Visitors help Jews connect with heritage, religion
By Matt Dettori, Enterprise Staff Writer (July, 22, 2009)

“Shalom” was the greeting of choice for Leibel Kahanov and Ephram Zimmerman Wednesday as they traveled to Park County in an effort to reconnect Jewish families with their roots.

The two young men are spending the summer in Montana as part of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Outreach Movement. The movement started a few hundred years ago in Russia, Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman and Kahanov are studying to be rabbis at the Chabad-Lubavitch school in New York. Kahanov is originally from Jacksonville, Fla. Zimmerman is originally form Chicago.

This summer, though, they’re working with the Bozeman-based Chabad Lubavitch of Montana group to reach out to Jews in Park County and elsewhere in the state. They’ve visited Park County several times this summer already.

The Jewish community in Park County doesn’t have a temple or a synagogue, Zimmerman said. Their visits often provide followers of the Jewish faith with resources that residents here might not otherwise have access too, the men said.

“We aren’t here to convert people. We are here to provide Jewish people with resources to connect to a larger community within the state,” Kahanov said. “We’re not trying to force this on anybody. There’s a thirst here for Judaism, and we are providing an opportunity to serve that.”

The visits are very casual, and the two students use the time to get to know the families while offering them Jewish resources. The men offer to leave with their fellow Jews books and other items, such as candles for ceremonial rituals or tefillin, black boxes that hold scrolls of Hebrew text.

“There are a lot more Jews in Livingston than people think, and every Jew has a right to his or her heritage,” Zimmerman said.

Through their efforts, they hope to bring people together as one Jewish community, they said.

When the men visit Park County, they find people to talk with by consulting a list of families who have visited with members of the Chabad-Lubavitch Jewish Outreach Movement in the past. They also travel door-to-door and scan the phone book for familiar last names, he said.

Jewish-sounding names in the phone book are easy to identify, Zimmerman joked.

The two have found they are readily recognized as they seek out Jewish people. People will shout “Shalom!” from across the street when they realize the men are Jewish.

Kahanov and Zimmerman also tell people about the Bozeman synagogue run by Rabbi Chaim Bruk.

Kahanov said Bruk also visits Jewish families in the Livingston area when he isn’t touring the state in an effort to educate and help fellow Jews.

“We’re trying to connect Jews to the other Chabads in Montana,” Zimmerman said.

The students also are open to talking to just about anybody about the Jewish faith, they said.

“We’ll visit with non-Jews and answer any questions they have,” Kahanov said. “But our main focus is to reconnect Jewish people with their heritage.”

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