Memories from the Summer of '92

Friday, 26 August, 2011 - 10:46 am

Dear Friends,

In the 1940s the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe instituted that Yeshiva students utilize their vacation time to visit Jews in smaller Jewish communities to encourage them in their Jewishness by teaching, distributing books, doing Mitzvot and praying with the Jews of those communities, and helping them in any way possible. It would also be an invaluable life lesson for the students to meet Jews from outside their community and to get a sense of what Jewish life was like elsewhere. This project was called Merkos Shlichus. It continues to this day and a website was set up to follow the blogs and adventures of current Yeshiva students who are “roving” the world.

This year we have a team of Roving Rabbis traveling through Louisiana, my brother Yosef Rivkin and his friend and study partner, Levi Gerlitzki. After spending last week running Project Talmud in New Orleans, this week was devoted to meeting Jews in Baton Rouge, Hammond, Alexandria, Ft. Polk, Monroe, Rayville with a few more stops planned for early next week. As I worked with them on planning their trip and developing contacts in some of those cities, it brought back memories of my own Merkos Shlichus experience nearly 20 years ago.

In the summer of 1992, three friends, Perry Lew, Mendy Schapiro and I decided to spend three weeks traipsing through Louisiana. We visited Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Alexandria, Leesville, Ft. Polk and Monroe. We made some very good friends with whom we still have a warm relationship; Harry and Sue Muslow, then of Shreveport, and Saul and Raquel Hakim of Monroe.

We also met some very interesting people along the way. I would like to share a few memories. After doing a telephone interview with the Lafayette newspaper, we received a phone call from a fellow named Bo Levine. The name said it all. We met with Bo and his wife at their home in Lafayette until late into the night.

In Baton Rouge we had a live interview with the Advocate – article attached. Among the many others, we met with Paul Caplan, Rabbi of Beth Shalom, who had been bringing his confirmation class to Brooklyn each year, where they would visit Crown Heights and Chabad Headquarters.

In Alexandria we met the late Dr. Bernard Kaplan, who took great pride in showing us how he raised his children to be committed Jews even in a small community. In Monroe, we met the late Sol Rosenberg, a Holocaust survivor who was very active in the establishment of the Holocaust Memorial Museum in DC. We lay Tefillin with him and had an intense emotional discussion about how the Holocaust was being taught in certain Jewish circles.

In Shreveport we stayed with the Muslows and they hosted classes and discussions for the community each night. We met a man who was over 100 years old named Judah Wolfson. He was from Gomel, Ukraine, born to a prominent Chabad family. He shared memories of his youth, growing up in the Chabad community in Ukraine. He had some well-known Chabad relatives in Brooklyn, and on a visit there he had a meeting with the Rebbe.

All in all it was a privilege for us and a very significant experience in which we learned a lot about ourselves and hopefully touched the lives of the people we met. Today this project has expanded to international proportions. There are students visiting every imaginable Jewish community from small town USA to the furthest flung places around the world.

Have a wonderful Shabbos
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

Merkos Shluchus Article.jpg 

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