The Valley Breeze
One local rabbi and his family have opened up their home and their hearts to the community, where they say they intend to fill a void in northern Rhode Island and have no plans to leave the area anytime soon.
Rabbi Aryeh Laufer and his wife, Mushka, have opened Chabad House of Northern Rhode Island in Lincoln, a place that is about practicing and learning the Jewish faith, but is also centered on strengthening community and reaching out to those in the area who haven’t been to services or practiced their faith with others in years.
“This is a home for many people,” Mushka says, looking around the living room of her home at 7 Wake Robin Road, where Jewish books in Hebrew and English line bookcase shelves.
There are five centers in the state, Rabbi Laufer said, all of which are in the southern half of Rhode Island, aside from the Providence location. While Providence is a short drive for northern Rhode Island residents, many folks in the area opt not to travel to the city, the couple said.
In some cases, the two explained, they’ve met Jewish locals who haven’t attended programs in decades until Chabad House in Lincoln began offering services.
The couple said they’ve been busy teaching classes, hosting traditional events, celebrating Jewish holidays and holding services. But for the couple, much of their work involves traveling out into the community to bring the Jewish faith to others right at their doorstep.
They visit people’s homes and local businesses by request, and deliver items like freshly baked challah bread and mezuzah messages, talking with residents about their faith and, many times, their childhood practicing the religion.
“It really brings them back to a life that, perhaps, it’s been a bit distant,” the rabbi said.
The pair also host events out of their home, like traditional Jewish cooking lessons and women’s classes, run by Mushka, who heads the Women’s Jewish Circle of Northern Rhode Island and teaches Hebrew with a six-week “crash course.”
“Things are growing and expanding, snowballing and picking up speed,” Rabbi Laufer said, speaking of the move from the Providence area to Lincoln.
His parents, Rabbi Yehoshua and Mishla, established the Providence-based Chabad Center of greater Rhode Island in 1979 to meet the needs of the Jewish community in the state, and it was at the end of 2015 that Aryeh and Mushka settled into the Lincoln location.
Their goal is to make the center “as accessible as possible,” Rabbi Laufer said, and to keep with Jewish traditions and the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, which is a branch of Hasidism. He explained that “Chabad” represents wisdom, comprehension and knowledge.
Since they’ve established the center in Lincoln, the couple have met people from town and the surrounding cities, and many of these folks have echoed that there’s a need for their work, particularly in this section of the state where there were fewer resources.
One man who has connected with the Lincoln couple and their work, the rabbi said, told them, “’Don’t ever underestimate the work you do.’”
It’s a statement that has stuck with Laufer, a Providence native, and Mushka, who was originally from Jerusalem before moving to the United States.
“The key to change the world for the better is in each of our hands, and that’s really something we have to invest in,” the rabbi said.
Mushka, who also works as a graphic designer, said Chabad’s mission has a global message.
“Through acts of kindness and goodness, we’ll live in a better world,” she said.
The duo has brought the Jewish community together through moshiach, or messiah meal celebrations, as well as sukkah meals, Rosh Hashana and Shabbat dinners, and participated in what the rabbi believes was the first-ever menorah lighting in Woonsocket at Harris Hall. He also said it was potentially a first in quite some time in the northern half of the state.
Close to 50 people came out for the event, he said, to honor the message of Hanukkah, which is “to spread light, spread freedom and expel darkness and oppression.”
“Everyone we meet is excited,” Rabbi Laufer said.
For more information about classes and services, visit www.chabadnri.com or call 401-499-2574.