Some 100 senior rabbinical students from Lubavitch yeshivas around the world are practicing “Judaism in a suitcase” this summer.
The students are part of the Lubavitch Summer Peace Corps, now in its 50th year, sponsored by the Lubavitch World Headquarters in Brooklyn, N.Y.
During the eight-week project, students have been traveling in pairs to reach out to members of Jewish communities where there may be no resident rabbi, synagogue, community center or services.
“The rebbe, he taught us students not to forget the Jewish people far away,” Rabbi Hirsh Minkowitz said in a telephone interview from Bangkok, Thailand. “People were so thankful that somebody actually thought of them.”
Other rabbinical students have visited Bolivia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Japan, Portugal and Vietnam, among other countries.
Students also have been traveling to American and Canadian Jewish communities that may have few, if any, social and religious activities, including those in Montana and Nebraska in the United States and Saskatchewan in Canada.
With videos, brochures, books, Shabbat candles, mezuzahs and kosher food, the students host Shabbat dinners and educate the isolated communities in Judaism.
Minkowitz and Rabbi Reuven Mintz hosted a Shabbat dinner in July in Shanghai that was attended by some 15 people, mostly business people who are in the city as agents for American companies.
For some, “this was their first Jewish event, their first taste of Judaism,” Minkowitz said. There is no established synagogue or Jewish community and no one to lead the Jewish population in Shanghai, which totals some 150 people, he said.
“They light the souls of the Jewish people to be strong and not to be assimilated,” Nisan Anav, the Jewish community director in Kobe, Japan, said in a telephone interview about the Lubavitch students. “That’s very, very important. The people love them. They did a tremendous job.”
Minkowitz and Mintz traveled to Kobe, which has some 200 Jews, before heading to Shanghai.
In Honduras, the Jewish population is divided between the capital city of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, each of which has about 50 Jewish families.
The only synagogue in the country is located in San Pedro Sula and the third- generation Honduran Jews have not received any Jewish education, said Yaeli Zylberman Starkman, general coordinator of the San Pedro Sula Jewish community.
“The connection with Jewish life has been lost. There’s a gap,” Starkman said. “With the Lubavitch visit, it was a great opportunity to look at real Jewish life, real Jewish religion. I can see how they do it and adapt it to here.”
Although the Lubavitch peace corps program runs between June 20, the yahrzeit of Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, who developed the program, and Aug. 18, some students will return abroad to lead isolated communities in High Holiday services.