Lighting Up The Last Frontier

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If New York City had the same population density as Alaska, only 16 people would be living in Manhattan? Alaska is as big as England, France, Italy and Spain combined and you could fit Texas into Alaska two times. The Jewish population is very spread out with the majority living in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.

Why did the Lubavitcher Rebbe send Shluchim (emmisaries) to Alaska, The Last Frontier? He could have sent many more emissaries to teach and inspire the numerous Jews in more densely populated areas, like Manhattan?

Avraham was called Ha Ivri. ‘Ivri’ from ‘side’.
He was on one side, alone the only one who believed in Hashem.
But ‘Avram’ is also father of all nations. He influenced those around him.
We are his children. It’s up to us now. The Rebbe
(Posted by Reva Weinberger on the JGU Forum)

During my visit to Anchorage last week, Rabbi Yosef Greenberg explained to me that the Rebbe sent emissaries to small remote communities because he didn’t want any Jew to feel alone or lost to our people. He had a mission, like Avraham, to care for each and every Jew and to also be a ‘beacon of light’ to all people.

The Rebbe also says, “No Jew is ever irretrieva­bly lost because every Jew retains the divine spark deep inside his soul. It is our duty to rekindle that spark in every Jew because just like the body is incomplete without every part, our nation is incomplete without every Jew.”

Once a Rabbinical student was sent on a mission to find isolated Jews in remote cities in Alaska. As he was about to give up, he found a lone Jewish girl and her mother in a public school on the Aluetian Islands. The little girl turned to her mother and said, “Mom, I thought we were the only Jews in the world!?!”

The student left her with words that ignited the spark in her soul. He told her that she can be the last girl on earth to light shabbos candles and complete the candle lighting circle unifying Jewish girls. She began to kindle Shabbat candles every friday night and ‘Light up the Last Frontier’!

During my stay, I had the pleasure to meet Debbie Grashin, the granddaughter of David Green o’bm, a true pioneer, who immigrated alone to Alaska in 1922 and opened a fur business. He was a committed Jew and very well respected by Jews and gentiles alike. I had the opportunity to visit their historical fur store in downtown Anchorage.

Debbie was the first Jewish baby born in the State of Alaska. She told our JGU members, “Sometimes, it’s more special to be only a few Jews in the same place. I have always felt it was special rather than isolating. You know that you can make a difference when you meet people. You can share the light of Judaism by representing our people in a positive way!”

I was going to end my greeting here, but there is so much more to say and learn from this large state with a small Jewish population with big hearts!

Thank you for allowing me to share a couple more lessons from my Alaska adventure.

Did You Know?

During the freezing cold winter months from November through January, there are cities like Barrow that don’t see any sunshine? Anchorage has a magnificent Chabad House and Museum, {where the Bar Mitzvah for Jacob Conrad took place} and gets about five hours of daylight in the winter.

Rabbi Greenberg recalled that when he and his wife Esty prepared to move to Alaska 22 years ago, the Lubavitcher Rebbe told them that they should “Warm up Alaska.”

Michelle told me that Jacob had one main concern before his Bar Mitzvah. He learned that Tefillin should be put on when it is daylight. He questioned his Mom, “When should I don Tefillin during the winter, since it’s dark when I leave to school and dark upon my return home?”

“Jacob a proud and sincere Bar Mitzvah boy is certainly warming up Alaska with his Mitzvot,” I thought to myself.

At the Bar Mitzvah celebration, David Grashin expressed his good wishes and explained that Noach was compared to someone who puts on a fur coat when it is cold. “It’s not a bad thing”, he joked, “but we can be like Avraham and bring warmth and light to the whole world, not just to ourselves”.

“Make it warm for all”, was the Rebbe’s directive.

Did You Know?

Alaska’s diverse Native peoples comprise approximately 16% of the State’s population.

During my trip, Debbie brought me to the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) Annual Convention. I chatted with many Natives, who were selling their art work and I learned about their mission to preserve their traditional culture, language and food. The elders told me about their effort to pass on their knowledge of Native art forms (such as weaving, carving, kayak building, dancing) and the celebrations of their Native heritage to the younger generation. I thought about this important lesson for all of us.

We are all the children of Avraham, the “Keepers of our Torah – our greatest Treasure”. Let us resolve to embrace G-d’s precious treasure and sustain our rich heritage in a world, so spiritually dark and very cold, just like ALASKA!!