Saturday, July 22, 2006

Rabbinical emissaries visit Saginaw Valley Jews

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Walking around Saginaw wearing black suits, white shirts, black ties, black hats and full beards brings curious stares to Rabbi Gershon Akerman and Rabbi Isser New.

The recent rabbinical school graduates often are asked whether they're Amish.

"That happens here more than other places," New said. "We explain to them that we're Hasidic Jews, and this is our unofficial uniform."

New and Akerman, both 21, are among the several hundred recent Chabad-Lubavitch rabbinical graduates participating in outreach efforts in a variety of locales around the country. They are graduates of the Jewish Education Institute of Miami.

After completing four years of studies, they now tour the United States and various parts of the world as part of a Jewish outreach. Akerman and New will spend one more week in mid-Michigan reaching out to Jewish families and individuals in Saginaw, Bay City, Midland and parts of northern Michigan, encouraging them to keep the faith.

While in mid-Michigan, they are living with Frumeth Hirsh Polasky and Frank M. Polasky of Saginaw Township, where they take advantage of kosher meals. The rabbis' outreach visit to the Tri-Cities is sponsored by Congregation Chabad-Lubavitch of Eastern Michigan and the Polasky Family Foundation.

"The people here are very friendly and polite. This is a very pretty place," said New.

"When we visit the homes of some elderly Jews, they really enjoy talking about their heritage and childhoods," said New, who lives in Montreal. Akerman is from Brooklyn, N.Y.

"Many of the older Jews grew up adhering to the Commandments," explained Akerman. "We're obviously Hasidic Jews, so when they see us, they want to reconnect to that heritage by talking about their experiences. Seeing us brings back childhood memories for many of them."

"We grew up in areas that were visibly Jewish Orthodox. We want to share that experience while we're here," said Akerman.

The rabbis also share Jewish books and a wide range of spiritual and educational resources to encourage those they meet about the importance of adhering to Jewish custom, "which they sometimes lose over time," explained Akerman.

Since 1999, Chabad-Lubavitch has sent young emissaries, or chabad shlichims, such as Akerman and New to the Saginaw Valley.

The outreach effort is part of the Jewish Peace Corps, founded by the Lubavitcher Rebbe. It addresses the needs of the Jewish community on many levels.

New and Akerman are trained to advise fellow Jews on matters pertaining to Jewish law and ethics and to help launch successful educational efforts. They arrive equipped with books and brochures to encourage the continuation of Jewish activity once they leave.v

Mary L. Lawrence is a features writer for The Saginaw News. You may reach her at 776-9676.

©2006 Saginaw News

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