Roving rabbis reach out


Rabbinical students are on a mission to bolster northern Idaho's Jewish community


By Tara Roberts, Daily News staff writer


Wednesday, August 8, 2007


The trunk of Rabbi Levi Slonim and Rabbi Yitzchok Steiner's car is stuffed with everything they need to reach out to the Jewish people of northern Idaho.


Piles of books and pamphlets describe the history and importance of Jewish rituals. Boxes are filled with Shabbat candles and scrolls of scripture that are hung on the door posts of Jewish homes. There is kosher food, both for the rabbis and for Idaho Jews who don't have everyday access to kosher meats and dairy products.


"We're not missionaries, we're not looking to convert anyone," Slonim said. "We're just looking to reach out - or reach in - to Jewish people."


The rabbinical students visited Moscow last week and will be traveling throughout the area until Monday as part of the Jewish Community Enrichment Program. The program is based in Brooklyn, N.Y., and is sponsored by Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.


A central figure of the movement is Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, who died in 1994. Schneerson began sending young rabbis around the world 50 years ago to reach Jews who were disconnected from a larger Jewish community.


"That was his mission, to love every Jew," Slonim said. "We are reaching out to all Jewish people."


Though the rabbis are Orthodox, they meet with Jews of any order.

Sometimes, they host Shabbat dinners with Jewish community centers.

Other times, they just try to seek out any local Jews they can for one-on-one meetings, as they did in Moscow.


For Slonim, the outreach is a family tradition - his father was part of the program 27 years ago. Steiner said it's rewarding to give up his summer to serve Jews in a place where there isn't much of a Jewish community.


Steiner and Slonim both have been around the world in past summers with the program, this is their first time in Idaho. It has sometimes been hard to find Jews in this area, they said, but it's rewarding when they do make contact.


"A lot of people said, 'Jews in Idaho?' " Slonim said. "When you find that Jew and you strengthen their connection ... it's just so much more special and unique."


The rabbis try to provide any service they can to the people they meet, whether it's kosher food, marriage counseling or just someone to talk to.


The goal is to leave people with good thoughts about Judaism, Steiner said. They want to encourage mitzvah - good deeds - which include rituals accompanying the items the rabbis bring with them.


The Shabbat candles are to be lit by every Jewish woman and girl before sunset on Friday evenings. Charity boxes remind people to "do a little goodness every day," Slonim said.


A scripture scroll for Jewish homes, mezuzah, contains Torah verses inscribed by qualified scribes.


"Some people view it as a Jewish security system," Steiner said. "It's a blessing for the home and the people inside of the home wherever they go as well."


Tefillin are leather boxes that contain sacred scrolls connected to long straps that some Jewish men wear around their arms and heads.


"This is a very central Jewish ritual ... connecting our feelings and our emotions and our minds to God," Slonim said.


The rabbis said they generally have good experiences in their outreach efforts. They have met a few people who were intimidated by them or resisted their Jewish heritage, Slonim said, but they have more success stories. They keep in touch with many of the people they meet.


"It's rewarding to hear that what we would like to accomplish has been accomplished," Slonim said.


They'd like to leave the northern Idaho Jews they meet with a stronger sense of community. The Jewish community is growing in Idaho, the rabbis said, helped by a Chabad center built in Boise three years ago.


"I think it's getting better and better, stronger and stronger," Slonim said. "Despite what people may think, it's flourishing."


To help it continue to flourish, Jewish people should celebrate holidays, observe rituals and "cherish what they have," Steiner said.


"Stick together, help each other, be a community together in every way."


To contact the rabbis, call Rabbi Levi Slonim at (607) 206-6443. For more information about the Chabad-Lubavitch movement internationally and in Idaho, visit.


Tara Roberts can be reached at (208) 882-5561, ext. 234, or by e-mail at [email protected].