Rabbi Yaakov and Malkie Raskin are the new Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries in Laramie, Wyoming, also serving Cheyenne and surrounding areas. It will be a change of pace for the couple who moved to the Cowboy State from New York City — from the most populated city in the US to the country’s least populated state.
Neither of them, however, is from the East coast. Malkie is from Detroit and Rabbi Raskin hails from much further east — all the way across the pond, in fact. Originally from the Stamford Hill neighborhood of London, England, Rabbi Raskin shares that his father led the Chabad community in the neighborhood known for its chasidic community.
His father, he says, often got calls from Chabad emissaries with complicated questions they needed guidance with answering.
“I grew up with hearing the weirdest questions,” Rabbi Raskin recounts in his soft-spoken voice still tinged with a hint of a British accent, “and also run of the mill ones.” Perhaps it was hearing those calls from far-flung communities that first inspired Rabbi Raskin to become an emissary.
Rabbi Raskin says that he and Malkie have always known they wanted to “open a Chabad house somewhere,” and have been seeking the right opportunity for their family. When they heard that Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn, the Wyoming emissary based in Jackson, was looking for additional personnel to serve the large state, the couple travelled west to visit the community in Laramie. They really liked it. “People were welcoming and friendly.”
They officially moved to Laramie after last Passover, together with their two children, Leah, two, and five-month-old Mendy.
The Laramie Jewish community is currently served by the Reform Laramie JCC and Hillel at the University of Wyoming. The city has also been served by Chabad visiting rabbis for over 70 years, says Raskin.
Simcha Pollard, a retired professor of economics, has hosted Friday night meals and lectures, but was keen to see a more formal structure in place that would offer those activities.
For now, the Raskins are focusing their activities on hosting Friday night meals and starting a weekly lecture, each week on a different topic. Laramie is a strong college town — home to the state’s only university — and so much of the Jewish community is connected to the university. Prof. Seth Ward taught religious studies there for many years, before retiring last year.
“There aren’t a ton of Jewish students,” says Rabbi Raskin, “but a sizable number of Jewish professors.” He estimates that there are 200 Jewish faculty, and perhaps 100 Jewish families in the Laramie area. Reaching out to Jewish students is something the Raskins plan to do.
“What impressed us,” he says, “is that the Jewish community is well educated and knowledgeable. We aren’t starting from scratch.”
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