Archive for February, 2018

From The Rabbi – Parshat Terumah 5778

Mishenichnas Adar Marbim Besimcha – ‘When the month of Adar enters we increase in Joy!’

This week we commence the most detailed subject in all of the Torah, a topic spanning over 4 weeks, namely the Mishkan (Tabernacle), a relatively small structure, which accompanied the Jewish people, during their 40-year sojourn in the desert.

It seems rather strange that this small structure takes up hundreds of verses, while the creation of the entire universe, with all of its incredible details and complexities, is all done and dusted over a mere thirty or forty verses.

Our sages poignantly point out the valuable message being conveyed by the extent of coverage this topic generates in the Torah. The whole idea of the Mishkan was not about G-d building a home for us, rather about our building a home for G-d. This has been, and continues to be, our ongoing mission, to actively participate and contribute our resources, time, effort,and finances to create an abode for Hashem in our material world.

There has been much media coverage this past week about the moral conduct expected of those who are placed in ministerial positions. The Torah enjoins us all to view ourselves as integral components of the Divine plan in creation, to build within ourselves a sanctuary for Hashem, and fulfill our personal and collective mission in the world.

As we commence the next few weeks of detailed study of the construction of the Mishkan, I avail myself of this opportunity to commend the many wonderful members of our community, who are “Torem” (give so much of themselves) for our congregation and community, enriching their own lives, and making their valuable contribution to Jewish continuity.

On that note, if you are able to assist next Sunday at the Brisbane Synangogue Memorial Hall to prepare Hamantaschen, please contact Janine Arenson on

With just over a week until Purim, please see Purim information below, including Purim Megillah reading at the Brisbane Synagogue, followed by Hamantachen and our annual fancy-dress competition in the Memorial Hall. The festivities will continue on Purim day at Sinai College and a Purim Cruise on the Brisbane River.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov

Rabbi Levi and Dvorah Jaffe


Chazzan (Cantor) Moshe Kraus – Who’s Life was spared by singing for a nazi officer in Bergen Belsen

This past week someone forwarded to me a video clip about Chazan Moshe Kraus, which moved me deeply, to the extent that I felt compelled to make contact with him and called him at his Ottawa home this morning.

I was amazed to discover from 95 year-old Reb Moshe that 50 years ago, he was offered a contract to become Chazzan at the Brisbane Synagogue, but decided to take up a position in Mexico instead.

A book about his life was recently produced and below is an article about the book.

The Life of Moshele der Zinger: How My Singing Saved My Life
By Cantor Moshe S. Kraus
Baico Publishing Inc.
245 pages

In the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, he was known as Moshele der Zinger (Moshele the Singer).The diminutive young man with the golden voice used his talents to entertain, sustain and give solace to his fellow prisoners as they faced deprivation and death.

But as he recounts in his autobiography, Cantor Moshe Kraus’s prodigious talents saved his own life on more than one occasion.

That’s why Moshele der Zinger is subtitled How My Singing Saved My Life. It’s a rich account of the remarkable life of Cantor Kraus, 95, and his more than 70 years as a renowned chazzan.

Full disclaimer: I have known Moshe and Rivka Kraus since 1998. I travelled to Germany with Cantor Kraus to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Bergen-Belsen, and I wrote the foreword to the book.

So I am far from an objective reviewer. But I’ve been lucky enough over the years to hear Cantor Kraus tell some of these stories in person and can state unequivocally that the book – shaped with the help of writer/editor Lynne Cohen – truly captures his voice and his unique style of storytelling.

It includes a collection of Chasidic tales – some humorous, some poignant – which Cantor Kraus learned from his late father.

Cantor Kraus was born in Uzhhorod, in what was then Czechoslovakia but is now Ukraine. The oldest of nine children in a close-knit Chasidic family, he was recognized at a young age as a wunderkind, a child singing sensation.

By the age of 13, he had sung at concerts and Shabbat services throughout Eastern Europe. At 18, he became city cantor of Sighet, Romania, which was a thriving Jewish community with five large synagogues before most of its Jews were wiped out in the Holocaust.

It was also the home of the late Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Wiesel, who sang in Cantor Kraus’ choir and referred to him as his “rebbe” for the rest of his life.

Cantor Kraus soon became the chief cantor of Budapest. But in 1943, he was deported to the Bor labour camp in what was then Yugoslavia, and to Bergen-Belsen the following year.

More than 600,000 Hungarian Jews died in the Holocaust, including Cantor Kraus’ parents, five of his eight siblings, 20 aunts and uncles and almost 100 cousins.

Although his experiences at Bor and Bergen-Belsen comprise only one chapter in a book that includes countless humorous anecdotes, this portion of Cantor Kraus’ life is essential to understanding his physical and mental resilience, religious faith and luck, as well as the singing talent that indeed saved his life.

As a teenager, Cantor Kraus had loved the singing of the German Jewish tenor Yosef Schmidt, and later studied with Schmidt’s teacher.

At Bergen-Belsen, he was asked to sing for the camp commander, Josef Kramer, known as the Beast of Belsen, who made a game of shooting prisoners. When he requested music in German, Cantor Kraus was able to sing the repertoire of Yosef Schmidt so beautifully that Kramer made sure he was never among the 1,000 prisoners Cantor Kraus says were chosen to die every day.

When he was liberated on April 15, 1945, Cantor Kraus was infested with lice and weighed less than 80 pounds.

Although Cantor Kraus remains a relentlessly positive person, he is still haunted by his Holocaust experiences.

“I just can’t believe it still hurts after all these years,” he writes. “There is no answer as to why. If somebody gives you an answer, tell him he’s a liar. There is no answer.”

After liberation, Cantor Kraus worked for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and later moved to Israel to become the first chief cantor of the Israeli army.

It was there that he met the 16-year-old Rivka, to whom he proposed a half-hour after they met. She called him a meshuggener, Yiddish for crazy person. But he persisted, and they became engaged a year later.

In addition to a solo career that took him around the world, Cantor Kraus was head cantor in Antwerp, Johannesburg and Mexico City. The cantor and Rivka settled in Ottawa in the 1970s, where he worked at Congregation Beth Shalom until his retirement in 1980.

Although he’s been fêted by the rich and powerful and honoured by world leaders, his memoirs make it clear that Cantor Kraus’ life continues to be defined by faith, gratitude and the sanctity of prayer.

“My highlight was every tefillah,” he told Kinneret Globerman for an Ottawa Jewish Bulletin article in 2006. “Every davening I gave my best. I always knew I was standing before God.”

“I didn’t daven to entertain people. I davened for God.” .

From The Rabbi – Parshat Mishpatim / Shekalim 5778

One of the Torah’s most practical lessons in human decency can be found in this week’s Torah portion: “When you will see the donkey of your enemy trapped under his burden and you will be tempted to refrain from helping him, you shall surely help him.”

Chassidic teachings explain what this directive means on a spiritual and psychological level:

The “donkey of our enemy” refers to the powerful inner enemy we encounter every day–our animalistic soul. This ferocious beast within is responsible for all our physical lusts and desires—the things that try to prevent us from doing the right thing. Naturally, we are driven to label our “donkey” the enemy, and dismiss him entirely.

Chassidic thought explains that while treating our instincts derisively and viewing them as the “donkey” is prudent, it is not a secure, lasting solution. At best, it is merely a temporary fix. Strong feelings of the heart don’t just go away; they fester and grow and eventually erupt like a powerful volcano.

The only lasting, healthy, long-term solution is alluded to in this verse: “…you shall surely help him [the donkey].” We need to stop viewing our “donkey” as the enemy and start to see him as a potential ally. With the right attitude we can transform our animalistic desires into our greatest assets. If we choose to look beyond the surface, we will discover that they contain great, unbridled energy. By harnessing the wild “donkey,” we will discover that he is not in fact an enemy, but our greatest friend.

We will take out an additional Torah tomorrow in honour of Parshat Shekalim,the first in a series of four special Shabbatot, leading up to the Pesach (Passover),in which we will read of the half-Shekel contribution, which Jewish people would make during this time of year,during Temple times towards the upkeep of the Temple – like Synagogue membership today.

This Shabbat, we bless the incoming month of Adar, the happiest month in the Jewish calendar, during which we celebrate the transformative festival of Purim, when the impending sad events of the Purim story were transformed into joy and festivities. May we all experience the transformation of all sadness and challenges to happiness and growth.

For those wishing to join us, we will be reciting Tehilim (psalms) from 7.30am tomorrow morning as a special preparation for the incoming new month.

We extend our Mazal Tov wishes to President Michael Arenson and his new board of Management. May we enjoy a year of productive growth, materially and spiritually.

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov

Rabbi Levi and Dvorah Jaffe

Shabbat and Festival Times


Fri 2nd February: Light Candles 6.24pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 3rd 7.18pm

Fri 9th February: Light Candles 6.19pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 10th 7.13pm

Fri 16th February: Light Candles 6.14pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 17th 7.07pm

Fri 23rd February: Light Candles 6.08pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 24th 7pm

Thurs 1st March: Purim

Fri 2nd March: Light Candles 6.01pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 3rd 6.53pm

Fri 9th March: Light Candles 5.54pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 10th 6.45pm

Fri 16th March: Light Candles 5.46pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 17th 6.37pm

Fri 23rd March: Light Candles 5.38pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 24th 6.29pm

Fri 30th March: Light Candles 5.30pm
Pesach Seder 1
Shabbat ends: Sat 31st 6.22pm

Sat 31st March: Light Candles after 6.22pm
Pesach Seder 2
Yom Tov ends: Sunday 1st April 6.21pm

Thurs 5th April Pesach Day 7:
Light Candles 5.24pm

Fri 6th April: Light Candles 5.23pm
Shabbat & Pesach end: Sat 7th 6.14pm

Fri 13th April: Light Candles 5.15pm
Shabbat ends: Sat 14th 6.07pm

Fri 20th April: Light Candles 5.08pm
Shabbat & Pesach end: Sat 21st 6.01pm

Fri 27th April: Light Candles 5.02pm
Shabbat & Pesach end: Sat 28th 5.55pm