We had been in Crown Heights almost three years when I decided we needed to get out of the city for the summer. Our son Nosson had a Bar Mitzvah coming up at the end of July and we were wondering where we should have it. Well everything worked out great when the opportunity came up to go back to Sharon and work in the Wolosow's Camp Gan Israel. I was thrilled to be back there and so were the kids. Dovid stayed in Crown Heights to work but he planned on coming the week of the Bar Mitzvah. Sharon was still as beautiful and peaceful as ever and I loved working at the camp. The Wolosows were still so full of energy, no one could keep up with them. Not only did Rabbi Wolosow oversee everything that had to do with the camp, he also drove the bus, played ball with the kids, and spent countless hours running to the supermarket getting sodas and popsicles he had promised for campers. Sora Wolosow, still looking sixteen, made sure the kids had plenty of arts and crafts projects, sports games, and swimming activities, and she was always ready with bread and peanut butter for any kid who forgot their lunch or didn't have enough lunch. She sang and played with the kids, and was an inspiration to everyone. She was adored by the younger campers and warmly appreciated by the older ones. They were surprised by her ability to keep up with them. I realized this when my oldest daughter Tovah remarked "Mrs. Wolosow is a really great baseball player!"
The counselors were wonderful, and all of the people who worked at the camp were so devoted and caring. But the biggest thrill of all was watching the Wolosows' older children in action as counselors themselves. Rivky, Levi, and Goldie Wolosow all possessed the same endless energy and the same leadership qualities as their parents. It was such a great pleasure to see them out in the world following in their parents' footsteps, spreading the knowledge of Torah.
The little three and four year olds in my bunk made everyday in camp so enjoyable for me. Some of them davened so well I had to learn fast in order to keep up with them. They were a good influence on me. And I also discovered that just by being who I was, I was a good influence on them. One day one of my little campers was playing with what she assumed was my hair. I quickly told her I was wearing a wig so she wouldn't pull it off by accident. She looked surprised and I wasn't sure she believed me, so I pulled it back a little to show her I was telling the truth. She seemed fascinated by this and she asked me why I wore a wig. I explained to her as simply as I could that in the Torah it says that a married Jewish woman should keep her hair covered. Right away my little camper remarked, "But my mother doesn't cover her hair." I knew it was wrong to say anything that might insult about another Jew, so I replied, "Well, I'm sure your mother does a lot of other wonderful mitzvahs."
From that time on she would often ask me if I was still wearing a wig. One day I noticed her asking another married counselor if that was her real hair or not. I found it very interesting that something I did so naturally made such a strong impression on her. Just by seeing me doing this mitzvah she learned something new. And I learned that just by being myself I contributed to the spreading out of Torah knowledge. And that's what Camp Gan Israel is all about.
And just like all of the other years, Camp Gan Israel in Sharon was a huge success and I was really glad to be a part of it. Everyone was so nice and helpful to me, especially when it came to the Bar Mitzvah, and I was really grateful to them. Dovid brought in chicken and fish from New York and although I had planned to do the cooking, he offered to do it, which made things a lot easier for me. As we were walking the two miles to the Chabad Center on Shabbos, I was feeling especially thankful, not only because of Nosson's Bar Mitzvah, but because of what we and our children were accomplishing in our lives as Jews. In addition to having a kiddush, we were also having a celebration on Sunday so David's parents and Aunt and Uncle could attend. Before she knew the date of the Bar Mitzvah, my sister and her kids had made plans to go out to Wyoming to visit my Aunt, so I missed having them there. My father and his wife Suzy came on Shabbos so they would be there for the actual Bar Mitzvah. Many of our friends from Sharon attended on Shabbos and on Sunday. In addition to our friends from Sharon, I got to see many friends I hadn't seen in awhile on Sunday. It was great to see Jeri Litvin Shaffer (Jeri remarried after Lew passed away but sadly after a few years her second husband also passed away), Nechama Prus, Leah Scheiner, and Arlyne and her daughter Feige Litvin (who so generously helped out by preparing all the centerpieces). Also, it was a real treat to see my friend and Altie's physical therapist Sorah Smith and her husband, who drove in from New York. It was really nice of them to come all that way to share in our simcha.
When Nosson read from the Torah he did an amazingly superb job. Although it isn't a custom for a Lubavitcher boy to read from the Torah on his Bar Mitzvah, he's allowed to if he wants to, and Nosson wanted to do it. The Maimor is really the most important part of the Bar Mitzvah because it explains a lot about the mitzvah of Tefillin. As I listened to Nosson recite the Maimor I felt more than proud. But I wasn't the only one. Rabbi Wolosow felt especially proud because Nosson represented everything that Chabad House Rabbis are working so hard to accomplish. Also, a friend of ours came over and commented how proud Nosson made everyone there feel, because many people think it's not possible for a boy whose parents don't speak Yiddish to recite the Maimor so well.
Rabbi Wolosow spoke so nicely about Nosson and about our family. He told everyone how we had given up everything, including a nice house and a nice neighborhood, all for the Jewish education of our children. He knew that we had left Sharon because we wanted so much more for our children and we felt that the Lubavitch Yeshiva in Boston could not offer them the kind of education they would receive in New York. Although at the time we had no idea how much we would have to give up, we would still make the same decision because there is truly nothing more important than the education of a Jewish child. As I sat there listening to Rabbi Wolosow I realized what a miracle it was that Torah knowledge had spread to the four corners of the world. The fact that our children understood the Torah as well as children who came from generations of Orthodox Jews was made possible because of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, who flung open the gates and cleared the path for all Jews to return to the way of life they had already accepted at Mount Sinai.
In the beginning, when Lubavitchers first started making contact with other Jews, many Jews ridiculed Lubavitchers for their actions. They didn't understand why it was so important for a Jew to reach out and help another Jew in that way. They felt it wasn't their concern if a Jew wasn't interested in or didn't know about keeping kosher and keeping Shabbos. The Rebbe knew it was time for all Jews to be reconnected and therefore he encouraged all Jews to take responsibility for one another.
There are two stories that come to mind which illustrate the enormous change that has taken place in the attitude of Jews concerning their responsibility to each other. The first story took place around 1978 when I saw a Jew unfortunately turned away by his own people. I could have done something to change the situation but I didn't, and I have never forgiven myself for not speaking up and preventing it from happening. I was attending a Friday night Shabbos meal hosted by the Hillel House at the University of Miami. All the people there had made reservations and paid for their meal in advance (Jews are not allowed to handle money on Shabbos). As we were about to eat, a young man walked in and asked if he could join us. Someone politely explained to him that if he had not pre-paid he could not stay for the meal. I sat there silently in disbelief wondering how they could say those words to their fellow Jew.
It was hard to get Jews at the University of Miami interested in participating in anything of a Jewish nature, yet here was someone who came willingly but was being turned away. It didn't seem right to me. I remember thinking at that moment that since so many people were there, why couldn't they each take a little food from their plate to help make a plate of food for their fellow Jew. But I didn't say anything, not a word. I was ashamed of everyone there, including myself. I stayed until the meal was over but I never went back to that Hillel House again. I realized that the Jews who were there at that time didn't really care about their fellow Jews. I was bothered by their unacceptable behavior and bothered even more that I had allowed myself to behave in that way. Even today, so many years later, I remain bothered most of all because I keep wondering what happened to that young man who was turned away. I am certain now that Lubavitchers would never have behaved in that way. The Rebbe's philosophy of loving every Jew has been put into practice over and over again all over the world. I am so proud to be a part of this group of Jews who make it their business to care about every single Jew. Fortunately, the actions that were initiated by the Rebbe so many years ago eventually caught on with other Jews as well. I find it ironically wonderful that the same Jews who originally ridiculed Lubavitchers are now themselves reaching out and taking responsibility for their fellow Jews. This brings me to my next story.
Around 1990, Dovid and I were attending a dinner for a non-Lubavitch Jewish organization in Boston. During the dinner, there were two main thoughts going through my mind. One thought was that I was having trouble figuring out when each speech was finished. I was mainly used to hearing Lubavitchers speak, and they always end a speech by saying something about Moshiach coming and then everyone answers "Amen." But no one at the dinner said a word about Moshiach. I noticed that I felt a little weird at the end of each speech, like something important was missing. I also found myself feeling bad for Jews who had not yet made the concept of Moshiach a reality in their lives. I felt an overwhelming strength inside knowing that I had acquired a sense of purpose that many Jews had yet to discover, even those who had been living their lives according to the Torah since they were born.
The other thought that was going through my mind occurred as the speakers were congratulating one another for all of the great jobs they were doing reaching out to their fellow Jews. I wondered, had they forgotten how all these years Lubavitchers had been helping Jews? And they helped not only mentally and emotionally stable Jews, but also Jews with all kinds of problems and Jews living in all kinds of remote places. Lubavitchers had befriended Jews, taken them into their own homes and made them part of their own families. And for these actions they were ridiculed by other Jews. Here I was watching Jews who had finally learned the importance of caring about their fellow Jews, and yet they didn't say one word about where they had learned it from. Before I had a chance to feel upset, a warm feeling came over me. I realized that this was exactly what the Rebbe had been working to accomplish for so many years. He wasn't seeking any kind of credit or reward for himself or for Lubavitchers. This was the job he had been sent by G-d to do. I'm not saying (G-d forbid) that Lubavitchers are the only Jews who have ever reached out to help other Jews. What I am saying is that the Lubavitcher Rebbe took the ball and ran with it. When the Rebbe sent out shluchim from Crown Heights, they reached out to other Jews and also influenced non-Lubavitch Jews to reach out as well. By doing this, the Rebbe made the concept of reaching out to a fellow Jew seem as natural as breathing.
After these thoughts started to sink in, I actually began to enjoy watching the people from the organization congratulating themselves. I smiled as I thought how overjoyed the Rebbe must feel knowing that more and more Jews were finally learning to take responsibility for one another. And I couldn't help but feel especially proud to be a Lubavitcher.
I will always feel terrible for that young man who was turned away from that Hillel House by his own people. At least I know that because of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, every Jew will eventually be reached, including that young man. I hope that he has forgiven all of the Jews (including myself) who made a huge mistake that Shabbos, a mistake that must never happen again. And I have a strong feeling that it won't, because I believe, thank G-d, that Hillel Houses all across this country are now making a much bigger effort than ever before to reach out to their fellow Jews.
When I left Sharon for the second time, I left knowing that Jews were closer than ever to achieving the same state of oneness we had achieved at Mount Sinai. I also felt incredibly blessed to be alive at such an auspicious time when Jews are reaching out to each other and working together to make this world a fitting place for G-d to dwell. And our mission will soon be accomplished because Torah knowledge is and will continue spreading out in Sharon and around the world forever.