‘Roving Rabbis’ Mendel Barber and Aaron Roth relate two amazing encounters they experienced while performing Merkos Shlichus in Southern California this summer.
From Chabad.org Roving Rabbis Blog by Mendel Barber and Aaron Roth:
A Bar Mitzvah at 102
We are working with Rabbi Mendel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway, and he asked us to visit a friend in Ramona, a rural neighborhood about 30 minutes away. We headed out at around noon, and as we drove we noticed the scenery changing, with farms and dirt roads replacing the sleek suburban streets of Poway.
As we attempted to navigate the unfamiliar roads, driving more slowly than usual, we noticed a very elderly gentleman sitting outside his home. Spontaneously, we decided to stop and sit with him for a few minutes before continuing on our way. Since our paths had crossed, it seemed right to make a connection.
As we approached, we realized that he was even older than we had thought—a centenarian at least! “Hello, how are you sir? We are from Chabad.” We introduced ourselves and explained why we were in the area.
The man’s face lit up, and, although it was hard for him to speak, he managed to convey to us that he too was Jewish.
We showed him the tefillin we were carrying and asked, “Did you ever put these on?”
He shook his head no, and we offered, “Can we help you put them on now? Would that be good?” Vigorous nod of approval.
Gently and carefully, we wrapped the tefillin around his arms and head, and recited the blessings in his stead. He couldn’t talk much but tears fell from his face and he squeezed our hands tightly. We explained that this was his bar mitzvah, and again, his body language and facial expression spoke volumes.
Suddenly, the door to the house opened, and the man’s son came out. He was definitely shocked to see us, but to his credit, asked us to stay. He wanted to bring his father inside to rest but he would be happy to talk to us more afterwards.
A few minutes later he reappeared with some cold drinks, and sat down next to us.
He told us that his father is 102 years old, turning 103 in just a couple of weeks, G‑d willing. The family was originally from Hungary but moved to America at the turn of the century, first settling in New York and eventually moving to California, where they stopped practicing their Judaism, which is why he never celebrated his bar mitzvah. Nevertheless, as an adult he contracted tuberculosis, and as part of his recovery he was encouraged to sing, leading him to become a synagogue cantor for over 70 years! The son concluded his remarks by qualifying that his father had always considered himself an atheist.
We thanked him for speaking with us and wished them both well. We were grateful that we still had some time before our scheduled appointment, so we could process all the emotions swirling in our heads. That visceral reaction we had witnessed was clearly the cry of a beautiful Jewish soul that was bound ever so tightly with its Source.
Two Car Accidents in Three Days
San Diego, the second largest city in California, is home to approximately 100,000 Jews, whose Jewish needs are served by more than 20 Chabad centers. We were there to assist with outreach efforts over the summer, and between meetings with individuals we had contacted beforehand, we spent time visiting local businesses and shopping centers, hoping to bump into curious Jews.
We were scheduled to visit Alex at 12:30pm so we decided to spend the morning canvassing the area. We met Bruce, who appeared to be in his mid-60s, and he told us that he was Polish and had been raised Catholic. For some reason we decided to probe further, and discovered that his maternal grandmother had been Jewish, making Bruce Jewish, too.
Understandably, he was surprised and somewhat confused, so we settled in for a long chat. We tried to give him a good overview of what being Jewish is all about, as well as the contact information for a Chabad rabbi in the area with whom he could connect on a more long-term basis.
We parted ways and headed off to our meeting with Alex in great spirits. Alex is a gregarious senior citizen, originally from Russia, who comes to the Chabad House on occasion. He greeted us warmly and invited us inside.
Alex told us about a recent trip he took with his family to the East coast, during which they experienced two car accidents within a span of three days. Thank G‑d, no one was seriously hurt, but they were quite shaken up and wondered why this had happened and why they had been spared.
While of course we can’t know why things happen in this world, it’s well known that a mezuzah provides a tremendous source of protection for the inhabitants of the home. The delicate handwritten letters, however, are susceptible to damage from the elements, easily rendering the mezuzah non-kosher, and therefore it is recommended that they be checked once every three to four years.
We removed the mezuzah from Alex’s front door and carefully unrolled the little scroll. This process should be performed by a sofer, a certified scribe, but due to the extenuating circumstances we were going to give a quick glance ourselves. Bingo! Twice, the Hebrew word baderech, which means ‘on the way’ was missing letters. We showed it to Alex, who was had tears in his eyes as he carefully affixed the new mezuzahs we had provided.
It is humbling to be part of the global effort to facilitate the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s vision, if only for a few weeks. We will always know that we’ve had a small share in helping to enrich the lives of our Jewish brothers and sisters.