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Brothers bring Yiddishkeit to small town Colorado Jews

L-r: Rabbi Shayki Rotenberg, Yosef Grimaldi, Dr. Richard Karsh and Rabbi Berish Rotenberg at Chabad of Colorado Springs.

If you reside in a small town in southern Colorado, you may experience difficulty maintaining a Jewish lifestyle. Chabad of Southern Colorado is available to help.

Every year, more than 400 yeshiva students are assigned the task of visiting small communities of the US and bringing Yiddishkeit to any Jews living there.

Merkos Shlichus is a program founded in 1943 by Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok Schneersohn, the sixth rebbe of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

It is part of the Merkos L’Inyonei Chinuch (Central Organization for Education), the principal educational arm of the movement. Its purpose is to strengthen Jewish awareness in Jewish communities worldwide.

Pairs of rabbinical students are dispatched to small towns and rural settings where little or no Jewish presence can be found. They are required to “dress nicely” and keep their beards neat and clean.

Colorado Springs has been the recipient of at least one pair of these “roving rabbis” since 2002. Rabbi Moishe Liberow, the Chabad representative of Southern Colorado who has resided in Colorado Springs since 2000, chooses the schedule.

The rabbinical students travel to communities that do not have a permanent Chabad presence, and they make home visits in Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. The students are sent during the summer and around the time of Jewish holidays.

Rabbi Liberow reports that it is easier to find rabbinical students to apply for visiting during Pesach than in the summer, as many of the students are attending Jewish summer camps and cannot take a month off at that time. With Chabad yeshivas closed during Passover, traveling for the scholars is easier.

Rabbi Liberow is proud of the program in southern Colorado. He describes the mission of the visiting students as “lighting a Jewish spark.”

Shayki (say “Shy-key”) and Berish (“Bay-rish”) Rotenberg are brothers who are visiting small-town Colorado this summer. They have been studying at the Chabad yeshiva in New York for the past six years. These visits are not part of their rabbinical training, but they are good experience, they say.

The brothers, 25 and 24 respectively, try to make personal contact with Jews. They go to crowded public places and ask those passing by if they are Jewish. They knock on doors of those known to be Jewish and bring booklets, mezuzzahs, Shabbos candles or business cards. They ask the men if they have already put on tefilin that day, and if not, they help them perform the mitzvah. They teach women how to light Shabbat candles.

Says Shayki, “Some people invite us in; some close the door in our faces. Even so, if we remind them that they are Jewish, it might affect them.”

The Rotenberg brothers are originally from the Israeli town of Kfar Chabad, near Ben Gurion airport. They were in Colorado for two weeks to do outreach. The places they frequented requested their presence; the towns apply to Chabad for the visits. The visiting rabbinical students also apply to the organization for permission to come.

National Chabad headquarters pays for their air travel; the remainder of their expenses is paid by the local Chabad group. The number of visits during each trip is up to the local Chabad organization.

On this trip, Shayki and Berish have been to Telluride, Salida, Moffat, Villa Grove, Alamosa, Pueblo, Mountain Village, Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs. They consider themselves temporary “shlichim,” or emissaries, of Chabad, but they do not attempt to convince people to make aliyah to Israel.

Shayki related a story about a man named Jonathan Kessler. Kessler met a 15-year-old Chabad student studying in Grand Central Station in New York. He saw this boy every day on his way to work. Each day the boy asked him to don tefilin, but he refused. After months of meeting the boy, Kessler asked, “Why are you still asking me? What good does it do you?”

The boy replied, “My mission is to remind you that you are a Jew.” On that day, Kessler put on tefilin for the first (but not last) time.

The Rotenbergs say that the number of Jews they serve varied greatly during this visit to Colorado. They described three days they spent in a small town for the service of only five Jews.

When asked if they were disappointed, Berish replied, “There is no competition for numbers. Each Jew is precious.”

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News




2 thoughts on “Brothers bring Yiddishkeit to small town Colorado Jews

  1. Ira Sparer

    There are sufficient numbers of Jews in Colorado Springs. It would be nice if on some kind of rotating basis these numbers would commit to contributing towards a Shabbos minyan.

    Reply

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