Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
A new online course
Starting January 22nd
Register »
Contact Us

A Sheep in YY's Flock

A Sheep in YY's Flock

Jane Davis

 Email

In December 1993 I was a media witness at an electric chair execution in Jackson, Georgia. I emerged from that with a deep need of spiritual support and understanding. My first inclination was to seek out Rabbis or anyone else who carried a label that said "spiritual." After each response of, "Well, what did he do?" (as if that justified what I had witnessed) my heart broke. It broke to the point of being on the verge of declaring myself "not Jewish" despite my partial observant upbringing. Neil Rubin, a senior editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times at that time, heard me.

"Before you leave us," he said, "why don't you send your questions and frustrations to this group called Chabad.org. You are active on the internet as are they."

While my mind was screaming, "No, I'm through!!", my fingers were pouring out my feelings and frustrations with all Jews.

I received a fairly quick response. I responded. Another. And another. And another. To what became the most incredible years of friendship and Jewish learning I have ever been privileged.

The "group" was one YY Kazen. "Kazen," as I came to call him, was struggling with Chabad.org. It was not surprising because "the internet" at that time was not a household experience.

I had also founded a service organization called HOPE-HOWSE based on being of service as a path to peace. The elements that comprise it are an eye, heart and hand. Honesty, faith and action. YY saw a connection between that and the Chochma, Bina, Daat (Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge) which is the core of Chabad. "You are very Jewish," he assured me. He was invested in me, and every other Jewish soul, being Jewish—if even "just lighting the Shabbat candles each week." He guided gently but steadfastly, "Just do one small thing."

We shared our visions and deep frustrations. My frustrations were pulling me away from Judaism, his were lighting Jews up all over the world. I was simply a sheep in the flock and YY knew that I was excited about what he was teaching in his unique way. He would read me his letters received from all over the world and I would read him letters I received from inmates all over the world. I was seeking connection to Judaism in a deeper way. He was seeking to connect everyone he could to his true love – Torah and Judaism – through what he knew was an extraordinary means—cyberspace.

At that time my work was mainly focused on Jewish inmates with very little support except from Aleph (a Chabad centered organization) and Jewish Prisoner's Service International.

YY encouraged me and vice versa. In an article done on my work he was quoted as saying, "I cannot say I approve of everything she believes in, but the fact that she is making people aware of certain hardcore issues makes a difference, and in my opinion, a positive one." The fact that he was capable of truly hearing everyone, no matter whether he agreed or not, was the key to this tzaddik's heart and soul.

We communicated often—either by phone or in cyberspace. He had sparked something in me that made me crave learning more and more. And this was his dream to share this kind of Torah enthusiasm with everyone he could, no matter the time of the day or night. Sometimes we would connect at 2 or 3 AM. We would be online at the same time taking advantage of this unique medium that knew no time and that never closed. This was the unique beauty of cyberspace. I would bring him the world in ways he would never experience. He would interpret that with a Torah teaching. He was relentless in his enthusiasm of teaching Torah.

He rarely slept. He lived and breathed Torah, his family and Chabad.org. He looked so forward to Shabbat each week. He was so proud of his children and always shared about them. He was so grateful for his wife whom he praised often. His excitement over every letter resonated around the world. He judged no one. He answered questions about drugs and sex and things obscure, from a Torah perspective. He understood the importance of his work and yet was deeply troubled that more didn't understand and support his efforts. We spoke about fundraising ideas and even doing some joint projects. He was so proud to be included in the Smithsonian. Even that didn't attract the funding he needed.

One night I got a call from him. "I'm in the hospital but I'm okay," he said.

"Hospital!? For what?" I asked.

"I'm in intensive care."

"You're not okay!" I said, fearing the worst. I knew, after four years of communicating with this amazing human being, that I had no choice but to get on a plane as quickly as possible.

A few days later I flew into NY. As I was running from my mother's apartment to the hospital I was so focused on getting to him that I fell off the curb and sprained my ankle. I got in a wheelchair and someone pushed me to his room.

He was asleep with the bed in an upright position. His beard was thinned out and his head was draped with a tallit. He still looked like a spiritual lion.

I must have sat in the wheelchair at the foot of his bed for 45 minutes before he opened one eye, then the other.

Squinting he said, "Are you who I think you are?"

"Yes," I replied. Are you who I think YOU are?" and we laughed.

It was Sukkot. He had been in the hospital since Rosh Hashanah. For the next five days I was privileged to spend time with him in the hospital. Of course, being Sukkot, he put me to work. Every person who passed by I was instructed to bring into his room. He rejoiced in everyone participating in the rituals of Sukkot and he taught even from his room in intensive care. That was his mission and purpose.

"Are you Jewish?" he would ask. If yes, he had them do the lulav and etrog prayers. I was his honored helper.

On one visit, his sister pulled an email out that I had sent to him, that she said he had her read to him frequently. In the letter I was pleading to G‑d to please let Kazen live. "He has so much work to do!!!" I cried out.

But, it was not meant to be.

On December 2, 1998, I received the email announcing his death. I phoned the airlines and boarded a plane at 5 AM the following morning praying I would arrive at the funeral home on time. I had simply thrown a change of clothes and a toothbrush in a bag and I had the address of the funeral home. The rest was in the hands of G‑d.

The cab driver did not know where it was. We drove around and around and around. I was getting anxious. Then I saw cars upon cars and people, lots of people.

"That must be it!" I declared and got out of the cab.

I pushed my way all the way up to the front frantic to get a look at his coffin!! I needed to be as close as possible. Pushing through my tears and the crowd, I leaned against the wall as I stared at his coffin. I knew he would want me to ask, so I did.

"Would you please tell me the correct prayers to say right now?"

The woman looked at me quizzically.

"Did you know him?"

"Yes," I said. "I just flew in to be here."

"Flew in from where?" she asked.

"Atlanta."

Her face changed. "Are you Jane?! she exclaimed.

"Yes!" I said, so surprised that she knew me.

She held me tightly and said, "You are with us."

We said the prayers and I was swept up into the most loving welcome circle of YY's family and friends.

I knew he would have so appreciated everything that was shared about him. I was thrilled to meet his wonderful family and to share stories of YY and how many he touched all over the world. The thousands of emails and faxes that poured in substantiated this. People finally understood his life's work.

The world lost a very special man when YY Kazen died. I once heard someone say, "If you want to make G‑d laugh, tell him your plans." I guess G‑d had other plans for YY Kazen.

Not long after he died I became aware that when I was in my car and lost in some troubling thought or sadness, even at the loss of my friend, a car would pull up and the license plate included YY or KK or HH or some other letters that were almost a sure bet that YY was communicating. Even my friends who knew of him said they started to talk to him through these license plates too!! Keep your eyes open when you are on the road and see if he talks to you.

I am glad to see that his vision lives on and that 770 is keeping Chabad.org going! I am sure YY is smiling down on all of us with a great big smile.

Jane Davis

© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
5 Comments
1000 characters remaining
RG South Africa December 5, 2014

Jane, you write beautifully! Thanks for sharing this. Would love to connect to you again. We met at the funeral.
What you say about YY is so true. He loved his children and guided them throughout life and even continues now in a different way.
His vision and inspiration to all is amazing and continues with Chabad.org being the best Jewish Website and gives people to prepare for Moshiach.
Pity none of us understood what he was doing. Around 2,000 emails came after he passed away from Jews and non Jews he was in touch with. We were all overwhelmed at the magnitude and variety of people he reached.
Thanks to his son, Michoel, we were able to access these emails.
May he continue to get us Moshiach sooner. Reply

Ariella Sydney December 4, 2014

what an amazing man. I love the Chabad website, it's an incredible resource. Reply

Anonymous nyc December 4, 2014

i just cried the whole way through thank you for sharing Reply

Anonymous South Africa November 16, 2013

looking for Jane Davis I remember sitting with you at shiva. Where are you now? In case you happen to be reading this, would love to connect once again, though it is 15 years later.
YY was certainly an amazing visionary, and cannot wait to apologise to him for all of us did not understand the magnitude of his vision.

May we witness Moshiach's arrival speedily. Reply

Judith L. Witten Brockton, Ma/USA November 20, 2010

A Sheep in YY'S Flock This article was very special and meaningful to me. I got caught up in something myself that was very very isolating that was ten years ago. What Chabad.org helped me to realize is that it wasn't more powerful than G-D. Chabad.org helped me to realize my own Jewish life and that it will grow and that my wounds from back then will be handled easier and easier. I felt deeply moved by your article especially since you witnessed something so hating as an electric chair execution-but as you grew you met people who were so loving-that that is so beautiful. Reply

Related Topics