This story was told by Yisroel himself as is recorded in a leaflet that we printed some 15 years ago.
“There was a guy that refused to put on tefillin and some of those with me told me just to leave him alone and not bother with him. I told him that I want to continue anyway to try to put tefillin on him. I told the guy that today was 24 Teves, the yahrzeit of the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Alter Rebbe. “Would you like to put tefillin in honour of his yahrzeit?” He refused! About fifteen minutes later he came back and said he felt sorry for me standing in the cold and that he was willing to put on tefillin. Some months later the same story repeated itself. I said to him that today is the birthday of Moshe Rabeinu – would you like to put on tefillin? “No” was his reply. After to speaking to him for some time he agreed to put them on. The third time was on Purim. That’s right, with the same guy! Once again he refused to put on tefillin. I then asked him if he would like to listen to the Megillah. Believe it or not, he agreed and we even managed to put tefillin on him.”
I may add that this Yid continued coming to the Tank right up to recently. Each time he came he would go straight up to Yisroel to test him whether or not he would succeed in
persuading him to put on tefillin. When Yisroel “did” succeed he was extremely happy
and would talk for a while about how great it was that he did the mitzvah today.
Ten Years Later…
Tuvia (Tim) once saw the Mitzvah Tank driving past on Erev Rosh Hashanah. He flagged it down and asked to put on Tefillin. When Reb Ephraim Potash, stopped the vehicle, Tuvia explained that ever since seeing a Mitzvah Tank ten years earlier in Manchester, he had often thought of what it would be like to actually be inside one. So here he was, on Erev Rosh Hashanah, ten years later, putting on Tefillin himself in a Mitzvah Tank. From then on, twice weekly, the Tankists would call him on their way to or from Golders Green, where he lived, and he would come onto the Tank to put on Tefillin. Eventually he acquired his own Tefillin, although he was particular that on those days that the Mitzvah Tank went to Golders Green he would put on Tefillin in the Mitzvah Tank as before.
It has now been 10 years since that erev Rosh Hashana when Tuvia flagged down the tank the first time. During these 10 years Yisroel kept in constant contact with Tuvia. He encouraged him to write to the Rebbe, and to visit the Ohel when in the US. He sent him the daily texts and of course reminded him to put on tefillin. He also showed interest in Tuvia’s family and friends. There was one friend in particular that he often asked about. He would ask Tuvia to call up his friend there and then to ask him to put on tefillin, offering to go with the tank to pay him a visit if necessary (which actually happened once).
The Tefillin Club
The Tefillin club started in the summer of 2015. Yisroel was looking in the Igros and opened to a page that said: “I’ve heard the news about the Tefillin Club”. A few days later he was offered ten pairs of 2nd hand Tefillin from Schonfeld Square, by someone who knew that he was involved in Mivtzas Tefillin! These were subsequently checked and two were completely kosher. Just after this, Reb Shayele Gluck, a volunteer for “Shmeichel”, was in Schonfeld square. He met Yisroel who mentioned the strange occurrence of the Igros and then the ten pairs of Tefillin. A few days later Shayele met his cousin, Reb Menachem Mendel Gluck and they began talking. He mentioned the conversation he had had with Yisroel and immediately his cousin said he would give ten new pairs of tefillin to the Tefillin Club. He didn’t know what the Club involved but he had heard about the work of Lubavitch and he himself felt that he wanted to participate! Furthermore, he wasn’t satisfied to buy any Tefillin; they were to be the most mehudarim! He also arranged for tefillin bags to be donated by “Ateres”. In the interim Yisroel looked in the Igros again only to read “Mazal-Tov on the Tefillin Club!” We also advertised in the Heimishe Newsheet for second-hand Tefillin and received many pairs of kosher Tefillin which were subsequently lent out to different people. Each of these loans is a story in its own right. We have some very grateful customers who now have the opportunity to put on every day, until they will be able, b’ezras Hashem, to buy their own Tefillin.
It was some 16 years ago when I first met Reb Yisroel. Shortly afterwards he began accompanying me every Sunday on the Tank. At that time the Tank was going out only once a week. Yisroel pushed that it should go out more times a week. Within months the Tank was going out 3 times a week which continued until lockdown. Needless to say Yisroel was on the Tank each time it went out. If the tank went out every night of Chanukah he was on it nearly every night. On Chanukah the Tank went to Oxford for the day – he was on it. The “Chabad “special days”, Purim, Lag Ba’omer,Tisha Be’av, Erev Yom-Tov, he was on it. And still he pushed constantly that the Tank should go out more often – ie every weekday. “We need drivers – who can we ask?” he asked me regularly.
Yisroel developed personal relationships with many people who came on the Tank. No sooner had the person stepped inside that Yisroel introduced himself and then asked if he would like to be called in the future to remind him to put on tefillin. He would then ask the person if he would like to receive the daily text (with the help of his Rebetzon he would send daily texts which had original inspiring anecdotes about how the get the most out of life despite its many challenges). Over time he built up a data base of “customers” – some for tefillin reminders, some for daily texts, some for chizuk and encouragement, some all of these together.
During the course of time Yisroel’s disabilities worsened. When we first met he was able to walk long distances without crutches. Then came the crutches, and the sight loss, then the wheelchair. Yisroel did not slow down his activities but increased them. More and more people were calling him for chizuk. More and more people received the texts and the reminders.
Sunday was my turn to drive. I would first take the Tank to pick him up from Schonfield Square. He was brought close to the vehicle in his wheelchair. He would then, fearlessly, like a commando soldier being called to action, lift himself as high as he could off his seat, reach up to grab the inside car handle, and then swing himself miraculously into sitting position. He was totally oblivious to on-lookers who were scared stiff that he would fall.
The time spent driving to Golders Green together with the time spent there and the return journey could sometimes take hours, especially if there was a traffic jam. This did not deter Yisroel from coming again and again and again, despite the obvious difficulties he had being wheelchair bound without his wheelchair. About ten minutes before arriving, he would call up as many people as possible to announce our pending arrival on Golders Green Road. More than half the people who subsequently came were from these phone-calls.
During lockdown Yisroel continued calling his many contacts. Some of these people depended an Yisroel’s calls more than others. Besides those that needed reminders to put on tefillin there were some who could not put on tefillin by themselves and depended on the Tank to help them do it. To these people Yisroel would give reassurance that soon things would be back to normal and not to worry. To those that just needed chizuk. Yisroel was unique in his ability to do this. “Think good and it will be good” “The Eibishter is good” “Moshiach is coming soon”, “We have to thank and ask”.
We decided to start a shiur on zoom at the same time that the Tank would go on Sunday morning. Mrs Jacobs would arrange the zoom meeting from his end. Yisroel would call people up and invite them to the shiur the same way as he would call people up to invite the to come to the tank. The attendance fluctuated but there was one person who came consistently from shortly after Pesach till Yisroel was taken ill. This Yied from S Johns Wood, from a reform background and now in his seventies never ceased to praise Yisroel and Mrs Jacobs for their help and inspiration.
I have no doubt that Yisroel is continuing right now to “demand” from Hashem that the Heavenly Court increase its efforts to bring a Yeshuah to the world. Knowing him he will not let up till the job is done. Yisroel we miss you and will try b’n to continue the job down here although without your phone calls it will not be easy.
On arriving at Golders Green Road I would always say “The Eibeshter should help us to get a good parking place” to which there would be a resounding Amein. This was followed by Yisroel saying “On the Har Habayis” – also followed by a resounding Amein. We should be zoiche to see the Bais Hamikdosh Hashlishi on the Har Habayis together with Yisroel bekoruv mamash!