As the Youth Director for Chabad of Pittsburgh, I work with Jewish youth from all walks of life. A dear friend, Mr. Chaim Reisner, introduced me to Mr. Michael Pasternak, the Director of Transition, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center for young Jewish men. Transition does its good work quietly, and even many in the Jewish community of Pittsburgh have never heard of it. In response to Michael’s invitation, I have been visiting with them weekly at their facility.

Purim was approaching, and I asked Mike if my family and I could host the group for an “alcohol free” Purim celebration. These boys deserved to celebrate Purim just like all other Jews around the world. If serving wine and other alcoholic beverages (in accordance with the tradition of Purim) would put the boys in danger of relapse, then we would say L’Chaim and celebrate with grape juice. Mike was thrilled with the idea, and my wife began planning the menu for the event.

About two weeks before Purim, I received a telephone call from Mike. He told me about a young man who had just entered the program. Brian (as we will call him), was a Kohen and was raised in a chassidic home in Brooklyn. Until his Bar Mitzvah, Brian was the normal chassidic kid, long payos (sidelocks) and all. Presently, in addition to being an addict, Brian claimed to have converted out of the Jewish faith. He wore a necklace with a cross to show it.

When I met Brian the next day, he seemed like a nice guy. We started talking, and Brian confided to me that he was thinking of committing suicide. His past was full of horrors too overwhelming for him to face, and he wanted his life to end. He knew, however, that according to Judaism suicide is forbidden, and in fear of the torture he might suffer in the next world, he was hesitant to take his life.

We chatted for a while, and Brian shared some of the alternative ideas with me that he was toying with. “Perhaps I will join a combat unit in the army and take an enemy bullet, thereby dying as a hero.” He had come up with a number of such "creative" ploys.

Despite having run from Judaism, Brian obviously had a high regard for many of the basics tenets of our faith. After our chat, he accepted my offer to wrap Tefillin and say a prayer.

Purim day arrived. Our fridge was stocked with varieties of “sparkling grape juice,” and my wife set out a meal fit for royalty. The boys showed up and the party began.

I had spent much of the weekend thinking over the messages I wanted to impart during this unique Purim party. I began by sharing the following story in honor of Brian.

A number of years ago, a fellow approached his local Chabad rabbi and asked for his blessing to commit suicide! The rabbi suggested that before carrying out this life-altering (indeed, life-ending) decision, the fellow should consult first with the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The young man traveled to Brooklyn, and at his first opportunity, he approached the Rebbe and stated his request.

The Rebbe told him that through suicide, he would not accomplish the goal of ending his suffering. The pain that he is running from in this world will be replaced with spiritual pain and suffering in the next world as a result of his actions. The man then challenged the Rebbe and blurted out, "But Rebbe, where is G‑d?"

Pointing at the man’s heart, with a solemn expression the Rebbe replied, "Bai dir in hartzen - in your heart."

I concluded the story by saying that the young man now has a wonderful family and is a shining light in the Jewish world.

Since we had no live music, we began to sing generic Jewish songs. Gradually, everyone joined in. We were singing a particularly lively tune, when Brian got out of his seat. He took off his coat and began to dance, a classic chassidic solo dance. Looking at his face, it was clear that this young man was experiencing intense emotion.

Shortly thereafter, Brian stepped outside. I assumed he needed a cigarette. Out of view of the rest of us, Brian took off the cross, which hung on a chain around his neck, and slid it into his pocket.

The party came to an end amidst high spirits all around. We said our goodbyes, and I went outside to see the group off. I was standing around chatting with a few of the guys and Brian came over to join us. Fiddling with something in his hand, he remarked, "You know, this cost me a good couple of bucks."

Before we quite caught on what he meant, he swung his arm back and threw the necklace, cross and all, as far as it would go!

"Guys," he said. "It’s gone!"

In disbelief at what we had just witnessed, the guys and I took him by the shoulders and started to dance. Growing up, I’ve heard numerous incredible stories where the spark of a Jew bursts forth to express its connection with the Almighty.

As shluchim (Chabad "emissaries") we are taught to act. It is not every day that we see the fruits of our labor. On this night we were witnesses to a miracle as "Brian’s" neshama leaped forth and embraced the beauties of our heritage.