In life, you sometimes encounter people that fundamentally change the trajectory on which you were headed, they make you take the other road at the forks of great decisions. These people can be random, they can be the guy you decided to cut off on the highway that followed you at attacked you in a fit of road rage. They can be the person you meet that you end up wanting to share the rest of your life with and raise a family with. There could be countless people that help you make little decisions that end up changing your life. If our paths are preordained, than they are the little meters upon which the paths divide and your free choice comes into play.
I’ve met a lot of those kinds of people. People who hurt me and made me run away from the things that I thought were my dreams. People who gave me a helping hand when I was just one step away from the end of the path. The person who I met sitting across from me at a BBQ ended up being the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with.
Than there are people like Rabbi Yossi and Manya Lazaroff. They’re shaliachs, emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson and the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Specifically, they’re the Chabad rabbi and rebbetzin that started the Chabad house at my old school, Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. I can say, without any doubt in my mind, that outside of my parents, these two people changed my life for the better more than any other two people in the world. I love my friends, my family, and the many mentors I’ve had throughout my education and career; but I can say that I am only where I am today and the man I am today because of their positive influences in my life as both a student and former student.
I think a little background about myself is necessary to give you an idea of what Yossi and Manya has to deal with they first me. I grew up Catholic, the son of divorced parents, and later rejected the church in my teens. I looked into different religions, and Judaism just clicked for me. I started keeping some things of what I thought Judaism meant (basically I kept kosher style and read a lot), and I emailed Rabbi Yossi before I started in the fall of 2008. He said that I was welcome to come by, but I don’t think that he or Manya had any idea what they were getting themselves into when they first let me in the door.
From the first time I met them to this very moment, there hasn’t been a single day that my life hasn’t been enriched by their presence, their support, their guidance, and their unbridled love for their students. In college, they not only put up with every question I had about Judaism, they created an environment where I was welcome to explore. There were moments when things got really intense, and they were there to listen to me. Here was this kid, not even a Jewish kid, not someone that their programming or anything intended to reach, but they took care of me.
When I needed someone to speak to me in a real and truthful way, Rabbi Yossi was there. One conversation with him, and a little while of being pissed off afterwards, made me realize that I had been deluding myself and not prioritizing the right things in my life. It’s one of those few times I can point to in my entire life where one single sentence from someone changed everything. I have my life today because I took his words to heart, I found out the drive within me to really live with Torah and Judaism.
After college, my mom died, and I was completely lost. Again, Rabbi Yossi and Manya were there for me. When I was sick and alone in my apartment, Manya made sure that I had a nice container of her matzo ball soup delivered to me. They made their home open to me when I needed a framework to put my life back together. They gave me opportunities to help others and guide students that were in positions like I was. They not only gave me the tools to build my life, they taught me how to be a better man in the process. Through their examples, I learned what it meant to dedicate oneself to a higher goal, what it meant to sacrifice, but also what it takes to gently nurture Jewish souls that are hidden and lost behind the packaging of the modern world.
I promise not to do this regularly, but I want to ask for your help. Rabbi Yossi and Manya are raising money for their Chabad House, and I want you to help along with me to improve Jewish life at Texas A&M University. Please visit http://jewishaggies.com/sharechabad and join me in donating. If you look at their social media presence, you will see student after student saying amazing things about how they created a home away from home for them in Aggieland, and how they helped them discover themselves. Rabbi Yossi and Manya do amazing thing, and I can tell you that I would not be alive if not for them, I would not be married if not for them, and I doubt I would have ever made it here if not for their love and support. Some of my happiest memories involved just being with them back in school, but also the friendship that they continue to give after graduation.
I got a quick voice note from Manya before my surgery tomorrow (don’t worry I’ll be ok), and it honestly made all the fear and anxiety go away. They really care, and they really do make a difference; now it’s just up to us to support them. Again, visit the link above to make a donation and have it matched. Let’s make Chabad at A&M an even more amazing place, and I know more students lives will be enriched because of our efforts.