Weekly Chasidic Story #1155 (s5780-18 / 1 Shvat, 5780)

Thirty Thousand Israeli Jews in Amsterdam

They looked like they had gotten a lot out of their stay in Amsterdam; their brows, nostrils and lobes were well-pierced with rings and studs; small tattoos
decorated their arms and all had hair dyed unnatural colors.

Connection: Weekly Reading - This Week's Torah reading. BO, contains the first two of the four verses in that Torah that mention the commandment of tefillin.


Story in PDF format for more convenient printing.

Thirty Thousand Israeli Jews in Amsterdam

I once spent three days vacation in Amsterdam with my wife who wanted to see the art museums there. We also visited some friends, I spoke at an Israeli Synagogue and we returned.

All the Israelis I met there told me the same thing: "There are thirty thousand Israelis here in Amsterdam."

I don't know if this is true but they all said it with the same monotone, empty look in their eyes and half smirk on their lips as though to say, "It's disgusting, but I'm here to stay with the other 29,999!"

It was not a happy place and I was glad to leave. The flight back was in the daytime so I decided to use the opportunity to put 'tefillin' on the Jews who happened to be flying with me. (tefillin is a commandment that according to the Lubavitcher Rebbe every male Jew wants to do. But not many do it because they are not asked.

I took out my tefillin and stood up, a bit apprehensive about figuring out who was Jewish, only to discover that my worries were for naught.

I discovered that people from Holland do not move. I don't know if it was because of the plane flight or if they are always like that, but except for occasionally rattling their newspapers or saying a few words to the person next to them, they just sat in semi-suspended animation. Even their faces were sort of frozen.

The Jews on the other hand, especially the Israelis, could not sit still for a moment. They were constantly talking, making endless facial and hand gestures, getting up or just squirming around. So I just approached anyone that moved.

At first several refused, then one agreed, then a few more, then one said that he had already put on and so on. I proceeded down the aisle until I came to three young fellows, obviously Israelis, sitting next to each other. They looked like they had gotten a lot out of Amsterdam; their brows, nostrils and lobes were well pierced with rings and studs, small tattoos decorated their arms, and all had hair dyed unnatural colors.

"Nu? What do you say Yehudim (Jews)?" I said as I approached them "Want to do something really wild? Here, put on tefillin! It takes one minute on the clock and doesn't cost money! What do you say?"

From experience I know that you can never know what is going to happen. Several times people hugged and kissed me and once I actually had to protect myself from violence, so I was ready for anything.

The one sitting nearest the aisle contorted his face as though I was offering him a dead cat and shrugged his shoulders as high as possible which is Israeli for "drop dead".
I got the message and, not disheartened, turned my attention to his neighbor who wasn't looking at me, "What about you, my friend?" I asked.

Immediately he closed his eyes, tilted his head to a side and let out a snore, feigning deep sleep.

Only one was left. Sitting near the window reading a magazine enveloped in the drone of the plane he was unaware of what had just happened, I raised my voice in his direction, "Would you like to put on tefillin?"

He looked up at me suddenly and said "What!? What did you say?"

The first fellow, the one that refused, was following the whole thing with relish awaiting my total defeat, the one in the middle was still "asleep", but I could see he was peeking. I repeated the question as I held up the tefillin. "Want to put on tefillin?"

"Tefillin?" He said incredulously, "You want ME to put on tefillin?! He stood, bent over a bit because of the overhead bin, rolled up his sleeve and exclaimed with a smile, "Of course I'll put on tefillin!"

The first fellow was shocked! His best friend! Was one of.....them! The "sleeper" in the middle even opened one eye to see if he had heard correctly. Meanwhile my customer joyously let me help him put on the tefillin, then sat down and began reading in a loud voice the "Shma Yisroel" from the card I gave him.

But I didn't notice that we were being watched. A well dressed non-Jew, perhaps in his fifties sitting in the row before us had turned around and was watching the entire thing.
As soon as I noticed him I said hello and asked him if he had any idea what we were doing. He was a distinguished looking fellow traveling with what I assumed to be his wife and a friend, who just kept reading their papers and didn't even look up, and he shook his head "no".

He waited and watched intently as the Israeli finished and I removed his tefillin, and then I began to explain.

"These are called 'tefillin' in Hebrew, or 'phylacteries' [in Greek -yt],", I told him, holding up the headtefillin. "They are made of leather and are a commandment of G-d to the Jews. G-d wants every male Jew to put them on his arm and his head, like that man did, once a day every weekday." Then I explained to him that because most Jews these days are not observant, the Lubavitcher Rebbe told his followers to go out and remind and help them, and I'm one of his followers.

I saw that he was obviously impressed. He looked at the Israeli then back at me and said with astonishment, "You mean that this young man is not religious, and he put on those boxes just because you asked him? If I didn't see it with my own eyes I would not believe it!"

His excitement was contagious. I asked him his name, and he told me it was Peter. I continued. "Do you know what is inside each of these two leather boxes? Parchments containing the four paragraphs from the Bible that mention this commandment. And the most important of them says 'Shma Yisroel, Listen Jews, G-d is ONE."

He was listening intently above the noise of the plane as I resumed. "It means that G-d alone creates everything constantly! Do you know what that means, Peter?" His eyes were wide with amazement his traveling partners even looked up to see what was going on, but I wasn't finished.

"It means G-d, who can do anything, creates YOU every second brand-new! And He does it for free! So if G-d creates you for free, then do something for Him for free!" And I told him briefly about the Seven Noahide commandments.

We shook hands and I figured that that was the end of it, but it wasn't.

Suddenly he unfastened his safety belt, stood up, straightened his jacket and tie, pointed at me and yelled at the top of his lungs. "This Rabbi is correct!" Then he majestically pointed up and announced: "And I want to apologize. To publicly apologize to Him for what we have done to His people! We have taken a man and made him god, and we have denied THE HOLY COMMANDMENTS!!"

The last three words he really belted out so that several rows around us were staring. Then he very warmly and officially shook my hand again, sat back down and returned to the book he was reading.

Source: Reprinted from a 1976 weekly emailing of Yeshiva Ohr Tmimim in Kfar Chabad, Israel, of which the author is the Rosh Yeshiva..

Connection: This Week's Torah reading. BO, contains the first two of the four verses in that Torah that mention the commandment of tefillin.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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