From the onset of Israel’s war against Hamas, there has been an extraordinary sense of unity among Jewish people around the world. Jewish people of all backgrounds have been asking themselves what they can do for their brothers and sisters in Israel. In many communities, public rallies have been organized to demonstrate solidarity with Israel and to counter the growing anti-Semitic vitriol that is sweeping the globe.
At a rally in downtown Baltimore last week attended by more than 1,000 people, counselors of the local Gan Israel Day Camp decided to offer Jewish men and teenagers the opportunity to do a mitzvah and put on tefillin, which in Jewish tradition is a potent protection for the Jewish people against its enemies.
The Rebbe—Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory—repeatedly emphasized this point after launching the global “Tefillin Campaign” shortly before the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967. Specifically, he wouldTorah’s passage: “The nations of the world will see that the name of G‑d is called upon you, and they will fear you.” (Deuteronomy 28:10)
“It was amazing to see the openness—Jews from all walks of life stopped by and put ontefillin—and how many women pledged to light Shabbat candles in support of Israel,” said Mendel Gordon, a camp counselor and yeshivah student from Miami. “It was refreshing to be part of a rally that drew so many Israeli supporters. It was like a huge family reunion.”
More than 100 men put on tefillin at the rally, according to the counselors. And for one of them, in particular—48-year-old Rennie Grant, owner of the Baltimore Recording Company—it was a special reunion indeed, one that he calls his “bar mitzvah.”
Below are comments that he posted on Facebook that night.
At the Baltimore ‘Stand With Us’ Rally
“I want to say, first off, thank you to G‑d for allowing me to participate in this evening’s event. I am a VERY secular Jew, as I was raised mostly outside of religion. I have however always felt solidarity with my brothers and sisters, yet guilty at the same time for not knowing how to be ‘Jewish.’ I will say, though, that I have always stood with Israel and the Jewish people, and have a Jewish heart and soul. As well as the cultural identity being of Russian heritage, I am very much genetically a Jew, and proud to say that.
“So I came to the rally to support Israel, and I do support Israel, with my whole heart. I stand for Israel. As I was walking through the crowd, a young man came up to me and asked if I’d wear the tefillin. I was unsure … ashamed I did not know exactly what to do, so I declined. A declination filled with self-doubt and uncertainty. As I moved through the throngs of chanting, dancing, singing people, a sense of belonging come over me. I liked it; maybe for the first time ever, I let it touch me. It touched me in a very human, loving way. I stood by Charles Street watching cars drive by with flags flying, and I even laughed out loud.
“I walked around looking for the Johns Hopkins University students who we were supposedly standing opposite from me. I saw none. Satisfied I fulfilled my spiritual commitment to G‑d by attending, I decided it was time I make my exit.
“As I walked down towards Mount Royal, another Chassidic young man, a bit older than the first, asked me to pray with him for Israel. He suggested I wear the tefillin. This time, G‑d got me. I realized it was a mitzvah to G‑d and to Israel and to myself, so I allowed him to wrap my arm and head. Together, we said the prayers, me following his lead. I knew some of the words from my long-ago time in Hebrew school, but could not tell you what I was saying.
“He wrapped my head, and we prayed some more. After we finished the prayers, he explained to me what was said, what the wearing of tefillin means, and how, after all this time, all this anguish over my failure as a Jew, I have now celebrated my ‘bar mitzvah.’ Honestly, I felt so loved that I wanted to cry! I felt the touch of G‑d in my heart, and I can finally say, after my 48 years of life on this planet … “Yes, I am a Jew!”