Meet Avi

“I knew I had some Jewish blood,” he said, “because I remembered hearing my grandma speaking Yiddish whenever she was angry. But it seemed pretty irrelevant to me – the kid who grew up going to church and wore a cross around his neck.”

Meet Avi.

“It all began to change when I was in the 11th grade. Our teacher gave us an assignment: to write a report on the religion of our choice. I had read about Islam before, but it didn’t resonate with me. Christianity wasn’t interesting because everyone was Christian. I knew nothing about Judaism. After confirming with my mom that we did indeed have some Jewish roots, I was intrigued.

“I went to the library and loaded up on every book I could find about the Jewish religion. I read. I wrote. I read more. Something began turning inside.

“My teacher returned my report: 5 out of 5. I asked him if he knew if we had a synagogue in Rostov. He gave me an address.

“That Friday evening, I tucked my cross inside and entered the synagogue for the first time. I was greeted by a rabbi with a huge smile. He gave me a hug and welcomed me. The atmosphere was so warm. I had never experienced that in any church before. I just felt at home.

“I kept coming back, but I knew so little. I had heard that there was a grave of a holy rabbi in Rostov. One Friday night I decided to go pray there. I got in the car and drove over to the cemetery, not knowing that driving was forbidden on Shabbat. I put some coins in the charity box and read some psalms. I was on a high. For some reason, though, every time I tried lighting a candle, the flame would go out. I thought it was odd. The next day, I went to the synagogue and vented my frustration about the candle that just wouldn’t light. That was my introduction to the laws of Shabbat.

“I learned a lot. And I learned quickly. Within a year, I got rid of my cross and had a Bris.

“If you ask me how it all happened, I don’t really know. I just feel like sometimes God takes us by the hand and shows us where to go.”

“When my father [the Rebbe Rashab] was four or five years old he went to his grandfather, the Tzemach Tzedek, on Shabbat Vayeira, and began to cry as he asked, ‘Why did God show Himself to our father Avraham – but He does not show Himself to us?’

“The Tzemach Tzedek answered him: ‘When a tzaddik decides at the age of ninety-nine years that he should be circumcised, he deserves that God appear to him.’”Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson

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