Enter your email address to get our weekly email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life.

Patrick's Prayer

July 31, 2009
Installing a mezuzah on Patrick's front door.
Installing a mezuzah on Patrick's front door.

Patrick is a very interesting person. He has lived in many places. Among them: New York, Switzerland and the Irish coast. In the course of his life, he has had some unique Jewish experiences—including being a close personal friend of a very kind Chassidic rebbe. Over the past few years, he has had the pleasure of having the roving rabbis over for a nice chat every summer. He fondly recalls how one year the boys brought out some MSG-laden instant soups and they shared a kosher meal together.

As a spiritually sensitive Jew, Patrick often prays to G‑d wrapped up in his tallit and tefillin. But sometimes he does not.

One recent morning, Patrick spoke to G‑d and told Him that he wanted a sign from Him that he should begin being more consistent about praying every morning. He then went to get his tallit and tefillin and began to prepare for his morning prayers.

At that very moment, we sat down to schedule our appointments for the day. We decided to call Patrick first. His phone began jingling the second that he removed his tefillin from his head.

And he got his sign.

Flea Market Folks

July 29, 2009

As far as we know, we are the first pair of rabbis to rove Hearford County, MD. This means that we had absolutely no contacts to start with. While there is a small Reform congregation, most of the Jewish folks we met did not seem to have much to do with it. So where do we find people?

A policeman in the gas station in Havre De Grace in told us about his friend named Cal who is Jewish. We eventually found Cal. We had a nice schmooze, he told us all about his health problems and we offered some encouragement and the opportunity to recite a prayer.

We've been spending a lot of time in flea markets lately. Coming from Brooklyn, they are quite exotic. We wanted to see if there were any fleas, and were pleasantly surprised to discover that there were none. There were, however, many other interesting things, especially relevant to us—Jews.

In the Bel Air flea market, most of the stalls sell what they call OPJ (other people's junk). Statuettes, air conditioners, guns, fishing tackle, even the kitchen sink is for sale there.

One of the vendors, Arcady, is a Russian immigrant who sells used pipes and other things which I was unable to identify. We were, however, able to identify him as a Jew based on his Russian accent and broad smile. He was overjoyed to see us and gladly put on tefillin for the first time.

Oh, and did we mention that we picked up a Randy Johnson rookie card for cheap?

Awesome Uruguay Pictures

July 28, 2009

We are travelling through Uruguay.

Most of the time we meet Jewish people and help them do mitzvot.

Sometimes, people on horses overtake our car. This is mostly okay, but sometimes you need to be careful!

Or else, we may not make it to our next appointment…

Or enjoy the beautiful sunset.

Miracle in Hawaii

July 27, 2009
Kauai, the island where Maxine was flown from by air ambulance.
Kauai, the island where Maxine was flown from by air ambulance.

Miracles come in all shapes and sizes. Some are noticeable and leave an impression, and some don't. But this story will stay with us for a while.

We received a call about a young Jewish girl named Maxine, who had been admitted to the nearby hospital with serious injuries and was being treated in the Intensive Care Unit. We dropped everything and made our way to the hospital at once. Once we arrived there the details started to emerge. On July 4th, on a nearby island called Kauai, Maxine had been involved in a serious car accident. Since there's no hospital there equipped to deal with this kind of serious case, she was flown via air ambulance to Honolulu.

We were greeted by Maxine's mother who had flown in on the air ambulance together with her. She described to us the various external injuries that her daughter had sustained including a broken collarbone, broken arm and broken ankle. At the time, they were still unsure about any internal head injuries. Whilst there, we said some chapters of Psalms and a recited a Mi Shebeirach prayer by her bedside. We spoke about belief and the Chassidic teaching that thinking good will bring good results. We also mentioned that G‑d doesn't allow a person to confront a difficult situation without giving him/her the extra strength to overcome it.

During our whole discussion the mother kept on saying that the ideas that we are mentioning are not just a belief for her but actual knowledge. Her faith and resolve was inspiring. As we turned to leave, the daughter—who was heavily sedated at the time and had seemed to be unaware of her surroundings—suddenly piped up and said, "Bye guys. Thanks for coming."

When we arrived the next day, her room was vacant. Fearing the worst, we asked what happened. After some searching, we located her in the neurological ward. We asked the mother when her daughter had been moved. She replied, "actually half an hour after you left, the doctor came in and said it's now ok to be moved out of the ICU!" After conversing and helping Maxine's brother put on tefillin, we entered the room together. To the mother's shock, Maxine suddenly awoke and starting conversing with her brother! After the conversation subsided, we all opened a book of Psalms and said some chapters. As we finished, Maxine turned to her mother and asked, "Mum can I pray to G‑d to fix my collarbone?" She then looked heavenwards, and asked G‑d to fix her collarbone.

Every day we went back, and with each visit, her condition improved dramatically. When the news came back from the doctors that there was no internal head injury, we knew the worst was over. When we came on Sunday, just over one week from the accident, Maxine was ready to go back to Kauai on a flight scheduled for the next night. Recounting the events of the previous week, her mother described how she could not believe that just one short week from that fateful air ambulance ride—when she was unsure if her daughter would ever recover—her daughter was well on the way to a full and healthy recovery.

An Up"lift"ing Encounter

July 26, 2009
We help an elderly Holocaust survivor celebrate her birthday.
We help an elderly Holocaust survivor celebrate her birthday.

The apartment we are based out of is on the 18th floor. Normally, this is not a problem. The view is nice and the elevator is fast. We were, however, not looking forward to walking up 18 flights of steps on Shabbat, when riding is forbidden.

This Shabbat, as we returned from services, a couple approached us in the lobby and wished us a warm “Shabbat shalom!” We jokingly asked them if they would like to join us on our long walk up. They could not believe that we were really going to walk all those flights up, and ended up walking us up, talking and bantering the whole way. Needless to say, the walk was a lot more interesting than we had anticipated.

Remembering the Fallen

July 24, 2009
Eight candles were lit, one for each of the day's heroes.
Eight candles were lit, one for each of the day's heroes.

During the latest war in Lebanon, a hand grenade was tossed into the house where Major Roi Klein and his unit were stationed. Klein told his men, "Report that I've been killed" and jumped on the live grenade, blocking the explosion with his body. Klein was killed on the spot, but his soldiers were saved by his act of self-sacrifice. His buddies reported that Roi died with Shema Yisrael on his lips.

This past Wednesday marked the three year anniversary of the death of Roi and seven other soldiers from the Golinali 51st.

Some surviving soldiers of that brigade, who are now touring India, asked us to help them arrange a fitting memorial for their departed comrades in arms.

Two hours later, the Chabad house filled with ex-soldiers. Candles were lit, prayers were recited, and all of those in attendance donned tefillin (some for the first time). After a short prayer for Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who is being held hostage by Hamas, the solemn ceremony ended on an upbeat note as we all broke into a whirling dance and sang Am Yisrael Chai.

A moment of prayer and reflection.
A moment of prayer and reflection.

Solomon's Big Day

July 23, 2009 12:26 PM
The bar mitzvah picture was taken with my mobile phone.
The bar mitzvah picture was taken with my mobile phone.

We asked if there were any Jews in the bookstore, and were told that that there may be some in the adjacent vegan café.

Solomon, who works at the café, is Jewish. A short conversation revealed that he has not had much exposure to Jewish practice. In fact, he lives in a town with no synagogue and does not seem to mind that at all… We made an appointment to meet the next day to put on tefillin. When the time arrived, he led us to a nearby park where we sat down to chat.

After putting on tefillin, we realized that it was the first time in his life that he had ever had the opportunity to do this mitzvah. "In that case," we told him, "in a sense, today is your bar mitzvah!"

"Well," said he, "that makes sense, considering that I am 31 years old, and 31 is the inverse of 13. Now that you mention it, it is the 13th day of the month, so it really is a good day to have a bar mitzvah…"

Afterwards, he invited us to have a meal at his vegan café. This lead to an enlightening conversation about kosher, and why vegan and kosher are not always the same.

Challah, Bubeleh, and Cemeteries

July 23, 2009

For a start, we pulled into our local farmers' market, which convenes in a parking lot once a week. One of the stalls caught our eye. They were selling packages labeled challah. Turns out the proprietors are a sweet aged Jewish couple, who discovered that there is big market for challah among the college demographic. Apparently it's considered a cool kinda bread.

We then headed over to Nevada City, where we had a heart to heart with Judy. She took upon herself to light Shabbat candles.

Then we nipped into the nearest hippie store (there are many), where the owner told us that there is a Jewish woman down the road who goes by the remarkable name of Bubeleh. The minute we walked into her store, our cover was blown. She knew everything about us, the who, the what and the where. We soon found out that there was very little she did not know, including the directions to both of the Jewish cemeteries (see pic).

Needless to say we took the opportunity to say some chapters of Psalms by the gravesites.

Wallet Finders, Tefillin Winders

July 22, 2009 1:00 PM

I was sitting with my co-rover Yitzchok in the ancient synagogue early morning saying Psalms. Suddenly, a couple enters. The man looks around, and approaches me. I look up with a smile and ask if there is anything I can do for him. In English, he tells me that he wants to recite the Amidah (silent prayer). I lend him my prayerbook. He spends a few minutes praying, kisses the book and walks out.

The Holy Ark of the historic Dubrovnik synagogue where this story took place.
The Holy Ark of the historic Dubrovnik synagogue where this story took place.

A few minutes later, they return with another couple. He introduces us to their friends with whom they are on a cruise, and explains that he had originally come because he needed a favor from G‑d. Their fellow traveler had lost her wallet which contained some very important documents. No sooner had he finished praying when he got a telephone call from someone who had found the wallet, and now they all came back to say thank you to G‑d.

Over the Hills and Far Away

July 21, 2009

Every summer an estimated quarter of a million Jews go up to the Catskill Mountains in Upstate New York to enjoy a respite from the busy and noisy city. A majority of these Jews live in bungalow colonies (a cluster of small rental summer homes—wikipedia.org). These colonies typically have a pool, a central clubhouse and a bunch of cottages. Almost like mini-villages, everyone knows everyone.

Before we headed out to the bungalows, we went to Wal-Mart to purchase necessities for our stay. The very first person we met in the Wal-Mart, the greeter by the door, happened to be Jewish. (So far so good :-))

In one colony, we discovered that the owner was Jewish. He told us that his mother is in a nursing home in Jacksonville, FL. One of my best friends, Adam, is going to rove there in a few days, so I offered to ask Adam to pay her a visit. He loved that idea and gave me her name and contact information to pass on.

This past Friday, we went to a town called Rock Hill. Believe it or not, we got lost! We were driving on an unfamiliar road when we realized that we had no idea where we were. We pulled into a driveway to make a u-turn and discovered that we drove right into a bungalow colony. We figured that the reason why we got lost was because we had to go to this colony.

We got out of the car and met the owner/manager. We asked her if she was Jewish, and she answered yes. We asked her if she lights Shabbat candles, and she said no. We gave her some and she promised she would light them that night.

We then proceeded to meet a bunch of nice Israeli and Russian Jewish vacationers.

So we never made it to our desired bungalow colonies for the day, instead G‑d had other plans—taking us to a colony that wasn't even on the map!

Peace, Love and Six Hours of Silence

July 20, 2009 9:00 PM

We spent the other Shabbat among some 15,000 fellow campers in the Santa Fe National Park, in New Mexico, at the Rainbow Gathering.

This gathering has been taking place every year since 1972. The bulk of the attendees are hippies from all over the country, joining together to live the hippie dream of peace and love. It is completely normal for people to walk around here in a chemically altered state of mind.

Understandably, many of the people here are searching for more meaning in their lives and it is common to randomly engage strangers in philosophical or religious conversations. The people we met were open to talk and many of them approached us with questions.

Our goal was to camp out together with some other Jewish campers who had set up a Jewish camp a few days prior to our arrival. Finding our campsite was difficult. There were lots of cars and parking was scarce. We had to rely on the directions of random passersby, and each person we asked gave us conflicting directions. One guy suggested we walk forty-five minutes up the hill, make a left at the meadow, and follow the path down the hill and there we would see a man with long hair and he could give us the next set of directions. We listened. In all, we ended up schlepping 200 lbs of stuff (camping gear, kosher food, prayerbooks, etc.) approximately seven miles through dense forest, stopping to don tefillin and talk with people on the way.

Even before we arrived, we knew that it would be a special Shabbat. Everyone was warm and friendly. "Welcome home" and "lovin' ya" were the most common words we heard. We caught on pretty quickly and soon we were spreading the love and talking with everyone we met

We arrived at the camp site one hour before Shabbat with just enough time to set up our tent and briefly meet our fellow campers.

Shabbat was spent praying, learning, talking and of course feasting.

We met all types: Jews who knew that they were Jewish, Jews who did not think that they were Jewish, and non-Jews who thought that they were. Whenever we spoke, people would gather around and listen to the Chassidic thoughts and Torah teachings that we shared. We had to wait until noon on Shabbat day before we were able to begin since there was a "moment" of silence all morning (six hours to be precise) in honor of world peace. Once that was done, we were back in business, chatting up random strangers.

It is an incredible experience to be able to talk so deeply and honestly with people we never met before. The openness was incredible and the entire experience is something that we could have scarcely imagined back in Brooklyn.

Peace out!

Jewish Life in Poznan

July 19, 2009

We just had an inspiring day in Poznan, Poland, a town with an incredibly rich past, about four hours west of Warsaw.

We first met the head of the community—a very energetic young lady in her mid-forties who is very optimistic about the future of her community. She showed us a room with a swimming pool that used to be a synagogue. She explained that the Nazis made it into a swimming pool. They built it in such a way that the pressure of the water keeps the building standing, so they can't even empty the water for long periods of time.

These same windows which presided over Jewish prayers for so many years now overlook a swimming pool.
These same windows which presided over Jewish prayers for so many years now overlook a swimming pool.

She then took us to the community center where a crowd of Jewish people were waiting for our visit.

We held afternoon Mincha services—the first in recent history. After the prayers, the attendees broke into a spontaneous dance. It was incredible; some of the dancers were elderly survivors, and others were young enough to be their grandkids.

Many of the men put on tefillin—some for the first time. After each first-timer donned tefillin, we all danced the hora with him to celebrate his belated bar mitzvah.

We then sat down for a meal where we sang Jewish songs and spoke words of Torah.

After installing a mezuzah on the entrance of the synagogue, we visited the newly restored Jewish cemetery which houses the resting place of Rabbi Akiva Eger, a great Talmudist who was the longtime rabbi of Poznan. We were told how the community had to fight long and hard to win the right to restore the site, which is in the backyard of an apartment building.

At the newly restored grave of Rabbi Akiva Eger.
At the newly restored grave of Rabbi Akiva Eger.

First Timers' First Day

July 17, 2009
The town's synagogue is under construction.
The town's synagogue is under construction.

We arrived in Zhmerinka, Ukraine, in an old beat-up minivan. The next day we were up bright and early, ready to tackle a foreign country speaking a foreign language. We set out to find Dmitry—the Rosh Hakahal—the head of the Jewish community—who would help us connect with fellow Jews.

Our phone conversation sounded like this:

Us: Dmitry?
He: Dah.
Us: Shalom!
Us: Yiddish?
He: Nyet.
Us: Hebrew, English, Spanish?

With the help of Mr. Berlitz and his pocket dictionary (for very big pockets), I managed to give him my phone number and we made up to meet later that day.

Then, armed with a list of all the Jewish residents of the town, we started trekking through the streets, trying to find someone Jewish.

We finally found a Jewish woman of about sixty living in an old tiny apartment. We asked her if she spoke Yiddish, Hebrew, or English, to which she replied, "nyet." We assured her that her English is better than our Russian, but she probably didn't understand. Feeling a bit discouraged, we gave her some Shabbat candles to light, and continued on our way.

Then, after another beautiful but non-communicative visit, we headed toward an internet café, hoping to find some more clues.

On the way, someone stopped us and gave us a small speech in Russian. We were a bit alarmed, but then he said the magic word, "Dmitry." We both said, "What?" "I Dmitry brother," said the Russian man. He signaled for us to follow him, and we arrived at Dmitry's house, where we put tefillin on with both of them.

Dmitry then communicated to us, between his broken Hebrew and English and a lot of gesturing, that he would take us to Uncle Fima, who speaks Yiddish.

On the way, a car honked at us, obviously Dimitri's friend. "Ivrie?" we shouted. "Da." "Oh, tefillin!" So together with Dmitry's friend, we headed to the synagogue to put tefillin on him. We then went to Uncle Fima's house, where we put tefillin on him and another of Dmitry's friends.

After a full day, we are beginning to feel that even if we can't always verbally communicate, our souls and their souls are conversing, because, in truth, we are all one.

We are starting to find our bearings.

Do svidaniya!

With Uncle Fima who speaks Yiddish.
With Uncle Fima who speaks Yiddish.

Post 3 of 3

July 16, 2009

Our first island excursion has come to an end, but not before we had the chance to pay six more delightful visits, putting up three more mezuzahs, donning tefillin another seven times and providing folks with a variety of Torah books.

On one of our visits, we met with Aaron, Alex, and Sarin who are all working on a resort project on the island. After a quick prayer in tefillin, affixing a mezuzah to the main office door, and giving some tzedakah, we sat down to talk. Alex told us that they are making plans to have a kosher kitchen and synagogue at the new resort they were working on. He then asked us if we would consider moving to the island to supervise their kosher kitchen. I said that I would need to think twice about that one!

A few stops later, we visited with Stan and Barbara. We sat and discussed Judaism on their back porch – with the most magnificent turquoise ocean view – for about two hours. Looking at His beautiful ocean, sure made it easy to talk about praying and connecting to G‑d!

We later visited with Tony, a Jamaican Jew of English (Ashkenazic) and Portuguese (Sefardic) descent. Tony admitted that he felt like he was "on an island" - not only physically, but Jewishly as well. He warmly welcomed our visit and wished to discuss many topics. He donned tefillin with an inspired interest and was happy to take one of each of the Jewish books we had to offer. Tony also asked us for a special favor: He told us that it would mean a lot to him if when we get to Nassau, Bahamas, we visit his mother's grave in the Jewish cemetery.

After visiting with Tony – an absolutely fascinating fellow – we were off to affix the mezuzah on our friend Oleg's front door. Oleg was very happy that we were in his house and warmly welcomed us in to sit and chat. We affixed the mezuzah and blessed the home with a quick l'chaim! Oleg told us of his Ukrainian-Jewish background and gave us a lift to our hotel.

Off to the Bahamas… Looking forward to posting from there!

Surf, Sun and Spirituality

July 15, 2009

People come here for fun in the sun and the salty waves of the Atlantic. What they do not expect is to find two guys with tefillin, mezuzot, Shabbat candles, and a quick word of Torah at the tip of their tongues. We spend a lot of time out and about meeting vacationers as well as the local vendors here—many of whom are Israelis.

The other day, we were talking to an Israeli friend of ours when we noticed a man staring at us. Never ones to be shy, we approached him and soon became fast friends. He told us that although he is not Jewish, his wife's family (with whom he is vacationing) is Jewish.

A little while later, his teenage son ambled over. He was curious about the tefillin we were carrying and was thrilled when we offered to help him put them on, for the first time in his life. You can imagine how shocked his mother and grandfather were when they came back to discover their son wearing a kipa and tefillin. Grandpa's eyes misted over as he remembered how his grandfather used to help him don tefillin at his bar mitzvah so many years back!

We gave them the contact info of their local Chabad center and we parted ways…

Roving With Reuben

July 15, 2009

Yesterday we visited Reuben in Cidra, PR. He is a very special man who has had a lot of trouble with his health over the past few years. He celebrated the past Shabbat with us in San Juan. In exchange, he begged us to visit him at his mountaintop home, an hour and a half drive south.

We made the trek up windy roads and dangerous cliffs, and at long last, arrived at the beautiful home which he had built. The house is decorated with classic judaica, including a menorah, and Jewish art. He was overjoyed to be able to offer us produce from his garden. The emotion was palpable as Reuben showed us the tefillin which he wears every morning.

Talk about isolation, Reuben tells us that he is the only Jew for an hour's drive in every direction. Can you imagine? When he lights his menorah, there is probably not another one within a hundred miles. Quite a far cry from the Midwestern suburbs where we grew up among kosher butcheries and bagel shops!

We climbed up on his roof overlooking a valley and took this picture together.
We climbed up on his roof overlooking a valley and took this picture together.

What's a Nice Jewish Boy Doing With a Gun?

July 14, 2009 1:42 PM

Hey. We just started roving today. Our first stop is a city called Tombstone, AZ. It's a real Wild West city with rough looking guys sporting rifles and 10-gallon-Stetsons. We had heard that there was a Jewish section in the old cemetery so we decided to visit and recite some Psalms—after all, the town was not named Tombstone for nothing!

Put down your weapon and roll up your sleeve.
Put down your weapon and roll up your sleeve.

We asked a cowboy if he knew where it was. He told us that he did and that he was (gasp) Jewish. He divides his time between doing real cowboy things and standing around town looking nonchalant. He offered us free tickets to his shooting exhibition (which we declined) and we offered him the opportunity to put on tefillin (which he accepted). He told us that it wasn't his first time: some Chabad guys in an RV in New York had done the same thing with him when he was there a few years back…

Dedicated to the Jewish pioneers and their Indian friends.
Dedicated to the Jewish pioneers and their Indian friends.

When we got to the cemetery we discovered a startling fact. Nobody in these parts ever died: They were all killed by Indians or their fellow cowboys.

Lightning Doesn't Strike the Same Place Twice

Divine Providence Does!

July 13, 2009

Let me share a story.

There is a Jewish man named Manuel who lives in Switzerland. He just happens to have inherited a home in Sitia, Crete, where he and his daughter spend three weeks every summer. At any given time during the course of these three weeks, he always makes a point to visit an elderly man by the name of Costas, who owns a jewelry store in Heraklion—about a two-hour drive. Costas is a sweet old man, a Holocaust survivor, and an old friend of Manuel's parents. These visits usually span no more than an hour, after which Manuel and his daughter return home.

In other words, Manuel is in Heraklion, Crete, for one hour a year.

Last year, lightning struck.

Exactly at the same time Manuel was visiting, two Roving Rabbis, Avremi Gitler and Chesky Klein, walked into Costas's store, to visit the only known Jewish resident of Heraklion. They helped Manuel don tefillin for the first time in his life.

Fast-forward one year. My friend, Avi Shlomo, and I are visiting Greece. Unlike previous years, when the Roving Rabbis visit to Crete was the final leg of their Greek odyssey, car troubles forced us to change our plans, and we traveled to Crete during the first week of our tour. After a two-day stay in Chania, we took a three-hour bus ride to Heraklion.

We arrived at Costas's store and Manuel and his teenage daughter just happened to be there again! He could not believe it, and literally couldn't find the words to explain the meaning of this meeting. After a a very emotional prayer, during which he unsuccessfully tried to hold back his tears, Manuel told us that he was sure that there is Someone higher and greater playing a part in his life journey.

The story doesn't end there, earlier that day we had bought boat tickets to take us back to Athens—an eight-hour ride. Yes, you guessed it, Manuel had also bought tickets on that exact same boat!

As Costas told us before we left, "Whenever you guys come here to visit me, I feel warm for a few weeks afterwards. And today, the hair on my arm is literally tingling."

How Shabbat Came to Provo

July 12, 2009

After a day full of visits and mitzvot, we returned to our hotel late Thursday evening with a problem on our minds. We wanted to invite some of our new friends for Shabbat services and dinner but had nowhere to host them. As we passed the hotel bar, the matzah ball loving bartender (whom we mentioned in our last post), introduced us to Rick and Sandy, a Jewish couple that lives on the island part time. They also happen to be the owners of the hotel where we are staying. We asked if we could host Shabbat dinner at the poolside, and they agreed.

Friday morning we set off to the airport to purchase tickets for the next leg of our trip. As we searched for the Air Turks and Caicos counter, we met Gil, who greeted us in Hebrew with a magnificent smile! He accepted our invitation to don tefillin and half way through Shema, he became emotional and tears filled his eyes. He informed us how thankful he was for having met us. In his words, "It had been a long time."

We help Gil don tefillin right in the airport.
We help Gil don tefillin right in the airport.

Next we met another Jewish islander named Debby. Turns out that she serves as director of development at Air Turks and Caicos, the airline we tried to buy tickets from but whose ticket counter we could not find. Debby tapped a few keys on her keyboard as we chatted in her office. After we left, Debby called saying she had gotten us free tickets to Nassau! On the way back to the hotel we paid a visit to some of our new Israeli friends to inform them of the time and location of dinner and to affix a mezuzah on their office door.

Installing a mezuzah in the office of an Israeli construction company.
Installing a mezuzah in the office of an Israeli construction company.

We returned to our hotel room—which by now was doubling, tripling and quadrupling as an office, a synagogue, and a full service kitchen—to prepare for Shabbat.

As the sun set, and our guests came trooping in, we felt a magical calm descend upon us. One of our guests, named Shlomy, mentioned that he had been stuck on another island when his friend called to tell him that he bought him a ticket for 5:00 p.m. to get him here before Shabbat. He wasn't sure why, but he knew there was a "very good" reason he needed to be here for Friday night. When he arrived, he was absolutely stunned to hear about our Shabbat dinner, something he used to do all the time. After the last Shabbat song faded away and the guests went home, Shlomy remained behind to discuss Judaism until the wee hours of the morning.

The table is set, and we are in our Shabbat best.
The table is set, and we are in our Shabbat best.

Providence on Provo

July 10, 2009

After two days of traveling, as a result of several flight delays and missed connections, we arrived in a small island called Provo (that is short for Providenciales). Apparently there aren't many sets of twins in these parts—we were asked if we were twins five times before we even left the airport. And we are not twins!

While the island is beautiful, we had no idea where to begin and where to go. We checked into our hotel and quickly set out to explore and see if we could find some fellow Jews. First stop the local supermarket. Oddly enough, we found Manischewitz chicken soup and Rokeach Chanukah candles, but not one person seemed to know any Jewish people on the island!

After realizing that 60% of the kosher food we shlepped with us we could have bought right here on the island, we returned to our hotel. As we were passing the hotel bar, the bar tender mentioned his love for matzah balls, so we stopped to chat. As it turns out, there was a Jewish tourist sitting right behind us. Her ears perked up, and she soon joined the conversation. As a journalist, she took an active interest in the various communities she would visit, and, as such, she was a veritable fount of information. She provided us with several Jewish contacts and even phone numbers. No longer were we worried about where to start!
Looking to report more soon...

We could have bought many of these items right here on the island.
We could have bought many of these items right here on the island.

We Meet the Lt. Governor of Montana

July 9, 2009 5:00 PM
Rabbis Leibel Kahanov and Ephraim Zimmerman pose with the Lt. Governor of Montana, Mr. John Bohlinger
Rabbis Leibel Kahanov and Ephraim Zimmerman pose with the Lt. Governor of Montana, Mr. John Bohlinger

This afternoon, we had delightful meeting with Mr. John Bohlinger. (And no, the buffalo was not allowed to say anything.)

Crazy Stories

July 9, 2009 4:00 PM
This town has a rich Jewish history and still has an ancient stone synagogue.
This town has a rich Jewish history and still has an ancient stone synagogue.

We were on a busy street corner helping an Israeli tourist put on tefillin. Suddenly, I felt a tap on the shoulder. I spun around and came face to face with a wizened old man. After I had finished with my first "customer," the old man told me that he was born in Romania, had subsequently moved to Philly, and now lives in Israel.

"Today is my birthday, and I want to celebrate it by putting on tefillin. You know, I have not done this since my bar mitzvah. I am seventy-nine years old today, so you can do the math and figure out how long it has been…"

We happily complied.

The breathtaking beauty draws tourists from all over the world to this town nestled in the Croatian coast.
The breathtaking beauty draws tourists from all over the world to this town nestled in the Croatian coast.

The other day, we were hanging out in the ancient synagogue of Dubrovnik—a great place to meet people—and we offered a gentleman the opportunity to put on tefillin. He refused.

Five minutes later he came back and told us that he changed his mind. After donning tefillin, reciting Shema and the Amidah prayer, he told us his story:

"I grew up in Baltimore, and my parents did not get along with the members of the neighborhood synagogue. When I was eleven, my parents traveled to Brooklyn to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe told my mother the he sensed something bothering her. She replied that she was worried about where her son would celebrate his bar mitzvah. The Rebbe suggested that they hold it in his own synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway.

"And so it was. A year and a half later, we came back to Brooklyn. I got the second aliyah (since our family is Levite), and the Rebbe had the third!"

Pita and Schnitzel for Cheap!

July 8, 2009 5:00 PM
A tourist in our Chabad House (2008).
A tourist in our Chabad House (2008).

Welcome to Agia Napa, Cyprus! This town does not have a single synagogue or even a Torah scroll; yet every summer, it fills up with thousands of young Israeli tourists—most of them packing in their last few months of fun before they are drafted to the IDF.

Five other yeshiva students and I are here operating the summer Chabad House. We are a colorful group: Yosef Levin and Nachum Pinson are from Brooklyn, NY; Yisrael Malka and Mendy Abayev are from Israel; Shmuel Pinson is from France. And I am from Tzefat, in the Galilee.

When we arrived, we met Yisrael and Mendy who had already rented the building where we set up shop. They also brought a Torah scroll, prayer books, kipas and other essentials.

So there is no air-conditioning here and the heat is oppressive, but there is a special energy in the air. Every day, we meet groups of Israeli kids. We invite them to don tefillin, and visit our makeshift Chabad Center.

That was how we met Yariv. He said that he never had a bar mitzvah. We wrapped him up and held an impromptu celebration. I am sure that his parents will be surprised when they see the pictures…

This past Shabbat we had 120 guests! We ate, sang, prayed and celebrated our Jewish heritage like never before.

If you plan on visiting, our Chabad House is right off the central square. This year, there is no restaurant, but there is schnitzel, pita and salad for a reasonable price, 24 hour Jewish music and the best atmosphere you could possibly imagine. So if you or your friends are thinking of visiting Cyprus, make sure to look us up!


Shmuel Chitrik

Kosher in the Caribbean

July 8, 2009 4:00 PM
We seal each and every package ensuring that they contain only kosher ingredients from the Chabad kitchen.
We seal each and every package ensuring that they contain only kosher ingredients from the Chabad kitchen.

So Jews go on vacation, and vacationers need food. But where can you get kosher food in the Caribbean? One of the many changes that came about since Rabbi and Mrs. Zarchi arrived in Puerto Rico 10 years ago to establish the Chabad center is the availability of fresh, delicious kosher food delivered all over the islands.

A Jewish tourist from Palm Springs, CA receives his kosher delivery at the El San Juan Hotel.
A Jewish tourist from Palm Springs, CA receives his kosher delivery at the El San Juan Hotel.

These kosher kits go quite far. In fact, we were told that some of them have even been sent into communist Cuba!

One of the upshots of being based out of a Chabad center that doubles as a catering company is the full time chef. This is a far cry from the chicken and rice fare we know so well from yeshivah. The other day, we asked the chef for something to drink. The only problem is that she does not speak English, and we know no Spanish. In response to our gestures and motions, she bustled into the kitchen and returned triumphantly bearing a bottle of vodka! Good guess, but not quite what we were looking for.


The Beach Boys "Wrap"

July 7, 2009 3:51 PM

You Never Know...

July 6, 2009

Hi everybody,

This little anecdote happened to us this past Friday.

We had been given the address of a Russian-Jewish family who lived on the sixth floor of a large apartment building. In the elevator, we accidentally pushed the button for the seventh floor. Unaware of our mistake, we got off the elevator and knocked on the last door in the hall. A man sporting a flowing muslim robe and a scraggly beard opened the door.

"Excuse me," Chaim said, "We were looking for Jewish people." We began to retreat when he called us back, "Wait, but my wife is Jewish!" We politely asked to speak to her. He called his wife to the door and to our surprise we saw that she was a middle aged American woman.

In the course of our conversation, she told us that she had been married to a Jewish man for thirty years until he passed away. After that, she lost interest in Judaism and eventually married her current husband. She does not consider herself Muslim but is not involved with the Jewish community anymore. We had a wonderful conversation with both of them, left them some literature and went to prepare for Shabbat.

I hope that there will be a sequel to this story, but that's all for now.

Speaking from Spokane

July 5, 2009
Herbs and…tefillin!
Herbs and…tefillin!

Mendel Dalfin and I arrived in Spokane last Sunday. Looking back at our first week, it sure is different from last year's roving in Lake Worth Florida, where we could practically go door to door and meet Jews more often than not.

Spokane is absolutely gorgeous, with great scenery and open country surrounding you from all sides, but the Jewish population is small and thinly spread. It's not so easy to find fellow Jews. It gets real tough/challenging to spend an entire day on the road and not even meet a single Jew! But when we do meet someone, now, that is rewarding!

Today was a great day.

Wearing tefillin for the first time in his life
Wearing tefillin for the first time in his life

We celebrated two Bar Mitzvahs: One was in Starbucks. We met Morty, who after a long heart-to-heart conversation donned tefillin for his first time. Later in the day, Roger did this special mitzvah for the first time in his life as well! Other highlights of the day included installing two mezuzahs and signing up three children to receive their own letters in the Children's Sefer Torah.

Yesterday, we met Jill in Idaho. She is the only (known) Jew in her area and is surrounded by potatoes and cornfields on all sides. She wants to further her Jewish studies, but lives very far from any sort of Jewish infrastructure. We suggested that she enroll with JNet.org to study Torah over the phone, and she happily accepted.

Looking forward to reporting more exciting happenings as they happen,

Mendy Singer

How Did We Get Here?

July 2, 2009
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, aided by his son, Rabbi Mendy, and Rabbi Schneor Nejar prepares rovers for their summer’s work.
Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, aided by his son, Rabbi Mendy, and Rabbi Schneor Nejar prepares rovers for their summer’s work.

So the rovers are roving, but how did they get there and who makes it all happen? As the rovers hit the road two at a time, we take you behind the scenes to see how it all happens.

With his unique blend of wry humor and can-do attitude, Rabbi Mendel Kotlarsky ensures that everything moves along smoothly.
With his unique blend of wry humor and can-do attitude, Rabbi Mendel Kotlarsky ensures that everything moves along smoothly.

While summer is still a dream in the Brooklyn chill, Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of the educational and social arms of Chabad Lubavitch International - who has supervised the Roving Rabbis program for over 25 years - and his staff evaluate which countries will be receiving visitors.

One by one, the aspiring rovers, bearing letters from their respective yeshivas attesting to their scholarship and permitting them to take off the summer session, come marching in for personal meetings with Rabbi Kotlarsky. In his trademark avuncular style, he gets to know each boy a bit and shares tips from his years traveling the planet as a Chabad Lubavitch representative.

Then the fun begins, and the students are matched up with countries. Factors such as language fluency, experience, and personal preferences are all carefully weighed.

And then, one fine morning in the spring, an email goes out to all the boys informing them of where they will spend their summer months. In yeshivas all over the world, news passes quickly: "Did you hear who is going to Taiwan?" "I am excited to be going to New Jersey" "Who is going to India this year?"

Always at his desk and ready to help, Rabbi Schneor Nejar.
Always at his desk and ready to help, Rabbi Schneor Nejar.

As anticipation builds, a day is scheduled for the soon-to-be-rovers to come together for an afternoon of inspiration, training, practical tips, and experience sharing.

This year's conference took place last Thursday, just as Chabad Chassidim all over the globe were also gathering together to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the Rebbe's passing. A highlight of the conference was an address by one of the early Roving Rabbis, the chairman of the educational and social arms of Chabad Lubavitch International, Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky. He shared his personal musings and memories.

Now, after a few days of shopping and meeting with their predecessors for tips and contacts, the Roving Rabbis are ready to rove. They have booked their flights and rental cars, and made advance phone calls letting people know when they will be in town.

As the taxis laden with kosher food, fedoras, mezuzot, matza, Shabbat candles, and rabbis head toward JFK, the staff members in Brooklyn remain at their posts offering technical and moral support to the Roving Rabbis.

A Memorable Memorial

July 1, 2009

Over sixty years after the Holocaust, Poland is building a Museum of the History of Polish Jews. Yesterday, amidst pomp, ceremony, and media coverage, the cornerstone for the museum (which is expected to open in 2011) was laid. The museum commemorates the rich Jewish heritage of the past, the pious Jews whose blood soaked the very earth upon which the museum will stand. American and Israeli cantors sang songs and important people made speeches.

Some of the crowd attending the ceremony.
Some of the crowd attending the ceremony.

But what of the future? Dovid and I decided to attend the event, tefillin in tow. What better way is there to memorialize our ancestors than with the tefillin which they faithfully wore as they prayed to G‑d during the pogroms throughout the ages and during the darkest days in the Warsaw Ghetto?

In the sunny square overshadowed by the towering monument to those who died in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, we met many elderly Jews who remembered prewar Warsaw—the great center of Jewish life, scholarship, and culture—home to over 350,000 Jews. Laying tefillin in the streets of Poland is the surest way of showing that no one can snuff out the Jewish spark. Potentates come and go but the Jewish people will live forever!

A journalist managed to snap a photo of us which we later found had made it to the AFP coverage of the event.

Tefillin in hand, Dovid Blecher and Yaakov Yosef Raskin are ready to rove!
Tefillin in hand, Dovid Blecher and Yaakov Yosef Raskin are ready to rove!

Intermountain Jewish News
September 05 2019
Estevan Mercury - SK, Canada
August 15 2019
August 14 2019
Battlefords News-Optimist - SK, Canada
August 13 2019
Post-Dispatch - S. Louis, MO
August 06 2019
Related Topics