It’s been six years since Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz has been immobilized by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Unable to speak or type, he uses his eyes to communicate with his family and friends, and write heartfelt thoughts on Chabad.org that are enjoyed around the world.

Last year, a group of yeshivah students who were inspired by the faith and good cheer of the Chabad emissary to Temecula, Calif., decided to give him a unique gift for his 46th birthday: 4,600 Jews around the world would don tefillin in his honor.

The campaign caught fire, and the result was that an estimated 10,000 men in 15 countries put on tefillin and shared pictures with the organizers. Thousands of women also lit Shabbat candles that Friday in his honor.

The photos were assembled into a giant digital portrait of the rabbi dancing at a wedding, composed of thousands of miniaturized images of men, women and children around the world doing mitzvahs in his merit.

One of the most touching images of all came from Maplewood, N.J., where Jeffrey Kingsley shared images of him and his teenage son, Harry, wearing tefillin, accompanied with the brief message that he, too, has ALS. “Rabbi Yitzi and his wife are such an inspiration,” says Kingsley, who has lost movement in his lower body. “Even though he cannot even move his mouth, the fact that they maintain such a positive attitude and devotion to their family is very special.”

At the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market, students from the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem inspired more than 150 girls and women to light Shabbat candles. (File photo)
At the Mahane Yehuda outdoor market, students from the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem inspired more than 150 girls and women to light Shabbat candles. (File photo)

After the rabbi’s illness was diagnosed, a video production of “Shine a Little Light,” a beautiful and inspiring song the rabbi had written years earlier, was created by a number of well-known musical artists. The rabbi’s wife, Dina Hurwitz, said last year’s birthday campaign reminded her of “the outpouring of love and brotherhood we saw at the beginning of Yitzi’s illness and again when the song came out.”

In advance of the rabbi’s upcoming 47th birthday on Saturday, March 9 (2 Adar II), organizers are seeking to outdo the runaway success of last year’s campaign. Echoing the Rebbe’s call to always do more and reach higher, they are hoping to reach an additional 15,000 mitzvahs, with a special focus on Shabbat candles and tefillin.

This year, their efforts will be bolstered by the thousands of teens who viewed a special presentation on the rabbi’s life at the iMatter event, which capped off the CTeen International Leadership Conference in late February in New York.

Support for the campaign at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (File photo)
Support for the campaign at the Western Wall in Jerusalem (File photo)

“Wherever [Yitzi] went, he went with a pair of tefillin,” said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky, director of the International Conference of Chabad-Lubavitch Emissaries and vice chairman of Merkos L’lnyonei Chinuch—the educational arm of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement—in a video released ahead of the campaign, “and he sought to put on tefillin with as many Jews as he could. Unfortunately, he cannot go to put on tefillin with anyone, but we can do it for him.”

The public is asked to perform the mitzvah of their choice, especially tefillin, and take a picture while holding a sign with the word #TefillinForYitzi (print a sample at TefillinForYitzi.com), and share it on social media with the hashtag #TefillinForYitzi.

Pictures can be submitted by WhatsApp (or text) to 770-810-5134 or by email to TefillinForYitzi@gmail.com to be included in the presentation.

Last year, students presented a giant digital portrait of the rabbi dancing at a wedding, composed of thousands of miniaturized images of men, women and children doing mitzvahs worldwide in his merit.
Last year, students presented a giant digital portrait of the rabbi dancing at a wedding, composed of thousands of miniaturized images of men, women and children doing mitzvahs worldwide in his merit.