This past Friday night something truly beautiful and magnificent happened to me and two friends. But in order to truly understand the beauty and magnificence of this story, you’d have to know what happened that fateful Shabbat in Tel Aviv, tibane v’tikonen, as well as in the Quad that festive Friday night last year. So I’ll start with the Tel Aviv story, which is what inspired much of what happened since then.
In between high school and college, I studied abroad in Israel for the year, in Yeshivat haKotel. The head of the Yeshiva was Rav Mordechai (Motti) Elon, and while he was the head of the Yeshiva, he also happened to be the religious head of, ya know, most of Israel. Anyway, so he instituted that every year on Parshat Zachor, the week before Purim, the Yeshiva as a whole would go to Tel Aviv for a Shabbaton. So, on one fine Friday afternoon, around 250 people trekked up to Tel Aviv, including the Israelis, kollel families, rebbeim, chutznikim and Rav Elon and his famly. We all stayed at different locations (we ‘yeshiva bochrim’ stayed on the floor in some empty school), and on our way to our meeting point, we danced together through the streets of Tel Aviv. After meeting up and dancing in kikar Rabin, we split off into different groups and went to daven kabbalat Shabbat with and liven up various little batei kinesset in the area. Then we all had dinner together in some shul.
And then it began.
Following dinner, they split us into groups of four people, gave us a bottle or two of wine and sent us off. Three Israeli friends of mine and myself started walking down the streets. We wandered into different apartment buildings and knocked on some random doors. To be fair, only around two-thirds of the time did people answer, but when they did answer, almost all of them went well. None of them were ‘dati’ per se but they all were so pleased to be making kiddush with us and some even joined in. Oh right, that’s what we were doing – making kiddush. But that’s the beauty of it, we were just meeting people, over a delicious cup of Israeli wine and some words of sanctification. And when we would knock on the doors, we said simply that we were some guys coming by to say Shabbat Shalom, to spend some time and to share kiddush with them. And so it wasn’t about getting them to do a mitzvah, or getting them to say a certain formula; while that was the means for the encounter, the point was that heart to heart encounter in and of itself.
And people loved it – they appreciated it, they would stand respectfully when we made kiddush and they were more than happy to engage in conversation with us. Some of them were single twenty-somethings, some were elderly ladies and one consisted of a large family gathering, but they were all Jewish and they were all overjoyed by this display of care. We were welcomed into one young couple’s apartment where they were watching T.V. over dinner and so when we got to asking them if they wanted us to make kiddush for them, they asked whether they should turn off their T.V. In a beautiful flow of events, we said that it didn’t really matter, and we said kiddush together over the hum of the T.V. – it was perhaps one of the most special kiddushim that I ever made. And that family gathering- oh man! It turns out one of the patriarch’s son’s and his wife had won some ‘The Real Life’-esqu show, and the Israeli’s I was with new that they were famous, and the family couldn’t get over the fact that I was from NYC. We ended up talking to them for around half-an-hour, drinking a little (water) and we just chilled. Finally, after a few hours walking and talking around, when we finished the wine and/or the cups (we helped out a bit on our own ;-), we made out way back to some shul for the tail-end of a Rav Elon tisch.
In retrospect, that was perhaps one of the greatest Shabbatot of my life – getting to share the beauty, peace, and friendliness of Shabbat and Judaism with Jews in Tel Aviv who thought true Judaism was only for Chareidim who hated them. And here we were, dati yeshiva students, going out of our way to meet these simple, but yet so holy Jews, in a meeting of minds, faces, and hearts. And that’s what was so powerful about it, the simple but yet deep encounter that occurred, brought about by the sanctity of Shabbat, and powerfully impacting on all parties involved. For them – they said it was amazing to see people like us doing this and they truly appreciated it, and for me – to see the way they responded to this presentation of Judaism and how much they respected, honored and loved the Shabbat and its messengers. It was from that Shabbat onwards, that I began to dream of living in Tel Aviv (anyone wanna join me?) and being able to share with people those feelings of achdut (brothergood), mutual respect, and a love for Judaism.
It also inspired me enough to try some of these methods out on my own… For more on that, stay tuned for the next installment of the series – last year’s story (a.k.a. the introduction to the redemption of last year’s kiddush story)