New Chabad welcomes HSU students
Link to article in The Lumber Jack












Rabbi Eliyahu Cowen and his wife Mushkie answered the door wearing clothing symbolic of the traditional Orthodox Jewish religion — he wore a yamaka and she wore a long skirt. Their house was decorated simply, save for the large framed picture of a Jewish elder and a pair of ornate candlesticks at the end of the table. They are in charge of Humboldt County’s Chabad organization.

Located on 453 Bayside Ct. #E in Arcata, Cowen said the purpose of the Chabad is to “try to liven up the Jewish spirit and to make it fun and exciting, to give it energy.” He said that in the short time that he has been in Humboldt County, he met many Jews that want a place to connect with others who share their faith. Simply put, Chabad is a way of practicing the Jewish religion that energizes the faith.


“[Chabad is] a part of the Hasidic tradition, which has special emphases that other parts of Judaism might not have,” William Herbrechtsmeier, a Humboldt State religious studies professor, said.


The use of the couple’s home as ameeting place is temporary. There are plans to expand to a larger, more permanent building after more people become involved. They hold bigger events at HSU, such as the upcoming Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year, on Sept.17 and 18 in the Goodwin Forum.


Another part of the Chabad is community outreach. Cowen and his wife recently assisted Sandy Belcher, a Jewish woman living in Eureka, with the mourning of her mother.


“They brought me happiness, knowledge and comfort and helped to bring me to my roots,” Belcher said.


Shabbat, the seventh day of the Jewish week and observed from just before sunset on Friday to Saturday evening, is celebrated with a meal every Friday evening at Cowen’s house, featuring traditional prayers and readings from the first five books of the Jewish bible, the Torah.


Cowen and his wife hold the Friday

 meals for community members and

students that are away from home.

We've met a lot of Jews that want a

 sense of community and place to

 turn to,” Cowen said. “We're giving

 them a place to experience their 

faith in a positive way.” 


A Hasid in Humboldt Link to article in The Emerald

A Hasid in Humboldt 

By Daniel Gelman

In the 19th century villages of Eastern Europe, there were lamplighters whose calling it was to light the wicks of gas street lamps, to illuminate the life of the public. The Biblical Book of Proverbs, says, “The soul of a man is a lamp of God.” For the past several decades, it has been the calling of thousands of young CHABAD Rabbis and their wives, to light the souls of secular Jews, in the most remote areas of the Jewish diaspora.


Rabbi Eliyahu Cowen, 24, of Hartford Connecticut, and his wife Mushkie, 23, of Albany, New York, are two such people. They moved to Arcata a few months ago, to light Lumberjack lamps, and to find a home in “God’s Country,” as some of us like to refer to the region. The Hebrew meaning of Hesed, (the root word of Hasid), means loving kindness.


If you see a guy on the Arcata square wearing a black suit, white shirt, black fedora, no tie, and a big black beard, you may be tempted to welcome him and the Amish people to the county. That’s when Ellie will tell you that he’s actually an orthodox Jewish Rabbi, representing CHABAD Lubavitch International, (pronounce the CH with a guttural throat emphasis), a large, worldwide, Hasidic Jewish movement.


Hasidim (adherents to Hasidic philosophy), were considered counter-culture rebels when they came on the Jewish scene in the 1700s in Eastern Europe. Their mystical ways were perceived as a threat to the traditional scholastic and conservative Jewish order. In essence, they were thought of as the hippies of their time and place.


What distinguished this movement, founded by Rabbi Israel Ben-Eliezer, was its’ emphasis on the value of prayer, good deeds, joy, enthusiasm, and dancing (male circle-dances), as vehicles to serve God. The status quo emphasized the superiority of a scholarly approach. Ben-Eliezer was a poor, pious orphan in Poland, who felt most comfortable communing with God in the woods.


Hasidism brought spiritual empowerment to the working class Jew, who had not the time or facilitation to become a scholar, in a very bookish culture. Hasidim love to study too, but the culture recognizes the equal value of simple acts of kindness and spirituality, as prescribed by the commandments (Mitzvos) of the Torah. (Hebrew Bible.)


Hasidic groups popped up all over Eastern Europe, and were named after their region. Each one had a head Rabbi or “Rebbe,” who established the ethos of the group. CHABAD originated in the region of White Russia, in a town called Lubavitch.  Each group also became associated with their dress, their music, and their own traditions.


CHABAD, (an acronym for the Hebrew words representing Wisdom, Understanding, and Knowledge), has since become the rebel within a rebel. Sometimes other Hasidic groups view CHABAD with a touch of skepticism, due to CHABAD’s emphasis on Messianism, and their acceptance of secular Jews.


Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, America’s Rebbe of CHABAD, studied Math, Physics, and Engineering in Europe, and was a resident of Brooklyn, New York for decades. Schneerson began the tradition of sending out emissaries, or “lamplighters,” to stoke the spiritual fire within every Jew worldwide. To him, it didn’t matter if a Jew wasn’t ready to take on the responsibility of the entire Torah. In the meantime, they could light candles on the Sabbath, give to charity, and attend services with a smile. There are no denominations. A Jew is a Jew, and everyone is at some different point on a spiritual continuum.


The Rebbe also emphasized the potential imminent coming of the Jewish messiah. He explained that the messiah will come early, if the Jews summon him, through their sincere craving for spiritual redemption. In Judaism, the messiah is not a God or a divine being. He is a mortal man, descended from King David, (religious Jews keep their genealogies), who has great Torah knowledge, a kind heart, and the ability to reach the hearts of the masses. Many Lubavitchers believed the Rebbe would ultimately be revealed as the messiah. He passed away in 1994, but some believe he is still with them in spirit.


A “CHABAD House” can be a suite in a business park, a stand-alone building, or even a trailer. As long as it has a Torah scroll, some prayer books, chairs, a Rabbi, and 10 male congregants, it operates as a spiritual community center. While CHABAD emissaries may focus on the unaffiliated, they exist to serve Jews of any level of observance or knowledge, in non-judgmental fashion.


Rabbi Cowen heard about Humboldt from friends. He decided to take a pilot trip in March to check out the vibe. It was a match made in heaven. Cowen and his bride of one year, Mushkie, hit the West Coast with big grins, and even bigger plans, and they are here to stay. Eliyahu is a scholar, a man of deep faith and practical action, and like most young people, he loves to have fun. In an interview, he referred to his first High Holy Day season in town as a “rocking” good time.


CHABAD is famous for bringing the “Mitzvah” to you, if you can’t come to them. This Fall Ellie rode around town in a pickup truck, with a traditional “Succah” in the back. It is considered a great deed for a Jew to sit in this temporary hut, representing the dwellings of the ancient Hebrews while they travelled through the desert. Many students and town folk accepted the invitation.


Every December, CHABAD lights a giant Menorah in a public space, to celebrate the ascending spiritual light of the Chanukah holiday. The Rabbi hopes to do that in the Arcata Square, or outside City Hall this year. An outdoor party with Hasidic dancing and potato pancakes is usually part of the equation.


But Judaism and CHABAD Houses revolve around the weekly Sabbath. Every weekend, Jews greet each other with “Good Shabbos,” or “Shabbat Shalom.” From sundown Friday night until after sundown Saturday night, the Sabbath exists as an island in time. Jews pray, feast, walk, read from the Torah scroll, sing, and visit. Eliyahu and Mushkie are looking forward to hosting many new faces at their townhome, which doubles as a place of worship.


“I find that most people here are very spiritually oriented, and looking for ways to express it. Many may not realize that the Torah has that spirituality, and that a service is not a show to be observed, but rather a time to learn and participate,” Eliyahu remarked in a recent interview. He figures there may be as much as 1,500-3,000 Jews in the county.


When asked if he thought the Liberal traditions of the area would conflict with his own, he said it never crossed his mind, because he doesn’t see others as political beings, but rather spiritual ones. In typical optimistic Hasidic fashion, the Rabbi sees nothing but amazing potential all around him.