Monday, June 29, 2009

The Beginning of the "Goodbyes"...

There has been one aspect of the Exodus from Chicago that I have not been looking forward to and that is the saying of goodbye to close friends and family. Tonight that process began. There was a family BBQ for both sides of our families to wish us well and say L'Hitraot. It was difficult to say goodbye to many, ESPECIALLY considering that it is quite possible that unless they come to visit in Israel, we may never see each other again. THAT is a sobering that makes this move more "tactile." Then, since my brother and sister-in-law are leaving town tomorrow, we had to say our goodbyes tonight. NOT AN EASY FETE!!! It was NOT real...we are not leaving...I am not saying goodbye because I refuse to say the word "goodbye." I merely say L'hitraot, au revoir, till we see each other again. And seeing each other again, at least in a pixellated form via Skype, can happen fairly soon.

We are told that the Land of Israel is acquired with tests/trials and tribulations. We tend to think of those tests occurring IN ISRAEL...not true! These tests begin BEFORE YOU EVEN LEAVE CHUTZ LA"ARETZ...and we are going through those tests now. These are not tests that you can study for and no one can prepare you for these emotional last few days. BUT, I will say that I am very glad that we will not have to go through the entire goodbye "scene" in NY, as we do not have relatives there to come to the airport. It is tough enough doing that HERE.

Time for sleep...time to get ready for our last few days in the house. Is this really about to happen? Are we really about to head out and begin that journey to Israel, our historical and spiritual home?

I just hope we can pass all the tests that we will be taking...

Countdown: 6 days, 10 hours and 33 minutes...TICK...TICK...TICK!!!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Tough Shabbat

It is now about one hour after Shabbat has ended. I still am in a bit of a fog looking back over this Shabbat, as it was my last as Rav of KJBS. In what was a very emotional day, I gave my last speech (see below), gave my last Dvar Torah at Seudah Shlisheet and gave my last class (after 10 years) of Mishne Berura. I found myself MANY times over this Shabbat reminiscing about the last 10 years and the various speeches, incidents, happy times and sad times. I truly can not believe that this has come to an end. While it is a day I had long anticipated, I did not know exactly how I would feel today. I also had no way of predicting how people would "feel" today nor how the reactions would be.

Giving the speech was a most surreal experience and I still do not believe I am past that point already. It was quite emotional for me, and I "kept it together" for most of the time. While I could give a lot of other insight into my feelings and thoughts of this day, I think that it would be TOO personal a reflection, so I have chosen to merely post the speech in its entirety below, instead.

One note...I was SO overwhelmed by the number of people in Shul this morning and how many came for this Shabbat who do not daven here....only to share in the experience of the last Shabbat! I appreciate everyone who was there!
Who would have thought that on January 22, 1972, when I celebrated my Bar Mitzva and spoke at this very pulpit, that one day I would be standing up here saying goodbye to the Shul I so love!
Allow me today to make my remarks as personal as possible. Please forgive me in advance if I find it difficult to say some of these words today, as it is one of the most difficult speeches that I have ever had to give. The truth is that I have been writing this speech in my head for the last couple of months, in anticipation of this morning.

I find it hard to believe that I stood before you exactly two years ago this Shabbat to announce our Aliya. Many questioned why I went public so early, and I told them then that the time would fly by. Little did I know HOW fast the time would truly go.

Before I make some parting remarks, I want to share with you a Dvar Torah that I feel is quite appropriate for today.
If we look at the Parasha of LAST week, the parasha dealing with the Meraglim and then look at today’s parasha, we see clearly that there is a common denominator to that may NOT seem so clear on the surface: That common denominator is the power and potential of the INDIVIDUAL. Let’s look back to last week.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of men, Moshe Rabbeinu sent 12 men to check out the Land of Canaan. Twelve...not a platoon..not a garrison...twelve men. These 12 men return and ten of them give a scathing report about the’s no eats its inhabitants. Based on the testimony, as it were, of these 10 people, the Torah tells us:
וַתִּשָּׂא כָּל־הָעֵדָה וַֽיִּתְּנוּ אֶת־קוֹלָם וַיִּבְכּוּ הָעָם בַּלַּיְלָה הַהֽוּא
The entire nation cried about this report. They had been totally and overwhelmingly influenced by the statements of these spies...but they were just 10 people! This land that G-d had promised to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov...suddenly, this land was sub-par and not worth inherting, all due to their perceptions.
The scene, so to speak, shifts to Kalev ben Yefuneh. When he opens his mouth, everyone listens to him as well. But how does he “get their attention”? As rashi tells us:
צווח ואמר, וכי זו בלבד עשה לנו בן עמרם, השומע היה סבור שבא לספר בגנותו, ומתוך שהיה בלבם על משה בשביל דברי המרגלים שתקו כלם לשמוע גנותו, אמר, והלא קרע לנו את הים והוריד לנו את המן והגיז לנו את השליו
The people were all MORE than willing to be swayed by more “dirt” on Moshe. Potentially swayed and again, merely by one person.
And back up a minute! When the Meraglim went to Canaan in the first place, we see Moshe daven for Kalev...just Kalev...that he should not fall prey to the influence of the others. But Kalev was just one man.

Look at the END of last week’s parasha: Miriam speaks Lashon Hara about her brother Moshe. Do you think for a minute that NO ONE had spoken Lashon Hara in ALL of the Bnei Yisrael besides Miriam!?! Were they such big tzadikim?? Yet, the Torah, due to her position and familial connection spends a number of Psukim on this such an extent that we look at this particular incident to teach us certain rules about Lashon Hara. BUT...Miriam was just one person!

And look at today’s reading: ONE MAN...Korach...he is able to foment the very first uprising and potential schism in the Jewish people. As the Midrash tells us, he went around like a modern day politician trying to rally the troops all night long before his showdown with Moshe and Aharon.

בדברי ליצנות, כל הלילה ההוא הלך אצל השבטים ופתה אותם, כסבורין אתם שעלי לבדי אני מקפיד, איני מקפיד אלא בשביל כלכם, אלו באין ונוטלין כל הגדולות, לו המלכות ולאחיו הכהונה, עד שנתפתו כלם
"All night long, Korach tried to win the shvatim over. All night
He swayed hundreds of people to rise up against MOSHE! Again, he was one guy...not a platoon...not a guy.

And the truth is that if you look ahead over the next few weeks, you see this pattern continue! We learn about Bilaam, who seems to have the power to curse or to bless an entire nation; we see Pinchas single-handedly stand up for the honor of the Jewish people and the honor of Hashem and have such a profound impact that Hashem rewards him by making him a KOHEN!

And why is it that we seem to see these narratives one after the other at this juncture in the Torah? Because the Jews were on the verge of entering the land...twice! Once, based on the original timing promised in Mitzrayim. Then--as we go further into Sefer Bamidbar and then into Devarim--the second time as the next generation is actually poised to enter.
It is precisely at these junctures that we need to see the power of the individual. While they travelled in the dessert, they were one large nation with no official “territory.” BUT, they would now be entering the Land of Canaan and each be given their “turf.” After that, the charge would have been to build the Bet HaMikdash. At that point, there could have been all kinds of feelings by individuals that they are now part of some huge “corporation” and would lose their identity as they become a part of a more segmented population. “I live in the area of Dan and YOU live in the area of Nafatli...I wouldn’t be caught DEAD in YOUR area!” Each one’s individual identity potentially could become more and more DILUTED at this point.
It was for this reason, in my opinion, that the Torah gives us SO many narratives at this point about the influence of the individual. However, while giving us these pictures, we also learn an even greater lesson: it is when the INDIVIDUAL works WITH the population and not AGAINST the population that he is most succesful. Yes, says Hashem, you are an individual and you CAN influence my people (YES YOU CAN!)...but it needs to be on MY terms and following MY rulebook...then and only then will you be successful as you enter the Land of Canaan as my people.
Congregation KJBS is about to enter its next phase of congregational life. KJBS is about to move to new ground. It may be that some people will sit back and be satisfied with the status quo. Some may feel that they have nothing to contribute, after all “I am only one person.” I think that this is exactly the point of these multiple narratives of individuals.

Each of you, here at KJBS, CAN indeed make a difference. While this sounds like a speech that can be given at the begining of the tenure of a Rabbi, I am actually using this concept as I take leave of the Shul.

The Gemara in Brachot says:
אל יפטר אדם מחבירו אלא מתוך דבר הלכה, שמתוך כך זוכרהו.
While what I am saying today may not SEEM like Halacha, I feel that indeed it is. It is the Halacha that helps to encourage the Kedushat bet HaKenesset and its growth as a Makom Torah. If I am not remembered for anything else at KJ, I hope that I will be remembered as someone who encouraged each and every individual to make his or her mark on this Mikdash M’at.

Which brings me to the toughest part of the speech today...the “good-bye” aspect. While I know I will stay in touch with many of you and that I will hopefully see many of you in our new home in Israel, I also know that this coming week may be the last time I see many of you. It also marks my last speech at this pulpit.

Over the last 10 years, I have given well over 1000 speeches here and outside the shul. I have tried to teach, instruct, educate, enlighten, guide and uplift all of the members and members of the Chicago Jewish community. I have made every effort to do all of this to the best of my ablility. There have been mistakes that I have made along the way and for those publicly ask you all for Mechilla. But at the same time, it is very gratifying to see all of the GOOD that we have accomplished together.

I am sad and I am excited.
I am happy and I am nervous.
I am in turmoil, yet I am at peace.

This is a natural outgrowth of the monumental move we are about to embark upon by making Aliya. I am leaving behind family, friends, community and students.

While I never looked upon my position as one of POWER, I do hope that in some measure, I was able to INFLUENCE some of you over the years towards greater Avodat HaShem. The truth is that MY life has been greatly enhanced by knowing each and every one of you. In one way or another, the contact I have had with all of YOU has greatly influenced ME. It has been a good “shidduch,” and it has been one that has been symbiotic. The respect that has been shown to me has been greatly appreciated and the warmth I have felt here in these walls has been overwhelming Yes, it has been a good run.

But now the time has come to say L’Hitraot.

I look at today as merely a separation by LAND, WATER and DISTANCE...not the end of friendship or of mutual respect. While you will be served by a new Rav in the near future, always know that I am a phone call, email or Skype call away. I believe that your new Rav, Rabbi Leibtag, will be only as succesful as YOU allow him to be through YOUR input into what the shul needs to grow to the next level. Please know that you all have a standing invitation to our home in Maale Adumim...but maybe spread out the visits!

To your new Rav, Rabbi Leibtag, I quote the words of Moshe Rabbenu speaking to Yehoshua bin Nun:
כג וַיְצַו אֶת־יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בִּן־נוּן וַיֹּאמֶר חֲזַק וֶֽאֱמָץ כִּי אַתָּה תָּבִיא אֶת־בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לָהֶם וְאָֽנֹכִי אֶהְיֶה עִמָּֽךְ:

Rabbi Leibtag, may Hashem be with you as you lead this congregation in your Melechet HaKodesh. May He see fit to shower His manifold blessings on you and your family and give you the Chizuk, the inner fortitude to act B’derech Hashem, as you walk into the future with this fine membership.

Allow me to close with the words of thanks and a Bracha to this shul and its members. I know that I said some of this at the dinner, but it truly bears repeating.

I want to thank you for taking a chance on a guy who had no pulpit experience and for enabling me to have the MOST rewarding 10 years of my entire life as your Rav. I want to thank the officers, the board and all of the members for making this my home away from home. Thank you to my parents, siblings, nephews and nieces for davening here in spite of the fact that I was rabbi and for not giving me TOO hard a time of it. Thank you to my three beautiful daughters for whom I live and whom I cherish with every breath I take. And finally, thank you to my Eishet Chayil, Andy.

We have shared some good times, and we have shared some sad times together. Together we have witnessed some of the worst that man has to offer, such as 9/11 and some of the best that man has to offer, such as how the world came out in full force to help survivors of the great Tsunami in Southeast Asia in 2004. While life is indeed a series of good and bad things that happen, I can only pray that the future holds for ll of you MANY more positive events and smachot and very little in the way of the negative and sad events.

--The time has come for me to go “home.”
--The time has come to write the next chapter in the book of the Shandalov family.

--The time has come to begin anew.

It has been my honor...and my privilege to have served for the past ten years as the Rav of Congregation Kehilath Jacob Beth Samuel.

I wish each and every one of you the best of luck in all that you do...and may Hashem be with you every step of the way.

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, June 26, 2009

CAUTION: Your Future is Closer than It May Appear

I was driving in my car the other day, when I glanced at my sideview mirror and began to smile to myself. As do many mirrors, this mirror was stenciled with the words "CAUTION: Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear!" The meaning of this pithy little statement is that the mirror distorts the image somewhat and you might THINK you have more time to react to a car or truck, etc, indeed you may have LESS time as the object is truly closer than it seems.

And that is when I smiled to myself. This Shabbat marks exactly two years since we went public with the news of our impending Aliya. At the time, it seemed SO far away. And even as recently as a few weeks ago, it still seemed off in the distance. At times, our future appeared to me like a mirage in the was there but it was ephemeral. It still seemed so far off in the distance, that I still had some time to breath.

Well, that is no longer the case! Over the next few days, we will experience our last Shabbat in our house (tonight and tomorrow); our last few days in the house and the move over to my parents' home. We will experience giving a final cleaning to the house (if only the house were this empty just before Pesach!!). We will experience both the joy of moving on and the melancholy of saying goodbye to our home of the last 23 1/2 years. Yes, our future indeed IS much closer than it appears.

I find myself filled with so many conflicting emotions this morning. I think that what is helping to magnify that is the fact that I give my last Shabbat speech this week...for all those in the area, you are all invited at 8:30am this Shabbat to hear this final speech and join us for Kiddush afterwards. I look forward to greeting you personally.

Oh my Gosh! The future really, truly is closer than I thought! The countdown is in SINGLE DIGITS!!

9 days...1 hour...8 minutes...TICK...TICK...TICK...whoah!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lists, Activity and Home-Ownership

Over the past two days, it has been a whirlwind of activities to continue closing up loose ends. I had on my To Do List literally a total of 32 things to do...and Bli Ayin Hara, I was able to get almost all of them done! These activities included: change of address at Post Office; termination of gas, electric, Comcast (internet); returning keys of other peoples' homes; arranging for rides to O'Hare for next Sunday's trip to NY (and on to Israel); giving away more "stuff," and on and on and on!

In the middle of all of this there were three significant was 96 degrees yesterday (35.5C) and our air conditioning decided it was too tired and conked out. Thanks to Max, we got our AC back in three hours, but not before it got up to 84 degrees in the house. And all of this was going on as we were trying to get ready for my niece (Mindy)'s wedding that evening.

But the one event that made the craziness of the day seem a bit more palatable was the news we got from Israel: THE HOUSE LOCATED AT REHOV MITZPE NEVO 114/1 is now officially ours! Our engineer, Chaim Milun (if you need an engineer, I can give a fabulous recommendation) did his final walk-through and approved it to our (also) fabulous lawyer, Aryeh Rachlin, who then approved the final payment. What began two and a half years ago as a dream on paper has now materialized into reality. HODU LA'SHEM KI TOV KI L'OLAM CHASDO!

Today's focus turns back to getting more little and big things done as we approach our final days in the house. Everywhere I go, people ask me how many days left until we leave. SO...

...10 days, 23 hours and 36 minutes to go...TICK...TICK...TICK!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Butterflies, Timeline and Dinner

So much to report, so little time in which to report it.

1. Butterflies: This past Shabbat at Mincha, we began to read (here in Chutz La'aretz) Parashat Korach. As soon as I heard the opening Pasuk, I had butterflies in my stomach. I have known for months (longer) that this coming Shabbat, Parashat Korach, would be my last one at KJBS. BUT, knowing it and being faced with the reality that this week has arrived are two different things. And since Shabbat afternoon, I have found myself, on numerous occasions, feeling the sense of the butterflies in the stomach. It happens at moments that I do not expect it and can last for seconds or many minutes. But, it is all for good reasons...the time is REALLY drawing close!

2. Timeline: This last number of days left in Chicago is SO busy with (BH) smachot and events that it is becoming difficult to schedule our packing of suitcases! Two weddings, 2 Sheva Brachot, 1 dinner (Arie Crown), people taking us out, etc etc...we actually sat down to make a timeline of what will be occurring and how to schedule the next few days. Our last Shabbat in the house will be this week (!), as we will B'ezrat Hashem be moving out next week on Wednesday (to my parents' home). If all goes well, then Bezrat Hashem, we will close on our home and will be "homeless" by Thursday. Daven that all should go well!

3. Dinner: I mentioned above that we had the Arie Crown dinner to attend. Well, we just got back 15 minutes ago from the dinner. I have attended dozens and dozens of dinners over the years, but this one was different on one level: As soon as it was over, I realized that Andy and I were "officially" over at Arie Crown! Our relationship with the school goes back to the early 1960's as we BOTH attended the school...all three of our daughters went there of tonight...we have finished our "physical" connection to the school. While our emotional connection will always be there, this is yet one more door that is closing for us in our waning days here in town. Our profound thanks to Rabbi Meir Shapiro (principal emeritus) and Rabbi Eli Samber (principal) for giving our children (and US!) a magnificent education. May you and all of the fantastic staff and administration of the school go מחיל אל חיל and may you continue to inspire children for many years to come!

Since things are not busy enough, my niece (Mindy) is getting married IYH on Tuesday. We are looking forward to this great simcha. It will be the last one of the family that we will be attending for quite a while. Emotional? Nah, not at all...yeah, right!

The clock looms quite large tonight. It is now 12 days, 10 hours and 46 minutes until we leave Chicago...TICK...TICK...TICK!!!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More "Lasts"

As the day draws nearer and nearer to our departure from Chicago, I am faced almost on a daily basis with "the last of..." experience regarding SOME event or activity. Some examples: Yesterday afternoon, I finished writing my last speech to be given at KJBS. Usually, once I write and finish a speech, I look it over once or twice before I deliver it but I have not "practiced" a speech (with rare exceptions) for many years. However, THIS speech was different...this speech will be the last one from the pulpit and I did, indeed, practice it yesterday. Needless to say, it was NOT an easy task. And on Shabbat, June 27th, when I deliver this speech, it will be even more difficult. I invite anyone who wishes to be there, to join us for Tefilla Shabbat morning, June 27th beginning at 8:30am, as we will have one joint Minyan that day. I hope to see you there!

This Shabbat, I will help celebrate the last Bar Mitzva that I will officiate at in Chicago. I recall when I saw this young man's name (Zeke Gillman) on the Shul calendar a long time ago, I thought that his Bar Mitzva was SO far away and the last one at KJBS while I was rabbi. Well, here it is, this last Bar Mitzva.

My youngest daughter, Eliana, who was honored as both the Hebrew AND English valedictorian this week, graduated Arie Crown. Eliana is my last daughter to finish at Arie Crown, where we have been parents for 16 years. It is hard to believe that we will not be parents in the school anymore (but it is NOT hard to believe that we will not be writing any more tuition checks there!). We are very pleased with the education that all three of our daughters received at the school and wish ACHDS continued Hatzlacha in the education of all of its students!

This Shabbat will also mark the last time I will say Birkat HaChodesh in Chicago. This bracha, that announces the upcoming New Month, will be for the month of Tammuz, a month that is not the "happiest" in the Jewish calendar. However, this year, at least, the month of Tammuz will mark the beginning of a new life for our family, as we land in Israel (IYH) on 15 Tammuz!

And finally, one last comment...MANY of you have been asking me about job prospects once I arrive in Israel. The SHORT answer is that I do not yet have a job lined up. The longer answer, which I will not go into depth with here, is that I am working on it quite strongly but most places really do not want to "hear about it" until your feet are firmly planted on the ground. So, if you want to "help," always feel free to daven that I find a job asap!

Ok, back to work...still plenty to do!

17 days and 59 minutes to go...TICK...TICK...TICK!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

WOW, What a Day!

So, today did not look like it would necessarily be anything special. I had a relatively quiet day planned with not too much in the way of hassle of headaches. Then, from the moment I woke up until now (7:40pm on Monday), there have been a whole series of things that have happened!

1. Tofes-4: In Israel, when there is new construction, prior to the builder being able to turn over the keys to the new owners, the Municipality that governs that area must sign off on it indicating that they have met codes for building etc. In the USA, this would be the Certificate of Occupancy. In Israel, this document is the Tofes-4 (Tofes-Arba). Even if the builder had done everything and I wanted to take possession, I could not without that last hurdle. This morning, I received word from our (outstanding!!) lawyer that indeed we had received the Tofes-4 and were ready for the last walk-through and eventual key handover. It was a moment I will not soon forget!

2. Ida Crown Jewish Academy: Today, we had our End-of-Year meeting of the faculty and staff. I have been teaching at ICJA for five years. At the end of the meeting, I turned in my grades, my gradebook and my key for the last time. My tenure as teacher at ICJA came to an end today. As I walked out the building, I must say it was a feeling of sadness and emptiness that filled my entire being. I had the zechut of teaching MANY students there, and I will ALWAYS fondly remember my days engaged in the Chinuch of the next geneneration of leaders...and believe me when I say that there were MANY candidates that fit the bill of "next generation of leaders."

3. Chicago Rabbinical Council: I have had the fortune of being a member of the cRc for ten years. During that time, I have had the zechut of serving as Secretary, VP, President and Chairman of the Executive. Tonight, with the new election of officers, I was (for the first time in seven years!) not on the slate in some capacity. It was my last "official" meeting at an organization that has become an integral part of my life. I will miss the various committees, meetings and camaraderie that those meetings engendered. I will remain a member, albeit from afar.

4. NBN and JAFI Papers Complete! I received an official notification letter that I and my family have completed all of the necessary documents and supporting documents for the flight, the free ride to our final destination and to be considered "ready" (at least as far as the paperwork) to make Aliya!

5. Cell Phones: Prior to making Aliya, we are renting cell phones so we will be able to communicate with each other and the myriad of agencies we will need to be in touch with once we land. (After a period of settling in, we will find the best deal for our needs). I received the cell numbers today (to be given out VERY judiciously over the next 3 or 4 weeks!). So wonderful to now know our address and our cell phone number (at least for the short term).

Not bad for a "day's work." Don't know how I will top that tomorrow...stay tuned!

It is now 19 days, 13 hours and 34 minutes until we leave Chicago. TICK...TICK...TICK!!!!!!!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Beginning of "The Three Weeks"

Traditionally, there is a period of 3 weeks during the summer that begins with the fast day of Shiva Asar B'Tammuz and culminates with the darkest day in the Jewish calendar, that of Tisha B'Av. That time period is known as "The Three Weeks." It is a time period of greater and greater "restrictions" and greater and greater levels of "mourning." It is a sad time...a time for reflection...a time to think about the destruction of the Bet HaMikdash/Temple.

For us, today begins a different time of "The Three Weeks." For three weeks from today, our family boards a plane to NY to await a flight the next day to our Home in Israel. These weeks will not be marked by mourning (B"H) nor by greater and greater levels of sadness. They will be marked by greater and greater levels of anticipation, excitement, trepidation and anxiety. It will be a time of introspection and one that looks not only at the FUTURE but also at our PAST. It is a time that we have been looking forward to for a long time, and we can not believe is now so close.

This year, the "real" Three Weeks begin two days after our arrival in Israel.

However, unlike the Three Week period of the last 2000 years, this one will be marked by joy and happiness and end with the jubilant re-building of the Bet HaMikdash. This year will be marked not by sadness and mourning, but by joy and elation as we all gather together in Yerushalayim Ir HaKodesh to greet the Mashiach. If I did not truly believe that with every fiber of my being then I would not believe in the 13 Ikarim of the Rambam and of the coming of the Mashiach.

May we ALL be zoche (merit) to be together for this momentous moment in Jewish History, and may we all do our part in both Torah and Miztvot to see to it that this moment arrives speedily!

Friday, June 12, 2009

I am a D.P. in My Own Home!

Displaced Person...I keep going into the Dining Room to work at a table that does not exist there. I keep opening a drawer to remove a non-existent fork and spoon. I go to reach for a Sefer that is no longer on a bookshelf, that is no longer there either. I feel displaced under my own roof. It is strange. This afternoon, I was not feeling well, so I was laying on my "bed" (a mattress on the floor) and contemplating all that has transpired this week! The packing up of all of our posessions, the lift being packed, Ayelet's graduation, getting our Entry Visas to Israel and, most recently, the Farewell Dinner from KJBS and the Community last night.
I must tell you that the dinner was a wonderful success. Due completely to the hard work of the dinner committee and the adbook committee, the dinner was a fabulous event! Over 250 people were in attendance and all of the speakers spoke so beautifully!

I want to express my thanks to the Dinner chairpersons:
Adina Aaron, Iris Bass, Dena Broekman, Judy Daniels, Aliza Frank and Leo and Sylvia Feigenbaum.

And to those who worked on the ad book: Mrs Debbie Kahn and Mrs Shoshana Benditzson. Thank you also to Mike Nussbaum for his eloquent words and to Judy Daniels for her wonderful tribute to Andy. Also, my Hakarat HaTov to Craig Frank and Rabbi Leonard Matanky. I was thrilled to receive a Flip video camera which will enable me to post VIDEO to my blog now, as well!

Below is the text of my speech from last night.

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen:

I find it very difficult to believe that I am standing before you tonight addressing a gathering of people saying good bye to us prior to our Aliya. It is a very surreal moment in my life and that of my family.

Before I begin, I would like to say a few words to one other individual here tonight who is also going through a very exciting time...Rabbi Aaron Leibtag. As you know, Rabbi Leibtag was just elected as the new Rav of KJBS. Rabbi, I want to offer you my sincerest wishes of Mazal Tov to you and to your Rebetzin, Ayelet. The responsibility is huge, the days are long and the demands are many. However, being a Rav of the Shul indeed is one of the most rewarding things you will do in your entire life. I pledge to you publicly that which I have told you privately...I will do whatever needed to help smooth your transition to the Shul and offer you whatever aid and assistance you may wish to have. I am grateful to Rabbi Frank who has helped me over the years, and I hope to be able to do the same for you. Mazal Tov and much Hatzlacha!

I want to express my thanks to the Dinner chairpersons:
Adina Aaron, Iris Bass, Dena Broekman, Judy Daniels, Aliza Frank and Leo and Sylvia Feigenbaum.
And to those who worked on the ad book: Mrs Debbie Kahn and Mrs Shoshana Benditzson. This evening did not happen overnight, and I want to publicly thank ALL of you for all of your hard work and hours spent putting this together.

At the beginning of Parashat Lech Lecha, HKBH tells Avraham Avinu:
Lech Lecha Me’artzecha U’milodetecha U’mibeit Avicha el Ha’aretz Asher Ar’eka
The Or HaChaim comments on the order of this Pasuk in the command that Hashem gives to Avraham to leave his homeland to go to a land he did not know of.
He points out, that the command to leave his homeland was easier than to leave his birthplace and leaving his birthplace was easier than leaving his family. Finally, leaving his family was the toughest part of all.

In that vein, I would like to address three audiences tonight. I want to speak to the community at large; I want to speak to the members of KJBS and finally, I want to speak to my family. Rather than being a “farewell” speech, I want tonight’s words to be a form of Hakarat Hatov to all three of these groups.
To the members of the Chicago Jewish Community...we have shared so much together. You have enabled me to not only share in some of your life cycle events, both good and bad; not only to allow me to serve the greater community in some of the various organizations with which I was proud to be associated; But you also enabled me to grow beyond the four walls of the Shul I so dearly love. As a member of this community virtually my entire life, I am so grateful that I have been afforded the opportunity to be a part of this thriving and growing Torah-based community. Whether I am sitting with the Rosh Yeshiva of Telz or with the Rosh Kollel of the YU Kollel Torah Mitzyon, I have always felt welcome and appreciated in every place I have been.

I therefore turn to the entire Chicago metropolitan community and say THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart.

To my home away from home...Congregation KJBS. Ten years ago, you took a chance on someone with no pulpit experience and someone who many of you knew as a little kid. BOTH of those were also risks taken by ME. Would I be up to the challenge...would those who knew me as “little Zev” from the early 1970’s come to see me as the Rav of the Shul. Perhaps this is the area in which I feel the greatest sense of Hakarat HaTov. There was not a minute over the last ten years that I felt someone was looking at me as the little kid who grew up in the shul. (If you did, I never felt it!) The respect with which I was treated from Day One until today I imagine is the envy of other Rabbanim of Shuls. What I lacked in experience, there were plenty of people to give me advice along the way. Sometimes, that advice proved VERY valuable while other times, it proved EXTREMELY valuable!

Over the years, I have watched as our shul and its members have grown in their level of Torah and Mitzvah has been a beautiful journey to behold. I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address so wide a variety of issues both in the shul and outside the shul. I thank you for allowing me the opportunity to teach at Ida Crown. I thank you for allowing me to bring so many groups to Israel. I thank the officers and board of KJBS whose names are too numerous to list. I thank each and every one of you for being a unique individual, who collectivley make up a DYNAMIC and thriving shul. Without YOU, I would not be who I am today.

And finally, to my family. I want to repeat something I said from the pulpit on the Shemini Atzeret before I became Rabbi. While the shul was without a Rav, I was asked on a few occassions to pinch hit and speak. For various reasons on that day, I chose to quote filmmaker, Steven Speilberg. After winning another of his dozens of awards, I watched him take his trophy in hand and declare: “All too often, I have watched people stand at this podium and say their thank you’s. And all too often when they mention their parents, they look heavenward and say thanks mom, thanks dad. And I,” continued Speilberg, “ I am able to thank G-d look at my parents HERE in the audience and say to THEM: Thanks mom...thanks dad.” I am grateful to HKBH that I too am in that same position. Mom and Dad, your unconditional love for all of us and your emotional support can never be re-paid. Katonti Mikol Hachasadim...but do know how much we love you and will miss you!

To my brother, sister, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, nephews and neices...It has been phenomenal to have been able to live in the same city and to have been able to be so involved in each other’s lives. MY Hakarat HaTov to all of you is boundless, as you actually CHOSE to daven at KJ, in spite of the fact that I was the Rav! We will sorely miss all of you, as well.

To my three beautiful, precious daughters: Daniella, Ayelet and Eliana. No words could truly express how grateful I am to you for YOUR support, not only as the Rav of the Shul but also as your father. I have told you on literally hundreds of occassions that YOU GUYS come first, and I hope that I have been able to keep my word. I have learned so much from the three of you. I make a promise to you that our family’s dream of Aliya will not become our family’s nightmare. With Hashem’s help, Mommy and I will do all that is in our power to make our Kelitah (our absorption) into Israel as smooth as possible. It will not be easy...but who said that fulfilling any mitzva was easy!?

And finally, to my eishet chayil, Andy. What can I say? To say thank you sounds to trite. Your support of me and your constant encouragement have made all the difference in the world. It never amazes me how you are ALWAYS right! It makes me crazy, but you indeed are always right. Your suggestions and your critique of anything I do has literally helped to change lives, not the least of which is MY life.

Your involvement for TEN YEARS as Sisterhood president has set the standard for the next president...there will be a “next” one I hope! Whether coming in every week after Shabbat to package leftovers for the needy of the community, staying on top of every single simcha, or lending an ear to a needy person, you are the quintessential Rebbetzin.

Andy, many women marry Rabbis and become a Rebbetzin. I married a Rebbetzin and became a Rabbi. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
As I said at the outset, tonight was not about a “good-bye” speech. For that you are all invited to KJBS in two weeks, on Parashat Korach. Tonight is about gratitude to ALL of you. Once again, let me say thank you to all those who are here tonight; those who could not be here tonight and to all who made this evening possible.

May Hashem repay your kindness a hundred-fold and may He shower His brachot upon you all in health for 120 years.
Thank you!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yes, I Do Believe in an "After-Lift"

There indeed IS life after the Lift goes! I am a true is about 36 hours since our container left our property and I must say life remains pretty busy. Andy and I still feel "in the zone" and are still working on closing up loose ends. There are a few small items to buy to take with us; the house needs to be cleaned top to bottom (more on the house at a later date); financial issues to work on; documents to gather, and on and on.

And in the middle of all this, a funny thing has happened....B'ezrat Hashem and with thanks to modern technology, our current home phone number in Chicago will be our American/VoIP phone number in Israel as well. That means that someone in Chicago, for example, will be able to pick up the phone, dial our current, regular home number and it will ring in our home in Israel...all for the cost of a local call. Well, in order to accomplish THAT, the phone number needs to be ported over to Israel. In order to accomplish THAT, there has to be a period of time where our home phone will not work in Chicago during that switch over. During that time period (that limbo period), any calls to my home would ring on my cell phone. ALL of this was to occur the beginning of July just before we left. SURPRISE! It happened already!! Now, anyone calling my house (including the pesky telemarketers) will be calling my cell phone! Oh, well...just another page in the book of this great adventure.

Tonight, there is a dinner being held by the Shul and the community to wish us well, as we make Aliya. There are so many who worked on the dinner who deserve tremendous amounts of thanks. I will "save" those thank yous for my talk tonight and will post the text tomorrow to make sure that they get the public thank you that they deserve!

A final thought...this Shabbat will be my last "normal" speech in Shul! The following week, we have a Bar Mitzva and the one after that is my "good-bye" speech on my final Shabbat. (Actually, I will be in the Shul one more Shabbat, but it is the DAY before Aliya, and I will not be able--emotionally--to give a speech).

One more "final" thought...on a homiletical note...As I walk around our home, empty of most furniture and possessions, I hear echoes everywhere. It occurs to me that, in a sense, I am listening to the echoes of our "past" in this home. The three daughters we raised here...the good times...the sad times...the Shabbatot/Yamim Tovim meals and guests....I sit here and I can "hear" it all in my mind's eye. It is eerie and strange to deal with but life does go on and it will soon be time to write the next chapter in the story of the Shandalov family.

We now are at 24 days...42 minutes left...TICK....TICK...TICK...!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Houston, we have LIFT OFF!!!!!!!!!"

After all the anticipation and the wait and the blood, sweat (and tears!) the lift/container arrived bright and early on this drizzly morning. In a matter of 7 hours, our entire lives at 6315 N Lawndale in Chicago was loaded up and ready to ship to Israel. In the morning, I was feeling queasy and nervous at the prospect of watching my stuff leave the house. As the day wore on, it seemed more and more calm as floor space that I never existed began to materialize. You have to remember that we began packing our first box a year ago! (Obviously, most of the packing has happened over the past few months only)

The movers were great! I can not say enough about their professionalism and speed! We did NOT have the experience of people stopping in to gawk by the dozens as others have had. (A couple of close friends dropped by and it WAS appreciated, I must tell you.)

How can I encapsulate my thoughts and feelings at this moment...On the one hand there is great relief, as we finally move from time measured as B.L. (before lift) to A.L. There have been so many good things that have occurred over the past few months as we prepared for this step of Aliya...EVEN Ikea (in hindsight) is looking like it was okay, too. (But you gotta squint really hard to see the good in those visits).

As I type these words, I can actually "hear" the echo in the den as I type due to the lack of items here to absorb the sound. We will begin to live out of suitcases, plastic cutlery, and on mattresses on the floor as of tonight. I am thinking of getting myself a cardboard sign that says "Homeless...Please help!" and standing at McCormick and Devon for a few hours. These other guys seem to do ok there, so maybe I can too!

After a little time for relaxing (FINALLY), the focus turns to cleaning up the house and packing up the rest of the items that we will take with us on the plane.

I have butterflies now, as the dream is that much closer to reality. I thank Hashem for giving us the opportunity to get this far in the process and still remain (relatively) sane.

Here are two pictures to give you a sense of the "Before" and "After" of the basement. I hope to post a whole series of pics one day.

Boxes, Boxes Everywhere!

So, I am now sitting here just moments after the packers have finished most of their work in our house. Besides the boxes WE packed (PBO's for those of you paying attention!), they packed dozens more today. Our house looks like a warehouse for a Big Box store but at least they will all be gone tomorrow!!
The crew showed up at EXACTLY 8:30am and got right to work. We did a walk-through so that they would know what IS shipping and what is not. (We did not want to be like one of our friends who ended up opening their lift to find that the movers had shipped one of their boxes of GARBAGE!)

In eager anticipation of this day, Andy was up and working by 3:15am and me, the slaggard, slept in until 5am. In any event, the day moved very fast as they packed, wrapped, inventoried and prepared most of the items to go on the container tomorrow. I must say that it was NOT as stressful as I had anticipated these past months and that helped a LOT. Andy was calm virtually the entire time and was moving at lightning speed to keep up with the movers as she showed them what last minute items needed to be packed. Everything they did, they did with a smile.

My daughter, Daniella, went out and bought pizza lunch for the men, which they greatly appreciated and it gave them a few minutes to rejuvenate (I am sure they could have used a nap after that, but so did I!!)

The most tedious part of the entire day (for THEM not ME) was the inventory. Each and every item shipping, whether a box, a chair, a table pad, etc EVERY item received a yellow tag with a number and the inventory list was then written down in detail. I could have handled the PACKING part but the detailed inventory part...that would have driven me to the brink!

A few related things: We have received SO many offers of help from people, food for meals, offers to pick up stuff, etc etc....ALL of those offers were SO nice and we greatly appreciated all of the offers.

And in the middle of all of this...OUR PASSPORTS WITH OUR VISAS TO ENTER ISRAEL AS OLIM CHADASHIM (NEW IMMIGRANTS)ARRIVED!!!! I have hardly had a moment to celebrate having THAT milestone as well, but we have SO many things to celebrate, Baruch Hashem!

Now, let's back up a bit since the last 24 hours have been very busy besides in our home! First, on Sunday early afternoon, our middle daughter, Ayelet, graduated from Ida Crown. We were beaming with pride as she stepped up to get her diploma. Hard to believe that she is our SECOND high school grad now! It was also a very special moment when one of my students (Sara Bernstein) wished our family well as we make Aliya. How special to have such beautiful public recognition.

Then, in yet another milestone, an election was held on Sunday for the Rav of KJBS. At 8:00pm last night the announcement was made...Rabbi Aaron Leibtag will serve as the new Rav for the Shul after I depart for Israel. I am happy for HIM and happy for the shul. it is great for continuity and for growth. I am sure you all join me in wishing Rabbi Leibtag a Mazal Tov and much Hatzlacha in this new exciting position (yes, it is exciting...after ten YEARS serving as the Rav, it is VERY difficult to leave the position, trust me!)

Ok...that is all for now (just another quiet 24 hours of doing boring!). Time to get ready for the next and final phase of this move...the actual loading of the lift/container. They are to arrive at 8:30am to drop the container and begin the loading. Needless to say, it will be very strange by the end of the day Monday in the Shandalov household....

While this is the SECOND post I have written today, the first one seems like 6 weeks ago. So, the requisite countdown:
26 days...15 hours and 43 minutes...TICK...TICK...TICK!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Let the Games Begin!

It is 6:15AM on Monday, June 8, 2009. The last 24 hours have been completely crazy with a flury of activity leading up to today's packing of the lift. So much to write about: graduation, packing, collapsing, a new Rabbi for KJBS, and so much more.
But, for now, I need to go daven and then finish up some last minute items before this day, that we have so greatly anticipated, begins.

Wish us luck...we are going "underground" until the lift ships out! Phones going off the hook, crime-scene tape going up to protect the perimeter from gawkers....



Sunday, June 7, 2009

Friday...More Running Around

While I did not do as MUCH running around on Friday as the day before, it was no cake walk either. I had to be in Elk Grove and Elmhurst. I found the general vicinity of both locations fairly easily. BUT...finding the actual buildings I was seeking proved a bit more complicated.

It seems that to gain access to the holy ground upon which these two warehouses stand, one needs a post-graduate degree in Global Positioning Software systems and at least a rudimentary knowledge of the skills of a S.W.A.T. team. Directions may sound a little like this: "If you go down to the end of the road, make a left, turn immediately to the right, double back and head 33.4 degrees due West all the while turning the steering wheel only with your left hand...," then and only then, will you have the PRIVILEGE to find the warehouse of Sam's Store (220v items) and American Mattress!

But, I DID find the places I was seeking and I was successful in procuring every item we needed! Our list of "To Buy in Chicago" is almost 100% complete...we only lack one item that we will pick up after Ayelet's graduation from High School (ICJA) tomorrow. We are very excited about her graduation and that of Eliana from Arie Crown (as--enter nachas moment here--Eliana is valedictorian in Hebrew AND English!) but at the same time we feel bad that we are not focusing enough on these milestones, as we are so consumed with the Lift going this week. They have both been very understanding...we are deferring the celebrating until after Wednesday...

Yes, this week, we will finally shift from B.L.-time (Before Lift) to A.L.-time. I can not wait to have this event behind us.

There still is plenty to do, so why am I typing on my blog??!! Avoidance...complete avoidance. BUT, I guess I best get back to work.

28 days...10 hours and 3 minutes...TICK...TICK...TICK...

Friday, June 5, 2009


Almost too tired to type, but I must while things are still fresh in my mind.

For those following this blog, you recall that today was the day I was to enter into my own personal purgatory, also known as IKEA. I had it all mapped out...what departments to go to, the people I needed to speak to, the arrangements for the shipment to the warehouse of Deerfield Moving/Sonigo. I THOUGHT I could be in and out fairly quickly. Well, you have heard of The Hundred Years War...they also thought it would be over quickly. The participants in that war and I had one thing in common...we were both wrong!

I ended up in the first Ikea for nearly THREE hours. I seemed to have criss-crossed my path on more than one occasion observing that some of the personnel were great and helpful while others...let's just say that they would benefit from a course by Dale Carnegie.

In any event, I ran hither and yon, picking the bookcases, doors, cabinets, stainless steel cart and other "essentials." When it was all said and done, I did not get everything I wanted to, since I knew in advance that I would need to visit a second location (Hashem Yerachem!) for certain bookcase doors.

The funny thing is that I was in and out of the Ikea (in Bolingbrook--yes, that IS where "Old Chicago" was for you old time Chicagoans!) in about 12 minutes! I think that there were 15 other people in the whole store and there definitely was only one cashier.

The ride back was terrible, but I kept telling myself these were just more tests on the road to Aliya. Tomorrow, I need to run to Elk Grove and (suddenly) also to Elmhurst as a couple of items we needed relating to bedding that should have been available 2 minutes from our house are suddenly OUT OF STOCK. So, off to the Western Suburbs tomorrow!

One last thought...the entire focus for days has now been: LIFT, LIFT and the LIFT. Then, it occurred to me that (in Chutz La'aretz at least) this week's Parasha is Parashat Naso, which means "to lift" or "to raise" !! How cool is that!?!?

Thirty days, 10 hours, 42, almost under 30 days!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Reaching New "Lowe's"

Our day on Monday and Tuesday was filled with joy as we crossed many items off of our list of items to buy. Monday was Sam's Club (twice...more on that in a minute) and Tuesday was Lowe's (twice...more on that in a minute...getting to see a pattern?!?); Home Depot, Wal-Mart, and CVS. It was such a feeling of accomplishment to cross SO many items off the list of "TO BUY IN CHICAGO." But, why TWO trips to the aforementioned stores? It certainly was not because we enjoy them so much! Last night, we arrived at Sam's Club half an hour before closing with our sights set on box springs (x2), bed frames (x2) a bottle of Glenlivet (not for us...honestly!) and one or two other items. We checked out of the store with time to spare. I pulled the van around, we loaded the first box spring in and then...(cue music played when tired couple realizes they are in trouble)...we saw that the second box spring would not fit in the van! Our choices: leave one there for someone homeless; cut a sunroof in the van to accommodate this item; or...make two trips while one of us drove home (me) and one of us (Andy) stayed with the offending box spring. So, two trips for a one-trip stop.And Lowe's? We were there at 7:40am this morning and picked out some items we had on our lists. We brought the items home and then, there on the counter, staring at us almost with a smug little smile was a coupon for $10 off a purchase at Lowe's. I KNEW we had the coupon but I forgot to bring it along! When you are dealing with so many dollar signs as we have been lately, a savings of $10 is truly worth, back to Lowe's, again, this evening to refund and re-charge the list LESS the $10...capitalism triumphs again.

Tomorrow is the day I have been dreading since making our TO DO lists. It means a trip to Ikea! BUT...cue horror music...I need to go to TWO different Ikea stores!!! AAARRGGGHHH....They do not have all the parts we need in one, so it is a double dose of Ikea for me tomorrow. BUT...the one saving grace is that I am going alone...with no myself...and I can go at the pace I WANT to go. It will be a much faster venture this way, but it still IS Ikea, after all...OY...say a special prayer for me please.

Later on in the day tomorrow it is a trip to go pick up the two trundle beds we ordered and then Friday off to the store in Elk Grove for some 220v items we bought.

Hmmm...what are all those bare spots on the walls...that was where the pictures were....or, was that where the clock was??? How quickly our minds fail us!

It is Wednesday evening at is now 31 days 12 hours and 28 minutes until we board the plane to NY...TICK...TICK...TICK!!!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

VISA and The Office

While I fully expected this to be a busy week, what I was not prepared for was the emotional roller coaster it would be as well. Today was a PERFECT example of this idea.

In the early part of the afternoon, I paid a visit to the Israel Aliya office here in Chicago. I met with Jackie (as Shira is still out and should have a refuah shlema!) to hand in a significant set of documents. While there is a TON of paperwork involved in making Aliya, the last piece of paperwork before Aliya is the applying for VISA's for resident status in Israel. The VISA application and all the documentation to put together for the application was really the last piece of paperwork on THIS end for me to do. When I handed in the applications, I was VERY emotional as it signified my official request for admission to the country as a resident. Yes, I had done all the other applications and steps before with Nefesh and with the Jewish Agency, but somehow, this was different. I felt SO proud to hand Jackie the forms. I told her that once the passports are back with the VISA's in them to call me. I will be over in a nano-second to get them (and that is if there is a lot of traffic!)

The other emotional moment that I was unprepared for came this afternoon and early in the evening. I was in the Shul office to finish off packing up the rest of my sefarim, books and files. As I packed away the files, I took a bit of a journey down memory lane. I was looking back at 10 years in the position of Rav...looking at marriage documents I wrote, settlement documents I worked on, dozens of cards and letters I had received over time, pictures, organizational work I had been involved in....All of this hit me right between the eyes and I found myself needing to sit down and stop for a few minutes. It was just to much for me...I don't know...I had no issues like this in packing up in the HOUSE but in the SHUL it was hitting me hard. It felt much more personal.

But now it is back to the grind of packing. The Office is almost done...just a few odds and ends left. The house is another story! But...we'll get there...

33 days, 12 hours and 12 minutes until we board the plane...TICK...TICK...TICK!