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Rabbi Engel: ‘Every act we do has a profound impact’

Rabbi Yisroel EngelRabbi Yisroel Engel, originally from Montreal, Canada, received his rabbinical ordination under Rabbi Piekarski at Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch 32 years ago and came to Denver in 1981. Rabbi Engel is the leader of Chabad in Colorado and Bais Menachem in Denver. Fluent in French, Engel is married to Leah and they are blessed with 12 children and many grandchildren.

A VETERAN Colorado spiritual leader, Rabbi Engel stays inspired and committed to spreading Yiddishkeit around the Jewish community.

Leader and manager of many activities, Rabbi Engel prioritizes his schedule to make sure he can accomplish his goals, always striving to show love, respect and concern for every single Jew.

He continues to make Chabad the community that reaches out to Jews wherever they are to bring them in and attract them to Judaism.

Rabbi Engel is determined to continue the old and create new educational frameworks for the Jewish community, feeling privileged that his efforts each day work toward the coming of the Messiah.

Q: What is going on at Chabad?

A: We are very much involved in our programming, both expanding the old and launching the new for both adults and children. We have our different shabbatons, classes and programs for adults, including our lecture series with classes by guest speakers and us as well.

For children we have the legacy programs and hands on presentations. The famous ones are the Matzah Bakery, The Shofar Factory and the Chanukah Factory, which have been attended by thousands of children and are very well received.

Camp Gan Israel is one of the main things we do, a day camp for children four and up, giving them the whole Jewish experience. Our motto is we make Jewish kids happy and happy kids Jewisher.

We are privileged to have our second generation of campers now; we are blessed to have had thousands of campers.

We have added a Jewish life cycle program that reaches out to the underaffiliated during different Jewish milestones, getting them involved.

In addition we have our Bais Menachem shul with many programs and, Baruch Hashem, it’s growing very rapidly.

Q: How do you stay on top of all this?

A: We delegate different parts to different staff. We have a network of 16 Chabad houses and rabbis in Colorado and I work with each of them, but these rabbis have their independent programs and outreach within their own area.

They are very good at innovating and implementing their programs. Whether it is Talmud or Gan Israel, each is good at doing their own thing.

Q: How does Chabad differ from other communities in the way that it does outreach?

A: The whole foundation of the Chabad philosophy is about bringing the beauty of Judaism to every single Jew.

What is most important is that we are lamplighters. There are so many Jews waiting for their souls to be lit and that is what Chabad is, we are the lighters that ignite the spark.

Q: Many would say that Chabad is powered by assimilation. Would you agree?

A: Nowadays, you have a lot of Jews who have not yet discovered the beauty of Yidishkeit, who haven’t seen the joy of a Shabbat table, tefilin or Shabbat candles, and we reach out with them.

We are very involved in affiliating them, and we go where they are.

In the world of business, if someone wants to advertise, they reach their clientele where they are. We go to where the Jewish people are.

Q: How do you deal with conversion?

A: We don’t directly do conversion. We will guide people and help them toward a proper and halachic conversion, but we don’t directly do the conversion.

Q: What is your wish for the Jewish community in Denver?

A: The key for Jewish continuity is education.

We highly encourage children to get a Jewish education, and if the children receive a solid education, it to will have an impact on their family and on the community around them.

I would like to find the community resources to make a Jewish education affordable for every single Jewish child in Colorado.

Q: What makes your community stand out?

A: Outreach is the centerpiece of Chabad; we are the Jewish home-away-from-home.

Chasidic teachings are the inner teachings of the Torah, bringing out the inner beauty and inner dimensions of everything that we do.

Most importantly, everything we do is done with joy.

Q: What makes you stand out as a rabbi?

A: My absolute concern, care and love for every single Jew that is out there, regardless of where they are from or where they are holding in their life.

Q: What is one quality a good rabbi must have?

A: A good rabbi must put above everything else, the concern and love for every single Jew.

There is an expression that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Q: What is the most difficult part of your job?

A: I don’t know if I can pinpoint it.

Q: What is your secret to time management?

A: My list. At the beginning of every week, I make a structure of priorities that I have on paper that I number 1 to 10.

Every day I refer back to the list. I will not move on to the next item until I complete the one at the top of the list.

Q: Who is your role model?

A:  The Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, my mentor and my rebbe, who passed on 17 years ago.

I was privileged to be by him, learn with him, be influenced and inspired by him and to receive a blessing from him to come to Denver and do the work I am doing now.

Q: What is the greatest lesson you have ever been taught?

A: The greatest lesson is that every act that we do, regardless of how trivial, makes a profound impact on the world, on ourselves, and makes the world a better world. It uplifts the world and prepares it for the redemption.

Q: Who in your life keeps you going?

A: My wife, Leah.

Don’t miss Rabbi Engel’s advice column Dear Tzviling, published regularly in the IJN and online at

Copyright © 2011 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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