Eduard Ashurov was a loving husband and father.
Eduard Ashurov was a loving husband and father.

Eduard and Alina Ashurov got married on a sultry June evening in 2008, in Brooklyn, N.Y. That night Eduard set aside a bottle of wine, telling his bride they would use it to celebrate the bar mitzvah of their firstborn son.

Soon enough they were blessed with a son, whom they named Steven. He was followed shortly by a second son, whom they named Zachary.

Born in Nalchik, a city in Russia that was once home to a large community of Mountain Jews, Eduard had a stronger Jewish background than Alina, who hailed from Vinnytsia, Ukraine. Raising their children in the Los Angeles area, the couple was excited to be able to give their sons a Jewish education.

But then, Eduard passed away in 2011 of a sudden heart attack, and Alina’s world came crashing down.

Left with a toddler and a newborn, she moved to Chino Hills, California, to be closer to her mother, Rimma.

“Eduard always dreamed of our sons’ bar mitzvahs,” Alina said. “I still have the bottle he set aside tucked in my closet. But when Eduard died, it just didn’t seem possible. I had no idea how to prepare Steven for a bar mitzvah by myself, so I gave up on that dream.”

One breezy winter day in 2021, when Zachary was 10 and Steven was 12, Rimma took the boys to the park.

That same afternoon, Rabbi Mendy Harlig, who had moved to town three years prior with his wife, Esther, to found a Chabad center, took his young boys to the park as well.

As soon as they arrived, his toddler made a beeline for the swings, where he bumped head-first into the two older boys. The kids recovered quickly, as kids tend to do, but Mendy apologized to Rimma. They began chatting.

On a whim, he asked if she was Jewish. She was!

It was right before the Jewish holiday of Purim, so Mendy dashed to his car where he had several mishloach manot gift packages. After handing the packages to Rimma and the children, they exchanged numbers and waved goodbye.

A fateful encounter in the park
A fateful encounter in the park

Following their “chance” encounter, Mendy and Esther invited Zachary and Steven to join the Jewish Kids’ Club—a monthly program that allows children to explore their Jewish heritage through interactive workshops and activities. For the first time in their lives, the boys discovered that Judaism could be fun and even started learning to read Hebrew.

Steven and Zach at Chabad of Chino Hills Jewish Kids Club
Steven and Zach at Chabad of Chino Hills Jewish Kids Club

While chatting with Alina one day, Mendy asked if she was planning a bar mitzvah for Steven, who was about to turn 13. Alina’s eyes welled up with tears and she told him about the wine bottle her late husband had set aside so many years before.

The Harligs promised Alina that they would help her fulfill Eduard’s dream.

With a few months to go until Steven’s Hebrew birthday, they worked together to pull everything together in time.

On May 1, friends and family of the Ashurovs—including some from New York—gathered in the backyard of the Harligs’ Chabad House. Rimma and Alina watched with pride as Steven donned tefillin and chanted Kaddish in memory of his father.

Steven reciting Kaddish at his bar mitzvah in memory of his father
Steven reciting Kaddish at his bar mitzvah in memory of his father

The event culminated when Zachary and Steven stood in front of the Torah scroll and accepted Jewish names upon themselves: Shmuel and Zacharya.

Towards the end of the party, one of Eduard’s relatives shared with Mendy that Eduard was buried in Old Montefiore Cemetery in New York, mere yards away from the resting place of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory.

“It all became clear in that moment,” says Mendy. “The ‘reason’ my son bumped into Zachary and Steven at the park was so that we could help fulfill Eduard’s wish for his sons to have a bar mitzvah. And the reason we are in Chino Hills in the first place is because of the Rebbe, whose care for every individual inspired us to serve this community.”

This story is shared in merit of the soul of Edeneu Ben Rahavo.