By Heather J. Carlson
When James Zane traveled to Rochester, MN, for major heart surgery last winter, he knew no one. And for most of the trip, he was alone. Then he met Rabbi Dovid Greene.
“Right before the surgery, Rabbi Dovid Greene showed up uninvited but very welcome,” Zane said. “He is a very warm and loving person.”
In the weeks that followed, the New York patient came to rely on daily visits from the Orthodox Jewish rabbi that heads Chabad-Lubavitch of Rochester. Greene would visit him, sitting and chatting for upwards of an hour. For the Sabbath, his wife made Zane chicken soup without salt — following doctor’s orders — and fresh challah bread.
“He was tremendous. He is warm, loving, spiritual, a great philosopher, learned — everything you would want in a clergyman,” Zane said. “It was like having a member of my family there.”
Longing for fellowship
For 20 years, Rabbi Greene and his wife, Chanie, have been serving the needs of Jewish visitors to Rochester — whether it is kosher foods, home-cooked Sabbath meals or providing spiritual comfort. Getting those needs met without some help can be tough in Rochester — a city of 100,000 with an estimated Jewish population of 600, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives.
As the start of the Jewish high holidays begins with Rosh Hashanah on Tuesday, it is not unusual for the requests to grow as the visiting Jews long for traditional foods and fellowship.
Greene, who stands out on Rochester’s streets with his broad black hat and easy smile, works as a Hebrew interpreter at Mayo Clinic. It is his job to help doctors understand the needs, concerns and cultural backgrounds of Jewish patients.
On a recent visit to the Chabad-Lubavitch center, which serves not only as a synagogue but also as the family’s home, Greene’s wife was out visiting a patient at the hospital. When not at the hospital, the Greenes are often busy helping make sure out-of-towners have plenty of kosher food.
Coordination a must
“(Kosher food) is something you can’t get in town,” Greene said. “A lot of our emphasis is helping people with their kosher needs.”
That can involve plenty of coordinating, with the Greenes or volunteers making trips to the Twin Cities to get kosher foods. Every Friday for the Sabbath, the Greenes prepare a Sabbath meal for visiting Jews to enjoy. They also deliver Sabbath meals to patients who are too ill to visit.
Ultimately, Rabbi Greene said his dream would be to open a hospitality house in Rochester for Jewish patients. He quotes a friend who once said “the worst home is better than the best hotel.”
In the meantime, the Greenes continue to spread their hospitality to the hundreds of Jewish visitors every year that come to Rochester for treatment. It is a generosity that Zane said he will never forget adding, “They are wonderful, wonderful people.”