Two weeks ago, on Shabbos, Hashem blessed me with the precious opportunity to do some kiruv– to reach out to a fellow Jew, and draw them with warmth and love, closer to the Yiddishkeit they may have forgotten is theirs to treasure.
An older man in our shul, a dear family friend, had excitedly notified us throughout the week before, that his niece would be coming up from South Carolina to spend some time with him, and he was going to bring her to shul with him that coming Shabbos.
The community was pleasantly surprised. I certainly caught on to the excitement. Our community is rather small, so it is wonderful to welcome guests!
When our dear friend got to shul that long-awaited Shabbos, I slipped out of the service, to greet him in the hallway.
Standing beside him, smiling at us youngsters, stood a tall woman with sharp but twinkling eyes, and tightly wound brown curls. Her face was warm and expressive, and had a youthful look to it. Her clothes were casual– sporty sneakers and jeans, with a long flowy blouse. She carried a black bag.
I introduced myself. What a sweet woman! She was so sincere in her friendliness, and her courtesy mirrored that of her uncle’s. As he slowly made his way to the door leading to the men’s section, I guided her to the women’s, and after collecting a siddur and Chumash for her, sat down beside her.
The service passed pleasantly, and relatively quickly, concluding with Adon Olam, sung to an Israeli marching tune, by our little choir. The niece (who I’ll refer to as Rosie) and I chatted, as we made our way to Kiddush. I introduced her to my family, and she made a big impression on everyone with her open and warm character. We chatted some more, getting to know her better. She talked about the different places she’s lived (from our local Harford CT, to California, to S. Carolina..), and what she did with her uncle since she arrived in CT. But the thing she said that struck me most, was right after our Rabbi made Kiddush, and the minyan grouped around herring and gefilte in a buzz of conversation. “These are memories,” she had said softly…
“Okay, so she knows about shul, ” I thought, “and she remembers Kiddush…”
I also recalled her murmuring Shema during Shacharis, with perfect clarity “Shema Yisrael Ado-nai Eloh-einu Ado-nai Echad,” and the unique joy of hearing a fellow Jew saying that really stirred me.
“Rosie is aware of her Jewish heritage,” I decided, “but how much Yiddishkeit does she practice?”
Then the big question came– “Does she light Shabbos candles?”
I have been part of the JGU family for almost two years. During classes and meetups, I have learned so much, have become so inspired by my teachers, classmates, and Imahos, and have made beautiful friends. One of the most important things we discuss at JGU, is our mission to spread the light. It is the focus of the One More Light campaign, that the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, started many years ago. We truly shine our inner light, when we bring others’ light to the surface. It is our mission to instill love and passion in other Jewish women and girls, for their Yiddishkeit and heritage. We also focus on bringing these individuals to discover one of their special mitzvos– kindling Shabbos candles. We share with them the deeper significance of lighting Shabbos candles— it’s not just striking a match and burning a wick– it represents the spiritual light that you bring into the world with your candle, vanquishing the spiritual darkness around you.
By doing this, we kindle their spark. By doing this, we can inspire Jewish women and girls worldwide, to add their ONE MORE LIGHT to the world.
Whenever possible, we’re supposed to carry on us one of the golden candlesticks the campaign supplies us with, to give to a woman we inspire to light. Candlesticks are more meaningful, or at least have a better way of reminding you to light, than tea-lights which you dispose of after they burn out.
But, I guess it was Hashem’s ratzon (will), that I didn’t have a candlestick on me, being that it was Shabbos, and we aren’t supposed to give gifts, or carry. I was a little crestfallen– here, I had the opportunity, to share with someone the gift of lighting, but I didn’t have the significant item to ‘seal the deal’. But a memory suddenly flashed before me– I had left a brochure in shul, that was sent to me before the campaign’s launch. It contained a short history of the campaign, and information about Jewish Girls Unite, plus the website’s address.
I had to pluck up my courage, before I asked Rosie, as warm and non-judgmental as she seemed. I haven’t always been so confident approaching another woman to ask if she lights. It’s a sensitive subject, and it can be nerve-wracking if you have no idea what the woman’s reaction will be…
But I did it. Hashem gave me the confidence. He gave me this precious gift of opportunity, and He was helping me to fulfill it.
“Rosie,” I began. “May I ask you a question? It’s a little personal…”
But she encouraged me with that special smile. “You can ask me anything,” she promised.
“Wow, that is a lot more than I was expecting… but this is good,” I thought.
“Rosie, do you light Shabbos candles?” I couldn’t believe I said it. But the passion that had been ingrained in me, as part of the One More Light campaign, urged me to continue. Just do it with love…
“No,” she replied.
“Would you perhaps like to take on the mitzvah?” I inquired respectfully.
Her response almost made me gasp out loud in shock.
“I used to light with my grandmother when I was a little girl,” she offered.
This was amazing. Here, today, on this Shabbos, in our little shul, she reconnected with old memories. She was uncovering her past. She was finding a spark.
I smiled back at her. “Would you like to start doing it again then?” And I briefly explained the deeper significance of lighting Shabbos candles with her. I felt something deep passing between us. I could feel our Neshamas connecting with each other… and then connecting to their Source.
I shared the brochure, which fascinated her, and I asked her for her email address, so we could stay in touch.
During our whole conversation, she was so open, and receptive. I think the message I shared penetrated her. I thanked Hashem for that, it really made a difference. Baruch Hashem it wasn’t a strained conversation, and no feelings were hurt, chas v’shalom.
Before Rosie left, she turned to me and said “Next week, I’m going to take the lace head-cover that used to be my grandmother’s, out of my drawer, and wear it when I light.”
I was thrilled. She had found a spark on that Shabbos, and it burned, and lit up her Neshama, with this new resolve.
Every day, I thank Hashem for that opportunity, to spread the light. I thank Him that Rosie was so kind and open-hearted.. I’m thankful for the new friendship we’ve cultivated.
I hope my story inspired you. We all have the opportunity to kindle a spark. Or to nurture and grow one that’s flickering, fading. We all can do so much. Some people just need a little gesture of love, to be reminded of their heritage. Sometimes, they just need a little encouragement to bring their hidden light and potential to the surface. And when you do this, you bring your light out to shine too.