Arad, Israel — A rabbi faced with telling his new wife that what he promised would be a “dream assignment” as a young chaplain in the U.S. Army had suddenly become her worst nightmare brought tears of laughter this week to participants at the annual N'Shei Chabad of Israel’s Women's Convention.

Hosted Sunday at the Yefe Nof Hotel in the northern Negev Desert city of Arad, the day-long panoply of talks, tales and performances was geared to entertain, educate and inspire.

Opening the program was Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Mendel Groner of Kiryat Gat, who spoke about maximizing spiritual life in a desert, which he noted was a particularly relevant topic given his own location in southern Israel.


Also featured on the program were performances by the renowned "Aspaklaria" theater group, the Ohr Menachem Girls' Troupe and vocalist Dina Elharar.

But it was Rabbi Yisroel Haber, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Chispin in the Golan Heights who “stole the show.” Haber described for the more than 200 women how he was forced to inform his wife in their first year of marriage that his new job as a military chaplain had not quite turned out as he had expected.

"Rabbi, you will have the greatest opportunity of your life,” a three-star general told the naïve young man. “You are going to an area with the freshest air in the world. You are going to a place with the highest mountain on the continent. You are going to where a rabbi has never gone before.

“Rabbi, you are going to Alaska!” the general announced.

Rabbi Yisroel Haber talks about his experiences as a U.S. Army chaplain in Alaska.
Rabbi Yisroel Haber talks about his experiences as a U.S. Army chaplain in Alaska.

The room was filled with laughter as Haber described his new bride's reaction to the news, which was not at all pleasant for him.

Nevertheless, the young couple ended up in the northernmost state in the U.S., Haber added; not by choice, but by order of the U.S. government. After all, “I was in the army. There was no arguing about orders.”

Haber went on to say that the U.S. Army even agreed to fund and build a new mikvah in order to ensure the new rabbi and his wife had everything they needed in their new location.

Thus was built the first kosher mikvah in Alaska — a ritual pool of purifying waters that is central to Jewish family life. Together with the assistance of international mikvah expert Rabbi Gershon Grossbaum, Haber said U.S. Army engineers built the mikvah at the Elmendorf Air Force base in Anchorage in “record time.” The army even sent a Hercules military plane for his wife to travel to the mikvah in Seattle, Washington each month while the new mikvah was being built.

Grossbaum informed Haber that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory had taken a personal interest in the matter – leading eventually to a meeting between the young couple and the Rebbe. It was an experience he never forgot, Haber said, noting that he had not realized just how many rabbinic outreach duties he was not fulfilling, until the Rebbe began listing the ones he was “certain that he was carrying out.”

Undeniably entertaining, Haber also took care to point out the deeper ethics of the American government and its respect for Jewish values.

Arad Mayor Tali Ploskow also stopped by to offer greetings and salute the women who had traveled hours to reach the convention.

"I want to extend my warmest welcome to all of you,” Ploskow said, “and express my appreciation to Chabad for its good works here.”

Participants said they were deeply impressed by the smooth way in which the program flowed, and especially by the stunning landscape surrounding the city, a popular resort area.

"We were amazed by the response,” said N'shei Chabad of Arad’s Tzila Slapoznik, who was co-organizer of the event. Women came here from all over the country – and it's not an easy trip. Some groups even chartered buses to come; others took a combination of trains and public buses. But the concept of mesirat nefesh – self-sacrifice for a higher purpose – is not new in Chabad,” she added. “It's what we are here for, no?”