By Justin Huntsdale – ABC
New York City Rabbi Shalom Brook probably doesn’t know what it’s like to feel isolated – he comes from one of the most densely populated areas of the USA, and is one of 15 children.
But along with his childhood friend Rabbi Naftali Minkowitz, he’s on a spiritual journey to bring Judaism to some of the rural areas of the New South Wales South Coast.
“No one has their own Jewish soul – it’s split up and everyone got a piece of it, so everyone’s part of a larger Jewish soul,” he says.
“It’s in the bones and everyone feels where another Jew is, but I have no doubt there are Jews in all these cities we’re not finding yet.”
Together they do their best to find them all, usually steered in the right direction by a local Jewish leader.
From there, they do what rabbis are trained to do – offer spiritual guidance and friendship, something especially important in towns where there isn’t a large Jewish community.
It’s all part of an outreach program run by the Chabad of Rara – a organisation committed to providing spiritual services to Jewish people living away from major Jewish centres.
“We’ll speak about anything they’re interested in, but our message to them is we live in a dark world and through acts of goodness and kindness, any of these small actions a person may do brings a lot of light into this dark world,” Rabbi Naftali says.
“[I told Rabbi Shalom] I had a wonderful opportunity where we can take everything we’ve learnt over the last eight to nine years and help Jewish people who live in isolated communities and give back what we have.”
They had a particularly enlightening experience at Mogo, a small town on the South Coast south of Batemans Bay.
In a bookshop, they met a Jewish man who had recently visited a synagogue in New York City.
Out of the thousands of synagogues in New York, he visited one just five blocks from where the rabbis live.
“I really like it out here and I love the small towns,” Rabbi Naftali says.
“Everything in New York is commercialised and everything’s a chain store.
“I love being able to support the small businesses because it’s new to me, and seeing all the farm land. In Brooklyn I’ve barely got a patch of grass in front of my house.”
They say they’ve had to adjust to the early closing times of some shops, noting they need to buy a coffee before 3pm to avoid missing out.