The first time Boris showed up at the shul of Yad L’Achim’s Netanya branch was two years ago. He hadn’t come out of any burning curiosity about Judaism, but to accompany his father who wanted to say Kaddish on his grandmother’s yahrzeit.
When the regular shul-goers tried to approach him in conversation, he clammed up, giving the impression that he wasn’t interested in any meaningful contact with the shul or what it stands for. But later it became obvious that the warmth with which he was received in shul left an impact. A short while later, Boris showed up again and after the services asked to speak to Rabbi Alex Artovsky, a senior Yad L’Achim official who is the living spirit behind the shul.
Boris explained that he wanted to return to Judaism, but he had no chance since he was married to a non-Jew and his children were not Jewish. “I’m a lost cause,” he said. “I’m 45 and there’s no hope for me, even though my neshama really wants to get closer.”
“There’s no such thing as a Jew who can’t get back to his Father in Heaven,” answered Rabbi Artovsky, repeating a theme that Yad L’Achim’s founding chairman Harav Shalom Dov Lifschitz drums into his staff. “And there’s no such thing as a lost cause.”
Two years have passed since Boris first walked into shul and his life has undergone upheavals. He left his non-Jewish wife and, with Rabbi Artovsky’s help, remarried a year ago – to a Jew, under the chuppa. Last month, he was in shul to celebrate the brit mila of his son and to express his profound gratitude to the A-mighty and to His special messengers at Yad L’Achim.
But the brit, moving as it was, took on a whole new dimension when Yad L’Achim staffers approached the grandfather, Klonimus, and asked if he would like to take advantage of the few minutes before the mohel’s arrival to put on tefillin.
“The truth is that I’ve never done this before,” said the grandfather. “I’m 74 and I’ve never put on tefillin. I feel like this is a special opportunity to give thanks to Hashem for all the good He has done for my son.”
The grandfather rolled up his sleeve and, with the help of Yad L’achim staffers, began wrapping tefillin. “I was born in the town of Sphuli,” he said, his eyes brimming with tears. “But I never knew that this town once had a tzaddik that they called the Saba from Shpuli. Communism tried to stamp out any Jewish spark.”
Those present broke out in song - “Siman Tov U’mazal Tov” - and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as they celebrated a brit milah that had also turned into a bar mitzvah.
Speaking after the brit, Rav Lifschitz said:“This moving ceremony is eternal proof that there really is no such thing as a lost cause. We must never give up on any Jew and certainly must not accept the stigma regarding Jews from the Former Soviet Union, which number in the hundreds of thousands of souls who thirst for Hashem and His Torah.”