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Sandro Rosell
FC Barcelona President
Thursday, September 21, 2017

I was down and out, the day after Yom Kippur in 2014. A financial advisor for over 20 years, not fully recovered from the financial crises of a few years prior, I was looking to "give back" somehow, to make a difference, not knowing what to do but pray to Hashem, in my own words, "Ribono shel olam, help me help others." I was not raised observant but started learning about Rabbi Nachman of Breslov after a family trip to Israel in 2010, during which I davened in English at the grave of the Arizal, in Safed. Histbodedut, personal prayer, in my own language would soon change my life for the better. My parents, grandparents, even great grandparents were from Brooklyn, and I have been living on Long Island most of my life, so I prayed to the Master of the Universe.

I googled two words together that Sunday, "Mitzvah" and "Brooklyn" and the result was I watched a video as the sites founder Michael Cohen, spoke about the importance of mitzvah and helping others. I had been reading Pirkei Avot so by then I knew that the main thing is not study, but action. I sent a text to Michael and within a week, was sent to visit a Holocaust Survivor and I was hooked (see youtube: Ludwig Katzenstein). One mitzvah lead to another and I signed on as a Volunteer with, Friendly Visiting for Holocaust Survivors, a project of the Jewish Community Council of Greater Coney Island (JCCGCI). Previously, my experience with Coney Island was limited to rides on the Cyclone and trips to my favorite aquarium.

During the past decade, I purchased books and DVDs about the Holocaust, but this time it was different. Over the next two years, I would drive many Thursday evenings and Sunday mornings from my home on Long Island, to visit more than twenty survivors. I heard some amazing stories from those who wished to talk about it. There were several who didn't and I respected their wishes. From survivors such as Rebecca in Borough Park, who was a refugee on the ship Exodus 1947, where the British did not allow the passengers to get off in Israel.

Stories from Ludwig, a survivor in Midwood, whose father got the family out of Nazi Germany before Kristallnacht, and how the Captain of the Queen Mary held the ship and saved them as they were crossing borders, trying to escape. Stories about Frances, from Flatbush, a survivor of several camps and the "death march," who was at Auschwitz, and assisted four women, including Roza Robota, blow up an oven (the women were caught and hanged).

I learned about perserverance, about "Emunah," faith in Hashem, and about good people striving to rebuild after the horrors of the Shoah. I learned about some of the children, grandchildren, even great grandchildren of some of the Survivors. And I learned of the loved ones lost and those that never really rebuilt broken lives and live near poverty even to this day.

Along the way, I visited orthodox synagogues in neighborhoods from Brighton Beach to Borough Park, from Coney Island to Crown Heights and Williamsburg. At some point, I was determined to make a book of the top 100 Orthodox shuls in Brooklyn but one Shabbat, I heard an elderly man pledge "Ten Times Chai" or $180. So I expanded my journey to Queens, were I was born in 1963, to Manhattan, where I lived after graduating Cornell University in 1985, and the Bronx, to where my only prior visit was the time that I attended a Yankees game. I finally made it to Staten Island, where my great grandparents, immigrants from Pinsk, Russia in the 1890s, rest in peace in paupers graves provided by the Hebrew Free Burial Association.

I enjoyed being in the different neighborhoods and seeing the relatively new influx of immigrants in Brooklyn and Queens from places like Iran, Iraq, Russia, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

I learned another lesson from Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, "Azamra," or "Finding the Good Points" in each other and in ourselves. "Ten Times Chai: 180 Orthodox Synagogues of New York City" takes readers on a tour, with 613 color photos, of 180 existing orthodox synagogues, in over sixty different neighborhoods in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island. Available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble stores in Manhattan, and throughout New York in Judaica stores. The book is dedicated to the more than twenty Holocaust Survivors I met and is a testament to religious freedom in New York City.

By: Michael J. Weinstein