The Last Jewish Girl in the World
I just finished reading Rebbe by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, all 520 pages. An unexpected page-turner, I even read the appendix. That’s how good and moving and fascinating it was.
The most striking thing for me about the book was learning about the Rebbe’s focus on the importance of every single Jew. And how he would literally send someone to the ends of the earth to help that single Jew.
But of course, I read this book with you JewishMOMs in mind, and marked down two amazing stories I wanted to share with you about the importance of every single Jewish woman and girl.
Here’s the first story, about a woman in Australia: “When Rabbi Chaim Gutnick of Australia told the Rebbe of a class for women on the laws of family purity that he had helped arrange and complained that only one woman had come to the class, the Rebbe responded, “How many mothers did Moshe Rabbanu have?”
And here’s the second story I want to share, about a little girl living in Alaska.
Rabbi Telushkin writes: “Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz told me of an experience he had in Alaska (at the time he was still a Lubavitch yeshiva student). For three summers in the mid- 1990s, Berkowitz and a friend from Chabad went to Alaska, particularly to its more remote corners, to seek out Jews.
“On one occasion, they came to a small city in the northwest part of the state. The mayor told them that he knew of no Jews in the city–the population was largely comprised of Native Americans–but invited them to give a talk to students at the local school. The men shared with the fourth-to-eighth grade students some teachings about Judaism. The students in turn performed a few eskimo dances for them, and the two Lubavitchers performed a Chasidic dance.
“Knowing the Rebbe wanted them to find Jews if they could, Berkowitz asked the students, ‘Did any of you ever meet a Jew?’
A young girl, of clear Eskimo appearance, raised her hand.
“‘Who ever did you meet?’ Berkowitz asked her.
“‘My mother,’ the girl answered. ‘She’s right there.’ She pointed to the school’s fifth-grade teacher.
After the class, the mother was visibly moved and thanked him for coming. A native of the lower forty-eight, she had always loved nature and years earlier had come to Alaska and fallen in love with a native man.
“‘I must tell you that living here, I don’t know if my daughter will ever meet another rabbi again. I ask you to give my daughter a message so that she will always be proud of her Jewish identity.’
Berkowitz’s mind began racing. He knew he only had these few minutes, that this was, as he told me, ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,’ but what should he say? Thinking back to the Rebbe’s talks, he realized that one of the Rebbe’s great strengths was his ability to personalize a mitzvah for the individual to whom he was speaking, and to thereby inspire and empower that person. He started to speak to the girl about the holiness of the Sabbath, the day that Jews dedicate to God: ‘And who ushers in Shabbat?’ he continued. ‘It is mothers and daughters who light the Shabbat candles. They bring peace and light into the world.
“He then asked her: ‘Where is the first place in the world where the sun sets?’ The girl, who knew her geography, said, ‘Probably New Zealand or Australia.’
“And Berkowitz told her: ‘That’s right. Jweish women in New Zealand and Australia are the first to usher in Shabbat. And then Shabbat is ushered in with lit candles in Asia, in Israel, in Europe, and then New York, Chicago, Seattle, Anchorage. And even then, there is one part of the world where the sun has not set. Here in the Yupik territory of Alaska. When mothers and daughters around the globe have welcomed the Shabbat, God and the Jewish people are still waiting for you, the last Jewish girl in the world, to light Shabbat candles.”
And in the Rebbe’s eyes, like in Hashem’s eyes, each of us is that one woman attending the class in Australia, and that last Jewish girl in the world in Yupik territory. Of ultimate importance and infinite value.