I am originally from Melbourne, Australia and despite the fact that the overall community is traditional, I grew up with minimal Jewish exposure. I would have wine and challah on Friday nights, attend Pesach seders, and go to Shul for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but that was the extent of my involvement with Yiddishkeit (Judaism).
In 5763 – 2003, I moved to Oceanside, California for work. Around that time, Rabbi Boruch and Nechama Greenberg first moved on Shlichut to Oceanside and started a Chabad House. I was one of their early mekuravim (who became close to Chabad). Passover was coming and I attended the Passover seders at their home. I thoroughly enjoyed their friendship and open house. When they organized a Shabbat minyan once a month, I became a regular attendee. After learning more about Yiddishkeit, I would move into their home for Shabbat since I lived quite a distance from them.
Among the several young men who also participated in the minyan was a young Marine named Ben who was stationed at nearby Camp Pendleton. Over time we grew very close. On Shabbat when there was no minyan, Ben would stay over at my home and we would host large, fun Friday night dinners with many friends.
The two of us were growing in our knowledge and observance of Yiddishkeit at a similar pace and through our shared experiences we developed a very strong and deep friendship. Eventually, Ben left the Marines and moved back to his hometown of Philadelphia. The last I heard from him he was planning a trip to Israel with Birthright.
By this time, I had grown in my Yiddishkeit and I very much wanted to start a Jewish family. However, finding a shidduch (mate) proved to be very difficult. I knew that I wanted to live a frum (religious) lifestyle, but I was not yet on that level in my personal observance. I was at a crossroads in my life with one foot in Yiddishkeit and one foot still firmly set in my old ways. In addition, I was far away from my family in Australia, and my best friend had just moved away. My family was not very happy with my sudden interest in religion and the rest of my friends in Oceanside, although they were supportive, really had no way of relating to my situation. I felt isolated, vulnerable, emotionally distraught, and desperately needed some guidance. I realized I had an option and so I decided to go to the Rebbe.
That Motzoei Shabbat, I took the red-eye flight from John Wayne Airport in Orange County, California to New York City landing at JFK Airport very early in the morning. I hailed a taxi straight to the Ohel of the Rebbe.
After going to the mikva and davening Shacharit (praying the morning prayers), I sat down to write my letter to the Rebbe. I poured out my heart in my writing and after detailing my situation and asking for clarity and berachot (blessings), I expressed myself in these words:
“Rebbe, I need a hug!”
I felt I needed someone to support me and give me the feeling that they’ve got my back.It was a cold winter Tevet morning and when I entered the Ohel so early in the morning it was practically empty. But as I stood there engrossed in saying Tehillim (Psalms) more people slowly started coming in and shuffling past me. At some point, someone jostled past me and stood immediately to my left. I paid no attention to him, as I was very focused on my Tefillot (prayers).
All of a sudden, I was startled to overhear the person next to me mentioning my Hebrew name: “Gaby ben Leah” in his own prayers.
I looked up and was astonished to see that my good friend Ben was standing right next to me!
He had just returned from his Birthright trip and landed at JFK around 45 minutes after I had and came straight to the Ohel. We were both unaware of each other’s plans and there we were standing side by side at the Ohel without realizing it!
“Ben!” I exclaimed.
“Gaby!” he said equally astonished and we embraced each other with much excitement.
Aware that we were standing in the Ohel, we quickly quieted down and continued with our respective Tefillot. At that moment I felt that the Rebbe had sent me the hug I so desperately needed.
Ben and I met up with a couple of friends and spent the morning together in Crown Heights catching up on the past few months. I purchased a pair of tzitzit since that was the hachlata (resolution) I had made at the Ohel that morning. The elation that I felt earlier on, continued as I donned my tzitzit and said the bracha (blessing) for the very first time in my life. I was standing right there in the middle of Judaica World (a well-known Judaica store in Crown Heights). Inspired by the emotion, Ben, my other friends and even random strangers standing in the store broke out into spontaneous singing and dancing to celebrate this special moment.
Needless to say, that morning I received the clarity and support I needed to make the proper decisions in the right direction. I am incredibly blessed to say that I subsequently married and merited to start a frum Chassidishe (observant Chassidic) family, all thanks to the Rebbe’s berachot.
Today, I live in Australia and am a proud father of six wonderful children. Our children attend orthodox Jewish schools and bring much joy and Yiddishe nachat to my wife and I. Most importantly, this experience truly showed me that the Rebbe is there for me personally. While I never merited to see the Rebbe physically, this experience helped me develop a deep sense of personal connection with the Rebbe. To this day, I continue to feel the Rebbe’s presence and blessings in my and my family’s lives and home.
Thank you, Rebbe, for your brachot and for the love of a fellow you taught and is displayed by the many Shluchim who are present to inspire Jews wherever they are from Oceanside to Australia!
By Gaby Silver with input from the shlucha Nechomo Greenberg.
As seen originally in Derher Magazine.
Postscript: My friend Ben went on to study in Morristown Yeshiva. He, too, is, thank G-d, happily married and enjoying Yiddishe nachat from his family.
Speaking to Gabi in Australia, he shared the following:
“I stayed at your house about six years ago when I still lived in America. I was in Kansas City for a work training program at Cerner. Each Shabbat, I had a memorable time at your home. My time with Rabbi Wineberg impacted me far more than you can imagine, I think of you both regularly. Thank you once again and wishing you much hatzlocha, gezundt and nachat!”
Thank you, Gaby. We wish the same for you, Shulamit, and your beautiful family.