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No Lonely Jew in the Lone Star State

Sunday, 29 May, 2022 - 1:38 pm

 

Published in the Jewish Herald-Voice celebrating 50 years of Chabad in Texas

In the summer of 2005 I set out on a two-week tour of Southwest Texas with my friend Meir Kopel in search of fellow Jews as part of Chabad’s “Roving Rabbis” summer program. The program was established by the Rebbe in the early 1940s, sending rabbinical students all over the world to connect Jews with our glorious heritage.

Using El Paso as home base, Meir and I eventually arrived in the triangle of West Texas towns Marfa, Alpine, and Fort Davis without knowing what or who we would find. The handful of Jews we discovered were delighted to see us and while driving up the 90 back to the I-10, we listened to a recording of a farbrengen (chassidic gathering) the Rebbe held in the summer of 1971.

In one of the talks the Rebbe defined the ethics of Jewish leadership from an episode that occured with Moses. Before becoming the iconic Israelite leader, Moses worked as a shepherd and one day noticed one scrawny little sheep went missing. He searched high and low until he found it standing next to a stream of water and returned it to the flock. At that moment he noticed the miraculous sight of a thorn bush ablaze without being consumed and as he approached to investigate, G-d spoke with him and sent him on a mission to free the Israelites from Egyptian slavery. The rest is history.

“This story illustrates how Moses was only granted the mantle of leadership once he displayed a tremendous dedication to even one single, seemingly insignificant, sheep,” the Rebbe explained. “This is what Jewish leadership is all about.”

It was a surreal and memorable experience to hear such a powerful description of the Rebbe’s raison d'être while serving as his emissaries to find “runaway” Jews in the Southwest Texas wilderness in the most tangible way.

On the 11th of Nissan 1972, close to a year after the recording we heard near Marfa, the Rebbe celebrated his 70th birthday and requested that seventy new Chabad institutions be established the following year. Rabbi Shimon and Chiena Lazaroff were dispatched to Texas to establish a permanent Chabad presence a month later. Over the next fifty years Chabad of Texas expanded spectacularly, but the essential mission remains the same: to connect with every individual Jew, regardless where they may run.

Thirty six years ago Rabbi Lazaroff sought to expand the Rebbe's work in the state with a permanent presence in El Paso. The Rebbe sent my parents, Rabbi Yisrael and Chana Greenberg and myself (as a three month old baby) to the western edge of Texas and my wife Shainy and I returned to join the team eleven year ago. To this day, while the big projects are exciting and essential, our proudest moments are the individual encounters and connections that embody the Rebbe’s “Moses-searching-for-the sheep” mission he entrusted to us all.

Here is one example. A woman from a remote Alaskan town called to notify us that her son Mike* had recently moved to El Paso. Over Shabbat dinner my father asked Mike if he knew his brother, Rabbi Yosef Greenberg, the Chabad Rabbi in Anchorage, Alaska who helped him wrap tefillin in honor of his Bar Mitzvah a decade earlier.

Mike admitted that he remembered doing something for his thirteenth birthday but could not recall the details of the ceremony, let alone the name of the officiating Rabbi. My father smiled and said, “You might forget about Judaism, but Judaism does not forget about you.” Months later Mike’s life was saved because, although we had not seen him since that Shabbat dinner, he knew to come to Chabad in a critical moment of need.

In celebration of Texas Chabad’s 50th birthday I invite you to join the team by ensuring that no Jew is ever forgotten or lonely, wherever they may be in the quarter of a million square miles of the Lone Star State.

 

 

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