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Marshal Klaven travels 13 states serving rural Jewish communities, including Dahlonega

POSTED: April 7, 2012 1:30 a.m.

You’d be hard pressed to find a doctor that still makes house calls, but there’s at least one rabbi who makes temple calls.

Rabbi Marshal Klaven, director of rabbinic services for the Institute of Southern Jewish Life, has spent the last few years reaching out to under-served Jewish communities in 13 states, including Georgia, Texas, Kentucky and North Carolina.

"With my department, we really do support small town Jewish life as they valiantly work to sustain and strengthen Jewish values in their communities," said Klaven, who is based out of Mississippi.

"I help those temples without full-time rabbinic support.

"Among those states that I cover are 103 congregations that don’t have the blessing of full-time rabbinic support. This year, on average, I’m probably on the road once every week."

According to the institute, Klaven’s services are crucial to the survival of Southern Jewish communities, which are dwindling in numbers.

On April 14, he’ll lead the Passover feast, or Seder, for Temple Shalom b’Harim. The congregation is based in Dahlonega and meets at the Dahlonega Presbyterian Church. High holiday services, including Seder, are held at Camp Coleman in Cleveland.

As a "circuit-riding rabbi," Klaven supports communities like Shalom B’harim with Sabbath and holiday observances and "facilitating those life cycle events like births, weddings, funerals" and coming of age ceremonies.

"All of those things that a full-time rabbi would do for one community, I have the blessing for doing for 103," Klaven said.

"And it really is a blessing."

"Most of the congregations that I serve are in small rural towns. One of the smallest congregations that I visit is three Jews in (a prison in Mississippi). One of my largest congregations has about 100 family units."

This year, he will have visited 11 different communities over 15 days for Passover.

"We tested it the first year with four communities. Last year, we served nine communities in 12 days," Klaven said.

"It’s wonderful that it keeps growing. We’re very happy to have these relationships to celebrate this amazing festival of freedom."

Even though he’s there specifically to serve the Jewish congregations, the Passover feasts tend to bring out a bigger slice of the overall community.

"Passover is a time when we open our doors and welcome anybody who needs a meal or who wants to be inspired by the story (behind the celebration)," Klaven said.

Physically opening the doors of their temple to non-Jews is also a larger, symbolic gesture.

"There’s a wonderful tradition in Judaism that says the reason we open our doors is because it’s supposed to be a sign that lets God know the world is ready for a Messiah," Klaven said.

"When God sees everybody’s doors are open to strangers and those who have been marginalized, He knows we’ve done our part for the coming of the Messiah."

Inviting others into their fold also helps remind the congregation of other important components to the Jewish belief system.

"One could say the entire Passover ritual is centered around food, but it is more than a holiday that nourishes the body," Klaven said.

"It is truly a holiday that nourishes the soul. It brings a greater awareness of those still struggling under the pharaohs of this time. We should all get out and see the burden of our kinfolk. We’re all family. We should continually ask ourselves what we can do to make their lives better.

"It’s critical to the continued success of civilization."

 


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