Aug 10, 2011
No, We're Not Amish
Bochurim Yisroel Glick and Ephraim Carlebach, on Merkos Shlichus in Bismark, North Dakota, are used to the question, "What are you? Are you Amish?"
After four summers traveling the Midwest, the pair of Roving Rabbis have become accustomed to being mistaken for Amish, or Mennonites, or in the Dakotas, Hutterites.
Even on Tuesday afternoon outdoors at the Bismarck Public Library, strangers, noting the men's black hats, dark suits and beards, came up to Rabbis Yisroel Glick and Ephraim Carlebach to ask them, "What are you? Are you Amish?" and even ask to have their photos taken with them. The pair, who are used to having to explain that they are Hasidic Jews, good-naturedly posed for photos.
On Tuesday, strangers may have noticed that the pair were wearing Crocs with their dark suits. Because Tuesday was a day of commemoration and mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, the rabbis were fasting, going without food or drink from sundown Monday to sundown Tuesday, and also foregoing the wearing of leather shoes.
Glick may have further confused onlookers with his distinctive Australian accent - he's from Melbourne but lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., as does Carlebach.
As ordained rabbis, they also continue their rabbinical studies, to which there is no end, Glick said.
Their travels are part of a Roving Rabbi program of 300 people worldwide, Carlebach said. Their summer trips - he's been to Ukraine, as well - are a kind of knitting together of far-flung Jewish people as well as a listening and learning time.
The rabbis' presence can be a warm and welcome touch of community and heritage in places without a large Jewish community.
People can fall away from their religious practice in isolation - "people are affected by their surroundings," Carlebach said - but some touchstones hold. Holding the Passover seder, observing Shabbat or lighting the Hanukkah candles.
Wherever they go, they network with Jewish people that they've met from other summer trips, or ask people they meet in restaurants or gas stations whether there are any Jewish people in the community.
In their summer in the Dakotas, they will have been to Watertown, Sioux Falls, Pierre, Redfield, Rapid City, Minot, Bismarck, Fargo and little towns where they may find one, or two Jewish people.
They recently connected with a doctor in Redfield, S.D., who has worked for 10 years on a reservation, who hadn't spoken Hebrew in maybe 40 years, they said.
They don't proseletyze people of other faiths: "We find Jewish people and learn from them," Carlebach said.
Keeping kosher means they travel with a 100-quart cooler, filled with kosher meat they brought from Brooklyn and replenished in Minneapolis. They bring a burner and a Forman grill as well. Other kosher food is not as difficult to find as one might imagine. Walmart's food stocks are about 50 percent kosher, Glick said.
They do miss a good deli sandwich and the kind of rye bread and pickles they love from New York City, however.
But this is a good place, they said. They knew that when they pulled up at a gas pump and saw that you can pump before you pay, Carlebach said, with a laugh.