JACKSON, Wyo.—Chabad Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn strolled the streets here in one of the West's most picturesque tourist towns, looking for Jewish travelers.
"Shalom! Shalom!" he shouted, approaching a family lingering near Jackson's town square. "Are you, by any chance, Jewish?"
They were. He invited them to attend Friday night services at the synagogue he runs in the basement of his nearby home. But they planned to observe Shabbat in Utah.
"Well, then," Rabbi Mendelsohn said, "please give my regards to Rabbi Zippel in Salt Lake City." He whipped out a business card and offered a blessing for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
Rabbi Mendelsohn belongs to the Chabad Lubavitch, Hasidism's largest movement, which is on a mission to serve Jews. Some 3,300 Chabad houses have opened world-wide to foster Jewish enrichment, including aiding travelers who may arrive in need of kosher food, counseling or a person to pray with. Many Chabad houses are in large cities and university campuses.
But recently they have been popping up near U.S. national parks. Rabbi Mendelsohn, who grew up in Miami, came to Wyoming in 2007 after working as an itinerant rabbi at Chabad houses in Singapore, China and Nepal. Besides prayer books, Shabbat candles and kosher meals, the 30-year-old rabbi plies his trade with a camp stove, snowboard and motorized canoe.
Rabbi Mendelsohn says so many religious Jews have been adding Jackson to their itineraries he has hired a secretary to handle their phone and email queries. Do Yellowstone lodges have kosher kitchens? (No.) Are there hotels within walking distance of his synagogue? (Yes.) continue...