Monday, November 28, 2016
He's the Wild West's newest mensch, leaving behind Brooklyn's boulevards and brownstones for the plains of South Dakota — to become the only rabbi in the entire state.
Hasidic spiritual leader Mendel Alperowitz, of the Crown Heights-based Chabad Lubavitch movement, is packing up his wife and two daughters for a new homestead in Sioux Falls next month.
"We're excited to raise our children in South Dakota, and we're sure they're going to grow up to become proud South Dakotan Jews," Alperowitz said.
The move will make South Dakota the last state in the nation to get a rabbi from the Lubavitchers.
Alperowitz, 27, and his wife, Mussie, 26, visited Sioux Falls three times and fell in love with its tiny Jewish community, which has not had a permanent rabbi in 30 years.
"The people were so warm and inviting and very committed to Judaism," Mussie said.
Still, the family will face challenges inconceivable to their fellow Hasids back home: They will be forced to make monthly trips to Minneapolis for kosher meat, and have to enroll their kids in online schools for a Jewish education.
But the hardest part will be leaving loved ones behind.
"It's a little scary that we're leaving all our family and friends in Brooklyn, but I have a funny feeling that the group there will become almost like family," Mussie said.
The family's imminent departure was announced over the weekend to a standing ovation at an annual gathering in Brooklyn of some 5,600 Chabad rabbis from 90 countries.
Although Jews have lived in the Mount Rushmore State since the mid-1800s, their numbers have dwindled to some 400 spread across 77,000 square miles.
There are three synagogues in the state, but all they get is occasional visits from student rabbis out of Cincinnati.
Sioux Falls, the largest city, also has South Dakota's largest Jewish community — about 150 members.
One of them is Stephen Rosenthal, 64, who is excited over the novel newcomers making South Dakota their home.
"I think this will bring a traditional view of Judaism to our state that most people are unfamiliar with but will hopefully be happy to learn about," he said.
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