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From Zamość to Philadelphia: Mark Gerstein Recounts His Family History


Mark shares his family history, from its beginnings in a Polish city called Zamość, to his father’s first steps off the shores of the Atlantic onto Ellis Island. Playing the role of teacher and son, Mark recounts the timeline of pogroms that eventually lead his family to find a new home in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He describes his relationship to his father and the necessity of asking the important questions. He remembers interviewing his aunt Rose in her Bronx apartment, and learning stories he’d never heard before about hiding in the family garden during a pogrom and his grandfather’s eventual decision to leave their home in Zamość. In this compilation from his full interview, Mark finds meaning in his own life by discovering the past.

To learn more about the Wexler Oral History Project, visit:…

Eliezer Papo,La importansia de la tradision sefaradi para el mundo moderno


Three Partners, One plan – Program 486 – Living 
The Talmud explains that that there are three partners involved in the creation of a child – the father

WEEKLY ALIYOT: ParshatThe Rabbi’s Motorcycle Accident
The Rabbi’s Motorcycle Accident
Tevet 28, 5774 · December 31, 2013

It’s Friday afternoon in central Paris.

It’s close to Shabbat, so I get on my motorcycle and head home.

I live in France, serving as a Chabad emissary in S.-Maur-des-Fossés, a small city south of Paris.

It’s raining heavily, and the pavement is slippery. I slow down, adjusting my helmet.

Suddenly I notice a sports car entering the intersection. The driver hasn’t noticed me approaching at high speed.

The situation is dangerous, and my heart races. What to do? Brake on wet pavement at 80 km/h? I am in danger of rolling over. To continue? A collision is unavoidable.

I brake quickly. The motorcycle skids, and I fall to the ground. I am waiting for the approaching cars. Are these my last moments?

Silence. One car stops and blocks the road. I check myself for injuries. Thank G‑d, I’m fine. I try to get out the street.

A woman runs toward me. “Are you all right?” she asks in French. “Can I help you?”

“I think I’m all right,” I answer, removing my helmet. She looks surprised—perhaps not expecting a bearded man. There are not many in Paris.

“Is everything all right?” she asks again, this time in Hebrew. Now I am taken aback.

She introduces herself as Madame Katia Dahaan. “I live nearby, and happened to be passing,” she says. “I didn’t expect to see a Jew, never mind a rabbi.”

“And the Hebrew?” I ask.

“Oh, that’s from trips to Israel years ago,” she says.

Katia wants to talk, but I apologize and explain, “It’s almost Shabbat, and I need to get home.”

Katia is surprised to hear Shabbat is coming. Her reaction puzzles me. Almost 400,000 Jews live in that neighborhood; it’s hard not to know today is Shabbat eve.

“Do you light Shabbat candles?” I ask.

Katia gives me another strange look. She mutters, “No, I don’t.”

“Can I invite you to our home for Shabbat?” I offer.

“Which Shabbat?” she asks with surprise.

“Tonight,” I answer.

A smile emerges. “I don’t think I can come tonight, but I will be happy to come another Shabbat,” she says. We exchange phone numbers, and part.

Katia didn’t come that evening, nor the next Shabbat. And I couldn’t find her number, though I tried hard to locate her.

Four months pass. One morning I received a text message from an unfamiliar number.

Moments later, my phone rang.

“Rabbi? It’s Katia Dahaan. Do you remember me?”

“Of course! We are still waiting for you to come for Shabbat.”

“When can I come?”

“Please, this coming Shabbat!”

That Friday night Katia was one of our guests. She was very emotional throughout.

Others asked me who she was. I told them the story about the accident. I said, “You can say that she was a messenger from Above to help me during those scary moments.”

Katia looked at us with a smile and said, “I think it’s time for you to hear my version . . .

“I am forty-five years old and live alone. I have a sister and mother, but I haven’t spoken to them for over twenty years.

“It’s hard to be single, especially for a Jewish woman. My parents were traditional; we made kiddush, celebrated holidays and fasted on Yom Kippur. But since I’ve been living alone, I stopped observing.

“When you live alone, it’s hard to make kiddush, because there is no family to have a meal together. It’s hard to go to synagogue alone. I didn’t even have Jewish girlfriends.

“About two years ago, after years of being disconnected from Judaism, I wanted to come back to my religion. I decided to find a job in a Jewish environment. This way I’d make friends, and maybe get invited for Shabbat and holidays.

“I found a job in a shoe store in the Pletzel. All the local workers were Jewish, and I made friends.

“But there was one problem—Shabbat. On Fridays they would wish one another ‘Good Shabbat,’ and on Mondays, ask each other how Shabbat went. But no one paid attention to me. Every week I hoped for an invitation, but every week brought more disappointment.

“Almost a year passed . . . ‘Can it be that Jews don’t accept you anymore?’ I asked myself. ‘How can they be so inconsiderate?’”

Katia’s voice became choked with emotion. “I became very angry with Jews and Judaism. I decided it wasn’t for me. I left that store and found another job.

“But there still was one problem—Shabbat. Every Friday night I would remember the Shabbat of my childhood—the candles, kiddush. I thought, ‘How can I stop these memories?’

“I decided to find something to do on Friday nights. I found an advertisement for a church choir looking for singers on Friday nights.”

Silence prevailed around the table. “I was accepted into the choir, and it’s been a year that I’m singing in church on Friday nights. With a sad smile she added, “I come home so tired that I don’t have time to think about Shabbat.

“Everything went smoothly until that Friday,” continued Katia, “when I saw the motorcycle rolling over on the road. I ran to help the rider, and was shocked when he reminded me that it was Shabbat eve and invited me! And he didn’t even know me!

“You think that I was sent to you?” Katia concluded. “I think it was you who was sent to bring back my soul.”

Katia doesn’t sing in the church anymore. She spends every Friday night with us or other Chabad families.

So, it wasn’t just a motorcycle accident after all.

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By Hershy Drukman    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Rabbi Hershy Drukman serves as the Chabad emissary in S.-Maur-des-Fossés, a small city about 20 kilometers to the south of Paris.


VOICES: A Rabbi for Life
A Rabbi for Life
Tevet 28, 5774 · December 31, 2013
Rabbi David Hollander
Rabbi David Hollander

I was born in Hungary, but I came to America as a youngster, before my bar mitzvah. My father was already here—he was a rabbi in upstate New York—and he enrolled me in Yeshiva Torah Vodaas in Williamsburg. From there I went to Yeshiva University (known today as RIETS), and to Brooklyn Law School.

In 1942 I received my rabbinic ordination, and shortly thereafter became the rabbi of Mount Eden Jewish Center, which was considered one of the largest congregations in America. It was located in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium. I was the rabbi there for 36 years, during which time I was also elected as the president of the Rabbinical Council of America, and subsequently of the Hebrew Alliance of America.

David Hollander during the 1950’s

By the late 1970s the Mount Eden neighborhood had begun to change, and my congregation dwindled away. I no longer even had aminyan, and I felt that the time had come for me to retire. Why I didn’t do it has everything to do with the Rebbe.

I had known the Rebbe since 1950, when he recommended that I travel to the Soviet Union, where Jews were being persecuted. I began to visit the Soviet Union, and I did this many times. On many occasions I spoke with the Rebbe in preparation for these trips, and I’d also brief him upon my return.

Every year, on the day before Yom Kippur, I’d visit the Rebbe to get a piece of lekach, the honey cake which he handed out on that day, and also to get his blessing for the new year. But one year—it was 1985—instead of going to Brooklyn to see the Rebbe, I had to take my wife to a doctor’s appointment in Manhattan, and as a result I almost missed him. By the time I got to Crown Heights, the Rebbe had finished receiving people, and everyone had gone . . . This was an inauspicious start to my year, and I was upset.

David Hollander (third from left) on a trip to Russia in the late 1950’s

Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky, the Rebbe’s secretary, was still there, so I told him how I felt, and he said to me, “You know, the Rebbe is due back in half an hour. Wait here. I’m sure that when he sees you, he will invite you in.” And that’s what happened.

The Rebbe came, and he asked me, “What are you doing here at this hour on Erev Yom Kippur?” I told him what happened, and he said to me, “If you are worried about the blessing, don’t be—that you have already. If you’re worried about thelekach, come inside and I’ll give you a piece.”

Once inside his room, the Rebbe said to me, “I give you a blessing that you should be successful as a rabbi and as a private citizen.” When I heard that, I latched onto the words “private citizen,” and I said to the Rebbe, “Your blessing for me as a private citizen interests me, because I’m just on the verge of doing that very thing . . . of becoming a private citizen.”

The Rebbe responded, “What?! What right do you have to have such ideas? I am older than you are, and I’m taking on additional burdens!”

He didn’t leave it at that.

Later that month, I was standing in line after havdalah when the Rebbe was handing out wine from his cup. As I reached him, he reached across the table and poured some wine into my cup, and in a loud and clear voice he called out, in real Brooklynese English, “Remember—rabbonus (the rabbinate) for life!”

Printable Version

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COMMENT: Moses Believes in You
Moses Believes in You
Tevet 28, 5774 · December 31, 2013

The worst part about not keeping a good resolution is not keeping a resolution. Each time I don’t follow through, I lose a little bit of faith in myself. And I’m a resolution junkie. My latest resolution was to not look at my phone while I’m writing. Whatever and whoever it is can wait. My flow is so much more effective without distraction. Wait, wait—my phone just whistled.

When I make resolutions, they make so much sense. I’m excited by them. They promise me more effective living, spirituality and self-discipline. However, when the time comes to implement my resolution, I have to fight my inner resistance.

When I make resolutions, they make so much sense

So, while many of my resolutions have become second nature, some have yet to be woven into my lifestyle.

Pharaoh is the Torah’s paradigm for resistance to change. He was addicted to his status quo, even when his behavior became self-destructive.

Parshat Bo opens with G‑d’s instruction to Moses:

Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants, in order that I may place these signs of Mine in his midst, and in order that you tell into the ears of your son and your son’s son how I made a mockery of the Egyptians, and [that you tell of] My signs that I placed in them, and you will know that I am the L‑rd.1

Moses went to Pharaoh with the following message:

So said the L‑rd, the G‑d of the Hebrews, “How long will you refuse to humble yourself before Me? Let My people go, and they will worship Me. For if you refuse to let [them] go, behold, tomorrow I am going to bring locusts into your borders. They will obscure the view of the earth, and no one will be able to see the earth; they will eat the surviving remnant which remains for you from the hail, and they will eat all your trees that grow out of the field.”2

Pharaoh’s servants dreaded yet another destructive plague. They pleaded with Pharaoh, “How long will this one be a stumbling block to us? Let the people go, and they will worship their G‑d. Don’t you yet know that Egypt is lost?”3

Ultimately, Pharaoh was not willing to let the men, women and children leave, and the plague of locusts ensued. I’d imagine that the servants of Pharaoh were quite annoyed that he didn’t listen to them. They had a perfectly logical argument: Egypt was lost! The plague was not worth the extra national revenue from Jewish labor.

Pharoh initially conceded. He told Moses and Aaron, “Go, worship the L‑rd your G‑d. Who and who are going?”4 But when the negotiations unfolded, Pharaoh was only willing to let the men leave. Moses had made it clear that he wanted everyone to be freed, and he wasn’t interested in Pharaoh’s lame offer. Pharaoh didn’t budge, and he suffered the consequences.

Don’t judge Pharaoh so quickly. True, his decision was irrational and insensitive. But did Pharaoh have the ability to choose sensibly? Could he have decided to free the Jews and avoid this destructive

Don’t judge Pharaoh so quickly!

plague of locusts?

After all, G‑d told Moses, “Come to Pharaoh, for I have hardened his heart and the heart of his servants.” If G‑d hardened Pharaoh’s heart, did he choose freely, or was his course of action predestined?

It’s hard to believe that G‑d did take away Pharaoh’s ability to choose. If Pharaoh didn’t choose to further enslave the Jews, why was he punished? Why was the entire country punished? How could Pharaoh be held accountable for something that was out of his control?

Seemingly, Moses believed that Pharaoh could let the Jews go, if he desired as much. He warned Pharaoh, “For if you refuse to let [them] go, behold, tomorrow I am going to bring locusts into your borders.” Why would he warn a man who was predestined to reject his warning? He could have just presented the plague as a consequence: “Your country will suffer from an infestation of locusts because you refused to free the Jewish folk!”

And there was another curious dynamic that played out before the plague of locusts. Although G‑d told Moses that He had “hardened Pharaoh’s heart and the hearts of his servants,” this was the first conversation where the servants were visibly moved by Moses’s warning. They pleaded with Pharaoh to reconsider. Even Pharaoh himself began to shift and negotiate a deal for the Jews’ release. If G‑d said He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and the hearts of his servants, why did they ask that the Jews be released?

Pharaoh made many selfish, cruel choices—certainly cruel to the defenseless family of Jacob, and even cruel to his own subjects. Moses begged him and warned him. The plagues traumatized Pharaoh’s nation. Yet he wouldn’t let go; he was the king, and he wasn’t going to change his mind. So, after seven plagues, G‑d punished Pharaoh by hardening his heart. A soft heart is sensitive, in sync with other people’s needs. For a soft-hearted person decisions are not ego-driven, but conscience-driven. Now that G‑d hardened Pharaoh’s heart, he would find it even more difficult to concede his mistake and let go. “Don’t confuse me with logic,” he told his advisers. “It’s my way or the highway.”

Pharaoh was headed for a train wreck.

When we compromise our integrity, we cause something to shut down inside. When we hurt someone, our sensitivity wanes a little bit. This creates a vicious cycle of dysfunction. The Talmud says it succinctly in Ethics of our Fathers:5“One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah, and one sin leads to another sin.” Repetitive behaviors happen because our heart is naturally hardened with each bad choice we make. The first time we are destructive to ourselves or to others, we may feel sick with guilt. The second time it happens, instead of feeling worse, ironically we feel less guilty. The conscience is muffled.

In the

When we hurt someone, our sensitivity wanes a little bit

third section of the Tanya, Iggeret ha-Teshuvah, there is discussion about a person who is so far gone that it’s almost impossible for him to make amends with his Creator. He’s crossed a line that’s stripped him of his sensitivity, and it’s as if G‑d Himself doesn’t want his repentance. Of course, G‑d does want repentance, even from someone who’s violated his relationship with his Creator in the most severe manner. But G‑d makes it more challenging for him to return. He seemingly rejects the gesture of return. The returnee will have to work a little harder to restore his compromised relationship. But no one is too far gone. Not even Pharaoh.

Moses tried to pull Pharaoh out of the mire. He warned him to reconsider the Jewish plight, because he believed that Pharaoh could change. But Pharaoh chose not to push himself, and fell back to the status quo.

A Jewish leader, a Moses, believes firmly in human choice. And all humans arenot created equal; we don’t have the same choices to make. Some of us feel compelled to self-destruct, and will in all likelihood do it over and over again. Some of us get in the habit of feeling superior to other people, and that arrogance only grows with us. Some of us have been alienated from our Jewish identity for so long that it doesn’t mean that much anymore. Moses finds the kernel of free choice inside of everyone, the place of strength. Even if we don’t believe in ourselves, Moses believes in us and cajoles us to rethink our choices.6

Perhaps this explains how the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, was able to bring about a Jewish revolution in this post-Holocaust era. That shouldn’t have happened—Jewish identity should have waned. Assimilation breeds more assimilation, and Torah observance could have become more and more irrelevant. Yet I am a living product of the Rebbe’s revolution. My parents were non-observant college students when they met the Chabad emissaries at their respective universities. Eventually, they both became Torah-observant Jews. Hundreds of thousands of young Jews have had the same experience. The Rebbe’s impact on Jewish society is exponential and explosive.

The Rebbe believed that even if a Jew felt that Judaism was irrelevant, there was always a place inside where he or she cared very deeply about being Jewish. He spoke to that sensitive place, and slowly the layers of indifference peeled away.

“I didn’t want to marry him”

The Rebbe took hardened hearts and made them tender. And he led by example. He taught his students to look out for the sacred space in every Jew that can never be repressed.

When I was in the NICU with my daughter, I met a wonderful speech therapist. “Do you know Rabbi Lieberman?” she asked me.

“Of course I do!” I said.

“He saved me from marrying a non-Jew.”

“Really?” I asked. “How did he do that?”

“Well, we were dating, and it was getting serious. My parents forced me to speak to Rabbi Lieberman. I told the rabbi that my parents, my grandparents and my aunt were all pressuring me to break up with him. He looked at me with intensity and said, ‘Lauren, forget about what your parents want and what your grandparents want. What do you really want?’ At that moment, I realized that I wanted to marry a Jewish man and have a Jewish family. I didn’t want to marry him.”

Trust is a gift. It is more empowering than a thousand lessons of instruction. I’m grateful to the Rebbe for trusting that every Jew has radiant potential.

1. Exodus 10:1–2.
2. Ibid. 10:3–5.
3. Ibid. 10:7.
4. Ibid. 10:8.
5. 4:2.
6. Likkutei Sichot, vol. 6, p. 58.
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By Rochel Holzkenner    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Rochel is a mother of four children and the co-director of Chabad of Las Olas, FL serving the community of young professionals. She is a high school teacher and a freelance writer—and a frequent contributor to She lectures extensively on topics of Kabbalah and feminism, and their application to everyday life. Rochel holds an MS in Brain Research from Nova SE University.

PARENTING: The Far Horizon
The Far Horizon
Tevet 28, 5774 · December 31, 2013

To gain insight into the unique leadership lesson of this week’s Parshah, I often ask an audience to perform a thought experiment. Imagine you are the leader of a people that has suffered exile for more than two centuries, and has been enslaved and oppressed. Now, after a series of miracles, it is about to go free. You assemble them and rise to address them. They are waiting expectantly for your words. This is a defining moment they will never forget. What will you speak about?

Most people answer: freedom. That was Abraham Lincoln’s decision in the Gettysburg Address, when he invoked the memory of “a new nation, conceived in liberty,” and looked forward to “a new birth of freedom.” Some suggest that they would inspire the people by talking about the destination that lay ahead, the “land flowing with milk and honey.” Yet others say they would warn the people of the dangers and

What will you speak about?

challenges that they would encounter on what Nelson Mandela called “the long walk to freedom.”

Any of these would have been the great speech of a great leader. Guided by G‑d, Moses did none of these things. That is what made him a unique leader. If you examine the text in Parshat Bo, you will see that three times he reverted to the same theme: children, education, and the distant future.

When your children ask you, “What do you mean by this rite?” you shall say, “It is the Passover sacrifice to the L‑rd, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when he smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.”1

You shall explain to your child on that day, “It is because of what the L‑rd did for me when I went free from Egypt.”2

When in time to come your child asks you, saying, “What does this mean?” you shall say to him, “It was with a mighty hand that the L‑rd brought us out from Egypt, the house of bondage.”3

It is one of the most counterintuitive acts in the history of leadership. Moses did not speak about today or tomorrow. He spoke about the distant future and the duty of parents to educate their children. He even hinted—as Jewish tradition understood—that we should encourage our children to ask questions, so that the handing down of the Jewish heritage would be not a matter of rote learning but of active dialogue between parents and children.

So, Jews became the only people in history to predicate their very survival on education. The most sacred duty of parents was to teach their children. Pesach itself became an ongoing seminar in the handing on of memory. Judaism became the religion whose heroes were teachers and whose passion was study and the life of the mind. The Mesopotamians built ziggurats. The Egyptians built pyramids. The Greeks built the Parthenon. The Romans built the Coliseum. Jews built schools. That is why they alone, of all the civilizations of the ancient world, are still alive and strong, still continuing their ancestors’ vocation, their heritage intact and undiminished.

Moses’ insight was profound. He knew that you cannot change the world by externalities alone, by monumental architecture, or armies and empires, or the use of force and power. How many

You cannot change the world by externalities alone

empires have come and gone while the human condition remains untransformed and unredeemed?

There is only one way to change the world, and that is by education. You have to teach children the importance of justice, righteousness, kindness and compassion. You have to teach them that freedom can be sustained only by the laws and habits of self-restraint. You have continually to remind them of the lessons of history, “We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt,” because those who forget the bitterness of slavery eventually lose the commitment and courage to fight for freedom. And you have to empower children to ask, challenge and argue. You have to respect them, if they are to respect the values you wish them to embrace.

This is a lesson most cultures still have not learned after more than three thousand years. Revolutions, protests and civil wars still take place, encouraging people to think that removing a tyrant or having a democratic election will end corruption, create freedom, and lead to justice and the rule of law—and still people are surprised and disappointed when it does not happen. All that happens is a change of faces in the corridors of power.

In one of the great speeches of the twentieth century, a distinguished American justice, Judge Learned Hand, said:

I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.4

What G‑d taught Moses was that the real challenge does not lie in gaining freedom; it lies in sustaining it, keeping the spirit of liberty alive in the hearts of successive generations. That can be done only through a sustained process of education. Nor is this something that can be delegated away to teachers and schools. Some of it has to take place within the family, at home, and with the sacred obligation that comes from religious duty. No one ever saw this more clearly than Moses, and only because of his teachings have Jews and Judaism survived.

What makes leaders great is that they think ahead, worrying not about tomorrow but about next year, or the next decade, or the next generation. In one of his finest speeches, Robert F. Kennedy spoke of the power of leaders to transform the world when they have a clear vision of a possible future:

Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills—against misery, against ignorance, or injustice and violence. Yet many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single person. A young monk began the Protestant reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth, and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and 32-year-old Thomas Jefferson who proclaimed that all men are created equal. “Give me a place to stand,” said Archimedes, “and I will move the world.” These men moved the world, and so can we all.5

Visionary leadership forms the text and texture of Judaism. It was the book of Proverbs

Visionary leadership forms the text and texture of Judaism

that said, “Without a vision [chazon], the people perish.”6 That vision in the minds of the prophets was always of a long-term future. G‑d told Ezekiel that a prophet is a watchman, one who climbs to a high vantage point and so can see the danger in the distance, before anyone else is aware of it at ground level.7 The sages said, “Who is wise? One who sees the long-term consequences [ha-nolad].”8 Two of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century, Churchill and Ben Gurion, were also distinguished historians. Knowing the past, they could anticipate the future. They were like chess masters who, because they have studied thousands of games, recognize almost immediately the dangers and possibilities in any configuration of the pieces on the board. They know what will happen if you make this move or that.

If you want to be a great leader in any field, from prime minister to parent, it is essential to think long-term. Never choose the easy option because it is simple or fast or yields immediate satisfaction. You will pay a high price in the end.

Moses was the greatest leader because he thought further ahead than anyone else. He knew that real change in human behavior is the work of many generations. Therefore we must place as our highest priority educating our children in our ideals, so that what we begin they will continue, until the world changes because we have changed. He knew that if you plan for a year, plant rice. If you plan for a decade, plant a tree. If you plan for posterity, educate a child.9 Moses’ lesson, thirty-three centuries old, is still compelling today.

1. Exodus 12:26–27.
2. Exodus 13:8.
3. Exodus 13:14.
4. “The Spirit of Liberty”—speech at “I Am an American Day” ceremony, Central Park, New York City (21 May 1944).
5. The Kennedys: America’s Front-Page Family, p. 112.
6. Proverbs 29:18.
7. Ezekiel 33:1–6.
8. Talmud, Tamid 32a.
9. A statement attributed to Confucius.
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By Rabbi Jonathan Sacks    More articles…  |   RSS Listing of Newest Articles by this Author

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks is the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth. To read more writings and teachings by Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, or to join his e‑mail list, please visit
Photo by Oneinfocus. Oneinfocus is committed to educating and inspiring people on a global scale, using photography and other forms of visual technology to spread Torah, Chassidus and positive life values.
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