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Chai Five Celebration
by Robert J. Nebel
Atlanta Jewish Life magazine, Jan/Feb 2004

Even a rainy rush hour in the middle of a dank November week could not keep Chabad Alpharetta's faithful from attending their Chai Five! Celebration at Roswell's Holiday Inn. More than 200 members, nonmembers, supporters and friends of the Chabad filed into a ballroom reserved for a night of festivities, speeches, and accolades.

Chai Five! marked the crowning achievements of this once fledgling congregation that began in the outposts of Alpharetta five years ago. "We chose to mark this anniversary because in American culture high-five means the thrill of achievement," says Chabad Alpharetta’s 31-year-old Rabbi Hirshy Minkowicz, who started this congregation with his wife Rashni after moving to Atlanta from his native Brooklyn, New York in August 1998. "We are very proud of that achievement and how far we have come. Also, we are not surprised that we have grown so far and fast.” Many in attendance agree with the Rabbi. “I absolutely saw this Chabad growing,” says volunteer Robert Taran. “I came here from Canada about eight years ago and joined Chabad Alpharetta 4 years ago. I saw this community growing and am encouraged at the dedication of its members. I also love the Rabbi. He is my Rabbi and a friend.”

The Chabad movement's popularity is gaining a foothold in many communities. Minkowicz explains that many young adults are joining for a sense of community and education. Like a professor, Minkowicz enjoys educating inquiring minds about the origins of Chabad. "The word "Chabad" is a Hebrew acronym for the three intellectual faculties of: chachmah-wisdom, binah-comprehension and da'at-knowledge," he says. "The movement's system of Jewish religious philosophy, the deepest dimension of G-d's Torah, teaches understanding and recognition of the Creator, the role and purpose of Creation, and the importance and unique mission of each Creature. This philosophy guides a person to refine and govern his and her every act and feeling through wisdom, comprehension and knowledge."

The ballroom was decked out with topnotch catered food and donated prizes supplied by the members and supporters for a Chinese Auction to raise funds for the Chabad. "The Chinese Auction is a fund-raiser that is a cross between an auction and a raffle," explains Rabbi Minkowicz. "Participants buy tickets for set prices and then use those tickets to enter raffles for the displayed prizes. They can bid on as many tickets as they want. The item goes to the person whose ticket is drawn at random." Many in the crowd quickly became educated on the Chinese Auction.

“I think that the Chabad is closer to what we have in South Africa,” explains volunteer Lauren Karseboom, clad in a stylish designer blouse. Karseboom is one of the many South African members of Chabad Alpharetta who has been flocking to the congregation.

“I find them (Chabad Alpharetta) so warm and inviting,” says volunteer ticket taker Barrie Antebi, 36. Even though Rabbi Minkowicz insists that the evening was not about attracting new members, there were some prospective members such as Nola Traut, another South African transplant who was watching one of the member’s babies at the event. “I’m unaffiliated at the moment and I’m trying to see where I fit in,” she says.

A Chai Five! celebration would not have been complete without honoring members who went out of their way to strengthen the Chabad. Steve and Betsy Kramer and Anthony and Tracy Shapiro were given special Chabad honor for their support and volunteer time.

The evening was a complete hit with the audience as they were treated to a hilarious comic performance from Hasidic comedian Robert Russell who goes by the name “Reuven.” The boisterous and popular New Yorker was armed with a spate of Jewish and political humor ranging from Bill Clinton and George W. Bush jokes to more specific comic stories about New York and Israel. "How many here have been to Israel," the comedian asked as a few hands were raised. "OK, those who aren't raising your hands, GO! Yes, that's right, you can leave, go right now."

As the Chabad grows, so is Rabbi Minkowicz’s family. He and Rashni are expecting their fourth child. Chabad Alpharetta has 70 members and 100 supporters. Those numbers are steadily increasing as more Jews move to Alpharetta. “He is truly a self-starter. I saw this coming since he was a little child,” says Minkowicz’s brother Shlomo who was also visiting from New York. “Whoever would have though you can pull 200 people to get together like this on a weeknight. Only my little brother can do that. I love little brothers.”

(C)2004, Leader Publishing

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