Reb Yonah Leib, a chasid of Reb Ahrele Karliner, passed away suddenly, leaving behind a wife and five-year-old son. Before the year was out, his wife had also died—of grief and anguish, leaving behind a six-year-old child orphaned of both parents. The boy had a difficult and unstable childhood, drifting from house to house and never finding a permanent place to call home. Eventually he ended up living on the streets, and by the age of 16 was working for a non-Jew helping him deliver packages to and from Kiev. After working for him for several months, he became acquainted with his boss’ daughter and decided that he wanted to marry her. He discussed it with his employer, who agreed on one condition: He would have to convert. The boy readily agreed and a wedding date was set.
When the news reached the Karliner chasidim that Reb Yonah Leib’s son was converting and marrying a non-Jew they ran to inform the Rebbe. Reb Ahrele immediately instructed his gabbai to go fetch the boy, as he wanted to speak to him. The boy, however, refused to go along when he was summoned. He knew exactly what the Rebbe was planning to do and didn’t want him to try to thwart his plans. After much convincing and being told that the Rebbe only wanted to speak to him briefly, he agreed to visit the Rebbe the following day.
The next morning the Rebbe told his chasidim he would wait until the boy arrived, after which he would pray Shacharis. When the boy showed up, Reb Ahrele asked him if he wouldn’t mind waiting because the hour was late and he had not yet davened. The boy agreed and sat down. Reb Ahrele took out his siddur and began to daven in his presence, enunciating every word clearly. The boy listened as Reb Ahrele chanted, “L’olam yehei adam yerei shamayim baseiser—A person should always have fear of heaven,” continuing on saying each word with deep emotion until he ended off with Aleinu.
When the Rebbe was done he sat down and looked the boy straight in the eye. “Vus zugstu—What do you say?” he asked softly. The boy looked back and with deep emotion replied, “Ich zug az ich bleib du—I say that I’m going to stay here.” For three years the boy didn’t move from Reb Ahrele’s side. At every tish he sat at the head table to the Rebbe’s right. Finally, after three years the Rebbe told him, “You are now ready to go out on your own.” The boy moved on, got married and built a beautiful Jewish home.