Young at heart and brimming with enthusiasm, Rabbi Sholom Ber Butman, 77, became the oldest person to open a new Chabad-Lubavitch center with the establishment of the 32nd Chabad House in Tel Aviv.

Butman was dispatched to Israel by the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, in 1956 as part of a group of 12 young men to console the community of Kfar Chabad following a terror attack that claimed the lives of one adult and five children, and wounded another 10. He had always been involved in Jewish activism, but worked full time in the textile business. The opening of the Chabad Midrachov Nachlat Binyamin serving downtown Tel Aviv’s trendy pedestrian mall represents the rabbi’s first full-time posting as a Chabad-Lubavitch emissary.

“I was always [involved] in one way or another,” whether that meant helping out at other Chabad Houses, teaching classes, or encouraging Jewish men to don the prayer boxes as tefillin, says Butman. “But it wasn’t my full-time job. Now, my involvement is of course a great deal deeper.”

Butman’s new position became effective last August, on the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Av, the exact same date that he arrived in Israel 55 years ago. During that trip, he met his wife, Dvora Butman, and they lived in the United States until their return to the Holy Land in 1968.

The bustling Midrachov Nachlat Binyamin, with its streets closed to traffic, boasts many cafes and restaurants and is famous for its unique arts-and-crafts market every Tuesday and Friday. In recent years, the neighborhood has become one of the most attractive locations for young men and women.

For many years, Butman has been well-known as an energetic businessman, and later a retiree, always willing to help. This prompted his son, Rabbi Yisroel Butman, director of Chabad of Nahariya, to suggest that he consider becoming the official director of activities at the Tel Aviv pedestrian mall. Rabbi Yossi Gerlitzky, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Tel Aviv, approved the idea, and Butman is now eager to bring new life to a 70-year-old neighborhood synagogue that currently hosts about 30 worshippers on a typical Sabbath morning.

Upon Butman’s appointment to his new position, Chabad-Lubavitch of Tel Aviv declared: “Every day thousands of people pass through the lively [Nachalat Binyamin] neighborhood. Certainly, many will notice the booth and the bright and shining, smiling image of Rabbi Butman helping with the donning of tefillin or sharing Torah wisdom.”

Butman distributes literature at his stand that includes information in both English and Hebrew about the Jewish Sabbath, and his plans for the new Chabad center include additional educational programs.

Sitting at his stand, the affable rabbi enjoys meeting people from all over the world, including old friends and acquaintances.

At 77, Rabbi Sholom Ber Butman is the oldest freshman Chabad-Lubavitch emissary.
At 77, Rabbi Sholom Ber Butman is the oldest freshman Chabad-Lubavitch emissary.

Butman hails from a family with strong Chabad roots. Born in Russia, he left in 1946 and arrived in France at the age of 12, where he lived for seven years. His mother was a cousin of the Rebbe’s mother, Rebbetzin Chana Schneerson, who lived for a while in the same building in Paris.

Like her husband, Dvora Butman is also a force of energy. Still employed several afternoons a week as a medical secretary, she spends her mornings volunteering as director of the Chabad-Lubavitch women’s organization in Israel. The couple has five children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

“The Rebbe taught that there is meaning to life beyond eating, drinking and enjoying the physical realm,” said Sholom Butman. “We all have a mission to do some good in this world.”