(Chabad.org) Rabbi Avremy and Chaya Raskin recently returned to Vermont to change lives. They moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Brattleboro – a town tucked away in the southeast corner of the state two hours from where the rabbi grew up – to open up a Chabad-Lubavitch center serving a diverse and liberal community of families and seasonal residents who appreciate locally-grown produce and locally-owned shops half an hour from a popular ski resort.
Since their move earlier this month, they’ve been meeting new people every day, connecting with passersby, shopkeepers and others, offering links to their website and inviting new friends over for a kosher meal. They hosted their first Sabbath guests two weekends ago, welcoming them to a house that includes an office and dining room from where they will run Torah classes and one-on-one study opportunities. With the High Holidays just six weeks away, the Raskins plan a slew of programs on the horizon.
“We’re excited about getting to know the community and getting all the Jewish people together,” said the rabbi, adding that he hopes to offer people a way to add deeper meaning to their lives and a way to connect to their Judaism on a different level.
On August 5, the center will host a welcome barbeque featuring meat, vegan and vegetarian options.
Ari Reis, a Brattleboro resident who first met Raskin during the rabbi’s visits to area businesses as a yeshiva student several summers back, said he always appreciated his persistence, his knowledge, and that he and a fellow student coming through weren’t afraid to talk about what he called “heavy-duty Jewish stuff.”
They’d stop by the coffee roasting shop where Reis works and don the prayer boxes known as tefillin with him, sit and talk awhile, and keep coming back.
He said he was thrilled to hear that the rabbi, his wife and their daughter Esther would be moving to the area.
“I hope that they can find beauty in our town, become part of the community, that they’re happy here and enjoy themselves,” explained Reis.
Reis added that he looks forward to seeing his own children, Noah, 7, and Gabriel, 5, grow as Jews, and to the Chabad House playing an active role in providing them with positive Jewish experiences as they seek to find their place among the Jewish people.
“They could use some good halachah,” he said, using the catch-all term for Jewish law and its commentaries. “It’ll be nice to have a kind of [religious community] here.”
Beyond that, he believes the whole community can benefit from the opportunity and perspective Chabad provides, and that people will gravitate to the new center.
“If you’re searching to reach a higher level of Judaism, it’s now at your doorstep,” he enthused. “I’m really excited about it.”
Beth Orlan of nearby Westminster saw an article in the local paper about Raskin’s work in the area as a yeshiva student, and when she moved to Vermont a few years ago, got in touch. She had him and his wife over as they scoped out the area, and encouraged them to make it their home.
“There’s too many people in Brooklyn, and you need to expand,” she said she told them. There are “Jews hiding under rocks” around town. “There’s a lot of people who’d like to see what else is out there in terms of Judaism.
“I give them a lot of credit for coming up,” added Orlan.
The rabbi sees his and his wife’s work in terms of fulfilling what he said is the vision of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, to touch every Jew in the world.
“We’re bringing Jewish awareness,” said Raskin, “identity and pride.”