By Rabbi Chaim Bruk
It was just before the Seudah HaMafsekes on erev Yom Kippur. I turned to my wife and co-CEO, Chavie, and quipped, “Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to go to shul and just daven?”
I was referring to a Yomim Nora’im dream of mine to sit and just pray peacefully, in my own personal G-d bubble. As a shliach, my time in shul looks very different. It’s not only in the pre-yom tov hustle and bustle of reaching out to every Jew in Big Sky Country and inviting them to celebrate the tefillos and seudos of yom tov, not only ensuring that those who can’t make it have all that they need for the holiday experience, but also during services itself, announcing pages, giving commentary on the various piyutim, welcoming new people so that they feel at home, and doing my very best to inspire those participating to increase in their mitzvah observance. It’s a lot of work, and a part of me wonders what sitting peacefully in shul with my Machzor and my son, Menny, beside me would feel like.
As I stood at the podium in our small Bozeman shul, I could overhear the pre-Kol Nidrei chatting. People were talking about the looming winter storm and how many inches were expected to accumulate by Yom Kippur morning, as we enjoyed the balmy 9°F temperature.
The solemnity in the air as the chazzan, a yeshiva student from Brooklyn, started Kol Nidrei was palpable. Among the 50 souls in attendance was a young man about my age, in his late thirties, who had messaged me a few hours earlier. “Hello, I’ve never been to the Chabad (or any Chabad for that matter) but I’m interested in checking it out. Is it possible to join you for Kol Nidrei services tonight?” He was warmly invited and indeed stayed for the entire service.
After davening, as I was getting to know my new friend, he told me that he, too, grew up in New York and has deep roots in the Reform movement of America, and it’s his first time attending a traditional minyan. He seemed to enjoy, and he added that what I said in my sermon, about the “Jewish soul naturally coming home to the melody of our heart, like a child returning home after being away for a while,” really resonated with him.
The next morning, as the weather predictions were realized and on the I-90, just below our home, there were hundreds of car accidents due to the slick roads. An Israeli woman, new to Bozeman, walked 2.5 miles in a full-on blizzard to come to shul. She never drove on Yom Kippur and wanted to keep that tradition. She trekked almost two hours undeterred and spent the rest of the day with our family until Havdalah.
Jews may be asleep on occasion, but the heart is awake and energized.
These are just two glimpses into the beauty of the Jewish neshamah, the holiness of our people, who, despite millennia of suffering, are still clinging to the Eibershter, to our loving Father in heaven. It warmed my heart, and I hope it warms yours, giving you hope in Jewry’s bright future. It also helped me realize that while it may be more convenient for me, even spiritually opportune, to daven in some cozy shul as a participant instead of a leader, there is a perfect reason Hashem led Chavie and me to embark on the shlichus of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, ob’m, to the Jews of Big Sky Country. It’s a lot of work indeed, but it’s the most rewarding work I can think of.
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, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit JewishMontana.com/Donate.