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Tzemach Shemtov, right, holds up a mezuzah during an interview Monday as he and Mendel Weiss, left, talk about their visit to Montana as members of Chabad-Lubavitch, a branch of Othodox Judaism based in New York.

A few days into their visit to Montana, Mendel Weiss and Tzemach Shemtov said they've met with 15 families in Bozeman and Billings.

Over the next few weeks, the rabbinical students hope to check names off of a list of hundreds as they criss-cross the state sharing the Jewish tradition with others.

It's an annual summer undertaking for students of the Chabad-Lubavitch in Brooklyn, New York. Students have come, usually in pairs, to Eastern Montana for years at the invitation of Rabbi Chaim Bruk in Bozeman.

Weiss and Shemtov, both 23, arrived in the state Friday. They reached Billings on Monday and planned to venture to distant places like Glendive and Sidney before circling back.

Weiss said their work is to go out to meet with as many Montana Jews as they can, keeping the light of faith going. He likened it to a lamplighter tending to his or her craft.

“Someone has to go around with some kind of a fire torch and light those lamps,” he said.

It was Bruk who started the contact list of Jewish families in the area, Weiss said. Since then, students have added to it each summer if possible.

They meet with the families, perform ceremonies and talk about living according to Judaism in the modern age. Weiss bristled at the comparison to something like a Mormon missionary or Christian evangelicalism, but the central idea is the same: share and sustain the faith.

The pair said their reception in Montana has been positive.

“The more the better, obviously, but try not to ever underestimate the good effect that one can do,” Shemtov said.

Coming up on Independence Day, Weiss said their work continues to reflect the freedom of religion exercised in the United States and that they can turn to God in times of need.

And to do their part, Weiss and Shemtov will travel some of Montana's rugged roads as best as their rental Chevrolet Cruz will take them.

“Those living off road," Weiss said of the surprises they've met in Montana. "You travel up the mountain, that was definitely a new experience, a different type of lifestyle.”


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.