After a long and tiring but successful day, Eli and I (we are both named Eli) headed to our lodging to retire for the night. After making something quick to eat to fill our starving, food-deprived stomachs, we prayed the afternoon service—a prayer like none I had ever experienced before. The extreme gratitude to G‑d for helping us find and connect with so many of His people had really moved me. But when I got to the Shema Koleinu blessing—where you ask for your own personal request—I was stumped: What could I possibly need? I’m here doing what I love, helping Jews connect with their Judaism.

Then it dawned upon me: It just so happened that, although we had met many people, for various reasons we weren’t able to help any Jewish men put on tefillin that day. So with all my heart and concentration I asked G‑d that before the day ends we should be able to help at least one fellow Jew with tefillin. After we finished praying, although it was late and we were both exhausted, we decided to go back out there and try to meet with at least one or two more Jews. So Eli jumps into the driver’s seat, while Eli takes up the shotgun duties and plugs the next address into the GPS.

A few minutes later we arrive at a house. We ring the bell. A lady approaches. We greet her warmly, and she returns warm greetings. Then we ask the million-dollar question: “Are you Jewish?” She tells us that she is not, but she wonders if there is something that she could help us with. I ask her if there is anyone living here who happens to be Jewish, and she responds, “Why, yes, my husband is Jewish.”

After greetings and a short explanation as to why we are here, his story tumbles out:

“I went to yeshivah as a kid, but had a bad experience with an overly harsh teacher who turned me off from the whole thing. I left Hebrew school before my bar mitzvah, and have always felt terrible about not having gotten one. When I moved to Bel Air I looked into the synagogues, hoping to find somewhere comfortable where maybe I would complete my studies as an adult and celebrate a late bar mitzvah. Unfortunately, none of the local places were what I was looking for, so here I am: a Jew who has never had a bar mitzvah.”

Seizing the opportunity, I tell him it’s never too late to get a bar mitzvah. “Whenever a Jewish man over the age of 13 dons tefillin for the first time, it is his bar mitzvah. As a matter of fact, we can do one right now!”


Wearing tefillin for the first time in his life, he carefully read the Shema in Hebrew and English before even considering taking them off. As we removed the tefillin, the sun sank in the west, and we wished him a mazel tov on his bar mitzvah.

He wanted to do more, and asked what he could do for us. We spoke about the blessings we recite before eating as a way of thanking G‑d for the food we have. I gave him a card with all the blessings for the various foods, and showed him how it works.

When he said, “What else can we do?” I pulled out a mezuzah. We put up the mezuzah on our way out.

It was tough, but we said goodbye for now.

Reaching the car, I turned to Eli and said, “You know what happened to me as we were praying before?” Now he stared at me and said, “What do you think I was praying for?”