South Dakota’s lone rabbi brings mobile sukkah to Brandon

By: 
Keeley Meier, staff writer

Keeley Meier/BV Journal 

Brandon resident Beverly Christensen and Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz carefully hold the Four Species, vegetation that is bound together, during the Jewish holiday Sukkot. 

When Beverly Christensen entered the sukkah in her front yard last week, her eyes immediately filled with tears.
 
The sukkah—a temporary hut—was a portable one, brought to her Brandon home by her rabbi, Mendel Alperowitz, on Oct. 5.
 
A sukkah is part of Sukkot—a weeklong Jewish holiday celebrating the gathering of the harvest and God’s protection of the children of Israel when they left Egypt. 
 
During the week of Sukkot, families eat their meals in a sukkah. The temporary booths emphasize how the world and Jewish people rely on God’s protection, said Alperowitz.
 
“It commemorates the time the Jews wandered in the desert wilderness on their way to the Promised Land and the miraculous clouds that surrounded them,” Alperowitz said. 
 
Alperowitz’s portable sukkah was made from metal poles with tarp-like signs covering three walls and one left open for entrance. A bamboo mat was placed over the top of the sukkah. The design of a sukkah can vary, but Alperowitz said that the roof must be made of vegetation, such as bamboo or branches.
 
When Christensen stepped inside the sukkah, she recited a blessing with Alperowitz while holding the Four Kinds or Species, which consists of a citron fruit, palm branch, willow twigs and myrtle stems.
 
Rabbi Alperowitz, who moved to Sioux Falls in 2017, is the only rabbi in South Dakota. His arrival caused a shift in the local Jewish community, which hadn’t seen an official rabbi in almost 30 years. Because Alperowitz is an Orthodox Jew and many of the Jewish people in South Dakota are Reform Jews, his arrival was met with hesitation from synagogue leaders. 
 
However, Jewish residents, like Christensen, have been thrilled to have Alperowitz as a religious guidepost. 
 
“We are very blessed to have a rabbi here now,” Christensen said. “I’m in awe.”
 
Alperowitz journeyed around the state during the week of Oct. 5 to bring his makeshift sukkah to any Jewish family that requested a visit. 
 
“Our goal is to make Judaism and Jewish practice accessible to everyone of South Dakota’s Jews,” Alperowitz said. “That’s why this year we’re bringing a portable sukkah to the homes of people who want to join in the celebration in a safe atmosphere but may not have their own sukkah.”
 
The rabbi made stops in Sioux Falls, Winner, Mitchell, Milbank, Brookings, Aberdeen, Rapid City, Deadwood and Ellsworth Air Force Base, to name just a few.
 
Christensen, being one of those stops, said this portable sukkah tour—which covered around 100 families—was above and beyond the call of duty. In a normal year, the rabbi would have a sukkah at his home, and Jewish residents would come to his sukkah to eat and celebrate Sukkot. 
 
A few years ago, Christensen’s husband Jim helped Alperowitz build a sukkah outside of his home—this one made from wood paneling and large enough to hold a table to accommodate a large group. 
 
Although Alperowitz’s sukkah is only used by his family this year, he still uses it to eat every meal, including a simple cup of coffee. 
 
After Christensen recited the Sukkot blessings, she brought a cup of chicken noodle soup, gifted to her by Alperowitz’s wife Mussie, into the sukkah to eat. Once again, tears filled her eyes, and she repeatedly expressed her gratitude for both the soup and the rabbi. 
 
“It touches my heart in a way nothing else could,” Christensen said. 
 
Christensen, who was raised Orthodox, considers herself to be a conservative Jew. She spent nearly 36 years practicing Judaism on her own due to a lack of a Jewish presence in South Dakota. 
 
Christensen recounts hearing the news that Alperowitz would become South Dakota’s lone rabbi in 2017 saying she was on an upper level of her townhome when her husband yelled for her to come see what was happening on the news. 
 
“I came tearing down the stairs,” Christensen said. “They were the happiest tears I’ve ever shed in my life.”
 
Christensen regularly attends Torah studies and other classes with Alperowitz, which are currently being held over Zoom calls. She said that her husband, Jim, has also become involved in the Jewish community since Alperowitz arrived in South Dakota. He has his own beliefs and enjoys the Torah studies but is not as conservative in his faith as his wife. 
 
However, as Jim Christensen said, “I’m just happy she has her faith.”

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