It was more than with a modicum of interest that I read about Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz setting forth together with his wife Moussie and their two toddler children from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, the bastion of Lubavitch Hassidim to serve as the sole rabbi of the great state of South Dakota, where he will minister to its Jewish population of 1,200 (a figure which I can’t help but feel is greatly inflated). Even though I am not aware that the miniscule Jewish communities of Aberdeen, Rapid City or Sioux Falls expressed a need for a rabbi much less requested a rabbi, I would like to believe that that Rabbi Alperowitz will be warmly welcomed. I applaud his spirit of being willing to go where no rabbi has recently gone.
Because he is the sole rabbi for miles and miles, Rabbi Alperowitz will in all likelihood be called upon to officiate at funerals (some three and a half decades ago, yours truly made the ninety mile journey from Sioux City, Iowa to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to officiate at the funeral of Ben Light) just as Rabbi Alperowitz will in all likelihood look in on Jews who, in some cases might not even be part of the above mentioned communities. Most important of all, Rabbi Alperowitz will disseminate Yiddishkeit. There is absolutely no doubt whatsoever in my mind that a”Jusaism” vacuum exists, and I ask Hashem’s blessings on Rabbi Alperowitz for filling that vacuum. In doing so, Rabbi Alperowitz adopts the attitude “If I don’t fill that vacuum, then who will?”
The mezuzah is perhaps the most ubiquitous sign when it comes to Jewish homes. Hopefully, Jewish homes throughout South Dakotas have mezuzahs affixed to their doorposts. But when all is said and done, Mezuzahs are passive. Mezuzahs wait for you to “reach out” to them. Without question, Rabbi Alperowitz possesses an attitude of “we can’t wait”. Rabbi Alperowitz will be the one reaching out to South Dakota’s Jews, whether they wish to be reached out to or not. It’s quite plausible, that given Rabbi Alperowitz’s training, he won’t take “no” for an answer. Undaunted by a “ I’m really not interested” or “no thank you”, Rabbi Alperowitz will be persistent and call upon South Dakota Jews again and again in his quest to show Jews from Aberdeen, Rapid City, Sioux Falls as well as any lone Jews spread throughout the State what they’ve been missing by not lighting Shabbat candles or putting on tefillen.
I have no idea where in South Dakota the Alperowitzes will settle. But I do know that the handful of Jews in that community will be in for a treat. In no time at all, the Jews of that community will be invited by Rabbi Alperowitz to his home for a Friday night, Shabbat meal. For some, the experience will evoke distant memories of a grandparent’s Shabbat table in communities such as Yankton; for others it will be a totally new experience. In all likelihood, being a guest at the Alperowitz home for Shabbat dinner will not in any way be an epiphany of sorts. It will however be an experienced that will be long remembered by the guest.
I pray that Rabbi Alperowitz be successful beyond his dreams. I also pray that his cohorts become so inspired by his accomplishments that they pull of stakes and head for remote parts of this country where their services are needed more than they can possibly imagine, even if the Jews in those locations couldn’t possibly imagine why in the world any rabbi would do so.