BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - He is an orthodox Jewish rabbi who grew up in Ocean Springs. She is an orthodox Jew from Bakersfield, CA. They got married two years ago and are now on a mission to help strengthen the Jewish community here in South Mississippi.
"We've brought this Torah scroll with us. It came from Europe to California and California to here. This is like the ark of God, and we're bringing it with us to Mississippi now," explained Rabbi Akiva Hall, as he unrolled the scroll on a table.
Hall and his wife Hannah represent Chabad, a movement and organization within Orthodox Judaism. The couple was recently assigned to reach out to the Jewish population of South Mississippi.
"The leader of the Chabad movement, he spearheaded a drive where young couples would go to small Jewish communities and strengthen existing community by learning with people, by maybe introducing people who didn't have an opportunity to grow up in a Jewish community, to their heritage," Akiva explained.
There are only around 1,600 Jewish people in the entire State of Mississippi. The couple says their goal is to complement the existing Jewish community here on the Coast, not to compete with or challenge it.
"We were very nervous when we first came, but the community has been very welcoming. Everyone is very open, and we've got a great response and lots of positivity and lots of encouragement and a lot of interest already, so we feel really good," said Hannah.
Education and studying Jewish words and wisdom is among the major goals of Chabad. Offering an opportunity for Jews to enhance their faith and experience it more fully.
"To do one more mitzvah, one more Jewish deed. To learn a little more about Judaism. To observe holidays a little bit more. A challenge will be showing people we're not out to convert people to Orthodox Judaism, or we're not scary. We're not here to be fanatics. We're here to teach Judaism," said Akiva.
The rabbi says he's not a big believer in labels, and while the world may categorize Jewish people as conservative or liberal, orthodox or reformed, he says in the end, there is one Jewish people.
The role of Chabad and this young couple is to embrace and enhance the faith and faithful.
"Whatever a Jewish person does in his life, if it's observe the Sabbath a little bit more, by lighting candles, the candles for the Sabbath, by being cognizant of dietary laws, of wanting to learn more about their heritage, every little bit makes a person become closer to God and closer to their people," said Akiva.
Akiva says along with the permanent residents of South Mississippi, there is also a transient population of Jewish people among tourists and among those stationed at Keesler Air Force Base.