By John Molseed – Post Bulletin
Two rabbis walked into the Spam Museum.
It’s not a setup for a joke. The museum in Austin was one of the dozens of places two rabbinical graduates have visited in Southern Minnesota the last two weeks.
Rabbis Mendel Levertov, of Santa Fe, N.M., and Moshe Spalter, of San Jose, Costa Rica, spent two weeks in Minnesota reaching out to Minnesota Jews. The two, both 22 years old, were visiting the area as “Roving Rabbis” — an outreach and educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch Orthodox Jewish movement.
They were based at Chabad Southern Minnesota in Rochester.
“The goal is to make Judaism accessible and relevant to every Jew, wherever they may be,” said Rabbi Shloime Greene, outreach director at Chabad Southern Minnesota.
As part of the program, young Chabad rabbis travel to remote areas or small communities to meet Jewish people living there.
“We want to meet every single Jew and light their fire about Judaism,” Levertov said.
Outreach is the key for the “Roving Rabbis” and Chabad centers generally.
Dressed in traditional Jewish garb, complete with Tallit prayer shawl and Tzitzit tassels, Levertov and Spalter easily are recognized as Jewish. That helps them catch attention of other Jews and represent the faith to the general public.
For most Jews they meet, the traditional dress is appreciated, Levertov said. Some casual, lapsed or nonpracticing Jews sometimes can be intimidated by Orthodox Jews. Chabad Jews, with their mission to reach out and listen are quick to put fellow Jews at ease.
“We just do a little something of Judaism, whatever it is, whatever they need,” Spalter said.
“Once they come in contact with the Chabad, they start losing a bit of the intimidation,” Levertov said. “To just stop a moment and pray, you never know how far that will go.”
Younger people have been especially receptive to getting closer to their faith, Levertov said.
“Generally, I think there’s been a spiritual reawakening in the United States,” he said. “More Jews are coming back; more Jews want more Judaism.”
Of more than 50 stops and visitations in the region, the pair have found welcoming communities at every one and Jews in nearly each one. They didn’t find anyone in Lewiston, they said.
“Not yet, shall I say?” Levertov said.
Levertov and Spalter were among 350 Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical students who have been dispatched throughout the world and in all 50 U.S. states this year. The outreach was founded in 1943 by Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
The two conclude their Minnesota visit Wednesday. Before returning to their Chabad school in Brooklyn, N.Y., Spalter will travel to jails and prisons around the U.S. to visit incarcerated Jews. Levertov will return to New Mexico. After that, they’re prepared to go anywhere.
“The more places you visit, the more you gain,” Levertov said.