Mentioned several times in the Torah, tefillin are worn by Jewish men over the age of 13, typically during weekday morning prayers. Characterized by their black boxes and attached leather straps, tefillin contain special handwritten parchments inscribed with Torah verses. Because of the special care that goes into their production, the cost for a new pair can range from $500 to more than $1,000.
But with the Chabad on Campus Tefillin Bank, students who pledge to use the boxes regularly can receive them for a reduced cost.
“Our organization provides support and services to Chabad-Lubavitch emissaries who serve on university campuses around the world,” explained Avi Weinstein, strategic initiative director for Chabad on Campus. “We’re always thinking of different ways to help. One of the things that came to our attention was that there were students who were growing on their Jewish journey and were inspired to put on tefillin on a regular basis, but they didn’t have the financial means to do so.”
The Chabad on Campus Tefillin Bank is being funded by Akiva Sussholz of Monsey, N.Y in memory of his grandmother, Sarah Sussholz of Antwerp, Belgium. Each candidate must demonstrate his commitment to using them regularly by writing an essay explaining why he is eager to fulfill this particular Torah commandment, as well as submitting a recommendation from his local campus emissary. Once accepted, the student contributes $200 and the Tefillin Bank pays the rest.
Since the launch of the campaign at the beginning of the school year, 24 students have received new tefillin with the help of the international campaign.
Although students must commit to using the boxes at least twice weekly, most have pledged to do so each weekday, said Weinstein.
Recipient David Burns, 22, a fifth-year physics student at the University of California, S. Cruz, said he was captivated by some of the Kabbalistic interpretations behind the concept of tefillin.
They demonstrate a connection “from the heart to your head and back to your hands, basically that all your actions should be both logical and done with love,” he explained. He had wanted a pair of his own “for some time now, but the cost was just too high. With this program, I was able to buy the pair I wanted at a much more reasonable price for a college student.”
Sussholz explained his motivation for subsidizing this project. While volunteering on a Chabad-sponsored Israel trip, he helped encourage students to put on tefillin. One of the young men had never been circumcised, a common phenomenon in the Russian immigrant community, and at the age of 26 he decided to undergo the procedure. Sussholz believes that the man’s decision was motivated by the spiritual connection established through the experience of praying with tefillin.
“Then another guy we gave tefillin to heard about [the circumcision] and he decided to go through with it as well,” related Sussholz.
“Many months later I met [Chabad on Campus executive vice president] Rabbi Yossy Gordon at a dinner. He told me about the amazing work he was doing, assisting emissaries to do their job at the highest performance level that they can, and we decided to make the Tefillin Bank,” he continued. “I saw a tremendous opportunity to help students to get a pair [that they can call their own].”
Sussholz effusively praised Gordon, Weinstein “and the entire Chabad on Campus staff for their work and dedication.” He is confident that the students who receive new tefillin will continue to use them “for the rest of their lives, due to the level of commitment required, and that will keep them connected to their heritage.”
“Recently, I have been helping and encouraging my Jewish housemates to use tefillin, and a few are trying to do it daily,” said Burns. “If we are able to keep this up, I will encourage them to get their own pair.”