By Dvora Lakein, lubavitch.com
Last year David Findel made international news when he purchased the rights to two seats at the new Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. For $400,000.
When Findel believes in something, he goes the whole 100 yards.
Around the same time, the Jets fan turned his attention to another grassy turf: his own. In August of last year Findel invited Rabbi Shmaya and Mrs. Rochi Galperin to create a Chabad center in Holmdel and Colts Neck, two towns in Western Monmouth County. Less than a year later, the Jewish Center is thriving, Jews are coming out of the woodwork, and Findel (a mortgage lender) is reaping the benefits of his investment. It is a perfect story, made only richer by its beginnings.
Galperin, then a rabbinic student studying in Montreal, was finishing his weekly round of mitzvah outreach efforts, when he bumped into a group of five young men. He asked if they were Jewish and if they would like to don Tefillin. They were and they did. One, a certain Mr. Findel, gave Galperin his business card. That was in 2002. Though he tried several times to reach him, they never connected.
Until a year later, when Galperin was completing similar rounds and Findel and his friends were once again partying on St. Catherine’s Street in Montreal. This time, the boisterous group recognized the rabbinical students and greeted them. Tefillin was donned again and a relationship was formed. Between 2003 and 2008, Galperin and Findel maintained contact through regular phone calls and visits. Shortly after Galperin’s marriage, Findel invited him to start a community in his own stomping ground.
“There was a reason we had to meet so many years ago,” says Findel. “The Jewish situation in Colts Neck is very meek, it barely existed before the Rabbi came. He is doing a wonderful job here. He is a genuine soul, how do you say it, a pure neshama.”
Roughly 1300 Jewish families live in Galperin’s region and he intends to “meet and get to know every Jewish family personally.” In the suburbs, he says, “no one knows their neighbors. Everyone I meet tells me there are no Jews around.” Though the adjacent cities have vibrant Jewish offerings, his immediate locale had nothing in the way of Judaism. Until last year.
Monthly minyan services and holiday parties draw a wide audience of eager community members. Galperin delivers his wife’s steaming challah each week to lucky neighbors. Yet it is the International Shabbat dinners that earn the most enthusiasm. Fifty people, businessmen, families, college students, pile into the Galperin home on McCampbell Road for an evening of exotic cuisine and a heimish Shabbat experience. Findel and Mrs. Galperin prepare the feast, be it Mexican, Hawaiian, Italian, or Middle-Eastern.
“They opened their home to strangers and in less than one year they have really become part of the community,” admires Sarah Biser. Holmdel resident Biser says that before the Galperins moved to town, there was “no galvanizing, focal point for the local Jewish community. Rabbi Galperin saw that Holmdel really needed help and he has really provided a lot of programming.” The Chairman of the Israeli Task Force for the UJA and partner at McCarter and English in New York City appreciates that Galperin “doesn’t care what you know. Whatever level of observance someone is, is just o.k.”
Ben Gerard is a senior majoring in psychology at Brookdale Community College, a stone’s throw from the Galperin home. “Before I was totally turned off by religion,” he says. “It is refreshing to see that religion is still out there for religion’s sake.” Gerard graduates in December and plans to visit Israel for the first time immediately after completing his degree. In the meanwhile, he is trying to get students involved with the Jewish Student Union on campus.
“The Union was formed in 2006 and quickly became defunct,” Gerard explains. “Then the Rabbi came and resurrected it from the dead, amazingly. Now we are pushing to get more students involved.”
Gerard got involved over a pile of Legos (1,700 in fact) when he and several other students joined Galperin in building a towering Lego menorah. After a round of latkes, the Rabbi asked Gerard if he would like to try on a pair of Tefillin. “That was it,” he says of that Chanukah moment. “I realized this is for sure what I want to do and where I want to be for life.”
After a Birthright tour and visits with relatives, Gerard is enrolling in Mayanot, a Chabad yeshiva of advanced Torah study for novice students. He plans to learn Hebrew and decide if he wants to become a rabbi. It all started with some building blocks, a tasty potato pancake, and a pair of Tefillin.
It was Tefillin that started Findel on his road to religion as well. The small things, Galperin emphasizes, effect real change. “I grew up in a tiny South African town called East London,” he says. “There was nothing Jewish there; anything kosher came from my mother’s kitchen and I had no Jewish friends. It was there that I realized people’s thirst for Judaism and the importance of my parents’ work. All my life I have wanted to impact people’s lives.”
Galperin and Findel share lofty dreams for their little towns. “I want to have a congregation of 300 people within three years,” declares Findel. “Whatever Shmaya needs, he has all my support. We love him here.”