We all know the joke: The first life on Mars will be… a Chabad House. While Chabad, a juggernaut Jewish presence on nearly 200 campuses nation-wide, isn’t quite intergalactic yet, it recently took one step closer. Chabad is finally in all 50 states with its recent addition of a Chabad House in South Dakota.South Dakota has a community of 345 Jews – some descendants of Gold Rushers – according to the latest Jewish population census by the American Jewish Year Book. The state has not had a rabbi since the late-1990s. Rabbi Stephen Forstein, who lived there from the 1970s to 1998, before he left to lead a congregation in Michigan.
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz and his wife, Mussie, are the inaugural couple for South Dakota’s Chabad House in Sioux Falls. Until now, the community has largely been lay-led. “They get together on their own a lot,” Alperowitz said in a National Public Radio interview last month. “They hold services and conduct different activities, you know, directed by laypeople within the community.” While Chabad has been sending rabbis to South Dakota for decades, he added, the Alperowitz family will be the first established Chabad center.
When asked about the mostly Reform Jewish community in South Dakota, Alperowitz said, “The way we look at it is every Jew is really a Jew. No Jew any less Jewish than Moses or Abraham, and we’re excited to welcome all Jews. And rather than us putting up artificial barriers and division between people, we’re just having an open home and ready to welcome everybody, like Abraham and Sarah welcomed everybody to their tents.”
But Chabad still has territory (or rather, territories) left to conquer. For Chabad to be in all U.S. states and territories – it already has centers in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands – there will need to be shluchim, or Chabad ambassadors, in Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
Where will Chabad go next? Nobody knows, but, as of 2009, there are 150 Jews in Guam and about a third of them are religious, according to the military. No synagogue has been there since a typhoon destroyed the only one on the island in 1962. Fourteen years after, Jewish members of the U.S. Navy and Air Force use a chapel designated by the military. During the summer months, Chabad sends young emissaries into far-off communities like Guam for a brief period of time to bring Jews closer to their religion. Meanwhile, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands have very few practicing Jews.
So, say mazel tov to your campus rabbi on Chabad’s 50-state feat, and start placing your bets on Chabad’s 51st outpost to follow South Dakota.
Jackson Richman is a senior studying political science at George Washington University. He has interned at The Weekly Standard and The Daily Caller. He’s a frequent contributor for Red Alert Politics and American Action News. You can follow him on Twitter: @jacksonrichman.