By COLlive reporter
Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz‘s 46th birthday was coming up this past Shabbos on Beis Adar, and a group of bochurim from Los Angeles wanted to make it meaningful.
The bochurim, students of Yeshivas Ohr Elchanan Chabad, often study and daven with Hurwitz in his home located near the Yeshiva. He is battling ALS and communicates via computer.
Their original plan was #TefillinForYitzi, as local Mitzvah campaign for bochurim to go around the city dedicating Mitzvos in his merit last week.
“But why only LA?” they thought. “Let’s involve more yeshivos!” And then: “Why not his friends, the Shluchim??” “Why not give the opportunity to all of Anash?” After all, Yitzi’s inspiration, stories and divrei Torah reach tens of thousands worldwide, and he’s deeply affected so many lives.
With barely a week to get it all done (and only outside of seder time), they set what they thought would be a high goal: Get 4,600 Jews around the world who would normally not put on Tefillin to put them on this week in honor of Yitzi’s 46th birthday.
Little did they know: The phenomenon quickly went viral, helped along the way also by important Shluchim and Rabbanim who recorded video clips to urge their fellow Anash to join, as did some of the popular singers and others of influence.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Paul Koretz got in on the action, announcing that the city of Los Angeles “applauds [Rabbi Yitzi’]s towering leadership and inspiring example” and “joins in saluting and celebrating with [him] and his countless students worldwide on the joyous occasion of his 46thbirthday.”
They wrote that Rabbi Yitzi “inspires people across the globe with his joy, faith and optimism, despite being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease five years ago which has since rendered him completely immobile.”
The city’s leaders then continued, summing up Rabbi Yitzi, the campaign, and the motivation to act: “As a follower and emissary of the [Lubavitcher Rebbe], Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, who taught about the immense significance of one’s birthday and how to fill it with spiritual content and resolutions, and who also taught of the great significance of the biblical commandment that Jewish men don ‘Tefillin’ – which was for years one of Rabbi Yitzi’s favorite things to share with the uninitiated until he could no longer move.
“Rabbi Yitzi’s students and friends are celebrating his birthday by motivating tens of thousands to don Tefillin and share pictures on social media with hashtags #TefillinForYitzi and #ShineALittleLight in Rabbi Yitzi’s honor.”
According to reports the bochurim received so far – and more keep coming in – it appears that well more than 10,000 Jews around the world, from New York to Paris to Moscow to Denmark, Brazil, South Korea, Spain, Mexico and many more countries, joined in giving Yitzi this unique gift of #TefillinForYitzi.
Lubavitch yeshivos worldwide participated, along with many Shluchim and Anash, and many reported that people who’ve resisted putting on Tefillin up until now were so moved by Yitzi’s story that they rolled up their arms to put on #TefillinForYitzi!
More than 200 people who never put on Tefillin in their lives put on last week in Yitzi’s honor. Others reported about people who now want to get Tefillin to put on daily.
The students who put together the campaign never imagined it taking off this way – and they urge people to keep the inspiration going this week and put on more Tefillin, and to keep sending in pictures.
One of the organizing bochurim said, “Please, Hashem, in this zechus, bentch Yosef Yitzchok ben Brachah with a refuah shleimah ukroivah, and he and his wife Dina should enjoy tremendous yidishe chassidishe nachas from their children, and all of them gezunterheit and freilecherheit!”
Israeli Chief Rabbi David Lau, who visited Yitzi on Sunday, inquired about the campaign he had heard plenty about.
“If 4,600 was to correspond to his 46 years, surely the more than 10,000 accomplished corresponds, b’ezras Hashem, to 100 years of good life in health and happiness!” he said.
Reflecting on the campaign’s meaning to her family, his wife Dina Hurwitz said, “We consider ourselves regular people with an unusual life. We are really so humbled and honored that all of you did all of this. Thank you so much!”
Elaborating a little more, she continued: “The pictures and videos and voice notes that came rolling in suddenly grabbed our attention away from my usual pure survival mode and had us all mesmerized. Yeah, I should be cooking for Shabbos but instead, I found myself sitting with Yitzi trying to absorb all of this. What we saw was an overwhelming outpouring of love and kindness. This helps us not only to ‘survive the storm’ but even to live a joyful life. Thank you!”