“Roving rabbis” Mayer Brook and Tzvi Alperowitz stand out in a crowd anywhere they travel in South Dakota. And that’s a good thing, because the two young men want people to know they’re here to help.
Brook, 19, and Alperowitz, 20, are orthodox Jews who are volunteers through Roving Rabbis, an international rabbinical student visitation program. Roving Rabbis is a program sponsored by the Jewish outreach organization Chabad. Roving Rabbis sends rabbinical students to parts of the world where Jewish communities are small. The students’ mission is to encourage, inspire and connect.
Roving Rabbis was created by the late Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, also known as “Rebbe,” in the 1940s. He was the organization’s guiding force for 50 years. Twenty years after his death, Schneerson’s passion for helping others still inspires students such as Brook and Alperowitz to serve as Roving Rabbis.
“We’re going to any Jewish person we can to meet them, to reconnect them with their roots. We’re getting together as unity, as a family,” Brook said. “Jews are known as family. … Anyone born Jewish is part of the family. … Each time you meet, it’s like souls meeting. It’s the warmest thing that can happen.”
Brook and Alperowitz were assigned to visit South Dakota. The two visited Rapid City Aug. 14 to 17, and are traveling throughout the state this month before returning to their rabbinical studies. Brook has volunteered as a Roving Rabbi twice before, both times in Hungary. This is Alperowitz’s first experience as a Roving Rabbi.
Before arriving in South Dakota, the men looked up Jewish synagogues and contacted them to arrange meetings. Brook and Alperowitz were impressed by Rapid City’s Jewish residents. “We noticed an incredible, tight-knit community,” Alperowitz said. “They’re very strong, very proud of being Jewish.”
Brook and Alperowitz also toured the area, looking for any opportunities to connect and interact with people. One of their most memorable encounters occurred at Mount Rushmore with a tourist from California. The man, who is in his 60s, had never had a bar mitzvah, the traditional coming-of-age ceremony for boys. Brook and Alperowitz let the man put on a tefillin — small boxes containing sacred scrolls that are worn during prayer — and they conducted a ceremony on the spot. Then the three posed for a photo in front of Mount Rushmore. “We’re just family. We’re there for each other,” Alperowitz said.
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Brook, from Brooklyn, N.Y., and Alperowitz, an American whose family lives in Bournemouth, England, found that Jewish life in South Dakota is not without its challenges. Finding kosher food was especially difficult, so the men brought three weeks’ worth of provisions with them, mostly milk and meat products.
Brook and Alperowitz both enjoyed the people they met here. “We’ve come to South Dakota to inspire. After visiting Rapid City, we were more inspired,” Alperowitz said. “Each (Jewish person) is a diamond, so proud of who they are though they are so few in number.”
“I really think everyone’s very kind. Everyone’s patient, nice,” Brook said.
Brook and Alperowitz ultimately want to become rabbis, and both say they knew from an early age that was their calling. Both said they are willing to go anywhere in the world there is a Jewish community in need.
“The Rebbe always taught us that when you know something, however much you know, you teach. Be there to help another. Whenever you are able to help somebody else in anything, in a social way, in a material way, always be there for the person,” Alperowitz said.
While serving as Roving Rabbis, Brock and Alperowitz invite anyone who wants to reconnect with their Jewish roots, or learn more about Jewish faith, history or culture, to contact them. Brock and Alperowitz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.