R. Yankel Karp is a shliach of the Rebbe in Cincinnati, Ohio. He runs an organization called JEEP – Jewish Education for Every Person. One of the main functions of the organization is to reach out and help recovering alcoholics.
One afternoon on Chanukah two years ago, R. Karp met up at a local coffee shop with Isaac, a recovering alcoholic who regularly attended JEEP meetings. When they emerged from the shop, R. Karp saw two ladies, one older and one younger, admiring the menorah on top of his car.
“Is this your car?” the older lady asked R. Karp. “I love this menorah!”
They got into a conversation, the lady, whose name was Mrs. Newman, introducing herself and her daughter, Eva. R. Karp invited them to come to the Chabad Chanukah party at JEEP.
Mrs. Newman and her daughter were inspired by the Chanukah party, and R. Karp invited them to come every Jewish holiday when they had a party or event.
But the daughter never came much after the Chanukah party.
Over time, Mrs. Newman told R. Karp more about herself and her family. She had a son and a daughter, and they had never had anything to do with Yiddishkeit. In fact, for many years as children they had attended a Catholic school.
“I regret not having given my children a Jewish education,” Mrs. Newman said. “If only I could go back… I would.”
“Everything is divine providence,” R. Karp said to her. “And it’s never too late to have a Jewish education!”
Occasionally, her son Jacob came along to the holiday parties, and Eva came very sparingly.
Two years went by. On Chanukah R. Karp received a phone call from Mrs. Newman, who said to him, “I wanted to ask you, R. Karp – do you know a good mohel?”
“Why, I do in fact, Mrs. Newman,” said R. Karp.
“Eva gave birth to a baby boy six months ago,” explained Mrs. Newman. “She wanted the baby to have a bris, and she called a mohel – but his price was too high. The baby ended up receiving a circumcision from a doctor in the hospital. But I never felt very comfortable about that.”
“Well, mazel tov on your new grandson!” said R. Karp. “But out of curiosity… why did you wait until now?”
“Because of a photo my daughter took,” said Mrs. Newman. “I’ll show it to you tomorrow at the Chanukah party.”
R. Karp told Mrs. Newman about the local Chabad mohel, R. YY Kalmanson.
The next day at the party, Mrs. Newman showed R. Karp the picture of her grandchild, an adorable baby boy whose mother was helping him hold a candle to light the menorah. The child’s bright blue eyes were lit up with joy.
“That same day that we saw the menorah on your car,” said Mrs. Newman, “Eva wanted to get her own menorah and she did. And look at the smile on the baby’s face… we both realized, Eva and I, that he needs to have a proper bris milah.”
Last week, the bris milah took place at JEEP. As it turned out, the circumcision he had in the hospital was kosher, and the mohel did hatavas dam to make the mitzvah complete.
Eva gave her baby boy a Hebrew name – Ilan. “I don’t know why, but I just fell in love with that name,” she said. “After the joy I saw in his eyes lighting the menorah, I want my Ilan to grow up having a Jewish education.”