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Yacov Fruchter



By Rhonda J. Prepes, P. Eng. March 15, 2011

[Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles the Winnipeg Jewish Review is publishing about  various sessions that took place at  the first Limmud in Winnipeg, an incredible festival of Jewish Learning that took place here on March 12-13, and attracted 350 people. Jewish Learning was transmitted through music, food, zumba, text, art, history, culture and current issues where participants of all ages, backgrounds and experiences came together for thought provoking programs and activities. Participants chose form over 60 sessions offered by local talent, international Jewish thinkers, artists and educators.There was ‘something for everyone’. One of the key principles behind Limmud, which was started in the U.K. in 1980 is that everyone has something to contribute -. everyone is a student and everyone can be a teacher.]

Yacov Fruchter, the charismatic  spiritual leader at a popular synagogue in downtown Toronto, and  a natural  story teller, spoke to about 22 participants at  a session  of Limmud on March 13,  entitled  “The Jewish stories that every camp counselor should have in their back pocket”.  Participants at the session,  which was geared towards Jewish camp counselors, directors and parents, ranged in age from 18 to  60 plus.

Summer camp plays an integral part of  Jewish life,s whether we are counselors, serve on the administration or on  a camp's board of directors. Our role is to offer rich Jewish experiences that shape the lives of campers and to impart Jewish wisdom. Fruchter believes that sharing stories is the best way to do this. He wanted to focus his stories on ones that have a valuable message using the five major themes of the Holocaust, Israel, Tikkun Olum (repairing the world), contemporary Jewish issues, and Shabbat.

When telling a story, Fruchter suggested that one must consider the audience, the delivery, the source of the story, the theme and the message one wants to impart.

He shared a short story on the theme of the Holocaust.:

There was a small boy from a town in Poland being chased by some SS officers. The boy leaves the town and runs through fields in his attempt to escape the officers. But the officers continue to follow him. He runs towards a farm and sees a doghouse. He runs towards the doghouse. As he gets closer, he sees a giant viscous dog in front of the dog house. The boy is terrified of the dog, but he is more terrified of what will happen to him if the officers catch him. The dog momentarily leaves his post in front of the doghouse and the boy is able to jump inside. The dog returns to the entrance of the doghouse and when the officers approach, the dog growls at the officers and forces them to retreat.

The following morning when the famer comes to feed the dog, he finds the little boy in the doghouse. At this point, the famer has a number of options. He can turn the boy into the authorities, he can take the boy into his home and care for him, or he can just leave the boy alone. The farmer decides to ignore the boy. Every morning he returns to feed the dog the same amount of food that he always fed the dog. Each morning the giant viscous dog refuses to eat even a morsel of food until the boy has taken his portion first. Several months pass with the farmer and dog acting in exactly the same manner. Finally, the war ends and the boy survives due to the kindness of the viscous dog. The dog understands its role and takes responsibility to care for the boy. The moral of the story is that if humans had the humanity that this four legged creature showed, then our world would be a much better place and the idea of “never again” would be a reality.

A participant, Tikvah Ellis, shared with the group a story from the Talmud about Shabbat. It is called “Yosef’s Reward for Honouring Shabbat”.

There once was a man named Yosef. Yosef loved Shabbat and honoured it very much. Everyone called him, "Yosef Mokir Shabbat" (Yosef who appreciated Shabbat) for Shabbat was very dear to him. Yosef worked very hard for his non Jewish boss. His boss paid him very little money. Yosef’s family spent as little as they could during the week so that on Shabbat they could splurge on the nicest clothes and the nicest food. The week was terrible for the family, but Shabbat was wonderful. They barely survived during the week, but on Shabbat they lived nicely and comfortably.

Yosef’s boss had a dream that he would lose all of his wealth to Yosef. This dream scared him. The first thing he does is fire Yosef and the second thing he does is sell everything he has in exchange for a large jewel. He keeps the jewel under his hat and is confident that Yosef will never get his hands on this jewel if he keeps it close to him. Yosef’s boss goes for a walk on a bridge. A gust of wind comes and knocks his hat and jewel off of his head. The jewel falls over the  side and into the water below. It sinks to the bottom where it is eaten by a fish.

On Friday afternoon, a fisherman catches the fish and weighs it. It is a large fish and he wonders who will be able to afford such an expensive fish - especially since by this time, everyone had already prepared fish for Shabbat? One of the fishermen says, "Take the fish to Yosef Mokir Shabbat. He will surely buy such a special fish, even if he has already prepared other fish." 

Even though Yosef was recently fired from his job, he still wants to buy the best food for Shabbat. So Yosef buys the fish for Shabbat and asks his wife to hurry and prepare it for dinner. His wife takes the knife, opens the fish and calls to Yosef to come see what she has found inside it – the jewel. So Yosef gets his boss’s fortune and he has enough money to make every Shabbat special all because of how important Shabbat was to him. The moral of the story  is that by “borrowing from his weekly budget in order to make Shabbat more beautiful, Yosef was richly rewarded.”

In the session, the participants were divided into groups and each group was challenged to come up with stories on one of the five major themes.

“You need to be able to translate your experiences into something you can share with others,” instructs Fruchter.

“We don’t usually think that we have worthwhile stories to tell. But we’ve all had interesting experiences … so we are all rich with stories ourselves,” added former Winnipegger Ryla Braemer, who was also a speaker at Limmud on the topic of Israel Advocacy. Braemer, who is the Manager of Israel Education and Advocacy at University  Outreach Committee is also married to  Fruchter.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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