Historic. Heartfelt. Honoring Hashem.” These words cannot begin to adequately describe the incredible chesed event that will take place on 28 Av, August 20, on the Kotel plaza in Yerushalayim. The brainchild of Renee and Rafael Levy of Englewood, this event will bring 1,000 young men to the center section of the plaza, including 100 Ethiopians, 100 Russians, 100 IDF soldiers and 700 young men of bar mitzvah age, many of whom have been orphaned or are from disadvantaged homes throughout Israel. The youngsters will be transported to the ceremony on 50 buses.
Flanking the young men will be 500 invited guests – 250 men and 250 women.
Every one of the 1,000 assembled young men will be presented with a newly commissioned pair of tefillin, a tallit and tallit bag bearing the logo of the “1,000 L’Hashem,” a bottle of wine, a kippah and a T-shirt. Representing the 1,000 recipients on the dais will be 50 young men who will each receive two gift bags from one of the rabbanim. A staff of ushers will pass the other bags out to the remaining 900 individuals at their seats.
Seated on the dais to honor the recipients will be the Maran Ha’Rishon LeTzion Hagaon Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, shlita, the Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel. Joining him will be Hagaon Harav Yisroel Meir Lau, shlita, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel. Harav Shmuel Rabinowitz, shlita, rav of the Kotel and holy sites throughout Israel, will also grace the dais, as will the Levy’s rav, Harav Mordechai Aderet, shlita, rav of Kehilat Great Neck, Long Island. Other illustrious rabbanim will include Harav Bakshi Doron, former Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, and Rav Dovid Grossman, shlita, rav of Migdal HaEmek. Rav Yosef Mizrachi, Rav Reuven Elbaz and Rav Dovid Basri of Yerushalayim will also be among the 25 rabbanim in attendance.
Throughout the program words of Torah and bracha will be lavished on the assembled, and all will enjoy fragments of poetry and emotion through the musical presentation of Chaim Israel and the Pirchei Yerushalayim Children’s Choir.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, a lavish buffet will be served along the rear of the plaza to all in attendance. Counting onlookers, it is estimated that over 2,000 individuals will take part in this gala event. Extra security, firefighters and Magen David Adom personnel will be on hand to ensure the safety of the crowd.
How does an event of such meaning and magnitude come about? According to the Levys, this magnanimous endeavor has a history dating back to 1949 when Rafael’s parents made aliyah from Kurdistan. Settling in the Bukharian neighborhood of Yerushalayim, they worked hard to support their family of 13. They owned a small grocery store and, as Rafael recollects, “My mother never turned anyone away. If she could not offer them money, she would give them a food product or some other necessity.” Apparently, this legacy of tzedakah became a fundamental principle in the households of their children and grandchildren.
The Levys are the proud parents of five children and are blessed to be grandparents as well. Four years ago, in marking the bar mitzvah of their youngest son, Ariel, the Levys donated 100 pairs of tefillin. A casual comment by a friend, who asked, “How will you top this?” started Rafael thinking that the only way was to up his gesture tenfold: thus was born the concept of “1,000 to Hashem.” According to Levy, “I regard the mitzvah of tefillin as one of the most meaningful manifestations of a man’s attachment to Hashem in mind and body. Therefore, I chose tefillin as my contribution to young boys and soldiers who most need the assurance and support of Hashem in their lives.”
The Levy children have been involved in acts of tzedakah from their early years. The extended Levy family established a beit knesset in Bayit Vegan known as Beit Levy. Under the guidance of the rav and rosh kollel Rav Avraham Atia, shlita, the shul distributes meat, fish and vegetables to needy local residents before the Yomim Noraim and Pesach. On many occasions during their visits to Israel, the Levy children helped pack these enormous boxes of provisions. These lessons have clearly remained with them, as seen from their own tzedakah initiatives, specifically in their distribution of free tzitzit throughout the world. One of the Levy sons created a website called freefringes.org through which people can avail themselves of free pairs of tzitzit.
Looking toward this mega event, which took two years to bring to fruition, with every detail fastidiously worked on personally by Renee and Rafael, the Levys should be inordinately proud of their gift of genuine ahavat Yisrael they are bestowing upon the recipients and the model of bringing honor to Hashem they are imparting to the world.
By Pearl Markovitz