelkopf, a 21-year-old from upstate New York, on Sunday.

On the city's North Side and northern suburbs, the sight of Orthodox men isn't rare, and members of the Jewish community never have to travel far for a kosher meal, religious services or even just a conversation about their faith.

Edelkopf and Wolf, a 20-year-old native of Melbourne, Australia, are two of hundreds of rabbis-in-training who spend their three-week break from yeshiva study as "Roving Rabbis" who try to connect with more isolated Jews in communities as far-flung as Guam and rural Russia.

"People get used to a way of life, and faith and religion can take a back seat," said Rabbi Yossi Brackman. "People like us come along and … talk to them, see if they want to go to a prayer group, go to services, or maybe just have a little gefilte fish."

The Jewish enclaves on Chicago's South Side once were robust, though the population thinned after World War II.

Most Jews living south of Hyde Park are in their 70s and 80s, and stayed put as their neighborhoods became increasingly African-American, said Brackman.

Since founding the Chabad Jewish Center in Hyde Park 10 years ago, Brackman has encountered many of those scattered Jews, and this year he brought Edelkopf and Wolf to help his search.

Understandably, such a scattered population can be hard to find.

"We just walk up to people and ask 'Are you Jewish? Do you know anyone who is?'" Wolf said.

One such encounter last week led to a brief conversation with a Jewish man in his 30s near the university. The man wound up strapping on a traditional tefillin and praying with Wolf and Edelkopf.

"He said he hadn't done anything religious since his bar mitzvah," Edelkopf said.

Among other techniques, the rabbis-in-training cold-call phone listings with Jewish surnames, and they have walked into an office building and checked the registry for Jewish names or businesses.

"Most of the people we call say that they're not Jewish, maybe nine out of 10," Brackman said. "I was very surprised at the number of African-Americans with the last names Levy and Cohen."




Watch news coverage of the Grand Menorah Lighting on the Bartlett Quad.  These clips were aired on the 10:00 PM evening news on Tuesday, Dec 4 2007.


And on CBS 2

Children learn to make matzah
March 31, 2007

MUNSTER — As Jews around the world prepare to celebrate Passover, local rabbis demonstrated the Model Matzah Bakery to Jewish youth who filled a meeting hall at the Jewish Federation Community Building.

The preholiday lessons, sponsored by Chabad of Northwest Indiana, were presentations especially for children to keep the traditional precept of matzah — unleavened bread — fresh, according to Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov, the director.

"A lot of what I (practice) isn't so much what I've learned through school, but what I've lived," Zalmanov said.

Since his arrival in Munster more than three years ago, the 27-year-old Zalmanov, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and an Orthodox Jew, has hosted a congregation at his home for religious celebrations.

Rabbi Yossi Brackman, from Chicago's Hyde Park area, greeted attendees and began an interactive conversation with the youngest participants. He said he would be talking about "fun stuff" — that is, the matzah-making process.

He began with a brief history lesson.

Passover recalls the freedom Israelites achieved from slavery imposed by Egyptian pharaohs more than 3,000 years ago. The Book of Exodus says God sent plagues to help Jews gain their independence.

Brackman detailed the symbolic meaning of the elements of the Seder meal. Matzah, made of only two ingredients — mayim and kemach (water and flour) — reminds Jews of their ancestors' hasty departure from Egypt.

The celebratory partaking of the matzah and wine is tempered by the eating of bitter herbs, a reminder of the struggles of bondage.

Displaying a kernel of wheat, Brackman sought volunteers for a threshing exercise. Children stepped up to pulverize the wheat into flour.

Keeping the ingredients apart, volunteers stood behind separate, tent-like partitions, then brought the flour and water together.

From there, the paste was made and taken to long tables, where the excitable children rolled out flat, nearly circular shapes.

Matzah baking in a special oven was completed, mindful of the Kosher rule that the entire process is not to exceed 18 minutes — though the day's exercise was said to be for demonstration purposes only.

"Chametz" is not a likable word and not a likable thing to the rabbis, who said the term denotes a product that has been allowed to leaven and, thus, becomes unacceptable for Passover use.

Matthew Levin, 7, who rolled his own matzah, said he learned specific preparation techniques.

"You put (the matzah) in the oven, but before that, you have to get it all 'holey,' " he said.



















Matzah ...

Wednesday, March 28, 2007 12:53 AM CDT

Times Features Writer

"Are we going to make latkes today?"

"Noooooo," was the response.

"How about Hamantaschen?"

"Noooooo," again.

Rabbi Yossi Brackman teased the 60 or so children from Temple Beth-El and Congregation Beth Israel who gathered Thursday at the Jewish Federation Community Building in Munster.

It wasn't the potato pancakes associated with Hanukkah or the cookies served for Purim the children would be making. And they knew it.

The hand flapping and body squirming began in earnest as if the more elaborate the contortion, the better the chance of being called on.

"We're going to make matzah," Brachman said.

Matzah is the cracker-type bread associated with Passover, which begins at sundown April 2.

"Passover is the eight-day celebration of the liberation of the Jews from bondage in Egypt over 3,300 years ago," said Rabbi Eliezer Zalmanov, director of the Chabad of Northwest Indiana.

"And matzah is the special unleavened bread Jews eat for Passover to commemorate their hasty departure from Egypt when there was no time to bake regular leavened bread."

All leavened products (chametz), including bread, cake, cookies and pretzels, or those that could become subject to leavening, are forbidden during Passover and must be removed from the home. Many people even store their everyday dishes and use cooking utensils and dishes that have never come in contact with leavened products.

Some people eat matzah out of habit, Zalmanov said, but lack the knowledge of how it is made and the extreme care required in its preparation.

That's why he invited Brackman to bring his Model Matzah Bakery to Northwest Indiana from the Chabad of Hyde Park on the campus of the University of Chicago.

"Matzah for Passover is made with water and flour. That's all," Brackman said. "No yeast, no eggs, no dairy."

It is prepared in special bakeries where the flour and water are "guarded" in separate storage rooms under lock and key so no contamination (leavening) can occur.

"The whole process takes 18 minutes from mixing to baking, no longer. Otherwise, there is a chance the flour will become leavened and start to rise. That's another reason why we poke holes in the rolled-out matzah before it is baked for 25 seconds in a 2,000-degree oven."

Matzah, bitter herbs and haroset are some of the traditional foods eaten at the Seder dinner held the first day of Passover.

"Seder literally means an order, a 15-step order of liberation. We begin with wine and matzah. One step is an actual dinner — meat, chicken, fish — the rest is prayer, eating matzah ritually and for enjoyment, singing songs. It can take anywhere from two hours to all night," Zalmanov said.

Francie Gerson of Dyer, the principal of the religious school for Temple Beth-El, holds a big Seder every year, inviting friends, neighbors and non-Jews.

"We try to make Passover relate to today. While we celebrate our own freedom, we remember those in other countries who are still slaves," Gerson said.

Gerson will serve chicken soup with matzah balls, gefilte fish, apricot-baked chicken, carrot ring and more (see recipes).

"But it all depends on what part of the country you're from and your family's traditions. Some people have beef brisket and chicken tzimmes (a fruit-and-meat casserole), matzah kugel pudding, and in the South, it's completely different," Gerson said.

Chabad's Chanukah Event with the Hyde Park JCC
From the Hyde Park Herald
State Senator Ira Silverstein talks to teens at Hebrew Chai
Hyde Park 2/27/2005 - Following a study session on the Jewish view on Government, State Senator Ira Silverstein was the featured guest at this Sunday’s Hebrew Chai program for teenagers at the Chabad Jewish Center of Hyde Park, IL. Senator Silverstein spoke about the challenges of being a religious Jew (and the only one ever) in the Illinois Senate.

When asked which he views as priority his religion or his politics he answered that his religion is always more important and it is that what inspires him to help the people of Illinois. He also shared with the students that Presidential Candidate Senator Joseph Lieberman (Dem. Con.) who is also an observant Jew, has always been an inspiration for him and has frequently sought his guidance in matters of politics and legislative issues. He spoke about the times he spent Shabbat in Springfield and his vote on many issues that challenged his conscience like stem cell research etc. As a senator in a district with many Asian Americans, the largest Catholic Parish and the largest Jewish population in the State the students got the feeling that it is quite a challenge to satisfy all these groups.

Hebrew Chai is a program geared for Jewish teenagers that has been meeting every Sunday since last January and frequently hosts guest speakers to talk about a variety of topics. They are also involved in social justice activities, including raising money for poor families for Passover and packing food items for the Chicago Maot Chitim Passover project.

“We were very excited to host Senator Silverstein” said Rabbi Yossi Brackman, the director of the Chabad Jewish Center, “he is a very determined person and he gave the students the sense that one can be an observant Jew and still be involved in politics and make a difference”.

8/20/04 Rabbi Yossi Brackman, Director of the Chabad Jewish Center had the opportunity to meet Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama. Mr. Obama expressed his admiration for the work of the Chabad Jewish Center and looks forward to visiting in the fall after the election. Although Chabad does not endorse any political candidate, Rabbi Brackman wished Mr. Obama much success in the upcoming election and said he felt that Mr. Obama will make a great Senator for Illinois.

Rabbi Yossi Brackman and Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama meet outside the Chabad Jewish Center on 57th Street.

12/22/03 – Chicago, IL:  In the spirit of the universal message of Chanukah,  Fifteen Rabbis from Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois presented Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich with a silver Menorah at a moving Chanukah ceremony today. 

Rabbi Daniel Moscowitz, Regional Director of the twenty-two Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois offices, and State Senator Ira Silverstein, led the delegation that met in the Governor’s office.

Each of the Rabbis had a moment with the governor who assured them that he would increase the awareness and the message of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. The governor recounted his trip to Israel as a Congressman and lauded the work of Lubavitch Chabad around the State. The Menorah was then kindled marking the third day of the Chanukah holiday, as the Rabbis joined in a festive Chanukah song.

In his remarks Rabbi Moscowitz said, “Chanukah teaches us that no matter how insurmountable the odds may seem, miracles can come to those full of faith and courage. People around the world, can draw inspiration from the story of Chanukah. Let the candles of this Menorah be the unwavering flame that rekindles the depth of our commitment and hope. May our prayers and acts of goodness and kindness, be the guiding flames that cast away the shadow of despair, as it reveals the path to everlasting peace. We wish Governor Blagojevich and all the wonderful citizens of our State much success and the ultimate blessings of peace and prosperity.”

Also present at the ceremony were: Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun, Lubavitch Chabad of the Loop & Gold Coast; Rabbi Yishaya Benjaminson, Lubavitch Chabad of Glenview;  Rabbi Yosef Brackman, Lubavitch Chabad of Hyde Park;  Rabbi Baruch Epstein, Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois Central office; Rabbi Dovid Flinkenstein, Lubavitch Chabad of Wilmette; Rabbi Baruch Hertz, Congregation Bnei Ruven; Rabbi Meir Moscowitz, Lubavitch Chabad of Northbrook; Rabbi Yosef Shmuel Moscowitz, Chabad Youth Center; Rabbi Shmuel Notik, Synagogue F.R.E.E.; Rabbi Moshe  B. Perlstein, Lubavitch Mesivta of Chicago; Rabbi Shalom Ber Tenenbaum, Lubavitch Chabad of Gurnee; Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf , Seymour J. Abrams Cheder Lubavitch Day School; and Rabbi Avrohom Wolowik, Lubavitch Chabad of Naperville.