Rabbi Yossi Laufer grew up in the East Side of Providence, the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Laufer, who still serves at Chabad of Providence/Chabad of Rhode Island, on Hope Street.
Laufer attended a rabbi-prep high school, Oholei Torah, in Brooklyn, New York, and studied for eight years at Yeshivas in both Miami and New York. He was ordained in 1997.
In 1998, Laufer moved back home to the Ocean State, bringing with him his new wife, Shoshana, and became the rabbi at the Chabad of West Bay Chai Center, in Warwick.
Rabbi Laufer lives next to the Chabad house in Warwick with his wife and children.
Q: Favorite Jewish food?
A: Cholent [A traditional Jewish stew that is often simmered overnight and eaten for lunch on Shabbat].
Q: Favorite Jewish holiday? Why?
A: Hanukkah. Because the message of Hanukkah is religious freedom. I like that message the most [of all the holidays]. Over thousands of years, when did the Jewish people have religious freedom? In America, I am 100-percent free to walk around with a big beard and a yarmulke and fringes hanging out of my pants. There is nothing to be afraid of; this country was built on religious freedom.
Q: Favorite Jewish song?
A: “Havenu Shalom Aleichem” – I love that song. It’s so positive and welcoming, and the whole mission of Chabad is to be welcoming. I like the tune as well.
Q: Favorite Jewish book?
A: “The Tanya” [written in 1797 by Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad Hasidism].
Q: Favorite Jewish celebrity?
A: The Lubavitcher rebbe [Menachem Mendel Schneerson]. He brought what Chabad is today to America.
Q: Favorite Israeli city to visit? Why?
A: Jerusalem. Because it is the capital of Israel and, according to Judaism, Jerusalem is the center of the world. God started the cornerstone of the world with the Temple Mount and everything else on planet Earth is an extension of that cornerstone. So, physically, spiritually, culturally – it’s all Jerusalem.
Q: Favorite Israeli city to live? Why?
A: Kfar Chabad [a Chabad village]. It is right in the center of Israel and can be seen from the highway that connects Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It is built with the “770” building shape concept, meaning it replicates the shape of the Yeshiva headquarters located at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, New York. It is a beautiful town to live in and there is great camaraderie amongst its people.
Q: Favorite Hebrew word and why?
A: L’Chaim [to life]. I love this word because I love life. I am an enthusiastic guy, and I like to be an excited, happy person, full of life. It fits my personality.
Q: Favorite Yiddish word and why?
A: Zei gezunt [be well]. I am always saying this to people. The most important thing to have is good health. I visit hospitals and nursing homes, and I see how important it is to have health. Being happy and mental health is very important, too.
Q: Best part of keeping Kosher, most difficult part of keeping Kosher?
A: Best part: Judaism is not an “all or nothing” religion. If someone keeps their milk and meat separate [in storage], and does not eat them together, they are keeping most of Kosher. It’s a lifestyle. You tell certain people they can’t have a cheeseburger, and they say, “what?” … “I can’t have a cup of milk with my chicken dinner?” But, you get used to the style and it’s not so hard. There are other kinds of milks, including soy, rice, coconut and almond. We have a lot of rice milk in our house. It’s very easy to substitute milk in recipes, and it makes keeping Kosher so much easier. I think keeping Kosher is one of the best ways for the soul and body to work together.
Most difficult part: It is difficult to make people realize that Kosher is not a restriction, it is a privilege.
Q: Favorite part of being a rabbi?
A: Being a support for people in their time of need. This is one of the main things that rabbis do. Eighty percent of Jews in West Bay do not belong to a temple. If you don’t go to temple, what is your community? It’s sad. Human beings need a community. We’re a social creature, and because of this lack of community, people are lonely. When people have a rabbi to support them, you can see a difference in their personality.
Q: Favorite Jewish memory?
A: All four of my grandparents survived the Holocaust, in four different ways. My father’s parents ended up in a displaced persons camp that America set up after the war. They were homeless. My father’s parents both ended up in the same DP camp and met there, gave birth to my father and got married all while in the camp in Munich, Germany. My mother’s parents had the same situation. They met, married and gave birth to my mother in a DP camp in Vienna, Austria.
I had unbelievable grandparents who survived with miracles. They would tell me their stories, and they blew me away.
Q: Greatest piece of advice someone has given you?
A: “When you get married, you are meant to be different.” According to Jewish teachings, Adam was not created as a man. God put him to sleep and did an operational procedure and took one side [of his body] and created Eve. So, according to basic interpretations of the Torah, after the procedure where God created Eve, Adam woke up and was suddenly a man, and Eve was a woman. The lesson is that Adam was one half and Eve was the other half, and they got married and became one again. People talk about it all the time. Human beings are attracted to marry their opposite, or their “other half.”
Q: If you could have three dinner guests, living or from history, who would they be and why?
A: The Lubavitcher rebbe. He passed away a couple years ago and we [Chabad] miss his physical presence, even though his spiritual presence is alive and well. It would be great to have his physical presence join us again.
Abraham. I have always wondered what it would be like to have been in Abraham’s tent. He had a big hospitality tent, with doors on each side. Everybody was welcome and I wonder how it would have been to be there.
Sam Serby. When are you coming to dinner?
SAM SERBY is a freelance writer who lives in East Greenwich. He previously worked at the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv.