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Wednesday
Mar072018

THE POWER OF BIRTHDAY CAKE

It is 30 years since the start of Mivtza Yom Huledes that the Rebbe initiated on the day of Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka’s birthday, 25 Adar 5748, about a month after her passing. * This campaign has drawn thousands to Torah and mitzvos thanks to the shluchim who mark the birthdays of their mekuravim.

One evening, an Israeli couple on Kibbutz Tzivon, in the north of the country, were sitting in front of their television and were set to pass the time until bedtime.

There were knocks at the door. The husband pulled himself up out of his armchair and went over to the door, even though he did not remember anyone telling him they were coming. On the kibbutz, nobody knocks just like that, in the evening. To his surprise, he sees a couple of “dosim” (derogatory for religious people) at his door, with big smiles, and a cake.

“Mazal tov!” they call out. “Mazal tov on your birthday. What – you forgot?!”

Mister Israeli stands there open-mouthed. Religious people … with a birthday cake … a big smile … kibbutz … The uninvited guest doesn’t wait. He holds out his hand and shakes it warmly. “We came to celebrate your birthday. It’s a big day. Can we sit down for a few minutes?”

Without saying a word, the stunned man opens the door wider and motions toward the couch. His wife emerges from the kitchen, holding a towel. Her eyes are opened wide in astonishment at the unexpected guests. When she recovers somewhat, she blurts out, “How did you know it’s his birthday?”

The couple sits down and a farbrengen begins.

This situation is not the product of this author’s imagination; it has really happened, thousands of times. Lubavitcher couples and shluchim visit the homes of mekuravim (some of whom don’t yet know they are mekuravim) to celebrate their birthdays with them. The birthday is the excuse for a spontaneous Chassidishe farbrengen, an opportunity to schmooze about Judaism and the neshama, and to connect the celebrant and his family to the Rebbe.

That is one perspective; a glimpse into Mivtza Yom Huledes, one of the holy campaigns that the Rebbe initiated over the years to draw Jews close to their Creator and Judaism.

HOW THE CAMPAIGN BEGAN

Let’s go back 30 years to 25 Adar, 5748. The sheloshim mourning period for the Rebbetzin had ended. The Rebbe stayed in his home and that is where t’fillos and the Rebbe’s holy work took place.

That morning, at ten o’clock, the Rebbe came down from the second floor for Shacharis that took place on the first floor of his home. When davening was over, the Rebbe went up to his room on the second floor while the people downstairs began folding their tallis and tefillin. Within a few minutes, the house, which was closed off from Chassidim for 40 years, would be cleared out and return to its usual quiet state.

Suddenly, the Rebbe could be seen descending the stairs once again. What a surprise! The Rebbe went directly to the prayer lectern and began saying a sicha that was broadcast to 770. Nobody remembered when the last time was that the Rebbe said a sicha in the morning. The sicha began with the revelation of a surprising and previously unknown fact: that day, the 25th of Adar, was the birthday of the Rebbetzin. The Rebbe did not simply make mention of this, but (noting that this was a merit and ilui to her neshama) made a suggestion connected to the practices that should be done on a birthday by everyone, men, women and children:

“That every person make a joyous farbrengen on their birthday together with the members of their family or also their friends etc. so that the commitment to good resolutions (bli neder) on their birthday (when the mazal is ascendant) will be done in a joyous way, for by doing so it will add to the fulfillment of the good resolutions with simcha and chayus.”

The Rebbe went on to talk about the quality of this day in which a person’s mazal is ascendant, and highlighted the words of the Rebbe Rayatz, emphasizing how he had revealed to the world things that in the past were known only to special individuals (such as the celebrating of birthdays). The Rebbe reiterated about the farbrengens that should be made on this day: “It would be very worthy and correct for everyone to make a joyous farbrengen on their birthday together with his family or also his friends.”

Through the year that followed, the Rebbe added and lent emphasis to the practices that should be done on a birthday. For example, at the farbrengen that took place on Acharon shel Pesach, the Rebbe established the ten practices that should be done on this day by the birthday “boy” or “girl.”

In that sicha, the Rebbe even refuted the arguments of those who opposed the birthday campaign with the claim that the only place in the Torah where a birthday is mentioned is with Pharaoh. They concluded from this that we shouldn’t mark this day in any special way. The Rebbe dismissed this when he said: “Even if until now, this wasn’t practiced and well-known… it is like a number of matters of Torah and mitzvos that were revealed at special times. Especially matters of divrei sofrim (words of the Sages) and Jewish custom etc., which were revealed by the ‘veteran student’ etc., and many tens of Jews are already conducting themselves in this manner for years – and in this case, when it has already been accepted by many Jews and their numbers are increasing.”

The Chassidim soon caught on that this was yet another mivtza, “Mivtza Yom Huledes.” The sicha was later edited by the Rebbe.

30,000 PEOPLE IN HERTZLIYA

Over the years, many of the shluchim began promoting this birthday campaign. One would think there is no mivtza as easy and pleasant as this one, to celebrate a birthday. Every person has a way to his heart and you just need to find the right key to open even the heaviest doors. Mivtza Yom Huledes fits this criterion. Who doesn’t want to mark his birthday?

However, while the world celebrates with a cake and candles, Chabad Chassidim celebrate with farbrengens and gifts for the Rebbe and G-d in the form of good resolutions. The key remains the same key, a birthday party.

Rabbi Yisroel Halperin, shliach in Hertzliya, relates:

“The Chabad House in Hertzliya was one of the pioneers in Mivtza Yom Huledes. We send birthday greetings to those people who are listed in our files. The Rebbe even reviewed the content of the letter and told us to add two lines. Today, we send letters of good wishes and blessings to those who have a birthday, with the exact date of the Hebrew birthday, to more than 30,000 people in Hertzliya. We suggest that they mark the day in a Jewish/Chassidic way.”

CAPTURING HEARTS

One of the shluchim who puts a lot of work into Mivtza Yom Huledes is Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi (Kobi) Ben Ari, shliach to the kibbutzim. His work extends to hundreds of kibbutzim in the south and north of the country. As a former kibbutznik, from Kibbutz Maayan Tzvi in the Carmel, he is well-acquainted with kibbutznikim. He puts a lot of effort into breaking down the thick walls that the kibbutznikim have built between themselves and Judaism.

“In the early days of the formal outreach to the kibbutzim, I encountered a problem when it came to keeping in touch with all the people with whom I had interacted. At first, I sent them reading material about Judaism by mail. As Pesach approached, I gave out shmura matza to all the families I knew. After a while, I saw this wasn’t working and I looked for ways to strengthen the bond.

“On one of my visits to Tzach, I came across a Mivtza Yom Huledes circular which was run at the time by the mashpia, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Ginsberg of Kfar Chabad. I really liked the idea and thought it could be a good way to keep in touch.

“Every night I would call those people with which I had made contact and ask when their birthday falls out. Most of them, to my surprise, did not know the Jewish date. I took the civil date and figured out the Jewish date.

“After I made a list, I had a Lubavitcher couple make calls, he to the men, and she to the women. They reminded the people they called about their birthday. They would take advantage of the excitement that people would feel then, and in a nice way, share the Rebbe’s horaa about observing special practices on this day and making good resolutions in Torah and mitzvos.

“Over the years, my list of contacts grew to huge numbers; it went from hundreds to thousands. Calling each one was impossible, so I got a graphic artist to design a beautiful birthday certificate, which includes the chapter of T’hillim of each addressee and the chapter of the Rebbe, in addition to the Rebbe’s instructions for what should be done on a birthday. I had the instructions written in simple language along with words of blessing. We laminated the certificate so it looked really nice.

“People’s reactions to it were enthusiastic. Later on, when I visited people to whom I had sent the certificate, I saw the certificates hung proudly on the wall.

“It’s a fabulous way which wins people over. When someone receives a beautiful certificate on his birthday, reminding him how this day is seen in Judaism, there is no doubt that it will generate some inner awakening, even if you don’t always sense it in the immediate short-term.

“There is an older person who lives on a kibbutz in the south. Every time I visit him, he proudly tells me about his progress in Judaism. And it all began thanks to the certificate that is sent to him regularly on his birthday.”

THE POWER OF A PHONE CALL

Rabbi Shneur Harel is one of the activists who devotes a lot of time to this mivtza. He is involved with workshops on how to impart the significance of the Jewish holidays that his father, R’ Shmarya, founded. R’ Shneur works in thirteen kibbutzim in the area of Natzrat Ilit.

He has stories galore about Mivtza Yom Huledes. He told us this one, that happened Purim time.

“About two weeks before Purim, I took a list of birthdays of people in my area and began calling them, in the hopes that some of them would be willing for us to come and farbreng on this day. In the past, we would just show up but over time, there was a demand for prior arrangements. I made the calls to remind people of their birthday, and people were very excited. Of course, I reminded them of the importance of the day and the customs.

“One of the calls was to a woman on Kibbutz Gvat, a midwife by profession. I introduced myself and mentioned her son’s birthday. She was happy and thanked me for the blessings and good wishes. As always, I mentioned the customs of the day. Before hanging up, she stopped me and said, ‘I want you to come and check my mezuzos.’ Coming from a kibbutznik, this was definitely moving. I was happy at the opportunity and we arranged a time.

“I went to her house and took down the mezuzos for checking. Then she told me, ‘Shneur, don’t ask … This week, I thought about checking my mezuzos but did not know who to ask. Then you called me!’ I am sure this is not the end of the story with her and there will be other positive developments.”

R’ Shneur added, “That day, I called a man named Eli, a resident of Kibbutz Hazorea. We had never spoken before. ‘Eli, mazal tov.’ ‘Mazal tov? For what?’ he asked. ‘Your son has a birthday today,’ I said. We got into a conversation and I suggested that I come and make a farbrengen in honor of the day. He agreed.

“He thought a moment and then said, ‘I can’t do it on Thursday because I am going to an event and I can’t do it on Friday either because I’ll be in the hospital.’ I asked him what happened. He said he needed an operation. I said, ‘So we need to meet so you can write to the Rebbe beforehand and ask for a bracha.’

“To my surprise, he agreed. You need to remember that we’re talking about kibbutznikim who are stubborn and not at all religious. Shluchim who work in Israeli cities will find it hard to understand how hard it is to get such a person to write to the Rebbe.

“We ended up arranging to meet on Friday at 2:00, but then he remembered a memorial service he had to attend. Then he suggested, why didn’t I join him? He told me that 12 years earlier, there had been a terrible car accident near Kibbutz Hazorea in which a couple and their daughter had been killed. Since then, close friends gathered every year on the mountain, right above where the accident took place. Of course, I was happy at the opportunity to meet with other kibbutznikim and share some divrei Torah.

“I met with Eli shortly before the service, and he wrote to the Rebbe and opened to an answer about bitachon in Hashem and about thinking about words of divrei Torah. The Rebbe also said to check tefillin and mezuzos and to attend a Chassidic farbrengen. I told him, ‘Eli, is there something from Torah that you know?’ He said, ‘Yes, I know the Shma.’ I said, ‘Great, review this verse now and then.’ As far as checking tefillin and mezuzos, he did not have tefillin and we arranged to check his mezuzos soon. Boruch Hashem, the operation went very well.

“When he himself asked to put on tefillin, I realized that he had experienced a spiritual awakening.

“In the meantime, they had begun to gather for the memorial service. The oldest of the group, a kibbutznik about 70 years old, said, with tears in his eyes, ‘We have gathered here to mark their memorial day. We would like, Shneur, for you to say some words of Torah l’ilui nishmasam.’ Who would have believed that an old-time kibbutznik would say such a thing?! This is mamash Geula!

“I spoke a bit about the neshama and merits for the neshama, and about the elevation of the soul, and they were very moved. Then came another surprise, when one of them asked permission to say the Kaddish and asked that it also be for the elevation of the souls of his parents, for he had never said Kaddish for them.

“And all this was thanks to Mivtza Yom Huledes.”

THE PERSONAL TOUCH

R’ Shneur Harel’s brother-in-law is Rabbi Dor Bitton. Shortly after he married, he and his wife Miriam began working on Mivtza Yom Huledes, as part of their outreach to kibbutzim.

“Rabbi Ben Ari told us there are places where they don’t let religion in the door, but he created an interesting format. We don’t come to talk about religion; we come to say mazal tov on a birthday. Would you believe – it worked. It seems that people are moved to discover that someone remembered their birthday, even if they never met before.

“How does it work? There are people who signed up on the list, some provide names of friends, and we go with a smile and a birthday kit. We don’t call ahead. We just show up and ask where so-and-so lives and knock at the door.”

The young couple were hesitant to take on the project initially, but ended up accepting the shlichus. From a “scary” project it turned into a fun bonding experience as a couple. They travel, meet new people, unfamiliar types, and return with lots of stories. Each one of these trips is a story. The story is not always earth-shattering, but there is always a story.

Mrs. Bitton says, “Although we dress differently, there is a lot of connection between us and them. You just have to make the initial connection, which in our case, is a birthday, and it goes on from there. Talking to someone about their birthday is an ingenious idea; you reach the person on the most personal level. He immediately melts! People would ask, ‘What?! You came for me? Because of my birthday? Really? How did you get to me?’ And then we continue talking.

“It often happens that we say we came because of a birthday and the person says, ‘You mixed it up. It was a week ago, or a few days from now.’ That’s an excellent opening to explain about a Jewish birthday and about the special quality of the day. We’ve had so many stories …”

One time, the Bitton couple went to a kibbutz to the home of a family whose grandson had suffered an attack by a wild animal. He was in a coma for a month. At first, he was in a hospital and then he was transferred to Beit Levenstein, but when they saw there was no progress, they told the family they were moving him to a geriatric unit where he would stay till the end of his life. This was on Chanuka, and the Bittons showed up at the grandparents’ house. Seeing the Bittons, they perked up and they called the father of the injured boy and invited him over. He lit a menorah and talked about his son.

Says Mrs. Bitton, “We told him, ‘Let’s write to the Rebbe and you make a good resolution.’ He committed to putting on tefillin once a week. In the Rebbe’s letter it said, ‘simcha poretzes geder’ (joy breaks through barriers). We turned on music and the men danced. The joy really did break through all bounds, because the next day, the boy woke up. This family constantly talks about the miracle. The boy recovered completely and is walking, talking, and working like anyone else.

“There are many other miracle stories. We see the Rebbe and the miracles he performs all the time. The amazing thing is that these are people who are not connected to rabbanim or t’fillos, so it seems, but they have a warm feeling for Judaism that you don’t see anywhere else.

“We once went to Kibbutz Afikim. There was a Russian guard at the gate who did not let us in because of the rules, but he agreed to put on tefillin. Then he wanted to daven Shmoneh Esrei with tefillin on. Of course, my husband agreed, and the guard davened for half an hour. I watched him daven and it was an amazing sight. A Jew who seemed so distant, davened with such kavana!”

The Bittons declare, from their experience, that this format can be used anywhere, in any city, neighborhood or moshav. “Just show up, sit down and talk with the person about something personal, i.e., his birthday, a simcha in the family, or anything else that’s relevant. You need to find these people and find the area that interests them, and from there, the connection will continue. The costs of this mivtza are minimal; the satisfaction is enormous.”

ENCOUNTER IN BANGKOK

R’ Yaakov Tzvi Ben Ari relates:

A few years ago, I spent three days in Bangkok. While I was there, I decided to go out and meet Israeli tourists. I went to the famous main street in the city and walked around. Suddenly, I noticed a group of non-Jews selling bugs and various creatures.

I was going to leave but then I found a pair of Israelis. I went over to them and said hello, how are you. As we exchanged polite greetings, I asked them where they were from. The younger one said she lives at Kibbutz Ein HaShofet in the north.

The conversation went on, and I told her in passing that I knew some people from that kibbutz. She asked who I knew and I gave Batya Reznik as an example. She smiled and said, “That’s my mother.” Now it was my turn to surprise her and I asked her to remember where she knew me from. She thought a little and said, “One minute, are you the one who would send me a certificate whenever it was my birthday?” When I said yes, she got very excited and said she hung them in her room and sometimes reads the chapter of T’hillim on it.”

THE BOOK MIVTZA YOM HULEDES THAT
THE REBBE ASKED FOR AS A BIRTHDAY GIFT

One of the projects associated with Mivtza Yom Huledes is the book Mivtza Yom Huledes, written by Mrs. Shira Katz, resident of Raanana. It was written to promote the campaign and the significance of the day in every person’s life, men and women, boys and girls.

“I started writing the book at the end of Teves 5771. I wrote to the Rebbe about it at the beginning of Adar II, and opened to an answer in which the Rebbe asks the author of a book to send his book to him, and he hoped it would reach his library by 11 Nissan. My book was at a stage that was far from that, but because of this answer, I knew I had to rush it.

“I finished writing the book and asked the publisher to publish it by 11 Nissan. They were doubtful this could be done in so short a time. On 7 Nissan I tried again and pleaded that at least they should make a few copies so I could send them to the Rebbe’s library by 11 Nissan, as the Rebbe requested. They made a big effort and the most exciting moment for me was on 9 Nissan, when I got a brown envelope with a few copies. I felt like a new baby had entered the world …

“I wrote again to the Rebbe and the answer I opened to said to send the book to his library, and if possible, via a messenger. That same day, I found someone who was going to 770 and I asked her to bring the book to the Rebbe’s library before the Rebbe’s birthday. That was a Friday and I wrote to the Rebbe that day that the book was published and I was sending it with someone who was going. The answer I opened to amazed me once again; the Rebbe confirmed receipt of the book and thanked me.

“The reason I wrote the book was because of the campaign that the Rebbe initiated. I wanted to convey the message of the importance of the day. From feedback I got over the years, I can tell you that the book touched many hearts. It reached a broad audience, including religious women of all types and those who never heard of the significance of a birthday. The book moved many people and taught them what to do on a birthday.

“I heard about someone who gave out the book to irreligious women in a high-tech company where she worked. She said that one of the managers was moved and began to cry. It looks like a children’s book but when you read it, you discover the depth along with sayings from the Rebbe from the HaYom Yom. I got feedback from some people who said that before their birthday, they take out the book and are reminded what to do.

“I feel it’s a great privilege that the Rebbe sent my way.”

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