My wife and I were eating Friday night Shabbat dinner in one of the Israeli hotels, when we noticed a family sitting next to us who were clearly not religious. The kids – and parents – were on their phones, and the father had more tattoos than most NBA players. However, even though everyone else was pushing his/her way to the buffet, this family was just sitting and waiting, until the father put a napkin on his head and said, “Time to make Kiddush.” Two of the boys put a napkin-kipah on, as well, and they all stood at the table. The father then recited a beautiful Kiddush – while reading the text from his iPhone! After Kiddush, the father and the boys went to wash “n’tilas yadayim” while the mother and girls sat and waited. A few moments later, the fellows came back, and the father made a loud HaMotzi brachah (this time by heart – no need for the phone). They all had some bread, took the napkins off their heads and proceeded to the buffet.
If you witnessed this, what would your reaction have been? Would you have shaken your head in disbelief? Laughed? Felt sorry for them? Thought that it was foolish? Think about it: A tattoo-covered Jewish man making Kiddush from his iPhone while wearing a napkin on his head. Is there anything sillier or more ridiculous than that? But that’s not how I looked at it. Not at all.
I loved it! I was so touched and moved by what he did that I could not take my eyes off this family. Yes, I am well aware of the halachah that was violated, and these issues need to be addressed, but right now – at this point in time – all I thought about was my tattoo-filled-iPhone-Kiddush-brother. Think about it for a moment. This family is definitely not religiously observant. Everything about them screamed this out very clearly – but that was their external side only. Internally, they are Jewish and proud of it. How do I know? Just from the Kiddush and HaMotzi? Yes, that’s exactly how I know. The fact that they put everything on hold for a few minutes, just so the father could recite Kiddush, was truly remarkable. This act acknowledged that it wasn’t just Friday night – it was Shabbos!! When they washed their hands and made HaMotzi, it showed the world that this wasn’t just bread – it was challah!
A few minutes later, when I saw the father standing by the buffet, I raced over to him and wished him a big “Shabbat shalom.” I told him that I loved how he made Kiddush, and he said that he has heard Kiddush every Friday night of his life and will continue this tradition “ad yom moti” (until the day I die – exact quote!). I asked him if he keeps other traditions, as well, and he looked at me as if I was ET’s twin brother. He fasts every Yom Kippur, builds a sukkah, and has never tasted pork. He puts on t’filin “lif’amim” (occasionally) and makes sure his family has a proper Seder on Pesach, with matzah that he buys from Chabad!
Why was I so enthralled with this guy? Simple: because he is an example of the overwhelming majority of Israelis. Externally, they look more like Julio and Maria than Yair and Keren; but internally, they are just like you and me. They have warm Jewish souls who yearn for a connection to am Yisrael. The fact that they look and act the way they do is our failure, not theirs! We did not educate them properly. We did not open our homes to them with love and tolerance. We did not hug them enough. We saw their tattoos and ran away. We watched their iPhone Kiddush on Friday night and laughed, when, instead, we should have jumped for joy.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not condoning a life that is against halachah, heaven forbid! I am merely saying that we need to see the good in our brothers and sisters. We need to focus on the potential and on the Jewish spark that is alive and well. The love for our people and our Father in Heaven is there – they have it; we just need to wipe away the mud and polish the diamond. Let’s make this a major goal of ours for the coming year: real Jewish unity – where we embrace all Jews, at all times, and march together as one nation!
Am Yisrael Chai!