By Chana Esther Pfeffer for COLlive.com
Levi’s Shlichus was complete self-sacrifice.
When Levi and Miriam moved to Tysons Corner, Virginia, I was just starting to learn more about Yiddishkeit. This was the year I moved to Manhattan and had all intentions of trying to one day become observant. At the time that meant I wanted my life to have more meaning. My desire revolved mostly around morality. If one day I were blessed to have a daughter it would mean she wouldn’t have to suffer in the secular world as an object of society. Which seemed to be my biggest problem at that time age 26. I admired the way religious girls seemed to be able to avoid the trappings of secular dating.
My best friend from childhood was getting married at the Tysons Corner Galleria Ritz Carlton. For some reason whenever I traveled I was reminded that I am a Jew and on this trip my soul was sad that I didn’t have any of the things to make the Sabbath holy. I did a search for the nearest Chabad hoping that I’d be able to see a Lubavitcher. They are always so happy and ready to help you do something to take that missing place inside away. When I thought of Chabadniks or observant people I identified them with symbols like challah, wine and a siddur. Kind of like a matching game. I didn’t see religious people as real people.
Lubavitchers always made it seem like they were there to provide Judaism and in my secular young mind I was trained to think that the world existed to serve all my needs, religious included. I made a phone call to Miriam assuming of course that she had all the things I wanted to do a little shabbath thing in the hotel.
Growing up in Virginia, I spent almost all my time at Tysons Corner. Tysons Corner in all honesty would be the last place two young people would ever want to move unless they were the most materialistic people with a serious addiction to shopping or professional shoplifters. I had passed by their apartment complex many times daily my whole life and always felt sorry for all the people who had to live there while on their short business stays. I always thought it seemed such a lonely place to live not to mention absolutely terrible views. It could not have been a staler environment.
When Miriam opened the door I was able to peek inside her little dark apartment and see that she had tiny children and she herself looked really young. She gave me a siddur, wine and challah and we spoke for a couple of minutes. I thought I must be the only Jewish girl around her age she has seen in months. And off I went, to do what young girls do, have fun on Friday night. I left to attend a very fancy Jewish wedding where no one would be remembering it was the Sabbath just a minute down the road.
Why would this seemingly normal ultra orthodox girl move to Tysons Corner? She made a really huge mistake! Should I be the one to tell them what a big mistake they made? Shouldn’t someone tell them they moved to the mall and that this is not the suburbs? There is no one here but shoppers, wedding guests and business travelers. Oy! So sad, what types of opportunities could they ever really have in this spiritual desert? At least move a couple miles down and be in Vienna where there are actual families but get out of the mall!
My father’s closest friend from childhood became my G-d mother, Eva Gail (Chava Gettel) She has a son Darren and my brother and I were raised thinking Darren was our actual cousin. We didn’t have enough family to really distinguish what a cousin was but we celebrated everything together. Darren somehow hooked up with Chabad Northern Virginia and when Levi came they were fast friends. Darren was honored at their big dinner a few years ago. I believe he built most of the building including the mikvah, naming it after his very philanthropic grandparents. I don’t know how much he gave because all he ever talked about was what he gained. Over the years Darren, who is in real estate, gave him a space to do the Chanukah Wonderland and when they were ready to have a Chabad house he rented him one of his properties.
Over the years I’d hear about Levi and Miriam from my G-d mother. She loved to share with me about the Jewish pride she had every time Levi and Miriam came over to deliver something for a holiday, invite her for Shabbos or a class. Eva Gail and Darren had lived in an area where they thirsted in their soul for yiddishkeit. They were in a position to give and Chabad coming to this materialistic haven gave them their greatest life’s opportunity. Being given the opportunity to honor his late Grandparents was such a highlight in his life and it gave his parents tremendous nachas.
My husband and I moved to Crown Heights exactly a year ago, with our 3 small children after receiving a blessing from the Rebbe. It all came in the merit of our little girl, which is no surprise. We are inching our way closer to Torah and Mitzvahs daily and we still can’t even fathom self-sacrifice like Levis.
Last night I realized that Levi intentionally moved to Tysons Corner with his young family. That he had to have known what he was getting himself into. And if that was the case he was and should be remembered as the ultimate misiras nefesh shliach. He had to be the biggest warrior to move to Tysons Corner. Here all this time I thought these poor people ended up at the mall by mistake but the truth was he miraculously took a spiritual desert and turned it into a stream.
G-d bless you, Levi and Miriam and your children for your service for your complete self-sacrifice. Thank you for the countless opportunities you gave my family a chance to feel their Yiddishe souls ignited. You were a holy giant in this world. You gave your life to the Rebbe’s work and to perform G-d’s desire. Your shlichus has taught me where to aim and in which direction to go.
I pray that I can remember all of your countless acts of chessed that I overlooked because you made it seem so easy. Only now I see with my Rebbe glasses on. Every moment of your waking breathing life that you were in Tysons Corner Virginia was you actively turning darkness into light. In heaven you must be sitting in the crown of heights.