Stricken by ALS on his 41st birthday, Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz had survived the disease for far longer than most as he was approaching his 46th birthday five years ago. Unable to speak or move by then, Hurwitz has been using eye-tracking technology to greet and entertain a steady stream of visitors, learn Torah and even maintain a column on

Then he received a surprise gift: thousands of mitzvahs performed in his honor, especially men and boys putting on tefillin.

Hurwitz is now approaching his 51st birthday and the 10th anniversary of his diagnosis. The rabbi, who serves with his wife Dina as co-executive director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Temecula, Calif., still entertains and studies regularly, and is looking forward to what has become an annual tradition.

Every year, using the hashtags #TefillinForYitzi and #ShabbatCandlesForYitzi, thousands of people around the world snap pictures of themselves (and others) performing mitzvahs in the rabbi’s honor, which they then submit to be presented to him.

While the efforts began as a grassroots movement with selfies sent via WhatsApp, email, and social media, the campaign is now run by a dedicated team of volunteers in eight languages. Visting, people can document their mitzvah pledges and share their images on a gift registry.

According to Dina Hurwitz, one of the most beloved aspects of her husband’s work was wrapping tefillin with men in his community and encouraging them to purchase their own sets to do so themselves regularly.

“He loves his tefillin, and it was his passion to put them on with other people,” she tells “When he turned 40, I bought him a new pouch for his tefillin. It is a mitzvah I know he loves, and if I could make it more beautiful for him, that would be the perfect gift.”

“Ever since thousands of you began gifting me these incredible #TefillinForYitzi campaigns for my birthday,” the rabbi has written, “I feel like I’ve regained a big part of my prior life and, actually, in greater measure than before!”

Many thousands of women and girls also distribute candles to be lit on Friday afternoon before sunset and submit them for inclusion with the hashtag #ShabbatCandlesForYitzi.

This year, the campaign will continue until Feb. 24. Mitzvahs can be submitted, and photos and videos can be uploaded, at: