S. Dakota Jewish households open up to Brooklyn ‘Roving Rabbis’

August 13, 2013 By Dalton Walker From Argus Leader, courtesy of Associated Press
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Thursday’s in-home visit by two young rabbis from Brooklyn left Sioux Falls resident Aloma Graham with a sense of connection to her Jewish roots.

Rabbis Shmuel Lefkowits and Yosef Sharfstein, both 23, are part of a global community outreach training program called “The Roving Rabbis.” The men are in Sioux Falls visiting with members of the city’s small Jewish community to increase awareness of and passion for Judaism, the Argus Leader reported.

They are among hundreds of rabbinical students and young rabbis who spend their summer on the road across the world with a goal of making Judaism accessible and relevant to every Jew.

The rabbis have been knocking on doors across eastern South Dakota as part of a four-week visit sponsored by the group Chabad-Lubavitch. They flew into the Twin Cities late last month and drove to Aberdeen to begin their community outreach training. Most visits are one-on-one home visits.

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Graham welcomed Lefkowits and Sharfstein into her home Thursday. Graham said she has hosted roving rabbis each summer since 2008 and keeps in touch with some of her past visitors.

The rabbis said a prayer and shared their love for Judaism with Graham.

“It’s a connection and making a connection to a community of Jews,” she said. “That’s the connection we try to keep.”

Sharfstein blew Graham’s Shofar — a ceremonial horn — in honor of the coming Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. Before leaving, the rabbis placed a small Mezuzah displaying Hebrew verses on the doorway.

“The Mezuzah reminds us as we go in that everything we do that God is with us,” Sharfstein said. “It also serves as a protection for the person living in the home.”

The two rabbis are in the city until Tuesday before driving to Black Hills with multiple stops in communities along the way. The two head back to Brooklyn Aug. 21.

The 2012 American Jewish Year Book estimated there were 345 Jews living in South Dakota, the fewest in the nation both in raw numbers and as a percentage of the state’s population.

Lefkowits said the challenge is finding those who do identify as Jewish and teaching them about Judaism and its history.

“To experience South Dakota is very, very unique in this aspect that you really get a feel for the needs of smallish Jewish communities,” Graham said.

Rabbis Shmuel Lefkowitz and Yosef Sharfstein want to visit with other Jews in South Dakota. Both will be in Sioux Falls until Tuesday. Other stops include Mitchell, Pierre, Rapid City, Sturgis and Spearfish.

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