by Molly Resnick
Last week, I heard a truly touching story. Of all the exploits of Lubavitcher shluchim, the following one does not rank in the top tier. But it’s a true testament to the movement and the vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, that an inspiring story like the following is almost unremarkable – that small miracles have almost become the norm.
This story takes place in Lusaka, Zambia. A son of one of my very close friends – all of 22 years old - Dovid Kotlarsky, was sent to this city in the middle of Africa and with the help and guidance of the Chabad shliach in the Congo, Rabbi Shlomo Bentolila, conducted a Seder and celebrated Pesach with the Jews in the area. (This was part of a project of the Lubavitcher educational arm – Merkaz L’Inyonei Chinuch – that sent out over 650 rabbinical students this year to share Pesach with Jews all over the U.S. and the world.)
Dovid, together with fellow shliach Yaakov Yosef Raskin, arrived in Zambia a few days before Pesach and, armed with Haggadahs, shmurah matzah, and wine, they took advantage of their “free” days to visit various Jews in their homes and offices and offer to put tefillin on their arms and mezuzos on their doors.
One of the places they visited was a Zambian government company where a few Israeli Jews work. As Dovid was standing in the lobby, a white man was coming down the stairs (in Zambia white faces are the exception) and he figured he must be one of the Israelis. And yet, as the man passed the black-hat, bearded, smiling young Lubavitcher, he completely ignored him. Before Dovid could gather his wits, the man suddenly turned around and said, “Shalom. Listen, you’re not going to get anything from me,” and promptly walked away.
Well, Lubavitchers, like all idealists, are used to rejection. So the young shliach overcame the encounter and continued his work.
On erev Pesach the two went back to the same company for another visit. Figuring he had nothing to lose, Dovid stopped by the office of the gentleman who had spurned him the other day. Surprisingly, he acted nice. He disclosed that he used to work in the Israeli Consulate in Manhattan, where Lubavitchers also used to try visiting him. “But I would never go to see them,” he told Dovid in a typical Israeli tone “I’m a chiloni (secular), I don’t put on tefillin, and I don’t say any berachot.”
“That’s fine,” Dovid replied. “I really came by to say hello and wanted to ask you if you would like us to put up a mezuzah on your door just like we did with your colleagues upstairs.” To his surprise, the man said, “OK.”
Not only that, he even agreed to put it up himself. As Dovid rushed to put a yarmulke on his head the man recoiled. “I don’t do that,” he said.
“Fine, no problem,” Dovid responded, as he affixed the mezuzah on the office doorpost while explaining its significance.
That night Dovid and Yaakov Yosef helped prepare what they were later told was the largest Seder in Zambia since the 1970s, with close to 100 people attending. And among the guests, who should appear but the gentleman from the office? Nor did he come alone. He brought along a non-Jewish black woman, whom they learned was his girlfriend.
Dovid honestly didn’t think he had made that much of an impression on the fellow who seemed to have exhibited mixed feelings about his visit to his office. And so it came as a surprise when the man approached him at the Seder and thanked him for his visit, and then requested another mezuzah to place on his home door. “Even in my father’s house in Israel, there is no mezuzah,” he said.
“Today, in the morning, I must tell you, it was the first time in my life that I ever did something religious. And then with great emotion, he said, “Today you saved a soul in Israel.”
Dovid was truly shocked at the man’s words and responded, “I haven’t saved! I only reconnected. A Jew only needs to be reconnected because every Jew is really a diamond. All one needs to do is shake off some of the dust.”
The man looked at the young Lubavitcher and said quietly, “It’s only because of people like you, that people like me are around today!”
Miraculous? Not necessarily. The man, as far as we know, is not wearing a streimel today nor is he living in Yerushalayim. He quite likely still has a non-Jewish girlfriend. But he was touched. His Jewish neshamah was sparked. He put mezuzos on his office and home and attended a Seder. Who knows what the future will bring?
Lubavitch boasts thousands of miraculous, hair-raising, amazing stories of hashgacha, transformation and courage. But it’s the small stories like these – perhaps above all – that makes the movement so special, and will surely help to hasten our geulah.