Claire Ginsburg Goldstein
the teddy bear Rabbi

The Unfolding

To share some of my Dvar Torah from this past Shabbat. – A bit of Back story. We had organized a Shabbat Hatan to honor Ivan and Shira at Chabad of Tenafly. What a reception and Kavod paid to them! It left us feeling so appreciated and humble.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful if more people could spread more light like that?

And then Rabbi Shain asked Ivan to speak…I followed him…so I decided to take a chance and share my past to explain and tie it to the present..and why their Jewish wedding meant so much to me. All of this plus more tied to yesterday’s Torah portion…Chapter 28 verse 1…and Isaac blessed Jacob…no disguises, no masks, no pretending…

And so the story unfolds…

When I was younger in school, I was sent to an Orthodox Zionist school although I was raised Conservative. Every day, I felt that I had to put a mask on, to pretend that I was someone that I wasn’t. (It created feelings of being an imposter, of getting caught and what punishment lurked ahead? ) But when you come to Chabad, you come as you are, no more pretending, no more masks. (just like the old Jacob who felt that he had to disguise himself to steal his father’s blessing earlier on but then in Chapter 28, he longer had to .)

Continuing, I used to wonder would Gd remember me to bless me too? After all, I was in disguise and not my authentic self. Would Gd see through my disguise?

During the Rosh Hodesh prayers at Minhah Friday afternoon, I happened to notice three words, “זכרינו, פקדינו והושיעינו. G-d remembers us, G-d will come to us in an appointed time, and G-d will redeem us. Could I count on those words? After all I had been reciting those words for decades…

But G-d had….

More back story…It Sarah Rose’s bat mitzvah trip to Israel…2009. Shira agreed to go with us to help to make it that much more special. We had teddy bears for Sederot children…The Gantshar family wanted to travel there since no one was visiting there during the missile barrages. We went during a “quiet” time. There had been no missiles shot down there in 30 days. We arrived in Sederot and practiced running to bomb shelters in 15 seconds. We could not make it in time. How could the residents? We found children at a hospital clinic. Within 5 minutes, the toys were distributed.

Now what..we headed to a pizza and falafel take away and stand. The owner saw us and began to cry. He didn’t have any customers in over 30 days. We bought what we could. We then noticed a 7-11 type store next door. We ran over there and tried to buy out his store as well. Did we need all of that food? No way. We wanted to let them know that we weren’t abandoning our people.

Fast forward to a “welcome to town of Teaneck Israeli vendor sale”. Americans were not traveling to Israel due to the increased violence there.

So the Israeli vendors were brought here.

Larry and I wanted to buy up everything in sight.

We searched for a vendor from Sederot. We had to let him know that we cared.

We found him selling tallises. But then how many could we buy?

We found one that seemed to fit Larry just fine. We bought it. Excited!

But it lay there, on our dining room chair, until Larry decided that it was time to go to shul…to begin to pray, to say thank you.

What motivates anyone to say thank you to G-d for so many blessings?

Was it Sarah’s bat mitzvah since she was the youngest and last of those ceremonies?

Was it Sarah’s working in the Hebrew schools to help other children enjoy Hebrew school?

Was it that we were waking up and realizing that we had been taking Gd’s blessings for granted?

And then Shira met Ivan on an app. They were going to elope but Shira had told him that she couldn’t, that she needed her family.

They found a judge to marry them. That was awhile back.

What happened to the two years of nursery and 9 years of SSDS education and five years of Hebrew high school? What would my mother say? I thought that that was the end of our Jewish story…my heart broke.

They both said that once Ivan would enter an international dental program and get settled, they would organize and plan a Jewish wedding. They were true to their word…and used Larry’s Sederot tallis for their chuppah.

(I know that I shared much of this story before but everything is actually connected to other chapters as well.)

But Ivan almost had missed his aliya yesterday…there was a glass bowl that broke at breakfast that had to be cleaned up…there was traffic on their way to shul…

But they made it, just in time for the 7th aliya…Rabbi Shain had held that aliya open for him.

There Ivan stood, (rushing up to the bima), in his wedding tallis and wearing a kippah from their wedding, up on the Torah bima, reciting Hebrew blessings of the aliya, transliterated into Arabic, so that he could sound like he was reciting Hebrew…you see Arabic vowels are much closer in sound to Hebrew than are English vowels..makes sense, no? After all, we are “cousins”. Shira told me that she practiced with him. He made all the correct guttural sounds.

It was the coming together of two worlds, two languages and making them fit together…like the new Aravrit..that was made up by Liron Lavi Turkenich, that’s gaining popularity.

But then came all of the singing after the aliya…Mazel tov and Siman tov.

And the candy being thrown at him…he was showered in candy.

Unexpected and unplanned.

More blessings.

And then Kiddush lunch from Sababa’s and Butterflake…more food than anyone could eat.

Ivan was then asked to speak…since it wasn’t planned, he had to speak from his heart. It was so meaningful.

He spoke about his gratitude of being welcomed into the community and made to feel so at home.

And then he found out that four men at Tenafly Chabad had Syrian roots…one, Yosef, had come up to him to speak to him in Arabic…Ivan saw this as a true homecoming, away from his home.

When I spoke, it was a shortened version of what my grandparents had given me, a Jewish education but I had to receive it, in disguise…but then that it took reading Chapter 28, verse 1, to “get it”. I had an AHA moment, HP. Isaac spoke to Jacob, wearing no disguises. Isaac knew that he was speaking to Jacob when he blessed him. Did Rivkah put him up to it? I can only imagine, but Isaac blessed Jacob, knowing full well that it was Jacob. I didn’t get the sense that Isaac was blind anymore, as if his blindness had vanished. Thus, I too felt blessed and redeemed. Gd had remembered me in his appointed time.

Redeemed? What does that mean to me?

There aren’t many practicing Jews left in our extended family as the new generations burst forth, blossoming. It is just too easy to be American. (One distant relative’s daughter even accused me of spreading lies by teaching Judaism and Jewish practices. I was told that she wasn’t well, that her medications made her say what she said. I know that there are truths spoken in every sentence. It would be interesting to see what she might say once she is “well” again. )

What would my Bubbie and Zadie say, after making such efforts over 100 years ago to come here from Pinsk, 1910 and 1913, to begin their lives again?

Judaism was so important to both of them. My Bubbie embraced her Jewish religion and traditions. Zadie loved Israel and the Jewish culture. Together, they blessed us with their love and passions.

And yesterday, at shul, I saw their legacy, their future Yerushah unfolding…

As I folded up Larry’s tallis to bring it back, to place it gently, unto that dining room chair, I was thinking of his mother’s yahrtzeit today, Larry’s birthday tomorrow.

Life continues on.

But also, of the continuing, flowing, Jewish story that now Shira and Ivan will be writing.

May we all be blessed with being fortunate enough to remove our disguises and masks, “to continue to dig those wells of Isaac”, to reveal our authentic selves, and to internalize all of Gd’s bountiful blessings.

Next story, what made Ivan want to be Jewish when in Syria, it is outlawed and forbidden? It was due to his grandmother Miriam and her love for Judaism and our Jewish people.

It takes a Bubbie, (and of course a Zadie)…and the Torah.

About the Author
Rabbi Claire conceived of the concept Bears from Bergenfield upon a routine check of the Israeli staff at camp SLC August of 2001. She realized that the world needed to wake up and become aware of the suffering the Israelis were enduring as the Palestinians continued their intifada against them. After 18 years and 195,000 teddy bears amassed and redistributed, Rabbi Claire is searching for more public platforms to proliferate and advance her message, that Jewish lives matter, especially with a teddy bear. Rabbi Claire lives in Bergen County with her husband of 38 years, Larry, and their 4 children, Sam, Shira, Seth, and Sarah Rose, plus their incoming son-in-law Ivan. For further information of how to get involved with this endearing project, contact her at