They’re trading in Eastern Parkway for Interstate 90, which slices 412 miles through the heart of the South Dakotan prairie, from Sioux Falls in the east, past Badlands National Park and onto Rapid City and Deadwood and Spearfish in the west. Talk about some ground to cover.
Next month, Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz, 27, along with his wife, Mussie, 26, and their two daughters, will move from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to Sioux Falls, the Mount Rushmore state’s largest city, to open a Chabad-Lubavitch center catering to a community that dates back to the days of the Wild West.
Their travels on the High Plains will likely take them to Vermillion and Aberdeen and the capital city of Pierre, and (since the young couple will need it) perhaps even along State Road 212 in Meade County to a town called Faith.
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz, center, pictured among thousands of other rabbis as they pose for the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries group photo in front of Chabad-Lubavitch world headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. Credit: Eliyahu Parypa / Chabad.org
The Alperowitzes’ move marks a permanent Chabad presence in all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
News of the new center was announced last week to a crowd of 5,600 rabbis and guests from 90 countries at a dinner at the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries on the Brooklyn waterfront.
“Like the faces of some of our country’s greatest leaders etched into that faceless mountain, we hope to carve the image of our forefathers in the blank earth,” Rabbi Alperowitz said during the announcement.
In addition to completing Chabad’s quest for nationwide representation, Rabbi Alperowitz will also become South Dakota’s only permanent rabbi, ending the state’s long-held dubious distinction of being the only state in the country without one for close to 30 years.
South Dakota is estimated to have a population of about 390 Jews — less than a tenth of 1 percent of South Dakota’s population (850,000) and the fewest of any state in the country. It received an influx of Jews during the Gold Rush, according to the Associated Press, and there were approximately 2,000 Jews living there a century ago.
Since then, the Jewish community’s numbers have dwindled, but Chabad estimates the number to be closer to 1,000, with the city’s strong economy and the growing financial and healthcare industries attracting new residents.
South Dakota’s small Jewish community is scattered throughout the state’s geographically expansive area, with a concentration of about 150 Jews in Sioux Falls. There are two active Reform synagogues in the state, and Chabad student rabbis often visit for festivals throughout the year.
Rabbi Alperowitz and his wife spent a week in Sioux Falls last year during Purim and have since returned twice.
“We were so warmly received,” Mussie Alperowitz told Chabad.org. “It was inspiring for us to see people who really gave their all to maintain communal infrastructure for decades. We felt an instant connection with the people we met, and people asked us if we would consider opening up a permanent center.”
Though the Alperowitzes will be based in Sioux Falls, they plan to travel to the region’s other Jewish communities and visit Jewish individuals throughout the state, including prisoners.
“We look forward to them living here,” Steven Rosenthal, a South Dakota resident who serves as the state AIPAC chair told Chabad.org. “We will develop a new relationship with each other, and I am excited for that.”
Before they light out for the territory, the Alperowitzes might find comfort in the words of a Brooklyn native son, the mystically minded Walt Whitman (who might as well have been a Lubavitcher):
“To know the universe itself as a road,” the great poet wrote in “Song of the Open Road,” “as many roads, as roads for traveling souls.”
Renee Harari is an editorial intern; Robert Goldblum is managing editor.