Thursday, 28 February 2013

Montreal area Chabad chapters capture Purim spirit

Here is a report I received from Rabbi Leibel Fine on some Purim celebrations in town. I first met Leibel when he wa s just a little boy; his father Rabbi Ronnie Fine and mother Simcha would invite my friends and I to their home and the Chabad Lubavitch Organization headquarters on different occasions.

Teenage volunteers pack mishloach manot packages for Chabad of the
South Shore in advance of the community's Purim Celebration on Sunday,
Feb. 24.

Chabad officials attribute record participation in dozens of events sponsored by its centres in Montreal to one-on-one outreach of its affiliates.

Renzo Paredes was driving with a friend this past Sunday afternoon, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, when a group of bearded young men dressed as clowns knocked on his window. Boisterously wishing him a “happy Purim,” they handed him a traditional Purim food package, known as mishloach manot, containing a bottle of grape-juice, some Purim pastries called hamantashen, and a note from the Chabad-affiliated Montreal Torah Center.
“I was very surprised to see something like that. It felt good. It felt very good to know that they want to share Purim with everybody,” said Paredes, a resident of Cote des Neiges.
Paredes’ experience is no exception.

According to Rabbi Berel Mockin, head of the Chabad Lubavitch Youth Organization and its affiliated Chabad Houses, these interactions are the key to Chabad’s outreach model. He cites internal numbers of over 7,000 participants in close to 30 large-scale Purim celebrations held all about Montreal this year. “We have big parties, Megilla readings, and programs in the established centres. They have been steadily growing for years. But the real surprise this year is the sheer numbers that are coming out of our smaller centres serving less-established communities. Places like Saint Lazare, Sherbrooke, Mount Tremblant, Brossard, Nuns’ Island and Old Montreal, where there was virtually nothing Jewish just a few years ago, now have regular programming and participation on par with the larger centres.”
Rabbi Nissi and Chanie Gansbourg pose with Josh sillver and Patrick
Chay Elfassy, who helped promote and plan their Purim Celebration for
350 young people in Old Montreal.

Rabbi Leibel Fine of Dollard Chabad, who held five Megilla readings during the holiday, attributes this success to one-on-one interactions. “We do not just put an ad in the paper and wait for people to come.," he says. "Virtually every person who participates in our events was a guest in our home at one time or another. For us, the Shabbat table is our most important way to connect.”

Rabbi Nachum Labkowski, spiritual leader of Chabad of S. Lazare, concurs. “People are moving into town all the time, and many of them miss the sense of community that they had on the Island [of Montreal]. We make sure to have families over at our house every Shabbat, and they feel connected. In fact, now I am beginning to hear that some of our Shabbat guests are inviting guests of their own, and that is very gratifying for us.”

Labkowski estimates that most of the nearly-100 people who attended his circus-themed Purim carnival - which featured crafts, balloon-making, face-painting, and food - knew about it via word of mouth. “Some came from the ads we put in the papers, but face-to-face invitations were certainly what brought them through the doors.”

Rabbi Nissi Gansbourg of Chabad of Old Montreal, which serves the eclectic urbane community centered around the Old Port, says that personal invites and social media was what brought over 350 people to his Sunday afternoon event, featuring cocktails, an open bar, and a DJ, along with the traditional Purim rituals, in the Royal Bank building. “We had a committee of 8 organizers, dubbed the MTL Jew Crew, and they did a fantastic job at bringing people in.”

Rabbi Shmuli Weiss of Chabad at McGill says that a similar mix of social media and word of mouth brought over 600 people through the doors of the iconic Chabad House on Peel Street. Members of the Chabad student board called their friends and made sure that they knew that they were invited guests at Chabad’s Purim Around the World celebration, and those friends brought even more friends.

The MADA Community Centre, Chabad’s humanitarian arm, reported an overflow crowd of over 900 people, including MADA aid recipiants as well as volunteers, filling two halls in the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Miriam Sebbag, event coordinator at Mada, says that they made sure to tell people well in advance about the parties. “We encouraged our volunteers to spread the word among the people they help and to tell them that they would be there as well. That way, it was really a community-wide celebration where everyone felt welcome and included.”

Perhaps the strength of one-on-one interaction was most evident in Lasalle, where Rabbi and Mrs. Chaim and Chanie Brand had just founded their Chabad centre last December.
Held in a rented hall, their Purim celebration was their first event, and they spared no effort to ensure that everyone would feel welcomed. The Brands went door-to-door with mishloach manot gifts to personally invite everyone they knew to their celebration. With over 80 attendees, Chaim Brand was quite satisfied with the turnout.

“They knew that we really wanted them to come, and they came with their friends.”

When asked about what his next event would be, Brand was thoughtful. “We would really like to get a permanent building for our community centre, but for now I will be distributing matzahs for Passover.”


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