With two weeks left on their itineraries, rabbinical students are continuing their global travels to strengthen Jewish life in remote communities and reach the unaffiliated in established ones. More than 300 young men, affectionately referred to as Roving Rabbis, departed on their journeys several weeks ago under the direction of Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice-chairman of Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch.

The students are recording their encounters on a blog at RovingRabbis.com, and their efforts have been garnering the attention of local media.

“[They] were in town as part of an effort in which rabbis-in-training go to places in China, India and rural Northern California, where Jewish communities are small and members supposedly have lost touch with their roots,” writes the Chico News and Review in California.

Rabbis Chaim Cohen of Montreal and Berel Kesselman of London are trekking around small Jewish communities in Idaho.

“Our goal is to make Judaism accessible, inviting and relevant to every Jew, everywhere,” Rabbi Mendel Lifshitz of Chabad-Lubavitch of Idaho told the Idaho State Journal. “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.”

In Zhitomir, Ukraine, a city with no permanent rabbi but home to a beautiful and historic synagogue, students Yaakov Yehudah Hecht and Benji Licht inspired locals.

“It is incredible that you came here,” one person told them. “Once again, there can be Jewish life in this city. You show people how to be proud to be Jewish, and you do mitzvahs with them.”

In Russia, specially designed mobile synagogues known as Mitzvah Tanks are fanning out through some 50 cities and towns.

“The residents of various Russian cities are now meeting mitzvah-mobiles in their streets,” reports the Voice of Russia. “On Monday, mobile-synagogues equipped with everything needed to conduct an educational mission left Moscow along three directions, south, north-west and east. The move is aimed at awakening the interest of Russian Jews in their religion’s history and traditions.”

“We arrive in a city and make two stopovers,” Yosef Khersonsky tells the radio station. “The first one is with the Jewish community where we meet with those who have realized the importance of Jewish traditions to their life. The second one is held in an open secular place in the city, and we are talking to those who have responded to our call to meet us.”

In an article tiled “Rabbis Tour to Reconnect with Jews,” the Australian newspaper The Standard similarly reports that “a pair of young roving rabbis are visiting Warrnambool to reconnect isolated Jews to their roots and heritage this week.”

“We generally always see the same reaction,” Zalmy Shemtov tells the paper. “They are surprised we’ve come and pleased to see us. Sometimes just seeing us makes them feel reconnected to Judaism.”

In Hyderabad, India, with only a short notice, the students visited a Jewish woman on the way to the airport.

“While discussing her Jewish upbringing in the States,” Mendel Konikov writes on the Roving Rabbis blog, “it turned out that she was born and bred in Natick, MA, the very town where my partner Mendel Fogelman lives with his family.”

As they make their rounds through cities large and small, rabbinical students help Jewish residents affix mezuzahs to their doorposts.
As they make their rounds through cities large and small, rabbinical students help Jewish residents affix mezuzahs to their doorposts.

Fogelman and Konikov traveled 15 hours and across 10 time zones to meet a Jew from their own backyard.

“It’s a small world,” remarks Konikov, “but sometimes you have to travel all the way to India to really experience that.” Towards the end of the visit, “we discussed the importance of lighting the Shabbat candles, which she agreed to do, starting this Shabbat.”

In Texas, The San Antonio Express-News reports that two student rabbis have been making the rounds, offering Jewish homeowners the chance to place mezuzahs on their doorposts.

Isabelle Forman’s home had two existing mezuzahs. One was good, but the other lacked the parchment scroll inside. The visiting rabbis-in-training took care of it.

“I feel like you can put up security devices and locks to feel very protected about a house,” Forman tells the paper, comparing a mezuzah to a security system. “I really do believe it’s G‑d who protects us, and it’s good to be on his side.”

Over in Castleblaney, Ireland, visiting students had some explaining to do with an Israeli expatriate, whose father had sent him a pair of the prayer boxes known as tefillin.

“When Yoram was ready to put on tefillin, he proudly procured his own beautifully-made pair, given to him by his father,” Dovid Blecher and Osher Gutnick write in the blog. “But when we removed their plastic coverings, Yoram appeared shocked. ‘Why are you taking those off?’ he asked.”

The students explained to him that tefillin are worn directly on the body, specifically with nothing separating them from the arm and head.

The next day Yoram reported back that he put the tefillin on correctly.

“I’m in Ireland 26 years now and never felt so close to Judaism,” he said. “I cried with excitement. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”