When a Crown Heights resident joined Chanukah mivtzoim on Chanukah of 2020, he had no way of knowing that what started as a one-time encounter would end up totally transforming the life of the man he met.
By Rabbi Yitzchak Schwartz, Outreach Director at Chabad of Sheepshead Bay
This story began over a year ago during Chanuka of 2020/5781. Like every year, we brought in bochurim and yungeleit from Crown Heights to participate in the enormous undertaking to reach thousands of Yidden during Chanuka.
One particular yungeman recorded in his duch that a young man named Genadi seemed to have especially enjoyed their visit. Following up on that lead, we made sure to visit him a while later with an offer to put a mezuza on his door. Again, the response was warm and positive.
After a number of similar encounters and some gentle persuasion, we convinced Genadi to attend a Shabbat dinner at the home of Rabbi Shlomo Cohen, director of Chabad of Sheepshead Bay. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.
Genadi has since become an active member of our Shul, attends the daily minyan, and openly sports a yarmulke and tzitzis in public. Having lived much of his younger years in Soviet Russia, he had never been given the opportunity to have a bris milah.
As his connection to Yiddishkeit grew, Rabbi Cohen gently broached the idea with him and eventually, he agreed to perform this special mitzvah. Instead of keeping his newfound enthusiasm to himself, he spreads it to those around him; at work, out in the street, and with his friends.
As a prominent public official, his Jewish pride is an inspiration to others and a symbol that Yiddishkeit can be meaningful even to those who don’t carry the typical look of an orthodox Jew. As I witnessed Genadi undergo this incredible transformation, I couldn’t resist asking him what had sparked this fire inside him. He emotionally described how he would often pass by Shuls and Chabad Houses and feel an urge to go inside and learn more.
Despite this, he felt too uncomfortable to try; he felt sure that his lack of basic Jewish knowledge combined with his secular dress and appearance wouldn’t be welcomed by the “black-hatters” inside. Only after a few visits from the yungerleit did he really feel that there was a place for him in Yiddishkeit.
A few weeks ago, Genadi traveled out of town for a vacation. To his dismay, he discovered that the closest Shul was not within walking distance of his hotel. He called Rabbi Cohen to ask him if he would be allowed to hire someone to drive him to Shul on Shabbos. Rabbi Cohen gently explained to him that riding in a car on Shabbos was simply not an option, no matter who was driving. Having no other choice, he decided to make the most out of his Shabbos at the hotel.
Over Shabbos, he struck up a friendship with another young man staying there and they chatted for a while. When he got up to daven, his new friend curiously asked what he was doing. Genadi explained that this was a Jewish practice and asked if he was Jewish. As he began to say that he wasn’t, his mother spoke up. She told the shocked members of her family that she was, in fact, Jewish though she had never actually practiced it in any real way. That meant this man was Jewish too! Genadi spent the remainder of Shabbos talking to him about Yiddishkeit and what it means to be a Jew. This amazing hashgocho protis resulted in Genadi connecting the family to a Shliach in their area to help them grow in their Yiddishkeit.
Genadi’s story highlights the incredible impact that these visits have. Here was a Yid who felt too disconnected to even walk into a Shul; yet the warmth that he felt from that yungerman changed his whole perspective.
During Chanuka, hundreds of yungerleit and bochurim from the Crown Heights community came through to bring the light of Chanuka to our community. This Purim, we again ask you to take part in this special mivtzoyim opportunity and bring the joy of Purim to the thousands of yiddisher neshamos in Sheepshead Bay.
The process is simple; pick up your route and Purim kit at the truck parked at the corner of Kingston Avenue and President Street. Times for pick up are on Ta’anis Esther from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. and 7:15 – 9:30 p.m. Pick up can also be arranged on Purim day by calling us at 516 602 5744.
Thank you and a freilichin Purim!
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