IDAHO STATESMAN - August 11, 2007

Rabbis reach out to rural Jews

‘Lubavitch Summer Peace Corps' aims to spread joy, culture.

Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman
Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbis Levi Slonim and Yitzchok Steiner from Brooklyn, N.Y., pack the trunk of their car before they leave Boise and head to northern Idaho on a summer-long community outreach to Jews living in isolated areas.

By Monique Johns - [email protected]

Edition Date: 08/11/07

"The Nazis hunted down Jews with utter animosity.

"The antidote to such cruelty is to search for every Jew and reach out to them with absolute and unconditional love."

Rabbi Menachem and Mendel Schneerson

Traveling Rabbis Levi Slonim and Yitzchok Steiner will be heading back to Brooklyn, N.Y., Monday after a 15-day excursion to connect with Jews in rural Idaho.

Slonim and Steiner brought videos, brochures, books, Shabbat candles, mezuzahs and kosher offerings with them and made stops in Central and North Idaho, including Moscow, Sandpoint and McCall.

They even made a few house calls in Coeur d'Alene, a former safehaven for anti-Semitic extremists. But the traveling rabbis say they were met with warm reception, enthusiasm and gratitude in every Idaho community they passed through.

The "Lubavitch Summer Peace Corps," as the program has become known, was founded more than 50 years ago by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. The goal is not to convert anyone to Judaism, but to spread joy and understanding to rural Jews.

"There is no greater fulfillment in life than to know that you made someone's day," said Slonim, who brought one grateful woman kosher food, including Matzah.

The term they use for this is "mitzvah," or a good deed performed. The mitzvah is part of a larger lesson to bring happiness into the world, Slonim said.

"Everyone in this world was put here to do good and bring light into the world," he said.

"When Jewish people perform (mitzvahs), they are strengthening their connection to God, and thereby making this world a better place. This is our main message to everyone we meet."

There are approximately 2,000 Jews living outside of the Treasure Valley, said local Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz. He estimates the same number live within the Valley, but it's hard to track because of expanding population. Traveling rabbis find Jews to visit by networking through the Chabad Jewish Center in Boise, through e-mail requests, media announcements and by flipping through the pages of the local phone book for Jewish names.

"No Jew will be left behind. The message is that no matter where you live, you are part of one people," said Lifshitz. "You can participate. We will readily make that available as often as we can. It's a really comforting feeling for individuals. They are not forsaken."

Monique Johns: 672-6716