Adam Epstein, 27, of Houston and Mechel Gancz, 22, of Airmont were standing outside David Panitz's house in Montebello on Friday morning, holding a box of freshly baked rugelach.
"We're going to teach Torah, and do a big mitzvah called 'tefillin,' " said Epstein, who, along with Gancz, is a rabbinical student at the Rabbinical College of America in Morristown, N.J.
"They wanted to stop by so I said, 'Great,' " said Panitz, who is family friends with Gancz and his father.
The two rabbinical students were visiting Panitz's home as a part of a monthlong stay in Suffern, during which they will meet with local Jews, discuss religious practices and exchange ideas about Judaism .
Epstein and Gancz are only two of hundreds of rabbinical students who will make similar trips during the summer to meet with Jews in every part of the world. The trips are a vital part of their training to become Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis.
Panitz jokingly referred to them as the "roving rabbis."
"Chabad sends 400 students all over the world, to all sorts of areas," Epstein said. "A rabbi has many different roles, so meeting different types of Jewish people helps give me the experience to lead a community."
He added, "The main thing we're doing is engaging in a dialogue with Jewish people."
Chabad Lubavitch is a Hasidic Jewish movement, but as Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis, Esptein and Gancz will serve Jews of every sect and denomination.
On Friday, at the Panitz house, that dialogue started with a discussion of the week's Torah portion.
Before Panitz and Panitz's wife, Shirley, Epstein described the Torah portion, which told the story of a zealous Jew who took matters into his own hands when others strayed into immoral behavior.
Epstein explained how the story pertained to the relationship between the individual and the community in Jewish moral teaching.
"This story actually means something in our daily life," Epstein said.
Shirley Panitz agreed and said discussing the stories of the Torah was an integral part of Judaism .
"The study of Torah is the study of the meaning of the stories," she said.
The discussion then went to the topic of how to practice Judaism in a fast-paced, modern world.
Epstein and Gancz said that even the smallest, most mundane things — like the meals that are taken for granted every day — can be made holy with a simple blessing.
Epstein and Gancz applied tefillin — a small box containing passages from the Torah — to David Panitz by wrapping ceremonial black straps around his arm. Gancz said a blessing while Esptein attached the box and straps to Pantiz.
Ultimately, the visit was about strengthening ties between Jews whose religious practices sometimes vary. The rabbinical students had come to learn and discuss, not preach.
"We're not here to push an agenda," Epstein said.
"We try to find things we have in common," Gancz said.