I Am A Rural American Rabbi With A Black Son. Here’s What I’ve Learned.
In 2013, while anticipating the adoption of our third child, we learned that he would be biracial. I was convinced that G-d sent this beautiful soul to us; yet, I had a few moments of doubt. I was questioning the Almighty, whether he was the right fit for our family; I couldn’t help but wonder how his life experience would play out as a biracial Orthodox Jew growing up in Big Sky Country. My beloved wife Chavie, firm and inspirational as ever, encouraged me to remain focused, “let us shower our baby with love and warmth,” she said, “and let G-d worry about his future challenges.”
Growing up in my Brooklyn “hood,” I was living in a bubble. Ohio seemed remote, Texas like another country and the Mountain West states were, in our mind, like another planet. Our family traveled upstate to Catskill Game Farm, to Pennsylvania’s Sesame Place and even enjoyed a memorable trip to Orlando, but west of the Mississippi was a like a foreign land to me. Yet, while rural America seemed far, far-away from the life I knew in America’s “five boroughs”, I have been blessed to learn, it’s the perfect place to live and raise my family.
In 2007, Chavie and I moved to Bozeman, opening the state’s first branch of Chabad Lubavitch, to offer exciting spiritual experiences to Wild West Jewry. We were welcomed warmly by Jews and gentiles alike and, over the years, have garnered hundreds of friendships with human-beings of all flavors. Living in Montana, for a decade now, I’ve developed a real appreciation, and admiration, for “fly over country” and its people.
I have found Montanans to be friendly, thoughtful and intrigued by my Jewish observance. Whether interacting with a bellman in the “big city” of Billings, a rancher from Kila or a state trooper in Butte, Montanans are genuinely caring and refreshingly authentic. They care more about their family than what car they drive, feed their animals before themselves and, no matter how busy they are, would pull over to help you on the side of the road, even if it was -22 outside.
While I miss the kosher restaurants, the Sabbath atmosphere in the street and the opportunity to speak in my mother tongue, Yiddish, Bozeman has become home and I’m a proud Montanan. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is not merely a bumper sticker or a campaign slogan out here; it’s a way of life.