When Rav Reuven Levine and his wife Shifra were given the
opportunity to lecture at a seminar for baalei teshuva
over Succos, it was clear to both that they would accept.
They felt that they had something to offer and were
interested in joining the staff of distinguished lecturers.
Shifra's only deliberation was about the children.
She planned to take the baby, Rochel, with her to the
seminar, where she would be under the supervision of the Beis
Yaakov seminary girls who would be acting as counselors. Her
only fear was: was it worthwhile to take the older children,
seven-year-old Menachem, five-year-old Aharon, and four-year-
old Sarahle? All three were young and impressionable.
Wouldn't they be influenced by the children of those coming
to the seminar, learn unsuitable words, imitate undesirable
The Levines had been involved for some time with chozrim
beteshuvah and sometimes even invited young people, in
various stages along the way, to their house. At the same
time, they would give their children an age-appropriate
explanation about the different people that came to them for
Shabbos meals. Shifra knew that she could count on her
children never to embarrass a chozer beteshuvah with
questions about their past, but even so, this time she had
some misgivings. The children were young and, until then, had
not met children their age who were in a secular
"I really don't know what to do," she turned to her husband.
"To take them or divide them up among the family? I don't
want the children to feel that we've disappeared, and be
upset. On the other hand, it would be a week in the company
of children who come from a different type of education."
Rav Levine answered her slowly, weighing his words carefully.
"I wouldn't want to decide this without consultation. I'll go
and ask Rav Weiss whom we consult about everything. When
you're deliberating, it's best to place the burden of the
decision on wider shoulders," he smiled. That same evening,
he approached Rav Weiss and listened to his decision: "Take
the children with you, and everything will work out
b'ezrat Hashem. It won't hurt your children, and will
be beneficial." He didn't expound further.
So on the eve of the holiday, the Levines found themselves
with their four small children bouncing around the special
bus for the lecturers and their families. "If not for what
the Rav had said, I would have left them with my sister," her
husband said, observing the doubtful look on her face and
raising his voice over the noise of the bus:
"Shifra, soon we'll arrive and get settled in the rooms.
You'll see that it will be better. The children will be
occupied and they won't be so restless. They're tired right
now." Shifra smiled a tired smile and nodded her head. Her
husband was right. She needn't worry. After all, they had
asked Rav Weiss.
As soon as the bus had discharged its baggage and its
passengers, the women and children scattered to their rooms
to organize themselves. The men disappeared to the hotel
foyer to help greet the guests and several went to check that
everything was running smoothly, that the Succah was kosher
and that the improvised shul met their needs. Only
the secretary who had organized everything was able to
appreciate the work and effort that had gone into each small
detail so that the seminar guests would feel that they had
come to the right place and that they were being received
And the early harbingers arrived: a couple with a child in
blue-jeans and an undershirt; two black-clad young people,
one wearing a motorcycle helmet. Rav Levine wondered if his
wife's fears hadn't been misplaced when she hesitated
bringing the children. Were it not for the Rav's promise, it
was doubtful whether they would have taken the responsibility
upon themselves. But then he shook off his personal
He had a job to do and he had to see the good in every person
who came there. All were members of the Jewish nation and
they wanted to check out what that meant for them. It meant
that they had a good kernel inside them and it had to be
given the chance to grow and develop. He welcomed the
arrivals with a broad smile, asked how they were and how
their journey had been and made the best arrangements
possible for each one.
At three, the guests gathered for an introductory lecture
where the goals of the seminar were outlined. The guests
presented their expectations for the next few days. Some were
anxious and withdrawn, some were enthusiastic about this
opportunity to get to know Judaism from the inside, as they
said, and the seminar began.
Among those who had come was a girl who consistently
demonstrated doubts and resistance. The lecturers had already
given up on her and her incessant questions which seemed
provocative. However, during the course of the lectures,
Shifra Levine identified something in the girls' eyes, a
spark that had ignited and dimmed immediately. "We have to
give her a chance," she thought to herself. "Who knows what
this girl has to overcome to make the right decision. It
isn't easy for everyone from the beginning."
As the seminar progressed, the girl became restless. Between
lectures she tried to go out for some air. Sometimes she
purposely missed a lecture or two, "Because I can't listen so
intensely," she explained to Shifra who had tried gently
asking her what had happened. In the end, Shifra also gave
up. And the seminar ended.
Seven years went by. One day, at a wedding, Shifra felt a tap
on her shoulder. She turned and saw an unfamiliar
"You don't recognize me," the woman said. "I'm the girl from
the seminar that took place on Succos seven years ago. I was
trying to decide my path in life; learning was never my
strong point and I just didn't get the lectures. I thought to
myself, If this is the real thing, I'll be able to see it
in the children because children can't be false. I left
the lectures and followed the children. I was amazed by your
children, Rebbetzin Levine. Once I saw them gently lifting a
branch of a palm tree from the ground and discussing whether
it belonged to the s'chach and therefore had to be
treated with respect or whether it was just a branch. Another
time, I saw how they enthusiastically kissed the four species
and once I tested them. Yes, I gave each one a candy."
Shifra paled slightly. Was she about to hear that the woman
had succeeded in tripping up her children? "Don't worry," the
woman told her when she saw Shifra's reaction. "They handled
themselves very well. They thanked me politely and put the
candies in their pockets. Afterwards, I saw them run to you
to ask if the candies' hechsher was okay and if they
were allowed to eat them." Shifra remembered the incident.
"That's right, I checked the candies and they had the
Mehadrin hechsher we had agreed to with the hotel.
You had given them candies from the hotel."
"Yes," the woman smiled. "I wasn't able to trip them up. They
were so young, and I was so mature and intelligent. All of a
sudden, I was ashamed. I saw I still had a lot to learn. And
you know what? I think that had it not been for your kids,
I'm not entirely sure I would have done teshuvah. Your
children with their lovely behavior tipped the scales."
Only then did Shifra remember what Rav Weiss had told her
husband back then: "It won't hurt your children and will be