“We have already seen weddings happening during this war but the Bar Mitzvah of a 49-year-old we have yet to see.
“We are in a paratrooper unit that has been serving on the northern border for two months. The machine gunner in our platoon, whose name is Robert, informed us that he never celebrated a Bar Mitzvah because he was born in the Soviet Union where observing Judaism was prohibited.
“In heart-to-heart conversations, he asked many questions about Judaism and tefillin, and so we decided to celebrate his Bar Mitzvah despite the war. We set the date for his birthday and everyone who could be there to share in his joy arrived for the occasion.
“The Tikvat Olam organization donated an elegant pair of tefillin and a tallit so that today, Monday, the 21st of Kislev, Robert put on his new pair of tefillin and was called up to the Torah, coming full circle on his 49th birthday.
“Let’s hope that all of us can live up to this verse regarding tefillin: ‘And all people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of you.’ (Deuteronomy 28:10)
“Mazal tov, dear Robert,
“Asaf Maki and all your fellow soldiers.”
Finding Strength On A Trip To London
After a day and a half with London’s Jewish community, the following are some of the memories I will take with me:
- On the way there, Efrat the El Al flight attendant told me that this was her first flight since the outbreak of war with no family members of the hostages on board. “They are going all over the world to speak. They are amazing people with whom it is a privilege to fly.”
- Girls in the Hasmonean High School in London tell me they conceal their star of David necklaces. Yet they also tell me that they have never been so proud and happy to be Jews.
- How uplifting it was to enter the Ner Yisrael Synagogue to welcome Shabbat and to discover the congregants reading psalms – many with tears in their eyes – on behalf of Israel. A fund-raising project for Israel was displayed on the wall, solidarity delegations to Israel were being organized, and the names of thirty IDF soldiers who made aliya from the community were listed.
- I heard from several Jewish congregations (Raleigh Close, Bridge Lane, Hadley Wood) how every one of their members had become a personal ambassador for Israel. “I have taken on the role of Daniel Hagari (IDF spokesperson),” a physician told me with a smile. “Work every day begins with answering questions about Israel.”
- The principal of a Jewish high school asked me how to answer teenagers who see pro-Hamas TikTok videos and ask difficult questions.
- At the end of a regular conversation of small talk with someone, the person I had been speaking with invariably left me with an exclamation of “Am Yisrael chai!”
- On the flight home, I sat in a row with two screaming babies. Previously, I would have been annoyed by such a disturbance but now – after hearing stories of the hostages that capture the mind and break the heart – I suddenly saw parents with their babies completely differently. Make noise all you want, little cuties.
And may we hear an abundance of good news.
Bringing Fire Into Our Lives
I recently saw a picture that uniquely inspired me. The caption to the picture reads “Fire in a Tanya class.” But where’s the fire? We see three Jews sitting around a rabbi, Baruch Slonim, in a synagogue in the city of Modi’in. Based on the caption, it is evident that they are learning the book of Tanya, a foundational chasidic work.
At first glance, you might not think there was anything fiery going on here. After all, only three people came to the class. But you would be wrong. I wrote to Rav Slonim and asked if he would permit me to write something about this picture, which he had posted; in my opinion, it explains the revolution brought about by the Hasidic movement.
This past Shabbat fell on the 19th of Kislev, a day of celebration for Chabad chasidim. Many special events and grandiose celebrations are being held throughout Israel and the entire world. Yet the chasidic movement emphasizes the significance of every “little” person and every “little” good deed because the main thing is not quantity but quality, soulful connection, and perseverance. It’s enough to hold a Torah or a Tanya class, regardless of the number of participants.
Chasidism calls upon all of us – particularly during these challenging days – to focus on creating a little more light, a little more goodness, drop by drop.
The rabbi enthusiastically agreed that I should write: “The three souls learning chasidut are three worlds! And soon there will be thirty and then three hundred.”
I looked again at the picture. Yes, fire. May all of us keep using it to light up the world with every “little” thing that we do.
Translation by Yehoshua Siskin.