How Rabbi Mendy Greenberg of Bonita Springs Taught the World Judaism
It could have been one of the worst scenes for him and his family. He could have reacted with anger and vengeance. But when Rabbi Mendy Greenberg of Bonita Springs came back to his house to find his mailbox destroyed, a car window shattered, and the word “Jew’s” written on his driveway, he decided to use it as a teaching moment. At a time when nobody would have blamed the Rabbi for acting with anger, the Rabbi for the Chabad of Bonita Springs went a different route. He went out of his way to show the world what his brand–the Chabad brand–of Judaism was all about; creating light out of darkness.
It is that light you first encounter when you meet Rabbi Mendy Greenberg. Despite his stereotypically Orthodox long beard, the smile is the first thing you see. It is the type of smile you think cannot get any bigger… and then you meet his ebullient wife, Luba. Luba has every right to smile; she and the Rabbi have 10 children, a number that substantiates the statistic that the Orthodox are the only growing sect of Jews in the United States.
And because they are Orthodox Jews, they were singled out for hate. Hate for simply being Jews. Although anybody of any religion or race is welcomed at the Chabad of Bonita Springs, two Fort Myers teenagers wanted to throw a cloak over these Jewish light-bringers. But instead of allowing this moment–a moment spawned out of hate–to disrupt who they are and weaken their faith, they showed the world what the Jewish faith is all about; light, love, and G-d Almighty.
Rabbi Mendy Greenberg Practices What He Preaches; Judaism
“A little light sheds away a lot of darkness. It may sound like a cliche but it really can change reality.” Those were the words of Rabbi Mendy Greenberg after the incident, as reported by Rachel Hemainn Mercader of the Fort Meyers News-Press. But instead of stopping there, Rabbi Greenberg knew he had to say something for the Jewish Community as it fights off the ever-increasing presence of antisemitism and antisemitic incidents. “For the Jewish community, my message is there is nothing to be fearful for. We are here to stay, we are not going anywhere. We are proud of who we are.”
Rabbi Mendy Greenberg is proud of who he is. He is proud to be a Jew, and he wants the world to hear it. And more importantly, he wants the world to know that this Jew, this visibly Jewish man, is not afraid. It is the exact type of message Jews across America and the world need to hear. So like the great Rabbi that he is*, Rabbi Greenberg said what needed to be said.
But he did not stop there. The Rabbi wants to bring light to the world. It is his goal; to bring light to the world by spreading the word of HaShem (literally, “The name,” i.e. G-d). So with the world watching, what did the Rabbi do? Did he denounce the 17-year-old and 14-year-old? Did he revel in the knowledge that their misdemeanor crime was elevated to a felony because it was deemed a hate crime? Of course not. What type of Rabbi would he be if used the incident to close doors instead of open them?
*Chabad of Bonita Springs is the author’s Synagogue and he has a personal relationship with the Greenbergs*
What Tikkun Olum Really Means
Therefore, the Rabbi with a history of working and talking to inmates in prisons and penitentiaries showed how even in a dark moment, he could bring light. When asked after Sherriff Carmine Marceno’s press conference what he–the Rabbi–thought should be done to the teenagers, Rabbi Greenberg responded like a Rabbi and father of 10 children, “Personally, I like to see rehabilitation in general. That is my view on incarceration.”
So how did this Rabbi, a father of 10 children, respond when two teenagers singled him and his family out for hate? He responded with love. With mercy. With the knowledge that he could bring light to a moment of darkness that could have shattered his family. He chose to collect the broken shards and mend what was broken instead of taking them to the metaphorical neck of those that wronged him.
Teaching the World About Real Judaism and Jewish Values
What is a good Rabbi supposed to do in a situation like that? With the world watching for his reaction, he reacted in the utmost Jewish manner. A perfect representation of the Jewish community. But we are talking about Jews here. So while the Rabbi, his wife Luba, and their 10 children want to bring metaphorical light, they really care about literal light.
As the newspaper reporters and TV crews started to leave, Rabbi Mendy Greenberg and Luba Greenberg went full Jew and gave those that lingered Challah and Shabbat candles. Because for Jews, it is one thing to bring the metaphysical light of HaShem to the world, it is another to bring the literal light of HaShem and light the Shabbat candles. To Jews, wherever there is light, HaShem lives. So even in the darkest moment of their 17 years in Lee County, Rabbi Mendy Greenberg and Luba Greenberg chose to spread the light of HaShem. Because that is Judaism, and they wanted the world to know it. Now they do.