weiss

THE chances are that those who have committed their lives to Lubavitch will get to travel the world and that members of large Chabad families will be spread across the globe.

That could not be more true than for the family of Manchester Yeshiva administrator Sholom Weiss and his indefatigable wife Gigi and their 12 children who are spread all over the USA, Australia and Israel.

To the globe-trotter who loves exploring new destinations the Lubavitch life-style might seem an attractive way of touring the world. But for Lubavitchers tourism and sight-seeing are not the goal. For them the aim is not to absorb new experiences and view new places but to reach out to as many souls as possible all over the world.

Out of the 12 Weiss children, sixth child Rabbi Shmuli Weiss has, on the spiritual scale, the best job of all. Not because it’s the highest paid and not just because he can enjoy the constant variety of meeting Jews and non-Jews from all over the world, but because he is privileged to be doing his holy work of trying to bring people closer to G-d and their spiritual roots in the holiest place of all – the Kotel in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Shmuli (34) reckons that he gained his ability to communicate positively with people from a wide range of backgrounds from watching his parents as he was growing up.

He says: “I watched both my parents who just couldn’t stop helping people. My mother, who headed Jewish studies at Langdon College and was busy with N’Shei Chabad and the Chevra Kadisha, loved having guests. My father used to be with the students on Friday nights and walk all the way back to our Salford home from Hillel House in South Manchester.

“When I was young I would go to Heathlands to wish the residents a Good Shabbat. It was there that I learnt to always leave people with a smile.”

Shmuli’s home environment was admirably reinforced by the schools and yeshivot he attended, starting from Manchester’s OYY boys’ school of which he was a member of the founding class. OYY was followed by a year at Salford’s Kesser Torah boys’ school, after which he went to Mechina boys school, Stamford Hill. It was then back to Manchester for three years at the Lubavitch Yeshiva.

Shmuli said: “The yeshiva inspired us all to reach out to people all over the world. One of my fellow students runs Chabad in Brighton, another in St Louis, Missouri, and another works with students at Cambridge University.”

A similar pattern emerged for Shmuli’s siblings with one brother running Chabad in Virginia, USA, others teaching in Lubavitch schools in New York and Sydney, Australia. His sisters are married to Lubavitch shlichim in Australia and the USA.

After yeshiva in Manchester Shmuli began his own globe-trotting, initially studying and teaching in the USA, with trips to Russia and the Ukraine to run camps.

Shmuli said: “By studying with boys from all over the world and gaining experience in outreach work in far-flung places, you learn to speak differently to people from different parts of the world. I also gained a lot from watching my parents doing that work.”

It was in New York that Shmuli met his wife Jerusalem-born Sara Malka nee Schlass. As Sara Malka wanted to return to the holy city the couple relocated to Jerusalem where Shmuli studied for three years at the Tzemach Tzedek kollel in the Old City near to where his in-laws lived.

While studying there Shmuli volunteered to help the Lubavitch team based at the Kotel who helped men pray and put on tephillin.

Shmuli said: “I loved helping out.”

So much so that five years ago Shmuli was offered the position of being one of the Chabad Kotel rabbis who take up their position every weekday from 6.30am.

He said: “We provide inspiration at the spiritual centre of the world to which so many people are drawn. It is a big privilege to do this work in this holy place where you see Jews from so many different backgrounds, who are united in this place as they are all praying to the same G-d.”

In a country marked by a seeming secular-religious divide Shmuli is keen to break down the barriers and places particular emphasis on interaction with the groups of army personnel and school children who regularly visit the Kotel.

He said: “We pay a special Thank You to front-line soldiers, wish them safety and boost their morale. We dance with the school children.”

Even non-Jewish tourists visiting the Kotel are not ignored as they are given copies of the Seven Noahide Laws of basic morality applicable to all humans.

Like most people doing outreach work at the Kotel Shmuli has many moving tales of people whose lives have been changed by the visit. One particular story comes to mind.

Shmuli said: “I was putting tephillin on a group of school boys when I saw an older man standing and watching. I motioned to him to come over to me but he motioned back a Stop sign. But eventually he came over and put on tephillin and admitted that it was for the first time in his life.

“He told me that his parents were Viennese refugees who had escaped to St Louis, Missouri, where they turned up at a shul on Yom Kippur only to be denied entry because they didn’t have a ticket.

“His parents were so disgusted that they felt that if that was Judaism in the USA they wanted nothing to do with it and they denied their son a Jewish education. The son, whose Hebrew name was Hershel Yisrael, became a Christian minister and was visiting the Kotel leading a Christian pilgrim group.

“The following year he retired. We kept up an email correspondence and I put him in touch with Lubavitch shlichim in his area.”

Shmuli and his team at the Kotel provide similar after-care of Shabbat and festival hospitality and Jewish educational services to all those spiritually turned on at the Kotel.

Shmuli and his wife and four children, Avraham (6), Mushka (4), Esther (3) and Chana (1) live in the Jerusalem suburb of Ramat Shlomo where Sara Malka is the deputy principal of a girls’ seminary.