Rabbi Shmulik Schneerson (at right), a visiting emissary for the Chabad Lubavitch in New York, has just wrapped a black leather strap called the "tefillin" around the arm of a man (at left with his son) at the recent Israeli Day Festival. A special prayer, handwritten on parchment, is placed within the tefillin, which Orthodox Jewish men put on every day.
‘Have Torah, will travel’
A young rabbi visiting Hawaii has seen the world’s remote corners as he seeks out Jews
When Rabbi Shmulik Schneerson takes his Torah on the road, there's no place he won't go to minister to Jews.
"Every one is precious," said Schneerson, whose dictum could be "Have Torah, will travel." His job is ministering to Jews no matter where or what their station in life, he said.
For the last several months, Schneerson has been on loan to Chabad of Hawaii by Chabad Lubavitch, its New York parent organization. The rabbi has been ministering to Jews on the neighbor islands and, before leaving Hawaii last week, spent five days with 18 Jews on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. He was the first rabbi to do so in more than 10 years.
Chabad Lubavitch is a worldwide Orthodox Jewish organization that follows the strict commandments of the Torah, or first five books of the Old Testament.
In line with its mission to send "the first pioneers to go to the ends of the earth," he has journeyed to "little corners" like Tasmania or Ukraine to see just two or three elderly Jews, he said. Only 23, he has visited all but one continent since he was 18.
"I get an amazing feeling when a Jew first sees me and looks at you like you fell off the roof. He says to me, What are you doing here? And we tell him, We came to visit you. 'Wow!' is their reaction," said Schneerson, who wears a traditional beard, hat and fringed garment (tzitzit).
Everywhere he goes, "I find people always thirsting" for a visit from a rabbi - "someone to talk to" about their spiritual needs, he said. "They are all so happy to see me."
He usually performs Jewish blessing rituals and helps celebrate High Holy Days.
"The Jewish nation is compared to a body. One part of the body cannot function on its own - the heart cannot function without the head. We need every single person. We have to look after each other no matter what, no matter where they are. ... Every one is precious," he said.
Schneerson said he is carrying on the mission as Rabbi Itchel Krasnjansky and his wife, Pearl, did when they founded the Chabad of Hawaii 20 years ago. The couple sacrificed their close-knit Jewish community and all the conveniences of kosher stores, schools and temples in New York to come here, when Hawaii was considered a remote outpost, he said.
"They came to stay and knew they had to work through everything and all the problems. They couldn't leave if things didn't work out. They didn't give themselves the option of failure, only success," he said, adding, "I don't know if I could've handled that."
Pearl Krasnjansky said moving from an "insular, urban Jewish community" to the islands was "definitely culture shock" to the couple with two toddlers.
"We were the only Chasidic (Ultra-Orthodox) Jews on the island," she said.
The "plus side" was that the "people here are much more wonderful, kind and accepting," she added.
Krasnjansky does not share her husband's title of rabbi, but she has been an intrinsic part of helping him create a community for Orthodox Jews.
"We built it (Chabad) from the ground up. We held services in our home" in the beginning, attended by a handful of Jews. "But in all that doing I found myself enriched as a person. I found a purpose, a calling. ...
"When I see young children grow in their pride and knowledge of their (spiritual) identity, this is my fulfillment," she said.
She has taught their seven children and others seeking a spiritual/secular education, run the Sunday school and cooked often hard-to-find kosher food for holidays in her own kitchen.
The "monumental task" of building the Jewish community was inflated by financial struggles and the loneliness of being far from family and friends, she said. Today people can keep in touch more easily via the Internet and free or cheap long-distance calls. Back then "we nourished and cherished every call from family," she recalled.