It was Tuesday, March 13, 2018, at 5 a.m. It was a dark and cold morning, with some precipitation falling. The weather people were calling for snow of about 6 to 12 inches, depending on what area you live in. With that said, it didn’t stop a full coach bus of people from heading out to Albany to represent Forest Hills, Kew Gardens Hills, and its surrounding areas. The trip to Albany was supposed to bring 1,300 people upstate to meet with dozens of representatives to fight for equal funding for non-public schooling. Due to the inclement weather, only about 700 people showed up – which was also a very good turnout, considering the circumstances. There were representatives, mostly students, from many of the yeshivot from the tri-state area. There were also many officials, rabbis, and teachers from various organizations and yeshivot. The trip was organized by the OU through its subdivision called Teach NYS. Overall, the meetings were very successful and things are looking good. Slowly but surely, if we all stick together and work as a single unit, we can have the English studies paid for completely by the state of New York, as is their obligation.
On the note of unity, it is interesting to note that the 700 people who sacrificed their studies, jobs, businesses, and free time to go up to Albany spent the whole day trying to lobby and get funding for over 150,000 Jewish children in hundreds of yeshivot and day schools, as well as over 250,000 non-Jewish students in various private schools. We as Jews have a concept in Judaism of every Jew being responsible for each other, and by making this trip, these 700 or so individuals demonstrated that they take this responsibility seriously. If each and every one of us gets up and takes a trip to Albany together, and we will have over 100,000 people making a trek to our official representatives, I have no doubt we will be funded that same year.
We are sometimes placed in jobs and situations where one thinks to himself, why has Hashem put me in this field or this line of work? Or we might think, why has Hashem placed me in this neighborhood to work with a certain type of people? Each of us has a mission in life. Sometimes it is hard to figure out what that mission is. We have to see each and every one of our interactions as fulfilling a certain mission (mission to Albany). I have an interesting true story that happened to me, which I would like to share with you. For about 20 years, my brother and I worked on Roosevelt Avenue, in Jackson Heights, not far from Forest Hills. Jackson Heights, like many locations throughout the five boroughs, used to be a very Jewish area. Nowadays it is mostly Hispanic, where even the once-frum shuls have been turned into locations where they have church services on Sunday instead of Shabbat services on Saturday. If you go to 77th Street and 35th Avenue, you will see a synagogue that has become a church. The building still displays a Hebrew name and Magen Davids. I hope there are no sifrei Torah there.
One of my customers was a young lady whom I thought was Hispanic but born in the U.S. For years she would come in every so often to buy or repair something. On one of her visits we started talking, and the conversation turned to religion. She told me she was Jewish. I was surprised; however, I knew that in Jackson Heights it was possible. I started to ask about her mother and her father, who were both Jewish. I went further into her genealogy, and it came out that she was a completely Jewish girl who was brought up in this assimilated society. That was not the worst thing. She married a Spanish husband and had two boys with him. This is when the story starts to get messy. She happened to get them circumcised at the hospital, but the boys were being brought up completely non-Jewish. Their father, who was Christian, would take the boys to church on Sundays, and that is what they knew. At the point when I met this woman she had already divorced her Spanish husband, but he was still an active father who visited his boys and took them to church on Sundays. I told her that her boys are completely Jewish because their mother is a full Jew. She started tearing as she heard these words. I saw that her neshamah wanted to be associated with Judaism, but being raised as she was it was difficult.
As the weeks went by she would come in more frequently because I would explain to her about Judaism, and I told her she has to teach her sons that they were full-fledged Jews. Upon inquiring about the boys’ age, she told me that one was going to be 13 and the other one was 17. When I heard 13, I automatically thought “bar mitzvah.” I explained to her that a Jewish boy who turns 13 has to go through a process called a bar mitzvah. She did not hesitate to want to know more. I told her to bring her son to me and I would talk to him. They came together and I spoke with them. The boy looked like he had a Jewish neshamah. Even though he was a teen and growing up among goyim, he listened to me carefully and was willing to have a bar mitzvah. He could have easily blown me away in two seconds, but look at how the neshamah wants to attach itself to kedushah (holiness), even though it is steeped in klipot.
I spoke with the older brother as well, and we decided we would have a bar mitzvah for both brothers on the same day that the younger one will be turning 13. My brothers and I bought two pairs of tefillin and tallitot, we bought English transliterated books (at the time there was no Rav Israel’s Ben Israel transliterated books). We bought bagels, spreads, cakes, and candies and let everyone in Beth Gavriel know we were going to have a special bar mitzvah for two young men. It was a beautiful morning. We picked up the boys with their mother. We came to the youth minyan at Beth Gavriel in Forest Hills. It was the day when the sefer Torah was brought out. The boys put on their new tallit and tefillin for the first time. They came up to the Torah and read the brachot for the first time. It was an unbelievable connection of souls who were robbed from the treasures of Hashem and led astray. I will never forget the moment when I turned to the women’s section and saw their mother, full of tears, tightly embraced by my wife.
Each and every one of us goes through many situations in life. Every situation you are in is a chance to make a Kiddush Hashem – whether it is being nice to a goyishe employee or employer who is getting on your nerves or doing chesed and demonstrating that we are children of Hashem, Who is the pillar of chesed, or bringing someone back to their roots and making that connection of their souls to the Source of all good. I do not know where these boys are now or what they are doing. It could be that all that effort was for naught and they never put on tefillin after that day. What I do know is that at the time the mitzvah came to me, I did what is expected of every Jew – to be responsible for every other Jew. This is what 700 of us did when we went to Albany: we acted on behalf of over 150,000 in the system. In Judaism, Hashem does not pay for the result; He pays for the effort. We have to plant the seeds and let Hashem tend to the garden.
Until next time…
By Avraham Yakubov
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