Age-Old Traditions In a Land of New Age Spirituality


by S. Olidort - SANTA FE, NM

September 3, 2002

SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO—Up until his encounter with Chabad two years ago, Michael Green, a lawyer by profession, felt “lukewarm” towards Judaism. “Chabad breathed life into me and nurtured it,” says Green who maintains that the Chabad couple serving Santa Fe’s Jewish community, “has succeeded enormously, against all odds, thanks to a strongly rooted sense of Jewish identity that they have conveyed to the Jewish community.”

Green is one of many Jews drawn to Santa Fe, a city with altitudes so high and scenery so divine, it inspires spiritual devotion. And yet, until Rabbi Levertov and his wife Devorah Leah, arrived here in 1996, traditional Jewish life was practically nonexistent. “Many people come here searching for a more meaningful existence, but they are easily carried away by the spiritual lures of cults and eastern religions that have nothing at all to do with their own Jewish roots,” says Rabbi Levertov.

The Levertovs have worked hard to guide Jewish seekers towards an authentic Jewish experience, and the response has been so positive that a tent is going up on the Chabad grounds in time for Rosh Hashana. “We’re expecting many people will want to attend high holiday services,” says Rabbi Levertov. And until renovations on the sanctuary in Chabad’s new adobe style center is completed, worshipers in this city where the sun is always shining will feel comfortable joining Chabad’s makeshift sanctuary.

With the establishment of Chabad, the symbols and holidays of Judaism have become highly popular and meaningful for Santa Fe’s Jewish community of 5,000. Chabad’s first public menorah-lighting ceremony in the center of town several years ago marked the first time in 400 years that a Jewish service was conducted in the plaza.

For Richard Lieberman, a physician residing in Santa Fe, who was raised in a completely secular Jewish home in the heart of Brooklyn, it took Chabad in Santa Fe to spark an enthusiasm for traditional Judaism. "I always felt a little light glowing within me, looking to express itself. Then Chabad came to Santa Fe and gave me the tools to help myself find meaning and fulfillment," says Lieberman, who participates in the Shabbat minyan and several Torah study classes each week with Rabbi Levertov.

Chabad’s trademark educational programs, including the popular children’s shofar factory and the lively roving sukkah mobiles draw hundreds to learn more about the Jewish holidays. The Levertovs have fine-tuned a series of classes that address the interests of Santa Fe’s artistic and spiritually sensitive community. With a strong focus on Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism, Chabad’s weekly adult education program is a big draw. At a monthly women’s circle established by Mrs. Levertov, fifty women explore Jewish themes through art, culinary projects and lectures. Chabad's Hebrew School gives 20 little ones an impressive primer in the basics of Hebrew reading, the significance of various holidays and a good familiarity with their Jewish heritage.

"Residents of Santa Fe often come here alone, so we make ourselves available to them on a multitude of levels, becoming a sort of surrogate family for hundreds of individuals," says Mrs. Levertov.

Dr. Lieberman sees in Rabbi Levertov not only a Rabbi, but a friend. When Lieberman fell ill earlier this year and had to undergo surgery at a hospital in Arizona, Rabbi Levertov flew there to be with him, even though his wife had just given birth. "I sometimes feel Hashem sent the Levertovs to Santa Fe just for me," says Dr. Lieberman. And the doctor prides himself on having taught Rabbi Levertov something new--how to ski. Together the two ski, bike ride, and study Torah and Chasidic philosophy.

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