Chabad of Rural Georgia Launches Outreach Campaign

Chabad of Rural Georgia Launches Outreach Campaign

Rabbi Chaim Markovits and his wife, Chayala, are traveling throughout rural Georgia to connect often unaffiliated Jews with their roots.

Three generations of the Edelson family in LaGrange enjoy a home visit with Rabbi Markovits.
Three generations of the Edelson family in LaGrange enjoy a home visit with Rabbi Markovits.

Rabbi Chaim and Chayala Markovits are on a divine mission. Traveling throughout rural Georgia, their goal is to connect with every Jewish person throughout the state to ignite their neshama (soul) with a love of Judaism and spirituality. While this may seem a lofty goal to pursue, the powerhouse couple is determined to make it happen — all with the help of Hashem.

The impetus to develop a program to reach Jews in rural Georgia began when Rabbi Yossi New, regional director of Chabad of Georgia and head rabbi for Congregation Beth Tefillah, led a panel discussion at the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival following the movie, “Outback Jews,” a few years ago. The documentary followed a group of Chabad rabbis who seek out Jewish people living in rural Australia.

“I had been going to Blue Ridge, Georgia for monthly Torah classes, and I always had contact with several other Jews in rural Georgia,” said New. “After seeing the movie, I thought why not develop a formalized program here to reach out to Jews in rural areas, many of whom are unaffiliated?”

Rabbi Markovits and Leo Tenenbaum fulfill the mitzvah of affixing a mezuzah to the doorposts of his home.

He set out to interview several possible candidates and felt certain he had found the right couple when he met the Markovitses. Rabbi Markovits, originally from Australia himself, spent 15 years in rabbinical school and graduated with an advanced rabbinical degree in Pretoria, South Africa, before becoming a rabbi. Chayala Markovits worked at the Chabad Children’s Network, organizing youth programs that are used by Chabad centers throughout the world.

COVID was rampant and most of the state had shut down when the Markovitses arrived in July 2020 to launch Chabad of Rural Georgia. Never a couple to run away from a challenge, they knew they had to be creative in order to reach Jews during a global pandemic. They began by reaching out to Jews in Blue Ridge, LaGrange, Columbus and Macon, offering private Zoom calls for Torah lessons and introductions. They traveled throughout the state, often accompanied by Yonatan Hambourger, a recent transplant from Los Angeles who hosts a regular Shabbat text broadcast. They met people outside, on their front porches, to share mezuzot, lay tefillin, or simply to kibbitz (chat).

In 2021, the couple hosted a seder in Macon and well-attended menorah lightings in Blue Ridge, Columbus and Macon. In LaGrange, Stephen Edelson helped host a Chanukah party for the community. “Rabbi Markovits arrived with kosher Chinese food from Atlanta in what turned out to be a fun and educational evening of fellowship,” said Edelson.

The town of Blue Ridge joins the Jewish community for Chanukah menorah lighting.

Andi Biron and her family in Macon attended many of the Chabad events there. She points to the family-friendly nature of their gatherings and says she particularly enjoyed the shofar-making class and recent menorah lighting. “My children do not have Jewish friends here, so it’s nice for them to have opportunities to interact with other Jewish kids,” Biron said.

What may be most important to Jews in rural Georgia, according to the Markovitses, is knowing that they have a connection to Judaism — and a rabbi who cares about them — day or night. Chayala recalled one particular evening when they had made plans for a “date night.” As they were heading out the door, they received a call from a man who explained that his mother only had a day or two to live. “Instead of going out, we immediately cancelled our plans so my husband could be with her. He drove the hour to Griffin so he could spend time with her before she passed in the morning,” she said.

Stephen Edelson shakes the lulav and etrog in the pop-up sukkah in LaGrange.

Rabbi Markovits tells another story about a seder held at the Macon Marriott last year. As the hagaddah reading was coming to a close, a big, burly man in a motorcycle helmet burst into the room, shouting in a thick Brooklyn accent, “Chag Sameach! What are you all doing here?” The man, who had been adopted by a Jewish couple in New York, was in Macon to meet his birth sister and heard prayers coming from one of the meeting rooms off the hotel lobby.

The man was thrilled to find a Chabad seder taking place and began to cry as he pulled a photo of the late Rebbe Schneerson from his wallet. He spoke about meeting the Rebbe as a child and regretted his decision to skip his own seder. As more tears fell, he told the couple, “I had such an emotional day meeting my sister, and now G-d has brought me here to this seder in Macon, Georgia.”

Stories of lives touched in rural Georgia abound. Well-known Georgia comedian Jerry Farber, now a resident of Columbus, recounted the positive impression Rabbi Markovits made on everyone he met during a recent visit. “I am a big fan of Rabbi Markovits. We sat outside when he came to Columbus, and he met several of my Jewish and non-Jewish friends who came by to visit with us. He was so interesting, thought-provoking and kind that a week later, everyone was still asking me about him,” Farber said.

A six-hour porch visit with Harvey Cohen and Sue Silverman in Young Harris sets an all-time record for Chabad of Rural Georgia visits.

Following in the illustrious footsteps of their forebearers, the Markovitses are committed to inspiring Jews throughout rural Georgia. The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, believed that Jews who need spirituality the most are often the most difficult to find. As the Markovitses travel the backroads and highways of Georgia, they are determined to find each and every one of them, to light up their hearts and homes with spirituality and a love of Judaism.

Anyone interested in getting involved or supporting Chabad of Rural Georgia may contact them at

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