People are drawn to Rabbi Dovid Harlig and Rabbi Laibel Hanoka.
The two Rabbis are in Australia at the moment as members of an organisation that provides to the spiritual, emotional and material needs of Jewish people living away from Jewish centres.
The Rabbis drive around in an easy to notice mobile home, complete with a small library, which does catch the eye.
While they were parked in Nowra recently a man crossed the street and made contact with the Rabbis.
His spiritual contact was limited and was drawn to the van. He asked the Rabbis – are you going to help me?
The Rabbis were only too happy to give the man the help he sought, which is what the Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia is all about.
Rabbi Laibel and Rabbi Dovid volunteered to leave their base two hours outside Los Angeles, California to do some work for the Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia.
They recently picked the van up from Melbourne and headed up the coast and stopped in Nowra.
Rabbi Dovid said they basically they drove through a bunch of cities up the coast visiting Jewish communities.
“Once you go out of the big cities there is not as much infrastructure – most places do not have a synagogue because there's less of a Jewish population,” Rabbi Dovid said.
Rabbi Laibel added they try to find and make contact with Jewish people as they travel around.
Some people have been visited in the past and want to make contact again and the Rabbis also make use of social media to find other Jewish people.
“Sometimes we even look in phonebooks to find people who might be Jewish,” Rabbi Laibel said.
“If they would like a visit we stop by, we help them out with anything that we could on a Jewish level and we just speak to them.”
People are given, or can buy, and borrow Jewish items.
Their trip started in Melbourne and a week and a half later ended up in Nowra. They then headed over to Kangaroo Valley. Bega, Bermagui and Merimbula were all legs of their coastal journey.
The Rabbis say the Nowra area has around 30 to 40 Jewish families.
They hoped to visit and speak to at least 10 to 15 people.
Rabbi Dovid said it was hard to say just how many Jewish people lived in the area because some people, due to various reasons, may not even know they are Jewish.
The two Rabbis are approachable and are often stopped in the street and asked what they are doing and who they are.
Rabbi Laibel said they do stand out from the crowd.
“People are friendly and welcoming,” Rabbi David added
Non-Jewish people are welcome to go into the van and have a look.
Meanwhile, the speculative move of the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was not a topic discussed by the Rabbis on their trip.
Topics like Hanukkah on December 2 was one of the regular things they talked about – not the embassy issue.
Rabbi Dovid said people may get one visit a year and they want to make the most of it by concentrating on closer to home Jewish issues.
“For some people, their only Jewish interaction is when we come and this is the time of year they ask serious questions,” Rabbi Dovid said.
Sometimes a visit might take 30 minutes but others will take hours.
The Rabbis try to spend as much time with people as needed.
“In Judaism, we believe every single Jew is important,” Rabbi Dovid said.
Theirs is not a 9am to 5pm role. They are prepared to help people whenever they are needed.
They both volunteered to make the trip. From Kangaroo Valley they went to Bowral before flying up to the Northern Territory.
About the Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia
Chabad of Rural and Regional Australia is committed to providing for the spiritual, emotional and material needs of Jewish people living away from Jewish centres.
One of the cardinal tenets of Judaism is that are all Jews are one regardless of geographic distance. Irrespective of ones background, standard of observance or depth of knowledge every Jew belongs to Am Yisrael, the Nation of Israel. Every individual has a right to learn and participate in their living heritage.
Chabad of RARA seeks to educate and demonstrate real Judaism; an unbroken chain of tradition going back three millenia. Bringing Judasim into the 21st century by the fusion of technology and religion, social media and Bible study, Sabbath dinner and science improves the rich traditions and modern behaviour alike. The young volunteers, often recently ordained rabbis, are equally proficient in ancient Jewish law and Twitter; they are open, understanding and wise beyond their years.
The fully equipped kosher campervan serves as a synagogue on wheels. 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.
A little history
Over thirty years ago, three young rabbis spent their summer holidays travelling around Australia in a campervan equipped with nothing more than a couple of maps and a desire to meet the Jews of the outback. The trip was an incredible success and they met hundreds of people some of whom they still keep in contact.
Out of that trip long ago grew Chabad of RARA, a non profit organisation that caters to the 7,500 Jewish men, women and children living in remote, rural and regional areas. The RARAmobile covers tens of thousands of kilometres a year, and our volunteers come from as far afield as the United States and Europe. The mobile home is equipped with GPS, computers, cameras and everything one could need for a stint on the road.
The personnel may have changed and maps given way to GPS but the passion and love remains the same.
What is Chabad?
Chabad Lubavitch is a 200 year old Chassidic movement originating in the Russian city of Lubavitch. Under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the movement has become the largest Jewish outreach organization in the world devoted to improving the spiritual and material conditions of Jews wherever they are.
Main centres in Australia are located in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide and the Gold Coast.