CORAL SPRINGS, FL – As a teenager growing up in Montreal, Rabbi Yossie Denburg remembers his parents encouraging him to be a lawyer, doctor, or accountant.
They were refugees of communist Russia who wanted their children to succeed in the free world.
But the ambitious young man had other plans for his professional life.
He felt a strong connection to his Jewish faith and roots including his grandfather who defied the regime and risked his life by doing ritual circumcisions on Jewish boys.
“I grew up with these heroes in my life. I didn’t want a prosaic life. I didn’t want to be a millionaire,” he said.
So Rabbi Denburg set out on a rabbinical path in the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which is a form of Hasidic Judaism. He moved to Crown Heights, New York, became a rabbi, got married to Rivka, and together they set out to start a religious school and a congregation in a growing community of their choice.
They picked Coral Springs, and now nearly 35 years later, they oversee a network of Chabad institutions across Coral Springs and nearby cities.
Charismatic, introspective and inspirational, Rabbi Denburg, 59, is beloved by hundreds of his congregants who turn to him for guidance and assistance, especially now during the pandemic.
He’s also respected by many local political leaders who come to him for support and his viewpoints on a variety of topics. One of them was the trauma following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. After the incident in 2018, Florida Gov. Rick Scott met with Rabbi Denburg and other Chabad leaders to find out the challenges facing the community and add him to a task force on the issue.
“Rabbi Denburg is a pillar of the community,” Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine said. “I have known him for years and he is always there to lend an ear or help on an issues. He is one of the most respected spiritual leaders in South Florida and leads especially during these difficult times, with grace, compassion, and dignity.”
Coral Springs Mayor Scott Brook agreed.
“Rabbi Denburg has been a rock in our community. His storytelling is second to none. He can lift you with a smile, story or blessing, and has done so for me for years,” Brook said.
Rabbi Denburg said he and his wife build their community based on the same principles that they’ve followed since arriving in Coral Springs, back when their family made up, as they like to jokingly point out, close to the entire Jewish population in the city.
“We are here to serve and that’s our mantra,” he said. “I live by these words: Don’t ask what you need. Ask what you are needed for.”
He added that part of their success has been to listen, help, and bring Jewish teaching into the lives of those searching for meaning.
Those values are explained, he said, in a phrase by the first Chabad leader to his son that has inspired Rabbi Denburg for much of his life: “If you are too busy with God to hear the cry of a child, then you are busier than God wants you to be.”
To him, that means always being attentive to people in his life, including strangers.
“If I see it, I can’t ignore it,” he said. “In the Hasidic way, God planned that moment. He planned on someone calling on you.”
On any given time, Rabbi Denburg estimates Chabad of Coral Springs connects with up to 2,500 families, including close to 500 Lubavitch families.
Those families support Chabad’s four congregations: the main one at 3925 North University Drive, one in northwest Coral Spring at 5761 Coral Ridge Drive, one in southwest Coral Springs at 11325 W. Atlantic Boulevard, and one for Spanish speakers at 2560 University Drive. In addition, there are three schools for children in Coral Springs, Tamarac, and Margate.
In all, about 100 people work for Chabad in the Coral Springs area. That includes many of Rabbi Denburg’s 10 children, ranging in ages 16 to 35, who have followed him in the work of expanding Chabad congregations and schools.
Chabad, as a movement, maintains close to 4,000 institutions in 950 cities around the world, according to Rabbi Denburg and the Chabad website.
As part of the Chabad presence in Coral Springs, the congregations put on a community-wide Hanukkah lighting event and offer free seminars and meals to celebrate Jewish holidays and the sabbath. During the coronavirus crisis, Chabad has stepped up serving meals and reaching out to families in need.
“If someone needs something, we are there for him, whatever that may be,” he said. “Our congregations are not cookie-cutter. They are all different. Judaism is multi-colored. God made us all different.”
Being in Coral Springs all these years, one of the things he cherishes most is when his “first generation of students” who are now parents bring their children to the Chabad programs.
“It’s wonderful having this second generation of families in Chabad,” he said. “I think it’s because we teach our children not just to be Jewish but to be proud of being Jewish.”
Learn more about Chabad of Coral Springs here.
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