Special Delivery: Faith
By Amanda Breitbach Ragsdale

Two young rabbis visited Miles City last week on a summer ministry tour through Montana.

Yossi Bendet and Mendel Kesselman arrived in town Wednesday night on a tour that had already taken them through Havre, Malta, Glasgow, Sidney, Glendive and Terry.

Both ordained rabbis currently studying at a yeshiva (learning center) in New York City, the pair is visiting Montana communities without access to a nearby synagogue or services in order to give Jewish people in the area an opportunity to discuss matters of faith.

“Sometimes there’s just one person (in the community),” said Bendet. “We meet with them, connect, give them the opportunity to access their heritage.”

“Instead of them going to the synagogue ... we bring the Jewish community to them,” added Kesselman.

The ministry tour is based out of the Chabad Lubavitch in Bozeman, a traditional Jewish community center. The word Chabad is a Hebrew acronym for chachmah-wisdom, binah-comprehension and da’at-knowledge. Lubavitch is the name of the town in Russia where the Chabad Lubavitch movement was based for more than a century.

Since the 1940s, rabbis and yeshiva students working through the movement’s summer visitation program have offered support and encouragement to Jewish people living in relative isolation.

Working from a list of contacts created by Rabbi Chaim Bruk, who established the Chabad in Bozeman, Bendet and Kesselman have traveled from town to town, sometimes asking at gas stations and hospitals if there are any Jewish residents and then following up those leads.

“One person brings us to the next person,” said Kesselman.

Those who are expecting the visit are generally happy and excited to see them, Bendet said, explaining that for many rural residents it is the only real contact with judaism they have throughout the year. For those who are not expecting a visit, it is even more meaningful.

“Many of them haven’t seen a rabbi in years,” Bendet explained.

One woman they visited on the tour couldn’t believe her eyes. She asked, “Is this real? Is this a joke?” he said, smiling.

A major highlight of the trip for both men was the opportunity to make “mitzvah,” a coming of age ceremony, for several people in their 60s who had not had the opportunity to observe it when they were younger.

In an area he referred to as something of a “Jewish desert,” there is “a lot of space between each person,” Bendet said. “But each person is important.”

Working within time constraints, the two men spent only a short time in Miles City, heading back toward Billings on Thursday. From there, they planned to return to the Chabad in Bozeman.

The Montana tour has been an adventure for Bendet and Kesselman, neither of whom had visited the state before. They have enjoyed the trip and the contact with local people, as well as the opportunity to share their faith.

To learn more about the summer ministry tour or the Chabad Lubavitch in Bozeman, visit www.jewishmontana.com or contact Rabbi Chaim Bruk at [email protected]