Saturday, July 15, 2006

Re-connecting: Rabbis roam with an important mission


In an era when preachers love to pack the faithful into mega-churches and stadiums, or at least a revival tent, it's odd to see two of them - Hasidic Jews, at that - who are satisfied with and fulfilled traveling with the aim of connecting, or re-connecting, individual Jews to their faith.

That's the mission of two young men, one of them a rabbi, the other almost one, who are in the midst of a Southern Colorado "tour" that has brought them here, and to locales as diverse as Durango, Alamosa, Lamar and Colorado Springs.

Rabbinical student Berel Zaklikofsky, 23, and Rabbi Yossi Goodman, 22 - from Detroit and Rutgers, N.J., respectively - are both the sons of rabbis.

The men are here at the request of Rabbi Moshe Leiberow of Colorado Springs.

All are involved with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which revels in its passion for Judaism and a love for Jewish people.

It aims to reach out to Jews - even one at a time - to help them re-connect to the roots of their faith and realize a living Jewish experience through education and spiritual education. "We emphasize that it doesn't matter what branch of Judaism you belong to, or even if you're a gentile," Goodman said.

"We just want to remind Jews and all people that they are valued by God and have a role, and that role is being kind and doing good."

The root of the word "Hasidic" relates to the words "loving kindness." Hasidism is a movement that began in Eastern Europe in the 18th century.

Zaklikofsky said that it is important that Jews observe the commandments as well as they can, even if not perfectly - "Just do the best you can, from strict observance to at least doing a little bit."

"We want to reach out to Jews wherever and whenever," Goodman said, adding that he and his colleague, and almost 300 other rabbis and seminarians, travel the world during the summer to re-introduce Jews to their customs, roots and beliefs.

In other situations, the Chabad-Lubavitch movement aims to address needs that arise in any Jewish community - small ones, isolated ones, distant ones and those in large cities.

Among the Hasidic beliefs to which Zaklikofsky and Rabbi Goodman warm enthusiastically - but one that not all Jews agree with - is that God is found in all physical objects in nature, including all living beings. This isn't an offshoot of pantheism, but a way of expressing a belief that God is the universe's animating force.

"God hides himself everywhere, and by appreciating that fact, we can find him and bring him out into our lives," Goodman said.

And, turning again to Jews' process of re-connecting with God, Goodman and Zaklikofsky note the need to turn from sin, acknowledge God and promise not to sin again. Simple enough, but their mission to Jews repeats the point again and again.

The two men are youthful in their energy and enthusiastic in their spirit; they are friendly and blessed with a casual good humor that makes them both seem pre-eminently approachable.

They are not out to convert anyone, certainly not to their own slant on Judaism, but are principally busy promoting Jewishness to Jews. Along that line, they're happy to show interested people how to make a shofar, the ram's horn blown at Rosh Hashana, or press olive oil for the Hanukkah celebration, or how to use, wear and acquire the tefillin or phylacteries, boxes containing Scriptural verses, worn with leather straps and used in prayer.

"They tie us to God," Goodman explained before telling a reporter that under the traditional black hat he and Zaklikofsky wear there is indeed an a similarly traditional yarmulke, the small skullcap "that reminds us that someone, God, is above us, watching and caring."

And if there's a Jew around who may forget that, Goodman and Zaklikofsky may come knocking or visiting to remind them.

In lieu of that contact, there's more about the movement at and .

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