Sunday, August 13, 2006

Chabad students spread goodwill in Nyack

(Original Publication: August 11, 2006)

NYACK — Dressed in their traditional black suits, pristine snow-white shirts and black hats, rabbinical students Yehuda Blotner and Yehoshua Dubinsky have been walking the streets of Nyack to spread the word about Judaism.

Blotner, 24, and Dubinsky, 22, are rabbinical students of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of the Chabad Lubavitch movement in Brooklyn.

The two are among 280 senior Lubavitcher rabbinical students who are spending the summer on Torah-spreading missions throughout the world.

The students, who travel in pairs, meet with Jews to discuss issues of Judaic literacy and piety.

The Lubavitchers seek to bring Jews closer to their roots through a variety of outreach efforts. The group's Chabad centers worldwide provide services for people who want to explore their faith.

Since Aug. 1, Blotner and Dubinsky have been networking in Nyack, making appointments with local leaders, residents and merchants, or just walking up to people.

"We don't try to missionize," Blotner said, speaking inside the Gallery of Metal and Stone, a fine jewelry shop on South Broadway where the students had stopped to chat with the owner and her clients. "We want Jewish people of all backgrounds — both Jews who are religious and those who are not observant — we try to share the rich traditions; not push, but in a welcoming way."

Stan Greenberg of Spring Valley was a recipient of their good will.

Greenberg and his wife, Edra, dropped into the jewelry store to visit with the store's owner, their friend Beverly Gopin. But, once there, they were drawn into conversation with the students, who draped Stan Greenberg with a tefillin — a long, narrow strip of parchment upon which prayers are inscribed and that Jewish men wear on their bodies.

Observant men use the tefillin during prayer. Greenberg, a member of the Monsey Jewish Center, does not always use the tefillin, so he was grateful to the students.

"It was a great opportunity and a great pleasure and a good feeling," he said of the experience. "I love them. I happen to love the Chabad rabbis, and these two young men. These two young students, they're just the warmest people you could possibly meet."

Describing herself as an observant Jew, Gopin spoke highly of the students' mission.

"No matter what you observe as a Jew, no matter what you call yourself ... we're all one people, one Jewish nation, and we need to be there for each other in good times and in bad times," she said.

Other summer missions have taken Dubinsky to Romania and Siberia and Blotner to Pennyslvania and Rhode Island. Both said they were enjoying Nyack, and had met many nice people.

Like fellow students, Dubinsky and Blotner carry everything they need to provide good service, including their Jewish "first-aid kit," Blotner said with a smile.

"We've got like a Jewish Mary Poppins bag with everything in it," he said, referring to a black leather case of religious items.

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