How do you feel connected to a man you never “knew?”

First, you move to Hawaii.

Weird start, right?

You get there, and your best friend from seminary, Ali, calls and says, “If you think you’re moving to Hawaii and not getting more involved in Jewish life, you’re wrong.” She connects you with some “thing” called “Chabad of Hawaii.” What is this? You have no idea.

YouThe rebbetzin acts like she's your second mom eventually, finally, slowly make it to the physical location of this place called “Chabad.” The rebbetzin, Pearl Krasnjansky, acts like she’s your new second mom and then you a little bit fall in love with her.

With Rebbetzin Pearl Krasjnansky, in 2020.
With Rebbetzin Pearl Krasjnansky, in 2020.

Out of nowhere, right after you get laid off from one of your island jobs, the Rebbetzin and Rabbi offer you a job as their “Office Human.” You say, “Sure!” Then you begin to show up every day in your own interpretation of “modest dress”: lots of tie-dye and 750 scarves to cover all sleeveless tops.

One day, a girl from Israel, who had just moved to Hawaii to work in the kiosks, walks in. (Yes, Israelis even live in Hawaii!) You happen to be the only one in the Chabad office that afternoon.

She cries to you about how homesick and lonely she feels. You use your Hebrew to connect to this young fellow Jew who reminds you ... of you.

You realize that G‑d clearly brought you there to fulfill a Divine mission.

You spend another two joyful years on that beloved little island.

Hamantaschen I made the first year I lived in Hawaii.
Hamantaschen I made the first year I lived in Hawaii.

You choose to become shomer Shabbat, properly observing the holy day that comes every week.

You return, officially, finally, after an 8-year period of indecisiveness, to the Torah and mitzvot of your great-great-grandparents.

You feel alive.

You meet all of the rabbi and rebbetzin’s family, children, grandchildren.

Every single Friday night, you pick up your chair from the Shabbat dinner table and bring it closer to Rabbi Itchel—he’s “your” rabbi now, whether or not he knows it himself—to hear his weekly d’var Torah, his words of wisdom. Usually, he’s emotionally telling stories about this man known as “The Rebbe.”

As Shabbat ends each Saturday night, you end up sticking around for the weekly tradition to watch old videos of the Rebbe speaking at 770 Eastern Parkway.

What is 770? What is Eastern Parkway? You’re born and raised in Brooklyn, a 30-minute drive from there, but you have no idea that place exists or why it does.

At the Rebbe's Ohel, 2019.
At the Rebbe's Ohel, 2019.

You “find yourself” on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Somewhere in that “middle” is a quick and painful marriage, and a slow and more painful Jewish divorce.

Through it all, you stick by Chabad. And Chabad sticks by you. In fact, you get even stronger in your fervor and delight to be Torah-observant and involved in your community, and committed to the way you want to raise your family.

You find a new partner. At your “new” Chabad in Philadelphia.

YouYou've visited the Rebbe about 100 times meet him on a Shabbat in the party room during kiddush.

At this point, you’ve visited the Rebbe about 100 times.

This man you never “knew,” but still feel so connected to ... you visit him at the Ohel, his resting place in Queens, N.Y. You don’t visit him in the physical world; you visit him in the spiritual one. You’ve now written letters upon letters to him. You’ve cried to him. You’ve begged of him. You’ve asked. You’ve become close.

In Hawaii.
In Hawaii.

You see so clearly that none—not one—of these steps would have been there for you to take, none of this path would have been there for you to walk had the Rebbe not paved it for you.

The places that fed you. The arms that hugged you. The schools that employed you. The communities that welcomed you. The “car menorah” parades that delighted you. The mission that lights you.

This is how you feel connected to a man you never “knew.”

More than a man, more than a rebbe, but “The Rebbe.”