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Son-in-law of slain rabbi spreads a message of love, not hate

Mark Itkin and Simon Assouline sign the "I WILL" cloth on the America's Torah RV outside Michael M Krop Sr HS, April 28, 2015. Isroel "Izzy" Labkowski started America's Torah after his father-in-law Rabbi Joseph Raksin was killed as he walked to temple in August. He bought an RV and his touring the country to spread love not hate. They are writing a Torah and asking people to contribute by sponsoring a letter. In addition, they have the "I WILL" cloth where people can write positive messages of what they will do. Labkowski is making a stop at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High to speak with the Chabad club there.
Mark Itkin and Simon Assouline sign the "I WILL" cloth on the America's Torah RV outside Michael M Krop Sr HS, April 28, 2015. Isroel "Izzy" Labkowski started America's Torah after his father-in-law Rabbi Joseph Raksin was killed as he walked to temple in August. He bought an RV and his touring the country to spread love not hate. They are writing a Torah and asking people to contribute by sponsoring a letter. In addition, they have the "I WILL" cloth where people can write positive messages of what they will do. Labkowski is making a stop at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High to speak with the Chabad club there. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Christina James has a bad habit of saying she will do something — everything from chores to meeting up with friends — and not following through, the 16-year-old said.

But not anymore, said Christina, who penned her promise to change her ways on a traveling “I will” scroll attached to an RV meant to inspire change around the globe.

“I definitely will keep this in mind next time I say I am going to do something,” said the teen, who signed the scroll Tuesday when the RV visited an after-school group that meets at Dr. Michael M. Krop Senior High School in north Miami-Dade.

The “I will” scroll is part of America’s Torah, a mission born after Rabbi Joseph Raksin was gunned down as he walked to his Orthodox synagogue in Northeast Miami-Dade in August. The RV trailer, which has a photo of Raksin, began its journey in Key West and is now traveling up the East Coast.

Raksin’s son-in-law, Izzy Labkowsky, originally planned on having a Torah — which contains a handwritten version of the Five Books of Moses in Hebrew — written in his father-in-law’s memory. But the idea turned into a full-blown mission to spread love, not hate.

So he sold his general contracting business, bought an RV and came up with a plan to tour the United States to write a Torah. By getting sponsors for letters in the Torah and donations, Labkowsky is planning a two-year trip across the country and will share the seven Universal Laws, including respect for human life and establishing a judicial system. The idea for the “I will” scroll came from a project done at the Chabad of the Grove —the “I will” wall, which queries congregants with the statement, “To make a better world, I will…”

Labkowsky, 34, built the scroll with wood and metal and stocked it with 75 yards of canvas for people to write their messages.

About five yards have already been filled with promises: “I will feed the hungry; I will stop bullying at my school; I will not curse.”

The goal is to get about a mile’s worth of messages.

“It’s very inspirational,” said Labkowsky, who plans on finding somewhere to display the completed scroll. “Some of the messages are really touching.”

On Tuesday, Labkowsky brought his project to students in the C Teen club, sponsored by Chabad Chayil. The primarily Jewish teen group, which meets weekly, opened Tuesday’s meeting up to everyone.

“It’s a message everyone can understand,” said 10th-grader Simon Assoulin, 16. “We should always use good over evil.”

Simon said he was honored to write on the wall.

“I will support special needs kids throughout my life,” he wrote.

“This is something I always try to do because my sister and brother both have special needs,” he said.

For Labkowsky, the mission is personal. He began his speech talking about his father-in-law.

It was about 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning, when Raksin was walking east on Northeast 175th Street and Eighth Court toward Bais Menachem Chabad, 1005 NE 172nd Ter., when he was confronted by two men. One pulled a gun and shot him.

Labkowsky said he and his children walked passed him as he lay on the ground, but they didn’t know it was him.

Miami-Dade Police Spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta said this week that the case is still open and police are still asking anyone with information to come forward.

“I am turning this tragic thing into goodness,” said Labkowsky, who has recruited other rabbis and others to help him spread the word.

And while Labkowsky hopes police find the men responsible for Raksin’s death, he said he was focusing his energy on spreading goodwill.

“The Torah brings light,” he said. “And light is the only way to fight darkness.”

To follow the RV on it’s journey, visit americastorah.org.

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