Carrying the torch – and the Shofar
Two American Chabad rabbis spent the High Holy Days driving a “Mitzvah tank” from Melbourne to Far North Queensland.
Rabbi Shmuel Levitan and Meir Kalmanson hosted about 35 people on Kol Nidrei and the same number at Neilah on Yom Kippur at the Pacific International Hotel in Cairns – most of them Israelis, backpackers and a few of the town’s tiny Jewish population.
The pair, who drive a giant Winnebago emblazoned with a photo of the late Lubavitcher Rebbe on one side and the words “Do a mitzvah today” on the other side, say they will probably head for Townsville for Succot.
“We’ve been on the road for six weeks since the beginning of Elul, blowing the shofar all the way up the east coast,” Rabbi Levitan said. “Every neshama [soul] is a flame. We are the lamplighters.”
The pair are working for Chabad of Regional and Rural Australia (RARA), founded by Saul Spigler who more than 30 years ago was part of the first road trip, traveling 10,000 kilometres through NSW, Queensland and South Australia in search of Outback Jews.
The aim of the organisation remains the same to this day – to reach out to the 10,000 or so Jews who do not live in the major metropolitan cities, and more than a few who are dispersed in the Australian Outback.
The “mitzvah tank” is a fully equipped kosher campervan that serves as “a synagogue on wheels,” according to the RARA website. “It is a mobile library and bookstore stocked with all the traditional and recent Jewish books; it has a kosher kitchen and pantry and serves as the rabbis’ vehicle, home and meeting place while they are on the road.”
The pair of 22-year-old rabbis, who did not know each other well in America, are unsure when they will head back home, hoping to spend some time in Sydney first after the festival season ends.
To contact the RARA rabbis call 0410 225 566.