It all began when my nine-year-old daughter came home from
school one day carrying a decorated nylon bag and a gaily
colored, stenciled letter embellished with a picture of a
clown. She gave me the scoop before I even had a chance to
glance at the stationery. "Our teacher asked us to ask our
parents if it would be okay to return the bags with
mishloach manos stuff in it," she explained in a
flurry. "It's for people who are becoming frum. Can
we, Tatti? Please?"
Having given my consent and marveled at the speed with which
my daughter was out of the kitchen and wrist-deep in bristol
board and magic markers, I picked up the discarded sheet and
deciphered the crumpled Hebrew letters:
Purim is fast approaching, and for thousands of families
who have been contacted by Peylim/Lev L'Achim in the past
year, this will be their first opportunity to grasp the true
significance of this holy day and rejoice in the spirit of
Torah. On the day of Purim, over two thousand volunteers will
personally bring to every one of these families mishloach
manos, along with the light of Torah and mitzvos. We
request your assistance in this campaign. Together we can
promote ahavas Yisroel and bring our fellow Jews
closer to the ways of the Torah.
With heartfelt blessings,
Aha! I thought. Lev L'Achim strikes again. I should have
Frankly, at the time I did not quite understand the
campaign's purpose. Of course I agreed that it would be a
nice gesture to hand out mishloach manos to anyone who
is beginning to show an interest in Yiddishkeit, but
was it really worth all that trouble? If the nylon bags had
been distributed in my daughter's Bais Yaakov school in
Jerusalem, then in all likelihood they had been handed out in
other schools and talmudei Torah throughout the
country. The sheer logistics of distributing the bags to the
schools and retrieving them seemed staggering enough; but
come Purim, they would have to be delivered to thousands of
families, from Metulla all the way to Eilat. Did the
potential benefits justify the Herculean effort involved in
orchestrating this task?
Later that same day I ran into Rabbi Tuvia Levinstein, an old
friend of mine who currently serves as Lev L'Achim's southern
district regional coordinator. He had just finished giving a
shiur in a beis medrash near my home. I took
advantage of the opportunity to query him on this point.
"Look, I could tell you about the new impetus that this small
gesture engenders," he began, "and I could even show you
charts and graphs which clearly demonstrate the positive
impact that these mishloach manos have had on our
people in previous campaigns. But I won't. I'll just tell you
about something that took place in Pisgat Ze'ev, a
neighborhood barely five minutes away from here, and then
I'll ask you to judge for yourself whether the campaign is
The Chazans live in a three-room apartment in the northern
Jerusalem neighborhood of Pisgat Ze'ev, Rav Levinstein told
me. Ronny Chazan was born and raised in a Shomer Hatza'ir
kibbutz. He commutes daily to Tel Aviv, where he works as the
general-manager of a major software company. His wife,
Daniella, grew up in Ramat Gan. She is an elementary school
teacher and a mother of two.
Daniella's three brothers rediscovered their religious roots
in the early `90s, one after the other in quick succession.
Their experiences touched a chord in her and, some two years
ago, she began to reanalyze her own views on religion. Her
metaphysical ruminations irritated Ronny, who had been
conditioned in his kibbutz to see religion as primitive and
religious people as social parasites. He reacted by
ridiculing and lashing out emotionally at Daniella. "What's
wrong with you?" he would chide her. "Next thing you know,
you'll begin covering you hair and baking challot!"
One day on her way home from work she happened to notice a
sign announcing a public lecture by Rabbi Uri Zohar. Since
the topic of religion had become taboo in their home,
Daniella did not inform her husband that she would be
attending the lecture.
Rav Zohar's words penetrated to the depths of her soul, and
then and there Daniella Chazan felt ready to make a
commitment to a Torah way of life. Nevertheless, she realized
that a unilateral decision to embrace the laws of the Torah
would likely lead to the end of her marriage. She was in a
"Immediately after the lecture she approached me and asked my
advice," Rav Levinstein recalls. "I offered to knock on their
door and introduce myself as an activist in Lev L'Achim's
Door-To-Door Program. I was hoping that Ronny would invite me
in and, after discussing religion together in a sensible way,
he would become more amenable to Daniella's renewed interest
in her roots. Unfortunately, things didn't work out according
When Rav Levinstein and his partner knocked on the Chazans'
front door, Ronny peered through the peephole, took one look
at the beards and black jackets, and saw red. "Get lost,
buddy!" he hissed through the locked door. "Don't you ever
come back here! Understand? Beat it!"
The message came across loud and clear, and Rav Levinstein
retreated. Hardly discouraged though, he and every other Door-
To-Door activist in the North Jerusalem area kept coming back
to Ronny's door for the next year and a half. "Daniella
pleaded for help. We couldn't just abandon her," he
Time and again, their efforts met with the same humbling and
disappointing results. The phrase "Ronny's door" became a
byword among Lev L'Achim's Door-To-Door activists in the
North Jerusalem area. "We started taking new volunteers there
to give them combat experience," Rav Levinstein recalls with
a chuckle. "A single visit to Ronny's door could train an
activist to keep his cool in the worst of all possible
As Divine Providence would have it, this heavy kiruv
traffic had an unanticipated result, named Shimon Ben Ami --
Ronny's next-door neighbor. Unlike Ronny, Shimon opened his
door to Rabbi Levinstein the very first time he knocked,
although he laid down the ground rules of their relationship
at the outset: "Look, I've been to a weekend seminar and done
that trip, and I have no intentions of becoming religious, so
don't waste your breath. Still, I wouldn't mind learning a
little gemora once in a while."
A young activist named Yosef Beyfus, who learns in the Mirrer
Yeshiva, was called in to handle the case. He began learning
Perek Merube with Shimon twice a week. "They hit it
off right from the start," Rav Levinstein recalls. "In their
first session they started arguing over a Rashi so
vociferously that the neighbors, convinced that they were
hearing some violent crime in progress, called in the
Aware that his friend had begun dabbling in gemora,
Ronny warned Shimon repeatedly that he was playing with fire.
"Watch out," he would say to him, "they're going to get you.
You'll find yourself in some yeshiva before you know what hit
Shimon remained unperturbed. "Don't you worry about me," he
would assure Ronny. "I can take care of myself just fine."
Yosef Beyfus continued learning with Shimon for three full
months but could detect no indication whatsoever of a growing
commitment to Yiddishkeit. He began to lose hope, and
wondered whether there was any point to his learning
gemora with Shimon. He took his question to HaRav
Shlomo Wolbe, who answered: "Keep at it and show him the
geshmak of Torah learning. I guarantee that he'll come
around within six months."
HaRav Wolbe's words recharged Yosef's spiritual batteries,
and the learning sessions grew even more vociferous.
The turnaround came last Purim, when the first mishloach
manos campaign was launched. Rabbi Tuvia Levinstein
knocked on Ronny's door for the umpteenth time, but this time
he preempted the verbal barrage by declaring, "I only came to
bring you a gift. The least you can do is open the door and
accept it. I won't say a word -- promise!"
Ronny opened the door a crack, warily extended his hand, took
the mishloach manos and, as usual, slammed the door in
Rabbi Levinstein's face. After about twenty seconds he opened
the door again. This time, his face flushed with
embarrassment, he invited Rav Levinstein to come in for a
lechaim. "Thank you very much," Ronny said with moist
eyes, "I don't remember the last time I received a gift from
someone other than my wife. That's really very sweet of you
As everyone knows, on Purim one lechaim brings nine,
and soon Ronny and Rav Levinstein were having a jolly good
time. Singing at the top of their lungs, they traipsed over
to Shimon's place, infused him with some Purim "spirit," and
flipped open the gemoras. Ronny had such fun learning
Perek Merube that he pledged to attend the regular
gemora shiurim held in Shimon's home. (The following
day Ronny had no recollection of having made such a pledge,
but both Rav Levinstein and Shimon insisted that he had.)
On motzei Pesach -- five weeks later -- Rav Levinstein
received an urgent call from Shimon. "Come over here, quick.
I have a big surprise for you." Shimon and Ronny were waiting
for him with big smiles on their faces -- and they were both
wearing yarmulkes and tzitzis.
"That's it, Tuvia -- we've decided enough is enough," Shimon
said. "We both realize that the time has come to make this
move, and our wives are completely behind us."
Today both families are fully observant. Their children study
in Chinuch Atzmai schools; Ronny Chazan and Shimon Ben Ami
learn daf yomi in Lev L'Achim's Pisgat Ze'ev community
kollel; and Daniella is an eishes chayil.
And all because of one mishloach manos.