Rabbis at the edge of the world

Each summer, Lubavitch sends emissaries to every part of the globe to find ‘lost’ Jews. Their blog, Roving Rabbis, tells some of the quirky stories

September 18, 2009
Chabad’s emissary holds up the back of a Ukrainian Torah scroll, found in an old photo frame and given to a local Jew

Chabad’s emissary holds up the back of a Ukrainian Torah scroll, found in an old photo frame and given to a local Jew

The lost Torah scroll
We stopped off at the home of a woman in Kralivets. We spoke for a while and ate apples from her garden. She then told us that she had a Torah.

Now, whenever anyone here says they have a Torah, they most likely mean a book with Hebrew writing. But we weren’t rushing anywhere so we told her that we would love to see it.

She came back with a wrapped-up scroll. It was a detailed sketch of a deer being attacked by wolves. In the corner was the date: 1943. We flipped it over. It was an entire section of a Torah scroll.

The old woman explained that a young man had found the drawing in a frame belonging to his grandmother, and had given it to her when he discovered the Jewish writing.

“Here,” she said, “take it with you.”

We looked closer at the letters:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the road, on your way out of Egypt... you must obliterate the memory of Amalek... Do not forget.”

We wrapped up the scroll and went to our next stop so that we could put tefillin on with the villagers before sunset.

Dovid Margolin

First tefillin in 60 years
New Jersey

We visited Max in his home. After a pleasant conversation, we asked him if he ever put on tefillin. He responded, “I used to wear them every day in my youth, but now it has been 60 years.

“During the Holocaust, I was a prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp. One day, a man in my barrack showed us a pair of tefillin. He got them from a German worker in the camp who said that they had belonged to a Jew whom he had hidden in his home until he went to buy groceries and was never seen again.

“We used to wait in line to put them on, whisper a few prayers and pass them on to the next man in line.

“One day, a Nazi guard entered the barrack. When he saw the owner of the tefillin praying, he pulled the tefillin off the Jew’s head and tossed them into the fireplace. As soon as the guard walked out, the Jew stuck his hand into the fire and rescued his beloved tefillin.

“After he had brushed them off and put them back on his head, the guard re-entered. He threw them back into the fire, and hit the hapless Jew with the butt of his riffle until he died.

“After witnessing such a story,” concluded Max, “I could not bring myself to put on tefillin again.”

We told him that it seemed to us that the greatest victory Max could ever have over the Nazi guards would be to demonstrate that, in spite of what he had been through, he is still able to put on tefillin. And he did.

Sholom Ber Ceitlin & Hershy Ives

The former pastor

Bob lives in a remote region, right at the point where civilisation ends and wildlife begins to reign supreme.

He never gave much thought to his Judaism. However, in his early 20s, a couple of friends converted to Christianity. He saw that where previously they were inhibited and socially inept, they suddenly became expressive. Couldn’t it be beneficial for him too?

So, Bob decided to follow their lead. And just like that, with a few sprinkled droplets, Bob joined a nearby church. Eventually, he became an ordained pastor and founded a congregation of his own. Soon, his congregants started to inquire as to his provenance.

Bob had an epiphany of sorts as he started to wonder why he had ventured so far without first exploring his own backyard. Over the last year or so, Bob quit his post as pastor, abandoned his congregation, and began the process of rediscovery. When we arrived, there was a mezuzah on his door. We showed him how to put on his tefillin, for which he was very grateful.

Bob’s quest for truth provided us with rare insight into the meaning of teshuvah (repentance) and showed us that it is truly never too late.”

Akiva Steinmetz & Dovber Coleman

The only Jew for 100 miles
Puerto Rico

Reuben is a very special man who has had a lot of trouble with his health. He celebrated the past Shabbat with us in San Juan. In exchange, he begged us to visit him at his mountaintop home, an hour-and-a-half drive south.

We made the trek up windy roads and dangerous cliffs, and at long last, arrived at the beautiful home which he had built. The house is decorated with classic Judaica, including a menorah and Jewish art. He was overjoyed to be able to offer us produce from his garden. The emotion was palpable as Reuben showed us the tefillin which he wears every morning.

Talk about isolation. Reuben tells us that he is the only Jew for an hour’s drive in every direction. When he lights his menorah, there is probably not another one within 100 miles.

Shalom Klein & Levi Stein

These are taken from www.chabad.org/blogs/rovingrabbis.htm

Last updated: 1:23pm, September 18 2009