From the COLlive inbox from a Chabad wife and young mother living in the West Coast:
Recently, a wealthy man had been refusing to make any donation to the local Chabad center and activities. After some time, the Shliach approached him and asked an explanation. The man plainly retorted that he will not donate to people who throw stones at Shabbos desecrators and spit at immodest women.
Back in the day, I wasn’t too far from that ignorant thinking.
On my first visit to Crown Heights, my friend and I approached Kingston Avenue with our iPods were playing the latest in hip-hop as we discussed plans to explore Manhattan on Saturday night.
I don’t think I even knew of Crown Heights as a Chassidic area. Rather, anyone archaic, hat-donning and long-sleeved was written-off as a ‘extremist.’ Satmar, Chabad, chassidim, misnagdim – they all looked and sounded the same to me. They all surely had a skewed perception of life, and a sour attitude towards the rest of us ‘normal folk’, I thought.
But at the same time, an excited curiosity was bubbling inside. Today, I can reframe and re-write this story: That it was my thirsty neshama that was on a search. In my mind then, I was just curious to get an insider’s glimpse of this almost extinct way of life.
Arrangements had been graciously arranged for us. For Shabbos lunch, we had been sent to eat by a Chabad family. As we returned to the home where we had slept, I heard singing. But men’s voices only, of course.
I didn’t expect any acknowledgment upon entrance. Surely these bearded men would dart their eyes, look at the floor and pretend not to notice the existence of two females.
But then it came. A gem of a gesture, which, half a decade later, is still treasured In the stores of my mind.
We were ushered in with a warm and joyous “Gut Shabbos! Welcome! Perhaps you girls would like a drink? A piece of cake?”
A sincere greeting echoed from the Chassidim around the table. But I remember one man in particular. Somewhere behind his big white beard, a smile stretched wide. He was thrilled at the opportunity to usher in two Jews (who surely appeared to be in need of some holy inspiration).
I will probably never know who this man was, and surely he does not know what an impact this one facial expression made. But with this one smile, he shattered many a stereotype which I had harbored, and he opened the doors to my path of discovering True Yiddishkeit.
So I write to you, as someone who suffered at the mercy of a life without Emes. I, like so many, was slave to modern culture; with all of its destructive lures, and, yes, the false image it paints of frum Jews. I was far from the exception.
There are many people that have distorted impressions of what a Torah community is all about. The masses know not of what our life, dress and culture represents. Whether these false impressions are ludicrous, in-just (or sometimes quite funny) is irrelevant. We must remember that we carry a grand mission. We have a responsibility to bear this with tremendous pride and joy, and thus ‘set the world straight.’
So next time you’re waiting in the never-ending line at the Post Office, on your early morning shlep in the hot subway, resting on a bench or walking outside while chatting on your phone, or when someone innocently greets you with a good morning or a good Shabbos, just remember: Someone is likely watching.
Your smile might just escort them all the way to their local Chabad come Rosh Hashana.