Thursday, July 19, 2007

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Jews Today - Part 2, The Old Jew

by Reb Gutman Locks of the Old City, Jerusalem, Israel at Mystical Paths

Isn’t it true that in order to learn the Torah and do the mitzvahs properly, you have to be quite learned? And so many of the Jews in the world today, in fact the vast majority, are completely ignorant of God’s ways. So how can this Torah-ignorant people inherit the holy Land that God has promised to our forefathers Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaacov?

A while back, an older Russian man walked into the Kotel area. I convinced him to put on tefillin even though he did not know what I was talking about. He knew nothing about them at all. I doubt that he had ever even seen tefillin before. Getting him to repeat the blessing, with me leading him word for word, was like pulling teeth. He could not pronounce a single word anywhere near the way it was supposed to be pronounced.

I told him to say “Baruch.” He said, “Karach!”

“No!” I said, “Baruch.”

He repeated, “Touchack!”

I saw that he couldn’t say the blessing right, and he was getting really frustrated, so I quickly put the tefillin on him without the proper blessing. I handed him the prayers that he was supposed to say. He looked at them, and even though they were written in Russian, he just wanted to get out of there quick. Then, as if in a last-breath chance, he asked, “Look, is it ok if I just sing Hava Na Gila?”

“Sure,” I said. He stood there in front of the Kotel walking around back and forth, happily lifting up his arms in prayer, face beaming and proudly singing out, “Hava Na Gila, Hava Na Gila.” His face was shining. He really felt at home.

I know Hashem loved that one.

Can we say these cases are signs that the Redemption is at hand? “… and He will return and gather you in from all of the peoples to which Hashem your God, has scattered you. [ii] Even if your dispersed will be at the ends of Heaven, He will gather you in.” [iii]

A recent letter:

I met you at the Kotel in 2004. I had spoken to you about an incident I had experienced at the Kotel in 1985 when I was 25. At that time, I had no idea that my mother’s mother’s mother’s mother and father (great, great grandparents) were from the Pomeranian area of Poland and were both Jewish…surname (edited for anonymity)…I did not find this out until I was almost 40! After my aunt had spent nearly 10 years conducting a very detailed genealogical search of my maternal family’s ancestry. After my great, great grandfather moved his family to the U.S. in the mid 1800’s, their daughter…my great grandmother, her daughter…my grandmother, and my mother had all married non-Jewish spouses and had assimilated into the Lutheran religion. And I was raised with a Christian identity, and with absolutely no knowledge of my Jewish identity.

However, when I was 20 and on a Christian tour of Israel that my seminary, upon graduation, had provided for their graduate students as a graduation gift, I went to the Kotel, and a very old Chareidi man dressed in black and with a long gray beard approached me. He grabbed me by the arm and took me to the tefillin table, and started to put them on my arm when I exclaimed, ”I am not Jewish… . I am a Christian Minister!” Without skipping a beat, he quietly said to me in broken English with a heavy European accent, “You don’t know… . God knows!” as he continued to bind the tefillin to my arm and head. He then sent me off to the Kotel with a Siddur, and I sensed the overwhelming presence of our Creator. This led me on a 20-year search to restore my Jewish identity, which has been a long and arduous road of t’shuvah.

However, I am happy to report that two years ago, at age 44, I completed an orthodox conversion to be sure in Jerusalem, and it was during that year-and-a-half long process that I met you at the Kotel and told you this story. You explained to me that those of you who man the “mitzvah carts” gain a unique insight that enables you to select and approach those who are Jewish, whether they know it or not, out of all the people who visit the Kotel! This encouraged me during all the loving “confused mess” that surrounded my studies.

You will be happy to know that this coming August, my wife (who is also an observant Jew), and I are making official Aliyah and we will both be studying in yeshivas in Jerusalem.

We intend to pay you a visit as soon as we are able to! Perhaps a Shabbat dinner in the Old City sounds in order… .

[ii] Deut 30:3
[iii] Deut 30:4

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