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NY transplant is South Dakota's lone rabbi: 'You really see what God made here'

Sharyn Jackson, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Religious News

Enter Mendel Alperowitz.

A clergyman without a congregation, Alperowitz moved to this city on the prairie to serve as a kind of Pied Piper for the Jews who don't have a spiritual home.

"My goal is that there should not be a single Jew in the state of South Dakota who feels that they don't have a way to express their Judaism," he said.

Although there are two synagogues and long established Jewish communities in South Dakota, Alperowitz has come for the isolated and the unaffiliated, whether they are devout or haven't prayed since childhood.

"No matter how far away they live from the Jewish community, however far across the state, we'll be there, we'll be visiting with them, in touch with them, doing Jewish things together," he said.

Since his arrival, the people who go to his classes or welcome him into their homes seem almost giddy to take part. Some have cried. Others have stopped him in public just to ask questions.

"I walk down the street, I'm a symbol of Judaism," he said, "whether I like it or not."

The 27-year-old has no intention of interfering with the state's synagogues, Mount Zion in Sioux Falls and Synagogue of the Hills in Rapid City. (While welcoming Alperowitz and his family, leaders from both synagogues say they've been self-sufficient long enough without a rabbi.)

But with most of South Dakota's Jews practicing a far more liberal strain of Judaism, or none at all, some of the state's Jews are asking whether Alperowitz is the rabbi South Dakota needs.

Alperowitz made a splash last fall when he announced his relocation to South Dakota from an insular and ultrareligious Jewish neighborhood of Crown Heights, in Brooklyn.

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