I’ve always been a fan of Chabad, since my earliest years spending time in Johannesburg, South Africa, and seeing the incredible work that the Rebbe’s emissaries did on behalf of the Jewish community. The love and dedication that these rabbis and rebbetzins had for the larger community was something I had never before experienced. It is with this background that I feel compelled to share an incredible moment I recently experienced.

Last week, we finally got away on a vacation. This trip, over a year in the making, would last only a week, and the highlight would be my leading services on Shabbat in Florence, Italy at a very special simcha.

Unfortunately, as life would have it, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. From a delay getting to the airport, to multiple delays in the airport, lost suitcases in Rome, and a stay in a hotel without Wifi (a situation I am allergic to), the list went on and on. In all the commotion, I was trying to understand what it was all about. Was I missing something? Many people experience delays, some lose their baggage, but to have so many things go wrong seemed to be a clear sign from the One Above. It wasn’t until Sunday, the very last day of our vacation, that G‑d rang the bell.

As we walked through the streets of Venice and toured the Jewish ghetto, we encountered two young Chabad yeshiva students blowing the shofar and attempting to put tefillin on anyone who would admit to being Jewish. On this particularly hot Sunday, the students had few customers, so I decided to engage them in conversation. It turned out that they were 17 years old and learning at the Chabad yeshiva in Paris. Standing in the blazing heat, I wondered how they managed to keep such composure.

Soon, the younger of the two boys shared a story. “You know, it seems very quiet now, but this past Friday I experienced the greatest moment of my life.” I was holding onto his every word as he slowly, with broken English, described what had happened.

He was standing at this very spot Friday afternoon, he explained, blowing the shofar and offering to put tefillin on people, when an elderly man approached. It was clear that he was not steady on his feet, and the boys offered him a seat at the table and a glass of water. When asked whether he was Jewish and would like to put on tefillin, the man replied that no, he was not Jewish, but went on to say that his mother was Jewish. Telling the story, the young boy said he felt like he had won the lottery. He explained to the man that according to Jewish tradition, he was as Jewish as any Jew. What a wonderful experience, the boy thought to himself, to help this 96-year-old man put on tefillin for the very first time on Rosh Chodesh Elul. After some back and forth, he agreed.

When they finished, they gave him challah, and the man—who made an indelible impression on this young boy’s heart—slowly walked away. “I couldn’t just let him walk away on his own,” the boy continued. So, he walked him through the streets of the Venice ghetto to his home, making sure he got there safely.

The next morning, Shabbat, as the boy made his way back to the ghetto, he passed the man’s building and noticed medics and a stretcher at the entrance. The man whom they had befriended, and with whom they had had this incredible religious experience just yesterday, had fallen ill during the night and sadly passed away. Reaching this part of the story, the boy could barely control his emotions, “Do you understand that I got to put tefillin on a Jew one time before he passed away?”

When he finished speaking, I hugged the boy, as I too was emotional. In that moment, we began to dance, me and the two yeshiva boys in the ghetto square, as people looked on bewildered, not understanding what the joy and celebration was all about. Yes, a man had died, and there is great sadness in that, but Judaism had lived on through the love of these young Jewish boys committed to their heritage, willing to stand in the blazing heat to touch and inspire another Jewish soul.

Later that afternoon, on the water taxi ride to the airport, I was struck by the boys’ incredible story and our conversation. These boys did not have a fancy hotel to stay in; they did not have the problem of lost luggage, because they barely had any luggage. They didn’t have to deal with an Uber taking them to the wrong airport, because they probably only use public transportation. Yet, they had such joy and meaning in their lives.

So yes, our vacation was incredibly challenging, but it was a vacation that I will not soon forget thanks to these wonderful shluchim doing G‑d’s work on the streets of Venice.