A Jewish Journey
by Yehudis Cohen

"My father, Albert Rubin, was fiercely proud of being a Jew," explains Howard Rubin, of S. Louis Park, Minnesota. "He had no involvement in organized religion or Jewish communal life, but he knew he was a Jew and he was proud of it."

"My dad was a first generation America. He tragically lost his mom when he was 14 months old. His dad remarried and when his stepmother had her own child, she told him she didn't need him anymore. He took refuge in the local library and became an avid reader. When his step-mom had a second child, things got even worse."

After his sophomore year in high school Mr. Rubin joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and eventually was drafted into the Navy. In the Navy, he was the only Jew on his ship. "Here comes the Heeb" became a common taunt. When the jibes got worse, Mr. Rubin and two friends went to the bunks of the ringleaders late one night and stealthily wrapped wire around each of them. They placed a battery at the end of the wire and hung a note: "Things can get even worse - the Heeb." There were no more problems after that.

"My father was released from the Navy in Long Beach, CA. He met and married our mom, Ada Wiseman, and I grew up with my siblings in LA. When I was approaching age 13, my mother's mother wanted me to have a Bar Mitzva. My father agreed. They found a rabbi to tutor me and he charged $75. That really stuck in my father's craw. It reinforced in him the sentiment from his youth that all organized religion is a con-game. He didn't think about the fact that even rabbis need money to live.

"I became observant about 20 years ago," continues Howard. "Near the retirement village where my parents lived is Chabad of Camarillo. Whenever I visited my parents, I would go to the Chabad House to daven (pray). My father never came with me. It didn't mean anything to him. On Shabbat I would make Kiddush and Hamotzee; sometimes my father joined in and sometimes he didn't. These were not meaningful rituals to him."

Howard's mother passed away four years ago. "Rabbi Aryeh Lang, of Chabad of Camarillo, was very helpful with the arrangements and he officiated at the burial. Rabbi Lang stayed in touch with my father and periodically visited him. "None of this religion stuff means anything to me. I appreciate your coming but you're wasting your time," my father would tell the rabbi forthrightly.

"Fast forward to a year ago," continues Howard. "My father was already 91. For some reason, he mentioned to his doctor, Daniel Tavari, a traditional Jew, about the rabbi charging $75 for my Bar Mitzva lessons 50 years ago.

"The doctor asked my father, 'Of your kids, which one is the most likely to say Kaddish for you when you're not here?'

" 'Probably Howard,' my father responded.

" 'Let me get this straight,' the doctor continued. 'You have somebody to say Kaddish for you for the rest of his life and it was only a $75 investment. That doesn't sound like such a big deal.' The doctor's words clicked with my father.

"My father contacted Rabbi Lang and told him that he wanted to learn to read Hebrew. He started spending time regularly with Rabbi Lang and he clearly wanted to grow Jewishly."

Mr. Rubin's health started to decline. Eventually he moved to an assisted living facility close to his daughter in the San Fernando Valley. It was around the corner from Chabad of Tarzana. "G‑d's hand was definitely there, making sure my father would continue his learning," says Howard.

"Rabbi Lang introduced my father to Rabbi Yanky Kahn. He is the sweetest guy in the world. My dad's involvement in Judaism blossomed further with Rabbi Yanky. The rabbi started meeting with my dad, often three times a week. For the first time in his life, Dad put on tefilin. They studied alef-bet together and Rabbi Yanky taught my father a song to help him remember the letters. I'm not a mystical person, but in every Jew there is a spark, a flame, and when I would visit and see my dad singing the alef-bet song with Rabbi Yanky, there was incredible joy in him that I had never seen before."

Mr. Rubin was called to the Torah for the first time when he was 92. Four congregants lifted him in his wheelchair so he could go up on the bima. That year he also attended his first kosher Passover seder, at the home of Rabbi Mordy Enbinder, director of Chabad of Tarzana. "He went to his first Lag B'Omer celebration. He was enthralled like one of the kids," recalled Rabbi Mordy.

"When Dad's health deteriorated to the point of needing care 24/7, he started to say things like, 'Why doesn't G‑d take me already. I feel degraded. It should end.' I would tell my father, 'It's not the time. When G‑d is ready it will happen.' But Rabbi Yanky had a different answer.

" 'I know why you're still here and I'm here,' he told my father one day. 'You must have a Jewish burial!' My father's wishes were to be cremated, which is clearly against Jewish law and teachings. I had talked to my father about it many times but he was adamant. 'A traditional burial is okay for you and for your mom, but not for me,' he obstinately told me each time.

"When Rabbi Yanky told my father, 'You must have a Jewish burial,' my father thought for a few moments and said decisively, 'You're right.' Rabbi Yanky called the Jewish burial society and made the necessary arrangements. My father told me that he knew his mother would be proud of him. His decision made him feel more connected with her and that was meaningful to him even though he hadn't really known her.

"My father had a very significant Jewish journey in the last year of his life," concludes Howard. "Both rabbis' special abilities to nurture my father's Jewish spark with their insight, guidance and sweetness allowed him to know the extraordinary joy of Judaism. How very fortunate we all are that Chabad grows such talented individuals who, every day, impact all Jews in so many ways!