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Norwegian Shabbat...

Sunday, 24 January, 2010 - 6:07 pm

We’re always looking for strange foods and different cultures to make our Shabbat dinner experience unique. So when Rita, a third-year student from Trondheim, Norway, suggested Norwegian, Shterna shouted ‘yes’ while I braced myself.

Turns out, the first course is much like a late night Chassidic farbrengen; plenty of pickled herring, shmaltz herring, chopped herring, smoked salmon, salads full of vinegar and a flow of alcoholic beverages. The second course was a little less familiar, with mushy something and meatballs covered in some brown sauce, which actually turned out whitish despite Shterna’s attempts at browning them. Dessert was more familiar ground, with waffles and ice cream.

All 25 of us had plenty to eat, and plenty of fun to boot.

As I prepare this blog post, the sun has set and the Hebrew date of 10th Shevat has entered. Tonight, Chabad-Lubavitch marks the 60th year since the passing of the Previous Rebbe and the date on which, a year later in 1951, the Rebbe officially accepted the leadership of the Chabad Movement.

Through the next 42 years, until suffering a stroke in March 1992, the Rebbe revolutionised Torah study, bringing the text of the Torah, Rashi’s commentary and Talmudic teaching to life in a manner never before accomplished. The value of every single Jew, every human being and every single positive act, again revolutionised by the Rebbe. From a simple office in Brooklyn, the Rebbe taught and inspired a movement which, under the Rebbe’s guidance, would reach Jews in every corner of the globe, amassing an army of some 4000 couples who have left their communities and comfort zones, indefinitely, in their quest to share the beauty of living Judaism with every Jew on the planet.

So Norwegian Shabbat made perfect sense.

Throughout the 80’s, the Rebbe was asked about a Chabad presence in Scandinavia, and consistently the Rebbe responded ‘not yet’. And then the Rebbe gave his blessing to Rabbi & Mrs Alex Namder to set up shop in Gothenburg, and then Chabad moved to Denmark, and then Norway, and finally Finland!

Here’s a story Shterna shared at the dinner.

Shterna called Mrs Esther Miriam Wilhelm, of Chabad of Norway for some food-for-thought. Her husband shared the following story:

Yaakov, a secular Israeli, arrived in Oslo, from where he and Rabbi Wilhelm were scheduled to travel north to Tromso, where Yaakov would be managing the financial side of a kosher smoked salmon factory, which Rabbi Wilhelm supervised. While still in Oslo, the rabbi offered Yaacov the opportunity to don Tefillin, which he declined despite also being urged to by a non-Jewish Norwegian woman who was involved in the smoked salmon enterprise.

At 10:30pm that evening, 24th June, in the broad daylight of northern Norway, Rabbi Wilhelm and Yaakov were walking through the centre of Tromso, when a car screeched up beside them and a middle-aged Israeli yelled in Hebrew ‘What are you doing here?’. After exchanging pleasantries, the surprised Israeli insisted that they join him at his bar, overlooking the Tromso Bridge where thousands gather each year during late June to witness the sun’s quick setting and immediate rise. While Yaakov accompanied Uri, the rabbi dashed back to his hotel room for his pair of Tefillin.

When he returned to the crowded bar, Rabbi Wilhelm asked Uri if he wished to don Tefillin. Uri enthusiastically and emotionally rolled up his sleeve, while declaring that this was the first time in 41 years that he was performing this special Mitzvah. Many of the patrons of the crowded bar stared in disbelief as a sobbing Uri emotionally recited the Shema. When Uri concluded, the rabbi turned to Yaakov and said “now would you like to put on Tefillin?”. Yaakov responded that he’ll do it at the bridge, where the two had planned to witness the remarkable sunset, followed six minutes later by sunrise.

At 1:00am, with the sky bright as day, Yaakov put on the Tefillin at the bridge as promised. The two stood in silence as they witnessed the remarkable sunset, with the suns rays reflecting on the water. Barely six minutes later, the sun rose in all its glory, and Rabbi Wilhelm turns to the stunned Yaakov and says, “you promised you’d put on Tefillin at the bridge. Would you like to put them on?”. “But I just did”, declared Yaakov, to which the rabbi responded, “but that was yesterday”.

“My friends back in Israel will be amazed to learn that I put on Tefillin on two separate days, 25 minutes apart”, declared Yaakov as he rolled up his sleeve.

After Shterna concluded the story, we invited all the guests to say something, as we do each week. Tefillin was the chosen Mitzvah by a student who was inspired by the beautiful story.

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