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It was an ordinary, grey Friday morning when Andrew pulled up to a nondescript gas station in his small orange car. Everything that day had been so typical, boring even, so when he glanced at the next stand he was quite surprised toHe was Jewish but didn't know what that meant notice the most atypical vehicle in the middle of remote Western Australia. It was big, some sort of caravan, and very colorful. His eyes slowly focused on the large words and pictures displayed on the side of the thing and recognized some words like kosher and tefillin.

Andrew knew he was Jewish but didn't know what that really meant.

Generations ago, Andrew's great-grandparents had immigrated to Australia and settled in Melbourne. Tragedy struck, and his great grandfather, a proud Orthodox Jew, was murdered in the street, an act that was subsequently found to be anti-Semitic. After that incident, his daughter, Andrew's grandmother, rejected the Jewish practices of her youth, determined that her children would never suffer from such hatred. She married a non-Jew and gave birth to Sarah, who in turn married a Catholic man and gave birth to Andrew.

Andrew received a Christian education but had always felt alienated from that way of life. His origins were no secret to him, but he didn't know what being Jewish meant in practical terms.

He eyed the three bearded young men as they worked on filling their tank and sauntered over.

“Shalom,” he said, not realizing the reaction that one word would draw.

The three men stopped, speechless. Andrew started to feel uneasy, he hadn't meant any harm.

“Are you Jewish?” one asked, hardly concealing the excitement in his voice.

What Andrew had not yet realized was that he had chanced upon the nationwide famous Mitzvah Tank operated by Chabad of RARA—Rural and Regional Australia. This time, it was manned by three Melbourne-based rabbinical students during their winter stint in the outback of Western Australia. Their mission? To spread Judaism to the far-flung communities that do not have any established Jewish infrastructure.

Andrew was quickly surrounded by the young men who started peppering him with questions.

“Is your mother Jewish?”

“Have you ever put on tefillin?”

“Have you had a Bar Mitzvah?”

Andrew was pleasantly surprised by the outburst. “Tefillin? I don't know what that is. But you sure seem excited, let's do it!”

Right then and there in that nondescript gas station, Andrew celebrated his Bar Mitzvah with spirited singing and dancing as he put on tefillin for the first time in his life. They also invited him to the Shabbat dinner they would be hosting that evening, and then they parted ways.

Fast forward a few months to the hectic days preceding Passover. A red minivan slowly made its way down a quiet road in Fremantle, while the occupants: Elimelech Backman, Shlomi Naparstek, Menachem Rapoport and Mendel Liberow, four rabbinical students from Melbourne, were searching for a familiar house.

They stopped when they saw a woman, all smiles, waiting for them outside her home. They had arrived.

“Welcome back boys,” she said, “I haven't seen you for a full year!”

Chaya is proud Jewish woman living alone in a small, cozy home in sleepy Fremantle. After emigrating from Israel many years ago, she settled in Fremantle and has been a staunch supporter of Passover Australia activities in Western Australia. Every year she is delighted to host the young rabbis as they make their rounds to homes in the area to discuss the upcoming holiday and distribute Jewish items, like the Passover Australia Mezuzah proudly displayed on her front door.

TheChaya mentioned something interested group made themselves comfortable in the living room and they started chatting with her about life in general and Jewish life in particular. At the conclusion, Chaya mentioned something very interesting.

“You know,” she said, “in the winter when the boys from RARA were here, they made a Shabbat meal in my house for the Jews of Fremantle.”

They nodded; they had heard all about it.

“There was a nice man who showed up. The boys had found him on Friday at some random spot and he had put on tefillin for the first time. He showed up here for the first Shabbat dinner of his life. He knew absolutely nothing of Judaism and he was really impressed.”

Chaya went on to tell them some more about this man named Andrew. She mentioned that although they had not kept in contact, she happened to have his number. She thought that it would be a good idea to reach out to him.

And what a splendid idea that was.

A few hours later, sitting at his home on the beach, Andrew received a phone call from Shlomi.

“Hello, is this Andrew?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“Hi Andrew, I’m here with some of my friends from Melbourne. We’ve come to arrange a Passover Seder for the Jews in the area. We would love to invite you to the Seder and maybe arrange a time to meet later as well.”

“Oh wow! Yes, that would be lovely! Thank you so much!”

Andrew showed up to the Seder and enjoyed himself immensely. But it was the meeting that took place after the holiday at the Chabad center in Perth that was theHe spent more than four hours receiving a personal crash course in Judaism turning point of his life. He spent more than four hours receiving a personal crash course in Judaism. He saw a synagogue and a Torah for the first time, held a siddur and repeated some of the prayers, and was able to ask the rabbinical students any and all the question he had grappled with. When he was shown the tallis, he was excited to share that he once saw someone praying in the airport wrapped in a tallis. He had watched him mesmerized the entire time! That Jewish man never realized what an effect he had on an unknown soul but the experience definitely played a large role in Andrew's newfound interest in his heritage.

As afternoon turned into evening, Andrew was still relishing this long taste of Judaism for his thirsty soul. The next day, Elimelech and Shlomi visited him at his home and continued the discussion, but not before adorning the doorpost with a beautiful new mezuzah.

Three generations after the abandonment of Judaism and two generations of intermarriage, the offspring of that family found his way back to his roots.

Our story ends here but for Andrew it has just begun. It continues with his slow but steady progress, one mitzvah at a time, his enthusiasm in embracing a completely new lifestyle at an adult age awe-inspiring.

Going back to that dreary Friday morning, those young rabbis could never have imagined the quantum growth of that Jewish soul from just one short encounter. This story demonstrates how no encounter is ever typical or insignificant. We only assume so because we have no idea how far a little mitzvah can really go.

You’ve probably seen Chabad rabbinical students like us, standing at street corners and inviting Jewish passersby to don tefillin, light the shabbat candles, or accept a holiday treat. Only we weren’t in a Jewish hub like New York City, Paris, or Tel Aviv, but in the small town center of the Western Australian city of Fremantle.

We had been at our post for over two hours, and had met and distributed matzah to several Jews, both tourists and locals--quite a success for a place like Fremantle. We were about to head home when we noticed a distinguished-looking gentleman approaching us.

“Excuse me, are you Jewish by any chance?”

“No, I'm not.”

“Can we ask if you have any local Jewish friends?”

“Well actually, I'm not from here,” he replied. “I'm on a cruise and we have a short stopover before traveling again. But it’s funny that you ask me, because I’ve heard that there is something Jewish that will take place on the ship, something called a Seber.”

We quickly realized that he was referring to the Seder. We thanked him, and then our brains went into overdrive: How would we get some matzah to the Jewish passengers on the cruise?

As we neared the water, the magnificent ship, the Queen Mary II, came into view. There was a drawbridge leading to the ship, and we briefly contemplated boarding and giving the matzah to the crew to pass along, when out of the corner of our eyes, we saw a middle-aged couple walking in the direction of the ship.

We had to try our luck.

“Excuse me, are you Jewish?”

They stared at us, wide-eyed. “Yes, we are!”

We quickly discovered that Alan and Sara were from England, and enjoying their long-awaited vacation. The last thing they expected was for Chabad rabbis to approach them and give them handmade matzah (enough for all their Jewish friends, and some Passover guides as well) for their Seder! They thanked us profusely, and then they disappeared into the ship, precious package in tow, while we recounted the incredible Divine Providence we had just witnessed. This was the only day we had scheduled to spend time walking through town--all the other days were jam packed with appointments, home visits, shopping and preparing for the Seder. We happened to bump into the person who told us about the ‘Seber’, and from the thousands of passengers aboard the ship, we met Alan and Sara! It’s doubtful we would have succeeded in convincing the crew members to let us board this exclusive ship, or to distribute the matzah for us.

It was clear as day that G‑d had guided our steps, as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, to have the great privilege to supply matzah for the Jews celebrating the Seder on a luxurious ocean liner in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

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