SIDNEY, MT — Seemingly out of place but nevertheless on a mission of sorts, you may have seen two men pass through Sidney Wednesday dressed in traditional Jewish garb.
Rabbis Yossi Bendet and Mendel Kesselman have been traveling throughout Montana and reaching out to fellow Jewish brethren who don’t have the chance to attend the synagogue or interact with other Jews throughout the year.
“We’re very excited,” Kesselman said, “and for some it’s a yearly thing, waiting for the next opportunity for us to come by.”
He and Bendet are part of an organization of the Chabad, the largest Jewish one in the world with 2,500 Jewish centers placed throughout the United States and the world. They offer educational opportunities and services for Jews in major cities and increasingly into remote areas…like Montana. There is one center in Bozeman, Chabad-Lubavitch.
The center is designed to serve Jews across the state in anyway it can. During the summer, Jewish students are grouped into pairs and travel where there is no permanent center.
“That can be anywhere in the world where there may be a Jewish person,” Bendet said. “Sometimes we go to a place where there’s a couple hundred Jews in town but there’s no synagogue, there’s no Rabbi. There’s no Jewish center. And sometimes there will be one Jew, and that’s all the same.”
The two say they’re honored to be assigned to Montana as they’re friends with Rabbi Chaim Bruk at the Bozeman center. “The state is a very beautiful state. It’s very spread out,” Bendet said. And the people have been “receptive and happy” to see them.
On the road for three weeks, the two Rabbis have logged more than 3,000 miles, starting first in Bozeman, traveling southwest, east to Billings, north and through the Hi-line to Sidney. They would travel to Glendive and Miles City on their way back before heading out again on the road.
They’ve had their share of inspirational experiences. Their visits with Jews many times consist of taking one-on-one time to answer questions, share informational literature and selling Torah books. But they’ve held Bar Mitzvahs right on the spot for people who never had the opportunity. They’re never too old. The Rabbis also teach their fellow Jews how to practice Judiasm when there’s no synagogue to attend.
“You can live Jewishly even at home,” Kesselman said. “Being Jewish is whenever and wherever you are.” Some Jews don’t even know about the Jewish center in Bozeman, so contact information is given.
Jews in this area are few and far between, but they’re still special. “We travel through, look around. Sometimes we have people on our list. Sometimes we’ll just go around asking if anybody knows anybody who is Jewish,” Bendet said. “We’ll go the extra mile or hundred or thousand to see one Jew because one Jew is important. The power of the single person is very much emphasized.”
The annual trip during the summer by the students is often looked forward to by Jews in the state. It’s their one connection to anything Jewish throughout the year. So it’s worth the trip. “It’s fulfilling,” Bendet said. “You know the saying, ‘Go the extra mile?’ ” Well, sometimes it’s the 100th mile, but it’s nice.”