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Finding Inspiration in Byron Bay

Finding Inspiration in Byron Bay

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In the days before Passover you will witness a similar scene in many Jewish households: a bustle of activity as the entire family comes together to get through the cooking, shopping, and cleaning needed for the holiday.

Thanks to the Roving Rabbi Passover Program, this took place even in the remote city of Byron Bay, Australia. As soon as we arrived, we began preparing for the Seder (at which we expected to host approximately 100 people) and soon all the familiar sights, sounds, and smells of the holiday filled the air.

When we felt that things in the kitchen were progressing nicely, we decided to take a short break and drove into the center of town in search of Jews. We stopped at a falafel shop frequented by Israeli tourists and immediately met Jason and Anne, a Jewish couple visiting from Melbourne.

They found it fascinating that we had traveled so far to facilitate the Seders here, although they couldn’t join since they planned to be back in Melbourne by then.

“Jason, have you put on tefillin recently?” we asked.

“Oh, not since my bar mitzvah, and it’s not happening again anytime soon.”

We were about to concede defeat, but help came from an unlikely source. “You know, it is a mitzvah,” said Anne. “C’mon, just do it.” Much to his credit, Jason promptly rolled up his sleeve, and we helped him with the tefillin and the prayer.

We left the shop with a spring in our step, and as we crossed the street we spotted a young man with long blonde hair staring at us, a huge smile on his face. “G’day boys, what brings you here?” he asked in an unmistakable British accent. We explained that we had come to run the Pesach Seder in Byron. “Pesach! I remember that one!” He introduced himself as Dominic, and told us that he came from a small town in England and had been living in Byron for the past few months. He had fond childhood memories of Passover but couldn’t recall what tefillin were. “I had a bar mitzvah but I don’t think I’ve seen those before.” Still, he quickly agreed to do the mitzvah, and his face beamed with joy as we helped him put them on and danced together in honor of the momentous occasion. We gave him the details of our Seder and promised to be in touch.

Next, we headed towards a hostel known to house Israeli tourists. Walking along the esplanade, we couldn’t help but notice an elderly man seated outside a restaurant. He had a large tattoo of a Star of David on his arm. We approached him and he told us that his name was Michael, and he was indeed Jewish. As the conversation progressed, it became quite clear that Michael had an Orthodox upbringing. “Yes, I was a yeshiva boy just like you guys, but things didn’t work out for me there, and I drifted away from it all.” Michael had become quite emotional. “At least my children are celebrating Passover with Chabad in California. I just can’t bring myself to do it,” he said, tears filling his eyes. We spoke to him at length about the beauty of the Jewish soul, which will always have an everlasting connection with G‑d, no matter what the person may have done. Michael seemed receptive and had many questions for us on this topic.

When we inquired about tefillin, he shuddered. “I don’t think I can do that, it’s too much,” he sighed. After some gentle prodding, Michael agreed, somewhat. “You know what, it would be nice to do a mitzvah, but I’ll only do the hand (tefillin).” He grabbed the tefillin and began expertly wrapping it on his left arm, as if it was just yesterday that he was a yeshiva student. “Thank you so much, boys”, he whispered as he handed us the tefillin, “You can’t imagine what you did for me. I just might fly back to join my kids in California in time for Passover.”

We returned and were greeted by mounds of work to be completed before the Seder (there aren’t any kosher caterers in Byron Bay!). Luckily for us, we had just received all the inspiration we needed to roll up our sleeves and get to work.



Mendy Wineberg & Mendel Cunin
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