While en route from Chicago to Minneapolis last weekend, three guys in a Dodge Sprinter heard about a small town halfway to their destination. They decided to pull over for a few hours, still eager to reach the Twin Cities in time for Shabbat. Though they found themselves in Wisconsin Dells, water park capital of the world, their appearance made a splash of a decidedly non-aquatic nature.
The trio, Rabbis Meyer New, Levi Dubrawsky, and Dov Barber, are on a mission to inspire the performance of 1,000 good deeds. The “Road Sages,” as they have dubbed themselves, are chugging across 8,000 miles and 30 states in pursuit of that goal. Their detour to the small Wisconsin hamlet turned out to be no deviation after all.
“We heard that there were many Jews living and working in the Dells,” explains New, “so we walked down the main street in search of them.”
They found only a handful, until they stumbled across a small group of Israeli shop owners. The locals dragged them to their Jewish club, which turned out to be a temporary Chabad center frequented occasionally by Chabad’s representative to Madison. It was just that morning that one of the store-owners’ wives had begged the Madison rabbi to send them some yeshiva students for Shabbat.
And here they were, literally on their doorstep. “We had such a beautiful Shabbat,” New reminisces. “We helped them make a minyan, sat at a Shabbat table with 30 other Jews, and gave a Torah class on Shabbat afternoon. We were complete strangers when we arrived, but we left like family.”
The Sage Coach, a 20-foot van, continued on its way after Shabbat. Using their GPS, the three rabbis headed west in search of more Jewish people and more mitzvoth.
“Our journey is inspired by last year’s events in Mumbai,” says Dubrawsky. “By doing 1,000 mitzvoth across the country, we are trying to show the unity that connects everyone throughout America. We are trying to spread the light to people from all walks of life, in cities large and small.”
To that end, the three have helped people put on Tefillin, passed out Shabbat candlesticks, and discussed Judaism with interested locals across half the country. They met with folks in Jewish Community Centers in Akron and Canton, Ohio. Jewish fairgoers in Fort Wayne, Indiana approached their van and performed good deeds. In San Francisco, the young rabbis organized 20 spontaneous bar mitzvahs and met with hundreds of coaches and players participating in the annual Maccabi games.
And yesterday, they met an elderly Italian Jew at a roadside rest stop on a deserted California highway. He approached their colorful van and started talking to them in his childhood tongue, Yiddish. The four shared a “nice long conversation,” says Dubrawsky.
The trip itself is part of the fun. While driving, the three research their destination’s Jewish community and communal areas. They also get in touch with the local Chabad representative to see where to go. And sometimes they just have some downtime, enjoying a good book or blogging about the previous day’s adventures.
“We are driving the perfect vehicle for our cause,” states New. “Behind the spacious driving cabin is a really nice set-up with a screen, table, and benches for people to hop on and do mitzvoth.”
When an adult or child performs a good deed, the rabbis present him with a colorful, plastic wristband, inscribed with the words, “I did a Mitzvah with the Road Sages.” The bracelet is given on condition that the receiver passes the mitzvah spirit along to a third person, thereby doubling the road sages’ impact on communities throughout North America. The rabbis brought 4,000 plastic wristlets with them; a new order has been made to replenish their shrinking supply.
The Road Sages are sponsored by the Lubavitch Youth Organization, a Brooklyn-based association that supports educational and social service initiatives throughout the country.
The Sage Coach spent last night in the shop, getting an oil change and a tune-up. “Regular stuff for a van that has driven 4,000 miles,” says Dubrawsky. But even as the three are raring to get back behind the wheel, they are spending the night in search of the elusive Jew and the potential for one more mitzvah.