Almost 60 years ago, a young New York rabbi and his wife came to Oak Park to start the country’s first Chabad-Lubavitch outpost. Now the movement has come full circle, as the granddaughter of those original emissaries and her husband launch a new program in Sioux Falls, S.D., the last U.S. state to have a permanent Chabad presence.
Rabbi Berel and Batsheva Shemtov were dispatched to Michigan from the organization’s New York headquarters at the behest of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, whose mission was to spread Judaism to every corner of the world, no matter how remote. Today, Chabad centers can be found in more than 3,500 locations worldwide.
Former Brooklynites Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz, 27, and his wife, Mussie, 26, who is the Shemtovs’ granddaughter, are enthusiastic about their new endeavor. Having recently moved with their 18-month-old and 2-month-old daughters in tow, they are busy setting up their home and getting to know their new community.
“We feel privileged and fortunate to be able to participate in the global vision of the Rebbe … to reach every Jew and transform the world with Torah and mitzvahs,” Mendel Alperowitz said.
Both Mussie and her husband grew up in Chabad households. Mendel’s parents co-direct a Chabad house in England, but this will be the young couple’s first time serving a congregation of their own. The undertaking comes with its own set of challenges, including the fact that fewer than 500 Jews live in the entire state of South Dakota, according to a 2010 U.S. Census survey.
Only a small number of these Jews are observant; most participate in Reform and Conservative congregations served by “roving” rabbinical students. The area has not had its own full-time rabbi in many years. Kosher meat and other Jewish foods are hard to come by; finding the necessary products can require 200-mile trips to Omaha or Minneapolis.
None this this fazes the Alperowitzes. They are enthusiastic about helping the people they serve celebrate their Judaism in a variety of ways.
“We just completed a very successful Chanukah in South Dakota, with two public menorah-lighting events and many home visits and tin menorahs distributed,” said Mendel Alperowitz, who plans to offer a wider variety of religious services and Jewish education for children and adults than was previously available in the area.
Berel Shemtov is proud to see the Rebbe’s dream become a reality, prouder still that his granddaughter and her family are playing such an important part.
“While rabbis and Chabad leaders have historically sent messengers and representatives to various places with specific missions and goals, the idea the Rebbe created by sending out shluchim (emissaries) was revolutionary and something never done before,” Shemtov said.
Mendel Alperowitz is honored to be carrying on the tradition and looks forward to serving a small congregation, even if the members are spread across the state.
“The Rebbe taught that no place is too far and no Jew is too small,” he said. “Each was a diamond that had to be reached and handled with love and care.”
Ronelle Grier Contributing Writer