As the summer draws to a close, a veritable army of rabbinical students are once again concluding their tours of communities large and small around the globe, leaving trails of life-changing moments of Jewish inspiration and renewal in their collective wake.

This year, Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, sent close to 400 such students – appropriately known as the “Roving Rabbis” – to remote locations not served by full-time rabbis.

“It’s all about Jewish people meeting Jewish people,” said Rabbi Menachem Posner, editor of the Roving Rabbis blog hosted by Jewish website Chabad.org, a forum where selected young rabbis-in-training share their experiences on the road with readers.

The program “gives a guy who grew up in Brooklyn a chance to meet people who are really different,” continued Posner. “It bridges the gaps created by geography and culture.”

But not every of the Roving Rabbis grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, and his staff matched up two students for every region, using a host of considerations, including the ability to speak the native language.

Toive Weitman and Simcha Begun travelled through Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras for more than four weeks this summer. Both grew up in Brazil as the children of Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries and are fluent in both Portuguese and Spanish.

In El Salvador, they met with the Israeli ambassador, and in Honduras, they spent time in the cities of S. Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa, neither of which have an official rabbi.

“We sold more than 30 mezuzahs,” said Weitman, referring to the biblically-mandated parchment that is placed on the doorways of Jewish-owned homes and businesses. “People need them and are looking for them.”

(The Roving Rabbis always come with a large stash of Jewish ritual items like candlesticks, mezuzahs and the black prayer boxes known as tefillin, as well as educational books.)

After a short speech to a group of Jews in Tegucigalpa, locals asked Weitman and Begun to come back the next night and speak for more than an hour on a range of topics. They even requested them to return for High Holiday services next month. Weitman said he’ll likely head back for Yom Kippur.

“They really enjoyed every minute,” he said.

The pair’s other events included an emotional private meeting in Honduras with Gilberto Goldstein, president of the Honduras Sugar Producers Association and one of the country’s wealthiest citizens.

“It’s a very big pleasure to receive” emissaries of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, Goldstein told the young men. “Yesterday, the president of Honduras was in my house, but it’s so much more important to receive you.”

Moises Stayerman of S. Pedro Sula, who regularly drives such rabbinical students from their airport to the hotel, said that he looks forward to the visit every year.

“They remind me that I have to do good deeds to have a good life,” said Stayerman. “They approach my spiritual side to have a good life. I’m really looking forward to [having them back].”

Inspirational Meetings

As part of the Roving Rabbis program, each visit is prepared like a military mission. Regularly-updated contact lists make it easier for the students to find local Jews, many of whom have only tangential contact with the outside Jewish world.

Berel Namdar and his colleague drove seven hours to visit three Jewish residents of Uppsala, Sweden: two Israelis and an elderly Polish woman who settled in Sweded after the Holocaust.

“She lights Friday night candles from the memory of her grandmother doing so before war,” Namdar, who was raised in Gothenberg, Sweden, said of the woman. “We sat down with her and put up a mezuzah in the house with her. It was very special.”

While visiting Mississippi this summer, Mendel Kesselman and Moishe Vogel struck a strong emotional chord in one middle-aged businessman.

They were chatting when suddenly, the man burst into tears and cried. He cited his drifting away from religion as the source of his sadness.

“We were strengthening him and giving him some support,” said Kesselman.

Stories of spiritual renewal are commonplace amongst the Roving Rabbis, whose Jewish passion rarely fails to produce strong emotional reactions in Jews from across the religious spectrum.

Barney Fyman grew up in Queens, New York, but moved to Sweden 20 years ago after meeting his Swedish-born wife on a kibbutz in Israel. He said that although life is good in Sweden, he misses Judaism in his part of the country. Namdar’s visit was the first time a rabbi came to his house.

“It was really so special to have a class out here in the woods, really in the sticks,” said Fyman, who works as an attorney. “It was a different feeling that going out to the Chabad House [in Gothenberg]. It really felt like there was a light coming into the darkness.”

Fyman, who owns a pair of tefillin but hadn’t put them on regularly in years, said that something about Namdar’s visit compelled him to do more.

“After this visit, I’ve put them on every morning,” said Fyman. “I plan on keeping it up. In fact, [Berel] suggested I have them checked [by a ritual scribe], but now I don’t want to give them up!”