Mendel Schmukler and Sholom Ber Charitonow, visiting Jewish communities on behalf of Chabad’s Roving Rabbis (“Merkos Shlichus”) program report from Houston, TX:
From an impromptu Shabbaton to incredible encounters of Divine providence, our summer as roving rabbis has been truly inspiring and memorable.
Over the summer, the conflict in the Israel aroused much anti-Semitism around the world, Texas included.
Members of the Jewish community in the Houston area gathered to show their support for their brethren in Israel. As it turned out, thousands of others turned up to hold a counter-demonstration right across the street, chanting virulent anti-Israel slogans. It was sad to see their unwarranted hatred towards the Jewish people.
The pro-Israel demonstration was led by an Israeli activist named Ehud, who stood on a platform, sharing the truth. While we were there, we offered those present the opportunity to put on tefillin in the merit of Israeli soldiers and civilians.
After putting on tefillin with quite a number people, we went over to Ehud and asked if he would like a turn to do the mitzvah. He politely replied that it was not a good time; he was on the platform leading the demonstration. We explained the importance of the mitzvah and its connection to helping the Jewish people and he told us that we should come back later when he’d be done and out of the public eye.
We persisted, and explained that in the Torah, about the mitzvah of tefillin, we read, “The nations of the world will see the name of G‑d is upon you, and they will fear you.” Putting on tefillin in such a conspicuous manner, we explained, would result in a tremendous sanctification of G‑d’s name. Ehud liked the idea and promptly agreed.
The sight of Ehud proudly putting on the tefillin caught everyone’s attention. With one hand over his eyes and the other holding the microphone, he loudly and emotionally proclaimed the Shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G‑d, the Lord is One.”
Silence fell over the crowd, and even the anti-Israel demonstrators stopped chanting their hateful slogans, as all eyes were focused on the events unfolding on stage. Ehud followed the Shema with a warm message of hope that G‑d was surely on our side, and then, at our suggestion, encouraged the women and girls in attendance to light the Shabbat candles that evening in honor of Israel.
This experience reminded us of the power of strong faith in G‑d and Jewish pride. The Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, of righteous memory, explained that every Jew is like a letter engraved in the holy Torah which can never be erased. While dust may settle upon the “letter” at times, all one needs to do is blow off the dust, and the soul is once more revealed in all of its glory.
After visiting one Jew in a Houston suburb, he suggested that we might want to visit a fellow Jew who lived nearby. Soon we were at his door, ringing the bell, but the only response seemed to be very loud barking. Finally, a young girl answered the door and we introduced ourselves. She explained that while she isn’t Jewish, her father is, but he was sleeping at the moment.
We made up to return the next day, but as we were leaving, her father came rushing out of the house and invited us inside. We noticed that he appeared very weak and that his daughter was urging him to drink juice.
We chatted, played chess with him, and eventually helped him put on tefillin. We learned that he unfortunately suffers from severe diabetes, and our ringing the bell and the dogs barking had aroused him from a deep sleep. Checking his sugar levels, he discovered that they were dangerously below normal. If not for our visit, he told us, and the subsequent racket that ensued, he possibly would have never awakened, G‑d forbid.
Here we saw how one mitzvah always pulls another in its wake, and how the care and concern of one Jew for another’s spiritual well being actually maybe have saved a life. The Baal Shem Tov taught that everything in this world happens by Divine providence. Occasionally, we are fortunate to witness it unfold with our physical eyes.
For more stories, visit rovingrabbis.com