By R’ Chaim Bruk
I live amongst “goyim.” It’s not a term we use very often in our home, but it’s a truth, nonetheless, as living amongst goyim, meaning “gentile nations,” is a reality until Mashiach comes. While our Montana Jewish community has grown and is qualitatively awesome, we are less than one percent of the Montana population and so my daily interaction with gentiles is abundant. The fear of this reality wasn’t missed by the Rebbe, of blessed memory, but he believed so strongly in the mission of saving Am Yisrael, he was ready to take the risk by sending shluchim and shluchos to remote communities across the globe.
Case in point: many beautiful neshamos who have grown up in the Jewish enclaves of New York, Kiryat Sefer, or Gateshead have left the observance of Yiddishkeit, despite living within the warm and fuzzy cocoon of a Torah community. We’ve learned that there are no guarantees in life, certainly not spiritually, and the specific geographical and environmental location in which we live doesn’t solidify the outcomes we seek for our children’s and our very own spiritual well-being. The Rebbe weighed the pros and cons of sending couples out of the “ghetto,” and then moved forward to transform the landscape of Jewry.
Yet, despite the fears and concern (of which I have plenty) about the environment in which our family lives, there is another side of this that is incredibly inspiring, as we witness the vast number of gentiles who have been impacted positively by the depth of Yiddishkeit, Chassidus, and even of the Rebbe’s message of “upliftment” in Big Sky Country. Just last week, a reporter from the Belgrade News (Belgrade, Montana, not Serbia) named Karen Davis told me that in the 1980s some Chabad yeshiva students visited her from the yeshiva in Seattle and until this very day she has a picture of the Rebbe hanging on the wall in her home that is a source of inspiration for her. I don’t think the Rebbe’s picture is some kind of segulah, but looking at the image of someone who was a Moses in our generation is inspiring, and it’s evidently even inspiring to local gentiles.
In this week’s parashah, Balak, we read about a couple of anti-Semites who got together to curse the Jews. Balaam, the Midianite gentile prophet, knew a thing or two about G-d’s modus operandi and beseeched Balak, the Moabite who hired him, to back off because only G-d could control what actually comes out of his mouth, but Balak was so determined with hatred that he didn’t let up. It resulted in Balaam expressing the most poetic blessings about the Jewish people and it couldn’t be better.
Historically, we’ve been stuck in the mode of thinking that every gentile is out to get us, curse us, and harass us, not differentiating between gentiles and idolaters and those who are righteous amongst the nations, of whom there are so many today, especially in America.
My maternal zayde, Reb Shimon Goldman, who grew up in Siedlce (Shedlitz), Poland, and saw firsthand how neighbors can turn into murderers in a heartbeat, was always unsure and uncomfortable with geirim, converts to Judaism, though there are 36 mentions in the Torah about how to treat them, because he couldn’t shake off his shtetl experience and mentality of who “these people” are. I didn’t correct him, as he was a survivor and I had no place questioning his feelings, but it was a wrong approach. Sure, there are myriads of halachos teachings us how to keep our boundaries, including pas Yisrael, yayin nesech, and bishul Yisrael, which we keep in its strictest form even in Montana where it isn’t super-easy, but ensuring boundaries while recognizing human beings as created b’tzelem Elokim, in the infinite image of Hashem, isn’t contradictory.
Just a few weeks ago, a local gentile businesswoman I know via my kashrus work came to see our new Center for Jewish Life. After looking at the new space under construction, she said, “How does a $10,000 donation sound?” I wasn’t asking her for support, though we need about $100,000 to finish the remodeling and shul furniture purchasing, but on her own, because of her love for Jews and morality, she offered it up and we accepted happily. This isn’t an anomaly. Recently, when we sent out the new Montana Tehillim, printed in Israel specifically for the Montana community, I sent it to a few of our gentile friends and their response was so positive.
Balak wanted to curse the Jews, and many of our ancestors wanted to curse the gentiles, but there is a majority today in the USA consisting of good, understanding, and bright people. They want to learn, they want to dig deeper, they don’t want to hate someone just “because.” They aren’t haters, though they may be ignorant, and if we lift them up, inspire them, introduce them to good Jewish humor, and answer their questions patiently, they will grow to be more connected to Torah, giving us the ability to teach the seven Noachide laws, leading us to a time in which the world will be filled with the knowledge of Hashem, like water fills the seabed.
Let’s eradicate “shvartze,” “goy,” “arel,” “sheigetz,” and all other such labels from our lingo. We aren’t in Europe anymore, and a little love and light go a lot further.
Rabbi Chaim Bruk is co-CEO of Chabad Lubavitch of Montana and spiritual leader of The Shul of Bozeman. For comments or to partner in our holy work, e-mail email@example.com or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.