Reb Aharon Zakon was a Chassidic bochur (Talmudic Student) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, which at the time of this story, in 1947, was part of the Soviet Union, when he received a visa to move to the United States of America.
While all of his teachers and the Chassidic community at large were happy for him (that he can leave the country and its vile and oppressive attitude towards religious Jews) they still harbored some fear about America. For decades the thought throughout the religious community in Russia and indeed the entire Europe was that the “Golden America” is not golden at all. If anything, it was referred to as the land that devours its inhabitants from their religious observances and attitudes.
America was known as the great melting pot, and unfortunately, tens of thousands of Jews became Americanized, and began dropping many aspects of Jewish life, customs and halacha.
So he wasn’t surprised that many of the elders of the community, while wishing him well, also admonished him to be extremely diligent in his observance of even changing the smallest iota of his conduct. The evil inclination is extremely sly and wise, today he will begin with the smallest and indeed a point that everyone will say is truly inconsequential, but once the person agrees to that change, other changes will follow.
One after the other gave him this message; some in very strong words, others with more tact and sensitivity, but the message was the same.
Towards the end, the venerable chossid Reb Yisroel Neveler, came over to him, embraced him and kissed him on the cheek and said; “Aharon, go in good health. Hashem shall be with you.”
Years later, Reb Aharon related to many: the words, although good intentioned were not what impacted me. It was the Chassidic kiss that remained warm on my cheek for my entire life. That gave me the strength to overcome many of the challenges I faced when I arrived here in America, [and let me tell you the challenges in those years, to Kashrus, Shabbos and a religious and especially a Chassidic lifestyle were indeed formidable].”
I, the author, had the opportunity to hear him numerous times review a Chassidic discourse and what a pleasure it was. He certainly was not changed by America.
So let us empower our children with this message. In a time that distractions and internal pain are a tremendous struggle, they have the unique ability to overcome the hardships of the 21st century.