I arrived at the address where someone had requested a taxi. I honked but no one came out. I honked again, nothing. So I walked to the door and knocked. ‘Just a minute’, answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90’s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase.
The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets…There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.
‘Would you carry my bag out to the car?’ she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, and then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the cab. She kept thanking me for my kindness. ‘It’s nothing’, I told her. ‘I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated’. ‘Oh, you’re such a good boy’, she said.
When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, and then asked, ‘Could you drive through downtown?’ ‘It’s not the shortest way,’ I answered quickly. Oh, I don’t mind,’ she said. ‘I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to a hospice’. I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. ‘I don’t have any family left,’ she continued. ‘The doctor says I don’t have very long.’
I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. ‘What route would you like me to take?’ I asked.
For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.
Sometimes she’d ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, ‘I’m tired. Let’s go now’. We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. ‘How much do I owe you?’ she asked, reaching into her purse.’Nothing,’ I said.’You have to make a living,’ she answered. ‘There are other passengers,’ I responded.
Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.
‘You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,’ she said. ‘Thank you.’
I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.
I didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift?
What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? On a quick review, I don’t think that I have done anything more important in my life. We’re conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.
PEOPLE MAY NOT REMEMBER EXACTLY WHAT YOU DID, OR WHAT YOU SAID, BUT THEY WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER HOW YOU MADE THEM FEEL.
You might help make the world a little kinder and more compassionate by sending it on.
Thank you, my friend…
Life may not be the party we hoped for, but while we are here we might as well dance…
by Yosef Juarez – Aish.com
I was born in Honduras, 23 years ago, the oldest of four children. I lived in a neighborhood with all my cousins, on a street named after my mother’s ancestors. We attended a church that is non-denominational, but with a strong evangelical bent.
When I was three years old, I fell from the second story of my house and dropped head-first onto the concrete, fracturing my skull. I was rushed to the hospital and wasn’t moving at all, just gazing off into the distance. The situation was very grave. But then something strange happened. The next day, it was as if nothing had happened. The doctor ordered new x-rays, and there was no sign of any damage — no fracture, not even a scratch.
Due to this, our family grew as religious Christians, and throughout my life I was focused on the service of God.
When I was eight years old, we moved to America, which offered better financial opportunities. We settled in a suburb of Houston and looked around for a good church to attend, but nothing seemed as good as what we had back in Honduras.
Our old church was based in Honduras, but has branches in U.S. cities that have a sizable Central American and Hispanic population. So together with one other family, we requested that the church send us a minister. They sent us a man named Hector Flores, who at the time was still training to be a minister. And that’s how our Houston church started — in one room in a house.
Minister Flores was fascinated with the Holy Temple, and its predecessor the Tabernacle (Mishkan). He had access to books and resources, and he started teaching Torah ideas that were unique in a Christian setting. We would spend months and months delving into aspects of the Torah.
The church membership grew steadily, as we were very outreach-oriented. The city was divided up into districts and groups, and we would literally go out into the streets and preach to people. During high school, I studied in my church’s discipleship program, where they train young people in leadership skills and how to preach. We’d bring people into the church and provide them with family counseling and programs for all ages. It functioned very much like a family. And we would train the new members to reach out and bring more people to church.
Of course, people who came to our church for the first time would wonder why we were discussing Jewish topics, and not preaching so much about the typical teachings of Jesus. But Minister Flores continued on his unique path, and the church eventually split into two congregations. We got our own building and bought land to expand.
One of the unique customs of our church was something Minister Flores called “festivals of consecration.” These were patterned after the festivals in the Torah, where people would bring large donations to fund the church activities. From there it was constant small steps toward Torah: the obligation to tithe, where we’d give 10 percent of our income to church activities. After a while our festivals got assigned Jewish names, like Purim and Shavuot, corresponding to the Jewish holiday they fell close to.
This was definitely not consistent with mainstream Christianity. And the closer we got to Torah, the more some congregants became uncomfortable and started to drop out. It was a filtering process.
Unbeknownst to us, behind the scenes, Minister Flores was going through an intense personal transition. After much research, he discovered many inconsistencies and contradictions in the New Testament, making the tenets of Christianity untenable.
Minister Flores started secretly going to a rabbi, to pester him with questions. Then he’d come back and teach us, slowly getting us closer and closer to Judaism.
Soon after, Minister Flores made the decision to convert to Judaism. But he struggled to find a way to tell us, as he didn’t want to tear down Christianity without being able to offer us an alternative. So he kept teaching Torah, but in a way that was as subtle as possible. He gradually peeled away the things that were wrong and got us closer to Torah. Our church started replacing Jesus’ name with Jewish, Hebrew names of God, and the songs became Hebrew songs. We began to incorporate real Jewish traditions into our festivals, and we even got a Torah scroll for the church.
At that point we resembled more of a Jews for Jesus group, in the sense that we were Christians with a lot of Jewish traditions. The difference, of course, was that we were moving in the direction toward authentic Judaism, not the other way around.
During this process, our biggest resource for information was Aish.com, and its Spanish sister site. At one point the church printed out reams of Aish.com articles on all the holidays, and gave a binder of these articles to each family.
Some of the church members became resistant to all these changes, and a number of people dropped out. There were occasional confrontations where people would question the minister, “How far are you going with all this?” And he would simply answer, “As far as the Torah takes us.”
About six months after Minister Flores made the private decision to convert, my mother had been at a Jewish bookstore and bought the book, “The Real Messiah” by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan. This book lays out all the evidence for why Jews don’t believe in Jesus, in a very scholarly and convincing way. We found that a lot of Christian teachings were based on mistranslations or taking biblical verses out of context.
So my mother suspected there was more to this “Torah teaching” than the minister had been letting on.
Every Sunday after services, the entire congregation would go together to the park. One Sunday, my mother confronted the minister: “You know more than you’re telling us, don’t you.” He would never lie or deny such a direct question, so he saw this was the right time to reveal his plan to convert. That Sunday, we all stayed at the park for hours and hours, discussing and explaining, until long after dark.
At that point, about 100 people wanted to keep studying with the possibility of conversion. But many others took the choice of becoming Bnei Noach, following the seven pillars of human civilization that the Torah presents for non-Jews to observe. Minister Flores explained that any human being who faithfully observes these laws earns a proper place in heaven, and this was an appealing alternative for many church members.
My mother, however, wanted to stick with the group who was interested in conversion. So we kept on learning, and eventually our group decided to attend Shabbat services. So one Saturday morning our entire congregation showed up at the United Orthodox Synagogues. It was a bit of a shock to the community, because such a huge influx upset the social balance. But the leader of the synagogue, Rabbi Joseph Radinsky, was like an angel to us; his kindness and sincerity is clear to anyone who knows him.
When they saw things were serious, the Houston community sent a Spanish-speaking rabbi, Jose Gomez, to help each family clarify the right path. (He himself had converted 10 years earlier in Houston along with his entire family — parents, siblings, aunts and uncles.) As expected, all of this caused a real stir in the Christian community in Houston.
First in the Family
Minister Flores was amongst the first to convert, and since then many of our church members have converted, while others are in the process. My own conversion was finalized a year ago, and my mother and siblings are still in the process. I chose the name “Yosef” because in the Bible, Joseph was the first of his family to go down to Egypt. He established himself and was able to help bring the rest of his family along. My mother says that in our path to conversion, I have been sent ahead as our family’s “Yosef.”
After my conversion, I came to Israel and was really amazed. I saw a variety of Jews, and a whole different side of Judaism. There was something special about everything. I even found myself taking pictures of grass and rocks! I felt truly Jewish for the first time.
I started doing research into my roots, because I knew that this awakening to Judaism comes from a very deep place. I found out that on a voyage to the New World in 1502, Christopher Columbus reached the Bay Islands on the coast of Honduras, which became part of the Spanish empire. Jews undoubtedly came to Honduras at this time, on the heels of the Spanish Inquisition when many Jews “converted to Christianity” but secretly remained Jewish. I’m anxious to find out more about my ancestors, but it’s very hard to track.
So where am I today? I am studying at the Aish HaTorah yeshiva in the Old City of Jerusalem and I love it. I’m so enthusiastic about everything that I learn, and cannot wait to share it with all my friends and family back home. At this point, my plans for the future are pretty open. I want to continue to study Torah, finish my undergraduate degree, and see what opportunities develop.
But one thing I know for sure: I am committed to reaching out to my fellow Jews. If I was fortunate enough to discover this gold mine of spiritual wealth and fulfillment, then those who were born Jewish surely must be given that opportunity. And who knows — just as Aish.com spurred my Jewish growth, maybe this article will be the spark that someone else has been waiting for.
23 December, 2009
Thank you for taking a moment to read this personal letter. I know you get a lot of email from us throughout the year, yet this letter may be the most important one we will send, so please indulge us in this one page note.
As we approach the end of 2009, I want to thank you, on behalf of Chaya and all our incredible volunteers of Chabad Prospect Heights, for all your warm comments, suggestions and responses to our weekly e-mails, on-line offerings and general programs. I also want to express our appreciation to those of you that have financially supported our vital work to educate and inspire people throughout brownstone Brooklyn with our programs.
While the year 2009 is not likely to go down in history as this country’s finest, it is perhaps now safe to say that things did not turn out to be quite as catastrophic as many had predicted. And although this recession seems far from over, the silver linings are beginning to show themselves. People are reprioritizing. There is a new awareness that money can come and go; stocks can rise and fall; but the good we do for others, the education we give our children, the relationships we build and the wisdom we acquire — are forever.
At Chabad Prospect Heights, we have fostered this awareness by keeping all of our outreach and educational programs going strong – in spite of the downturn – and by launching new programs to help those most severely affected by it. (Not a single vital Chabad program was cut due to the recession.) Emergency assistance to hungry and destitute families is at an all time high. And the joyful faces we are greeted with every day are a testament to the Jewish warmth and pride that permeates our community by way of the numerous opportunities we provide.
As we close out our books on 2009, we are still in the red. Rather than carry this debt over into the new fiscal year, we are asking friends like you to step up and help put us in the black. WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW! Your support and partnership is vital.
Please do a timely mitzvah.
There are still 8 days left to the end of the calendar year. Please click here to make a secure tax-deductible on-line donation or you can mail your donation to the address below, or call us at 347.787.0864
May you and your loved ones be blessed with G-d’s blessings for all that is good and joyous. Thank you for your friendship. With heartfelt blessings and best wishes for a healthy and enlightening year and a pleasant winter,
Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum
Chabad Prospect Heights
340 Sterling Pl. Suite 1A
Brooklyn, NY 11238
All contributions are tax-deductible, and if received before Dec. 31 can be deducted from your taxes for this calendar year. Please Donate now. Chabad of the Conejo can accept Cash, Credit Card, Check, Stock Transfer, as well as donations of automobiles, boats or real estate. Chabad of the Conejo is a 501(c)3 charity and all contributions to it are tax deductible.
Torah Reading: VaYishlach (Genesis 32:4 – 36:43)
In our Parshah, Jacob was returning to his homeland, nervously anticipating a hostile reaction form his brother Esau, who had expressed the desire to kill him years earlier when he “stole” his blessings from him. Jacob speaks of his fear that Esau will harm him and prays to G-d for assistance. To explain why he was so apprehensive, Jacob offers the following statement: “I have become diminished from all of the kindnesses…”
Several questions come to mind. First, what did Jacob mean when he said that he had become diminished? In what way was he smaller? Second, why would G-d’s kindness diminish him? Third, why was Jacob so fearful of his brother Esau? Hadn’t G-d already promised him that He would be with him and guard him wherever he would go? Did Jacob harbor doubts about G-d’s promise? Rashi addresses all these questions by saying that Jacob felt that he had exhausted all of the merits he had accumulated in the past. G-d had already protected Jacob throughout his entire stay with Laban. Whatever righteousness he possessed-that earned him G-d’s blessings for protection in the past-he might have depleted. Moreover, Jacob was concerned that he might have regressed and was therefore no longer worthy of the original promise of protection.
Thus, the meaning of the phrase “I have become diminished” is that his merits may have become diminished and depleted as a result of all the “claims” he has already made, banking on the “premiums” that he paid into the system. The word “diminished” thus refers to his merits, but not to Jacob himself.
Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (the founder of the Chabad movement, whose festival of liberation from Czarist imprisonment we will be celebrating next Sunday, Dec 6th, Yud-Tes-Kislev, the 19th of Kislev) provides another way of understanding Jacob becoming diminished as a result of G-d’s kindness, in a letter he wrote after being released from prison. There are two reactions people experience when they are the recipients of divine generosity. Some people develop a sense of superiority and arrogance. This personality type uses his gifts as an instrument of his ego and they tend to look down at those who are not so blessed.
The second approach to becoming a beneficiary of G-d’s kindness is the reverse. Whenever this personality type experiences a positive thing in life, they become more humble because they feel an incredible sense of closeness to G-d. Rabbi Schneur Zalman describes this as if G-d was embracing them. When a person is exposed to something so much greater than himself, it engenders a natural sense of insignificance and humility. When a relatively tall person stands next to a much taller person, he will somehow feel short. Thus, the more good we experience, the more humble we become, and the more humble we become the less we feel that G-d still owes us anything.
Jacob was a member of the latter group. Jacob, who had so benefited from G-d’s generosity on so many occasions, felt an incredible closeness to G-d. Hence Jacob states that by virtue of all of the kindnesses that G-d showered upon him, he had become humbled, and therefore prayed to G-d that he continue those blessings despite his newly recognized shortcomings. And though G-d promised him that He would protect him, he agonized over the fact that he might no longer be worthy of those blessings and promises.
The Midrash states that before the future Redemption, Moshiach will announce the new era by declaring: “Humble ones, the time of your Redemption has arrived.” Why, some ask, does the Moshiach, refer to the Jewish people as humble ones? Is there no other more appropriate quality to highlight? Why doesn’t the Moshiach state: “Righteous ones,” or some other similar expression of virtue? One answer to this question is that as Moshiach is about to usher in a new age of peace and goodness, we are about to experience the greatest manifestation of G-d’s kindness. It is imperative, then, more than at any other time, to not follow the approach that causes one to become egotistical and arrogant. On the contrary, Moshiach exhorts us to be humble, because you are about to experience the greatest Divine embrace in history. And even before this becomes a visible reality, we already have to feel the sense of closeness and the resultant humility. One of the “by products” of humility is that we never look at another condescendingly. Jealousy, strife and discord give way to peace and harmony. All of the pettiness disappears and the world is more ready than ever to greet Moshiach and usher in the age of Geulah Shleimah, the complete Redemption.
Members of the community will have the opportunity to discover the unique connection women have to the holiday of Chanukah, at a special lecture scheduled for the 9th of December.
The lecture, entitled “The feminine side of Chanukah” will focus in depth at the mystical connection between women and Chanukah and will be presented by Rabbi Ari Kirschenbaum and delivered at the home of Mrs. Miriam Boymelgreen 535 Dean St #208 on Wednesday, December 9th at 8:00pm. The lecture is free of charge and open to all. Light refreshments served.
The lecture is part of an ongoing effort to increase holiday awareness in the community by Chabad Prospect Heights.
For more information, please call 347.787.0864 or Women@BrooklynYid.com