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  • Yehuda Pevzner

A Jewish Priest

This week’s Torah portion is “Lech Lecha,” which means “Go for yourself”. The Parsha starts with Hashem telling Abraham to go from his place and journey on to the land of Israel. We don’t learn anything about Abraham’s background. As known, everything in the Torah is a lesson in our daily lives, not just a story for pleasurable reading. The Torah tells us that Abraham went to a higher and better place. It doesn’t tell us where Abraham came from, to teach us that we need to work on ourselves and try to improve, regardless of where we stand. Even someone who is simple, and has no background to speak of, needs to try to become better.

Read on to hear about a fascinating encounter we had this week, as reported on

It started as a regular trip on our Mitzvah Tank in Union Square in Manhattan, but ended with discovering a neshama that had been lost among other nations for nearly a lifetime, but still sought connection to her people.

Rabbi Yosef Kratz, caretaker of 770, and Rabbi Yehuda Pevzner, NYC Mivtza Tank coordinator, parked their Mitzvah Tank at a busy intersection and began their usual routine of asking passers-by if they were Jewish and if they would like to do a mitzvah.

Then an elderly man approached, and things started getting interesting.

“The truth is that when we asked him if he was Jewish, we were sort of joking. Why would we ask a priest, dressed in long flowing white robes, with a huge cross dangling across his chest, if he was Jewish?” Rabbi Kratz told

But he replied in the affirmative.

“What do you mean? Was your mother Jewish?”

He answered, “Both my parents were Jews.”

The elderly man explained that as a child, his parents handed him over to a church to survive the Nazi onslaught, and he survived the Holocaust living in the church. Following the war, he began studying to be a pastor. In his school, he was constantly bullied and when he complained to his teacher, a pastor who was also born a Jew, the teacher told him that a Jew will always be persecuted…until he becomes a successful pastor. Which he did. He lived in Pakistan and was a priest there until 15 years ago when he moved to New York.

“Why don’t you come to synagogue?” Rabbi Kratz asked the man.

He wasn’t sure, “Is a priest allowed to come?”

“I work for the Lubavitcher central synagogue in Crown Heights, and I invite you to come.”

He asked for a business card, and said he would keep in touch. Seeing he needed help, they helped him get a cab and gave him a chair to sit on until the taxi arrived. After all, the man is an almost 90-year-old Jew…

“I talked to him about speaking to people about the Holocaust. He demurred, saying that we have to pray that it will never happen again. I encouraged him to speak to the young people about it, thus ensuring that it won’t happen again,” Rabbi Kratz said.

Before leaving, the elderly man, who until recently had no visible connection to Judaism, said he would stay in touch, and try to visit 770. “Make sure to prepare some gefilte fish and kugel for me,” he told them. “Or at least some chopped liver.”

Even after decades of living as a priest in foreign lands, his Jewish spark was not extinguished. It flickered deep inside and a short encounter with a fellow Jew caused it to burst aflame.

Wishing you an amazing Shabbat!

Candle lighting time for NYC is on Friday, at 5:57 PM.


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