Most surfers wouldn’t trade the waves of Melbourne, Australia, for those of Long Beach, L.I. — but the Surfing Rabbi did.
After all, whatever the size of the waves, the prospects for Jewish outreach are bigger up here. Australia native Eli Goodman, 34, is a Chabad rabbi, so his choice was always clear. But never more so than last week, when Goodman used surf-wear brand Quiksilver’s international surf competition to bring tefillin, shofar and word of the upcoming High Holy Days to spectators.
“All the gimmicks in the world can be used for a holy purpose,” said Goodman, rabbi at the 900-family Modern Orthodox Bach Jewish Center on Edwards Boulevard. “We’re all for it, even if it’s a surfboard.”
Both came into play on Sept. 7-9 as Rabbi Goodman and a team of volunteers, 20 wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan “surf into the new year?” wove their way through the crowds gathered to watch surf stars like Kelly Slater and Owen Wright, the tournament winner who is also Australian.
It’s standard operating procedure for a rabbi affiliated with the Lubavitcher stream of chasidic Judaism, which emphasizes outreach to the less observant.
Rabbi Goodman has made the waterfront something of a signature, talking up, for example, the Blessing of the Sun out on the beach in his broad-brimmed black hat and sunglasses in one of a series of YouTube videos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGnS0mb5eok.
But the folks at Quiksilver, who run this tournament all over the world, were mystified by Rabbi Goodman’s request to use their event to proselytize, said Arie Kovant, an Israeli who is a managing director at the consultancy that Quiksilver hired to handle local logistics.
The company had no problem with Rabbi Goodman’s plans as explained to them by Kovant, who is a huge fan of the rabbi’s and hopes to work with him again next year.
“I love him,” said Kovant of Goodman. “He’s a wonderful man. It is such an anomaly to see a surfing rabbi. He just piggybacked on the hoopla in town, and being a smart man he took it a step further.”
Rabbi Goodman uses the beach regularly to grab waves and passersby, as he conducts outreach. In Australia, he only surfed once, but here he surfs about once a month, earning him the “Surfing Rabbi” nickname. He likes beachgoers and their relaxed attitudes, which make them more open to what he has to offer, he said.
He does an annual Shabbat dinner on the boardwalk and usually sets up a booth at festivals and other organized events. The Quiksilver effort enabled him and his volunteers to interact with a “few hundred people” and to give our fliers promoting High Holy Day services for beginners at a nearby hotel.
“People who live by the beach are very open-minded; it’s not your suit-wearing crowd, it’s flip-flops. They are willing to explore,” he said.