(lubavitch.com) Harry Samet was wheeling his cart through Costco last August when he saw a young rabbi in a black jacket loading up on folding tables and chairs. Rumor had it that a Chabad couple had moved to town, a Yosef Plotkin and his wife, and this was Samet’s first introduction to the bearded rabbi.
Now, almost a year later, Samet and Plotkin meet every week for a two-hour Monday night learning session. “I have the complete Schottenstein Talmud,” says Samet, “but I never had a chance to study it before. When the rabbi suggested a weekly class, I jumped at it. We have been learning for eight months.” The two are working their way through the section concerning the holiday of Purim.
At 77, Samet believes he’s “the oldest student that Rabbi Plotkin has.” And he has many. In his one year of service to the Jewish community of Greensboro, North Carolina, Plotkin has made education the cornerstone of his mission. When he and his wife Hindy arrived before last Rosh Hashanah, they found a “very involved and proud Jewish community,” he says
“We realized, though, that education was something we could help with.” Plotkin teaches six regular classes each week, both one-on-one and group-based, and his wife learns with local women.
Study is an important facet of life for this well-educated Jewish community. And it is crucial to be the one providing the learning options, believes the rabbi. “Because we live in the Bible Belt, everyone is into studying the Bible. Every church holds classes which many Jews attend.” Clearly he prefers they study from the Jewish perspective.
Chabad Rabbi Teaches at American Hebrew Academy
While Plotkin learns with adults in the evenings, his days are reserved for the students of the prestigious American Hebrew Academy. The pluralistic boarding school, which attracts students from 11 countries, has an advanced dual-curriculum of Judaic and general studies. It is located in the heart of Greensboro. Plotkin, says Ruthie Gavish, “fell into our school like a star from heaven.” Gavish, dean of Jewish Studies at AHA, says his students “adore him. It is wonderful to see how they connect with him.”
Aaron Nichols, a rising senior, took two Talmud classes with Plotkin this past year. “He is one of my favorite teachers,” divulges Nichols. “He doesn’t try to push his own way of thinking on us, he just pushes Jewish learning. He showed us how to think in a Talmudic way, he taught us like the ancient rabbis taught.”
Nichols, together with many of his peers, visits the Plotkin home regularly for Shabbat lunch and services. “It’s a nice Jewish meal. He makes sure everyone is happy and everyone has a good Shabbat experience,” Nichols says. “I like going to his house because he is excited about what he has to offer, but he doesn’t force it on you. He is just always there.”
Feeling part of the Greensboro community is an important aspect of the school, as many students return home only once or twice a year, and, admits Gavish, of all the teachers, Plotkin hosts students most often. “I think he knows how to talk to them,” she reflects. “They feel at home there. They know that he isn’t a show, what he says comes directly from the heart.”
Plotkin has also reached out to students at nearby Guildford College. In conjunction with Hillel, he organized a Shofar Factory last autumn. He offers regular Hebrew language and Bible classes, as well as holiday programming, to the 50 Jewish students on the local campus.
It has been a productive year in Greensboro, so successful that Plotkin and his classes have outgrown the family’s small home. On the eve of their first anniversary, the Plotkins are searching to rent a larger facility that will allow them to conduct classes, seminars, and large speaking engagements.
“They want to learn,” he says of his high-school and adult students. “They want to experience Judaism and ask questions. And that’s what we are here for.”