The joy of being a Jew

Rabbi offers faith to unaffiliated in Duke, Durham communities
The News & Observer, Aug. 6, 2002
By YONAT SHIMRON, Staff Writer

DURHAM – Rabbi Zalman Bluming’s living room still looks bare and on Friday nights his black oblong dinner table could use a few more people — eating, singing and celebrating the arrival of God’s given day of rest, Shabbos.

But then Bluming is new and, for the most part, untested.

Soon, he hopes, Jews will flock to his home at the corner of Watts and Englewood, and not only for Sabbath meals. They will come, he hopes, because he offers them a window into the joys of being Jewish, a guide through the labyrinth of Jewish law and observance, and a zeal for reclaiming a rich and ancient heritage.

Bluming is convinced the community is ready for a flavor of Orthodox Jewish tradition in the style of the Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Lubavitch sect, known for its mystical devotion to Jewish observance. He will focus his efforts on the Durham Jewish community in general and Duke University’s Jewish students in particular.

Lubavitch is the name of the town in White Russia where the Jewish mystical movement was based for more than a century before its leaders moved to Brooklyn. Under the leadership of the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the movement founded an educational and social service arm known as “Chabad,” and it operates an estimated 2,000 Chabad centers around the world.

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A big part of the Chabad mission here is to draw secular Jews, especially students on Duke’s campus, back to the fold. Generally speaking, Judaism is not a religion that seeks converts. Orthodox groups such as Lubavitch make it their mission to work with unaffiliated Jews.

There are different portals into the faith, no two quite alike, Bluming said.

“The approach to addressing Jewish needs in the community is to understand and appreciate people’s personal voyage, and not to think there’s one language that speaks to everyone,” Bluming said. “You have to create the full wide spectrum of Judaism and make it accessible to every Jew, so each one can find their niche.”

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