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Chabad Shaliach talks outreach and raising a child of colour

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Rabbi Chaim Bruk of Montana having fun with his adopted son Menny | Photo: Courtesy

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Rabbi Chaim Bruk of Montana is famous these days primarily for being a white rabbi raising a black child. 

Many Chabad communities are inviting Rabbi Bruk to speak on the subject as they struggle to understand rising civil unrest in America, following the deaths of George Floyd and others at the hands of law enforcement. Last Monday, June 8, it was Uptown Chabad of Toronto’s Rabbi Moshe Steiner who hosted a community Zoom session, along with the Chabads at Guelph and George Washington universities.

 But Rabbi Bruk insists that once you hear his full story, having adopted a black child is the least interesting thing about him. And he just might be right.

Rabbi Bruk is himself the object of much fascination. Last year he was the subject of Rabbi Goes West, a documentary that aired at various Jewish film festivals. There is something supremely interesting to many people about a yeshiva student from Brooklyn who would opt to settle down and establish a Chabad in the Great Plains of the west.

For Rabbi Bruk, the most challenging element of his work is that Montana is three times the size of New York –and he covers every corner of the state regularly. His target audience: a mere 4,000 Jews scattered across this vast area.

 But the small Jewish population has its advantages. According to Rabbi Bruk, it costs little to accomplish great things. He cited his efforts to erect a mezuzah in every home (500 and growing), send a Torah scroll to every home, and raise funds for a mikvah, which slashed a 14-hour round-trip going two states over, to being in the neighbourhood.

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 At times, fun curveballs are thrown his way. He became famous as the official translator of an Israeli-imported bomb-sniffing dog in Helena, the state capital. One year, he scrambled to feed stranded El Al passengers and crew in Billings, Montana. 

 In addition to his Jewish outreach efforts, Rabbi Bruk works tirelessly to raise awareness amongst Montana’s non-Jews about Jewish people and culture, via various media. In his view, an antisemite in Montana is simply a person who has not yet interacted with a Jew. “Once you befriend them, their ignorance melts away,” said Rabbi Bruk.

Rabbi Chaim Bruk of Montana spoke on a Zoom conference call, June 8, discussing his outreach efforts to the relatively few Jews who live in that state| Photo: Zoom call, June 8, Doron Berger

Perhaps most unique, is that Rabbi Bruk and his wife, Rebbetzin Chavie, have adopted five children from around the world, including seven-year-old Menny, an African American.

 Rabbi Bruk describes Menny as “the only black Hassidic Jew in Montana,” who also happens to attend public school, where he plays football and basketball sporting tzitzit. 

 With the current racial events gripping America, there have been more difficult conversations with Menny, particularly since he is now old enough to be aware of his other identity. 

 Rebbetzin Chavie recently penned a blog outlining her conversations with Menny on the subject of racism. In it, she relays an instance when her son asked whether people hate black people “still”, and shared his perception on a recent family trip to Florida, that there was more diversity there than in Montana, which made him “feel good.”

 Menny is keenly aware that he is different from his peers, and that there are implications to that diversity.

 Still, Rabbi Bruk insists that Menny feels happy in Montana, and that “everyone who meets him loves him. This state has embraced him with open arms.”

 As the years go by, however, there will likely be more difficult conversations with Menny, as he further explores the duality of his identity.

 But one thing is for sure: the values he is being raised with, taught to him and practiced by his loving father and mother, will serve him well.

Doron Berger is a finance professional, a Toronto ex-pat now living in the US. He was a former reporter for Afterword newspaper for five years, and was a feature writer for LandmarkReport.com, an online news site.

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Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

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