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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Rabbinical students travel the state - West Virginia

By Rick Steelhammer
Staff writer

Moishe Hildeshaim and Dovid Holtzberg are spending a month traveling from Wheeling to Bluefield, with intermediate stops in Charleston and Huntington, as part of a mission to strengthen Torah-based traditions among members of West Virginia’s Jewish community.

The two Brooklyn, N.Y., men are members of the educational arm of the Chabad Lubavitch movement, in which senior rabbinical students spend part of the summer visiting Jewish communities throughout the world.

Traveling in pairs, Chabad Lubavitch members speak with rabbis and Jewish educators, and meet Jews at the grass-roots level — at their places of work, in their homes, in hospitals and on the streets.

“We want to make sure Jewish people in smaller, more isolated communities know they are part of a bigger Jewish body that stretches around the world,” said Hildeshaim.

Traveling in a car stocked with Kosher food — difficult to find on road trips through rural West Virginia — Hildeshaim and Holtzberg dispense Jewish reading materials, prayer books, mezuzahs and other religious items.

“We believe every Jewish person has a Jewish soul, which sometimes needs to be awakened,” said Hildeshaim. “Our purpose is to try to bring more godliness into the world, and show to Jewish people, wherever they are, that we’re all connected.”

The 280 Chabad Lubavicher students now visiting Jewish communities around the world do not proselytize or attempt to convert to Judaism those in other faiths. “If people have questions, we’re happy to answer them,” said Hildeshaim.

After spending time in Wheeling and Parkersburg, Hildeshaim and Holtzberg are spending this week in Charleston and Huntington before moving south to Beckley and Bluefield.

“We’ve had good feedback during our time in West Virginia so far,” said Hildeshaim.

Part of the Chabad movement’s message is to stress the importance of a 10-point Mitzvah campaign started by the movement’s founder, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, in 1967.

The campaign, among other things, calls upon Jews all over the world to set aside time every day for Torah study, urges Jewish men to wear Tefillin — small boxes containing biblical verses — every weekday, and urges Jewish homeowners to attach a kosher Mezuzah to the proscribed doorpost. The campaign also calls on Jewish homeowners to have at least a Bible, a prayer book and a book of Psalms, and to keep a charity box in a conspicuous place for contributions to worthwhile causes.

More than 10,000 Lubavitch rabbinical students have participated in similar summer missions since the program began 62 years ago, reaching hundreds of thousands of isolated and assimilated Jews.

To contact Hildeshaim and Holtzberg during their West Virginia stay, call (718) 744-4272.

To contact staff writer Rick Steelhammer, use e-mail or call 348-5169

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