Yom Kippur Appeal Speech 2018/5779

 There are two possible scenarios of how I have come to stand in this same exact spot after making a Yom Kippur Appeal speech 7 years ago.

Scenario 1

Since my last appearance up here, I have vigorously campaigned year after year, sending edits and rough drafts of a Yom Kippur appeal speech to Rabbi Katz, virtually begging him to allow me to do it again. I have pleaded with him, and he repeatedly tells me that he has hundreds of other competitive speeches to sift through he barely has time in his day to get things done as so many people are asking to be in this same place making this appeal. I have even created my own You Tube channel and I repeatedly through my various social media platforms ask Rabbi Katz to Like my channel and add comments below…and after years of wearing him down, he finally and exhaustively relented.


 Scenario 2

 A few weeks ago, he was thinking to himself about this Yom Kippur Appeal speech and happened to look up and I was nearby. He walked over to me and said

“You might as well talk since I don’t got anyone better”

So on this day, when you are clearly Hungry, Thirsty, sore. We are all suffering from standing, and caffeine withdrawal, you are either too hot or too cold. Rabbi Katz has found one more thing to make you all feel uncomfortable.

Hello, my name is Steve Korol and I welcome you to what is clearly a highly expected but definitely not anticipated Yom Kippur Speech!

I would like to start off with something a bit unconventional; I would like to start off with an apology. I think given this particular day that would be most apropos.

The Machzor is not a source that is quick to edit, or rushes to embrace change. I however would like to introduce a brand new confessional to the list that we are asking forgiveness. It is my own personal confession.

Years ago, when I started attending services at Northwest Suburban Chabad and came to this Middle School for High Holiday attendance I would always question why so many people would be willing to stand at the back of the service waiting for the Yizkor service and depart soon after. I presumed at that time that they were merely checking off a requirement, which they felt, once met allowed them to leave services for the day and not need to return for another year. I thought they were here more out of a sense of family obligation rather than spiritual connection.

I have learned over many years of maturing and perhaps growing a bit wiser, loving and losing people close to me, that I was completely and utterly wrong.

One of the greatest Mitzvot we can ever hope to fulfill in our lives is honoring our Mothers and our fathers. Honoring our families. In fact, it is so important that it is virtually one of the only mitzvot we learn of the reward for accomplishing it, that of a long life. It is so important of a Mitzvot that in the 10 Commandments it is on the same status level equal to the laws governing the relationship between mankind directly to Hashem. What I once failed to realize when I judged those who prioritized attending the Yizkor service as primary importance, is that above all else, they are the first to continue to honor their mothers and their fathers. They continue to quietly stand in the back to listen to languages that they might not be comfortable with, to patiently wait their turn to repeatedly say to the ones they loved that they are here on this particularly holiest day in the calendar to tell the world that those who have lived before them are still remembered, are still valued and are STILL LOVED. Your presence here reminds us all that Love should always be spoken of in the present tense.  You represent the concept of “L’dor Va’dor” generation to generation perhaps better than anyone I have ever met. It is my sincere wish that those whom you love and that you are here to recite Kaddish for, feel your love up in Shemayim, up in heaven, and while you are here and for every day throughout your lives you feel their love wrapped in each of you hearts. I have learned more from those in the back of this room than I have at times from those in the front. I want you to know that it is an honor and I am humbled to be able to share this day and daven among truly righteous people. Thank you and Spasiba. 

In my home, the place where most of life occurs is our kitchen. It is where my family gathers to share, to laugh, to cry and to heal. It is where my kids do their homework, where we discuss our day, where my wife Lisa takes care of us and nurtures us; it is where we as a family typically find our center of gravity. For others that space might be their family room or den or wherever that might be for you. It is the place where most of your life occurs. It is where the heart of your family is. It is where you connect. I like the concept that it can also extend beyond my immediate family. There is also a place that holds that heart, that center of gravity for my extended Jewish family and that place is Northwest Suburban Chabad. It is where you are always welcomed; you are always nourished (both physically and spiritually). It is a place where we can go to laugh and connect, to occasionally cry and to once again heal. It is a place to celebrate our holidays and to witness Judaism enjoyed with monumental enthusiasm.  We all come from a myriad of different backgrounds and experiences; the Chabad House is the place where we all find common ground.

I would like to start with some exciting accomplishments as we start a new year together. I’d like to share some wonderful growth through the hard work of many at Chabad. First, through the help of Chanie and a team of dedicated volunteers, they have really grown the Jewish woman’s circle. Now many woman who were previously either unfamiliar with Chabad or didn’t feel committed to any Jewish institution now have an opportunity to make a connection through friendship, sharing and learning as they long for a community. Obviously, through the great turn out it has proven to be something this community truly values.

Also, this past year, Mendel and Esther Golda and Mushka have put in a lot of dedication in growing the senior outreach program. They have made it a priority encouraging our senior citizens to feel valued and remain connected to Yiddishkeit. They constantly visit and create programs at many of the area’s senior assisted living facilities. It makes me smile to know that these people never feel neglected.

I also what to announce, that this summer we have finally put on a completely brand new roof on the white house. Next week there is a small change in the Amidah, when we again start asking Hashem to make the winds blow and the rain to fall, and we can now finally relax when we say it.

When you run the house that is white, you work very hard to make sure that you try and stay in the black and avoid falling into the red. You hope that in the end you have enough green to make it happen. We are very fortunately to have some of the best Green in the world, Gail and Allen Green and their wonderful extended family.

It is necessary that I take the time to thank them both. I have often said that Allen is the rudder of this ship ensuring that we sail in the proper direction and reach safe harbor. It was largely due to Allen’s careful planning that this much needed and long over due roofing replacement was accomplished without having to create a capital funding campaign. I try to publicly thank and acknowledge Allen and Gail Green for all their hard work on behalf of Chabad. They continually dedicate 110%.  Primarily because they truly deserve to be recognized and also because about 10 years ago, my wife Lisa got her initial prescription for Bifocals and while driving home from the optometrist wearing them for the first time, she smashed into the Green’s mail box! So it is cheaper to thank them than reimburse them!

I recognize and fully appreciate that there are many worthwhile philanthropies. I want to share some ideas of why Northwest Suburban Chabad should be one of yours and why this particular Chabad is one of my dear causes and why I have chosen to help support it. I value Chabad for what they have done for me as well as what they do not need to do for me.

I am very fortunate to have a wife who values and prioritizes a Shabbat dinner ever Friday night. I recognize not everyone is able to have this beautiful experience. Over the course of the year, there are several Friday night Shabbat dinners at Chabad. And while I do not necessarily need this for me, I truly appreciate it and value it for the community.

We have attended a few in the past and let me tell you that if you have not yet had the chance to have a Friday night dinner at Chabad you are truly missing out. First, the space at the white house is transformed as only Shabbat and Chanie can do. It is beautiful and the food is delicious. (Thank you Chanie). The services are very short (thank you Rabbi Katz,) and the evening very fun. I love seeing all the Shabbat candles burning bright; The smell of warm food and the great and lively conversations. And it is available to anyone in the community. I don’t need it, but again I value it and this is one reason why Northwest Suburban Chabad is my cause.

I know that in philanthropy people don’t really donate to ideas or causes, rather they prefer to donate to people. So let me tell you about the two people who are the DNA of this Chabad. It is far better to allow their actions rather than my words to best describe how truly blessed we are to have them in our lives.

A few years ago, Chanie and Rabbi Katz married off their first child Mendel to the wonderful Esther Golda. The wedding was in London. Immediately following the Wedding, Chanie took the most inconvenient and tiring flight to get home just in time to be at the front door greeting your kids as they were dropped off to Hebrew School. Those kids had no idea Chanie hadn’t slept for days; they had no idea that she barely made a flight and crazy connections just to be able to share her huge smile as the kids walked into Sunday school. Who does that? Who worries so much about being back in Buffalo Grove perfectly on time? I will tell you who does that, Chanie Katz. And why, because she loves your children as if they were her own. I say that with all honesty and sincerity. This is not a cliché. There is nobody that focuses, energizes and prioritizes the needs of your children’s Jewish education as passionately as Chanie.  

I no longer have kids young enough to attend Chabad Hebrew School. But my kids are here today in shul, my kids share Shabbat dinner with us every week, my kids are proud to be Jews partly because they had and continue have Chanie in their lives. I know that her thumbprint is on each of my daughters. Chanie Katz’s passion for your children’s Jewish identity is again one of the reasons Chabad is my cause.

Chabad is there for us throughout all aspects of our lives. Through the good times and the difficult ones.

I want to share something that happened this year that profoundly affected me.

There was a guy who frequently attended morning Minyan. By all observations, he lived a difficult life. He struggled to make ends meet. Did some odd jobs, drove a taxi for a few years, drove uber. He lived alone. He did not have family. I would say he lived a challenging existence. And yet he often was the 10th person at morning services making it a minyan and allowing those who needed to be able to say Kaddish. He would attend services and really enjoyed the discussions we have following Shacharit. He would often stay until the last person left. I now realize that perhaps this was his primary socialization and maybe the only personal connection he might have enjoyed all day.

And then one day we received word that Chanan Nuger unexpectedly died. He was a few years younger than me. He died without family, he died without having a spouse or children he could have truly died alone.

Now we all know how expensive it is to live as a Jew, but it is also very expensive to die as one. Death has with it extremely high associated costs. Chanan had no money. He was almost penniless at the time of his passing.

Let me explain what happens when you die penniless and alone in lake county.

If a person is indigent and has no funds, the coroner or medical examiner would eventually release the body to have it buried in a pauper’s grave at the same time as the other accumulated bodies from the coroner’s office during a mass burial. Each individual grave would have only a number on the marker. No name, no connection to previous generations. Nothing showing this person was once here. Often times for purposes of cost and expediency, the State frequently opts for cremation.

That is not what happened to Chanan. Rabbi Katz fortunately intervened.

Chanan was able to receive a proper burial, a halachally Kosher Burial. A truly respectful burial. Rabbi Katz made certain that there were many people in attendance accompanying Chanan to his final resting place. It would have been easy to not care, to allow the lake county coroner to handle it. However that is not what Rabbi Katz would allow. He knows that one of the absolute greatest mitzvahs we can perform for another Jew is to take care of a body to ensure that there will be a proper burial. I will tell you that as Chanan left this world to enter into the next he was NOT alone. He was surrounded by the many people from this community whom he shared so many mornings; He was escorted with dignity, with friendship, with respect and with kindness. Rabbi Katz made sure there were meaningul eulogies, and someone to recite a year of Kaddish. I asked Rabbi Katz who was paying for all of this, and without a second of hesitation he said he would. He didn’t wait for someone else to rise up and do the right thing. He was gong to take that awesome responsibility upon himself. I don’t know how much love Chanan felt every day of his life, but I know he certainly felt it on that particular day.

I hope NOBODY should ever need this service; there is not a single person here who has directly benefited from Rabbi Katz involvement in this particular burial, except the one person who is no longer here to thank him. This is not something that anyone wants but if you are a caring Jew, a decent human being you must truly appreciate that Chabad and Rabbi Katz are there for everyone at every time.

I have often commented that I am much taller than both Chanie and Rabbi Katz, but from the very first day I have met them, I have needed to stand on my tip toes to be able to look up to them. They are both towering giants of compassion. And they are two big reasons why this Chabad is close to my heart.

Chabad’s mission is not to make you more religious. That is a personal decision that is entirely up to you. Chabad cannot make you more Jewish as you cannot be more of something that you have already been born into being. What Chabad can do is to hold up a giant magnifying glass up to the gift that we have all been given and to help allow us to more clearly see its beauty, it’s joy and it life sustaining energy.

And it needs your help now more than ever to allow it to continue to be there for us. The needs of Chabad are great and it depends completely on its financial survival on your generosity. Chabad is here if you need a place to educate your children, Chabad is here if you wish to learn more of our faith. Chabad is here when life is wonderful and joyous and you get to enjoy the blessing of Simchas, and Chabad is here when the unimaginable happens. They are here for us to meet together on this holy day when we are asking Hashem to be written in the book of life. And it is here for us to remember those who have passed before us as we wish to continue to honor their legacies during the Yizkor service.

Chabad needs your help to continue its mission. Without your support at this time, we might not be able to accomplish and touch all the Jewish lives in our community.

The single greatest threat to the Jewish community today is not Iran; it is not the numerous anti-Semitic acts plaguing the world. NO, the greatest threat to Judaism is APATHY. It is not caring, it is not standing & supporting what your truly care about and what you believe.

Now more than ever, we as a community need to rise up and demonstrate our support.

Chabad needs your help. So please, as you leave, please take one of the self addressed envelopes and drop a check in the mail or better yet, tonight after you have eaten one too many bagels, please log onto www.NWSChabad.org and make a contribution. YES IT TRULY MATTERS AND YES IT WILL MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

Tonight during the final moments of Yom Kippur we will have the Neilah service. I have to be honest, sometime during that service I start counting the remaining pages, or occasionally I look out the windows in the back of the room to see how dark it is, sometimes I pray that Rabbi Katz doesn’t try to sneak in an extra Maariv service before the final shofar blast ending the fast. But there are times when the ark is opened and it really clicks for me, I really connect. During the final moments of Yom Kippur I know that Hashem is leaning in trying to hear my personal prayers, I know that it during this precise time that heaven and earth are at their closest that I am able to connect with Hashem and pray as if my life depends on it, because it truly does. I know that when we give Tzedakah can we change and upgrade the plan G‑d has in store for us and ONLY when we give Tzedakah can we be allowed to demand from G‑d. So I ask that you start your conversation with Hashem with what you plan on doing for Tzedekah, I hope it is generous and I hope that at the same time Hashem will provide you and your family with Health and Happiness, and I hope G‑d will be also generous.


I want to leave you with one final thought. I can think of no better idea that better encapsulates our Chabad. It happened during a particularly dark and evil time in human history.   It was during Chanukah in the Warsaw Ghetto. A family was preparing to light the Chanukah Menorah, the father realized he had very little of anything left to be able to burn as candles. So he took the family’s ration of margarine. They looked at him astonished and asked why he was willing to burn the last of the rations. He looked at each of them and told them

You can last 3 weeks without food, you can last 3 days without water, but you cannot last even 3 minutes without hope.

And therein lies the main reason Northwest Suburban Chabad is my cause because it gives me hope that there are those who will continue to work to help us love being Jews and that Am Yisrael Chai, the nation of Israel lives, the People of Israel live remains forever true not only for Eretz Israel but for our corner of the NW Chicago suburbs as well.

L’Shana tova

May we all merit being written in the book of life for a Good, for a Happy, for a Healthy and for a sweet new year!

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