"Excuse me, are you Jewish?" the young woman asked.

"That’s none of your business," I snarled as I kept walking.

I have a vague memory of this exchange while I was at the University of Michigan in the early 1970s. I know the school’s Chabad House existed then, so it’s entirely possible that someone actually approached me with this exact question. And my answer surely would have been an abrupt one.

I was definitely looking for G‑d in college, but I was also very sure that the answer was not in Torah Judaism. As far as I could see, religion separated people; I wanted to learn how people were all the same.

Excuse me, are you Jewish?

A lot has changed in 40 years. Now I’m the one stopping Jewish women on the street to ask if they want a brochure with Shabbat candle-lighting times. But it’s really my partner, Mrs. Miriam Rosenblum, who motivates me to take her every Tuesday to sit in front of Pittsburgh's Giant Eagle supermarket. I figure, if she can go out on mivtzoim (mitzvah campaigns) six days a week, I can at least take her on one of those days, which I’ve been doing for over 10 years.

“Mivtzoim” literally means "campaigns," and in Chabad parlance, mivtzoim are the Rebbe’s campaigns to encourage Jews to do mitzvahs.

When my kids were little, I offered to buy them treats, whatever they wanted, if they would come on mivtzoim with me. I didn’t care what they bought—those awful drinks that make your teeth turn blue—as long as they helped Mrs. Rosenblum get her paraphernalia in the car and handed out a brochure or two on the street. Now that my sons are over thirteen, they bring their tefillin along so they can offer that mitzvah to Jewish men. Going on mivtzoim is fun for the whole family—sometimes I even bring along a grandchild.

Why does the Rebbe want us to take to the streets to encourage a Jew to do a mitzvah?

Chassidut teaches that the soul of every Jew is inextricably connected to G‑d, and when a Jew does a mitzvah, G‑d’s Infinite light is revealed to all physicality involved in that mitzvah, especially that Jew.

Of course, we can’t actually see what a mitzvah accomplishes in this world—yet.

Whether or not we "see" it, this is pretty much the whole purpose of Creation: to reveal the G‑dliness in our physical world by doing mitzvahs.

And because the Rebbe could appreciate that Moshiach’s arrival is imminent, due to the G‑dly light accumulated through the performance ofmitzvahs throughout the generations, he instituted many mivtzoim, because each mivtzah strengthens a different mitzvah. (The words sound similar, but “mitzvah” and “mivtza” are actually two different concepts.)

Whether we see it or not, one mitzvah has the power to "tip the scales" of light over darkness within an individual Jew and, potentially, within all of Creation.

The power to reconcile this imperfect physical world and the perfect spiritual world is in the hands of every single Jew. Every mitzvah unlocks G‑d’s infinite light, and somebody’s mitzvah is going to unlock the ultimate treasure chest.

I don’t know whose it will be or how soon, but I know it can’t be soon enough.

Which is why I push myself to go out every Tuesday—which wasn't always easy.

It wasn't just that the weather wasn't always conducive or I had other things to do. Because I live in the city where I was raised, the hardest part of mivtzoim was approaching people I knew from my childhood, especially my mother's friends.

Let's face it, most people who hand things out on the street are people to be avoided. And everyone knows that "Jews don't proselytize." Yet there I was, newly observant, with my blue-toothed kids and my Shabbat brochures and Mrs. Rosenblum.

Sometimes I let women "get away," as my daughter Mushkie used to say, but I forced myself not to be intimidated. I knew I had nothing to be embarrassed about, but I still remember the looks I got when certain women said no to me. They were also wondering what happened to me.

Even when I myself was wondering what happened to me, on mivtzoim, I had to "act" like I was sure of myself. Because I knew I wanted to be sure. Sure that I believed everything the Shabbat brochures said. Sure that I believed that the "before" part of my life and the "after" part of my life were not just "meant to be," but meant to be synthesized into a G‑dly life.

I knew I didn't want to turn back

It took many years of spiritual struggle (along with a few personal miracles) to close my "synapse of disbelief," the tiny doubt that preceded every Jewish gesture, the voice that said that none of this mattered, or that it didn't matter so much.

But I pushed myself through the uncertainty because I knew I didn't want to turn back. And going on mivtzoim helped me convince myself; I used to force myself to approach the very people I wanted to avoid.

It's hard to remember that challenge now, because when I go on mivtzoim these days, seeing old, familiar faces is one of the aspects I enjoy most. Especially when I'm with my grandchildren—the best testimony that, whatever it was that happened to me, it must have been a good thing.