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Finding Jews in America's Most Vertical City

Finding Jews in America's Most Vertical City

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It was a blazing hundred degrees outside, but inside our car, the air conditioning was pumping, music was playing, and we couldn’t get enough of the beautiful views. It had all the elements of a great summer road trip, but we weren’t travelling for pleasure. We had a mission and our first stop of the day was the Verde Valley Medical Center in Cottonwood, Arizona, about a hundred miles north of Phoenix.

Why were two recently-ordained rabbis from London and Minnesota travelling to a hospital in a small, nondescript town? We were in the middle of,We weren't travelling for pleasure our third week as roving rabbis in the great state of Arizona, under the auspices of Chabad of Arizona, directed by Rabbi Zalman and Tzippy Levertov. Our colleagues from previous years had initially made the trek to Cottonwood and they’d given us the names of two Jewish doctors whom we were hoping to meet.

Arriving at their office, we were disappointed to discover that they were both away on vacation. It took us a few moments to regroup, but then we headed to the front desk and asked if there were any Jewish patients who might appreciate a visit. As we were waiting for the receptionist to find out, we heard a voice call out, “Shalom!” And that’s how we met Mitch.

Mitch had come to pick up his prescription, but he got his daily dose of tefillin in as well, because Divine providence had ensured that we would be at the front desk at the very moment that he walked in.

As we continued our visits—we had several other contacts in Cottonwood—we drove past a supermarket and decided to make a quick stop for some kosher provisions. On our way in we asked an employee if there were any Jews working there. “Sure,” he said, “Right inside at the checkout counter. You can’t miss him.”

And that’s how we met Paul. Paul has worked in numerous stores throughout the state, and had only recently moved up to Cottonwood. His shift ended ten minutes before we arrived, but for some reason he hadn’t left yet. He was elated to see us and led us to the break area where we had a chance to talk and to help him put on tefillin. In the course of conversation, he told us that he hadn’t planned on being there at all that day, but a number of employees had called in sick, so his boss had phoned and asked that he come in. We spoke"You're only allowed two yarmulkas in Jerome!" about the concept of Divine providence, and how G‑d had carefully steered each of our respective paths for the sole purpose of Paul reconnecting with his roots and doing a mitzvah.

On our way back to Phoenix, we stopped off in tiny Jerome. Known as “America’s Most Vertical City,” and the “Largest Ghost Town in America,” it is quite the tourist magnet. Museums, boutique art shops, and bars dot the few streets that make up the town. As we made our way down Main Street, we noticed a man watching us from his porch. A moment later, he called out with a smile, “You’re only allowed two yarmulkas in Jerome!” Surprised, we walked over and introduced ourselves.

And that’s how we met Tracy, an older man who had never before been offered the opportunity to put on tefillin. As we wrapped the straps around his arm and head, we explained the special significance of the moment and the mitzvah. G‑d’s guiding hand was once again apparent, helping us in our quest to connect with Jews throughout the state, and bring them closer to our beautiful and everlasting heritage.


Tzemach Feller & Levi Kesselman
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