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Two Car Accidents in Three Days

August 27, 2017 7:11 PM

San Diego, the second largest city in California, is home to approximately 100,000 Jews, whose Jewish needs are served by more than 20 Chabad centers. We were there to assist with outreach efforts over the summer, and between meetings with individuals we had contacted beforehand, we spent time visiting local businesses and shopping centers, hoping to bump into curious Jews.

We were scheduled to visit Alex at 12:30pm so we decided to spend the morning canvassing the area. We met Bruce, who appeared to be in his mid-60s, and he told us that he was Polish and had been raised Catholic. For some reason we decided to probe further, and discovered that his maternal grandmother had been Jewish, making Bruce Jewish, too.

Understandably, he was surprised and somewhat confused, so we settled in for a long chat. We tried to give him a good overview of what being Jewish is all about, as well as the contact information for a Chabad rabbi in the area with whom he could connect on a more long-term basis.

We parted ways and headed off to our meeting with Alex in great spirits. Alex is a gregarious senior citizen, originally from Russia, who comes to the Chabad House on occasion. He greeted us warmly and invited us inside.

Alex told us about a recent trip he took with his family to the East coast, during which they experienced two car accidents within a span of three days. Thank G‑d, no one was seriously hurt, but they were quite shaken up and wondered why this had happened and why they had been spared.

While of course we can’t know why things happen in this world, it’s well known that a mezuzah provides a tremendous source of protection for the inhabitants of the home. The delicate handwritten letters, however, are susceptible to damage from the elements, easily rendering the mezuzah non-kosher, and therefore it is recommended that they be checked once every three to four years.

We removed the mezuzah from Alex’s front door and carefully unrolled the little scroll. This process should be performed by a sofer, a certified scribe, but due to the extenuating circumstances we were going to give a quick glance ourselves. Bingo! Twice, the Hebrew word baderech, which means ‘on the way’ was missing letters. We showed it to Alex, who was had tears in his eyes as he carefully affixed the new mezuzahs we had provided.

It is humbling to be part of the global effort to facilitate the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vision, if only for a few weeks. We will always know that we’ve had a small share in helping to enrich the lives of our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Lighting Sparks in Denmark

August 24, 2017 3:11 PM

We had just finished meeting with several Jews in the city of Aarhus, concluding a month of traveling through Denmark to visit Jews living in places without an established Jewish community.

As we looked through our list of Jewish contacts we noticed that there was one gentleman, Chanan, with whom we had not yet touched base. We deliberated for a few moments since he lived a good two hours away, but our deeply ingrained belief that every Jew counts prevailed and we dialed the number.

“Hi Chanan, my name is Mendel and I’m from Chabad. My friend and I would love to visit if you’d like.”

“Chabad? Yes, please, come over.” He sounded excited.

So we drove up north and arrived at Chanan’s house just as he was eating dinner. He offered us fruit, apologizing that he couldn’t serve us anything else. Of course, we told him not to worry as we made ourselves at home around his kitchen table.

We began with some small talk, but Chanan quickly opened up to us. “I was married for ten years and we had two beautiful girls. Recently, I got divorced.” He sighed heavily. “Unfortunately, my ex-wife has full custody of the girls, and I currently have no contact with them.”

“This morning,” he continued, “I was at work and feeling particularly depressed about my current situation. So I spoke to G‑d. I told Him how hard this is for me, how lonely I feel, and I asked Him to please show that He cares.”

He stopped and looked straight at us. “And then I see an unknown number on my caller ID!” His astonishment still very much evident. “Someone by the name of Mendel is on the phone. He is calling from Chabad and he wants to come over and say hello. There was no clearer sign for me. This was G‑d’s way of reaching out to me, of telling me He is here with me in this struggle.”

We spoke with him at length, sharing words of support and comfort, based mostly on our years of studying Chassidic philosophy. We encouraged him to focus on the positive, and to try and see all the good and beauty that G‑d has granted him in his life. Then we offered to help him put on tefillin.

“I haven't put tefillin on in years, but this is as good a time as ever, right?” He became very emotional when we helped him wrap them on his arms and head, and he choked up while repeating the blessings. We stayed on, discussing belief and trust in G‑d, as well as how G‑d watches over every Jew, which segued into the topic of mezuzah, and culminated with Chanan proudly affixing a new one to his front door.

Before we left, he told us about a Jewish Danish philosopher friend of his, Casper, who he felt would be interested in meeting us.

When we arrived at Casper’s apartment in the city center the next morning, he greeted us warmly and shared some of his background. His grandfather had been deeply involved with the Jewish community in Copenhagen and had even established the Jewish school there. Casper himself had no affiliation with Judaism, although due to the nature of his work he was interested in Kabbalah.

We quickly covered a range of topics including tefillin, which Casper had never heard about before. When he understood the significance and unique power of this mitzvah, he was more than happy to give it a go.

He was so overjoyed that he started dancing with us right there in the middle of his apartment. He brought out some drinks and we all made a heartfelt l’chaim (toast) for his bar mitzvah at the age of 47 on a regular Thursday morning.

We could sense how much he had enjoyed our visit, which was confirmed when he sent us a warm email follow-up expressing his gratitude, and inquiring as to where he could purchase a pair of tefillin. We plan to purchase them for him in New York and send them over to Denmark.)

Later that day, he posted on social media: "Today I became bar mitzvah—an adult Jew."

More than anything, we think these stories illustrate something the Rebbe repeatedly emphasized: there exists an inner spark in the depths of every Jewish soul that lies dormant, awaiting the day it will be ignited, often with the help of one of his emissaries. We hope that hearing about two precious Jews in a place like Aalborg, Denmark, will inspire you to reach out to a fellow Jew in your corner of the world.

Our Last Stop Reminded Us Why We Had Come

August 23, 2017 6:02 PM

We just returned from a five-week stint in Gainesville, Florida. Gainesville is almost synonymous with the University of Florida, one of the largest universities in the country, and we were assisting Rabbi Berel and Chanie Goldman, who have been serving its sizeable Jewish student population for close to 18 years.

We spent most mornings ‘tabling,’ which is campus lingo for setting up a table, or in our case a tent, and tryingWe spent the mornings ‘tabling’ to engage passersby. We invited them to join the Goldmans for Shabbat dinner, gave them information about some upcoming Chabad events, and offered the opportunity to put tefillin. We spent our afternoons traveling to nearby towns and visiting people in their homes and offices.

We decided to spend our last day Lake Butler, a tiny city about an hour away from Gainesville. We had been given one contact for that location, Sara K. Lake Butler itself was nothing to write home about, but when we found Sara’s home, it was hopping! Her son John and his family, who live in Jacksonville, had been camping in the area and were now visiting. Sara invited us to sit down and we immediately felt at ease. John told us he’d always known he was Jewish, but didn’t have a clue about what that actually meant.

We racked our brains trying to figure out how to best describe Judaism in a nutshell. But then John shared that he’d always had lots of questions but never had the opportunity to ask them. We ended up speaking for close to three hours. John was extremely receptive and repeatedly said that he was so pleased that we had met. He was astounded that two young rabbis would be visiting his mother way out in tiny Lake Butler! We knew we couldn’t leave before we asked John if he wished to don tefillin. He immediately agreed, and since it would be his first time, we made sure he knew what a momentous occasion it was, his de facto bar mitzvah.

We left them with the contact information of the Chabad rabbi in Jacksonville, andWe encouraged John to continue exploring several brochures about different aspects of Jewish life. We told Sara to expect more visits from other roving rabbis in the future, G‑d willing, and encouraged John to get in touch with his local rabbi and continue exploring.

This last visit really crystallized the multi-faceted vision of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, when he established this program. No Jew is ever too remote, too old, too uninformed, or too assimilated to be lost to the Jewish nation. It was our privilege to be the Rebbe’s emissaries in this vital mission and we can’t wait to do it again soon!

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