It's their first time in the Tri-Cities, but they haven't done a lot of sightseeing.
The Reach center, the B Reactor, Badger Mountain -- those aren't the reasons they're in town.
Instead, Rabbis Yossi Grosh and Nochum Labkowski are filling their days meeting with people in the local Jewish community. The Tri-Cities doesn't have a permanent rabbi, so their trip presents a prime opportunity to talk, to connect, to query. And so far they've had plenty of takers.
"Some people have questions, some people have needs -- can we help them arrange some kosher food, a Jewish calendar? Different things. Everybody has their own needs," Labkowski said.
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He and Grosh spoke to the Herald on Wednesday during a break between home visits.
They're in the Tri-Cities as part of Roving Rabbis, a decades-old program that sends rabbinical students around the U.S. and world -- often to smaller communities without a rabbi of their own -- during Jewish holidays and in the summer.
The program is a project of Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, the educational arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, a movement within Judaism.
Chabad is a branch of Hasidism.
Grosh and Labkowski's two-week swing in the Northwest already has included stops in Oregon and Walla Walla. They'll be in the Tri-Cities through today before heading to Spokane.
It's their first trip to Washington, but not their first trip as part of Roving Rabbis. The young rabbis, both in their 20s, spent Passover in Germany as part of the program.
They're students at a rabbinical college in Brooklyn and were ordained this year.
Grosh and Labkowski are meeting with several families a day, largely through pre-arranged appointments. But they aren't exactly incognito, and spontaneous connections have happened.
A woman in Walla Walla came over to them and asked, " 'Are you guys for real?' We're like, 'Yes, of course,' " Grosh said with a laugh. "She said, 'I'm from Israel, and I have not seen a Jewish rabbi or another Jewish person dressed like you for so many years.' "
They ended up visiting with the woman.
This year, about 350 rabbinical students like Grosh and Labkowski have been sent around the world as part of Roving Rabbis, which dates to the '40s. "The goal is to make Judaism accessible and relevant to every Jew, wherever they may be," Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, vice-chairman of Merkos L'inyonei Chinuch, said in a news release.
Along with talking, answering questions and helping meet needs, the idea for Grosh and Labkowski also is to potentially re-ignite sparks.
"People have been far away from other Jewish people in these areas," Grosh said. "We're here to maybe give them more of a zest, more attention, maybe to rekindle that light."
To arrange a visit with the rabbis while they're in the Tri-Cities, email email@example.com.
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