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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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‘Mitzvah stands’ provided inspiration for Maccabi athletes, but what are they?


The Maccabi games in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were consumed by heated competition. But don’t let that deceive you—no Jewish event would be complete without an opportunity to engage religiously, as well as competitively.

“This is our ,” said Rabbi Aharon Spielman of Chabad of Monterra, by way of introduction. “Over here, we have teffilin, we have charity, we have Shabbos candles for the women and girls. We have just an unbelievable opportunity for everybody to be able to do a mitzvah.”

Maccabi has literally thousands of young Jews in one place, ergo the obvious practical need for elaborate security measures. But Spielman and his wife, Elky, also saw the religious need for elaborate mitzvah measures; he estimates that the mitzvah corner inspired 750 teffilin donning’s over four days.

“There’s mitzvos that are waiting to happen,” Spielman said. “You’ve got Jewish teens from across the globe, from everywhere [at Maccabi]—and then some from even in my backyard. Some don’t even know what teffilin is. So, this is a real opportunity just to get them involved and to educate and give them a chance to do mitzvot.”

Many athletes at Maccabi are religiously uninvolved. Often, the mitzvah corner is someone’s first experience fulfilling the mitzvah of teffilin in a long time.

“We call it the ‘Jewish wrap,’” explained Spielman. “We put one [teffilin box] on the arm that connects to the heart, and we put one on the head that connects with our mind. Our physical temptations come from the heart, and our thoughts come from the brain. So, we give everything over to Hashem, and we say a quick prayer, the Shema.”

When someone would come to the mitzvah corner seeking to put on teffilin, Spielman would help position the boxes and wrap the straps. Then the athlete would repeat the bracha over the teffilin word-by-word from Spielman, and could read a Shema card, with both Hebrew and transliteration.

Elky Spielman sought out mitzvah-doers as well, handing out Shabbos candles and assisting people in reciting the bracha of shehakol over a candy.

“Even though somebody is not religious, so to speak, any mitzvah that they do affects their soul, their neshama, forever,” Elky said. “Doing any mitzvah—smiling at someone, kissing a mezuzah.”

Some of these mitzvos are new concepts to the athletes. “We’re also bringing awareness to these mitzvos,” Elky continued. “Some of them never knew about making a bracha.”

As significant as these mitzvos are, Elky raised attention to something just as important for the mitzvah corner.

“[The teenagers] see someone coming over to them and smiling and saying, ‘Hi, would you like to do a mitzvah?’” she said. “Every time they walk past us, we say hi. This is what teenagers nowadays need: personal connections.”

“What’s up, boys?” Spielman greeted a group of athletes heading to lunch. “Who’s ready for a quick teffilin?’

The Spielmans had a chart that tracked the number of people donning teffilin each day. The record was beaten every day, until 338 athletes fulfilled the mitzvah on day four of Maccabi.

“Our goal is to get as many Jewish kids to do even just one mitzvah. A lot of them [are doing] this for the first time, [which] makes it even more special,” Elky said. “Hopefully it will be a domino effect, and the next week they will do it again, or they will Google the mitzvah and they’ll learn more about it.”

“The fact is, we’re all thirsty for some meaning. It’s good to play sports, it’s healthy [and] they’re having a great time. But we’ve got to feed the neshama as well,” Spielman added. “Men, women, children—whoever’s here, there’s a mitzvah for everybody.”



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