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Rabbi Dovid Chaviv came to Sarcelles, France six years ago, and today “with songs of joy,” he is reaping the many successes of his activities with the city’s Jewish community. Working with great dedication, he has reached countless Jewish souls, touching them, and leading them to the path of Torah, mitzvos, and Chassidus. This is the story of a young avreich and the spiritual revolution taking place near the City of Lights.

Translated by Michoel Leib Dobry

Les Flanades is one of the main business districts in the city of Sarcelles, France, located about fifteen kilometers from Paris. The city has a sizable Jewish population, and numerous stores and businesses in this large commercial center are under Jewish ownership. When the citys first shliach, Rabbi Yaakov Bitton, searched for a shliach to run a Chabad House in the business district, he found Rabbi Dovid Chaviv to fill this role.

R’ Dovid didn’t have to start from scratch. The intensive groundwork made by the veteran shluchim in Sarcelles is already felt in every corner of the city. In his words, he “reaps the fruit with joy.” Today, after six years of shlichus, he operates a vibrant Chabad center – a Chabad House together with a synagogue, Torah classes, and a wide range of activities for children. While R’ Dovid speaks modestly about his shlichus, his friends and acquaintances can speak about his activities stretching far beyond the shopping center that serves as his base.

When we asked him about this, he explained quite simply that this was the Rebbe’s answer to him before he went out on shlichus near Paris. R’ Dovid is the type of shliach whose shlichus keeps him busy every moment of every day. His identifying mark is the pair of t’fillin he takes with him wherever he goes. “During my second year on shlichus, I counted the number of people we put t’fillin on that year, and it reached 1,500. With only a few exceptions, no one refused to roll up his sleeves.”

While R’ Dovid was born and raised in France, he never dreamed of going out on shlichus in his native country. Yet, it was the Rebbe’s bracha that brought him to his designated place of shlichus. “At every stop I’ve had in my life, I wrote to the Rebbe and acted according to his advice. After a period working for Chabad yeshivos in Yerushalayim and Canada, I received the Rebbe’s bracha to come to France, and I began work even before my wedding. After an initial period of outreach internship, I eventually made my way to Sarcelles, where I joined my brother who worked for Camp Gan Yisroel.”

After his wedding, he received two shlichus offers – one in Sarcelles and one in Paris. As always, he wrote to the Rebbe and asked for direction. “The Rebbe’s answer dealt with going out on shlichus near Paris, and in fact, Sarcelles is a suburb located near Paris. Today, after six years of shlichus, I understand how precise the Rebbe’s answer was. While our center is located in Les Flanades, we also frequently operate around Paris.”


Sarcelles is one of the largest cities in France, home to a large Jewish population. “The local Jewish neighborhood alone has thirty-three synagogues, but there are several thousands of Jews who don’t attend services. The city has room for a wide range of activities in spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus. Alongside Rabbi Yaakov Bitton, the first shliach to make great strides here, other shluchim have come in recent years and have even founded a yeshiva. We were chosen to serve as shluchim in the city’s large commercial center. Activities start in the morning hours and intensify toward the afternoon.”

During the morning hours, numerous “one-on-one” discussions take place for providing help, encouragement, and strengthening Jewish identity. Similarly, T’fillin Campaign activities and a Torah class for women are held on the premises. In the afternoon, numerous merchants come to the Chabad House for a Torah class or to daven Mincha. On Sundays, R’ Dovid operates a Talmud Torah program for children. In the interim, you can see him moving along the storefronts, where he sets up a mobile t’fillin stand and speaks with local merchants to strengthen their observance of Torah and mitzvos.

R’ Dovid speaks about the intensive activities that have begun to bear fruit. Many businesses under Jewish ownership that had been open on Shabbos in the past have closed since the Chabad House opened its doors in the commercial center.

During the early days, activities were administered from a room in an office run by a Chabad Chassid. Today, with the growth and development of these activities, the shluchim rented a larger and more spacious office.


When I asked him where the funding for his activities comes from, he told us a story which is illustrative of the many cases of Divine Providence he encounters on a daily basis.

“Each year, prior to the Pesach holiday, we distribute about four hundred sets of shmura matza to our supporters. The campaign costs us two thousand Euros – a sizable amount. One year, over a period of two weeks, I unsuccessfully tried to raise this sum for the Pesach campaign. There were moments when I considered giving up, but the salvation finally came in the most moving fashion.

“I remember myself a week before Pesach standing in the Chabad House and davening to G-d that He should help me in a manner beyond nature. On Yud-Alef Nissan, I participated in a Chassidic farbrengen held at the Sinai Institutions in Paris. At the end of the official program, the Chassidim sat and farbrenged well into the night. Leading the farbrengen were Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Pewzner and his brother Rabbi Avraham Baruch. The atmosphere was particularly warm. Everyone there spoke openly, and I turned to one of the Chassidim sitting near me and asked if he was planning to give out shmura matza that year. He said that he wasn’t.

“I told him that I had a list of four hundred Jewish families who I knew that if I didn’t bring them matzos, they probably wouldn’t eat shmura matza. The problem was that I didn’t have the necessary funds. ‘How much are you missing?’ he asked. ‘One thousand six hundred Euros,’ I replied. He thought for a minute and then said, ‘I’ll give you the full amount.’ By this time, he had consumed a fair amount of mashke, so I wasn’t certain if he was serious about what he was saying. However, the very next day he gave me the money and the Shmura Matza Campaign was on its way.”


R’ Dovid Chaviv speaks to people as equals, simply and directly. This is one of the secrets to his success. “When I arrived on shlichus, I was certain that I would receive a list of Jews located in the city with a connection to Chabad with whom I could work. However, I quickly realized that wasn’t the way things work. Working on shlichus is not an office job; it requires a fair amount of physical exertion – ‘and you shall be gathered one by one.’ You have to pound the pavement, go out and meet with Jews, and build a circle of friends and supporters. This is what I did and what I continue to do until every day. While we have plenty of work on our hands, I go out into the city’s streets every day in search of my fellow Jews.”

Whenever R’ Dovid meets someone new, he takes down his address and mobile phone number, sends him a weekly d’var Torah, and adds him to the growing list of permanent Chabad House activities.

“In France, there are Jews of all types – some are very warm to Yiddishkait, while others are cold, and there are even many who are totally assimilated. There’s a Jew whom I met during my first year of shlichus: He put on t’fillin with me and then said that he was planning to marry his non-Jewish girlfriend that evening. I was stunned, and the feeling intensified when he said that they had been living together for nine years. I tried to convince him out of taking such a calamitous step, but to no avail. We eventually parted from one another, as I anguished over the fateful step he was about to take. How thrilled I was to hear the next day that as a result of our conversation, the man gave up the idea of marrying this woman. However, he had no intention of leaving her. A few days later, I flew to 770, and among other things, I asked the Rebbe for a bracha that this Jew should end his relationship with his Gentile companion.

“That night, I participated in a farbrengen with Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid HaKohen Borenstein, the Rebbe’s shliach in Bologna, Italy, and I sought his advice. He said that a little light dispels much darkness, and every mitzvah that the man accepts upon himself will help him to break the relationship. Thus, each day, I would visit his store, put on t’fillin with him, and speak with him about matters of Torah and mitzvos. One day, as I came to his store, I was surprised when he told me that I don’t have to go out of my way to bring him t’fillin anymore since he puts them on himself now, having even bought his own pair. A few weeks later, he told me that he had left his non-Jewish girlfriend. He had become acquainted with a young Jewish woman and they planned to get married.

“However, they still had some difficulties ahead. At first, the girl’s parents refused to give their consent to the marriage. So I decided to get involved. In the presence of all the parties concerned, we wrote to the Rebbe via Igros Kodesh and received a clear bracha for the establishment of a Jewish home. As a result, the parents removed all objections and the couple married according to the law of Moshe and Yisroel.

“Now, he had to move to the next stage: He managed a children’s toy store which was open on Shabbos. I decided that I wouldn’t speak to him about this matter directly, choosing instead to act according to Rabbi Borenstein’s advice and invite him and his new wife to our home for Shabbos. After a few weeks of spending Shabbos with us, they were so enraptured by the warm family atmosphere that the man decided to close the store.”

According to R’ Dovid, this Jew today wears a kippa on his head, observes Shabbos, puts on t’fillin each weekday morning, and maintains a strictly Jewish lifestyle. Who would have believed that just a few years earlier he had considered marrying a non-Jewish woman?

What is your secret? How do you succeed to create such far-reaching changes among your friends and supporters?

“Every Jew is a literal part of G-d Above, and when we believe this, not just in theory but in practical terms as well, we then speak with every Jew about his Judaism and his soul.

“I’ll tell you about an incident that demonstrates a Jew’s strong connection with G-d. This past Sukkos, I spent the holiday at the home of my father-in-law, the veteran shliach from Paris, Rabbi Assaraf. Not every Jewish family in France can build a sukka in their home, and therefore, the entire community participates in the holiday meals at a sukka located in the synagogue courtyard. As each of the community members left the sukka on Shmini Atzeres to return to their respective homes, I saw an Israeli-looking young man walking nearby with a young non-Jewish woman.

“Suddenly, he left his non-Jewish companion and came over to us. ‘I’m missing a feeling of holiday joy,’ he said surprisingly. He then added: ‘I didn’t make a bracha this year on the lulav and esrog.’ I stood there very impressed. Here is a Jew in a state of great spiritual decay, yet he is bothered by the fact that he didn’t bentch on the Dalet Minim. Without uttering a word, I took him by the hands and we broke out into an emotional dance while the non-Jewish woman stood and watched in complete surprise.

“At the end of the dance, he shared with me the fact that he had previously learned in a yeshiva high school, although he had since left the path of Torah. Nevertheless, he said that there was one niggun that had never left him, and he then began to sing ‘Tzama Lecha Nafshi’ with great passion. His eyes – and mine – filled with tears. Clearly, a Jew neither wants nor is able to detach himself from G-dliness. He is thirsting for G-dliness, and the interference of the ‘sitra achra’ for the meantime is merely in external matters.

“As to your question, this is the secret to our success – not to give up on a single Jew and to work with all of them showing a cheerful smile while not cutting any corners.”


R’ Dovid dedicates all his time and energy to shlichus, not limiting himself to a specific area or a set time. “Let me tell you a special story: Not long ago, I woke up from a very strange dream. In my dream, I saw myself walking with my t’fillin in a seaside city, two hours away from Sarcelles. Since I didn’t say anything about it to my wife the next morning, you can imagine how incredible it was when she told me about the dream she had. In her dream, she had seen the two of us going to the same seaside city, walking along one of its shores. I realized that if we both had the same dream, it was clearly no coincidence.

“We packed our suitcases and boarded a train for a two-hour journey to the vacation city of Deauville. It’s interesting to note that several years earlier I had taken a vacation there. During my stay in one of the hotels, I put on t’fillin and davened in the courtyard. A man passing by inquired about the boxes on my head, and I asked him if he was Jewish. He said that he wasn’t, noting that he did have a certain connection to Judaism since his mother was Jewish… Naturally, I wouldn’t leave him until he put on t’fillin. Now, as we entered the city, I remembered him.

“When we arrived in Deauville, we rented a room in a local hotel and went out for a walk along the seashore with our young son. Suddenly, I heard a man greeting me in Hebrew: ‘Shalom.’ I responded to his greeting and we started talking. It turned out that this young man had come from Belgium and was on his way to Eretz Yisroel. Naturally, I asked him about putting on t’fillin, and he revealed that he had never put on t’fillin before. While his mother was Jewish, he was raised in a Christian environment and claimed that he r”l felt a sense of gratitude towards them. All my efforts to convince him to put on t’fillin were unsuccessful. At a certain point, the young man offered to take us in his car for a tour of the city.

“To this day, my wife and I ask each other how we could have possibly agreed to get into the car of someone we had never met before. Yet, we arranged for him to come and pick us up the next morning at our hotel for a tour of the local nature sights. The young man arrived just as he had promised and we spent the entire day taking in the region’s natural beauty. However, every time I raised the issue of t’fillin, he rejected the idea out of hand. At one point, I started speaking with him about Yiddishkait in general and concepts in Chassidus, in the hope that the light of Torah would illuminate his soul.

“After a day of intensive touring, I noticed that the sun was setting and I found a spot to daven Mincha. A Jew from Eretz Yisroel standing in a boat along the pier was very happy to see me, and he asked if there was a store nearby where he could buy kosher food. I directed him to the neighboring town where I knew there was a kosher grocery. While I was davening, the Israeli and the European Jew struck up a conversation near his beautiful vessel. It turned out that the two were both boat lovers. The Israeli eventually invited us to come aboard his boat and get an up-close look.

“I thought to myself that if I don’t get this Jew now, who knows if he’ll ever have another chance to put on t’fillin? I turned to the Israeli, and he gladly put on t’fillin. As he was removing them, I remembered a letter that the Rebbe once wrote to a shliach. He said that if a Jew stubbornly doesn’t want to fulfill an important mitzvah, you’re allowed to tell him to do it for you. Thus, as he initially does the mitzvah “not for its own sake,” he’ll eventually do it for its own sake. I asked the young European Jew if he would do me a personal favor and roll up his sleeve. Incredibly, he agreed immediately. Apparently, when the Israeli put on t’fillin, and he saw that it wasn’t so bad, it softened something up inside him.

“When we traveled back to Sarcelles the next day, my wife and I wondered whether the whole reason why we had come to Deauville had just been to remove the mark of ‘karkafta’ from the head of this young Jew…”

R’ Dovid has many stories of Jews returning to their roots subsequent to their coming in contact with his activities. “There was a retail store near the Chabad House that hosted card games. I would come in each day and put on t’fillin with the Jewish customers. There was one regular patron, a Jew who had formerly learned in yeshivos. He had since abandoned an observant lifestyle, now scoffing at mitzvos in general and t’fillin in particular.

“When the month of Elul came, I decided to blow the shofar for him, praying in my heart it would awaken his pintele yid. The sound of the shofar apparently did arouse certain fond memories, and a few days later, he came up to me on his own and asked if he could put on t’fillin. His friends were stunned and they took out their cameras to record the event. Of all people, the one everyone there called the ‘heretic’ was putting on t’fillin… When he removed the t’fillin, everyone jubilantly broke out in song.

“Another interesting note, the spiritual light of the t’fillin apparently had its effect upon the place. Some time afterwards, this business closed and a pizza parlor with Chabad kashrus supervision opened in its place.”


One of your most important activities is the daily schedule of numerous Torah classes. How do you make a class that will also be interesting to a non-Torah observant Jew that he will enjoy taking part?

“You have to direct the class properly toward the target audience. During the last year, we have given over Hakhel classes in synagogues for the more Torah observant communities, and we must come adequately prepared when speaking to such listeners. They appreciate a class more when it contains quotes from Torah sources and gets down to the heart of the matter. In contrast, the classes I deliver at the Chabad House to a less traditional audience contains learning material suited to the level of their Torah knowledge. I look for subject matter that will touch their souls and they can identify with more readily, even encouraging them to act accordingly. I frequently use the Rebbe’s discourses from the early volumes of Likkutei Sichos, and I also often lecture on subjects from the Tanya such as sadness, anger, joy, faith, etc.

“I also don’t begin to read from the Tanya, rather I only quote those passages that I want to explain, and I find well-seasoned and provocative sections that people could easily understand and identify with. Just the other day, we learned Chapter 26 of Tanya, where it brings a metaphor of two individuals wrestling with each other. We had previously learned about the need to bless the evil, just as we bless the good. I speak in great detail on such subjects, looking for examples, parables, and stories from our Rebbeim and life in general. The main thing is to speak to them simply and directly.

The media periodically reports on anti-Semitic incidents in France. How do you live in the shadow of these occurrences?

“These incidents are mainly caused by Moslem immigrants, and we conduct ourselves with extreme caution. There are places more prone to attacks, e.g., train stations, and we have to be extra careful there, just as a Jew would be walking near the Damascus Gate in Yerushalayim. I personally once experienced such an incident, when an Arab-looking individual cursed me in the street and even threw something at me. It is important to note that while we act with caution, we walk upright publicly with a kippa on our heads, not a cap, and on Rosh Hashanah, we blow the shofar in the city’s streets.

“There’s one Jew in the commercial center who has stopped putting on t’fillin, because of his concern over a local Moslem who had threatened to stab him. However, this is an exception, not the rule, and most Jews in Sarcelles feel safe.”

What kind of Moshiach campaign activities do you do in Sarcelles?

“In Sarcelles, we speak about Moshiach and his being chai v’kayam without any problem and people accept this quite simply. Many people, young and old, not just Lubavitchers, declare the holy proclamation of Yechi Adoneinu. The city’s founding shluchim had already laid some very deep and thorough groundwork, and all we had to do was reap the harvest. Moshiach is the central theme of our shlichus in Sarcelles. The Rebbe, Melech HaMoshiach, has given us the ten mitzvah campaigns and he added the Moshiach Campaign, asking that everything should be instilled with this main point. This is exactly what we do.

“Involvement in the ten mitzvah campaigns without talking about Moshiach is like someone eating a whole cake while ignoring the cherry on top.”

In conclusion, what are your plans for the future?

“The city of Sarcelles is located near France’s main airport. There are many Jews from all over the world, primarily from Eretz Yisroel, who come to France to raise funds for charitable purposes. Their first stop is Sarcelles. Many people don’t know that Sarcelles has families in very dire economic straits, and I even encountered cases of local residents seriously lacking nutrition. My dream is to build a large and spacious facility for charitable programs, including a kitchen for preparing kosher meals, a dining hall to host needy people and tourists for Shabbos and Yom tov, and activities for senior citizens.”

* * *

R’ Dovid Chaviv concludes with great emotion about the tremendous privilege he has to serve as part of the Rebbe MH”M’s legion in preparing the world to greet Moshiach.

“In one letter that I received from the Rebbe before setting out on my shlichus, the Rebbe quoted the pasuk, ‘And your beginning shall be small, but your end shall increase exceedingly.’ I recently took part in a farbrengen with Rabbi Yaakov Bitton. Among other things, he told about a letter he had received from the Rebbe at the start of his shlichus, mentioning the same pasuk. When I heard this, I felt deeply moved that the Rebbe had used the same language in a correspondence to him and to me – the shliach working under him in the same city. In truth, we have both seen the realization of the Rebbe’s bracha.”

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