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Receiving the Torah in Italy

Mendy G., a student in the Central Lubavitch Yeshivah in Brooklyn, had plans to travel to Israel to visit his family and attend a family wedding about two weeks later. As was his custom, he wrote a letter to inform the Lubavitcher Rebbe of his plans, and placed it into a volume of Igrot Kodesh, the Rebbe’s published letters. On the page he opened to was printed a letter that the Rebbe had written to a chassid about his visit to Italy, and that he would surely print Jewish outreach material in Italian for the locals.

Mendy closed the book without thinking much of it. It had a blessing for travel, and that was good enough for him. Yet his friend sitting near him was very excited. “Mendy, you must travel to Italy!”

Mendy shrugged. He did not find that the letter had any especial relevance to his travel plans, other than a general blessing for his trip. He called his travel agent and ordered a ticket; the cheapest one had a stopover for an hour and a half in Amsterdam. “Quite reasonable,” he thought to himself, as he bought the ticket.

On the scheduled date for Mendy’s departure he was fully packed and ready to go when he noticed that he was missing something. “Oy, where’s my passport?”

Now he was in for a long, complicated procedure to report the missing passport and procure travel documents which would enable him to return to Israel. Mendy called his travel agent, who was able to reschedule his ticket without any extra fees. The flight would leave the next week... with a stopover in Italy.

Mendy froze as he realized what was really behind this whole drama. At that moment he made his decision without a moment’s hesitation: “Go ahead.” He now had a week to get organized. He set off for the police station to report the loss of his passport. Along the way he stopped off in the office of an organization where he worked during his free time.  As he sat down in front of the computer and casually pulled open his desk drawer to get something, he was astounded to see…his missing passport. He had no idea how or when the passport ended up in this office. Yet, he was stunned by the incredible Divine Providence in finding the passport just half an hour after arranging his travel plans through Italy. He now felt an absolute obligation to fulfill the second part of the assigned mission – to print Jewish educational literature in Italian. His friend who had previously done Chabad outreach work in Italy came to assist him.

The day of his flight arrived, and when Mendy arrived at the airport, he discovered that he wasn’t the only Lubavitcher on the flight. In the long and twisting line to the check-in counter, there stood a young yeshivah student, Zalman, whose eyes lit up when he saw Mendy.

“Mendy, you speak English, don’t you?” asked Zalman. “Before I left, a yeshivah student named Tomer came up to me with a fascinating story and a request.

“Tomer has an aunt, Sarah, who traveled to Europe in her youth, and had become acquainted with an Italian Gentile man. Eventually they married and she was expecting a child. Tomer’s family was not outwardly religious but they were quite traditional and loyal to the values of Judaism. They decided that come what may, they needed to bring Sarah back to Israel. Several family members traveled to Italy to meet with her. It isn’t clear what steps they took, but at the end of the visit, the girl was placed on a flight with an airline ticket arranged in advance.

“After a few weeks in Israel, Sarah gave birth to a healthy baby boy, and on the eighth day, the infant was brought into the covenant of Abraham, to the great joy of the entire family. Shortly after the bris, the new mother took her newborn son and ran from the family home, heading straight for the airport. Furious with the family, Sarah returned to Italy with the baby and decided to raise him there. She was determined to cut her child off completely from Judaism – no Jewish education, no connection to the faith of his forefathers.

“This Jewish child has now grown up to be a man, but he has no connection to his Jewish identity. In the meantime, his cousin Tomer has become a full-fledged Chabad chassid studying in yeshivah in New York. The thought of his cousin living in Italy with no knowledge of Judaism was nagging at him. He decided to try and find a yeshivah student studying in New York who was traveling back to Israel via Italy. The only one he found was me,” said Zalman as he concluded his strange story.

“Tomer approached me and asked me to get in touch with his cousin and try to draw him back to Judaism, and asked me to give him a mezuzah which he had bought. I was thrilled about this special mitzvah in which I was privileged to take part, but the language barrier was a bit of an obstacle, as I speak only Hebrew. How relieved I am to see you, Mendy, as you will help me communicate with Tomer’s cousin.”

Immediately after the plane landed in Rome, they called the number they had been given and spoke with Tomer’s cousin. He was most pleased that his cousin overseas had sent his friends to see him, and agreed to meet with them in the city center. The meeting and conversation were most pleasant. After a few minutes, they got right to the main point of discussion. “Would you like to put on tefillin?” they asked him.

“Absolutely not!” he said angrily. “I don’t do these things of yours!” As the two stood in surprise, he proceeded to attack them. “You Jews! You’re always acting with coercion and violence! You snatched me in order to give me a circumcision. Every conversation I have with someone from the family can be summed up with ‘Do this and do that. Put on tefillin, learn Torah, etc.’ Why should I do all these things? Has one of you ever tried once to explain it to me? Has anyone ever tried to give me something to read so I could understand what this religion is any way?”

One can just imagine the shock on his face when Mendy pulled out an informational Torah brochure in Italian from his suitcase.  The cousin accepted it gratefully and said, “You know what?” as he rolled up his sleeve, “Let’s give it a try.” He then graciously took the mezuzah gift sent by his cousin Tomer, promising that he would put it up on the front door of his house. 

This is yet another never-ending story of a reawakened Jewish spark, a Jewish soul hidden under the depths of spiritual impurity, saved by the Rebbe.

 

 


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