Like so many Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries before them, Rabbi Yonah and Esti Grossman set out to devote themselves to a Jewish community, and to help bring Jews of varied backgrounds together to celebrate and grow in Jewish tradition and knowledge. Their journey has taken them to Fargo, North Dakota, where, at the newly-formed Chabad of North Dakota, they’ve begun hosting weekly Shabbat meals and conducting prayer services, while gearing up for a public menorah lighting next month.
The Chabad-Lubavitch movement has been helping Jews in the Dakotas for decades, starting with the “roving rabbis” who travel there each summer, holiday services requested by residents, and periodic shipments of Judaism resources. Seeing the need for a full time presence, the Grossmans have moved to Fargo full time.
While recent estimates put the total amount of Jews scattered throughout North Dakota at about 400, and a similar number is estimated for South Dakota, the Grossmans are confident that they have a positive contribution to make for all. “We’re here to help with whatever’s needed,” explained Yonah Grossman.
In addition to communal programming geared around Shabbat and holidays, the Grossmans will be working to build a mobile Jewish lending library in Fargo, a Hebrew School in Grand Forks, and spiritual support for Jewish prisoners. The couple is already getting people together to bring in shipments of kosher meat and other kosher food products, and aspire to build a mikvah. Rabbi Grossman is developing a series of educational programs, and by early next year intends to be running weekly Torah classes and services.
The Grossmans have gone door to door to introduce themselves to community members, and have been fielding questions from area residents who are not Jewish about Judaism’s approach to the widest variety of subjects. “Many tell us that they’ve been waiting for us for years,” said Rabbi Grossman.
Moshe Sellam has been living in Fargo for eight years while traveling to Minneapolis for major holidays and Jewish events. The last time he was there he heard that there was a new Chabad rabbi in Fargo who was seeking out local Jews.
“When I found out that Rabbi Grossman was here, I thought to myself, ‘You make one step toward Hashem and He makes ten steps toward you,’” he said. “Now there’s a Chabad rabbi in Fargo! It’s amazing!”
As it turns out, the rabbi had already heard of him, too, but had not yet tracked him down since Sellam is not listed in the phone book. The two have since connected and mapped out plans to join together for prayer and study and lots of celebration. “I think it’s great, and I think that Rabbi Grossman is going above and beyond to make things happen,” said Sellam.
Though there are not many Jews in Fargo, Sellam said that he anticipates the Grossmans’ presence to help the local community “further stabilize and grow.” Sellam added that, upon commencement of Chabad’s activities, he discovered that “there are even more Jewish people in town than I thought.”
Rabbi Moshe Feller, the Upper Midwest Regional Director of Chabad-Lubavitch, said he’s glad there will be a permanent Chabad presence in the area. “We always wanted to provide the communities with a full-time emissary family,” he said, explaining that it was the intention of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of blessed memory, to reach every single Jew, wherever they might be. Feller said that communities feel an acute difference between periodic rabbinic visits and the presence of a full-time emissary family.
Harry Leichter of Grand Forks said he’s glad to see the new rabbi and his wife in North Dakota. “They’re very energetic, very warm, and very helpful in any way they can be. The rabbi and his wife are bringing a lot of excitement to the area. I see them doing a fantastic job in North Dakota.”
Summing up, Esti Grossman says: “We’re thrilled to be able to serve this community, we’re so happy with the relationships we’re building, and we’re very moved by the appreciation so many have expressed to us for making this choice.”