Zev Kahn

JET’s response to Pittsburgh – bring more light into the world

After the traumatic massacre in Pittsburgh last month, I wanted to share some thoughts and to tell you what JET is doing to bring some light into a world that was darkened through such a senseless act that affected each of us.
First, I wanted to share the thoughts of two rabbis, Rabbi Warren Goldstein, the Chief Rabbi of South Africa, and Rabbi Reuven Gross, the Rabbi of my shul, Shaarei Tzedek Mishkan Yair in West Rogers Park. There have been many words spoken and written about what happened. I found these two particularly meaningful to me and hopefully they will be to you too.
Rabbi Goldstein, founder of the worldwide Shabbos Project, soon after Shabbat had finished in Johannesburgh wrote this: “As the powerful words of the Havdallah were being sung – “for the Jews there was light, happiness, joy and honor” – I looked at the faces of the crowd gathered under the stars. I reflected on the enormous power that human beings have to bring darkness into the world, to bring hatred and suffering. But, at the same time, I reflected on the infinite human capacity to bring light, hope and love into the world.

Havdalah is all about the forces of light and darkness in this world – forces locked in an eternal struggle with each other. Havdalah is about taking the light of Shabbat and spreading it to the days of the week so that it fills every aspect of our daily lives. At Havdalah, we rededicate ourselves to bringing the light of Shabbat to our lives and our world.

Our strongest and most powerful response to the darkness of the Pittsburgh haters is to boldly and courageously spread light in the world. We cannot be intimidated, frightened or paralysed by the darkness. We mourn and we pray, but we are not defeated or afraid. We have faith in G-d to work with us to ensure it is the light that will be victorious, in the words of the Havdalah itself: “I trust and will not be afraid.”

Let us go forward together with heavy, but resolute and confident hearts, to defeat the darkness with our light.”

Rabbi Gross wrote: “So what is the message that we are supposed to get from this tragedy? I do not possess the ruach hakodesh (divine prophecy) needed to answer that question. But I do know what our reaction is supposed to be. And that is to do what Jews have been doing for 3300 years, only with greater resolve. We have to get up in the morning, wash our hands and go on to deal with this sometimes cruel world by living our lives according to Hashem’s Torah, and doing our best to make a kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d’s name) along the way. Because nothing has really changed, and neither should we.”
You can read their entire messages here.

I participated in a discussion at DePaul about anti-semitism the next Wednesday. Jewish and non-Jewish students and leaders of Jewish, Muslim and Christian groups on campus shared their thoughts and feelings. I encouraged everyone present to think of something positive to do and I spoke about the Positive Speech Project which I hope to launch at DePaul soon to help students in the coming months.

Down in Champaign, Rabbi Rubin was one of the speakers at the vigil held at U of I. He spoke about the need to be a support to our friends who are in pain.

In preparation for the first Shabbat following the shooting, Jewish leaders encouraged everyone to attend services on Friday night or Shabbat day and to spread the hashtag #ShowUpForShabbat across social media as an invitation to all.

Rabbi Goldstein wrote: “Like one people with one heart, we share in each other’s joy and we share in each other’s pain. We are a global family of brothers and sisters. And for family – we show up. That’s why I call on everyone to join the global call to show up for Shabbat this week in protest and defiance of the worst attack on Jews in America’s history.”
We hosted students that Shabbat and so did the Rubins down in Champaign. We will continue throughout the year to bring the light of Shabbat into our students’ lives.
On a more positive note, the Rubins are now settled into the JET Home. I was there to celebrate the day they moved in. Here is an account of my experience:

My day in Champaign that Wednesday was the highlight of my week, and possibly my entire kiruv career to this point.

On the Monday, Nate, the contractor, told me that the building had passed the occupancy inspection. That meant that legally the Rubins could move in. I did not want to get too optimistic because we have had so many delays the last few months. There was still so much to do when I visited just that Thursday before. Nate assured me the workers were doing all they could to get everything ready for move in.

When Mordi told me on Tuesday that he had scheduled movers and hired a moving truck for Wednesday, that was when I knew.

It’s hard to describe the feeling I had when I pulled up to the building Wednesday around 1 pm and walked in the door. The painter was still painting, there was another worker doing something to the flooring and there was a big box in the middle of the dining room. But for the first time, it felt like it was a livable space. And the Rubins were planning on staying overnight which meant that the JET Home was officially open!

The dream I had when we first bought the building four years ago was now finally a reality. All the setbacks and struggles were forgotten. Today was a day to celebrate.

Mordi and Nate, the main contractor were there and I’d brought along some Champaign for the occasion. I told them I was making a blessing and that they should say amen and I made a borei pri hagafen with such simcha and hakaras hatov (joy and gratitude).

The big box contained a new fridge that had to be moved into place. The ovens were in place but still needed to be connected to the gas line. The place was still dusty. Mordi was busy putting the beds together. But already I could visualize the dining room filled with students this Friday night, laughing and shmoozing and enjoying Shabbat together.

Rivki Cherrick went down with two of her friends to join the Rubins for their first Shabbat. Thirty AEPhi sorority sisters enjoyed Shabbat dinner together. A smaller group joined the Rubins for lunch. Students I spoke to are so excited that we are ready to host them.

B’ezras Hashem, (Please G-d) it should be a home away from home for them and thousands of students in the months and years to come.

The JET Home is open. Bruchim habai’im. Welcome.

Please email me at with your comments and questions

Michelle Frenkel, JET student at U of I, with Mrs. Tehiya Rubin.
JET Home ready for the first Shabbat meal.


About the Author
Rabbi Zev Kahn is better known in the Chicagoland area as the "Rugby Rabbi" from his days as a former Maccabi Games Gold Medalist in 1985 and 1989. Originally from Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Zev played for University of Cape Town and Western Province under 20, before being selected to represent South Africa. Zev came to Chicago after spending six years at Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, where he completed the Ohr Lagolah teacher training program and was very involved in college student touring programs. The Kahns moved to Chicago in 1998 to work for the Chicago Community Kollel, and in 2005 Rabbi Kahn founded JET - Jewish Education Team, an outreach organization that reaches about 1,000 college students and young professionals throughout Illinois. Rabbi Kahn and his wife, Hilary, a native of Los Angeles, have four children and live in West Rogers Park, Chicago.