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English Blog

I lost $75,000

money.jpgGrowing up in South Africa, I’d never even heard of the Upper East Side, knew no one living there, and certainly never considered moving there myself.

But about 10 years ago I took a leap of faith and moved here to open the Chabad Israel Center. We had no funding, no start-up money, no nest egg. We simply trusted that our work would be enough to convince people to partner with us in building a thriving Chabad center.

So when a friend suggested I meet Yehezkel*, I set up an appointment to see him at his office. 

When I arrived, he was clearly busy. Phones were ringing non-stop, employees were running around and Yehezkel had little patience for our meeting.

 “What do you want?” he asked.  

I began to explain what Chabad is, what we do and what our mission is, but after less than two minutes he cut me off.

“You’re not answering my question,” he said. “What do you want?”

I did some rapid mental arithmetic, calculating what we needed to continue operating for the next few months, and told him, “I want $25,000 from you.”

He looked at me for about 15 seconds, and I was sure he was astounded by my chutzpah, ready to throw me out of his office. But he simply said, “Ok, yes.”

My relief was palpable. 

But Yehezkel wasn’t done with me. “I also want you to start giving a Torah class in my office each week,” he said.

Double jackpot!

I walked out of that meeting with a check for $25k, and a weekly Torah class!

Thus began a beautiful relationship which has only grown and flourished in the ensuing years. We became firm friends and have spent hours in study together. He and his entire family have become very involved in the Chabad center and stronger in their Torah and mitzvah observance. 

Recently, we were reminiscing about our relationship and the time we first met. I reminded him of the meeting and explained that I had never asked someone for that kind of money just minutes after meeting them.

But then Yehezkel shared his perspective:

“I remember well,” he said. “For months before that meeting, I had been thinking about contributing to charity, but I wasn’t sure where to give. So I set aside some money in the bank until I could decide. The money set aside was $100,000 and when you walked into my office I had already decided to give it to you. So when you asked for $25k, I thought to myself, ‘This is my lucky day! I just made $75k!”

As I mulled over his words, I realized there was a tremendous lesson to be learned from our encounter. If he had already earmarked the $100k for charity, why didn’t G-d give me that $100k right then and there? Why did He lead me to ask for $25k?

Clearly, G-d knew exactly what I needed at that time. Back then, $25k was a large amount, and I didn’t need more than that. It was enough to maintain our operations for several months, and G-d knew that. He decides how much a person will earn, and there is no way to obtain more than that. So even though Yehezkel had set aside $100,000 for charity, only $25,000 was for me.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve seen this happen multiple times.


I wish you a joyous Chanukah and to be able to see G-d’s loving hand in your life!

Rabbi Uriel Vigler

Heartwarming Letter!

Blog.jpg“…there is nothing more painful than that phone call, in the middle of the night, that tells you your precious child, whom you love more than anything in the world, has been severely injured…”

This is a direct quote from a beautiful, heart-rending letter I received this week, penned by the mother of one of our Belev Echad heroes.

The letter continued:

“Since that awful phone call, when we found out that our child had been severely wounded by a terrorist while on active duty in the IDF, our son has been through indescribable pain and hardship, both physically and emotionally. He has undergone multiple operations and medical procedures, and he has not yet finished. He spends a significant amount of time in rehabilitation, and more surgeries loom over his future.

“It has been difficult for all of us. For my son, of course, there has been the physical trauma and the equally potent emotional trauma. The rest of us have suffered, too. Anyone who has spent time with a loved one in pain knows how difficult it is to watch someone you love suffer. How helpless we felt! If only we could alleviate his pain…

“To say I was overjoyed when my son went on the Belev Echad trip would be an understatement. But, as a mother, of course I was nervous, too. Seeing the Facebook pictures you posted kept me feeling reassured and up-to-date on my son’s wellbeing. The fantastic time you gave him and the other wounded soldiers is a gift I know we will all cherish—the soldiers and their families too—forever. 

“The amount of love and appreciation my son received from complete strangers fills my heart with peace and contentment. The images of my son smiling, laughing, and looking happier than he has in months, are priceless. I have no words to adequately express my appreciation… Thank you!” 

What a heartwarming letter! 

This week we read about another mother, “Mama Rachel.” Rachel was one of our four matriarchs, renowned for the sacrifices she made for others. She died while birthing her second child, and she forwent the honor of being buried with her husband, Jacob, and ancestors Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rivkah, just so that she could assist her children thousands of years later, when they were exiled from Jerusalem because of their sins. As they passed her grave, she would pray for them and beseech G-d to forgive them and allow them to return to Israel, their homeland. This is a true Jewish mother, always thinking of her children and their needs.

A healthy parent wants nothing more than to see her children happy. That is a the greatest gift a child can give. 

We have the ability to give that gift to our Parent—G-d. He wants to see us smiling and joyfully living the life He prescribed. “Serve G-d with joy,” we are told, for it will enhance the mitzvahs we fulfill, and lead us to do even more. Give charity with eagerness, pray with exuberance, go out of your way to smile and help those around you. The combination of happiness and mitzvahs is the ultimate gift we can give our Father and Creator.

Farewell, Dear Heroes!

Blog.jpgImagine being in pain 24 hours a day. Not a little twinge or background ache, but real, severe pain. The kind of pain you can't forget about, even for a moment. It's always there. It directs your every movement, limits your time, compromises the quality of your sleep.

Imagine going to bed at night, knowing that even when you finally fall asleep (after taking a carefully concocted combination of pain medications) you will not feel relief. The pain will wake you, and often.

What kind of person would you be? How would it change you?

I think it's safe to say that living this way could and would make most people justifiably angry, morose, and difficult to be around. Certainly, you'd have every right to complain repeatedly, and even to wallow in self-pity. Your patience would probably be severely limited, if not completely eroded, and sympathy for others' challenges would be virtually impossible to muster.

But this week I met 11 people who experience severe, chronic pain yet still manage to be positive and upbeat, filled with a love for life and an excitement for new experiences and relationships.

Who are these people? Our heroes, Hilal, Alemu, Dor, Gal, Yaniv, Yotam, Matan, Adi, Ran, , Daniel and Naor, all IDF soldiers who were severely wounded in the line of duty, who are now here, visiting New York as guests of our 13th Belev Echad trip.

I've discovered that spending time with these wonderful individuals is far from depressing. In fact, it's fun and inspirational. They were heroes in the IDF, and they are heroes now, managing to spread joy and hope wherever they go, despite the constant pain and discomfort they experience.

For 10 days I've accompanied them as they visited schools, offices, restaurants and tourist sites. I've watched them interact with people from all walks of life, and I've noticed that everywhere they go people are drawn them. They want to hear their stories, bask in their smiles, be inspired by their laughter. These soldiers are truly affecting everyone they come into contact with in a remarkable way.

Surely we, most of whom do not have to contend with the type of chronic physical pain these soldiers are dealing with, have much to learn from them!

Farewell dear heroes, we love you!

I have 1 kid + 3 kids

Blog.pngThis week our community is hosting its 13th delegation of wounded IDF soldiers.

At breakfast today, Hilal Besan shared his story. Hilal comes from a Druze family and he finished his army service with distinction. Hilal is a triplet, and one of his brothers worked as a prison guard until he was killed in 2010 while trying to save others from fires raging across the country.  

Hilal and his wife have one child, and after the tragedy they adopted his brother’s children. The children live right next door with their mom, and are co-parenting all three. So when people ask Hilal how many children he has, he answers, “One plus three.”

In 2012 Hilal left his job and decided to honor his brother’s memory by becoming an officer in Israel’s prison guard unit. Two years later, while he was transporting a prisoner from his cell, the prisoner asked to use the bathroom where he managed to retrieve a pistol which had been smuggled in for him. He started shooting and Hilal immediately tried to subdue him. The prisoner shot Hilal twice in the chest, but his adrenalin kicked in and he didn’t even realize how critically he had been wounded. With the help of fellow officers he was able to tackle the prisoner and calm the situation, preventing many potential deaths. For this, he later received Israel’s highest medal of honor.

But at the time, Hilal was critically wounded. He lost a tremendous amount of blood and spent 45 days in intensive care. Twice he was actually considered clinically dead but the doctors were able to revive him.

When Hilal shared his story at breakfast, there was not a dry eye in the room. What incredible sacrifices this man has made!

In this week’s parsha we read about the birth of Jacob and Esau, who represent the powers of good and evil, respectively. Jacob represents kindness, patience and peace. Esau represents evil, terrorism, murder and sin. With their birth, the eternal battle between good and evil began.

Our job is to subdue the evil. We know we will be victorious. We know, without a shadow of doubt, that we will win this war. When we meet heroes like Hilal, it reminds us of the power of good, and motivates us to dig deep and find ways to help those around us in small ways or large. We, like Hilal, will be victorious! 

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