How does a community grow from five people to five hundred? How does a small town in the Florida Panhandle become a hub for growth and Yiddishkeit?
Growing up on Shlichus in Gothenburg, Sweden, Rabbi Mendel Danow knew from a young age he wanted to run a Chabad house that would inspire and introduce Yiddishkeit to Jews from all backgrounds.
In 2018, Mendel and his wife Nechama began working to make this dream a reality when they were brought down by the head Shliach of the Panhandle, Rabbi Schneur Oirechman, to be the Shluchim in Pensacola.
Being that the Danows were starting their Shlichus in a small town, they focused on making personal and individual connections with each person there.
“Every person has value,” said Rabbi Danow. “Building relationships is our foundation.” With this motto, the Danows created a warm and trusting community that flourished around the goal of creating an environment where each individual is unique. With the help of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky and Mr. Moris and Lillian Tabacinic, Chabad of Pensacola now has a beautiful Chabad House for their community, which hosts a range of programs such as JLI classes and Friday night meals for over fifty community members every week.
But even though Chabad of Pensacola has expanded, the Danows continue to maintain this attitude of personal care for each Jew. Along with their general programs, there is a priority in specific programs for every age demographic in the community.
Starting from a young age, there is a thriving preschool, Hebrew school and CTeen. After graduating high school and moving on to college, Chabad of Pensacola maintains Sinai Scholars and Jewish student clubs at the University of West Florida.
About a year ago, the Danows saw a need to add another program to their Shlichus. “My wife and I sat down with a list and realized we had about 60 young professionals in the community without any specific program geared towards them and decided to take action,” said Rabbi Danow. “I knew that the young people needed their own program. They needed to be part of a community among people with similar age, struggles, and aspirations.”
Only twenty people attended the first Chabad Young Professional event, but from there blossomed the community these young men and women needed. Before long, Rabbi Danow had young professionals volunteering, sharing their ideas, and taking on leadership positions. Chabad of Pensacola quickly became a hub for the younger generation in their 20s and 30s – even people who Rabbi Danow thought would have never actively participated.
After completing the school system, these young adults start to venture out on their own, Rabbi Danow found that these emerging professionals, beginning to settle and enter the real world, posed a group eager to learn and engage. They wanted to grow spiritually and socially within their Jewish heritage together with other people of the same age, stage and mindset with whom they could network. This created the capacity for strong relationships among the young professionals and their Jewish identity.
Recently, Rabbi Mendel Danow put Tefillin on a young man named Scott for the first time. Inspired, Scott asked the Rabbi to help him purchase a pair of his own and when they arrived, he excitedly put them on himself. Rabbi Danow then watched Scott turn to his friend Lou saying, “Hey! You’re Jewish too, come make a blessing with my Tefillin.”
Today, Rabbi Danow has countless stories of how, like Scott, the young professionals took the initiative, involved their friends, and spread the ideals of Torah and Chassidus on their own.
After launching the CYP Academy course on happiness, Rabbi Danow only felt more strongly about Pensacola’s CYP community. He expressed that “CYP Academy connected the young people in a social, intellectual and emotional way on a whole other level. Because the courses are set to be interactive with intellectual and stimulating conversation paired with the weekly social mingling, the students create deep bonds even outside of the Chabad programs.”
Rabbi Danow’s message to other Shluchim is to be confident in launching a Chabad Young Professional chapter, “You can begin with just a few young professionals. They will create an environment and others will join. They will appreciate that you made a community for them and will in turn tell their friends, who will tell their friends, and G-D willing, you will have a thriving community of young Jewish men and women eager to learn about and share their Yiddishkeit. By learning and filling the needs of each individual, a loving and growing community will be born.”