Gainesville Rabbi Encourages Education Through Jewish Lens

After a brief visit to Gainesville three years ago for a Menorah lighting, Rabbi Shmuel “Shmuly” Perlstein and his wife decided to make it their home. It wasn’t a decision based only on a fondness for the community, but also because there was an overwhelming response to having a Jewish celebration in the immediate area.

Rabbi Perlstein is part of the Chabad Lubavitch movement. Chabad places an emphasis on building a relationship with G-d (in the Jewish religion, the ‘o’ is typically omitted out of respect) through education and, while the movement is actually more than 250 years old, the religious organization was formed in the 1940s as a way to bring a message of love and community to Jews following World War II.

Rabbi Perlstein, born the seventh of eight children, grew up in the Chabad community in Chicago. His parents were both educators and most of his siblings are following in their footsteps, as is Rabbi Perlstein.

Kara Thorpe

“I was raised that you teach what you know,” said Rabbi Perlstein, “If all you know is Aleph, you teach Aleph.”

While Chabad centers, and other Jewish communities, have been located mostly in and around Fairfax County, Perlstein has seen an immediate interest in the events and activities he’s been offering through his center, Chabad of Greater Gainesville and Manassas.

“Most Jews’ religious education stopped after Sunday school as a child,” he said, “but that’s just the tip of Jewish education.”

Rabbi Perlstein is passionate about bringing opportunities of Jewish education and community to places where it’s been lacking; and Gainesville was a perfect fit.

“Personally, it means so much to see the impact it has on the community,” said Rabbi Perlstein. “Our goal is to help individual Jews connect to G-d and their community, as each is capable.”

In addition to the satisfaction his job brings him from a religious standpoint, Rabbi Perlstein noted that he also enjoys the challenges it presents and likened it to being an entrepreneur.

“As a Rabbi, you get to be everything: a counselor, a graphic designer at times, even an accountant.”

There are Chabad Lubavitch centers all over the United States, but each one is operated and funded separately. Rabbi Perlstein’s Gainesville center was started with seed money and his goal is for it to become self-sufficient as soon as possible.

Kara Thorpe

“We will be increasing activities and services as we see interest and need grow, ” he explained. Such gradual growth is important to him because he doesn’t want the center to become a financial burden to the community.

He is encouraged by the level of interest in the center already, noting that it has reached approximately 200 families in the immediate area.

While the Chabad of Greater Gainesville and Manassas does not have its own brick and mortar location, it has been fortunate enough to be able to use the former Virginia Oaks Golf Club for many of its activities. This past October the organization began monthly Shabbat services in addition to its 6-week Jewish Learning Institute (JLI) course Wrestling with Faith.

Rabbi Perlstein, while realizing that the majority of people who take the JLI courses are Jews, believes that the lessons taught in the “unique, high-caliber, engaging and informative adult classes” can apply to anyone wanting a greater relationship with G-d or understanding of religion.

The next course, which begins the first week in February, is called Crime and Consequence. Also a 6-week class, Crime and Consequence is a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) Accredited course and discusses the current status of the American legal system and the need for reform.

Kara Thorpe

“If you lock your door at night,” began Rabbi Perlstein, “then this is something that could be of interest to you.”

While the lessons from these courses are universal, said Rabbi Perlstein, they are addressed through a Jewish lens.

Although the Chabad of Greater Gainesville and Manassas is less than two years old, Rabbi Perlstein is encouraged by the number of activities and participants the center has enjoyed thus far. His personal goal has always been to provide awareness, education and an engaged gathering place for Jews, and seeing the center become a reality is bringing him much fulfillment and hope for continued growth.

Chabad of Greater Gainesville and Manassas

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