Rabbi's Blog

Mohave Mysteries, Part I: A Series on Mohave County's Jewish History


While researching the Mohave County Jewish history, I came across the name Nathan Shapiro, who died in Kingman in 1920.

Who was Nathan Shapiro, and what was he doing in Kingman?

I quickly found his grave online, and two newspaper snippets giving some details:

14160761_0e6390cc-0cb9-44d7-9880-5842abeee990.jpeg Mojave County Miner and Our Mineral Wealth Newspaper,14 Aug 1920


Mojave County Miner and Our Mineral Wealth Newspaper, 4 Sep 1920 

Nathan was on his way to New York from Los Angeles and was taken off the train to Albuquerque and thrown into a Kingman jail, due to his “peculiar behavior” on the train. 

Days later, on Aug. 11, 1920, Nathan died in jail of tuberculosis, and reports said he was buried at the county’s expense.

A later news clipping reported that he was taken to Los Angeles for a Jewish burial.

His death certificate, however, lists the burial place as Kingman, as do documents I obtained from the University of Arizona archives in Tucson.


Little was known about Nathan or his family, with most fields on the death certificate inscribed with “don’t know.”

Digging further, with the help of some friends, I discovered the fuller picture, as well as the dates of the above clippings.

The second news clipping was from September, and what it was reporting was that Nathan’s remains were being reinterred from Kingman to Los Angeles, by the Jewish Free Burial Society of Los Angeles.

Someone, it seems, had discovered Nathan’s family, or they had discovered what had happened to him, leading to his burial at Mount Zion Cemetery in East L.A. 

Nathan was reburied in Los Angeles in September and three months later, his mother, Clara (or Chaya) died, and she is buried next to him (in fact, her Yahrtzeit is today, the seventh of Teves).


Going to great lengths to ensure all Jews have a Jewish burial is a time-honored Jewish tradition in all communities, and Havasu is no exception. We ensure that every Jew in the area will be afforded a Jewish burial, regardless of financial ability.

Incidentally, the Mount Zion Cemetery, long abandoned by the L.A. Jewish community, was restored by my colleague, Rabbi Moshe Greenwald of Chabad of Downtown LA and a grassroots campaign of funders and volunteers.

May the memory of Nathan Shapiro (Nochum ben Avraham) be blessed, and his story not forgotten.



A Cry in Mohave Valley as Harold Breathed His Last

Last Thursday, I received an email from the chaplain of a county-wide home hospice agency. I knew what it was before I opened it; we've communicated before: A Jew is dying somewhere in the county and the family requested a rabbi visit.

It's my sacred duty, and an honor to be there and accompany people through their last moments.

So, on Friday morning I drove an hour to Mohave Valley. I didn't know this family and they didn't know me. It was a truly moving experience. Harold - as I'm dubbing him for privacy's sake - was in his early seventies. He had recently gone into remission from blood cancer, but it then returned with a vengeance. When I arrived, he lay, asleep. He hardly responded to the sounds and feels of his family trying to gently rouse him; he was in another world. 

I prayed at his bedside, reciting the traditional final prayers in a soft singsong. Then, I sang some of the most well-known liturgical prayers that he would have known from his youth, growing up in Brooklyn. Adon Olam had his family in tears, but Harold didn't stir. Then, I sang the Shema - the most famous Jewish prayer. Harold opened his eyes, his gaze meeting mine. Mustering up his remaining strength, I could hear him faintly singing along.

Those words, reverberating through three hundred centuries of Jewish history, were the final words of our sages killed by the Romans; the entire community of York, England in 1190 burned alive in a tower; the Jews hiding in their attics during the murderous crusade rampages and the Jews marched into the gas chambers in the 1940s.

And they were the last words on the lips of a Jew in Mohave Valley, who returned his soul to the Creator just hours later. Shema Yisrael Ado-nai Elo-haynu Ado-nai Echad!  Hear, O Israel: G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is one!

That timeless declaration of faith is written in last week's Torah reading, read in synagogues around the world the day after Harold sang it with his last breaths.

The verses contain important mitzvahs such as loving G-d, educating our children, wearing tefillin, and affixing mezuzahs to all our doorposts - which I helped Harold's family do that very day.

This week, we read the second paragraph, which contains many of the same concepts as the first paragraph, but with several changes and additions. The primary addition in the expanded version is a description of the effect mitzvahs have on the world. We are promised that by adhering to G-d’s commandments our land will be fertile and the physical world will do well (and the opposite, if not, G-d forbid).

Where the first paragraph focuses primarily on our spiritual pursuits, which is certainly a vital introduction, the second paragraph makes it real and tangible — the ultimate purpose of spirituality is for it to become entangled with the mundane world and impact every part of G-d’s creation.

So every time you do a mitzvah, you are fulfilling the ultimate purpose of creation: to make this world a dwelling place for G-d, which we will experience in its most perfect form with the coming of Moshiach, may it be speedily in our times!

May the soul of Yosef the son of Tzvi rest in peace, and intercede in heaven on behalf of his family, and for his community - the Mohave County Jewish community. I may not have known him, but no Jew is a stranger; we are all brothers!


What the Judaica Stores Don't Want You to Know

Do you know what's inside your mezuzah?

Here's what many Judaica vendors don't want you to know: 

This week I went to check the mezuzah of a community member. She'd just purchased it from a Jewish deli in San Diego, and wanted me to ensure it was a genuine mezuzah, not a fraudulent knock-off.

What we found as we opened the case shocked us.

I gently peeled away the backing, expecting to find a printed scroll (only a handwritten scroll on parchment is genuine), but instead, I was looking at an empty mezuzah case. There was no scroll.

Some vendors (and customers) don't realize that a mezuzah isn't the case you see on the door, but the scroll inside, and believe that by hanging a piece or ornamental metal on their doorframe, they have put a mezuzah on their home. Others, like this customer, know that the mezuzah is the scroll inside the case, which the store assured here was included.

I can't speculate how and why they would sell people empty cases, but what I can say is that the best place to get your mezuzah isn't the street vendor or gift store in Israel, Amazon, or your friend who found it in her attic.

The only reliable source is a trainer and certified scribe. A good rule of thumb is that if your mezuzah was $16.95 or anything less than about $50, it probably isn't kosher. Scribes take about two to three hours to carefully write the Hebrew verses on a parchment in an ancient calligraphic Hebrew script, using a quill. The labor and materials simply cannot cost a customer $20; when you pay that kind of money, you can be sure you're paying for a case, not a kosher mezuzah scroll.

We gladly supplied the woman in our story with a new, kosher mezuzah, to proudly hang on her doorframe and bring G-d's blessing and protection to her home.

You can contact me to purchase a genuine mezuzah with a weatherproof case or to inspect your mezuzah; mezuzahs often deteriorate with time and by being exposed to the moisture and heat of the outdoors, rendering them unfit for use. Letters can often fade or crack, and sometimes the parchment itself get be burned in the intense heat and sun.

Don't delay, make sure your home has a kosher mezuzah today!


 A kosher mezuzah scroll

No Coincidences in Fort Mohave


It was getting dark.

I'd spent Monday on the road visiting Jews in Laughlin, Bullhead City, Fort Mohave and Mohave Valley. 

Google Maps sent me off to the middle of an intersection and told me I'd arrived. After some time and research, I realized there wasn't supposed to be a "South" in the street name. 15 minutes later, I was outside another home. Fenced off with Beware of the Dogs signs and no bell, I couldn't get to the door. Coming from so far, I didn't just want to leave the matzah on the street ...


I didn't have a phone number, but I decided to try the White Pages number. No answer. I sent a text and waited. After a few minutes, a woman answered and came to open up.


Sheri was thrilled I'd found her—and the timing was no coincidence, she explained.


This week, they were feeling spiritual. Her husband went to his place of worship, but how could she find a Jewish connection and community in Fort Mohave? "Maybe there's something in Havasu," she thought briefly.


"Less than 24 hours later, you show up at my door with matzah!"


There truly are no coincidences. G-d heard the wish of a Jewish woman looking to connect with Him in Fort Mohave and sent matzah and a Seder invite.


Matzah, the Kabbalah says, is the food of faith. Wherever we are in our lives, eating matzah on Passover brings an infusion of faith and re-energizes our soul. Even in Fort Mohave.

Pictured, I almost had to channel my inner Moses and part this river in the Hualapais to visit a Jewish woman up in the mountains and deliver her matzah.

PXL_20230329_020343609.jpg PXL_20230329_015037360.jpg


Finding Connections in Laughlin

 Earlier this week, I received a call from a rabbi in Phoenix. "How far are you from Laughlin?" he asked. Through an acquaintance in Los Angeles. he'd heard about an older woman living alone in Laughlin. Ill and homebound, she needed help.

I called Joanne* right away. She told me that she couldn't walk unassisted and she only had several cans of beans in her pantry.

Her father, she told me, was once a rabbi in the area but the community had long faded away and now she was left, childless and utterly alone. Her only relative was a sister in California and a niece on the East Coast.

I had to help her. I didn't really know anyone in Laughlin, but I'd seen a Jewish sounding name from there recently. Fred* didn't know me, but when I told him who needed help he recognized the name. "Her father married us years ago, and she was at the wedding!"

Yet, they each thought they were the only Jews in town.

Fred wasn't able to drive due to a recent surgery, so I sent Joanne a delivery of fresh fruit, bagels, smoked salmon, noodle soups and whatever else she'd be able to eat without much preparation, and a hot/cold pack to ease her pain.

It's a small world out there, and we're only a degree of separation away from someone who needs our help, or more aptly, a degree of connection away ... 

Next week I will go visit Joanne and restock her pantry and bring her matzah for Passover. If you'd like to help her, or send a card, I'd be happy to facilitate! 

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