A Chassid’s Art
By Ohad Bar-Sela

After completing the background I went up the ladder to begin the painting itself. Suddenly I felt an electric charge go through me from head to toe, as though I had touched an electric cable. I held tightly to the ladder, and when I calmed down somewhat, I went down and sat off to the side. That’s when I began feeling a tremendous urge to put on t’fillin.* We present the story of a Jew who has experienced dozens of miracles, had two remarkable dreams, and became mekushar to one Rebbe...

"He’s really a special Jew," said my friend. "It really pays to meet him and hear what he has to say."

The truth is I had already bumped into him a number of times in 770. He’s always among the Tmimim, learning, farbrenging, dancing, and constantly smiling. One night I sat down to learn Rambam in a corner of the large beis midrash in 770, when I heard his voice. I listened in, heard the l’chaim’s and the niggunim, and when he began relating his story of hiskashrus to the Rebbe MH"M, I knew I had to share this fascinating story with our readers…

"My name is Dovid Rimer, and I live in Givat Geula" (actually Givat Olga, which has the same letters in Hebrew)," he introduced himself with a broad smile. We shook hands and the conversation ensued.

I asked him what he did, and he told me he worked as an artist for the city council of Chadera.

"Where did you study art?" I asked.

"In the best school," Rimer answered proudly. "By HaKadosh Baruch Hu," he laughed. "Hashem gave me natural talent."

"I was born in Romania, and began drawing when I was in elementary school. I would sometimes confound my teachers when I would touch up their drawings on the board. After some years, my family moved to Eretz Yisroel and lived in Bnei Brak. Many new immigrants lived in the neighborhood who were not all observant. I joined the local chevra and slowly abandoned Jewish life. I later married and moved to Givat Olga, where I worked as a painter. I had no connection to religion at that time.

"Days passed and I saw that I wasn’t managing to make a living. Somebody offered me a job at the city council in the department that paints sidewalks and crosswalks. At that time I was a fanatical right winger and the mayor, who was from Likud, encouraged me to take the job so he would have support within the council, too. I still hesitated. What convinced me to accept the job was the fire that broke out in my warehouses that consumed all my materials – a tremendous loss.

"So I began painting sidewalks and crosswalks. One day the city had an impressive event. We put up a large stage and the council invited a private contractor to hire artists to draw the design for the dais. The manager noticed my talent and sent me to help them with drawing and painting.

"At first the professional artists laughed, but when I began drawing they realized I was a professional. It was a huge painting depicting the twelve tribes, meant to express the array of types and backgrounds among the Jews of Eretz Yisroel. It turned out that I painted most of it, and since then, the council has a department for events with its own artist."

How did you come to Chabad?

Rimer looked towards the Rebbe’s bima and said:

"Seven years ago, I traveled with some friends to the wedding of a friend who worked with us for the city council. After the wedding we went to a cafe where we would meet from time to time. Suddenly one of the guys, Yitzchok, stopped and said that since he was a baal t’shuva now, and the cafe wasn’t kosher, did we mind going to a kosher cafe across the street? We figured why not accommodate a friend?

"We sat in the cafe and talked when Yitzchok drew our attention to a famous picture of the Rebbe waving, which was hung on the wall. We looked at the picture and then Yitzchok asked me whether I saw something in the Rebbe’s hand. I looked, and said I saw nothing.

"Yitzchok brought the picture to the table and asked me to take another look since I was an artist and I certainly saw things others did not. I looked at the picture again closely, and then said I saw the face of a baby in the Rebbe’s palm. Yitzchok jumped up, shocking everybody sitting there, and asked me to show him the baby. I showed him the lines composing the face and then he relaxed and that was that.

"A few weeks later I dreamed that I was in a large, desolate desert. There was a Bedouin tent nearby. Suddenly an unfamiliar person handed me a baby and told me to watch it closely and to make sure to feed him. I asked in confusion how I could feed it in a place like this, and the person answered that I had a sign on the pinky of my left hand.

"I awoke, confused, and checked my left pinky and saw nothing. I tried to relax by thinking it was nothing but a strange dream, when I suddenly remembered that I knew that baby – it was the baby from the Rebbe’s hand.

"The next day I told the dream to the boys at work, and aside from the religious ones, nobody got excited about it. I kept thinking about the odd dream, and wracked my brains to come up with an interpretation. After some days, I found a solution that pleased me, and this is what I told my friends:

"My being in a desert symbolized my life and my livelihood, which were dry like a desert, without the moisture of Torah or Judaism. The black Bedouin tent symbolized to me the fact that I ate, drank, and did whatever I pleased, but my life was darkness. The baby I received was none other than myself, and if I watched over it, it would be as though I were born anew. However, I had to feed the baby with Torah and mitzvos. The pinky indicated that I had to begin with the little finger, and Hashem would open a whole world for me.

"You have to remember that I explained all this after thirty years of being very far from Torah and mitzvos! My religious friends were impressed by the interpretation and were sure that I would quickly become a baal t’shuva. But that’s not what happened. I actually went back to life as usual and it was as though nothing had happened."

Rimer was silent for a moment and then continued.

"After a few weeks, the city council of Chadera began to work on the festivals of the summer of 1994. One summer day, early in the morning, I went with my assistant to the forest of Chadera, where the crew had erected a huge dais I was supposed to paint. We began to paint the background of the picture and then two friends came over and said that on the radio they were reporting a tremendous gathering of Chassidim around the Lubavitcher Rebbe... It was Gimmel Tammuz.

"It didn’t mean much to me, and I continued painting. After we finished the background, I went up a tall ladder in order to begin the actual drawing. Suddenly I felt a tremendous jolt of electricity pass through me from head to toe as though I had touched an electric cable. I grabbed onto the ladder, and after I had calmed down somewhat I descended and sat off to the side to get over the fright. I sat by myself, thinking. That was when I began to feel a great urge to put on t’fillin.

"After thirty years without t’fillin, I suddenly felt such a great desire that I couldn’t stop myself. I have no explanation for it. I told my assistant that I had to leave unexpectedly. I told him I’d be back, but I didn’t know when. ‘When I get back, I’ll finish the painting,’ I told him.

"I went home and had no idea where to get t’fillin. I remembered that my son had received t’fillin as a bar mitzva gift, but he hadn’t been using them for a while, either. I looked in his room for his t’fillin, and after a long search I found old and very small t’fillin. I remembered that you are supposed to wrap the strap seven times around the arm, but to my dismay the strap ended in the middle of the sixth. I removed the t’fillin and left for the bank, firmly resolved to buy t’fillin mehudaros.

"At the bank I reminded myself that the week before I had come to withdraw 50 shekel from my account, so that I’d have money on me, but the teller didn’t allow me to do so. She said that only when my salary would be deposited would I be able to withdraw the money. Now here I was coming to withdraw 1,000 shekel!?

"I was upset and I felt my throat tightening up. A prayer suddenly burst forth from my heart and I said to Hashem: ‘Hashem, do me this favor. I’m not asking for money for nonsense. I’m asking for this for Your sake. So please do me a favor and arrange that I get the approval.’

"I entered the bank and went to a teller. She asked me how much money I wanted to withdraw, and although I had been thinking of asking for 1,000 shekel, I found myself blurting out ‘2,000 shekel.’

"To my amazement, she didn’t seem surprised by my nerve despite my existing overdraft. She simply explained that the management of the bank had instated a new policy whereby those with savings accounts would be given a larger line of credit in order to make life easier for them.

"I nearly fainted. Hashem Himself had enlarged my credit. As soon as I got the money I went to a Judaica store in the center of town. I was told there are various price levels depending on the quality of the t’fillin. I bought t’fillin mehudaros, a siddur, and a tallis. I also bought tzitzis and a black kippa, which I put on while still in the store.

"I went back to the Chadera forest, pleased with myself and my new tallis and t’fillin. When I got there I didn’t find my assistant or the equipment. He must have thought I suddenly went crazy, bolting in the middle of the job. He had no idea when I would return, so he brought all the stuff back to the warehouse.

"When I got to the warehouse, the guys were stunned into silence by my kippa and tzitzis. The manager jokingly said, ‘Rimer, why are you in costume? It’s not Purim today!’

"I said with a smile that I wasn’t in costume, but I was dressed as a Jew. If anybody was in costume, it was them. The religious workers surrounded me and offered me their support. Things slowly quieted down and I went into the storage room to put on t’fillin for the first time in my life."

* * *

Rimer took a sip of coffee and said, "Now we get to the part about me and the Rebbe, which happened with the help of Rabbi Shaul Axelrod, the shaliach in Givat Olga."

"Rabbi Shaul Axelrod lived in the building opposite mine, and he saw that I was getting more involved in Yiddishkeit. One day we met on the street. R’ Shaul invited me to daven at his shul. I happily agreed and began davening there every Shabbos. Later on, it became an official Chabad shul.

"Then we arranged a Chassidus shiur every morning, and I learned about the meaning of life, hashgacha pratis, and other things which interested me greatly and which I personally experienced. We also learned inyanei Moshiach and Geula.

"One day, I told Rabbi Axelrod about a few problems I had. He suggested I check my t’fillin and mezuzos. That evening I brought him my mezuzos and said there was no need to check the t’fillin since they were new. Rabbi Axelrod looked at the mezuzos and explained that the mezuzos were very small and it didn’t pay to use them. We agreed that he would order new, beautiful mezuzos for me.

"Two days later, R’ Shaul came to put up the new mezuzos in my home. That night, my mother, a’h, appeared to me in a dream. This was the first time I had seen her since she had passed away three years before. I saw her holding a cake with the letter Shin on it. Near my mother stood a tree in a grassy area, and near the tree stood a man covered from head to toe in white, davening fervently.

"I asked my mother how she was allowed to get around when she had died. She said that now she was allowed to, without explaining. She offered me some cake and I explained that I could not eat it.

"My mother asked me to just take a taste of the Shin in the center of the cake. ‘It’s very sweet,’ she added. I asked her who the man was davening on the side, but she said she didn’t know. She asked whether I knew him, and I said I didn’t, and then I woke up.

It was another strange dream, and again I spent a great deal of time trying to interpret it in a way that satisfied me. I finally concluded as follows: Since I had begun t’shuva, she said that now she was permitted to "get around." (Who knows where she was until then.) The person davening I believe was an angel created by my merits. I realized this when the fellows at work explained that every good deed creates a good angel. But I just couldn’t make sense of the Shin.

"Although I had exchanged the mezuzos I still had the same problems I had complained about earlier. I asked Rabbi Axelrod about it again, and again he said I should check my t’fillin, despite the fact that they were new. I gave him the t’fillin and waited for his report. It turned out that the new t’fillin were pasul! Rabbi Axelrod ordered a new pair of beautiful t’fillin for me.

"When I took out the t’fillin shel rosh for the first time, I noticed that the Shin on it was exactly the same as the one in my dream. That’s when I understood my mother’s request that I taste the Shin."

* * *

"Every Thursday night we have a class on the weekly Dvar Malchus, and then we have a farbrengen. The first time I participated, Rabbi Klonymous Kupchik, a shaliach from nearby Chadera, was there. When he saw me, he became very excited that I had gotten involved in Yiddishkeit. He still remembered me as a painter of crosswalks. At that time he would stand near me and talk to me about Yiddishkeit.

"I told my personal story at that farbrengen, with all the miracles and dreams. I joined the Chabad community and I try to help out the local Chabad Houses – R’ Axelrod’, R’ Kupchik, R’ Menachem Tal and others, with hafatzas ha’Yahadus."

Has the Chabad house enjoyed your paintings?

Definitely. A few months ago, we made a big event for the beginning of the writing of a seifer Torah in the merit of the revelation of the Rebbe MH"M. We erected a huge stage, and in the background I drew a huge painting depicting the Geula. I drew rays of the sun with a Torah in the center, along with mountains and the ocean, with the Shor HaBar and the Leviasan nearby, and a bottle of Yayin HaMeshumar.

I was also able to help the Chabad preschool in Chadera, which is run by Rabbi Butman, where I drew the ten mivtzaim and pictures of Geula on the walls.

Are you able to combine Jewish ideas in your work as an artist?

I really try. Take Purim as an example. Each year I drew witches and clowns. After I did t’shuva I drew Shushan HaBira, and Haman leading Mordechai on the horse and calling out before him, "Thus is done..." While painting it, I explained to my friends what the picture was all about, telling them the story of the Megilla. That was the first time they heard of the true significance of the holiday.

How do your co-workers relate to you, now that you’ve done t’shuva?

At first it was hard for them to get used to it, and they didn’t want to listen to me. But now I speak with all of them about Chassidus and Moshiach. Even those who laughed at me at first stop me and ask me for some thought from the Rebbe on the parsha. With the help of my mashpia, R’ Axelrod, I give out inyanei Moshiach and Geula every week.

What are you busy with now?

This year I merited to visit 770 for the first time, which was an elevating experience.

Right now we’re raising money in order to complete the seifer Torah, which will be brought to the Chabad shul in Givat Geula. This is how we’re preparing for the revelation of the Rebbe MH"M.

* * *

One Boy With Kippa And Tzitzis

In my work as an artist for the city council, they constantly bring me to different locations to paint something appropriate to the event. Last Lag B’Omer I was supposed to paint something for a central location in town. The manager of the project asked me to paint boys and girls building a bonfire. He took me and my equipment, and we went to the spot where the stage was being prepared.

What I actually drew was a boy wearing a black kippa and tzitzis, holding a bow and arrow. A fire burned on the tip of the arrow and it looked as though the boy was aiming the arrow towards the bonfire in order to ignite it. After a few hours I finished the picture and gazed at it with satisfaction.

That’s when the manager walked in, took one look, and stood there stunned. After he recovered, he turned to me angrily and said, "I asked you to draw boys and girls, and you drew a religious picture. This is for the city council of Chadera, not a beit knesset!"

I told him not to be angry, and that I had drawn boys and girls as he had requested.

"So where are they then?" sputtered the manager. "All I see is one boy with kippa and tzitzis!"

I smiled and said, "Apparently the children went to gather wood..."

That’s how the children of Chadera came to enjoy an authentic Jewish scene.


‘Rimer, why are you in costume? It’s not Purim today!’

I said with a smile that I wasn’t in costume, but I was dressed as a Jew. If anybody was in costume, it was them.

The religious workers surrounded me and offered me their support. Things slowly quieted down and I went into the storage room to put on t’fillin for the first time in my life.



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