Freeborn, Minn., doesn't stick out as a thriving metropolis by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the southern Minnesota town, population 304, can't even lay claim to a grocery store, post office or school. But that doesn't seem to trouble Mayor Mark Gruben, currently serving his third year in the post.

Don't get him wrong, the convenience of local shopping instead of the 20 mile shlep west to buy milk would prove a boon. But he has other things to perk up his day, such as the seven weeks a year the town swells to a population of more than 450, a 50 percent growth rate. During the summer, Chabad-Lubavitch high school students take over Freeborn's former high school to set up their yeshivat kayitz, or "summer yeshiva."

Gruben, who by his own estimate is the only Jewish resident in town, remarks that the locals are "honored and delighted" at their teenage visitors. He adds that the senior citizens, rather than finding the seasonal excess noise a nuisance, enjoy hearing the youthful sounds of the boys swimming in the lake or playing sports in the afternoons.


For their part, the students are touched that the mayor is so enamored with the yeshiva that he regularly volunteers to mow the school's lawn.

Rabbi Nachman Wilhelm conceived the idea of the summer program seven years ago to satisfy demand for productive summer activity for yeshiva students aged 15 to 16. It initially began in the building of Lubavitch Yeshiva in S. Paul, Minn., but had outgrown the facility by the fourth year. He then purchased and renovated the current Freeborn site: 12 acres of land and the former high school. Three years ago, Wilhelm also expanded the program to include a separate camp for 12- and 13-year-old boys in the nearby town of Albert Lea.

Along with a rigorous learning schedule, the boys in both programs participate in a variety of sports, including archery, kayaking and scuba-diving. Field trips include overnight trips, outings to amusement parks and paintball shooting.

It's a popular combination, according to students. Says Brooklyn, N.Y.-resident Yisroel Pruss: "The trips, staff and guys here are amazing. Things just keep on getting better."

Gruben and the greater community of Freeborn wouldn't have it any other way.