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South Dakota Soon To Get Its First Rabbi For The First Time In A Generation


This just in - there are no rabbis in South Dakota, but not for long. Orthodox rabbi Mendel Alperowitz and his wife, Mussie, and their two children are about to move from Brooklyn to Sioux Falls, where he will be the first full-time rabbi in South Dakota in more than a generation. The rabbi and his wife will be co-directors of a Chabad center there. There are reportedly so few Jews in South Dakota that we could almost name all of them here in just a few minutes. Rabbi Alperowitz and his wife, Mussie, join us now from New York, and we'll make it plain we're recording this on a Thursday, not Saturday morning. Thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Why did you and your family decide to move to South Dakota?

ALPEROWITZ: We grew up, you know, with a feeling service for others. In fact, the rebbe Rabbi Menachem Schneerson of blessed memory - he used to...

SIMON: This is the head of the Lubavitchers for many years.

ALPEROWITZ: Yes. So he taught that we should dedicate ourselves to others - to put ourselves out there in the service of others. He would send many of his students around the world to different countries, different cities and all different states across the United States to really be there for local Jews, different communities, more often the smaller communities that many overlooked. And, you know, now Sioux Falls - it's really a wonderful community. There's wonderful people all across the great state, in fact. And we're just so lucky to be able to move there and work with them and build on our relationships with them. And we're looking forward to many good, happy years together.

SIMON: South Dakota is very beautiful, but may I ask you, Mussie...


SIMON: What happens when you want a bagel?

ALPEROWITZ: That's going to be one of the challenges. Can just order take-out supper when you're not in the mood of making it (laughter). Going to do everything - you have to order all the meat from Minnesota, as well as the milk and bread.

SIMON: You mean you stay kosher, that's what you've got to do.

ALPEROWITZ: Yeah, but it's doable, and it's definitely not a challenge that I'm fearing too much. Just - it's going to be different than New York.

SIMON: What can you tell us about the Jewish community in South Dakota that you know about before you get there? I mean, for example, there are rabbis who show up. They just don't live there, right?

ALPEROWITZ: Yeah, there are students who come to visit. Chabad has also been sending, for decades already, rabbis. They get together on their own a lot. They hold services and conduct different activities, you know, directed by laypeople within the community. And it's just really, really great. We feel so privileged to be able to be joining them. When we went there first, we did a little event there some months ago. And people were just coming up to us and saying, you know, you really got to move here. We just wish we could have, you know, a rabbi who would be here permanently. It would be so important to us. And, you know, as we traveled back to New York, you know, we thought about this more and more. And we just loved the people. They were so welcoming to us. And we're really looking forward to it.

SIMON: And you have two children, right?


SIMON: They're going to have substantially different lives than if they stayed in Brooklyn, won't they?

ALPEROWITZ: Yes. There's no actual Jewish school in Sioux Falls, so instead they'll probably be attending the online school for Chabad emissaries, just like us.

SIMON: How much longer do you have before you move out?

ALPEROWITZ: It won't be much longer. We're making our final plans now. We'll be there in the next few weeks for the festival of Hanukkah. Actually, many people are coming forward to us who - you know, who heard that we're moving and offering their support - financial support, as well - in helping us get started. I mean, it's really been very, very humbling to us to see how much support - people really across New York and across the country who are really excited about this.

SIMON: I have been told, Rabbi, you are part of the Lubavitcher movement, and I've been told that most of the Jews in South Dakota are reform.

ALPEROWITZ: Right. Well, see, it's interesting because the way we look at it is every Jew is really a Jew. No Jew any less Jewish than Moses or Abraham, and we're excited to welcome all Jews. And rather than us putting up artificial barriers and division between people, we're just having an open home and ready to welcome everybody, like Abraham and Sarah welcomed everybody to their tents. We view everyone like Abraham and Sarah, and our doors will always be open.

SIMON: Rabbi Alperowitz and Mussie Alperowitz, thanks very much for being with us.

ALPEROWITZ: Thank you.

SIMON: Good travels.

ALPEROWITZ: Yes. Thank you so much. All the best.


TOM LEHRER: (Singing) I'm spending Hanukkah in Santa Monica, wearing sandals, lighting candles by the sea.

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION by NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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