Ryan T. Boyd
Nov. 20--EAST MANATEE
Rabbi Mendy Bukiet has spent all of his 30 years helping Jews. That's what his father and grandfather, who were also rabbis, taught him.
Whether that entails going to their hospital bedsides or providing food to the needy or strengthening their spirits through the religion, that has been Mendy's mission.
This type of thinking was instilled in him during his younger days in the Jewish community in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood, and still dwells in him as rabbi of the Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch.
Rabbi Mendy and his wife, Chana, moved to the area three years ago to reach out to the Jewish community of East Manatee after an uncle's urging.
He never thought he would have to reach out even more to his family.
Five years ago, the Bukiets oldest son, Chaim Meir, 5, was born a healthy child. Two years later, the family's second son, Mordechaie, 3, was born.
But it was when the couple's third son, Zalman, 2, was born with Down syndrome that Mendy gained even more knowledge of his religion.
"Jewish religion brings out the concept that special needs children are just not unique," Mendy said, "but they are extremely special. It means that most times they have a closer connection with Godliness. A special needs child can actually strengthen a person's belief in Godliness, and everything else, especially, when you see how much faith they have.
"Children with Down syndrome they have a lot of faith with the parents," he added. "They have a lot of love and a lot of happiness. Even at times of hardship they are able to smile and they really enjoy life. We can learn a lot from these type of children."
Normally, a baby inherits 46 chromosomes: 23 from the mother and 23 from the father. In cases of Down syndrome, a child gets an extra chromosome, and the extra gene causes physical and mental disabilities.
The disease affects one in every 800 babies born.
The first leader of the rabbi movement was named Zalman and it means to bring light. That's how Mendy has interpreted Zalman's arrival.
"We take it as a blessing, and as a gift," he said. "We hope that we can do good with him, and give him the best life he can have. Ultimately, this just brought into focus everything in life. Everything that we have in our lives is a gift from God."
East county synagogue
The Bukiets started the first synagogue in their house, then moved to a school, then to a rental building.
Now the synagogue is on the first floor of the First Priority Bank building, off Palmbrush Trail in Lakewood Ranch.
The Bukiets moved here knowing only five people and the congregation has grown to about 350 families that attend the Chabad at various times of the year. The Chabad offers a weekly service along with various classes for men, women and children throughout the week.
"We grow with the community," Rabbi Mendy said.
Marianne Zoll has grown with the Bukiets and the Chabad as a regular goer of the Chabad for the past 18 months.
Zoll said she's enjoyed Rabbi Mendy's common-man approach to the congregation, and he's made a powerful rapport with his congregation
"He's invited me to his house for Shabbat," Zoll said. "That's not something a rabbi normally does. He's like a regular person. I have his cell phone number, and I know he's not my family, but I know he'll be here if I need him. I believe if he gets 1,000 people in his congregation he'll still be the same way. He is just very honest and very giving, and so is his wife."
Rabbi Mendy spends a lot hours at the synagogue, but he still finds time to transport his oldest two children back and forth to a Jewish day school in Tampa five days a week, make his calls or visit people who are sick or people in need of a spiritual uplift, and open the synagogue in the evenings. Through all of the running, Mendy still makes time to have Zalman to his doctors appointments when scheduled.
Recently, Rabbi Mendy spent most of the day at a hospital in Tampa as Zalman had tubes inserted into his ears to improve his hearing.
"It has been difficult with running a Chabad center," Rabbi Mendy said, "and doing everything he needs to give him the best life he can have. It has been a little bit trying at times, but life is trying, and that is our goal to overcome them, and to make the best out of it. I don't look at the Chabad center as my job. It's my life. My family is not my job. It's my life. There for when there is something special in your life you have the energy to make it work. You have the energy make it be the best it can be."
Others in his congregation has noticed Rabbi Mendy's dedication.
"It's his knowledge, and he's inspiring and he makes you feel good," said Ricki Rubin. "He makes you feel good about being alive, and understand how to live the right way."
Zalman's situation only inspired the Bukiets to produce another gift. About nine weeks ago, Chana gave birth to the couple's fourth child, a healthy boy named, Shaya. Deficiencies or not, to the Bukiets the only thing that matters is that all four of their children are full of energy and having fun.
"Family comes first always," Rabbi Mendy said. "There's a balance that has to be kept so my wife don't suffer and my kids don't suffer. And we do our best to keep that balance."
Local residence: Lakewood Ranch
Occupation: rabbi of the Chabad of Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch
Family: wife, Chana; Chaim Meir, 5; Mordechaie, 3; Zalman, 2; and newborn Shaya
Jana Morreale sections editor
P.O. Box 921
Bradenton, FL. 34206
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Rabbi Mendy Bukiet balances family and faith
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