"Thank You for Your Salt Lake City Chabad"


by R. Wineberg - SALT LAKE CITY, UT

October 1, 2002

Ten years ago, newly arrived Chabad representative to the state of Utah, Rabbi Benny Zippel, received a call from a fellow Chabad Rabbi in California. The teenage son of a congregant had “gotten into some trouble” and was being sent to a Residential Treatment Center for adolescents in suburban Salt Lake City. Could Rabbi Zippel go down there and see what he could do for him?

Rabbi Zippel went down the next day and discovered, to his amazement, that there were a dozen such schools in the Salt Lake City area alone, and many more across the state, and, in any given year, an estimated 200 Jewish students were coming through them.

A typical RTC (Residential Treatment Center), situated in Utah specifically because of state laws allowing parents to forcibly send their children to such an institution, provides living and educational facilities for kids 12-18 years old with serious drug, alcohol, and behavioral problems.

“These kids come from all over the country and even abroad,” says Rabbi Zippel, “Some of the Jewish kids come from solid traditional homes, and just need the right help to get their lives back on track.”

Working hand-in hand with the schools, Rabbi Zippel has become a confidante, mentor and spiritual guide for hundreds of Jewish adolescents over the last ten years. As the official chaplain in several institutions, he visits the children before each Jewish holiday, teaches weekly classes on Judaism in the nearby schools, and comes by often just to chat. Kids who receive permission, join the Rabbi and his family for Shabbat and holidays.

“As something of an outsider to the school, the kids see me as someone who’s on their side,” says Rabbi Zippel. “We’ve had a lot of cases where kids leave Utah after spending several months here, and are very interested in exploring Judaism after their positive experience here with Chabad.”

The experience often extends to the parents and families of these kids. Lubavitch World Headquarters received the following letter from a grateful father of a student at Island View, an institution in Salt Lake City where Rabbi Zippel serves as official chaplain and visits frequently: The subject heading on the email: “Thank you for your Salt Lake City Chabad.”

My 17-year old son recently completed an 8-month stint at Island View Residential Treatment Center in suburban Salt Lake City. It's a place for adolescents with a variety of problems ranging from drugs and alcoholism to failure to succeed in school and even suicide attempts. We live in suburban Chicago and are members of a conservative synagogue, but I was pretty much resigned to the fact that J. would have no contact with Judaism while in Utah. Was I ever wrong! Rabbi Benny Zippel at Chabad of Utah in Salt Lake City visited with J. and the other Jewish students every week. He counseled them, listened to their problems, their issues with Judaism and with life in general. He did it all in a low key, non-judgmental way that really allowed these troubled youngsters to open up.

Last week, we went to pick up Jon as he graduated from Island View. On Saturday, we shared Sukkot services with Rabbi Zippel and the congregation.

We went into the Sukkah for Kiddush, said the blessings over the lulav and etrog -- and were even invited to lunch by the assistant rabbi and his wife. Of course we accepted!

J. isn't out of the woods yet. He's moving to an adult transitional living center in Bend, Oregon for a year or so. He'll finish high school, start community college and get a part-time job (G-d willing), all while continuing to receive substance abuse counseling. I noticed there's a Chabad in Eugene, Oregon. Unfortunately it's 120 miles from Bend. Do you think Rabbi Spiegel in Eugene could talk to J. from time to time? Or maybe he could even visit occasionally. I understand there are other Jewish kids living in this place as well.

Anyway, thank you, thank you, thank you for making it possible for J. to cling to his Jewish roots in ‘Mormon country’ ... and thank you for Rabbi Zippel!

J. S.

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