I received the following message on Facebook from "Rochel," after she contacted me, asking me if I was related to Chaim and Rochel Yaffe, of Portland, Maine — my parents. -Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe


Here's a story you may or may not remember, but one I'll never forget. Flashback to Summer 1971. I had only secured permission from my parents to take my first adventure to Israel to explore my spiritual roots the year before by promising to use the return portion of my ticket and come home, no matter what, at least for the summer.

After a year volunteering on a religious kibbutz, I thought I could maintain my budding commitment to keeping kosher and Shabbat while being a camp counselor in Fryeberg, Maine. But sadly, in a very short while, I found out how wrong I was, and how strongly the assimilation current pulled me back into Jewish oblivion.

We clambered out of the van and I was frozen in place by cold feetWith the second Saturday approaching, I was miserable. As the beloved counselor of the oldest bunk of 14 teenagers, they quickly understood something was wrong with me. They probed hard and found out that, somewhat like E.T., I needed desperately to "phone home"—to connect with Shabbat.

Before I knew it, we had somehow hatched a plan that convinced the bewildered camp management that experiencing a Shabbat morning service in Portland, a two-hour drive away, would be a very cool field trip for my teens. I hurriedly looked in the tattered yellow pages in the camp office and scribbled down the address of a synagogue listed as "Orthodox" that looked promising. My sympathetic non-Jewish co-counselor Linda signed out the camp van, and we were on our way.

We clambered out of the van and I was frozen in place by cold feet. Then I saw you – or rather you saw us. We must have been a strange-looking bunch approaching the synagogue nervously. You ran to get your father, who appeared like a holy apparition engulfed in his tallit. In seconds he cleared out the women's section and you passed out prayer books. My campers were spellbound, and I was "home."

When synagogue services concluded, your father convinced us to come home with you for lunch, and off we went. As we approached your house, I'll never forget your excitement as you ran up the driveway ahead of us calling out, "Mommy, look what Tatty [Daddy] brought home!!!" The pride in your voice and delight at being the one to tell the big news was immeasurable.

I, however, was horrified at imposing on your family with a crowd of unexpected guests, but quickly realized that there was no need. We were greeted like long-lost friends, and within minutes card tables were set up, places were set, and we settled in like part of the family.

After lunch, presumably around 3pm, my girls had had enough, and were ready to head back to camp. There was an uncomfortable impasse, since your family wanted us to stay until nightfall, many hours later.

As I remember it, you swung into action, and saved the day. You begged your father for Baal Shem Tov stories, told us we couldn't possibly miss this, and soon we were all settled on the couch, spilling onto the floor, and enjoying your animated accompaniment to your father's stories that kept the entire group happy and engaged until havdalah!

Then as we were finally about to leave, there was that moment that changed my destiny. Your father asked me if I wanted to keep Shabbat. I said, "Well sure, but...." and gave several reasons why I couldn't possibly make it to Portland every week. He asked me again, and again I gave more reasons why regretfully I couldn't come back. After the third round, he smiled reassuringly and told me he would pick me up the following Friday from camp to spend Shabbat with your family.

You ignited in me the desire to commit to a Torah life so that one day I could have a son like youAnd the whole summer, every Friday, and again Saturday night, you and your father trekked two hours each way to pick me up and take me back to camp in Fryeberg. One week I called to say that I was in the camp infirmary with a high fever and couldn't come – but your mother laughed it off and assured me that Shabbat was just what I needed, and to be ready as usual for my pick-up.

What I remember most from the entire experience was being inspired by you, a young boy who was an energetic sidekick of his father, committed together to a mission to bring Jews home, and make the world a better place.

You ignited in me the desire to commit to a Torah life so that one day I could hope to have a son like you. And that vision of you running joyously up the driveway, leading the way, has come to me so many times along the journey. Pixie became Rochel, and lives the dream in Jerusalem with two generations of Torah-committed children and grandchildren continuing our mission.

Now as I gather for Shabbat in New York with my big, beautiful, blessed family here, my heart is full of gratitude, as always, to you and your family.

I'm telling you this story because I think it's valuable for those devoting their lives to helping all of us to sometimes hear "the end of a story"… my story, which happened in some ways because of your love for great stories, back on that Shabbat afternoon.

I'm here in New York for the week and would love to connect with your parents so that I may, finally, thank them in person.

In the meantime, sending you and your family boundless blessings for health, happiness, and immeasurable success in all your endeavors.