Syracuse University. Inset: The letter's author, Yerachmiel, with his family.

Letter: Even When You Think You Fail, You Succeed

The following heart-warming letter was sent to Rabbi Yaakov T. Rapoport, Shliach to the University of Syracuse, by a former irreligious student who briefly attended a Shabbos meal at his home back in 1996. The young student thought the customs were strange, and barely made it past the soup course, but that brief encounter had an everlasting effect:

R. Rapoport,

In the summer of 1996, I was a socially awkward, bright, young student in the Pre-College program at Syracuse University.  I was 16 years old at the time.  I had long hair that I wore in a pony tail, wore a lot of tie-dye, and I had the requisite matching braces and acne to complete the profile.  My whole essence cleared screamed “Yid!”  You introduced yourself to me one day.  I think the meeting was in the cafeteria, and I’m pretty sure I was eating a ham sandwich.  You invited me for what was to become my first Shabbos experience.

I remember the experience extremely well.  It was the summer and all of the regular students were away.  We didn’t have a minyan.  We didn’t even have half a minyan!  It was just me, a grad student, and you.  You helped me fumble my way through the service and then took me back to your house for dinner.  The grape juice seemed normal enough.  Who doesn’t like grape juice?  But then the hand washing…weird, and then brachas on food in Hebrew…weird.  And yikes, there were kids jumping all over me from every direction!  This was way too weird!  This was definitely a cult!  I think I made it to somewhere in the soup course and then I ran out.

About ten years after that first experience, after a lot of interesting twists and turns, I finally got myself to Yeshiva in Israel and started my journey to frumkite.  It’s obviously a long story.  Much longer than I can write in an email.  Today, I am 34 years old.  I live in Modi’in Ilit, Israel.  I am married and, bli eyen hara, we have four children learning in Yiddish chaddarim (picture attached, obviously).  I thought of you with an incredible feeling of hakaras hatov this Shabbos, washing my hands, drinking grape juice, and with kids jumping all over me from every direction.  Hashem has a beautiful sense of humor!

I wanted to tell you three things: (1) Thank You! (2) In your line of work, even when you think you fail, you succeed…and sometimes you even get to see the peiros in this world! (3) I don’t remember anything that you said to me that Shabbos, but the seeds of emes that you planted somewhere deep in my neshama are growing strong now.  Just took a while.

Thank you!

Yerachmiel Elimelech Weiss

P.S. Please let me know the next time you’re in Israel!

Yerachmiel Elimelech Weiss with his wife and four children.
Yerachmiel Elimelech Weiss with his wife and four children.


  • mRs

    how beautiful, that he did the great mitzva of hakoras hatoiv, kol hakavod.
    we should all learn from this, the great power of hakoras hatoiv, that can accomplish alot too.

  • What a beautiful story!

    SO kind of him to let the shaliach see the ‘fruits of his labor’….

  • Beautiful and inspiring!

    So happy for everyone involved, and wonderful hakaras hatoiv.
    Thanks for sharing. I needed the reminder today of how even when we think we fail, we succeed.

  • Put a smile in my face !

    This is the type of news I enjoy ! Everyone appreciates Chizuk !

  • Rabbi Rapoport is great!

    I have had the opportunity to see Rabbi R in action. He’s a straight shooter, says it how it is, full of emes and Ahavas Yisroel.
    One day I hope to be half the shliach he is!
    Success is not in the amount of money you raise or the large crowd you attract, its the importance of each individual encounter
    May you continue to see much success!

  • CH mother

    So beautiful – both the story and the fact that R. Weiss made the effort to communicate again with R. Rapoport. This is what keeps a shaliach going….

  • ymg

    And so, may you also bring to your home spaced-out far out Yidden who can have an experience like you had! Yasher koach!

  • Yehuda

    irreligious student ??

    Who writes this stuff ?

    The Rebbe would’t say it and neither would a Secular Lubavitcher use that word

    Irreligion is an umbrella term that covers several topics, including:

    Secular humanism

    Perhaps he meant secular?

    Why secularism?

    One can argue that secular life, law and science gives all religions equal footing and an equal voice. By eliminating their input, one religion cannot have an unfair domination over the other. Mostly, however, it keeps the crazies out of power or unable to actually put anything overly crazy into force. Or the religious crazies at any rate.

    • SJP

      Who cares? We get the gist of the message. Oh, and how do you know “The Rebbe wouldn’t say it”?

      You’re trying to pick apart a heartwarming story and letter as you would pick apart a tosefos on a daf gemora…. there’s a time and a place for that kind of analysis

  • Jitschak Rosenbloom

    My story is nearly identical. I had my foot halfway out the door at chabad houses for about eight years before I took on kosher and shabbos. Today, I run a chabad house out of my living room. Married with three kids in Israel. The shluchim stayed with me through my years of mishugas, and my success today is completely in their merit.

  • Wow!


    We should all learn from this how important it is to go on shlichus…

  • It's those little things that start the spark

    My own journey – from being signed up for tzivos H-Shem at 13 (only receiving regretfully one edition – they really should have a magazine for the over bar/bas mitzvah set)

    To trying to buy a mezuzah – (of course I was turned away because I didn’t look jewish) but that didn’t stop me

    To a shabbaton in crown heights where I had the greatest headache (I had to be put in the one house without coke – ooh the caffeine withdrawal) but the greatest spiritual awakening

    To being the nudnik asking the Rabbi the weirdest questions (are there mermaids in the Torah – before rabbi s’s book came out)

    To spending an amazing year in seminary

    To almost losing everything when I got back under the pressure of family and friends

    To eventually withstanding that pressure and becoming stronger for it

    To meeting my Bashert and the journey never ends …..

    No one knows whether what they do today will light a spark for someone else years down the line ….

  • Campus shliach

    Thank you for this story. I’m on campus and we are about to have many students graduate and I get down a bit, thinking did we really do anything? This letter was the perfect cure.

  • topshot

    For those in kiruv, it can be discouraging In an age of instant gratification to not see immediate results. It’s important to remember that when you plant a seed, you may not even live to see what you’ve sown, but yes, you have made a difference and your results will someday bear fruit.

  • TO #15

    I’m not sure if even you understand what you wrote. But I am sure that nooneelse did!

  • Pauline Leuw

    I am Betzalel Lapidus’ mother from Cape Town, SA and I’m absolutely blown away by your story. Hashem leads us to exactly where we should be…….
    Baruch Hashem!