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September 20, 2014 / 25 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘LIFE’

Understanding God through Self-Exploration

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

One of the most timeless and thought provoking questions regarding religion is whether spirituality and religious study is primarily about self-knowledge or other-knowledge?

An old Chassidic teaching demonstrates the position that religion is, generally, first and foremost a search for the self:

A chassid came to visit his rebbi.

The rebbi asked the chassid: “Why have you come here?”

The chassid replied: “I have come to find God.”

The rebbi, with a twinkle in his eye, responded: “For that you didn’t have to come here, since God, Whose glory fills the entire earth, can be found everywhere in the world!”

Surprised by the rebbi’s reaction to his statement, the chassid asked: “Then why indeed do people come here to the rebbi?”

To which the rebbi answered quietly: “People come here to find themselves.”

As the Chasidic teaching illustrates, we often seek the guidance of religious leaders and texts to find ourselves. There is, of course, nothing wrong with gaining self-knowledge and growth, in fact this is beautiful, but we cannot lose sight of another important goal of religion: Other knowledge. What can we learn about the world? About God? About humanity?

Society (religion of course included) has markedly turned toward individualism. Many of the effects of this have been positive as it has increased a sense of autonomy, empowerment, and responsibility. However, a significant, and often overlooked, cost has been the loss of engagement with the Other.

One Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 14:9) demonstrates the extent to which we should be engaged with God and ideally focused:

R. Levi b. R. Hanina said: ‘For every single breath that a human being takes, he should offer praise to the Creator.’ What is the reason? Scripture says, “Let every soul (neshamah) praise God’ (Psalm 150:6)—let every breath (neshimah) praise God.

Of course many of us fall far short of this ideal. We are often too caught up in the mundane tasks and stresses of everyday life, and find it hard, if not impractical, to stop and thank God for every breath we take. However, let us now stop, for just a second, and give thanks to God, as this Midrash commands, for the gift of life and the blessings we have been given. Let us renew our search for God and begin anew our engagement and focus.

A beautiful idea in Rebbe Nachman of Breslov (Likutei Maharan Essay 282) is that of judging others, finding the good in our brothers and sisters, and understanding the implications of our actions toward others:

Know! A person must judge everyone favorably. Even in the case of a complete sinner, one must search until one finds some point of good within that person. For the verse says: “With a little bit [of good], and the wicked will be no more” (Psalms 37:10). This verse refers to finding and exclusively focusing on the “little bit” of good which is found within everyone, including a complete sinner. By judging even a complete sinner favorably, one fulfills the end of this verse: “And the wicked will be no more.” Once you judge a sinner favorably you actually elevate the sinner to the side of holiness. This can help this person return to God. How is it possible that this sinner never once fulfilled a mitzvah or did something good throughout his entire life? Once a person does even one good deed, he becomes part of and attached to God, the source of all good.

Every person can sense how another person feels toward him. A person’s feelings toward another are broadcast loud and clear through verbal and non-verbal communication, intimations, body language, and gestures. Therefore, if one projects and transmits positive feelings toward another, the warmth and good attitude that one projects can be felt and can literally uplift the other person. Once a person feels uplifted and is imbued with a sense of self-worth and joy, this happy attitude could motivate a person to seek out God and return to Him. If one, however, projects negative feelings toward another, this could literally kill the other person and cause him to fall completely….

Imagine if we viewed others and interacted with others in such a fashion and how that would affect our own souls and the souls of those around us!

Beginning The Journey

Thursday, October 24th, 2013

A while back, a British newspaper, The Times, interviewed a prominent member of the Jewish community (let’s call him Lord X) on his 92nd birthday. The interviewer said, “Most people, when they reach their 92nd birthday, start thinking about slowing down. You seem to be speeding up. Why is that?”

Lord X replied, “When you get to 92, you start seeing the door begin to close, and I have so much to do before the door closes that the older I get, the harder I have to work.”

Something like that is the impression we get of Abraham in this week’s parshah. Sarah, his constant companion throughout their journeys, has died. He is 137 years old. We see him mourn Sarah’s death, and then he moves into action.

He engages in an elaborate negotiation to buy a plot of land in which to bury her. As the narrative makes clear, this is not a simple task. He confesses to the locals, the Hittites, that he is “an immigrant and a resident among you,” meaning that he knows he has no right to buy land. It will take a special concession on their part for him to do so. The Hittites politely but firmly try to discourage him. He has no need to buy a burial plot. “No one among us will deny you his burial site to bury your dead.” He can bury Sarah in someone else’s graveyard. Equally politely but no less insistently, Abraham makes it clear that he is determined to buy land. In the event, he pays a highly inflated price (400 silver shekels) to do so.

The purchase of the Cave of Machpelah is evidently a highly significant event because it is recorded in great detail and highly legal terminology – not just here but three times subsequently in Genesis, each time with the same formality. For instance, here is Jacob on his deathbed, speaking to his sons:

“Bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, the cave in the field of Machpelah, near Mamre in Canaan, which Abraham bought along with the field as a burial place from Ephron the Hittite. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried, there Isaac and his wife Rebecca were buried, and there I buried Leah. The field and the cave in it were bought from the Hittites” (Genesis 49:29-32).

Something significant is being hinted at here; otherwise why mention, each time, exactly where the field is and from whom Abraham bought it?

Immediately after the story of land purchase, we read, “Abraham was old, well advanced in years, and God had blessed Abraham with everything.” Again this sounds like the end of a life, not a preface to a new course of action, and again our expectation is confounded. Abraham launches into a new initiative, this time to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac, who by now is at least 37 years old. Abraham leaves nothing to chance. He does not speak to Isaac himself but to his most trusted servant, who he instructs to go “to my native land, to my birthplace” to find the appropriate woman. He wants Isaac to have a wife who will share his faith and way of life. Abraham does not specify that she should come from his own family, but this seems to be an assumption hovering in the background.

As with the purchase of the field, so here the course of events is described in more detail than almost anywhere else in the Torah. Every conversational exchange is recorded. The contrast with the story of the binding of Isaac could not be greater. There, almost everything – Abraham’s thoughts, Isaac’s feelings – is left unsaid. Here, everything is said. Again, the literary style calls our attention to the significance of what is happening, without telling us precisely what it is.

The explanation is simple and unexpected. Throughout the story of Abraham and Sarah, God had promised them two things: children and a land. The promise of the land (“Rise, walk in the land throughout its length and breadth, for I will give it to you”) is repeated no less than seven times. The promise of children occurs four times. Abraham’s descendants will be “a great nation,” as many as “the dust of the earth” and “the stars in the sky.” He will be the father not of one nation but of many.

Not Enough Joy and Meaning

Monday, October 7th, 2013

The recent NY Times article on the newly released PEW findings on Jewish continuity paints a bleak future for American Jewry. The study, among other findings, reported that nearly six in ten Jewish respondents (58%) who have gotten married since 2000, have married a non-Jewish spouse. The study also showed that only 20 percent of those who have intermarried are raising their children Jewish by religion.

There are, I’m sure, many reasons for this worsening situation including a serious lack of Jewish education for most American Jews, a more than ever distracting world in which living any kind of religious life becomes more challenging, and many other contributing factors. However I believe there is another cause, which I have seen in my 20 years of outreach to the young and less affiliated: the sheer lack of joy or meaning that so many young Jews associate with Judaism.

More often than not, the perception young people have of Judaism is of a faith filled with rules and restrictions which offers little or no joy or meaning in return.

But why should young Jews be left with any other impression? When Yom Kippur continues to be the most celebrated Jewish experience in synagogue what else should we expect? How many American Jews are present for the somber Yom Kippur service, complete with fasting and chest-pounding/forgiveness asking but are no-where to be found the next week when joyous singing and dancing in honor of Simchat Torah takes place? That balance of reverence and joy is vital to keep our interest and it is so authentically Jewish. In the Temple of old, the Beit Hamikdash, the feeling on Yom Kippur was one of awe and even trepidation as the High Priest performed the service to secure atonement for all of Israel, but the next week that same Temple was filled with a sense of joy and exuberance during the Simchat Beit Hoshava (water drawing ceremony) on which which the Talmud tells us: “Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva has never in his life seen true joy.”

Like most synagogues, MJE has always drawn larger numbers for its Yom Kippur services than for Simchat Torah. This year however, for the very first time, we had approximately the same number of participants for both holidays. It took us 15 years but we did it. The same number of previously less affiliated 20′s/30′s who were willing to fast and pray with us on Yom Kippur returned to sing and dance with us on Simchat Torah.

Young Jews desperately need to experience both the serious and lighter sides of Judaism. We can no longer allow our beloved faith to be marketed as a religion of guilt and restriction without even trying to present it for what it truly is: a path which can ultimately bring joy and meaning to contemporary life. And we must learn to properly articulate how the limitations Judaism does place on our lives are important in helping to create that more joyous and meaningful existence.

The goal of our synagogues and Jewish institutions today must be to demonstrate this balance of reverence and joy; fealty to tradition with personnel meaning and relevance. Jewish educators need to be better trained to invest more explanation and inspiration into our prayer services and provide greater depth and insight as to how living a life of Torah can actually improve our lives and make us happier and more fulfilled people.

Otherwise, for most American Jews, why bother?

Who Killed Sgt. Tomer Hazan?

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Last Friday morning, Nadal Amar, 42, a resident of the Arab city of Kalkilya who worked in a fast food restaurant in the Jewish city of Bat Yam, talked his fellow employee, IDF Sergeant Tomer Hazan, 20, to come visit him at his home, over in the area under Palestinian Authority rule. They took a taxi together, stopped outside the Jewish town of Sha’arey Tikva in Judea and Samaria, and proceeded on foot to an open area outside the Arab village of Sanniriya. Shortly thereafter, Hazan was thrown into a water hole and died. Investigators suspect that he was not killed before being thrown in, but rather it was the fall that caused his death.

The distinction is important, because, according to Hazan’s abductor, Amar, his purpose in luring Hazan to his side of the “green line” was to use him as a bargaining chip in getting his terrorist brother released from Israeli jail.

Amar had a very good reason to do what he did: it is a well established Israeli government policy that Israel will always negotiate with terrorists, and will always—without exception—be willing to let go of hordes of Arab murderers, sometime in exchange for an abducted citizen, sometime in exchange for the dead bodies of fallen Israeli soldiers, and on occasion simply as a good will gesture. When an Arab murders a Jew anywhere in Israel and is lucky enough not to get killed during the act, he knows he would never serve out the full sentence imposed on him. And to get out he doesn’t even need to show good behavior, much less remorse – he just needs to wait for a good abduction.

This policy of letting go of busloads of murderers was always part of Israel’s insane policy of respecting the rights of Arabs to a fault while treating Israeli citizens like human trash. But it was carved in stone, for eternity, with the support of the vast majority of Israeli media, on October 18, 2011. Back then, 1,027 Palestinian prisoners were released to obtain the release of the Hamas abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Some of the released in that infamous deal had been convicted of multiple murders of Israeli civilians. According to Israeli government sources, they were collectively responsible for 569 Israeli deaths.

When my government releases the murderers of 569 citizens as part of a negotiation with terrorists, what does that say about the value it accords those 569 victims? Simple: they don’t exist, they’re merely the price of getting the next political reward – and my prime minister decided to sweep away the memory of those victims in exchange for the life of a very popular young man at the time, IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit.

I have more sympathy for No’am Shalit, Gilad’s father, who led a relentless crusade for the release of his boy. I actually admire his resourcefulness, his sheer energy. It was a father’s love in action. But I did not appreciate the demonizing of those who objected to the astonishingly uneven proposed prisoner exchange (analyst Dan Schueftan called the swap “the greatest significant victory for terrorism that Israel has made possible.”). There were sound reasons for exceptionally sane people to oppose the exchange, and the media, taking its cues from Shalit Sr. presented them as heartless and, worse, right wing extremists.

But if the PM did it because he gave in to media pressure, and No’am Shalit did it for love of his son, the third culprit in this story, Jerusalem Post writer Gershon Baskin did it with unhidden joy, to advance his political agenda.

Baskin, an adviser on the peace process to prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak, and founding Co-Chairman of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information, negotiated through secret back channels for the Gilad Shalit swap.

Baskin’s book, “Free Gilad,” relates those secret negotiations. For more than five years, the NY born Baskin “dedicated and risked his life towards achieving a goal that had both national and human significance, to redeem the life of a human being who was confined in captivity.”

As a society — and a vast majority of Israelis, duped by their media, supported the Shalit exchange rate of one innocent Jew for more than 1,000 Jew killers — we have shown a deep disdain for the value of Jewish life. Our enemies are tenacious in their labor to free their own, blood on hands and all, while we are showing, day in and day out, that we do not honor our living or our dead.

I am deeply ashamed of my country today.

Looking Back on the Life of Barack Obama

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Originally published at Sultan Knish.

He Taught us to Laugh, He Made Us Believe, and then He Took All Our MoneyHe was the first black President of the United States, and he also became its last President when in 2019, after his term in office had been extended indefinitely by HR:0666 or “The Hope and Faith in Obama’s Everlasting Presidency Act” (Holo-Link), he was forced to leave office because the government had run out of money to pay for itself.

Though he lived a very public life, few could agree on even the basic facts of his life. For a man who spent most of his life in front of the camera, his death leaves us with few answers about who Barack Obama (Holo-Link) really was. Obama only added to the uncertainty swirling around him by using multiple names,  multiple birthplaces and even passports.

The bestselling Presidential biographies of Obama, from Edmund Morris’ “America’s Greatest Con-Man” to Michael Beschloss’ “Obama: Citizen of the World” cover the range of opinions on Obama’s presidency.

And long after the fall of the United States, there is still no real consensus by former Americans on who Obama really was.

Yet to many Barack Obama represents a nostalgic time in history; the last years when such diverse nations as the Confederate States of California (Holo-Link), the Republic of New Hampshire, the People’s Republic of Minnesota, the Empire of Texas, El Reino de Aztlan and the Arch-Duchy of Upper New York were all part of one single nation that stretched from ocean to ocean.

His Life

Born in a hospital in some still undetermined part of the world, Barack learned to use multiple names and identities at an early age. Traveling from country to country, the young Obama or Soetoro, would quickly become adept at blending into any culture. This skill would prove crucial in his political career, allowing him to invent new identities and win the trust of his audience. If there is one thing his biographers agree on, it’s that he had a genuine gift for sensing what his audience wanted to hear. Unfortunately like most con artists, he lacked the same ability for long term financial planning, that he did for short term schemes to extract money from a gullible American public.

There is no denying that Obama cheerfully used fraud and strong arm tactics throughout his political career, but the chief weapon in his arsenal was flattery. Many of his supporters remember the special feeling of being made to feel that he was their friend. As one former aide wrote, “He taught us to laugh, he made us believe, and then he took all our money”.

This conflicted legacy helps explain Barack Obama’s popularity, even after his corruption and abuses of power destroyed the  government, ending the era of the United States for good– he was ranked 4th on the prestigious Dow Jones’ “Most Likable Celebrities in North America in 2019″ index (Holo-Link).

It helped that Obama left the White House voluntarily after learning that there would be no more money left for his trips abroad, and that due to the failure of the Federal Reserve and the secession of 23 states from the Union, no national budget would be possible.

He did leave with everything of value in the White House that his family and associates could grab or pry out of the walls, but by then most Americans were too busy dealing with the problems of the Great Partition to notice. Even the farewell party that burned down most of the White House seemed a small thing in the wake of the Detroit Food Riots or the discovery of the Red River Gulag (Holo-Link).

His popularity afterward enabled Obama to begin several successful careers in the entertainment industry, including a long-running stint on the soap opera General Catastrope, his own line of shammy infomercials and a music career with such nostalgia singles as, “Where’s Da Money”, “Where All Da Money Go” and “What Happen to All Da Money?”

Even today viewers watching old fashioned television can still catch commercials of Obama in his older years, holding up a shammy cloth, dipping it in a spilled pool of olive oil and telling the audience to have faith that the mess would be gone. Even his famous tagline, “At a price that won’t bankrupt you, unlike me” was meant to be a good humored reference to his controversial two and a half terms in office.

Notes from the Shmata Gang

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Hi there, how have you been?

We are close to the end of our body type series. What comes next? Fashion is like life, a universe in itself… it means we probably will be here for a while.

Do you prefer RTW (ready to wear) or CM (custom made)? Do you know what is a knock-off?

Who buys a $150,000.00 haute couture gown and the most important question, why do they do that? It’s not a matter of vanity only. Fashion is personal, so the haute couture matter is way more complex than that. The cult of couture goes way back in History. (If any dressmaker ever charged you more saying that they do “couture” garments, believe me, they probably don’t.)

Mass Production, Low-End, Mid-Low, Mid-High, High-End… what is the meaning of all this? How can that affect your life and your wallet? Are you paying the right price for what you’re getting?

Who is considered a fashion designer? Can you be a designer? Remember that designers do not need to know how to sew, draw, cut…

Now the question that everybody must have thought about at least once in their lives: who decides what is fashionable or not? Two weeks ago I visited a Fall 2014 fabric trade show with my 17-year-old niece. She was astonished to see people buying fabric a year and a half in advance of a season.

Following these explanations, I would like to take you on a tour into our North American garment industry. Although smaller, we are still here. And you know what? Some segments that remained from our local garment trade business are very strong.

Ok, you must be asking me now, “Why buy local if I pay half the price or less by buying products manufactured overseas?”

I’m not telling you to abandon your shopping habits in order to buy local, but it’s fair for you to know the power of your shopping decision. We feel better when we understand our actions, in fashion as well as in all aspects of life.

Let’s break some fashion myths and share some truths about our beloved fashion industry. Are you part of the shmata trade gang? If yes, please share your experiences with us. If not, grab that delicious cup of tea, a few biscuits, enjoy the conversation and let’s us know your insights.

And all of that accompanied by inspirational styling tips, because if you understand yourself better, you will dress better.

Thank you for reading Styling with Esther! See you next week!

Tossing a Jewish Lasso over Wyoming’s Wild West

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Originally published at Chabad.org.

By Carin M. Smilk

Summer is winding down in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It’s a short season, weather-wise, but it’s also a season that brings in tourists, lots of them, who come for the mountains and national parks, the outdoor sports and the wide open spaces. They come to make good on the state slogan: “Like No Place on Earth.”

Not long after they leave, winter beckons a slew of other travelers, those lured to the skiing and snow activities. It’s another bustling time; the two seasons bring in about 4 million visitors a year.

And about 1 percent of them—an estimated 40,000 people—are Jewish.

That helps make life busy for Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, co-director of Chabad Jewish Center of Wyoming with his wife, Raizy. Not that it’s so quiet the rest of the year. The couple, based in the town of Jackson—in western Wyoming near the border of Idaho, almost completely surrounded by mountains and in the well-known valley of Jackson Hole—serves the roughly 500 permanent Jewish residents there, out of a general population of nearly 10,000. It’s an interesting mix, says the rabbi, of singles, couples, families, retirees, tourists and those with second homes in the area.

“We have a very small community,” acknowledges Mendelsohn, “but we offer quality services—substantive services. We’re reaching out to individual Jews in a very personal, warm, inviting way.”

Since their official 2008 move to Jackson, they have started all kinds of programs. There’s the annual Jackson Hole Jewish Music Festival, which brings in bands and performers from all over, coupled with Camp Gan Israel, a Jewish women’s circle, a “Mommy & Me” class, Torah study, lectures, “Coffee & Kabbalah,” and Shabbat and Jewish holiday dinners and services. Currently, they rent space for High Holiday services but are looking for a place to buy.

 

Also on tap are lecture series, including one to take place this weekend, Aug. 16-17. The Shabbaton will include services and a Friday-night dinner, then Saturday-morning services and a three-course lunch, with lectures both days by guest speaker David N. Weiss. A Hollywood film writer with several blockbusters to his credit, Weiss has traversed religiously from being a secular Jew to a Christian youth worker, and now follows a life of observant Judaism.

“His story is very compelling,” says Mendelsohn. “He never really had the opportunity to study Judaism in-depth. It shows that you can always start fresh and new, even if you’re very famous or a celebrity. You can always rediscover your roots.”

The series has attracted 50 to 60 people on average, and the rabbi expects a similar turnout for Weiss.

‘Very Much at Home’

 Ben from San Francisco put on tefillin for the first time in his life. Photo credit: Chabad.org

Ben from San Francisco put on tefillin for the first time in his life. Photo credit: Chabad.org

So how has life changed for a couple raised in completely different living environments? The rabbi, in his early 30s, hails from Miami, Fla., and Raizy, in her late 20s, grew up in Israel. What’s it like to live in the least populated state in the nation?

“We felt very much at home right away,” says the rabbi. “People are warm and welcoming; there’sthe renowned Western hospitality. It’s a cowboy town, it’s the Wild West, but people also have a more spiritual character here. And our goal is to introduce a Yiddishkeit element to it.”

That sense of spirituality could have something to do with the physical backdrop. Jackson is a stone’s throw from Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Teton Mountains. The rabbi talks of the everyday appearance of bison, moose, deer, wolves and bears. “There’s wildlife in the streets,” he says, pausing to add that he just saw a herd of elk run up the side of a nearby mountain.

He also notes the atmosphere—both scenically and spiritually—is good for the couple’s four young children. After all, for kids in such a place, aside from their home-schooling time, “life is surrounded by G-d’s great outdoors.”

Of course, it’s not all vales and wild flowers. There’s no kosher food, no Jewish schools, no other Orthodox presence and no mikvah. The closest mikvahs are in Bozeman, Mont., and Salt Lake City, Utah—both a five-hour drive or one-hour flight away.

“Still,” says Mendelsohn, “we have a wonderful community, and we are honored to also accommodate visitors who come through. I travel around the state quarterly visiting Jewish people. We’ve put up about 60 mezuzahs in the last three years all over the state. One by one, we’re connecting Jews with their heritage.”

“That’s the story of Wyoming. We may be one of the most remote Jewish communities in the country, but I want people to know that Yiddishkeit is alive and well and thriving in Jackson Hole.”

Laura Goldstein, 34, can attest to that. Originally from New Jersey, she now lives in Victor, Idaho, which borders Wyoming and is about a 45-minute drive from Jackson. She and her husband Howard, a wildlife biologist, came to live out West in 2009, and she says the rabbi was one of the first people they met.

“We were looking for a way to connect with other Jewish people, and we knew Chabad would be a good way to do that,” says Goldstein, an administrative assistant. “They invited us over for Shabbat dinner, and it was lovely. They were so gracious. They make you want to be part of the community.

“And every opportunity they have of doing a mitzvah, they do. It’s incredible.”

She’s also seen Chabad grow as an organization. At Rosh Hashanah, there used to be three men, not even a minyan; now there may be 14. And Shabbat dinners in the summer can draw 40 to 50 people. She even mentions that just this year, she met a Jewish woman from New York who runs a clothing store/jewelry shop in Victor.

Learning by Example

Most of all, Goldstein says she and her husband have modeled their Shabbat observance at home on the Mendelsohns’ example. “Knowing them has been a huge part in that direction. We feel that we’re better Jewish people out here. It probably wouldn’t have been as big a part of our identity” back East.

She adds that Raizy has shown her how to make challah, light Shabbat candles and recite the Havdalah prayers.

“It’s great to see how they bring in what they need,” says Goldstein. “These people are making it work; they’re doing it.” So she figures she can, too.

“Rabbi Zalman,” as Josh Beck and other local residents call him, “is involved in everything. He’s an amazing man.”

“And he’s one of my closest friends here.”

Beck, 41, an orthopedic surgeon from New Jersey, has been living in Wyoming for seven years. He says he considers himself a very big supporter and very active with Chabad there.

He attends Shabbat dinners (the true reason, he says, is because of “Raizy’s fantastic cooking”) and various programs, but admits to preferring “the off-season, when there’s a handful of locals.”

He says that he, his wife and 3-year-old daughter “love living out here.” Beck hunts and fishes and skis; in fact, he notes, he found his job there while on a ski vacation.

A Spiritual Change of Scenery

Cross-country skiing also appeals to Stephen and Linda Melcer from Boca Raton, Fla., who have rented a house in Jackson the last two winters and intend to come again this year.

“It’s a nice change of scenery, of climate,” says Stephen Melcer, a 61-year-old lawyer. “It’s also a nice change religiously and a change in diversity.”

The couple belongs to Boca Raton Synagogue, an Orthodox shul. “Whenever we travel, we look for a place to be for Shabbos, and a good place to start looking is Chabad. We’ve noticed here that a lot of people attending are travelers, and a larger percentage of people are not observant.”

Melcer says he appreciates “going into an environment where a rabbi is focused on the less observant.”

“They are very warm,” he says of the Mendelsohns. “I think they enjoy the challenge of it. And they certainly have a lot of challenges. The incredible thing is that challenges never cross their minds.”

Ken Begelman is glad that’s the case. He and his wife, Helen, helped the Mendelsohns come to town.

Twelve years ago, the Begelmans moved to Teton County, about 8 miles outside Jackson, from Palm Beach County, Fla. When they arrived, they wanted a shul—a congregation of some type. Begelman says he was familiar with Chabad rabbinical students coming to Wyoming temporarily (they have for decades, as part of the “Roving Rabbis” program), and got in touch with people in Brooklyn to work to make it happen permanently.

“He’s a very outgoing guy, very inclusive; he gets along with everybody,” says Begelman, a 66-year-old retired cardiac surgeon, of Mendelsohn.

He notes that there’s a large number of 20-year-olds who come to work during ski season or in the summer who have never had any religious affiliation or education, and “the rabbi has turned a lot of these kids around.”

As for Wyoming, the former Floridian insists that “it’s wonderful here. It’s what America should be. Everybody respects everybody else. You don’t have to lock your house or your car. There’s no crime.”

Sure, the winter temperatures can fall to 20 below and the snow can average 38 feet a year in the mountainous regions, but residents insist that it’s an invigorating experience.

In regards to future expansion, Begelman says that if “one new Jewish family a year comes permanently, that would be a lot.” Population growth is indeed slow; Begelman has seen signs in the state that note there are 10 horses for every one person residing there.

As far as the rabbi and his family go, “I’m very happy that they’ve fit in well in the community and that they like it here. It’s a wonderful place to live.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/tossing-a-jewish-lasso-over-wyomings-wild-west/2013/08/20/

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