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Coast-To-Coast, Chabad Centers In Shape For Summer Season

( Although the U.S. economy is predicted to slow this quarter, more than fifty percent of Americans will be vacationing this summer. And if sunbathing and mountain climbing may seem incompatible with spiritual introspection, Chabad representatives stationed at popular vacation spots say it is anything but.

“It is very typical of Jews, wherever they are vacationing, to search out Judaism,” says Rabbi Yosef Greenberg of Anchorage, Alaska. “When they are in Barcelona, they look for ancient synagogues, when they are in Wyoming or Anchorage, they look for living Judaism. They love to find Judaism alive in unexpected places.”

In vacation hotspots, or cold climes as in Greenberg’s case, Chabad representatives are primed to meet tourists’ needs: a Shabbat meal, a yahrtzeit candle, or a minyan for the kaddish prayer.

But not all Jewish vacationers are seeking out their heritage. Often, it finds them.

Kyle Leebe began his love affair with Wyoming on a trip five years ago. He returned to his hometown of Seattle just long enough to pack his bags for good. A few years later, Leebe met Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn at the post office.

“People here are loose, into the outdoors,” says Leebe, “they aren’t looking for religion.” But the Rabbi, he continues, “understands peoples’ needs. He mixes nature and G-d in a way that is not a turn-off.”

Wyoming, the least populous state in the Union, welcomes millions of visitors to its breathtaking parks and mountain ranges each year. “This is a place where people from all over the world visit. When they discover Wyoming’s natural beauty, they are discovering the wonders of G-d’s world,” says Mendelsohn.

The young rabbi and his wife Raizy, wine and dine tourists every Friday night, direct them to Jewish and geographic attractions via their website, and arrange special programming for this transient community. This past winter Chabad hosted the first annual Jackson Hole Jewish Music Festival in Wyoming. More than 150 tourists attended the three day festival which featured seven artists performing Jewish rock and traditional klezmer tunes.

Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport of Atlantic City, New Jersey, spends his summers catering to travelers who arrive from all along the East Coast for the local beaches or the casinos on the Jersey Shore.

“When people travel they are open to many new things,” says Rapoport. “Where they wouldn’t normally step into a Chabad house, here they are eager for Jewish experiences.” Rapoport caters to this largely secular crowd through the annual Jewish Summer Festival (music, rides, and food on the beach) and a weekly BLT class (Bagels, Lox, and Torah). Throughout the year, Rapoport’s weekly Shabbat services draw some 30 people, but during the summer the number tops 100. 

Perhaps his biggest hit, though, is the Krafts for Kids store located on the busy Ventnor Avenue. Within the colorful storefront, Rapoport offers Jewish-themed art projects for kids and families. There are four challah-baking sessions each Friday, and advance bookings are recommended because the workshops fill up quickly.

“It has become part of the culture,” says Rapoport. “People come to the shore each summer and always return for challah-baking.”

One family told Rapoport that baking challah on the Jersey shore has led them to prepare weekly Shabbat meals year round.  Many will ask to be connected with their local Chabad rabbi, whether for help with a son’s upcoming bar mitzvah or to continue a dialogue about Judaism begun over summer break.        

On beaches thousands of miles away, Mrs. Pearl Krasnjansky has served the local and tourist communities of Honolulu for more than 22 years. Blending the two groups, she says, is a “win-win. The tourists see real, live Jews living in Hawaii while the locals get an infusion of Judaism through the steady stream of Jews who visit.”

Hawaii, she says, is the perfect place for these mutual gains to occur.

“Because of the composition of population, including Caucasians, Asians, and Polynesians, and the unique history of Hawaii, everyone is used to being an ‘other,’” says Krasnjansky. “In some ways, that makes is easier to be Jewish.

“Of course, the physical beauty makes people more open to spiritual beauty as well. And that’s why we’re here.”  

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