By Carin M. Smilk – Chabad.org
At the end of May, Rabbi Berry and Shayna Nash, and their 18-month-old daughter Riva, left the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., and moved west—way out west.
The young Chabad shluchim, or emissaries—he’s 25, she’s 24—just started Chabad of Missoula, the second such couple to serve Jewish residents and visitors in the state. They were brought on board by regional directors Rabbi Chaim and Chavie Bruk, co-directors of Chabad-Lubavitch of Montana, who serve residents and visitors to the state in Bozeman, 212 miles to the southeast, with their three children.
The Nashes are still getting situated in their rental house not far from the University of Montana in Missoula, but they took some time out to discuss their plans and goals, and how “Big Sky Country” is treating them.
Approximately how many people will you serve in Missoula and its surrounding areas?
R’ Berry: There are about 3,000 Jewishly-identified households in the state, with about half of them in the northwest, where we are. We have a number of contacts in Missoula and some contacts in areas outside of Missoula proper. In addition to our regular Chabad House, we’re also going to serve as the official Chabad on Campus emissaries to the University of Montana [which enrolls about 13,000 undergraduate students]. We’re here to serve and be here for everyone in the community.
The natural follow-up is: Are two Chabad centers really necessary in a state like Montana, with such a huge geographic area and such a low percentage of Jews—some estimates put it at .01 percent of the state’s population?
R’ Berry: Absolutely! Since 1956, the Lubavitcher Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] began sending his students to Montana to reach out to the local Jews at that time. The Rebbe continued to do so many summers following Chabad’s first visit. Rabbi Chaim Bruk, our regional director, spent years visiting and working with Jewish families and individuals in northwestern Montana. He realized about two years ago that it’s time to give these precious Jews, who are growing in numbers, a permanent experience of Judaism. There may be more people to reach in larger cities than in our neck of the woods, but it’s not about numbers; it’s about how many we can reach. The Rebbe taught us to cherish every Jew—to teach and inspire that one Jew because he or she is a true gem.
What have you jump-started since you arrived, and what’s in the works?
R’ Berry: I started learning one-on-one with a few people and continue to offer learning for others. Many people are very interested in intellectual challenges, especially Torah, when they can identify it as a personal guide and inspiration. We recently had our first Shabbat meal, with five guests from the community—two couples and one gentleman. There are many areas to begin. We have a whole Torah with 613 mitzvot. Whatever we see that people are ready to start with, we are determined to give. Everyone has interests and a desire to grow, and we are here to provide the water.
What has it been like in Montana so far?
Shayna: It’s been really great, actually. It’s a very warm, welcoming place. Everyone we’ve met has been so friendly and helpful, offering information and tips for all sorts of random things.
What are you planning in terms of women’s programming?
Shayna: That will depend on the needs and the wants of the women I meet. I have been super busy getting the house up and running for now. Every day I’ve been adding a little more to make it a comfortable Chabad House—and a home. I have already been in touch with some women though, and I am looking forward to getting to know more out here and building relationships. We also have to think about a mikvah. There’s one in Bozeman, but that’s three hours away.
Are you both from a line of Chabad families?
Shayna: Both sets of our parents became Chabad as young adults. I have some siblings who are on shlichus, though in my husband’s family, he’s the first. He’s beginning a legacy.
Where do you purchase your kosher food?
Shayna: The regular stuff I can get at local supermarkets. There’s a Costco here, Safeway, Albertsons and the like. Our dairy and our meat products need to be shipped in.
R’ Berry: Freezers, here we come!
What are some of your specialty dishes—the foods you make for Shabbat dinners and holidays?
R’ Berry: She makes the best challah, the best food!
Shayna: I made salmon with sautéed mushrooms and onions for our first Shabbat dinner, as well as some traditional foods, like chicken soup.
What are some of the specific challenges you will face, Montana being so different from New York?
R’ Berry: Everyone going on shlichus has challenges. Chinuch [education] for our child, Riva, will be a challenge, for sure. The fact that there is a smaller Jewish population here may be more difficult, but every person counts. Every act makes a difference. We were very impressed with Rabbi Chaim and Chavie Bruk, who started the first Chabad center here. We had a very inspirational Shabbos with them when we first considered moving here, discovering that people are looking and interested in more than we can imagine.
You traveled back east late last month to attend the Chabad on Campus International Conference, held in Rye, N.Y. What did you take away from that experience?
R’ Berry: It was absolutely amazing, being with a family of shluchim who all work on campus. We learn from each other, sharing ideas on personal life, on shalom bayit [peace in the home], on how to file tax papers with the government in the most professional way, on how to daven [pray] better—on every aspect of the challenges of shlichus. Besides the inspiration that it gives and the new friends you meet, it’s amazing to think that any guest you have at your Shabbat table joins the 10,000-plus guests at Shabbat tables on more than 200 Chabad on Campus centers around the world.