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South Lake Tahoe, California, a popular year-round tourist destination, boasts a myriad of attractions, especially for the nature-lover. There’s biking, boating, skiing, and hiking, all set against the stunning backdrop of the majestic Sierra Nevada mountains, crystal clear Lake Tahoe, and stately forests. The adventure seekers who flock here can find a new thrill every day, but for us the three weeks we spent here were highlighted by a different kind of thrill—the opportunity to connect with and inspire our Jewish brothers and sisters.

For us, it was a different kind of thrill

It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon when we met David. We’d spent the morning visiting several Jews at their offices, and we were taking a 10-minute lunch break in a nearby parking lot. We noticed an older gentleman approaching his car, right near ours, so we approached him.

“Hi sir, are you by chance Jewish?” we asked.

“As a matter of fact I am,” he answered. If he was surprised, he managed to conceal it well. “My name’s David,” he offered, “what brings you rabbis to the area?”

We had a lively conversation and then we pulled out our tefillin.

“Have you ever put these on, David?”

“No, I’ve was raised Reform but for some reason I was never bar mitzvahed.”

“How about we help you put them on right now?” we asked.

He seemed doubtful. “I think it’s too late for me; I’m over 70! Save it for the younger folks.”

“David,” we reassured him, “Judaism teaches us that it’s never too late to do a good deed, and it’s never a bother to help another Jew. It would be our greatest pleasure.”

David smiled. “When you put it like that, I guess I have no choice but to oblige you!”

Tears flowed down hisI think it’s too late for me; I’m over 70! cheeks as we helped him wrap the tefillin around his arm and head, and said the Shema prayer together. When we finished, David grasped our hands. “Boys,” he said, “you ignited within me something I haven’t felt in many years. That was so special; I’m so grateful for this opportunity. Thank you.”

We exchanged contact information and wished each other well before heading off on our respective ways. We scanned our agenda for the rest of the day. Our lunch break had more than rejuvenated us—it had brought home, yet again, the incredible power of the Jewish soul, of that spark that is waiting to be rekindled. “Let’s go,” we said to each other. “We’ve got work to do.”

Word on the street among the Jews of West Pasco County, Florida, is that they are a tiny minority. In fact, many will tell you that they don’t know any other local Jews. But for two weeks we traveled the area, seeking out and meeting with Jews of every stripe and color. We drove endlessly in over 100° weather, fueled by some incredible encounters with our Floridian brothers and sisters.

Larry:

We arrived at Larry’s home while a party was in full swing. An affluent businessman with a wide circle of friends, he took the time to chat with us, and even agreed to put on tefillin.

Sarah:

Sarah was overjoyed to meet us. Fifty odd years ago, back in her hometown of Brooklyn, Chabad rabbinical students just like us had taught her the basics of Judaism at the Released Time program she attended. “I am eternally grateful,” she told us.

David:

Unfortunately, David lost his beloved wife to cancer several years ago. During our visit he explained that he has chosen to focus on the positive, and thank G‑d for the wonderful years they enjoyed together. “I feel rejuvenated seeing you—happy young people who are so proud of your Judaism.” David promised to attend High Holiday services, and gladly accepted our offer to put on tefillin.

Sometimes, a friendly greeting to a passerby turned into a deep conversation with a fellow Jew. And on one occasion instead of visiting Mr. A., we mistakenly visited Mrs. B, who was keenly interested in learning more about her heritage. We truly felt that G‑d was guiding our steps, helping us connect with His people. And by and large, the weather was far surpassed by the warm Jewish hearts we encountered.

From an impromptu Shabbaton to incredible encounters of Divine providence, our summer as roving rabbis has been truly inspiring and memorable.

A Soul Revealed

Over the summer, the conflict in the Israel aroused much anti-Semitism around the world, Texas included.

Members of the Jewish community in the Houston area gathered to show their support for their brethren in Israel. As it turned out, thousands of others turned up to hold a counter-demonstration right across the street, chanting virulent anti-Israel slogans. It was sad to see their unwarranted hatred towards the Jewish people.

The pro-Israel demonstration was led by an Israeli activist named Ehud, who stood on a platform, sharing the truth. While we were there, we offered those present the opportunity to put on tefillin in the merit of Israeli soldiers and civilians.

After putting on tefillin with quite a number people, we went over to Ehud and asked if he would like a turn to do the mitzvah. He politely replied that it was not a good time; he was on the platform leading the demonstration. We explained the importance of the mitzvah and its connection to helping the Jewish people and he told us that we should come back later when he’d be done and out of the public eye.

We persisted, and explained that in the Torah, about the mitzvah of tefillin, we read, “The nations of the world will see the name of G‑d is upon you, and they will fear you.” Putting on tefillin in such a conspicuous manner, we explained, would result in a tremendous sanctification of G‑d’s name. Ehud liked the idea and promptly agreed.

The sight of Ehud proudly putting on the tefillin caught everyone’s attention. With one hand over his eyes and the other holding the microphone, he loudly and emotionally proclaimed the Shema, "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G‑d, the Lord is One.”

Silence fell over the crowd, and even the anti-Israel demonstrators stopped chanting their hateful slogans, as all eyes were focused on the events unfolding on stage. Ehud followed the Shema with a warm message of hope that G‑d was surely on our side, and then, at our suggestion, encouraged the women and girls in attendance to light the Shabbat candles that evening in honor of Israel.

This experience reminded us of the power of strong faith in G‑d and Jewish pride. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory, explained that every Jew is like a letter engraved in the holy Torah which can never be erased. While dust may settle upon the "letter" at times, all one needs to do is blow off the dust, and the soul is once more revealed in all of its glory.

G‑d Guides the Steps of Man

After visiting one Jew in a Houston suburb, he suggested that we might want to visit a fellow Jew who lived nearby. Soon we were at his door, ringing the bell, but the only response seemed to be very loud barking. Finally, a young girl answered the door and we introduced ourselves. She explained that while she isn’t Jewish, her father is, but he was sleeping at the moment.

We made up to return the next day, but as we were leaving, her father came rushing out of the house and invited us inside. We noticed that he appeared very weak and that his daughter was urging him to drink juice.

We chatted, played chess with him, and eventually helped him put on tefillin. We learned that he unfortunately suffers from severe diabetes, and our ringing the bell and the dogs barking had aroused him from a deep sleep. Checking his sugar levels, he discovered that they were dangerously below normal. If not for our visit, he told us, and the subsequent racket that ensued, he possibly would have never awakened, G‑d forbid.

Here we saw how one mitzvah always pulls another in its wake, and how the care and concern of one Jew for another’s spiritual well being actually maybe have saved a life. The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything in this world happens by Divine providence. Occasionally, we are fortunate to witness it unfold with our physical eyes.

We had exciting plans for the weekend. We would take a short flight from Lima to Arequipa, Peru, search for the local Jews (we knew they were few and far between) and offer them the opportunity to spend an inspiring, meaningful Shabbat with us, complete with delicious kosher food, prayers, singing, and camaraderie.

We arrived in Arequipa on Friday and our first order ofWe received a warm welcome business was meeting up with some of our contacts. We received a warm welcome and a few promises to attend Shabbat. Then, we began canvassing the bustling city, hoping to stumble upon some more Jews and potential Shabbat guests. We couldn’t help but notice a tall, smiling gentleman heading straight towards us.

“Hello, welcome to Arequipa. I’m Jerry. It’s great to see some rabbis here!”

“Hi Jerry, it’s a pleasure to see you too. What a nice surprise!”

We searched for a quieter spot, found a Starbucks, and sat down to talk. Jerry was born and bred in Lima, and works as an engineer for a large mining company. He has travelled extensively for most of his career. Recently, he had been assigned to Arequipa to help build a large copper mining and refining facility. On a personal level, although Jerry was proud of his Judaism, he was constantly searching for more meaning in his life.

We spent the duration of the hour discussing the application of the Torah in our day-to-day lives. Jerry was very intersted and asked many questions, which we did our best to answer.

Shabbat was approaching; it was time to wrap things up. But first, we pulled out our tefillin and asked Jerry if he would like to put them on. Initially, he was hesitant. There were too many people watching, he told us. But after some deliberation he changed his mind. “I know it’s the right thing to do as a Jew," he said. "Unfortunately, I haven’t worn the tefillin in a very long time.”

We helped Jerry with the tefillin and the prayers, and then bade him a warm farewell. We began preparing for Shabbat in high spirits,buoyed by the knowledge that we had touched a Jewish soul.

It was a beautiful Shabbat, enhanced by the company of some of the Jews of Arequipa. Early Sunday morning, we departed for Lima. When we arrived at the Chabad House, Rabbi Blumenfeld, the local Chabad rabbi, toldHe had tears of joy streaming down his face us that he had just spoken with Jerry’s family. When Jerry returned home for the weekend he had tears of joy streaming down his face as he recounted his meeting with the two young Chabad rabbis.

What a way to start off our week! With the help of G- d, we look forward to many more successful encounters as we continue our travels as the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s emissaries in Peru.

Panama  (1)
Poway, CA  (2)

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