Huntsville’s Growing Diversity Brings a New Face to its Jewish Community

Huntsville AL – Being Jewish in Huntsville isn’t always easy. Rose Opengart is a New York transplant and says “Having my kids grow up in the South as opposed to somewhere like New York we have to make a bigger effort to be Jewish because there isn’t so much.” But Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz hopes to change that.
As Huntsville’s population continues to grow so does the religious community. And that diverse group now includes the city’s first Orthodox rabbi. Rabbi Laibel Berkowitz is a member of the Chabad branch of Judaism. This past month the New York-based organization sent Rabbi Berkowitz and his wife to Huntsville. Chabad sends emissary couples like Berkowitz and his wife around the world. They’ll settle in a city and reach out to Jews in the community with the goal of strengthening local Jews’ bonds to their faith.
Berkowitz says “We’re here to serve the Jewish community and reach out and engage the unaffiliated Jews who have come in or have already been here as well as strengthen the existing Jewish community by activities programs and holiday Jewish awareness.” He continues “As Jews we’re one big family. And I believe it’s a tremendous opportunity for us to provide meaning and inspiration and hope for people. And if they are not affiliated at the moment we’re here to bring that for them. And to show them the beauty of Judaism and to celebrate it.”
And what better time to celebrate than the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Just as the lulav a symbol of Sukkot binds together diverse plant species so does Chabad reach out to Jews of all backgrounds uniting them through their common heritage.
Laura King is former President of the Jewish Federation of North Alabama and understands how important it is to unite Jews across the Valley: “We need each other for one thing. And it’s important to connect with your identity. And the Chabad in particular [provides] a home for a lot of Jews who feel disconnected.”
Jews of all backgrounds are looking forward to what Rabbi Berkowitz will bring to Huntsville’s Jewish community. As the rabbi’s guests enjoyed the Sukkot meal Rose Opengart reflected on the benefits of Chabad. She says “I think they make it so it doesn’t feel like an obligation–a religious obligation–they make it feel like a part of who you are and they make things fun.”

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