#525 (s5768-14 / 2 Tevet 5768)

Distant Jews

The elderly Catholic woman said to us, "You should visit my cousin Tony who lives in Wexford, Ireland. He is married to a Jewish woman and they have three lovely children."

Distant Jews

by Rabbi Yosef Y. Jacobson

It was the summer of 1996. As Lubavitcher yeshiva students, Rabbi Mendy Harlig and I were using our summer break to serve in the Lubavitcher Rebbe's "Peace Corps," to go to those areas of the world that don't have an emissary of the Rebbe nearby. We spent five weeks in Ireland, in the course of which we visited Jews from north to south, and east to west.

Our base was Dublin and we stayed at the Orwell Lodge Hotel. One day the manageress of the hotel, an elderly Catholic woman, said to us, "Are you the young rabbis referred to in an article in The Irish Times?"

The article had said that two rabbis from Brooklyn were visiting Ireland in order to connect Jews with their Jewish roots. It stated that we were not proselytizing non-Jews, only giving our fellow Jews an opportunity to learn of their tradition and to experience their Jewishness. I told her the article was indeed about us.

"Marvelous," she said, "I hope you'll visit my cousin Tony who lives in Wexford. He is married to Roselyn, a Jewish woman, and they have three lovely children." She wrote down their address.

"Can we have their phone number?" I asked.

"They don't have one," she answered. "They live in a rural area and the people there don't have phones. But it's not a problem. Take the address and go. When you get there, ring the doorbell and walk in. I know they'll be thrilled to meet you."

We got into our car and drove to the south-east tip of Ireland. We got lost a few times on the winding roads, but finally arrived at our destination.

The woman who opened the door stared in astonishment. I can't blame her! Picture the scene: two rabbis with black yarmulkes and beards had landed on her doorstep in this little village in Ireland, with no prior warning.

A few minutes later we were seated around her kitchen table talking. We met her three children: Rebecca - 22, Aaron - 19, and Sara - 15. They all felt very Jewish but had no way of expressing their Jewishness in any area of their lives.

Roselyn had arrived in Wexford 25 years earlier, and since then, had almost never met a Jew. It was amazing to discover how strongly they felt about being Jewish despite their utter disconnect from Jews and Judaism.

Roselyn and her children took the opportunity of our visit to ask us many questions they had had for years. But their big question was: Why do rabbis like you visit people like us, people disconnected from Judaism, people you don't even know?

I explained to them that every Jew, no matter his or her connection to a Jewish community, level of knowledge, and fulfillment of Jewish law, has a Jewish soul which is connected, with an inviolable connection, to G-d. The Jew is intrinsically and innately part of a covenantal relationship with G-d that began more than 3,300 years ago and has not ceased since. Our challenge in life is to express this holiness and G-dliness in our daily schedule and interactions.

I went on to explain that the Lubavitcher Rebbe said that every Jew is a divine diamond, and this is why we came to see her and the children.

We talked with the family for a long time. At the end of the visit, when we exchanged addresses and were saying goodbye, a thought popped into my head. I asked, "Did Aaron have a bar mitzva?"

"No," said Roselyn. "There are no bar mitzva classes in Wexford," she added with a smile.
"Maybe we can celebrate his bar mitzva now?" I suggested. "The main part of the bar mitzva - putting on tefilin and praying to G-d in acceptance of the yoke of Heaven - can be done now."

Mendy brought tefilin from the car, and Rebecca and Sara brought a camera to record the historic moment. A bar mitzva in Wexford! Who would have believed it?

Aaron disappeared for a few minutes and then returned, wearing a green yarmulke which he found upstairs. Everybody felt the momentousness of the occasion - the first bar mitzva - and maybe the last - being celebrated in Wexford, Ireland.

The family watched in awe as Mendy put tefilin on Aaron's arm and head for the first time in his life.

I explained that the seven times the tefilin straps are wrapped on the arm symbolize the seven emotions contained by every soul, since the main point of tefilin is to make the heart and mind subordinate to G-d. I told them that the point of the commandment of tefilin is to connect and unite man's two components - the intellect and the emotions - with G-d.

Aaron began to say the "Shema Yisrael" prayer, word by word, after Mendy. And that's when the dam broke. Roselyn began weeping profusely. Her daughters followed, sobbing like children. Emotions that had been pent-up for ages broke through. Roselyn went over to her only son to hug him. Mendy and I stood there silently and humbly as we witnessed the spiritual storm overtaking this Jewish family.

We watched four "diamonds" returning to their source, to who they truly are.

We gave Rebecca and Sara each a candlestick, and they promised to light Shabbat candles each Friday before sunset. When we finally said "goodbye," they all walked us out. I thought about how just three and a half hours ago we were strangers, and now we were parting from family.

The next day I began reviewing the events in my mind. What had happened in that moment when Aaron began saying the Shema? What made the family burst into tears? It certainly wasn't nostalgia, for they had no memories of anything like this.

What had happened was that for the first time in their lives, they were given the opportunity to connect to their inner souls, to their Divine spark, which was always there but lay dormant. When Aaron, wearing tefilin, said the Shema, the spark in each of them ignited. There was no need to create or invent something new. All that was needed was to reveal that which was always present.


Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson, one of the most sought-after speakers in the Jewish world today, has lectured to audiences in six continents and 35 states. He is the author of the tape series "A Tale of Two Souls" and "Captain My Captain." To receive his weekly internet essays on Judaism, mysticism and psychology, send an e-mail to YYJacobson@aol.com.(Adapted by S.Z. Levin from a speech. and first published in Beis Moshiach magazine.)

Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

A 48 page soft-covered booklet containing eleven of his most popular stories may be ordered on our store site.

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