Chabad Mill Valley rabbi sees every Jew as a diamond

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People always ask Rabbi Hillel Scop why he and his wife, Chana, are in Marin. There are no kosher restaurants, no kosher butchers, no Orthodox synagogues, no Orthodox day schools and no tightly knit Orthodox enclaves. Why aren't they living in the larger Orthodox communities of New York or Los Angeles?

"We're here to learn from people," said Scop, born and raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, and ordained in 1997 as a Chabad rabbi in Montreal. "We're here as part of the community. We see ourselves as resources."

In response to what Scop termed "substantial growth of the Jewish community in Marin over the last five years," the program director for Chabad of Marin and his wife have moved to Mill Valley and opened a southern Marin affiliate office. Although in a new location, he will continue to work with Chabad of Marin's director, Rabbi Yisrael Rice, who is based in San Rafael.

Over the last few years, Scop and his wife, a Canadian-born teacher, have undergone their own geographic odyssey. They have done Jewish outreach throughout North and South America, in Jewish communities in Oregon, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Santa Monica, Montreal and Lima, Peru.

Moving anywhere else is a moot point for the Chabad rabbi and his family because they are extremely busy and are quite content to stay put. "I've shifted all my activities from northern Marin to the Mill Valley area," Scop said, but the larger communal events, such as Purim, Passover and Chanukah, will still be held under the bigger tent of Chabad of Marin.

"The new center will provide a wide array of programs and services to meet the varied needs of the local Jewish community, including holiday-awareness programs, adult education for both men and women, and special children's events."

Chabad of Mill Valley currently offers a Monday night beginners' Talmud class for men and women, a Tuesday night women's class on the weekly Torah portion and a class for mothers and toddlers. In addition, it offers monthly programs for women and a weekly class on basic Judaism entitled "Judaism 101: Everything You Wanted to Know, But Were Afraid to Ask!"

"This class is very hands-on," said Scop. "We've met many people who don't know how to read Hebrew or practice Shabbat, so we wanted to offer something to give people practical applications to enhance their Jewish practice."

Chabad of Mill Valley also runs a Hebrew school every Monday, offers b'nai mitzvah lessons and holds weekly Shabbat services that attract 10 to 30 adults.

All programs are held in the Scops' Mill Valley home, which they share with their three small children: Schneur Zalman, 4-1/2; Devorah Leah, 2-1/2; and Chaya Mushka, 1. One of Scop's short-term and immediate goals is to move Chabad of Mill Valley out of his home "and create a warm community for people to experience Judaism in southern Marin."

The ardent nature of Chabad's philosophy and practice is what initially attracted Scop while growing up in South Africa.

"As a child, I wanted to find out more about my religion," he explained, "and Chabad was there to teach me. In high school I made the decision that my goal in life would be to teach and inspire people about Judaism."

It was the young Chabad students who came to South Africa for two-year stints who most affected the teenage Scop.

"They were far away from family and friends, but their sole purpose for coming was to educate and inspire. Meeting people who were totally given over to somebody else was truly motivating."

Another tremendous Chabad influence for Scop was the late Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died in 1994. Scop recalled that one Sunday an old woman waited in line for nearly four hours to greet the rebbe.

When she finally met him she said, "You're an old man. Why do you wait so long to greet everyone?"

The rebbe replied, "Well, if you had a bag of diamonds you'd take the time to search through each one. Every Jew is a diamond. Some are polished, some are not yet refined, but as Jews we all have a soul, an essence. Every Jew has the potential to reveal his or her own essence."

Scop is excited about enriching and polishing Jewish community life in Marin and helping Jews "to experience Judaism at their own pace. The minimum requirement is to give Judaism a try."

As of January, the Scops will have introduced an eight-class series from the Jewish Learning Institute called "Kabbalah and Rhythms" and a gourmet kosher cooking class for women.

Scop plans to work as a chaplain at Marin General Hospital and the county prison at the civic center, and he is developing Jewish programs for county retirement facilities. His long-term goal is, "God willing, to have a Chabad center in central Marin with a kosher social hall and synagogue."

That would be one more reason to celebrate his Jewish home and life in Marin.

Steven Friedman

Steven Friedman is a freelance writer.