Statistically, the following story should never have happened. But happen it did in the summer of 2018.

It was an ordinary morning in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan. Rabbi Dovid Chaim Hilel Chemama was making his rounds among the city’s merchants and business people, sharing Torah teachings and helping men put on tefillin.

“Then I got a message from a friend that an 87-year-old man who speaks only French needs help,” says the 28-year old Chabad emissary, who was raised in Paris and has been serving the Ramat Gan community for a year-and-a-half. “He was in distress. Neighbors had called for emergency assistance, but the responders were having a hard time communicating with him.”

The rabbi hurried over to the address he was given and saw an elderly man crying in pain. With his help, the emergency responders checked his blood pressure and sugar levels, and recommended that he be hospitalized. After the man declined, the rabbi was left alone with the elderly patient.

Happy to speak in his native tongue, the man, whose name is Louis Fitoussi, confided that he was all alone in the world, having spent most of his life working in the aerospace industry in France. “I came to Israel two years ago to be with my two sisters,” he explained, “but they both passed away one after another, and here I am alone, with no one in the world to care for me.”

When the young rabbi offered to help his newfound friend to put on tefillin, the latter eagerly agreed. It was his first time doing so in more than 70 years.

From then on, the rabbi made it his business to visit the elderly man every day. Each visit included a warm hug, tefillin and friendly banter in French. Fitoussi referred to Chemama, who also brought him his medication and ran other errands for him, as “an angel from heaven.”

A month passed, and his physical condition improved, along with his emotional well-being.

One day, the rabbi’s mother called while he was visiting Fitoussi. Upon hearing that her son was with an elderly man from France, she asked about his name. “Fitoussi?” she said casually. “We actually have some relatives with that name.” And the conversation ended.

“Do you know anyone with the name Aloush?” the rabbi asked Fitoussi, referring to his mother’s family name.

The elderly man paused for a moment, and then replied that he had cousins with that name who had lived near his childhood home in Béjaïa, Algeria. “A shell landed on their house during the Second World War, and everyone was killed besides for a brother and sister, Loulous and Jaquelyn.”

The rabbi could not believe his ears. His grandfather, Mordechai Aloush, was known as Loulous in French. A phone call to his mother revealed that Louis Fitoussi was indeed their long-lost relative.

When the octogenarian learned of their surprising connection, he could not stop kissing his newly discovered first cousin twice removed. “I never knew I had any living relatives,” he mumbled softly over and over to himself.

“Every night for the past few months, I cried out to G‑d, telling Him that there was no purpose for me to continue to live,” he revealed. “I begged Him to take me. Now, He answered my prayer in a way I could have never imagined.”

The rabbi and Fitoussi with another visitor.
The rabbi and Fitoussi with another visitor.