The Spiritual Peace Corp

Josh Fleet writes:

For the past week and a half, Rabbis Sholom Laine and Mendel Levin have spent most mornings in their rented car driving to a city, town or highway they’ve never heard of before.

The first week it was Ocala, Beverly Hills, Lecanto, Inverness, Lake City and Live Oak.

This week it’s places closer to Gainesville: Williston, Archer, Alachua, Starke and Waldo.

Laine, 22, and Levin, 23, don’t know anyone in these towns. Some days they have a short list of names. Other days they open the phone book and run their fingers down the columns, looking for familiar-sounding names.

“Sometimes you just look in the phone book for the Goldbergs,” Laine said. “And the Steins,” Levin added.

The rabbis are staying at the Lubavitch-Chabad Jewish Student & Community Center just north of the University of Florida, as members of the “spiritual peace corps,” as they call it.

They’re looking for Jews in places where Jewish life is hard to find.

They go to these places to visit with Jews who may have no rabbi, no temple, no Jewish community center.

Recently ordained rabbis from Brooklyn, N.Y., Laine and Levin came to Gainesville at the invitation of Lubavitch-Chabad Rabbi Berl Goldman. Laine plans to work with Goldman through UF’s fall semester.

For the spiritually and communally isolated Jews in North Central Florida, meeting with the two men, who identify with one of the most conservative branches of Judaism, can be an experience.

In Lake City on Monday, for instance, Laine and Levin met with a woman in the local public library because she wasn’t comfortable inviting them to her home.

With long and unkempt beards, black skull caps, black pants and white button-up shirts, the two men stand out in a crowd, although the rabbis did catch the eye of a man with an Israeli accent, who approached with questions of his own.

About Luke Ford

Raised a Seventh-Day Adventist at Avondale College in Australia, Luke Ford moved to California in 1977. He graduated from Placer High School in 1984, reported the news at KAHI/KHYL radio for three years, attended Sierra College and UCLA, was largely bedridden by Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for six years, and converted to Judaism in 1993. From 1997-2007, Luke made his living from blogging. Living by Beverly Hills (, he now teaches the Alexander Technique (moving the way the body likes to move). Lessons cost $100 each and last about 45 minutes. In 2011, Luke completed a three-year teaching course at the Alexander Training Institute of Los Angeles. His personal Alexander Technique website is Luke is the author of five books, including: » The Producers: Profiles in Frustration » Yesterday’s News Tomorrow: Inside American Jewish Journalism
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