It was announced at the Chabad Kinnus Hashluchim convention tonight that a Chabad house will open in South Dakota.
This will give Chabad a presence for the first time in all 50 states of the US.
Rabbi Mendel and Mussie Alperowitz are the new Shluchim.
South Dakota, with a very small Jewish population scattered throughout the state’s vast expanses of windswept prairies, has long had the dubious distinction of being the only state in America without a rabbi.
That will soon change, when Rabbi Mendel and Mussie Alperowitz (nee Shemtov) move from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Sioux Fall to open a Chabad-Lubavitch center that will cater to a community dating back to the days of the Wild West.
The young couple’s arrival is being met with some special attention as the North American Jewish community marks 75 years since the Rebbe and his wife, the Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneerson arrived on U.S. shores from war-torn Europe in 1941.
There will now be a permanent Chabad presence in all 50 states in America, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The announcement was made at the presence of 5,600 Chabad-Lubavich rabbis and lay leaders at gala banquet of the International Kinus Conference of Chabad Lubavitch Shluchim in Brooklyn.
The Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries’ move to South Dakota is being seen as a boon for the state, its Jewish residents, and significantly beyond.
“We have almost no grandparents in this community whose grandchildren live here, too,” says Stephen Rosenthal, a Texas native who has lived in South Dakota since 1973 and serves as the state chair of AIPAC.
“Most of the Jewish people here now were not born here, and many of the grown children choose not to stay. Others come and replace them.”
A Decades-Old Relationship
Chabad-Lubavitch has been serving Jews in the Mount Rushmore State for more than half a century, ever since the Rebbe established the Merkos Shlichus program (popularly known as “Roving Rabbis”), which dispatches pairs of young rabbinical students to isolated communities around the globe.
In the early 1940s, shortly after the Rebbe arrived to U.S. shores, he dispatched rabbinical students on trains and buses all across pre-interstate America, laden with heavy suitcases of Torah literature and Judaica materials. For European immigrants who had become small-town merchants and farmers, these young rabbis were often a lifeline of vibrant Judaism and information.
From the very early years, South Dakota was included in the itineraries of students who regularly combed the state to meet with individual Jews scattered through an area of 77,000 square miles.
Since the mid-1980s, Rabbi Mendel Katzman, Chabad-Lubavitch emissary to nearby Omaha, Neb., has also made periodic visits to assist the community.
Rosenthal notes that the community has gained from more frequent visits from these rabbinical students in recent years. “It used to be summer, then [also] Chanukah and then [also] Purim,” he reports. “It became something we grew to expect and appreciate.”
Before being appointed by Rabbi Moshe Feller of Upper Midwest Merkos Lubavitch, the Alperowitzes visited South Dakota during Purim, where they held two events: a community celebration in Sioux Falls that drew 45 attendees and another program for a dozen Jewish students at the South Dakota State University in Brookings.
Although it has been widely accepted that fewer than 400 Jewish people reside in the entire state, Rabbi Alperowitz estimates that it may actually be home to as many as 1,000 Jews.
He also believes that the Jewish population may have been bolstered in recent years by a strong economy and the growing financial and healthcare industries.
“We did minimal advertising before Purim,” says the rabbi, whose parents are long-serving Chabad emissaries to Bournemouth in southern England where he grew up, “spreading the word through the people who had been in contact with the ‘Roving Rabbis.’ ”
“We were so warmly received,” reports the Mussie Alperowitz. “It was inspiring for us to see people who really gave their all to maintain communal infrastructure for decades. We felt an instant connection with the people we met, and people asked us if we would consider opening up a permanent center.”
After two more visits, and with the encouragement of Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether, the Alperowitzes—along with their infant daughters, Rochel and Shaina—decided to relocate there for good.
Recognizing that the local Jewish community is diverse in its level of Jewish observance, local Dr. Richard Klein says he believes that the Alperowitzes “have the wisdom to bridge the gap and help bind us all into a strong, unified community.”
Story and photo courtesy of COLLIVE.COM