Rabbis Mendel Slonim and Berel Marozov are spending two weeks in rural Arizona this summer finding and connecting with rural Jews.
“There are many connections to be made, and many Jewish people to reach,” said Marozov, 21.
Slonim, 21, agreed. “Who knows the last time they saw a Jewish person, or the last time they conversed with a Jewish person? It’s like visiting a real far-off brother and sister.”
Slonim and Marozov are among 250 young rabbis participating nationally in Chabad’s 78-year-old Roving Rabbis program. Their mission is to connect with as many isolated Jews as possible and give them access to Judaism — something not readily available — throughout the year, they said.
Slonim, from Binghamton, New York, and Marozov, from Cleveland, Ohio, began their work in the Kingman area Aug. 1, and are set to visit more than 40 cities over the next two weeks.
Finding Jews in rural areas takes some dedication and creativity.
The two rabbis have a list of people from previous years, and will knock on doors. They also plan to find Jews using word of mouth, and have gone through the phone book looking for Jewish-sounding names.
Chabad of Paradise Valley Rabbi Shlomy Levertov, who was a roving rabbi himself in 2008, has been helping participants assigned to Arizona with their trip logistics for over a decade.
He recalled one episode in which a roving rabbi saw a Jewish-sounding name on the back of a car driving by, which seemed associated with a law firm. “So they called it, and the guy was so excited he literally pulled over on the side of the highway and they started chatting,” he said. “There’s always many different opportunities.”
Reaching out and connecting with Jews who live in rural places is important for the individual as well as the Jewish community as a whole, he said.
Levertov said one woman in Dolan Springs sends a letter every year after her visit with the roving rabbis to express her delight and desire to have more visits from rabbis throughout the year.
“A lot of people are Jewish in these towns and they’re alone — there’s nothing catering to their needs as a Jew,” he said.
The Roving Rabbis’ program is important to the Jewish community because “we’re all one family,” Levertov said, and everybody needs to be catered to.
Slonim has been to Arizona several times before to visit family, but the heat still takes some getting used to. “We’re coping,” he said, noting there have been times he wished for a dry heat during humid New York summers.
It’s Marozov’s first time in the Grand Canyon state, and he is enjoying the hills and mountains compared to Cleveland’s flat landscape. JN