A Rabbi Who Loves God and the Minnesota Vikings
By Doug McGill
The McGill Report
Rochester, MN -- You see him sometimes flying down Second Street, heading
from Saint Marys to the Mayo Clinic with the tails of his long black
coat flapping behind him, a calm smile on his bearded face, a lidded
cup of Starbucks coffee in one hand, a black fedora on his head and a
Torah under his arm.
He is Rabbi Dovid Greene, and he stands by himself as striking proof
that Rochester, far from being the "flyover country" we say
to ourselves we are (almost hopefully), is in reality super-cosmopolitan.
Because Rabbi Greene is no ordinary rabbi. He is an emissary to Rochester
of one of the fastest-growing Jewish organizations in the world,
the Chabad-Lubavitch, based in Brooklyn, New York. The group
a mystical branch of Judaism that started in Poland in the late 18th
Brought to America by a handful of European Jews fleeing Nazism in
the early 1940s, the Chabad-Lubavitch has since grown to number
200,000 worldwide -- a number that's had an outsized influence
due to the group's zealous focus and global reach.
In Rochester that takes the form of Rabbi Greene himself, who with
his wife Chanie runs the Chabad House at 730 Second St. S.W.
That's the house
with the 10-foot menorah -- the nine-branched candelabrum that
symbolizes the role of Jews as a "light to the world" -- planted in the
The Chabad House was opened in Rochester in 1988, when the Lubavitch
community realized how much global traffic, including Jews
from all over the world, came through the city seeking medical
and 20,000 Jews a year visit Mayo Clinic, Rabbi Greene estimates,
and of those with whom the Chabad House has contact perhaps
We try to imitate Abraham who was known for two things -- visiting the
sick and welcoming guests," Rabbi Greene says. Many mornings thus
find Dovid and Chanie making rounds to the Methodist and Saint Marys
hospital suites carrying brown paper lunch bags filled with kosher sandwiches,
challah bread, and a small bottle of grape juice.
Those services are free, and Rabbi Greene supports the
House with donations and from his work for local dairy
produce kosher foods,
prepared under a rabbi's supervision.
A second part of his mission in Rochester, he says, is
explaining Judaism to non-Jews or gentiles in the area.
In this respect
Chabad-Lubavitch break the mold of most orthodox Jewish
sects, which see the secular world as a diversion from
The Chabad-Lubavitch, by contrast, retain the intense
piety and outward look of other orthodox Jews,
yet stress that
a full engagement
the world, including with non-Jews, is essential.
While many orthodox Jewish
sects have fought hard against assimilation into
American culture, the Chabad-Lubavitch by contrast professes
a twofold path --
identity within the context of a fully engaged
Therefore Rabbi Greene spends a lot of time in
local schoolrooms. The goal is not conversion,
but simply the
explanation of himself as a devout Jew. He has
spent many class hours answering young
children's questions about what his various items
of clothing mean.
The small black skullcap called a yarmulke that
he wears, for example. "We
wear that to remind ourselves that there is always a higher power above
us, something greater than our mind or our bodies, that is God," he
And what about those white tassels hanging
from his belt? "Those
are called tzitzis. In Hebrew every letter has a number, and the word
tzitzis adds up to 600. Then there are eight strings and five knots on
the strings, for a total of 613. The tzitzis reminds Jews of the 613
commandments they must follow."
As the gasps subside, Rabbi Greene adds that
the seven laws God gave Noah are the
recommended for people
creeds. (For those who are interested:
no idolatry, no blasphemy,
no murder, no theft, no cruelty to animals,
and the creation of courts of justice.)
Zealous God-consciousness is the hallmark
of all "Chabadniks," as
they call themselves. There are prayers and readings and reminders of
God's earthly presence made incessantly throughout the day.
But take a closer look at Rabbi Greene's
yarmulke. There you'll find cosmopolitanism
piety, as I mentioned
on the side, stitched in loud purple
as big as the Metrodome, is the Vikings logo.
Oh, I'm a big fan," the Rabbi says. "Let's not talk about the
disaster last Sunday, OK? I was asked once to move to Australia to run
a Chabad House. But I looked into it and I finally said 'thank you, but
I just don't understand Australian Rules football. Just can't figure
it out. I'm culturally Minnesotan, so I'd better stay right here.' And
I'm glad I did."
Copyright @ 2003 The McGill Report