As a young child, Solon resident Miriam Greenberg recalled her grandparents, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, setting up an organization to help newly arrived Russians, opening a food bank, offering rides and bringing people to the synagogue.
Along with her parents and as one of 10 children, Mrs. Greenberg would visit area nursing homes as a young girl, delivering meals to the elderly and singing them songs.
The 50-year-old mother of nine said she was born into a life of service and outreach, and that continues in earnest today.
“Outreach and giving is part of how I grew up,” she said. “It’s in our genes.”
It is also at the root of the Chabad movement, which her father Rabbi Leib Alevsky began in Cleveland and she and her husband Rabbi Zushe Greenberg brought to Solon nearly 30 years ago.
“The Chabad movement is based on a mission that involves outreach and sharing your knowledge with others as well as your love of the Jewish heritage,” she said. “It’s about not living for yourself but giving to those around you.”
The Chabad movement is also absent of any labels, Mrs. Greenberg continued, as they tend to divide. Instead, the Chabad mission is rooted in welcoming all Jews, whether they are Reform, Conservative or Orthodox.
That mission is at the heart of the vast programming Mrs. Greenberg heads up at the synagogue on Harper Road, including a summer camp which draws hundreds of children as well as the Solon Jewish Preschool and the Hebrew School, among many other outreach activities.
“Kids are my big passion,” said Mrs. Greenberg, whose own children range in age from 6 to 29. “I love children and teaching children and spending time with them.
“They are our future,” she added, noting that Judaism has always had a concentration on the “next generation.
“We try to make our programs fun so kids love being Jewish,” she said.
To that end, Mrs. Greenberg presents a lively “Tot Shabbat” on Fridays, where she leads children in upbeat songs and storytelling.
Along with children and their families, Mrs. Greenberg also began a challah baking program, delivering it to Jewish residents at area nursing homes weekly.
“We combined the children and the elderly,” she said. Each week, two families come and bake challah, the traditional bread of Shabbat, then deliver it to residents of the Solon Pointe at Emerald Ridge nursing home.
“It’s children helping the elderly, and we bring the spirit of the holiday,” she said.
Her commitment to outreach and service has not stopped, even in light of the pandemic.
“When everyone closed down, and we also closed, our immediate reaction was, ‘we can’t stop education, and we can’t stop Judaism,’” she said. “For a child to miss a year is to miss a quarter of their lifetime, so we had to be safe and creative.”
The first holiday during the pandemic was Shavuot in May, which celebrates the 10 commandments being given to the Jewish people and shared with the world. Typically, the Chabad marks that with services in the synagogue and an ice cream party, Mrs. Greenberg explained.
Instead, with the synagogue closed, Mrs. Greenberg said an outdoor service was held in the pavilion on the property, and the Greenbergs rented an ice cream truck, which Mrs. Greenberg and her daughter drove around for two days, visiting all the children who signed up.
“We brought the holiday to them,” she said with a warm smile, giving each child an edible Torah and letting them choose an ice cream flavor.
“We wanted them to know we don’t stop being Jewish,” she said. “We make it work in a safe and a fun way.”
To mark the holiday of Lag BaOmer in May, which signifies Jewish unity and brotherhood, the Greenbergs held a car parade throughout the community, as a way of thanking those safety forces who worked on the front lines of the pandemic.
“Throughout the entire pandemic, we have never ever stopped,” she said, noting that things were done always with safety in mind.
The Chabad reopened June 1, and even presented their annual summer camp this year, also in a safe manner with social distancing and masks, among other precautions.
“We did a full outdoor camp for the children,” Mrs. Greenberg said.
A native of Cleveland who attended high school at the Beth Rivka school for girls in New York and who studied Chabad as an exchange student in college in Melbourne, Australia, Mrs. Greenberg said she and her husband’s overall goal when coming to Solon was to see what the needs were of the Jewish community, and then fill them.
For example, there was no Jewish preschool at the time, so they opened one. Same for Sunday School and Hebrew School. There was also no synagogue at the time in Solon, she recalled.
“As we saw what the needs were, those were the programs we did,” Mrs. Greenberg said.
The Greenbergs eventually moved the Chabad from rental spaces and store fronts to the permanent building they built on the corner of Harper and Cannon roads 15 years ago. The Greenbergs live in a home on the property.
“The synagogue is our extended home,” Mrs. Greenberg said. “My kids feel the same way too.
“They run barefoot through the halls when no one’s here and they know where the candy closet is,” she added with a laugh.
They also follow their parents’ example of serving others, she said. To that end, she balances motherhood with her life of giving.
“There are only 24 hours of the day,” she said. “You can’t do more. The question is how much time each child gets.”
Mrs. Greenberg said she teaches her children to be a part of all she does for others.
“You are teaching them to share and to give and not to want more,” Mrs. Greenberg said. “My kids know they are here to help make the world a better place.”
At home, Mrs. Greenberg cooks a full three course meal – on good dishes – every Friday for Shabbat. She and Rabbi Greenberg used to welcome guests each week, but since the pandemic, limit the gathering to immediate family.
“Especially now when things look bleak, giving gives you a purpose in life,” Mrs. Greenberg said.
She instructs all the children at the synagogue that they are put on this earth by God for a mission.
“Rise up to it,” Mrs. Greenberg said she tells children and teenagers. “It’s our job to make the world a better place.”
She said giving automatically creates happiness in oneself.
“It’s not about me but what I can do is help others,” she said.
Whether it’s helping at a funeral, leading a class or cooking a kosher meal with families, Mrs. Greenberg is considered the face at the synagogue, her husband noted. Her proper title though is not so certain, he added with a laugh.
“Anywhere else, it would be executive director,” the rabbi said. “But at the Chabad, she is everything.”