One may think that life on a hilltop in the heart of Israel is a world away from Manali, India. However, Naomi Bakosh, who recently returned from serving as a Chabad Emissary in Northern India, believes that her life living on a mountain in Judea and Samaria prepared her to serve in India.
“Living on a hilltop, we were used to having minimal electricity and muddy dirt roads. We were used to the lifestyle of many Indians already.”
Bakosh was born in Kiryat Arba, but when she was a child, she also lived in America for a few years. When she turned 18, Bakosh did her national service in Tel Aviv, as a youth counselor. As an adult, she lived on a hilltop known as Givot Olam in Samaria, where she would meet her future husband Menachem. There, on that hilltop, Naomi worked as a shepherd on an organic farm. It was there that Naomi decided that she would be part of the Chabad Movement. Menachem was part of Chabad, as well, and they decided they would spend their lives spreading light around the world together.
Chabad is an Orthodox Jewish Hasidic movement which is famously known for its outreach activities. With 3,300 Chabad centers in over 70 countries, they provide Jewish services for all different types of Jews traveling around the world.
Based on Naomi’s experience working on the farm, she always had a very strong faith in G-d. For this reason, she felt a special calling to serve as a light unto the nations. So when a friend informed her of an opening in the Chabad House in Manali, Bakosh and her husband, along with their five children, set off to India for six months in order to run the Chabad House.
As Jewish people, we don’t actively seek converts, but we believe our duty is to be a light unto the nations. It is a major component of our reason for being in this world.
Isaiah 46:6 proclaims, “I will make you a light unto the nations, so that my salvation shall be till the end of the earth.”
In other words, the message that Judaism has to offer should reach across the globe and not be merely confined to the State of Israel for Judaism has a universal message: the belief in one G-d and of every human being doing “tikun olam,” making the world a better place.
For this reason, even though there is a scarcity of clean drinking water in India, Naomi and Menachem did not hesitate taking on this mission.
“With the Chabad house, we were able to offer Shabbat and holiday services for all different types of Jews from around the world, who were traveling through India. It didn’t matter if they were observant or not, leftist or right wing, we all came together to practice our faith.”
Bakosh also mentioned an experience they had with a girl whose brother passed away while she was in India. The family did not want to wait for her to get home for the funeral so Naomi made a funeral service for her brother in the Chabad House.
However, Jewish travelers were not the only ones to benefit from the existence of a Chabad House in Northern India. Many local Indian businessmen economically benefited from Chabad recommending them to the visiting Israeli tourists.
Furthermore, Bakosh noted that her husband is an EMT and there were times in India where his help was needed.
“One day an Indian boy ran into the Chabad house asking for our help, pointing to the river. My husband threw on his medical vest, ran down to the river and found a boy who had drowned. He had no heartbeat, so Menachem immediately started CPR. Thanks to the Almighty he was able to bring the boy back to life. It was such a blessing that he was there to help!”
Bakosh emphasized that all of her interactions with the people of India were positive. She noted that the Indian population really loves Chabad. They loved the children and would always offer them free gifts. Naomi also found it interesting that a lot of Indians actually speak Hebrew, since many Israelis visit there.
Bakosh expressed that many people were inspired by their generosity, even if they were not Jewish themselves.
“We believe that all humans are created in the image of G-d and it is crucial to care for all people, no matter what their ethnicity or nationality is.”
However, not everything was always rosy.
“One time, we had a sad case of a disturbed Israeli man who showed up at our door. He must have overdosed on something. We had to take care of him for five days, 24 hours a day. It was very difficult for my husband and I. He tried to jump off a roof. He tried to stab himself. We had to tie him down so that he wouldn’t hurt himself or others. We got his brother to come pick him up and bring him back to Israel. He and his family were so thankful for our help.”
Other Israeli backpackers got injured while climbing rural areas of India and Chabad provided them with crucial medical assistance.
“Once, my husband went on a trek in order to save a girl that was having trouble breathing. He found her, treated her symptoms and then had to take her down the mountain by horse. She got better but before Shabbat, she was having trouble breathing again, so we tried to get a helicopter to take her to Delhi, which has good hospitals. Only on Shabbat morning when she could not breathe anymore did they bring the helicopter. We were forced to travel on Shabbat, when we had 400 guests over at the house, but it was a very special experience to save the life of this Jewish woman.”
Bakosh shared another miraculous moment when a man fell 40 meters into a waterfall and they managed to hike to where he was by foot, carrying a heavy oxygen tank.
“It was a real miracle that he survived!”
Isaiah 42:5-7 declares, “I will set you a covenant to the people, for a light to the nations, to open blind eyes, to remove a prisoner from confinement.”
Bakosh believes that we have a duty to show the world the truth and to liberate humanity from falsehoods, which imprison mankind mentally inside of the darkness that surrounds them. As the great Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Kook wrote, “The purely righteous do not complain of the dark, but increase the light; they do not complain of evil, but increase justice; they do not complain of heresy, but increase faith; they do not complain of ignorance, but increase wisdom.” Their strong faith is what gave Naomi and her husband the patience and endurance needed in order to take care of others in India.
“Nations shall go by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine.” (Isaiah 60:3)
(Rachel Avraham participated in writing this article.)