330 Sarandi St.

The house seems too small to merit a house number. We knock on the door and are greeted by a tired woman who looks about seventy-five. The afternoon sun envelopes her in a haze, accentuating her washed out features.

She introduces herself as Manuel's mother. "You're looking for Manuel? He's still sleeping."

After telling her who we are and what we came for, we tell her all about Shabbat candles and what a great mitzvah it is to light them every Friday evening.

We see a man in the back of the house, walking towards us. With a sleepy face, Manuel invites us to come inside and have a shmooz. A few minutes into the conversation, we realize that he's no happy fellow. Ever since his business shut down thirteen years ago, he has been destitute. His family life isn't too much better. For the past seven years he lives with his elderly mother.

He tells us he's so depressed that he doesn't know why he's still alive. He's not even sure if G‑d exists. But one thing he knows is that he's a Jew. Not that he ever did anything for it or knows what it really means.

We ask him if he has put on Tefillin before. He says he hasn't. He's not even sure he knows what Tefillin are. We ask him if wants to put them on, "It's a mitzvah, a good deed, you know."

He argues that there's no point in putting them on if he doesn't feel it. We compromise; he will put them on but won't say any prayers.

We roll up his sleeve, tighten the strap around his arm, and start saying "baruch…atah…." Manuel echoes our words in stilted Hebrew. He's very moved.

After removing the Tefillin, he goes to the back of the house and comes back with an old coin in his hand. It's a coin from 1905 which he received from his father and is therefore very dear to him. He's giving it to us. We give him the book Towards a Meaningful Life, hoping that it'll give him motivation to go on.

We turn to the old woman and ask her if her son has a Jewish name.

"Of course he does! By his brit, we gave him the name Menachem. His full name is Menachem Mendel."

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