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Finding Jews in the Desert

Finding Jews in the Desert

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You’ve probably never heard of Deming, a small New Mexican city located about 60 miles west of more popular Las Cruces. We weren’t familiar with it either, until earlier this summer, when we received a request for a visit from Sam and Nancy, a Jewish couple living there. Roving rabbis love getting requests like that—they eliminate much of the legwork—and we happily hopped into the car.

The visit went well, thank G‑d. Sam and Nancy were friendly and we chatted for quite a while. Sam was quick to agree put on tefillin, and they also agreed to have their mezuzahs checked. When we opened the mezuzah hanging on the back door, we saw that the scroll was completely dried up due to the intense desert heat, and the entire first line of “Shema Yisrael” had been erased! “No worries, we’ve got a new, kosher mezuzah for you,” we hastily reassured them, and gave Sam the honors of affixing it to the door.

As we were wrapping up the visit, we asked the couple if they knew of any other Jews in the area. “Well, as you know there aren’t many Jews here, but there is an elderly Jewish gentleman, Mr. Levy, who has been in the neighborhood forever,” Sam replied with some hesitation. “But he does not consider himself Jewish. He is not fond of Jews. . . so I would imagine he doesn’t want rabbis in his home.”

Sam’s warning echoed in our ears, but we decided to pay Mr. Levy a visit nonetheless. As followers of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, of righteous memory, who constantly emphasized that there is a G‑dly spark within every Jew that can never be extinguished, our mission is to tend to that spark until the soul is afire.

When we showed up, we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted warmly by Mr. Levy, who was comfortably ensconced in his recliner. He told us about his difficult childhood, and that as a result he had cut off all ties with Jews and Judaism for more than half a century. His aide, Anna, a sweet Christian woman, was sitting nearby, and whenever Mr. Levy stated that he is no longer Jewish, she would perk up and say, “Mr. Levy, of course you are, you can never leave the Jewish faith!” That got a smile from Mr. Levy every time.

We shmoozed with Mr. Levy for close to two hours. We were so glad to have found him, and paid the visit despite what we’d heard. It was apparent to us that as with everything in life, G‑d was guiding our steps. On our way out, we had a brazen idea. “Mr. Levy,” we asked, “may we please put a mezuzah on your front door?”

As you would expect, this rendered Mr. Levy speechless. But with our unlikely ally Anna backing us up, (and actually doing all the fighting for us!), he finally gave his consent.

We all gathered around outside, and affixed the mezuzah in its place of honor. What a perfect inaugural mitzvah for Mr. Levy—it is constant, encompasses the entire person, and strengthens one’s belief in G‑d.



Zalmy Goldberg & Daniel Blotner
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