Jewish Life Centre- LIVE

The Parsha of Curses and Perspective on Living in South Africa.

Distilled from a drosha at Chabad of Strathavon, Parshas Ki Savo, 21 Elul 5779 (21 Sep 2019). 

You need to study this week’s Parsha to gain perspective on how to live in South Africa. That’s not because this is the Parsha of curses, although I wouldn’t be surprised if people imagined that would be the SA connection. Quite the contrary, it is the Parsha that teaches us inosght into the nagging problems of modern life.

Our Parsha opens with the description of Bikkurim. Bikkurim were the first fruits that Jewish farmers in ancient Israel would bring to the Temple each year, in a ceremony of dedication to Hashem and gratitude for His blessings. Farmers would travel in groups to Jerusalem, and as the groups joined with other groups, they would form a festive parade, with music, singing and fanfare, as they approached the Holy City.

On presentation of the Bikkurim, the farmer would also read a declaration. “Ve-onisa Ve-omarta”, “You shall answer and say”, is how the Torah describes this declaration, and our Sages note that these words indicate that the farmer was to read his declaration aloud and with joy. It was a moment of profound gratitude. Every farmer thanked G-d for the blessings of his livelihood.

Only, when you examine the text of this thanksgiving declaration, you will immediately be struck by the incongruous nature of the text. Standing there in G-d’s home, as he begins to thank the Almighty for blessings, the farmer recounts, “An Aramean wanted to destroy my forefather, and we went down into Egypt…” How odd. This is a time for thanks, a time to appreciate bounty, why the need to reference tough moments in our history?

Therein lies the wisdom of this portion of thanksgiving. We are not to simply thank G-d for those blessings that we are able to see. We are to open our eyes to the blessings that emerge through challenge.

“An Aramean wanted to destroy my father”, yet that same father, Yaakov, emerged from that chapter of his life blessed- with great wealth, spiritual fortitude and the family that would evolve into the Jewish nation.

Later, that very family would be dragged into- and later still be enslaved by-Egypt, but would emerge a blessed People, G-d’s firstborn child and a Light unto the Nations.

Every year, as Jews from around Israel would converge on our holiest place, they would reiterate how gratitude is not limited to the easy, happy times, but is really about appreciating the deep growth that comes through challenges.

Further on, the Parsha offers even more insight into the challenge/blessings continuum. Moshe tells Joshua that one of the first things that the Jews will need to do when they enter the Promised Land is to publicly announce a series of blessings and curses- for those who follow, or ignore, the Torah’s instructions.

When he describes the blessings, Moshe says “And all these blessings will come to you and reach you”. The language seems superfluous- if the blessings “come to you”, surely they “reach you”?

Sometimes blessings come our way, but we don’t recognize them, so we don’t access them. We are often too busy looking elsewhere, focused on all that is wrong in life, that we don’t notice when brocha unfolds in front of our eyes. As they say, “When a door of opportunity closes, we keep staring at it so long that we don’t notice when a new door opens”.

Torah language is precise, and the term for “reach you” is “hisigucha” in Hebrew. It’s the same word used in “hasagas gvul”, trespassing. “Hasagas gvul” was when someone would move the boundary markers along his neighbour’s field, to encroach on that person’s space.

In other words, “hisigucha” could also mean “shift you”. G-d constantly sends us blessings, but if we don’t shift, we don’t necessarily access them. If we are in a toxic headspace, obsessed with negativity, we don’t see the brochos. The key to receiving blessing is to shift your position and perspective to align with the trajectory of those blessings.

You will see this message most starkly in the description of those horrific curses listed in the Parsha. After detailing ninety-eight dreadful maledictions, the Torah briefly hints at why these curses come. “Because you did not serve G-d with joy, in times of abundance”.

When you complain during good times, you close yourself to better times.

This Parsha carries the secrets to making it in SA.

First: We need to share gratitude. Not under our breath, in the privacy of our homes. “Ve-onisa Ve-omarta”- loud and in public, to truly show appreciation for what we have.

Second: We need to shift our thinking. Instead of fixating on all that is inconvenient, frightening or uncomfortable about where we live, we should focus on the positive. Walk Joburg’s streets and you’ll find a whole lot of really decent fellow South Africans (not the corrupt ones who dominate the news). Where else in the world will a beggar smile at you even when you don’t give him a donation?

People balk when I say I’ve walked many times through Wynberg to get to the “other side” on a Shabbos. Yes, it’s scruffier than ‘burbs, but the people all smile and greet you. I always get at least one Shalom (actually that’s anywhere I go) and even once had a Metro Cop smile and wish me “Shabbat Shalom”.

Third: We need to be joyous with what we do have. Someone who lives focused on what’s missing will never be happy or blessed.

When you celebrate the positive in life, you live with blessing at all times. If you are habituated to see the flaws in the systems around you, you’ll find those wherever you go. It always fascinates me how every population has something that they complain bitterly about. Americans moan about Trump, Brits about Brexit, Israelis about Bibi, South Africans about Cyril. All just as bitterly. It reminds me of the saying, “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you”.

Imagine if we could import our great-grandparents to show them how we live. They would be mortified to hear us complain. Did they have running water? We do (most of the time). How many of them ever owned a horse, let alone two? If they had wanted to travel, they needed to engage the local wagon driver- or they simply walked to the next town. Most of us have two vehicles in our garages. And we grumble about how the one is so sluggish and how many potholes we have navigate on the way to work.

Our great-grandparents worried about Cossacks and typhoid and we complain about internet speeds and overpriced sushi. Look inside your wardrobe and you’ll find more fashion than their whole Shtetl would have had (and that’s just the shoes).

The key to all brocha is perspective. Gratitude. Simcha. Things that money can’t buy and that emigration can’t solve.

When that farmer brought his Bikkurim, he’d end with a prayer, “Hashem, look down from Your holy abode on High and bless your people Israel”. “Look down” is always used in the Torah as the introduction to misfortune. Except here. When we look at the world with appreciation and gratitude, Hashem transforms misfortune into blessing.

Living on the edge

Old-fashioned fashion doesn't turn heads (unless it's a retro-style that's now back in vogue). Almost nobody would pause long enough to consider that ancient clothing could teach them something about life.

Well, everything in the Torah is a lesson. Even a cloak. If it had no take-home message, the Torah would not have mentioned it.

What, then, could you learn from the uniforms that the kohanim used to wear in the Temple? This week's Torah portion focuses on the four garments of an ordinary kohen the eight elaborate garments of the high priest.

Big deal. I mean, you may find the blue tunic or sparkling breastplate interesting, but the real question remains: "Will knowing how long the kohen's belt was really make me a better person?"

Let's look at one item from the chief kohen's wardrobe and the real-life lesson that it shares. When the kohen gadol wore his special garments, he represented the entire Jewish people> He was not only their spokesperson to G-d, but his very clothes that represented the wide array of Jews. 

One of his garments was called the "me'il", a long blue cloak with bells and woolen pomegranates on its hem. The designs at the bottom of that cloak, millimetres off the ground, represent the Jews on the fringe- the disaffected, disenchanted and the disinterested.

We may feel tempted to write off or criticise those Jews who we feel are "empty" of Judaism. Yet, the Talmud insists that even the most "empty" Jew is full of good deeds as a pomegranate is full of seeds. The pomegranates dangling from the edge of the high priest's clothes remind us that there are no "empty" Jews- and that every Jew comes into the Holy of Holies somehow.

Did you get my message?

 We are so busy, just so very busy.

Psychologists now even have a term for it. They say we suffer from "time poverty". In English, that means that we don't believe we have enough time to accommodate all the things that we want to do. 

Ironic, isn't it? In the 30's they predicted that by now we'd only work about three hours a day, because technology would take care of the rest. As right as they were, they were wrong. Technology swallows up the spare time that technology was meant to provide. 

So, we're all really hectic. That hectic that we may miss breakfast. So insane that we can't even reply to each other's messages. 

At least, I assume that's the reason so few people respond to each other. It surely can't be because people are outright rude, so it must be because we're all so busy.

The thing is, it feels disrespectful to the person on the other side of the Whatsapp. If they can tell that you're online or have read their message, and they get no response, they will be obviously feel offended. Someone captured it perfectly online: "It is easy to say 'busy' when someone needs you, but it is painful to hear 'busy' when you need someone".

Hillel used to say, "What is hateful to you, do not do to others. The rest is commentary". 

The great irony is that it's really easy to get back to people nowadays. We no longer have to compose a handwritten letter and mail it. We don't even need to allocate time for a full phone conversation to communicate. Shooting off a text response takes just seconds. Yet, in the days of snail mail and rotary phones, people managed to stay in touch better than we techno-whizzes do today.

Twenty seconds of text-response can go a long way to building relationships. 

I'm not suggesting that we should drop everything to hit reply as each new message arrives. That is simply impractical. Anybody who expects us to be thumbs-at-the-ready to respond on the spot is out of touch.

But, no response? No excuse.

I am reminded of the Mishna in Pirkei Avot that says that you only enjoy honour when you afford honour to others. Profound idea.

Ah, but maybe not every message needs a response. What if the person already knows what I think or that I have confirmed our meeting? Do I need to respond then too?

Here, we can take a page from Moshe's book. 

In this week's Parsha, Moshe is charged with coordinating the three days of preparation before receiving the Torah. In that time, Moshe had to shuttle back and forth from the Jews at the foot of the mountain to G-d at the top. He had to guide the Jews on the steps they needed to make before G-d would reveal Himself. He had to cordon off the entire mountain. He had to shimmy up the mountain for updated details from Hashem on the nuances of the preparation. And he had to gear himself spiritually to handle the biggest Divine event since Creation.

Now Moshe could well have had an excuse not to respond to messages until after all the chaos. He certainly didn't have to report to G-d, because G-d knows everything. 

Nonetheless, the Torah reports that Moshe made the trip up the mountain (pity he didn't have Whatsapp) to let G-d know that the Jews were preparing as instructed and that everything was on course for the Great Reveal.

Rashi, the Ramban and other commentators ask why Moshe stressed so much to personally communicate this information to G-d. After all, he would only be telling G-d things He already knew.

They conclude that Moshe wanted to model the importance of communication. He wanted us to appreciate that it's only right to get back to someone who has communicated with you, even if they already know your answer.

If Moshe felt he should return G-d's messages, we should do the same for each other. 

Hope you got my message ;) 

When in doubt, opt for love

In honour of Yud Shvat, 68th anniversary of the Rebbe's public acceptance of the leadership of Chabad. 

 Yale Butler caused a storm in Pittsburgh’s Jewish community. It was the early 60’s and Yale was just twelve at the time.

A creative youngster, Yale wrote a fictional column for his school’s newspaper. The article that caused a stir fantasized about Fidel Castro calling on his brothers (people with untrimmed beards) from 770 Eastern Parkway (Lubavitch World Headquarters) to help fight off an invasion of Cuba.

Pittsburgh Jews were not impressed and Yale was sharply taken to task. But, a local Chabadnik figured that instead of berating the budding writer, he’d take him to meet the Rebbe in New York. An encounter with the Rebbe, he figured, would do far more to educate Yale than lectures or reprimands.

The Rebbe greeted Yale warmly and specifically complimented his writing talent. On the Rebbe’s desk sat a copy of the offensive article. The Rebbe did not mention it.

In time, Yale became an editor for a major Jewish newspaper, eventually using the Rebbe’s talks as the basis for his weekly Parsha column. The Rebbe became one of his subscribers, and once mentioned how he had known Yale “since he was a child”.

On Wednesday, we commemorated the 58th anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership. His opening statement as the new Rebbe was: “Three loves are intertwined- love of G-d, love of Torah, love of the Jewish people.”

As the man who would lead a revolution of Jewish revival, love- not judgement- would be the guiding theme of his Jewish outreach campaign.

You may, at times, feel tempted to react harshly to a friend or family member, especially if they’ve stepped out of line. They might accept your criticism. They might not.

Show them love- even when you criticize- and you are guaranteed success.

That’s how the Rebbe responded to Yale Butler and tens of thousands like him. That’s how the Torah wants us to respond to those around us.

When in doubt- show love.

Grayston Sukkah success

Building bridges in the Parking Lot 

Patrons of the Grayston Shopping Centre were greeted by a unique interactive, pop-up Jewish

experience last week. In celebration of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, the Jewish Life Centre of

Strathavon erected a mini Sukkah in the parking lot.

Sukkot is the Biblical festival that celebrates G-d’s protection over the Children of Israel as they

meandered through the desert for forty years. Jews celebrate this festival each year for one week in

late September or early October. During that week, Jewish families eat their meals in a Sukkah, a

temporary hut with a roof made of palm leaves. Each day of the holiday, Jews perform the “Lulav”

ritual, a blessing over four plant species, that symbolizes unity and, according to Jewish tradition,

channels positive energy to all of humankind.

The Sukkah at Grayston Shopping Centre joined a decades-old worldwide network of public sukkas.

Dr Yaniv Edenburg of the Ubuntu Family Health Centre in the Grayston Centre sponsored the

project. Rabbi Ari Shishler of Chabad Strathavon’s Jewish Life Centre and his children manned the

Sukkah each day. They were inundated by Jewish shoppers who eagerly used the facility, and by

South Africans of all walks of life who used the opportunity to learn more about the Jewish

community and its faith. One passer-by excitedly shared how he had once before been stopped to

perform the Lulav ritual at a public Sukkah- exactly forty years ago, at the original “Central City

Sukkah” outside the Carlton Centre in downtown Johannesburg. His fortuitous Sukkah encounter

was featured at the time in the then Rand Daily Mail.

“We had hoped the Sukkah would raise awareness of the holiday within the Jewish community,”

Rabbi Shishler explained, “But we did not expect such overwhelmingly positive interactions with

such a wide range of people”.

Rabbi Shishler intends to make the Grayston Sukkah an annual event.

New Torah for the JLC

Hachnosas Sefer Torah Levy Rubin.pngOne of the greatest simchos for a community is to receive a new Torah. 

Thanks to the generosity of Brett & Mark Levy and Steven, Evan & Ilan Rubin and families, we will PG welcome a brand new Torah from Israel to our community on Sunday, 18th February.

One unique aspect of this Torah's journey is that a number of people battling various illnesses have had the chance to write a letter in the Torah. The donors wanted to give people the chance to bring additional brocha into their lives through the Torah, and we hope these brochos will be fulfilled. 

We'll start the event with the writing of the final letters of the Torah at the home of Dean & Sara Abro at 4pm. We'll then proceed by foot, accompanied by music, up Gayre road to the Shul. 

Upon arrival, we bring out the existing Torahs to welcome the new Torah. We continue with a Simchas Torah-style celebration, with a live band. We'll have snacks and kids' entertainment.

It is a big deal to kiss a new Torah on the day it is inducted into a Shul, so make sure to have a chance to do just that. 

New Talmud class for men

At the Jewish Life Centre, we pride ourselves in offering a diverse and exciting range of Torah classes.

On any given week, we offer over 30 classes that range from Talmud to practical parenting to personal development.

We are now excited to welcome Rabbi Aron Grinshtein to our teaching staff. Rabbi Grinshtein is young, dynamic and has been teaching and inspiring for a decade.

Rabbi Grinshtein will join our men's afternoon learning programme. He will teach Talmud in a unique fashion- sharing the concepts, rather than wading through the text. 

Rabbo Grinshtein's new class starts on the 5th February and will run on Mondays and Thursdays at 4:30pm.

Rabbi Grinshtein.png 


Chai for Chabad Strathavon


“We’re not a kichel and herring Shul,” Rabbi Ari Shishler told the crowd of 300 at Chabad of Strathavon’s 18th anniversary dinner, “Our vision is to translate Judaism into the 21st Century; to provide Judaism that is relevant, meaningful and welcoming for every Jew”.

Chabad of Strathavon started as a typical shtibel in the Shishler’s garage in 1999. At the time, many felt skeptical of the Shul’s chances of growing in an area that then had a limited Jewish population.

But, with the boom of the Sandton CBD, the rabbi’s vision proved correct and Jewish families began streaming into the area to live close to the business hub. The community began to grow and, with it, the rabbi and rebbetzin’s appetite for making a difference.

By 2009, the community had far outgrown the garage. Rather than simply renovate, Rabbi Shishler built a far larger building and launched the Jewish Life Centre. His vision included a place centre of experiential learning, a social Jewish hub and a hive of children’s activities. Today, the Jewish Life  Centre hosts over 30 classes a week and boasts a buzzing function hall and one of Sandton’s most popular playgrounds.

This past Wednesday night, the community celebrated its 18th birthday with a gala dinner, held at the centre. Popular actor and comedian, Harry Sideropoulous compered the evening, tickling the crowd with hilarious, yet powerful insights into the uniqueness of our Jewish community. Chief Rabbi Goldstein and head of Chabad South Africa, Rabbi Mendel Lipskar each lauded the Chabad of Strathavon community on pioneering a modern approach to Jewish activity and education in Sandton. The evening was both a celebration of growth and community-building, as it was a rousing call to engage every Jew in Sandton in a meaningful experience of Judaism. Rabbi Shishler highlighted that the dinner, like the Shul’s High Holiday services, did not have assigned seating, because the centre aims to provide a warm and inclusive experience of Judaism.

Laibl Wolf at Strathavon

Please join us for a weekend of mindfulness and spiritual exploration with renowned mystic, Rabbi Dr Laibl Wolf. 

Booking details here. 

Laibl flyer 01.jpg

Creative Chaos!

One of the most successful branches of the Jewish Life Centre is our Women's Circle. Always creative, always exciting, the Women's Circle never fails to amaze with its slick, engaging and meaningful programmes. 

03.jpgThis month, the Women's Circle invited art counselor, Andy Cohen to run her "Creative Chaos" workshop. Andy began the evening by sharing her struggle to cope with the premature loss of her father, and how she discovered that her spontaneous art was extremely therapeutic. 

Calling on her experience, Andy has developed a fascinating workshop that helps people acknowledge that life is unpredictable and that we need to find the positive in everything.

Andy teamed the women up to produce artwork, but had a few surprises up her sleeve. By the end of the evening, each woman walked out with a personal gift that included some of her own art, as well as a meaningful life-lesson on staying positive during the tough times.  

(For more photos, click here)

Beautiful book boost for Learning Centre

Bookshelves.jpgOne of the primary goals of the Jewish Life Centre is to create Sandton's most dynamic Jewish Learning Centre. That's why we almost 30 Torah classes a week, as well as a host of one-on-one learning opportunities. 

All that learning needs a substantial library, and this week we installed the first phase of the Jewish Life Centre library. Michael Levy, an expert craftsman, hand-fashioned two magnificent bookshelves and completed installation at the begining of the week. These bookshelves, the first two of a dozen, carry almot 1000 volumes.

Now that we have somewhere to put them, we've hauled out hundreds of books we've collected and held in storage over the last couple of years. Included in the new library are two compelete sets of the Artscroll Talmud, discourses from the various Chabad Rebbes, Parsha commentators, the Shulchan Aruch and a wide range of English publications. 

All we need now is for you to come and use these valuable resources. Check our Shiur schedule or pop in to study with a partner or simply browse a Jewish book.

If you would like to sponsor books or bookshelves for our library, please contact Rabbi Shishler

Israel, Radical Islam & Antisemitism

 The war Israel cant win 01.jpgWhy is Israel villified more than any other country? 

Why does the world seem to remain blind to growing antisemitism?

How did Radical Islam become so big so quickly?

Explore ancient spiritual secrets that pinpoint the spiritual nature of the frightening times we are living through. Discover spiritual tools we should use to overcome these challenges.

Rabbi Ari Shishler, Chabad of Strathavon Jewish Life Centre, Wednesday 18th February, 8PM.

R50 per couple.

Book here

Welcome to our new teachers

This year, we are very pleased to welcome some new talent to our teaching staff.

Braun.jpgRabbi Kevin Braun has already been teaching at Strathavon for a year, but is now starting a new Chumash Shiur for men.
Rabbi Braun studied at Ohr Somayach locally and in Israel and taught for ten years at Yeshiva Maharsha school.
He is a pilot and is involved in business.
Rabbi Braun has a knack for discovering Jewish lessons in everyday life.


Youngworth.jpgBrigitte Youngworth was born in Rhodesia to a non-religious Jewish family. They lived in the Belgian Congo and moved to South Africa in 1975. She matriculated at King David VP and studied a BA(English) at the University of Cape Town. She sought spiritual fulfilment in many different religions and philosophies, believing that she would not find it in Judaism. All that changed when she was exposed to Chabad Chassidus, where she discovered the great positivity, warmth and spiritual depth of Judaism. Today she and her husband, Robert have five children and are both ba’alei teshuva. She teaches mikvah lessons to Jewish brides, has written several children’s books and talks on ChaiFM radio on Friday mornings with Mashi Lipskar.
Brigitte will be teaching "Connected Living" for young married women. 


2015 learning programme launches

General learning promo 2015.JPGOur new and improved learning programmes launches in February PG. It includes some very exciting new classes and series' and you will surely gain a fortune from participating.

As the year progresses, we look forward to PG adding more innovative and meaningful elements to our already dynamic learning programme, so watch this space for details.

Here's a great opportunity: If you have some time in the afternoons, we'll PG have some young guys available to study with you on Mondays to Thursdays.

We're also launching our new Hebrew course, so watch out for that one too!

Tuesday nights are our women's learning night, with a new shiur by Brigitte Youngworth and our Night Sem, which begins its third year.

Thursday evenings are "Yeshivah night" at Strathavon. If you have ever wanted to study Talmud, join Rabbi Finkelstein on Thursday nights for as he and his team begin their fourth tractate!

Rabbi Kevin Braun is launching a new men's shiur in Chumash- from the beginning and Rabbi Shishler's popular Tanya is back too!  

Je Suis Juif

 Je Suis Juif.JPG


Please join us as we pay tribute to the memories of those who lost their lives last week in Paris.

The best response to terrorism is to stand strong and proudly Jewish, to add more light in tha face of darkness.

The programme on Friday night begins with Mincha & Tehillim at 6:00 p.m. We will also light candles in memory of the victims.

We will have a special tribute, followed by Shabbos davening and a beautiful kiddush.

May our public dedication to our Judaism neutralise those who would wish to harm our people. 

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