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Sunday, March 18, 2007

YIPPEE-KI-OY!

March 18, 2007 -- Call him the kosher cowboy.

A Brooklyn rabbi with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement pulled up stakes in Crown Heights last week and schlepped west to Bozeman, Mont.

"I saw a growing Jewish community thirsting for a connection to their religion," said Chaim Bruk .

Bruk, 25, and his wife, Chevie, 22, traded in their view of Eastern Parkway for a 1.2-acre claim nestled against the Rocky Mountains. They arrived Wednesday.

Montana has about 1,500 Jews spread out over 145,000 square miles, according to United Jewish Communities, and Bruk had been sent there by elders in Crown Heights twice before.

"The goal of our movement is to make sure that there isn't one Jew in this world that feels lonely, that he feels comfortable with the religion that he was born into," Bruk said.

"I'm going there to bring exciting Jewish knowledge to these little cities."

And as Bruk teaches his flock about Judaism, he's hoping they'll teach him something about the cowboy way.

So far, Bruk has done some horseback riding and shooting out on the range, but no hunting. His religion does not permit it.

He's started scouting locations for weekly Torah classes in Bozeman and monthly and bimonthly sessions in Helena, Billings, Kalispell and Great Falls.

"We're there for them. God forbid they need me to officiate at a funeral or, on the brighter side, a wedding," he said. "Even if it means that we have to drive all night long."

The rabbi is also preoccupied with trying to keep a kosher kitchen with only a blowtorch and hot water to sterilize the dishes.

Eventually, he said, he'd like to have time to take up fly-fishing.

"I'm ready to learn," Bruk said.

"Maybe I'll get a pickup truck. I'm more used to riding the No.3 train."

But don't expect Bruk to trade in his black fedora for a 10-gallon hat.

"If someone gives me a nice pair of custom-made cowboy boots, I'll wear them, as long as it's permitted by Jewish law," he said.

There are no kosher restaurants in Montana, but Chevie is an excellent cook, Bruk said, adding, "I'll miss my family and friends and the occasional kosher pastrami sandwich."

The adjustment shouldn't be too hard for the rabbi, said famed Jewish cowboy Kinky Friedman.

"I'd just tell him to hang on tight, spur hog and let 'er buck," said Friedman, an author, musician and former gubernatorial candidate from Texas.

"Jews and cowboys have a lot of things in common. They both like to wear their hats indoors."

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