Ethan Benenson // CTeen Hunterdon County, NJ
To celebrate this year’s theme, I asked five Chabad Shluchim from all around the world the same question: When has a “coincidence” turned out to mean something more? From the coast of Uruguay to the bitter winter of Siberia, these five personal moments show how everything in life is truly Meant2Be.
This is the fateful selfie Rabbi Shemtov took with the old man after taking a wrong turn.
How a wrong turn led to a life-changing mitzvah
Rabbi Eliezer Shemtov
In 2014, a week after Simchat Torah, Rabbi Shemtov left his house to run an errand. As usual, he makes sure to take his tefillin with him, in hopes that he can honor his pledge to put on tefillin with at least 20 Jews each week to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Rebbe’s passing.
As he walks, Rabbi Shemtov decides to check out a building he remembered seeing in a rental magazine. It might be a great spot for our new Chabad house, he thinks. But he e accidentally takes a wrong turn. While trying to figure out how to get back on track, he sees an old friend.
“He was sitting there with an old man in a wheelchair,” Rabbi Shemtov says. “So instead of asking him to put on tefillin, because in the past he hasn’t been too keen, I approached the old man. He said yes, so I rolled up his sleeve, put tefillin on, and took a selfie. That was basically it.”
When the old man passed away some time later, Rabbi Shemtov was invited to his funeral. As the Rabbi came out of the cemetery, the old man’s granddaughter comes up to him.
“I want to show you the picture I posted on Facebook,” she says.
It was that tefillin selfie with her grandfather.
“So that’s how they remember their grandfather—as a man with tefillin on. That was his farewell picture,” Rabbi Shemtov says.
The story gets even more powerful when a few days later Rabbi Shemtov was sitting with the family at shiva and they said, “You know, the only time he ever put on tefillin was that morning with you in the street.”
It was then that Rabbi Shemtov realized how right his wrong turn was.
“I would have never helped him if I didn’t bring tefillin with me, if I didn’t go up the wrong street, and if I didn’t muster the courage to ask a stranger to put on tefillin. All these three things had to happen—and I had to allow them to happen—for this Jew to put on tefillin once in his lifetime.”
See? If you’re connected to your goals, everything always turns out for the best (no pun intended).
turned out (pun intended) to be much more than what he initially thought.
Johannesburg, South Africa
How accidental friends can make moving halfway across the world a bit easier
Rebbitzin Temmi Hadar
Temmi Hadar was working at a winter camp in Arizona when she met Leah, a fellow counselor. They were always friendly, but never made it past the level of acquaintances.
When Rebbetzin Hadar later moved to New York, Leah just happened to move right next door. Still, the two remained acquaintances—until “we both happened to marry South Africans and moved to South Africa on Shlichus” Rebbetzin Hadar recounts.
“Leah opened a Chabad house with her husband nearby, and she was literally the only person I knew here. We moved within a few months of each other to this far-off country, and she has become like my sister here.”
Even though Leah and Temmi did not become close friends until moving to South Africa, it was a one-off camp experience in Arizona as teenagers that first brought them together.
“...I think Hashem always places you with the people you need in your life,” Rebbetzin
Hadar reflects. “As life changes, Hashem always guides me.”
From a missed flight to a mitzvah
Rabbi Levi Wolvovsky
Rabbi Wolvovsky from the Chabad of Tuscany was in the airport, getting ready to fly back to Italy from Sweden. The long lines at check-in meant he missed his flight.
“So I ended up sitting in the airport for 5 hours, and…literally 15-20 minutes before I’m going to the gate, this fella comes over to me and introduces himself as Yaakov Chaim from New York…”
“He tells me that he was quite involved in Jewish life back in the day, actually connected to a Chabad house in New York, but with time has become less involved…
“I had a few minutes with him, we chatted, it was very nice, and in the meantime, I asked him…Would you like to put on tefillin today?”
When he said he would, Rabbi Wolvovsky realized right then and there that the fact that he had missed his flight was Meant2Be.
“It was his first time putting on tefillin in a while, and he was very grateful for the opportunity. He clearly reconnected with a spark, and I also reached out to his Rabbi in New York to allow them to reconnect.”
In that situation, Rabbi Wolvovsky could have been annoyed at his “bad luck,” asking himself why he had to spend an extra five hours at the airport.
But in the end, he says, “I guess I had to be there to put on tefillin with Yaakov Chaim.”
The recently constructed synagogue in Novosibirsk.
How a Siberian town got a Chabad Rabbi “by accident”
Rabbi Zalman Zaklos
“There is this joke that the Jewish people are similar to vodka,” says Rabbi Zalman from inside a large synagogue in Novosibirsk, Russia, where a blizzard is raging outside. “If you put vodka in the freezer, it will never, it can’t, freeze.”
Rabbi Zalman is living proof of this, because even though the blistering cold of Siberia is far from his warm birthplace of Israel, his passion for Judaism burns bright as ever.
Funny story, though: When he made the choice to become an emissary of the Rebbe with his wife just over 22 years ago, Russia was the last place he expected to go. In fact, he says that he “ended up in Novosibirsk absolutely by accident.”
Rabbi Zalman’s story begins during his search for a place to open a Chabad house. He ends up meeting one of the head rabbis of Russia, Rabbi Lazar, who immediately offers him to go to Novosibirsk.
“I told Rabbi Lazar that this was preposterous. I wasn’t about to move to Siberia willingly. He said, ‘How about this, you can go for two weeks, see how it is, and then tell me no.’ So we went.”
Rabbi Zalman and his wife arrived in Novosibirsk for this visit in the year 1999 during the holiday of Purim. Despite the holiday, it was an unfortunate time for the local Jewish community.
“When we arrived, it happened that there had just been a pogrom in some small synagogue. I went to the scene of the attack to bring comfort to the Jews there. Many journalists came as well.
“‘Are you the Rabbi of Novosibirsk?’ they asked me. I didn’t know how to answer, because I was only there by accident.”
A few days later Rabbi Zalman came home, hoping never to see the place again.
However, in news articles all around the world detailing the terrorist attack, Rabbi Zalman was quoted as the head Rabbi of Novosibirsk. Back in Israel, everyone congratulated him on his new role.
Rabbi Zalman found himself in a difficult position. He said, “The whole world has decided that I’m the head Rabbi of Novosibirsk. Everyone knows this except for us. I understood that for me, it was a sign that we need to go there, and that’s how I ended up in Novosibirsk.
“My presence in Novosibirsk for 22 years was exactly because that day when I came here it happened that there was a pogrom in the synagogue,” Rabbi Zalman concludes. “And dancing at a Chanukah celebration. Rabbi Zalman is to the left of the man with the white cap.
Rabbi Bochi posing with Jewish students. He is the one wearing and scarf.
Rabbi Bochi cooking up some hotdogs.
An unfortunate incident ends in best friends for life
Rabbi Bochi Broh
Rabbi Bochi was around 15 years old when he went to a Jewish summer camp just outside his hometown in Melbourne, Australia.
At the camp, there was a kid from Sydney who was constantly getting bullied by the other boys. His breaking point came on a Saturday night during a video screening.
“A few of us were sitting behind him and kicking at his chair. I wasn’t the person starting it, but I participated, I was laughing, and I was definitely there. Right after I kicked his chair the kid jumped up and walked out.
While everyone just continued to laugh, Bochi felt guilty right away. He knew it wasn’t right.
“So I jumped out of my seat and followed him out.”
Bochi called out to the boy and apologized for what had happened.
“Leave me alone!” the boy shouted before taking off into the dark woods.
Bochi had two options there. He could have left him alone, but he reasoned that “it’s pretty dark, it’s in the country, and he’s by himself,” so Bochi continued following him from a distance.
The boy finally stopped running and sat down on the ground. Bochi gave him some time to relax before coming toward him.
“The conversation was pretty intense. He wanted to leave camp, and he was opening up to me about how much he was being bullied, how much it hurt him. As a kid myself, I just thought we were having fun, and he happened to be the target. But it opened up my eyes like crazy to the effect that kids can have on other kids.”
After speaking with him for a long time, Bochi was able to convince him to stay at camp. To this day, the two are close friends.
“That moment as a kid gave me a real understanding of emotions and people's feelings… the way to treat another person. It really impacted me to this day that whenever I see bullying or teasing going on with other people, I always get involved.”