Claire Ginsburg Goldstein
the teddy bear Rabbi

What’s your fave mitzvah? The Montreal couple know

So what’s your favorite mitzvah? For Abraham, it was inviting guests in/ hachnasat orchim. Plus, he did it come “hell or high waters” so to speak, with passion. It’s that power of a mitzvah that drives our people and keeps on driving the train, so to speak.

So here’s a mitzvah story for you and what one man or couple can do has so many ripple effects…The story begins…

No one was visiting Israel, yet once again. A rabbinic couple felt that they had to do something. It was Rabbi Mordechai Glick z”l and his wife, Nina. They organized an Israeli vendor fair, where else? but in Teaneck…at the Roemer shul.

Larry and I couldn’t wait to go. We wanted to buy up everything in sight.

But we paused at the Sederot table.

Why Sederot? Back story- The Gantshars had driven Shira, Sarah, and me down there on Sarah’s bat mitzvah trip, March 2009, to distribute teddy bears, during a time of “quiet”. What does “quiet” mean? No missiles had been shot into Sederot for 30 days or so. It seems hard to imagine… We stopped at a Clalit clinic to find children who might appreciate a teddy bear from America. The distributed teddy bears were gone in less than 5 minutes so we had a good deal of time on our hands. We headed over to a pizza and falafel stand to support local businesses. The owner started to cry when he saw us and had come to wait on us. He told us that he hadn’t had a customer in over thirty days. It just made us that much more determined to do what we could for Sederot residents. We ran over to the candy and ice cream store next door to load up on candy and ice cream, and purchase much more than we could possibly ever think of eating.

Fast forward to the Sederot table at the Roemer shul. What was he selling? Tallises. So many striped, sized for all body shapes and heights.

There we saw a tallis that matched Larry’s colors, browns and beiges with a bit of black stripes as well. The size seemed right as well. It looked like a good fit so we bought it. I had the feeling that even if it hadn’t fit well, we still would have bought it. So glad to be able to support someone from Sederot once again. Then, soon afterwards, Larry and I began walking to Chabad in Tenafly to shul. Larry would wear his tallis with pride upon arriving there.

Thus began our spiritual journey,.. all because we happened to attend an Israeli vendor fair in Teaneck, organized by the Glicks. All because someone from Sederot, someone kind and down to Earth, happened to sell us a tallis… that made Larry feel good to wear it on Shabbat.

But the tallis story doesn’t end there. There’s more. Fast forward once again.

Shira had begun to swipe on an app called OK Cupid, looking for someone that would be a good fit for her, a good life partner. She found Ivan, in which the app predicted that they would agree about 87% on life’s issues. She was sold! Besides Ivan had signed his name in Hebrew on the app, since his mother made him promise that he would find a Jewish woman. You see, Ivan is from Damascus, where Jews aren’t allowed to live as Jews. His mother wanted a foothold into a Jewish future. But he didn’t know that Shira was a Jewish name..not yet.

So they met. He cooked Syrian food for her. It’s been a saga 2 1/2 years in the making. After much discussion, the two decided to get married by a clerk in Hackensack. My heart sank. Was that the end of our Jewish story? Ivan looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t worry. We will have a Jewish wedding. Let me get on with my life. Let me get settled in the international Dental school program. Then we will plan.” It turns out that Syrian Jewish weddings are very traditional. Shira wanted what she was comfortable with; something a bit less traditional, and more along the lines of Conservative and Reform Judaism. For me, it was the added experiences of the Mikvah and the Ketubah ceremony that sold me (there are no ways to make the mikvah and Ketubah ceremonies exactly “Conservative or Reform”; there are specific procedures to follow even if the details for following through aren’t all the same)…Judaism was alive and well.

But what about the tallis from Sederot? We needed a chuppah and I was determined to have it made by our family.

But which tallis would we use for the chuppah? By now, there were 3* tallises in our own family, plus I found out that my father’s tallis was still around and could be used as well to wrap the couple under the chuppah. ( The second tallis I bought for Larry from a store that we stumbled into by “accident” on our way to serve at Meir Panim soup kitchen in Jerusalem. The third tallis was a gift for Ivan as his wedding gift, bought from a wonderful older man, who happened to own a shop on Ben Yehudah. We had facetimed with Ivan to show him the choices of tallises that he had in that shop that day to help him decide what to buy.)

As it turned out Ivan wore his white tallis at his aufruf.

Shira decided that the tallis from Sederot was going to be her chuppah tallis.

As we arrived at the venue, on the wedding day, my sister and nephew were busy, helping my children, assemble our family chuppah, carefully attaching the Sederot tallis tzitzit onto the pole hooks.

As I paused to think about the significance of the chuppah, and where the Sederot tallis had come from, all that came to mind was the determination and passion of the Glicks, then, doing their mitzvah; inviting Israeli vendors into Teaneck’s Roemer shul to sell their wares. We had just happened to meet a vendor from Sederot who happened to be selling tallises that day…and one happened to look good, “wrapping” up Larry.

Is this a wrap?

I certainly hope not. There are other family weddings and life events just waiting to happen out there.

I will continue to pray and ask Larry to pray alongside, on his side of the michitzah that is.

You just never know where a mitzvah might take you…

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