April 20, 2024
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Dr. Michael Segal’s Quest to Leyn in All 50 States

Dr. Michael Segal works as a companion animal clinical veterinarian at a small clinic in Paramus. His clientele are mainly dogs and occasional cats. Now residing in Teaneck, on Shabbat he leyns the Torah for the 8:45 a.m. minyan in the social hall at Congregation Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck after which he scoots out to the Chabad in Englewood arriving in time to leyn once again.

Born in Rochester, New York, Segal spent most of his youth in South Florida where he initially learned to leyn through the efforts of then Rabbi Edward Davis. His skills were further honed by local rabbis Aryeh Leib Gotlieb and Reuben Elefant. When the family moved north, Segal attended Frisch and then studied at Gush Etzion for his gap year. He attended Cornell University as an undergraduate and then went on to the University of Pennsylvania for his M.D. in veterinary medicine.

One of his earliest and most memorable leynings took place when he was 13 years old and his family traveled to Prague to visit the site of the Terezin concentration camp, where his grandfather was interned during the Holocaust. He clearly remembers that unforgettable Monday morning when he stood at the bimah of the Altneuschul, the oldest continuously functioning shul in the world.

His love of leyning remained with him throughout his travels around the world, where he read the Torah on Shabbat in Denmark, Mexico, Germany and Israel. In his travels around the U.S. for business, he always made it a point to leyn the Torah portion in the local shul. When the idea for his quest was launched, he had already leyned in seven states in the U.S.

The idea for the quest to read the complete weekly Torah portion in every one of the 50 states came to him in 2014. Segal calculated that there are 54 parshiot in the Torah, closely paralleling the 50 U.S. states and the four overseas territories. He then made the decision to spend a Shabbat in each state, where he would arrange to read the complete Torah portion.

As he took the quest upon himself, the leyning became the easy part. The challenge lay in the arranging for a minyan and a sefer Torah to be available in every state. Many calls to the local rabbis, Chabad houses, college campuses and private citizens went into each stop. In winter, driving through hazardous snowstorms or trekking long distances through drenching rains or piles of snow from hotels to shuls on Shabbat morning added to the challenges. Commitments of 10 men to make a minyan in remote areas sometimes fell through at the last moment. The quest became a huge challenge but Segal persisted and for the most part met with cooperation and enthusiasm from the communities.

One of the most challenging Shabbats came in West Virginia, Segal’s 46th stop, where he was scheduled to leyn in Morgantown. He had been working on coordinating the Torah reading in the Mountain State for seven years. Segal initially reached out to the Chabad rabbi in early 2016 only to learn that he did not have a consistent minyan in Morgantown; as a college town adjacent to the University of West Virginia, there was no minyan when the students went on break. Segal then reached out to clergy in Charleston, West Virginia which housed a Conservative synagogue whose rabbi was a member of the Orthodox RCA. The rabbi, however, had no room to host him other than in the summer when his children were away at camp. The next attempt was in 2021 when Segal learned that the Morgantown shul had become egalitarian and read only one third of the parsha each week and only on Zoom. In 2022, he reached out again to find out that the mainstays of the minyan had all graduated. Finally, in the dead of winter in 2022, Segal reached out to the rabbi in Morgantown one more time, who informed him that on the upcoming Shabbat a van of seven Chabad rabbinical students from Chicago were delivering a Mitzvah Tank to Morgantown, and thus a minyan would be assured. Segal was elated to finally be leyning in West Virginia, so “he drove through a whiteout blizzard over the Appalachian Mountains with visibilities as low as 300 feet, with temperatures below zero and wind chills of 40 degrees below zero to have a minyan in West Virginia and read the Torah in his 46th state.”

To date, Segal has fulfilled his quest in 48 of the 50 states, leaving only Alaska and Wyoming. He is hoping to be in the tourist town of Jackson Hole in July or August where he is bound to find a minyan of travelers. His target in Alaska is the Chabad of Anchorage.

And what comes next for Segal? Well, there are always the 180 countries around the world in which he has a head start as he has already been in five. If one Shabbat morning you see a determined young man running from Rinat toward Englewood, give a warm Shabbat Shalom to Dr. Michael Segal. You never know where you may hear him leyn.

By Pearl Markovitz

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