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Story: The Tefillin and the Truck Driver
by Azriela Jaffe Mishpacha Magazine

Rabbi Sholem Fishbane, kashrus administrator for the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC), and the executive director of the Association of Kosher Organizations (AKO), travels the world as one of the busiest executives in the kosher business today.

There really is no “slow time” in his packed schedule, but two weeks before Pesach this year, when, as an administrator of the CRC, he was responsible for the kashrus of one of the biggest Pesach hotel programs in the world, KMR, he was scarcely sleeping. That’s when a phone call came his way that not only changed his life, but that of another Yid as well.

“I was in my office,” Rabbi Fishbane recalls, “when the secretary buzzed me… ‘Rabbi, I have a Rabbi Yitzchok Hecht on the phone. He says it’s very important he speak to you immediately.’ ”

Rabbi Fishbane gets calls day and night from people who say they must speak to him immediately. Such is the world of kashrus. And if Rabbi Fishbane has earned any reputation over his years with the CRC, it’s one of accessibility and responsiveness. He picked up the phone.

“Rabbi Fishbane, it’s Rabbi Hecht. Did you lose your tefillin?”

This wasn’t the phone call Rabbi Fishbane was expecting, but a chill ran down his spine. In fact, a dozen years ago, he was in Las Vegas working for the CRC when his precious tefillin, inherited from his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor, and his tallis, purchased for him by his wife for his chasunah, were stolen out of his valise in his car. His grandfather, Reb Sholem Romanovski z”l, was niftar two weeks before Rabbi Fishbane was born, and he was the first grandson to be named after him. A revenge on the Nazis.

“The tefillin parshiyos were written by such a choshuv sofer, when we told him that the tefillin were stolen, he fainted,” Rabbi Fishbane recalled. Now it was Rabbi Fishbane’s turn to almost faint.

Was it possible that he would be reunited with his precious tefillin? Who was this Rabbi Hecht on the phone, and how did he come to find his stolen tefillin? A circuitous route, for sure.

The Road Taken

A Jew with limited religious background, Josh D., a professional driver for the Wynn Las Vegas, a luxury hotel, one day took a new route home and, by chance, stopped at a yard sale. Among the junk, he noticed a pair of tefillin and a tallis. Although he didn’t know much about Judaism, he knew that the items were significant and that they might have some real value to their previous owner. For $20, he bought them — along with a pair of roller skates.

As soon as he left the yard sale, he looked inside the tefillin bag and found a siddur with Rabbi Fishbane’s childhood address and phone number. He took out his cell phone and called the number, but, just to add some comedy to this tale, the archdiocese of Chicago was on the other end of the line. He hung up the phone. What to do now? He remembered that nearby, there was a Jewish bookstore with a shul and learning center. He thought that perhaps someone who worked there could help him find the tefillin’s rightful owner.

Enter Rabbi Hecht, who runs the gift shop, and is the assistant rabbi of the shul. After exchanging pleasantries, Josh showed Rabbi Hecht what he had bought at the yard sale.

Because of Rabbi Fishbane’s work for the CRC and expertise in all manner of kashrus issues, Rabbi Hecht immediately recognized the name in the siddur and told Josh he would take care of it for him. Josh was a bit skeptical, so Rabbi Hecht said he would get the rabbi on the phone then and there.

Rabbi Hecht tapped “CRC” into Google, found the number, and placed the call. That’s when Rabbi Fishbane — who very rarely sits at his desk — picked up the call put through by his secretary.

After Rabbi Hecht gave Rabbi Fishbane the great news, his first words were: “Where are they?”
“In Henderson, Nevada,” responded Rabbi Hecht.
“Henderson, Nevada?” cried out Rabbi Fishbane.
They could have been anywhere in the entire world.

Incredibly, the Pesach program where Rabbi Fishbane was due to supervise, KMR, was taking place in… drumroll please… Henderson, Nevada.

The Hand of Hashem was written all over this happy news. As soon as Rabbi Fishbane was ensconced in his hotel in Henderson, he sought out Josh, and once again held his grandfather’s precious tefillin in his hands.

Last Chapter Unwritten

Josh may have thought that he was just the unwitting conduit to return Rabbi Fishbane’s tefillin, but he didn’t know that he was sitting in a Pesach hotel run by the Werner family, long-time Chabad chassidim.

“Shimmy Werner, one of owners of KMR, witnessed the whole scene between me and Josh and the tefillin, and we told him the story,” Rabbi Fishbane recalls. “Well trained as a Chabad emissary, he of course asked Josh, ‘Josh, did you put on tefillin today?’ When Josh answered, ‘I’ve never put tefillin on in my life,’ Shimmy and I just smiled at one another. ‘Josh, please come back to the hotel Friday morning,’ Shimmy insisted. ‘We’re going to make you a bar mitzvah!’

“This is a very special simchah, and now my grandfather’s tefillin would be used for Josh, karkafta [someone who has never worn tefillin],” Rabbi Fishbane explains. And just like Shimmy promised, when Josh returned to the hotel on Friday, he became bar mitzvah, in front of about 100 hotel guests, followed by a scrumptious breakfast celebration. His bar mitzvah was in grand style.

This story is still unfolding. Rabbi Fishbane is not only ecstatic to be able to put on his grandfather’s tefillin again. He also feels that Hashgachah pratis asked him to be involved in Josh’s life.

“I had the tefillin checked by a sofer, and baruch Hashem, it was all intact, despite being stored in a Nevada garage for 12 years. I called Josh to say, ‘Nothing happens by accident. Would you like to find some time to study Torah together?’ ”

Rabbi Fishbane shared the e-mail Josh sent in response.
Hello, Rabbi, it is so great to hear from you! I received the e-mail and pictures! Thank you so much.

I often think about our story. I too don’t believe things happen by accident, and I don’t believe in coincidences. I feel that this was meant to happen. I’m very happy it did. It gives me the feeling that I often felt as a child, the feeling that the World/Universe is a “magical” place. It is.

Josh may not be aware that landing a weekly chavrusa with Rabbi Sholem Fishbane is a bit like winning the Jewish lottery. All he knows is that G-d suggested that he take a different route on that fateful day… And for $20 dollars, he got himself a pair of roller skates, a gigantic mitzvah, a bar mitzvah, and a new friend.

Only G-d knows what else is to follow. The world/universe is indeed a magical place.



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