Growing up in Surabaya, Indonesia, Dovid Sayers did not know much about Jewish life, but his classmates always reminded him that he was Jewish. His first name, significantly different from the local variant of Dued, said it all. He was constantly bullied; one time a girl threw a stick at his face following the release of an American movie about Christianity.

But for all of the taunts and torments, Sayers – who now studies at the Chabad-Lubavitch yeshiva in Manchester, England, and recently returned to his native country to run a Sukkot program – says that not all of his memories are bad.

"What I remember as a kid was that there was a lot of dancing from visiting rabbis," says Sayers, referring to Chabad rabbis who would come from Australia for the holidays.

They went to the synagogue where Sayers' grandfather was the caretaker and lived. But one day, for some unknown reason, the visits halted when he was four years old.

"From that time, I really forgot about what it is to be Jewish," he says.

Sayers, who was born David Samba to a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, and later took on his mother's maiden name and changed the spelling of his first name to reflect a more ethnically-Jewish pronunciation, attended a local Christian school as a boy.

"My mother told me we are Jewish, and if they ask you what religion you are, you should say we are [members of the] Torah religion," relates Sayers. "She did not want to say that we were Jewish because of the violence."

Every time the class took part in a religious ceremony, he would opt out with the "Torah religion" excuse.

"This was the only Jewish identity I knew of," he shares. "My mother had no clue at the time that there was an issue of marrying a non-Jew."

His mother's re-embrace of Judaism came, though, came when Sayers was 12. She began praying frequently at the synagogue and advocated for her son to have a Bar Mitzvah against the wishes of her husband. A chance visit from Rabbi Dovid Schurder enabled the event to take place.

A New Era

Dovid Sayers, a native Indonesian, returned to his home country for the holiday of Sukkot.
Dovid Sayers, a native Indonesian, returned to his home country for the holiday of Sukkot.
"Over the years my textile business has taken me to many countries, and I make it a point to visit the local Jewish communities," says Schurder, who went into business after asking the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, whether he should become an emissary. The Rebbe told him that he should follow the way of business and through that he would find his mission as an emissary.

On a trip to Indonesia, Schurder, a resident of Manchester, asked his Christian business partner to find the Jewish community in Surabaya, the country's second-largest city with more than 30 million citizens. He ended up visiting the small synagogue of Sayers' mother and grandfather.

"My mother was overly joyous when she saw the rabbi enter the synagogue," says Sayers. "I [have] never seen my mother so happy. It turned out that she had prayed and requested from G‑d that day to assist her in finding a way to teach her son about Judaism before his Bar Mitzvah.

"She later told me that she felt this was her answer."

Sayers, who was playing basketball at the time, wasn't too keen on meeting Schurder.

"She wanted me to meet the rabbi," he says. "I was not too delighted. I did not [speak] English that well and I had no interest in rabbis at that point in my life."

When Schurder entered the house, he asked the boy why he had come to visit. Sayers responded that it must be to prepare him for his Bar Mitzvah. With that, the rabbi offered to help purchase tefillin for Sayers and to arrange a ceremony in nearby Bangkok, Thailand.

Surprisingly, Sayers' father did not object this time around.

"My father miraculously did not reject the idea and told me to do as I choose," says Sayers.

For a couple of months following the 2003 Bar Mitzvah, Schurder sent links to articles to the family, but Sayers was not interested. He even stopped using that e-mail address, but his parents continued to check it. They read each article with great interest.

Sayers even moved to Manchester at his father's insistence the following year.

"My father told me that Surabaya is not the place for a Jewish kid," he relates. "My father learned from the articles what it means to be a proud Jew, and he encouraged me to make the move to Manchester," where there was a much larger Jewish community.

Sayers first stayed at Schurder's home before enrolling in the yeshiva. Last year he visited his hometown and invited local Jews to a Shabbat meal he organized.

This year, he wanted to do something more for the community. So he joined friend Mendy Singer in going back to Surabaya to help the city's Jews celebrate Sukkot. Under the aegis of Merkos L'Inyonei Chinuch, the education arm of Chabad-Lubavitch, the pair constructed a sukkah and this week will be teaching people about the importance of the holiday.

They are planning prayer services, festive meals and lots of dancing and singing, says Sayers.

"It was my only memory of me growing as a Jewish child," he says of the visiting Lubavitchers he remembers as a boy. "I want to bring that back to the city. If I, who knows the language and the country, will not to do it, who will?"