Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hasidic leader to visit Portland synagogue Sunday 

The old will meet the new on Sunday when the leader of an ancient group of Jews will visit a recently installed ritual bath at Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh.

The Kalever Rebbe, a Holocaust survivor and leader of Hasidic Jews, has visited hundreds of Jewish communities in America and around the world. When he comes to Portland for public visits at 4 p.m. Sunday, he will share his knowledge with Maine's oldest synagogue, Congregation Shaarey Tphiloh.

What's new at the Noyes Street synagogue is a new ritual bath or mikvah — the only mikvah in the country that is run by a community of people from various denominations and affiliations. Mikvat Shalom was founded in 2008.

Over the course of the last year, the Kalever Rebbe's Hasidic followers have been quietly helping the Jewish community in Portland with a beautification of the Jewish ritual bath (in Hebrew, it's called a "mikvah"). The Portland mikvah, Mikvat Shalom, serves the whole community and "is designed to help Jewish people in Maine achieve higher spirituality by observing the ancient Jewish ritual of holy purification in water," the synagogue's rabbi, Rabbi Akiva Herzfeld, explains in a press statement.

"The President of the mikvah, Susan Cummings-Lawrence, as well as the mikvah supporters are grateful to the people who have helped make the renovations possible, and especially send out a warm hand of welcome to the Kalever Rebbe on this occasion of his visit to Portland," Herzfeld said in a press statement.

"They hope to bring holiness to our Jewish community here," Herzfeld explained in an interview about the visiting group. "It's very important to them to have a holy ritual bath in the Jewish community. When our community said we need some help with our mitvah, they came over very quickly."

A blessing of the mitvah is planned, but other events will take place.

"It's not only about the mitvah, he wants to be available to meet with Jews in the area and be able to bless people," Herzfeld said.

The Kalever Rebbe's Hasidic followers "believe that he has the wisdom to provide divine insight and holy blessings that can transform our lives in this world," the synagogue reported. "Hundreds of thousands of people are said to have been uplifted and motivated by his words of inspiration."

To the layperson, the Kalever Rebbe is a spiritual leader whose arrival meets with much excitement.

"It's like the Pope visiting Catholics," Herzfeld explained.

"'Rebbe' is an ancient word, it was used in the time of ancient Israel, it means 'teacher.' In the ancient world people addressed their teacher as 'rabbi,' ... it means someone who you look to for wisdom," he added.

Hasidic Jews, who emerged in the 18th century and now count about 1 million adherents worldwide, promote spirituality and joy. The Kalever Rebbe "is a direct descendant from the great Jewish sages who studied under the Baal Shem Tov, the Master of the Great Name – centuries ago in eastern Europe," according to Herzfeld.

"We want to respect and honor him for his attempt to bring holiness into the world," Herzfeld said.


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