Being a roving rabbi is not for the faint of heart.
As we traversed the cities of Palm Harbor, Clearwater, and Safety Harbor, we went door to door seeking Jews who would welcome some Judaism into their lives. It was tough going at first—we received many automatic “not interested” replies, and people who wouldn’t even open their doors, as well as the ones who listened politely but didn’t have the time. And then, inevitably, we meet the ones who seem to have been waiting for a pair of Chassidic boys to knock on their doors and share some Torah, mitzvoth and Jewish pride.
This time it was our new friend, Joe, who was eager for a chat and the opportunity to put on tefillin for the first time ever.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, always taught that one good deed leads to another. Thank G‑d, after meeting Joe, things proceeded at a record-setting pace. In just 11 days, we were privileged to coordinate 9 bar mitzvahs, have an additional 20 men do the mitzvah of tefillin, install new mezuzot on several doors, and distribute many Shabbat candle packets. The small towns became enveloped in hurricane of good deeds!
Max, a local lawyer in his 60’s, felt unusual feelings beginning to stir several weeks prior to our visit. He wanted to learn more about his Jewish heritage, so he decided to email the Chabad rabbi in a nearby neighborhood. Then, in an incredible display of Divine Providence we showed up at his office, unannounced but very much invited!
The next day, Max sent us the following message:
"What nice young men! They listened more then they spoke, as my situation, like most I’m sure, was a little unique. No pressure, just helpful encouragement. Helping me to put on tefillin for the first time and saying the blessing with me was inspiring. Thanks again. I’ll be reaching out to the rabbi."
Gabriel wasn’t so keen on the tefillin thing, but was excited when we broached the concept of mezuzah. With his new mezuzah securely in place, we spoke with him for close to an hour, and planned to meet again the following week. After explaining the deeper meaning behind tefillin, Gabriel quickly wanted in, and was deeply moved by the whole process, thanking us for helping him pray “such a meaningful prayer.” He promised that he would find a way to get more involved in Judaism going forward.
Abe, 95 years old, was delighted to meet us, and readily agreed to affix a new mezuzah on his front door.
Zach, a young teen, was outside playing basketball when we stopped by his home.
“Hey, how’s it going? Are you Jewish by any chance?”
From a distance, we hear a response: “Yes, why?”
We told Zach and his father who we were, schmoozed for a bit, and then asked if they’d like to put on tefillin.
“Nah, I’m good. Never done it before. Why don’t you do it with Zach?”
“Dave, you know if you put them on now, it’s like you’re having your Bar Mitzvah. How does that sound?”
“Hey Dad, that’s really cool.” Zach chimed in. “You should definitely do that!”
It took some convincing, but Dave eventually agreed, and we helped him wrap the straps around his arms and head and recite the accompanying Shema prayer. He was having some trouble with the Hebrew words, so Zach quietly approached and helped his father finish the prayer word for word, the Shema ingrained in him from his Hebrew School days.
Did we mention that being a roving rabbi is not for the faint of heart? But it is the most rewarding thing we could do with our summer.