The Schmell family passing tefillin to a new generation
The Schmell family passing tefillin to a new generation
The Schmell family passing tefillin to a new generation

By Moshe Schmell

About two years ago, I awoke one morning to my wife, Chavi, saying, “I had a dream.” Knowing well that this was not about the civil-rights movement, I awaited some additional information. I never got to hear what this one was about. All I got was the message, “We have to have our mezuzahs and your tefillin checked.” Everything had been checked fairly recently; however, I came to the conclusion that the only logical thing to do was the illogical.

I removed all the mezuzahs and brought them, along with my tefillin, which I had been wearing daily, for 40 years, to our sofer. With the exception of two mezuzahs, one of which was questionable, they all checked out fine. Not wanting to mess with Chavi’s dream, I even replaced the questionable one, went home, made a berachah, and rehung them all.

Even though my tefillin had been checked often, and were always quite up to snuff, they had never been challenged by a foreboding dream. I was confident yet still concerned. “You can pick up your tefillin whenever you’d like. They are fine,” said the sofer’s assistant. I asked the sofer to rate my tefillin. He gave them a very respectable 6½, maybe even 7 out of 10. I inquired about a “10.” He brought out a small plastic bag containing parshiyos, recently received from Eretz Yisrael. It was love at first sight. These were the parshiyos I wanted to wear for the rest of my life. On the spot, I commissioned a new set of tefillin. I only hope my davening with them are worthy of them.

What should I do with my old bar mitzvah tefillin? These tefillin were not just going to be loaner tefillin, as was suggested, collecting dust while waiting around for someone to have theirs checked. I was hoping for better. My new tefillin were placed in my old torn and worn bar mitzvah dekel. The old ones were kissed as one would a departing close friend and placed lovingly on the shelf in my office. An appropriate purpose for them was sure to be found.

Many months later, it became apparent what HaKadosh Baruch Hu had in store for them.

I have a wonderful morning minyan in Brooklyn near work. One morning, one of the locals asked if he could come to my office to speak. I told him to bring lunch and come by. A few days later Yoseph Moshe Aronoff showed up on Rogers Avenue. He didn’t bring lunch. He did better. He brought a heart as big as the world, regaling me with stories of the accomplishments of a network of 67 schools in Eretz Yisrael, educating 15,000 immigrant children, and the residual effects that this chinuch was having on their families. Shuvu was impacting the lives of so many. A wonderful kiddush Hashem, and I wanted to connect with it.

Yoseph Moshe explained that many of these boys were becoming bar mitzvah but hadn’t the means to purchase tefillin. Most classes had seven or eight pairs for the twenty-five or so boys. They shared. They davened together, and one pair of tefillin would be wrapped and unwrapped, and passed around from boy to boy during different parts of the davening. Shuvu had made arrangements with a prominent sofer in Eretz Yisrael to purchase nice, kosher sets for their boys at the reduced rate of $500. They needed sponsors. “Would you like to donate a set of tefillin?”

“I will do one better,” I said. Now he listened to a story of a dream, a new set of tefillin, and an old, just checked pair, valued both monetarily and sentimentally much more than any tefillin he would purchase with my $500. My bar mitzvah tefillin would find a new owner 6,000 miles away, gifted to “the right boy.”

Transferring my beloved tefillin may have been the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. As we stood in the shul’s hallway, I kept reaching out, poised to hand them over, and then withdrawing my arms, enabling me to hold them for another moment or two. We had a history together of over 40 years.

It didn’t seem proper to just put them in a box to be shipped. Perhaps a hand delivery could be arranged. And so it was. A meeting was planned to find the “right boy.” I was impressed with the seriousness given to the search.

The “right boy” was chosen. “Would you be traveling to Israel any time soon?” they asked. In fact, we were. A special program was arranged for my tefillin presentation. Arrangements were made to meet with Ayton Himmelstein later in the week.

Ayton led us through a typical school building. Waiting for the special visitor from America sat 25 boys–a healthy blend of Klal Yisrael: Ethiopians, Russians, Ashkenazim, and Sephardim. Some seemingly more modern, right alongside others who looked more yeshivish. A live vision of kibbutz galuyos. Throughout the morning we became more and more impressed with this unit of kids. They interacted respectfully and happily with each other, appreciating what was happening in their midst.

After the rebbe and principal spoke, I was asked to present. I explained that I had worn these tefillin for more than 40 years, and I joyously handed them to Alon Mizrachi. His classmates each rose and addressed him with words from the heart with complete absence of sarcasm and teenage coolness. These 13-year-olds acted with a maturity, a sense of values, and appreciation well beyond their years, reveling in the honor bestowed upon their friend. Spontaneously, they got up and danced and sang. Could there have been more joy? Yes. It came when we met the rest of the family. His grandparents and aunt are Russian immigrants. The father, Yoseph Mizrachi, a Sephardic Jew, works as a security guard on Har Hazeisim. He could not stop thanking us. He works hard, his wife is a stay-at-home mom, and he barely makes ends meet. He had been worrying about how they were going to afford tefillin for Alon and davening for a yeshuah.

Within this family were three generations of Torah-observant Jews, dressed in clothing from different strands of Jewish culture. The boys in the class mirrored that same image. The ahavas Yisrael that emanated from that room was profound. Rav Pam, zt’l, would have been proud of his organization. Rav Pam was about loving Jews and Shuvu reflects his love.

We are so fortunate to have been blessed with this experience. Mitzvah goreres mitzvah. Please join us in our home on June 9 as we host a breakfast for this extraordinary organization. All contributions are welcome, but for $500 or a pair of tefillin, I guarantee you an experience of a lifetime. v


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