Rabbi Yehoshua Mizrachi, his partner Sheila McNamee and her daughter, Helena, 19, aboard their newly bought custom built 52-foot trawler, the M/V Sephina, in the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Rabbi Mizrachi said he found the boat of his dreams and traveled across the country to pick it up in Hoonah this summer. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rabbi Yehoshua Mizrachi, his partner Sheila McNamee and her daughter, Helena, 19, aboard their newly bought custom built 52-foot trawler, the M/V Sephina, in the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Rabbi Mizrachi said he found the boat of his dreams and traveled across the country to pick it up in Hoonah this summer. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rabbi drives 4,000 miles to buy trawler, begin dream of a lifetime

Yehoshua Mizrachi and family plan to sail around North America

As someone who feels at home both in the synagogue and auto repair shop, Yehoshua Mizrachi knows he’s not an average rabbi. The 56-year-old minister from Pennsylvania prides himself as a Jewish leader and handyman who can fix his own automobiles.

“I’m a little bit of a rare bird,” Mizrachi said in an interview earlier this week.

Mizrachi and his family — partner Sheila McNamee, 54, and her daughter Helena McNamee, 19 — arrived in Juneau this month aboard the M/V Sephina, a 52-foot trawler from Hoonah that Mizrachi purchased from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

Mizrachi invited the Empire aboard the boat on Wednesday afternoon at the Don D. Statter Harbor in Auke Bay. His family reached the vessel after driving 4,000 miles from eastern Pennsylvania to Skagway and ferrying through the Inside Passage to Hoonah. The trip marked a major part of fulfilling the rabbi’s three-decades-long dream of owning a boat like the Krogen 42. The trawler’s specifications — everything from its engine to hull design — allow it to cross oceans.

Rabbi Yehoshua Mizrachi and his partner Sheila McNamee talk about their newly bought custom built 52-foot trawler, the M/V Sephina, in the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Rabbi Mizrachi said he found the boat of his dreams and traveled across the country to pick it up in Hoonah this summer. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rabbi Yehoshua Mizrachi and his partner Sheila McNamee talk about their newly bought custom built 52-foot trawler, the M/V Sephina, in the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. Rabbi Mizrachi said he found the boat of his dreams and traveled across the country to pick it up in Hoonah this summer. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“I was absolutely smitten by this idea,” Mizrachi said, of sailing the boat anywhere. “I got the bug. So that 42-foot Krogen was the first production boat that was built — purposely built — to go around the world.”

The East Coast family left Allentown, Pennsylvania, in mid-July in an RV, arriving in Skagway just over two weeks later. Mizrachi said he was pouring over boat classifieds earlier this year when he stumbled upon the M/V Sephina. His contract with a Jewish congregation was at its end, and the rabbi saw the opportunity to “retire” and live out his dream.

“I just finished up a contract as the rabbi in Allentown and I said, ‘You know what? Let’s do it,’” Mizrachi said. “… We negotiated over the phone and with the internet with the Department of Economic Development on the boat, and I bought it and wired them the money. They said, ‘Congratulations, you’re the owner of a new boat. Go get it in Hoonah, Alaska.’”

Sheila McNamee used to live in Florida and said the thought traveling to warmer climes aboard the new vessel interested her.

“We want to go down to California, the West Coast, through the Panama Canal and down to Florida because a friend of ours is down there right now,” she said. “Like him, I had nothing holding me back in Allentown, and I’m just grateful for my daughter that she agreed to come along, because I think it’s a life lesson for her as well. It’s going to be an adventure for her.”

Helena McNamee had taken a year off from college to work and explore her interests. She hopes the coming voyage will shed light on possible life paths.

“I just kind of went with it, and just hoped that maybe along the way I would figure out what I wanted to do,” she said.

The realization of Mizrachi’s dream hasn’t been without its hitches.

The family was laid up in Skagway for over a week waiting out the Inlandboatmen’s Union of the Pacific strike. When they reached the M/V Sephina in Hoonah, the Pennsylvania clan found the trawler in worse shape than originally anticipated.

Rabbi Yehoshua Mizrachi on his newly bought custom built 52-foot trawler, the M/V Sephina, in the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rabbi Yehoshua Mizrachi on his newly bought custom built 52-foot trawler, the M/V Sephina, in the Don D. Statter Memorial Boat Harbor in Auke Bay on Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“When we got to the boat, absolutely nothing worked, so we’ve gotten it to say 90% (fixed) in the last three months,” Mizrachi said. “Now it’s going to take an equal amount of money, an equal amount of time — if not more — to get through the last 10%. There’s a lot of work to do. A lot of it is just elbow grease, a lot of painting.”

Mizrachi said they are in no rush to leave Juneau and that he wants to invest in the local Jewish community.

“Being a rabbi is basically being a teacher and so my proficiency is in Jewish law and everything related to Judaism so I’m going to continue to do those things,” he said. “Even though I don’t have a congregation per se, I’m going to continue to teach Torah and to turn people on to their Jewish background and their Jewish spirituality.”

Upcoming Torah Study

What: Torah Study with Rabbi Yehoshua Mizrachi

When: Sunday evenings starting Dec. 1

More info: Join us as we engage the text of the Torah, ask hard questions, raise issues that make you think, and have a lot of fun along the way. Open to all, laid-back atmosphere, no Hebrew required. RSVP to (207) 404-0474 for exact times and location.


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com.


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