From the way Rabbi Moshe Meir Lipszyc greets an endless stream of visitors to the Chabad center and the Kabbalah Café in Ft. Lauderdale, one would never guess that the 45 year old father of five, among them children with special needs, has twice battled cancer and continues to struggle with his own health while working creatively to build and grow Jewish life in the area.
Baila Olidort: What are the most dramatic changes to the Jewish landscape here since you’ve arrived to Ft. Lauderdale 19 years ago?
Rabbi MM Lipszyc: When I started here, some laughed, telling me this isn’t the right place for Chabad. Today we have about 150 people at services on Shabbos, we’ve got a beautiful shul, a mikvah, a preschool, and a kosher sushi café.
Café Emunah has been reviewed by culinary mavens and was also named best teahouse. Where’d the inspiration come from?
It’s a good venue for meeting people, introducing them to kosher cuisine, and to Chabad itself. My idea was to create a space where people open up to accepting the possibilities of the inner self. There’s a nice selection of Jewish mystical literature that people enjoy reading over an organic jasmine or a latte.
What’s your toughest challenge?
My health. I’ve had life threatening illnesses more than once.
When you were 19, you were diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. Despite medical prognosis that the treatment would make it impossible for you to have children, you finally did, after 10 years of marriage.
I have been blessed with five children. Two sets of twins and a daughter. Three of my children are severely handicapped.
The children are being cared for at home?
Yes. We have them home, but with full time therapy. Some need 24 hour care.
How has this reshaped your reality, your life-perspective?
It’s made me see people differently. I remember the Rebbe once spoke about children with developmental disabilities as having been endowed with special souls. That’s what I see when I look at my children.
Four years ago, you discovered that you had choroidal melanoma, a malignant tumor in your left eye. How are you today?
The cancer was successfully treated. But I lost sight in that eye.
At the same time, four of Chabad of Ft. Lauderdale’s major funders died.
Yes, I hit bottom then, both in my personal life and in my communal work.
What kept you going?
My belief that everything happens by Divine providence. That means that if G-d has given me this life, with these particular challenges, I should be able to handle them, or at least try to do that.
How are you doing now?
I’m alive, I’m ok. I’m doing what I need to be doing for my children and my community, and with the help of people here who appreciate what Chabad has done here, we’ll keep growing.
I’m happy when people come here and find a place where they feel welcome and comfortable. If they come back again and again, I know Chabad of Ft. Lauderdale is doing something right.