As a Chabad rabbi, I’ve learned early that you never know where and how you’ll meet a Jewish soul on its way home.

I just came back from spending six weeks in South Africa, where I had volunteered for Chabad’s “Change Our World for Good” campaign.

A chief component of the campaign, which seeks to increase acts of goodness and kindness, are small yellow plastic containers (shaped like Noah’s ark) for people to fill with change and pass on to someone less fortunate than themselves.

As part of my efforts to promote the ark campaign to businesses and schools, I was invited to address a group of business people. After my presentation, a fellow who appeared to be in his early 50s walked over to me and asked if we could chat privately. We sat down. Michael told me that he was educated and raised as a devout Christian. As he grew older, he said he started playing an active role in his church. About six years ago, he became disillusioned with Christianity and converted to Islam, where he yet again became quite involved with religion.

“Although I found some solace in Islam,” he told me, “the hatred that they carry for other people made me realize that I could simply not be part of it anymore.”

He left Islam a year ago.

One day, Michael received a call that his grandmother was not well, and that he should visit her immediately. Lying on her deathbed, his grandmother beckoned for him to come closer. She handed him a book. Following her request, he opened it, and saw English and Hebrew texts. After reading a section his grandmother pointed out, he asked her what the book had to do with her.

“My dear grandson, you are a Jew, and you must never forget that.”

The Spark Ignited

Michael just celebrated his bar mitzvah.
Michael just celebrated his bar mitzvah.

Michael was shaken by the news. He knew he needed time to digest the fact that his grandmother was Jewish, his mother was Jewish—and so was he.

He said that I was the first Jewish person with whom he confided his secret.

We spoke for a while about Judaism and what it means to be a Jew. We arranged a time to meet so we could talk some more, and so that he could put on tefillin and pray as a Jew for the first time.

Last week, Michael celebrated his bar mitzvah. The spark of his Jewish soul has been ignited, and is shining brighter and brighter every day.

After he removed the tefillin, Michael told me: “I explored and practiced many religions, but never found my place in this world. And then we met, and I realized that I cannot run away from who and what I am—a Jewish person.”

I wish my new friend many more happy healthy years. May he continue going from strength to strength!