By COLlive reporter
Leading up to the 20th anniversary of Gimmel Tammuz, the green light has been given to the establishment of a Chabad presence in Mississippi, the second to last state in the U.S. without one.
Rabbi Akiva and Hannah Hall and their daughter Leah will be moving to Biloxi in the coming months to open Chabad Lubavitch of Southern Mississippi to reach out to local Jews in typical Chabad spirit.
The new Shlichus comes full circle for this young Chabad couple, perhaps indicative of how the Rebbe’s impact and the worldwide network of Shlichus outreach continues and flourishes worldwide.
At a young age, Akiva’s family moved from Las Vegas to Mississippi. While not observant, the family kept a strong Jewish identity and sent him to Hebrew School in Mississippi and Chabad’s Gan Israel day camp in Las Vegas.
“I was very drawn to furthering my Jewish knowledge and spent much time learning and increasing my observance during my early teenage years, and became shomer Shabbos about the time I was 15,” he told COLlive.com.
“My family and I became very close to the Rivkins (the shluchim in New Orleans) and over the years they were (and continue to be) an amazing source of guidance, support, learning and friendship for me and my family.”
At Rabbi Rivkin’s advice, after he graduated public school, Akiva applied and was accepted to Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad in Los Angeles where he learned for two years, followed by one year at Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim in Morristown, NJ.
He spent the next year learning in the Smicha program at Yeshiva Chovevei Torah in Crown Heights, led by Rabbi Yossi Barber, where he received semicha yoreh yoreh.
He then got married to Hannah Black of North Hollywood, CA. She grew up in Bakersfield in a family that were members of the local Reform temple. When she was about 10 years old, Rabbi Shmuli and Esther Schlanger came to town to start a Chabad center.
The Black family came to the first Chabad event and started becoming more involved from there. By the time she was 14, she began attending a Jewish day school in Los Angeles.
For the first year, Hannah’s mother drove Hannah and her sister an hour and a half to school and back each day so that they would be able to get a Jewish education, while Hannah’s father stayed in Bakersfield for work.
Hannah and her mother and sister progressively stayed more days in Los Angeles a week until the whole family moved there when Hannah was in 12th grade. After High School, Hannah attended Afikei Torah seminary in Israel and then worked at Chabad of Brentwood for a year before getting married.
“Because of the fact that I grew up in Mississippi and occasionally did some shlichus-type activities, it was something that was always talked about,” Akiva says about his Shlichus. “We were unsure for over a year if this was an avenue to pursue. After much deliberation (and inspiration from Rabbis Schlanger and Rivkin), we felt that we had been given an opportunity and a mission that was unique to us, and couldn’t decline such a responsibility.”
Rabbi Hall says that “it feels very interesting” to return to his home-state as an official Shliach recognized by Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad Lubavitch that oversees the Shlichus network.
“Obviously, after spending the greater part of the last five years living in normal Jewish communities, the thought of settling in there is a little jarring,” he admits.
“However, the thought of coming to a place with such a dearth of Torah, and being able to bring Jewish people close to Torah and chassidus is quite remarkable. in addition, my family still lives there, which will allow us to spend much more time with them than we were able to in the last few years.”
Asked how their parents received the news, Rabbi Hall said: “Our families Ron Hall, and Allan and Judy Black have supported our decision from the beginning and have been a driving force in our new endeavor.”
But most of all, he says, “we are grateful to Hashem for giving us life and giving us the merit to be Lubavitcher chassidim, to merit to be Shluchim of the Rebbe, whose vision has greatly impacted our lives, and to be able to pass on that vision to others.”
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