Time and time again, I am amazed at the disparity of knowledge that I find among the non-observant Israelis I meet. At one end of the spectrum, there are the cab drivers who are as familiar with Tanach as the back of their hand, and can quote from it with the ease of a rosh yeshivah. At the other end of the spectrum, unfortunately, there are Israelis who have never in their lives been to the Kosel, celebrate Christmas, and don’t even know how to say Sh’ma.
Someone I worked with once told me that he believed the reason we fast on Yom Kippur is to commemorate the Yom Kippur war. Ouch! I’m not talking about people who are anti-religious. That’s a whole different story. I’m talking about people who have lived in Israel their entire lives yet somehow have managed to evade exposure to anyone or anything connected to Yiddishkeit. I don’t even understand how this is possible. I do believe things are changing for the better, however. The kiruv movement is in full swing, and many Israelis are thirsty and searching for more meaning in their lives. There are Torah classes that are well attended even by secular Israelis, and many moshavim have opened their doors to religious Jews who come to give them a taste of Torah. Despite all the anti-religious rhetoric that is so sadly prevalent in certain segments of Israeli society, the baal t’shuvah movement is growing by leaps and bounds. Despite the aggressive attempts to change the religious status quo by various movements from outside Israel, most Israelis have no interest in the inroads they are trying to make. But with all that, as sad as it may be, there are still Israelis who lack the most basic knowledge of and connection to the beauty of Yiddishkeit. It’s for this reason that I am often so pleasantly surprised when I see the pintele Yid appear in the most unexpected of places.
One day, my family went to the pier in Herzliya to spend an afternoon when we were all on vacation. After searching unsuccessfully for a parking spot on the street, we decided to pull into a lot. As is typical, there was a security guard stationed at the entrance to the lot. In this particular case, the guard was a very sweet Ethiopian young man. Before inspecting our car, he asked us if we had any weapons with us. We’ve been asked this question innumerable times and, as always, we responded in the negative. Suddenly, a perplexed expression appeared on his face. “What do you mean you have no weapons?” he asked. “Of course, you have weapons! You have Torah u’mitzvot, don’t you?” Who could argue with that? He was proud as a peacock and we happily stood corrected.
Another time, my husband and I went to Kever Rachel as we do our best to go every month on Yom Kippur Katan. As soon as we drove up to the check point, we were greeted by a charming chayelet. There was nothing about her that indicated that she was religious in any way. But, of course, this was Israel and things are often not as they seem. The chayelet immediately asked us if we wanted to do a mitzvah. This was not the question we expected to hear, nor did we have any idea which mitzvah she could possibly have had in mind. As it turns out, there were two yeshivah boys standing at the checkpoint. They had come to Kever Rachel without a car. The only way one is permitted to travel from the check point down to the parking lot is by car. She asked if we wouldn’t mind doing a mitzvah and taking the boys down with us. Of course, we were very happy to oblige.
Someone we know was returning home to Israel from a trip in the United States. He expected to breeze right through passport control, as he always does whenever he travels, but the secular-looking clerk in the booth said something that made him stop in his tracks. When she noticed, based on the stamps in his passport, that this was not the only trip to chutz la’Aretz that he had made in recent months, she asked, “Don’t you want to be here when Mashiach comes?”
A couple we know was invited to sheva brachos in Yerushalayim. They had recently had a problem with their car and needed a jumpstart, which took a bit of time. Assuming that it was a one-time occurrence, they got into their car to set out for Yerushalayim. Unfortunately, their car was dead, so they ended up taking a cab in both directions. On the way back, the wife asked the driver if he would be willing to give their car a boost when they got home. As soon as she made the request, she regretted it and took it back, realizing that it could take too big a chunk of his time. And in the taxi business, time is money. The driver was totally relaxed and told her not to worry. “G’veret, parnasah comes from Hashem.” She was floored. The icing on the cake was that just when he finished giving their car the boost, the couple’s neighbor came out and needed a cab. She did not have to go far. And the driver smiled with a twinkle in his eye, as his words were confirmed on the spot. “You see, g’veret? Parnasah comes from Hashem!”
Although we live in a time that attacks on the Torah world come from so many directions, the pintele Yid, the Jewish spark, continues to reside in the heart of every Jew. For some, the spark burns bright; for others, it is waiting to be ignited. But it is always there, where we expect to see it and where we don’t. B’ezras Hashem, we will inspire each other and spread the fire among us until we shine in one great flame as the Or LaGoyim that we are meant to be.
Suzie (nee Schapiro) Steinberg grew up in Kew Gardens Hills. She works as a social worker and lives with her husband and children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.