“Kevin, got 30 seconds?” The question is barely out and Kevin’s sleeve is rolled up and Rabbi Dovid Haller begins to wrap up his latest customer. Kevin is not alone; over the last 3 years, Rabbi Haller has wrapped up more than 40,000 men single handedly.
No, that’s not a misprint. In three years, Rabbi Dovid Haller, of Johannesburg, South Africa put on Tefillin with others more than 40,000 times.
Rabbi Haller seems to possess an uncanny ability to coax a “yes” out of almost anybody. The short, bubbly Rabbi oozes friendship and a deep sense of caring. When that husky voice asks you if have time Tefillin, well, who can refuse?
Three years ago, in honor of the year 5770, Rabbi Haller set himself the lofty goal of putting Tefillin with others 5,770 times. He smashed his goal with an incredible 8,430, and 13,100 in the following year. For the year 5772, the goal was a seemingly impossible 18,000, but even that was surpassed by 700 – a staggering average of 360 a week. As the years march by, many of Rabbi Haller’s “customers” buy their own Tefillin making the feat even more remarkable.
It is doubtful any other Rabbi around the world - aside from those stationed at the Western Wall, put on Tefillin at even close to the same rate. Asked for the secret to his success, Rabbi Haller simply shrugs. He doesn’t feel he is doing anything extraordinary – he is simply trying to fulfill the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s charge of affording as many people as possible the opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah. Perhaps the very same humility that prevents him from delving into his success is what draws people to him and makes them such willing participants.
It’s not just Tefillin he has to offer, together with his wife, Chaya, the Hallers host more than 50 guests each Shabbat meal. An annual Purim party in their home attracts upwards of 500, while their daily Sukkot meals are shared with some 100 guests.
Rabbi Haller can be seen almost daily in senior centers visiting the elderly, offering meals, and of course, the chance to put on Tefillin. Dozens of local businessmen join his weekly Thursday morning Tefillin and breakfast group.
There are no plans on slowing down. Along with his son, Yisroel, he is creating a teen center with all sorts of fun and educational amenities. The idea is to offer youngsters a healthy, safe environment to spend free time, and to channel their youthful exuberance into productive activities.
“Where there is a need, we try step in,” he says with a smile, and spreads his arms as if to say, “what choice do I have?”
It certainly won’t be easy. The initiative will cost an estimated $500,000, and the Hallers are receiving support from friends around the world.
“You might think putting on Tefillin just takes a minute, and wouldn’t create any sort of lasting bond,” says Dovid Haller, “But the moment is often so powerful, so moving, it has forged lifelong friendships.”
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