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September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Salt Lake City’

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.”

An American Odyssey (Part 11)

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

We left Reno, Nevada, early Sunday morning and decided to take the scenic route to Salt Lake City, rather than travel by super highway, but Route 50 turned out to be not very scenic as we crossed Nevada and Utah. We stopped at a roadside table at noon, where the men heated and ate LaBriute meals while the women enjoyed their cottage cheese, peanut butter sandwiches, fruit and vegetables. We have followed this pattern of meals ever since the women decided not to eat the packaged meals.

Three times during our return trip (eastward to Florida), we lost an hour when we entered a new time zone, as we did when we entered Utah. We had planned to spend two days traveling to Salt Lake, but, with little to see on the way, we drove straight there in one day. On the way, we stopped in Utah at another Maverik service station and enjoyed the delicious kosher frozen yogurt in the food shop. My brother, Avi, used his Internet access to order us two rooms at a Quality Inn motel. We arrived late and were happy to find very comfortable accommodations.

We spent the next morning at the Mormon Family History Library. We were very careful to give them as little family information as possible because the Mormons are rumored to use their list of Jews to baptize them after death. We were hesitant to use their facilities but they are very up-to-date technologically and have all of the latest software. It was an interesting experience and the workers there were courteous and helpful. We were careful to wear yarmulkes rather than caps so that there would be no question as to who we were.

We toured the Utah State Capitol building and then drove to the Salt Lake and Island. We drove to the Olympic Park built for the 2002 winter Olympic Games. I “flew” down on the extreme zipline and all four of us took the tour of the park. It was a very interesting visit.

Dov on the extreme zipline in Salt Lake City.

Our next stop was Rawlings, Wyoming, where we found reasonable accommodations for the evening. The very high price of fuel has severely impacted the tourism industry and we found that we had little trouble finding accommodations without advance booking. We left Rawlings the next morning and drove to Laramie where we toured the former state prison. We joined a guided tour and learned the interesting history of the prison and its outlaws. Butch Cassidy and other outlaws were housed in tiny cells and most probably worked making brooms, the main industry at the prison. We also visited the museum in Cheyenne and several other tourist sites.

That afternoon we crossed into our 13th state, Colorado, on our way to Denver. After checking into our Denver motel we drove to the East Side Kosher Deli and enjoyed a delicious meal. I loved the spare ribs and the prices were reasonable. We loaded up our cooler with packaged meats and cold cuts for the coming days. That evening we experienced our first rain (a thunder storm) of the trip. We have been very fortunate with pleasant weather for the past few weeks while we visited 13 States and drove more than 7,000 miles.

We started our next morning at the Mizel Museum of Jewish Art. It is a lovely museum and we especially enjoyed the “4,000 Years of Journey” exhibition. I hope to dedicate a separate article to the colorful exhibits of this beautiful museum and to its dedicated staff. My wife, Barbara, wrote in her diary, “What a great museum!” We were a bit surprised by the very few visitors that we encountered in the museum while we were there.

Next State: Nebraska

Comments may be sent to dov@gilor.com.

Mormons Posthumously Baptized Anne Frank: New Claim

Friday, February 24th, 2012

The Toronto Star reported that researcher Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who revealed the Wiesenthal baptisms, said this week she found Anne Frank’s name in proxy baptism records dated Feb. 18, showing the ritual was performed in the Dominican Republic.

The new allegation came just a week after the LDS apologized for posthumously baptizing the parents of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal in temples in Arizona and Utah last January.

The Mormon church immediately issued a statement which did not mention Frank by name.

“The church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism,” the Salt Lake City-based church said. “It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention.”

Chanukah In Utah

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert and his wife Jeanette hosted Rabbi Benny Zippel and 150 guests from Chabad Lubavitch of Utah for a menorah lighting ceremony at the Governor’s Mansion in Salt Lake City during the recent Chanukah holiday.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/community/west-coast-happenings/chanukah-in-utah-2/2012/01/22/

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