It was a lovely fall day, the final day of Sukkot, Crown Heights bustling with visitors and locals.

And I was standing in line waiting to meet the Rebbe with my heart in my throat.

How did I, Steve Brody from the Bronx, end up in a Chassidic enclave in Brooklyn?

I had been raised by my grandparents, and to put it mildly, I was a bad kid involved in all the wrong things. I knew I was Jewish, and even had a bar mitzvah, but I drifted far away from it all.

After we married, my wife, Barbara, urged me to go into business so that we would have a steady income for the family we hoped to grow. I did not have training or higher education, so I opened a cosmetics store in Queens called Mr. Discount.

One Friday in 1978, a young fellow with a black hat and a budding beard walked into the store, introduced himself as Sholom Avtzon, and asked me if I wanted to put on tefillin.

I had not done it since my bar mitzvah, but I agreed.

This became a weekly ritual. Every week Sholom would come to the store, we’d put on tefillin and chat, and he’d leave me with a pamphlet with Torah thoughts, which I would read throughout the week.

Our relationship grew, and one day he surprised me by showing up at our home with a team of guys, even younger than him.

They were armed with blowtorches, cauldrons, and everything needed to purge traces of non-kosher from a kitchen. A few hours later, our entire kitchen was kosher.

Sholom also gave us some extra utensils to use while we decided what would be designated for dairy and what would be used for meat.

We began purchasing kosher food, and have kept a kosher home ever since.

Over the next few years, with Sholom’s guidance, I became more involved in Judaism, putting on tefillin daily and living a more Jewish life.

Seeing my interest in religion, some of my friends thought it was a passing craze, perhaps triggered by the death of my father in 1984, but they were wrong.

Of course, as Sholom exposed me to the world of Torah and Chassidism, he told me about the Rebbe, whom I began to admire and revere.

Steve Brody met with the Rebbe on several occasions.
Steve Brody met with the Rebbe on several occasions.

And that is what brought me to Brooklyn.

During the first years of our marriage, Barbara miscarried four times. The fourth time was an ectopic pregnancy, and the result was that she lost a fallopian tube. Her remaining tube was blocked with scar tissue, which meant that she was physically unable to conceive.

We went from doctor to doctor, but no one could help us.

In 1982, we adopted our son Michael, whom we came to love dearly.

Yet, we wished, hoped, and prayed that Michael would have a brother or sister, and this caused us a lot of pain and grief.

On Hoshanah Rabbah, the final day of Sukkot, in 1988, Sholom brought us to Crown Heights where the Rebbe was distributing honey cake to anyone who wished. To each visitor, the Rebbe handed a slice of cake and a blessing for a sweet year.

Long lines were formed, with men waiting in one line and women in another.

My wife went first and tearfully asked the Rebbe for a blessing for children, which he granted.

When it was my turn, I also asked the Rebbe for the same blessing. To my surprise, the Rebbe replied: “I already blessed your wife.”

How did the Rebbe know that the woman he had blessed earlier that day had been my wife? We had not introduced ourselves, but he knew.

That summer, just about 9 months later, we were blessed with a biological son, David, whose Hebrew name is Boruch, which means “blessed.”

That same year, I was informed that I would lose the lease for my store.

I was devastated. I had two children to support, and my store would soon be gone.

I told Sholom the bad news, but he was ecstatic. “That is wonderful,” he said. “Now you can go into a line of business where you won’t feel compelled to work on Shabbat.”

Shortly thereafter, I received a call from someone I knew offering me a position as a salesman, something that would allow me to take off whenever I wanted.

Thank G‑d, I did very well. One thing led to another, and I soon found myself earning much more than I would have ever made in the store.

I am now retired and have the luxury of devoting significant time to studying Torah and living a full Jewish life.

David Brody and his growing family.
David Brody and his growing family.

There is a beautiful postscript to this story.

I recently attended an Avtzon family celebration and was saddened to see that my friend Sholom looked terrible. He was pale and weak.

He told me he had recently been discharged from the hospital, had been given a regimen of medication, and was fine.

But I was not convinced. So I called my son, David, who is now deputy executive director of a major hospital. David convinced him to come to the hospital, where he would be treated.

Less than half an hour after he checked in, the source of the problem—which the other hospital had missed—was pinpointed, and after a short procedure, Sholom was on his way to health.

Sholom and I talked about this amazing twist of events: He had been instrumental in securing the Rebbe’s blessing for David’s birth, and now David was the vehicle through which his life was saved.