While there is a large Jewish population of Miami, far-flung areas of Florida like Green Cove might more readily stock bacon than gefilte fish on store shelves; when people there use the term “Bible Belt,” they aren’t talking about the Tanach. “One thing Jews outside of Jacksonville have in common,” write Zalman Levin and Shmery Labkowski in their Roving Rabbis blog, “is that they are sure they are the only Jews around.”
Roving Rabbis is a collection of blogs from 250 Chabad rabbinical students around the world who spend their summer vacation locating Jews in outlying areas from Ireland to rural America to Germany. They circle Jewish-sounding names in phone books, ask locals where Jews live and even approach people who they feel might be Jewish. While the technique may seem hit-or-miss, the hits are definitely worthwhile and awaken the pintele yid (Jewish spark). The Roving Rabbis make daily updates of their outreach activities on the Roving Rabbis blog published on Chabad.org.
When Levin and Labkowski were certain that no one was going to answer the door they were knocking on, a man named Justin drove into the driveway. It turns out that Justin has a non-Jewish father and a Jewish mother. When the rabbis tell Justin he is 100% Jewish, he agrees to put on tefillin and says a friend told him “some guys dressed up like Abraham Lincoln pulled up at your house in an orange car. You may want to check them out,” he added, “As soon as I saw the Hebrew writing on your bumper sticker, I knew who you were.”
Alan in Michigan agreed to put on tefillin if the rabbis would let him teach them how to shoot a rifle. Glenn in Washington heard a preacher mention tefillin on television just a few days before the rabbis showed up at his door with a pair; when he had asked around after watching the program, no one at his Reform synagogue knew what they were.
Other roving rabbis met a woman who was born Jewish but was sent to a foster home at a young age. The only association she had with anything Jewish was the memory of lighting Shabbos candles as a girl. Adam Epstein and Mechi Gancz gave her a mezuzah, challos to share with her family on Shabbos, as well as Shabbos candles, which reminded her of her lost childhood and her heritage which had been almost forgotten.