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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

The story spread, in part because of its novelty: a deeply religious man with a frizzy red beard, who dresses in the black suit and fedora of the old world, moving to the prairie?

Alperowitz is a member of the Chabad Lubavitch sect of Hasidic Jews, who believe that every ritual performed by a Jew brings the Messiah a step closer. Like Mormons, Chabad rabbis take up posts around the world, establishing or enriching Jewish presence in far-flung places, from Nigeria to Nepal. By setting up houses for worship and gathering, Chabad managed to place at least one Jewish spiritual leader in every U.S. state.

Except one.

As an emissary of Chabad, Alperowitz visited Sioux Falls in 2016 to lead a celebration for the holiday of Purim. He sensed among some of the local Jews a thirst for a deeper connection to their religion.

"I don't have too many people like myself," Jacobs said. "It's been very difficult for me, difficult for my children. There was nobody to teach them Hebrew."

Alperowitz, a longtime resident of New York, also noticed a thirst in himself -- a desire for open space, a yard for his two young girls to play in, and a mission.

When he returned to New York, he and his wife, Mussie, talked about what it would mean to move to a place with few amenities for people who follow strict Jewish dietary laws and pray three times daily. They would be giving up the village-like life in Crown Heights, where they lived among extended families. There would be no Jewish school for their children. They would have to drive four hours to Minneapolis to buy kosher meat.

Plus, money would be a concern. Alperowitz, whose post is funded through donations, will have to convince enough South Dakotans to support his work financially to keep him there.

"From a Jewish perspective, it's a whole lot easier and simpler in New York," Alperowitz said. "Will I miss that kosher sushi? I'm sure I will. But there is so much more meaning to what we're doing here than a piece of sushi."

In midsummer, the Alperowitzes left New York for a small Sioux Falls house with a grassy backyard, minutes from cornfields and cow pastures.

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