They may be in Thessaloniki or in the foothills of the Himalayas, but emissaries-to-be in the Rebbe’s Army — as befits the high tech-savvy Chabad movement — are online all the while.
This summer in Chabad’s long-running “Roving Rabbis” program, in which rabbis-in-training are dispatched to far-flung locales to help out local emissaries, they are also assigned to blog about their experiences of the movement’s flagship site, chabad.org.
The posts tell riveting stories of survival during the Holocaust and simple ones of Jews living life far off the beaten path.
This year, in the program’s 64th summer of operation, 400 rabbis and students visited 34 countries worldwide, as well as regions of America. Their goals? Cater to the specific needs of local Jewish communities, no matter how small or how secular.
“The impact these visits have had upon the lives of hundreds of thousands worldwide are legend,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, chairman of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries. “The yeshiva students are full of youthful vigor and enthusiasm, a deeply ingrained sense of mission and lots of love for fellow man.”
Walking through the ancient streets of Ioannina, a city in northwest Greece, Rabbi Laima Barber, 24, suddenly felt the piercing stare of an elderly woman, who began pointing at him and yelling desperately, “Israel, Israel?”
Those were the only words of English she knew, but she rolled up her sleeve and motioned toward the numbers etched into her forearm, numbers that had come from Auschwitz.
“I knew that each one of those numbers told a story,” said Rabbi Barber, “No words had to be exchanged.”
Devoting his summer to Jews in Greece, Rabbi Barber, helped out in Jewish communities both large and small, like Ioannina, which has a population of only 15 to 20 Jews and one standing synagogue, he said.
In another city — Thessaloniki — Rabbi Barber met with an 80-year-old man who had survived Bergen Belsen, and on the island of Crete, he was able to spend time with a lone Jewish salesman named Costas.
For Barber, blogging was the vital tool that allowed him to share his experiences with friends and actively engage with the entire Chabad community.
“People are coming over to me and tell me that my story was amazing,” Rabbi Barber said. “It’s sort of a way to connect to everybody, and not just connect to fellow guys who get sent out but to regular people.”
Meanwhile, rabbinical students Yehuda Kirsch and Levi Pekar also spent the summer exploring and blogging about their experiences, but this pair lived at the foot of the Himalayas in Manali, India, where they led an ongoing search for a missing Israeli tourist.
“When I signed up I was hoping for and expecting hard work, but I never realized how intense my assignment would end up being,” Rabbi Pekar writes in his blog, where he also mentions getting his pants stolen on Shabbat.