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A Light Unto the Nations: Rabbis, Scholars and Leaders Have Their Say

R.C. Berman –
Some of the 250 participants at Saturday night’s Leil Iyun.

Scotch Plains, NJ — Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s annual night of learning revolved around the Jewish obligation to serve as a light unto the nations. It also shed light on how far Chabad-Lubavitch’s working relationship with the philanthropic body has advanced.

The menu of classes at Leil Iyun, or “night of study,” sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey last Saturday night (January 13), ran the gamut from topics on genocide in Sudan to contributions of notable Jews of 17th and 18th century European society.

It was the seventh annual Leil Iyun, held at the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains, NJ and it attracted 250 attendees who chose from among more than 10 parallel workshops offered in each of two, consecutive 50-minute sessions.

Presenters were Jewish leaders and educators from across the Jewish spectrum including several Chabad Shluchim. Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky, Director of Bris Avrohom, explored the theme of Jews in the Entrepreneurial Community at Large. Rabbi Kanelsky is Director of Bris Avrohom, a Chabad center catering to the needs of Russian Jews in several locations throughout central New Jersey.

Participants at the session delivered by Rabbi Avrohom Blesofsky, Director of Chabad of Union County in Fanwood, NJ, filled nearly every seat. His romp through the Talmud and later codifiers exposed differences between Jewish and civil laws regarding ownership. A potentially dry topic, Rabbi Blesofsky dug into the way Jewish law influences how Jews relate to their possessions.

In “It’s Our Torah, But is it Only for Us?” Chabad of Basking Ridge’s Rabbi Mendy Herson discussed the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s perspective on the spiritual mission that people of all nations can fulfill.

“The level of respect seen at the Leil Iyun between Jews of different affiliations was a wonderful thing,” said Jennifer Hersh, Jewish Education Coordinator at the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. “It is something you don’t always see in other communities.” Chabad’s rabbis who have presented Leil Iyun talks since the program’s first year, are “phenomenal,” said Hersh. Their sessions are “always well attended.”

Chabad-Federation cooperation is increasingly an expected part of Jewish communal life. Chabad rabbis now participate regularly at the Federation’s largest annual gathering, the General Assembly. In locations where Chabad created Jewish communities where there was little or no infrastructure, area Federations often turn to Chabad leaders for contacts and connections. At the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey’s next big event, the Super Sunday phone-a-thon fundraiser, Rabbi Blesofsky plans to spend a few hours making calls. Every Federation president has been given top honors as a “sandek” at the circumcision ceremonies sponsored by Bris Avrohom, says Rabbi Kanelsky.

Rabbi Kanelsky, who has racked up over 27 years at the helm of Bris Avrohom, regularly advises novice Chabad rabbis to nurture good bonds with Federation leaders for the benefit of the community. “Show them what you do, and they will be inspired,” he tells them.

Rabbi Mendy Herson on It’s Our Torah, But Is It Only For Us?


Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky fields a question on Jewish entrepreneurial values


Rabbi Avrohom Blesofsky presents on the Jewish relationship to ownership.


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