It just happened a few days ago, 12 Elul 5780, Sept 1 2020!
All the way from Kamloops, BC, about a two hour drive each way!
Igor, a really nice and ambitious young man, made it a priority to connect.
It was only eight short years ago when Igor first discovered his own Jewish roots.
Last week, Igor, who will soon be known as "Alon" wrapped Tefillin for the very first time in his life, amidst song and dance, with children (and chocolate), on the New Mobile Chabad House!
Here's the eye-opening comments that he shared with me during our conversation.
It all started about eight years ago, when I was at a BMW shop in Mississauga, Ontario.
There was a gentleman there with that kind of a hat.
He was standing there talking about Montenegro Jewry with a another young man who turned out to be his son.
When I started talking to him in Serbian, (he was fluent in Serbian), he was a little caught off guard. Turns out that we both have a connection to the last few remaining original Jewish Montenegrin families. A new community has since emerged over there.
Anyway, he had a really good sense of humour and we had a wonderful chat. His name was Rabbi Merovitch.
I think I know his son Ephraim, very nice family!
Yes, that's his son. Small world.
We decided to meet again over dinner, during which time he gave me a really good run down. We shared our stories both ways and I learned a lot.
That's when I began to realize that my mother's Jewishness made me a full fledged Jewish community member.
Discovering this later in life awakens in me kind of like an act of resilience or defiance if you will, (like after having something taken from you), to get involved, to explore and to live my Judaism more passionately.
I really want to better understand the make and model of my soul, my life, my journey.
Will this impact your life's general goals as well?
Absolutely. I want to help the Polish community reconnect, there are a lot of people who are Jewish and they don't even know it.
Especially people who come from places where our people's families have been destroyed.
I'd like to see a lot of Jewish people who are in the same boat as me, get in touch with their enriching Jewish roots again.
You mentioned meeting with a Chabad Rabbi in Mississauga , when was that?
Rabbi Yitzchok Slavin invited me to my first Sukkah and my first Rosh Hashana with him and his family.
A bunch of us from the local Hillel came over there, and I invited some non Jewish guests as well.
Oh my gosh, I was flabbergasted...
Because just seeing him with his family was really beautiful.
Rabbi, I gotta tell you, I always had more of a bigoted view about the Religious and "Chassidic" Jewish community.
You know Rabbi, there's this movie called "unorthodox"...
....and it was just mind boggling seeing the Slavin family relation, seeing how happy all the kids were, it was just such a beautiful experience.
Seeing him thanking his wife, and reciting a special blessing and prayer for her, with such respect and love for each other.
Typically you go in with the mindset that women are mistreated or whatever... and so on.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who had this kind of a bigoted view...
Now though, having seen it for myself, I really want people to experience it as well.
Because it's so authentic and beautiful.
I really think the whole world should see your type of family life.
We try to learn from and through our faith, educating ourselves with its purpose and destiny, and the guidelines to fulfill it.
Ours is beautiful and enriching. I'm a proud Jew.
We try to live it as much as possible...
We're still human coated though so people will often act simply from their human tendencies, despite their faith's teachings.
Sadly, they can also have psychological or emotional issues, or any other health matter that can impact their behaviours.
Yes, it's common sense.
A movie... is just that.
It's a movie.
Often agenda based and embellished.
Real life is real life.
Once I saw the warmth and harmonic family setting (and it wasn't just once...) at the Slavin's in Mississauga, that's when I first realized what a treasure the Jewish, and especially the "Chassidic" faith can really be when one lives it for real.
I saw a sense of liberation, just how much love and unity there is between the family.
And I saw it again and again with many Jewish Orthodox and "Chassidic" families, it wasn't just one family. It's beautiful.
That's just kind of how I feel now.
What was it like working at Hillel?
I worked at Hillel and it was really nice. They were a great organization. We brought lots of Jewish students together for programs and events. Sadly, there was a lot of antisemitism on campus, and we had major challenges in many ways. I don't want to share all the details. We did a lot of good work though.
Igor, You're an amazing hero! Wow!
How you continued to persevere despite that kind of negativity.
Thank you for your courage. It's so special to hear.
Now you're in Kamloops and have done a few youth events there already.
Well, in Toronto it's a lot easier. You have plenty of opportunities for people to taste something real; an authentic joyful and deeply rooted Jewish experience.
Like we had by the Slavin's in Mississauga for example.
That's part of the reason that I wanted to connect with you, even though we're in Kamloops and you're in Kelowna. So we can bring some of the younger generation to enjoy something meaningful and enriching in terms of their experience being a Jew on this part of the globe.
Did you say you were once in Israel?
Yes. It was absolutely amazing!
But even though visiting Israel is great, the real richness and unparalleled depth of Judaism is in living it.
At the end of the day going to Israel doesn't make you a Jew, despite how beautiful and enriching it is.
I do a lot of studying now. I love learning Torah.
We're looking forward to serving Igor (Alon) and his friends over the High Holidays, and to begin learning and exploring more together, with HaShem's help.