Keeping Montana kosher is the name of the game for two rabbis spending their summer traveling throughout the state.
Seeing no community as too small, Eli Chaikin and Dovid Lepkivker seek to spread the joy and spirituality of Judaism in a state where fellow Jews can be hard to come by.
Spending the rest of their year studying in New York, the two are in Montana with sponsorship of Rabbi Chaim Bruk of Bozeman. The theme of this year’s rabbinical summer visitation program is keeping your kitchen kosher.
“Judaism is daily life,” Lepkivker said. “Eating is daily life.”
Food deemed kosher can be hard to come by in rural Montana, where communities often struggle to support their market with more common products let alone with kosher products.
The rabbis don’t see kosher as all or nothing.
“If we run out of people here, we go even further out,” Chaikin said.
With a whole summer, a car and a network of connections, the rabbis have been to Billings, Helena, Columbus, Boulder and Butte, and spent part of this week in Great Falls.
Armed with “Montana’s Kosher Shopping Guide” pamphlets, they encourage fellow Jews to change their eating habits one product at a time. Sometimes a simple brand switch is the first step on the way to a kosher cabinet. Products likes Heinz ketchup and Gatorade are kosher certified even though most people don’t realize it.
If a family the rabbis visit wants to make their kitchen kosher, Chaikin and Lepkivker can provide the know-how, but the extensive blessings of pots, pans and other dishware often brings in Bruk from Bozeman.
Though kosher is key, the rabbis try to connect with the Jewish community in any way they can and don’t discriminate by level of commitment or labels. They carry the teachings of Rabbi “Rebbe” Menachem Mendel Schneerson, one of the most prominent Jewish leaders of the 21st century and the Chabad movement.
The teaching stresses the importance of every person as an individual and Mitzvah, which Webster’s defines as “a meritorious or charitable act.”
Even those who do not actively practice Judaism have received visits from the rabbis, who see everyone connected to Judaism as part of the community whether they actively practice or not.
“The Chabad doesn’t believe in labels,” Chaikin said.
On a visit to Helena, the Rabbis visited two Jewish employees in the Secretary of State’s office and had an emotional moment when they helped one of them pray Tellifin, a common Jewish prayer involving leather straps bound to boxes of Scripture.
“You are what you eat,” Chaikin said.