Weekly Chasidic Story #777 (s5773-06 / 1 Cheshvan 5773)

Rabbinical Life in Montana

The sight of a rabbi dressed in Chassidic garb caught the attention of a non-Jewish police officer who was guarding the State Capitol in Helena, Montana.

Connection: Weekly Reading (2)–animals, language


Montana is known for its striking natural wonders, historical sites depicting the travels of Lewis and Clark and quaint glimpses into a version of America that is well-loved but quickly fading. Although there was a significant Jewish population in the past, particularly in the 19th century when Jewish pioneers flocked to the region, in recent decades many of Montana’s Jews are leaving for larger cities and more vibrant Jewish populations.

It is no wonder then, that the sight of a rabbi dressed in chasidic garb caught the attention of non-Jewish officer John Fosket who was guarding the State Capitol in Helena. The Chassidic Jew was Rabbi Chaim Bruk, the Chabad representative for Montana, who was making his way to the State Capitol for a menorah lighting. Fosket motioned the rabbi over and introduced him to his German shepherd, affectionately named “Mikey.” Fosket proceeded to tell Mikey’s story.

Because of tightened security in all government buildings, Helena’s police force were looking for the best bomb-sniffing dog they could find. When the Israeli Defense Force offered the Helena Police Department a free bomb-sniffing dog for the price of a flight (such specialty dogs often fetch $20,000), they jumped at the chance.

However, after the dog’s arrival, the Montanians discovered an interesting problem: Mikey had been trained in Hebrew! Although Fosket had scoured the bookstores and libraries in search of materials to help him learn enough Hebrew to speak to Mikey, the dog didn’t seem to respond to his commands. He said hisha’er (stay!), chapess (search!), and kelev tov (good dog), but the dog remained indifferent. When Fosket repeated the Hebrew phrases he learned, Rabbi Bruk informed him that the root of the problem was in the officer’s faulty pronunciation, and offered to give the officer private lessons on how to improve his communication with his dog.

A Chabad rabbi is often faced with demanding tasks, from answering challenging questions late into the night, hosting dozens if not hundreds of people for meals and bringing the warmth of Judaism to faraway places. Not always does he see benefit from his endeavors. But after working with Mikey and his owner, Rabbi Bruk confesses that he has received something in return; after spending years searching in vain for someone in Montana to speak Hebrew with, he now can communicate with Mikey the dog.

Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from an article by Miriam Metzinger, in “Living Jewish” #345.

Connection: Weekly Reading (2)–animals, language


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.