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The Butler Does It

Eytan Kobre

Undeterred by tragedy, Pittsburgh’s master of inspiration takes up his next challenge.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cincinnati, March 1974 As the director of NCSY’s Central East Region, it was Dan Butler’s job to scour all of Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Michigan, and Ontario for public school kids who could be turned on to Judaism. Dan had just run a shabbaton for 125 kids from Louisville and Cincinnati, and on a rainy Motzaei Shabbos, everyone piled into four school buses for a bowling outing on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. The lead bus stopped for a red light somewhere in a rural area, and standing there, soaking wet and sporting an army jacket and a “Jewfro” hairstyle, was a bedraggled kid attempting to hitchhike. A kid three rows back in the bus shouted out, “Hey, I know that kid, he’s in my homeroom!” Dan wheeled around. “Is he Jewish?” “Yup,” came the answer. “Driver, please open the door,” Dan ordered. The bedraggled hitchhiker joined Dan and his kids, first for bowling, then back at the shul for pizza, singing, and stories. On a Shabbos afternoon 28 years later, there was a knock at the door of the Butler home in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood. It was the kid from Kentucky, but now he had a wife and many kids in tow. And a hat and a tallis zeckel. He was in Pittsburgh, considering whether to take a position as the town’s new rosh kollel. For most people, meeting a public school kid they’d helped blossom into an aspiring rosh kollel would be a once-in-a-lifetime highlight, but for Dan Butler — former judge and defense attorney, kiruv veteran, advocate for the disabled, chesed dynamo, much-in-demand public speaker — it was just a day in the life.

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