Over two decades, Chabad’s Rabbi Anchelle Perl has gradually rebuilt the Jewish presence in the county seat.
Mineola is the home of Nassau County’s government and its major court complex, but it would be a real stretch to suggest it has a thriving Jewish community. Anchelle Perl, a Chabad rabbi now in his 20th year in the community, has been trying to change that one step at a time.
While in many communities on Long Island, Conservative and Reform leaders complain about the arrival of Chabad, which they say lures families away from their own congregations, in Mineola, which has no other functioning synagogues, Chabad has been a welcome presence.
Rabbi Perl has been in Mineola since 1990 when he took over the building of a struggling Conservative synagogue on Willis Avenue and renamed it Congregation Beth Sholom Chabad.
“Jews for Jesus had approached them to sell the building to it,” he recalled.
The Conservative congregation in Mineola had been renting space to a Holocaust memorial center “to help the shul stay alive, and when I came to them with an offer to assume full responsibility for the building, they accepted,” he said.
The synagogue has since come back to life, Rabbi Perl said, noting that on a regular basis there are about 60 congregants. On the High Holy Days, the number swells to 400. There are no dues, and the rabbi said he is continually working to increase attendance.
“When I first came here, I put an ad in the paper for High Holy Day services at $75 a ticket,” he said. “Fifty people came. Now we have an open-door policy and we make more money because we are not slamming the door on them.”
Just a few blocks away and across the street from the court complex on Old Country Road, two observant Jews own a barbershop. On the sign outside are the words, “Shomer Shabbat.”
“I’m from Russia,” said one of the barbers, Israel Davidov. “I was 3 when we left for Israel. When I was 16, we moved to Queens.”
Now 22, Davidov — who attends Rabbi Perl’s congregation — said he worked in Monsey for two months before taking over this shop in December with his 24-year-old partner. He said they have had only one or two Jewish customers but a lot of interest from others.
Just down the road is Winthrop University Hospital, where Rabbi Perl serves as a chaplain. Over time, he has demonstrated to hospital administrators the need to better serve the Jews who work and use the hospital.
About two years ago, Rabbi Perl arranged for glatt kosher food to be sold in the cafeteria under the supervision of the Five Towns Vaad.
Last year, the hospital converted a nearby private home that had been used for staff housing into a Shabbat House for observant Jews who need to be near a hospitalized relative during the Sabbath.
Last summer, an elevator at the hospital was converted into a Shabbat elevator that automatically stops on all floors so that observant Jews do not have to push buttons. In late October, Rabbi Perl erected an eruv around much of Mineola to permit observant Jews to carry things and push baby carriages on the Sabbath.
At about the same time, Rabbi Perl secured permission for a daily mincha-maariv service in the hospital’s Serenity Chapel, which has been frequented primarily by staff.
“The first day the place was packed, and we started a collection for an expansion,” Rabbi Perl said. “We had 15 doctors plus members of the administration.”
A year earlier, one of the doctors, Aleksander Shalshin, 33, a pulmonary critical care specialist, approached Rabbi Perl and asked if he would name his newborn daughter in his synagogue. The rabbi agreed and the child, Nicole, was named Nachuma Rachela.
As the two got to know each other, Rabbi Perl learned that the doctor and his wife, Tatyana, 33, never had a chance to have a Jewish wedding. They are both from the former Soviet Union; she from Russia and he from Moldova. She came with her family to the U.S. in 1988 and he arrived a year later.
“I’m from Moscow and have no religious background,” Tatyana said. “It wasn’t allowed, and my parents were afraid to teach us anything. Some people from smaller towns like Aleksander’s knew Yiddish. My grandparents spoke it fluently, but my parents did not. ... Aleks didn’t have any religious training, but he knows a lot more Yiddish than I do.”
This year, they finally got their Jewish wedding: on television. Rabbi Perl officiated, as part of the Chabad telethon. n