A Jew once asked the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber:
Rabbinical students spend their summers on the road, sharing their passion for Jewish life and bringing Jewish awareness and observance wherever they go
“Rebbe, what is a chassid?"
"A chassid is a lamplighter. The lamplighter walks the streets carrying a flame at the end of a stick. He knows that the flame is not his. And he goes from lamp to lamp to set them alight."
"What if the lamp is in a desert?"
"Then one must go and light it"
"And what if the lamp is at sea?"
"Then one must undress, dive into the sea, and go light the lamp.”
Each summer, Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, dispatches hundreds of rabbinical students to small Jewish communities around the globe. Rabbinical students and young rabbis spend their summers on the road, sharing their passion for Jewish life and bringing Jewish awareness and observance wherever they go.
These dedicated students, chosen for their rabbinic proficiency and people skills, vie for the honor of assisting the most faraway and isolated communities. These summer assignments also afford them with an invaluable on-the-ground experience in Jewish outreach and a unique appreciation for the diverse needs and colorful makeup of our nation.
In 1943, even while European Jews were being hunted and killed by the Nazis, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, set up the mechanism to deepen the connection of remote American Jews to their people and their religion. Under the leadership of his father-in-law, Rabbi Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, the Rebbe created the summer visitation program, sending vibrant yeshiva students armed with spiritual aid to visit ten cities in Upstate New York. In 1944, a number of cities in California were added to the program. By 1945, the Deep South of the United States was also included.
By 1948, participation in the summer program had expanded to include approximately twenty students and one hundred American cities. These early groups typically consisted of one English speaker and one European immigrant.
In the late ‘forties, the program expanded to cater to the Jewish farmers scattered throughout northeastern United States. Many of these farmers were European immigrants who were isolated from the Jewish communities. The students brought them much appreciated Torah literature and subscriptions to Yiddish periodicals. Great efforts where made to enable their children to study in Jewish day schools in the larger cities. This service also provided a full mobile center which circulated among the areas populated by these farmers.
The students spent months on the road, often subsiding on matzah, canned fish, and vegetables for weeks on end. The Rebbe eagerly read their mailed reports, in addition to extensively debriefing them upon their return. The students were often amazed by the Rebbe’s care for, and intimate knowledge of, Jewish life in the remotest of communities.
In the early 1950s, the Rebbe added international destinations to the growing list. These tours were grueling marathon trips which often included tens of countries and multiple continents. The Rebbe would pore over maps and statistics and personally choose the itineraries.
Sardinia, Italy; The Dakotas; Bosnia; Beijing, China; Des Plaines, IL; Kauai, HI; Wales, UK....Chabad representatives have brought Torah, joy and warmth to Jews in thousands of cities in over one hundred and fifty countries.
Our goal is to make Judaism accessible, inviting and relevant to every Jew, everywhere,”
The hundreds of young students who participate in this annual program stand on the forefront of Jewish life. They visit thousands of outposts in Asia, Europe, the Americas and beyond. Their luggage consists of kosher food, Jewish books and educational material, as well as tefillin, mezuzot and other religious articles. All in all, thousands of mezuzot and tens of thousands of Jewish information packets are distributed each year in thousands of communities.
“Our goal is to make Judaism accessible, inviting and relevant to every Jew, everywhere,” says Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, Vice Chairman of Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch who overseas the program.
In a small town in Serbia, the tiny Jewish community had a shofar but no one knew how and when it was to be blown. In Ontario, a thought provoking Torah class provides Jewish food for thought. In Wisconsin, a young family basks in the joyful atmosphere created by the Shabbatons arranged by the young visitors.
In many places, they have become an integral part of the fabric of Jewish life, as their yearly visits have become a much-anticipated highlight of, and source of inspiration for the entire year.