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Rabbis of LA | Chabad Schools Dial Rabbi Fixit

Rabbi Yosef Brod has a unique rabbinic story.
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June 6, 2024
Rabbi Yosef Brod

In his smallish office in the tall red brick building near the intersection of Pico Boulevard and Doheny, Bais Chaya Mushka Chabad School’s modest, soft-spoken Rabbi Yosef Brod has a unique rabbinic story.

“I am basically an engineer.” Brod described his job as fixing things at the 500-girl school: “I manage the building.” When was the last time you heard a rabbi identify himself as an engineer, especially when he has no formal training in the field?

“I also am involved with the cheder (religious school), the boys school on La Cienega Boulevard, about seven minutes from here. I take care of that building. We are building a new place for the cheder and, G-d willing, I will be involved with it.”

You won’t find the Crown Heights, Brooklyn native in a classroom or a pulpit these days, although Rabbi Brod led a small shul at Garden of Palms Retirement Home on Fairfax for 15 years. Hitting his stride in his early 70s, he shows no signs of slowing. “To maintain a school like this,” he said, “it takes time and effort. Always something to do, always something goes wrong – outlets, switches, sinks.”

After five years at the girls school, “this is mostly what I do now,” Rabbi Brod said.  “You need a man. People shouldn’t panic. Things happen all the time. Emergencies happen.” 

He recalled a fire next door a few years ago. “The smoke from that building went into our building,” said the rabbi. “Our alarm system went off. We had to evacuate the building. I was here. So I could tell right away – inside or outside.”

While Brod basically is full-time at the girls’ cheder, he also is on call at the boys’ cheder. “While I don’t have an office there, they call me and I come.”

“We are in the army of Hashem. In the army, you learn, you improvise and you gain years of experience.”

How does the rabbi explain the often unglamorous talents he regularly deploys? “We are in the army of Hashem,” he said. “In the army, you learn, you improvise and you gain years of experience.” But do not call him old-fashioned. Large screens on his desk keep him instantly informed. He is quite contemporary.

“We learn from experience,” Brod said. “Today there are no secrets. Go on Google, and there’s everything, anything you need to know” – including about Chabad communities. We have WhatsApp from the shluchim (Chabad communities) throughout California, and another WhatsApp on the shluchim through the entire United States.” Chabad communities, he explained, “are very interconnected. If someone says ‘My air conditioning broke,’ you know what kind to buy. You have a source. We always are communicating. 

“And that is how you learn as well, how one helps the other. I have rabbi friend in Santa Barbara who wants to remodel and make some room. I told him ‘Send me pictures and I will guide you.’ I saved him several thousand dollars. The plumbing was on this side, so I said ‘make a hole on this side instead of going the other way.’”

The owner of so many practical — and unexpected for a rabbi — skills shrugs off compliments. “You learn this through experience, through the talent God blessed me with—and being in the army with Chabad for many years,” Brod said.

In 2007, massive fires struck the mountainous area surrounding Kiryat Schneerson, a camp then led by Rabbi Brod. The Long Beach Press-Telegram reported that even though the camp was “surrounded by fire, it has become a salvation and sanctuary for the brave firefighters and officers. Miraculously the center remains open, offering a place to eat and rest. The rabbi persists, serving meals and drinks. He mans a 24-hour generator, fills the swimming pool with their well water, signals the helicopter to pick up and replenish their water supply.” 

Rabbi Brod fondly recalled his days in Crown Heights. “Chabad makes a Lag b’Omer parade when it comes out on a Sunday in New York. They make floats. As a teenager, I was already involved building floats. That’s how you learn, through involvement. Chabad always is out there doing things. When I was working in a camp, I was a handyman, working with an experienced person. That is how you learn.”

The rabbi offered another practical illustration. “I know of Chabad rabbis who built mikvehs,” he said. “They didn’t go to engineering school. Or college. They learned in yeshiva. They learned in the books, and then out there, from contractors, builders.”

Brod told a story of being called up to cook at a summer camp. The versatile rabbi spun into action. “You ask a friend or a restaurant owner, ‘How do you make this?’ And he tells me.” As if this were natural, Brod added, “After you do it several years, you become more professional.” So professional that when his son was married in the camp, he did the catering. “For me, it’s all the same,” he said. “I am in God’s army — whatever is needed to be done, that is what I do. Like it better, like it less. Do what you have to do.”

Married for 48 years, the father of 11 recently became a great-grandfather for the first time. (“We don’t count the number of grandchildren.”) Soon he will be marrying off his tenth child. 

Rabbi Brod was drawn to Los Angeles by his cousin, Rabbi Naftoli Estulin, founder of the Russian immigrant shul/center on Santa Monica Boulevard. Many are grateful he decided to stay. “I will be 73,” he says. “Working hard for The Cause keeps you strong.”

Fast Takes with Rabbi Brod

Jewish Journal: Your favorite spare time activity?

Rabbi Brod: Learning.

J.J.: Your favorite Jewish food?

R.B.: Shabbos food. 

J.J.: The most influential book you have read?

R.B.: My father sat in jail as a 14-year-old in Russia because he was an Orthodox Jew. When he emigrated to the United States, he did not want to learn English. I was a student at Oholei Torah, a Brooklyn yeshiva with 3,000 students where no English was spoken, then or now. While I can read English, my personal library has over 4,000 books, all in Yiddish or Hebrew.

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