Pocono Pious: Chabad Heads North


By : Faygie Levy   Jewish Exponent Staff


Rabbi Mendel Bendet, Shterni Bendet, and daughters Chaya Mushka and Faygie

When Lubavitch Rabbi Mendel Bendet and his wife, Shterni, decided to become shlichim — Jewish emissaries — a number of people suggested that they consider opening a Chabad house in none other than the Poconos.

Knowing that the area was growing by leaps and bounds, the Bendets took a drive up to see. And, as Mendel Bendet put it, they “sensed tremendous opportunity.”

That was just over a year ago. The Bendets — and their baby daughter, Chaya Mushka — have since moved from their home in Brooklyn, N.Y., to Stroudsburg, Pa., to create Chabad Lubavitch of the Poconos, under the auspices of the Lubavitcher Center in Philadelphia.

Bendet said he’s been told the unaffiliated rate in the Poconos is as high as 80 percent.

Last fall, shortly after the couple arrived, they held High Holiday services at a local hotel for those who otherwise had no place to go.

“We had a nice turnout,” said Bendet. “I counted from Rosh Hashanah to the end of Yom Kippur 50 people, and that was being in town only two weeks.”

Since then, the Bendets have hosted a Chanukah party, Purim festivities, a kids’ crafts club and a weekly class for adults on the Torah portion. The couple has also added another member to their ranks: another daughter, Faygie.

This year, the rabbi and his wife will be expanding their efforts and running a Hebrew school.

“We don’t want to compete with the local temples,” said Bendet, noting three other congregations in the Poconos. “We’re just calling people we know, who have children that age and who are not sending them anywhere.”

Noting the sheer geographical expanse of the area — for now, Bendet is the only Chabad rabbi serving the Poconos — he has arranged for some student rabbis to help out by visiting people’s homes and offices, doing everything from teaching a class to hanging a mezuzah.

For now, the Bendets are focusing their efforts on helping the locals. But, given the number of visitors who come through, he noted that “with time, we’d like to figure out how to cater to the needs of tourists. We’ll see what types of requests we receive.”

Looking back on their first year, the rabbi said: “We’re very excited about the results of our efforts and look forward to moving ahead. We believe the sky’s the limit, because what originally attracted us is the number of Jews not involved, and we’d really like to make ourselves available to them.”

You may contact Faygie Levy via Email: flevy@jewishexponent.com