by Charles Kasriel Brum
This Friday night here in my section of Brooklyn, as I was walking to shul, the streets were alive with a mixture of Halloween revelers trick or treating and Jewish men and boys dressed in their special Shabbos clothes walking to Shul.
I was reminded of a similar Shabbos about 15 years ago in New Orleans. While walking Friday night with an out-of-town guest, I think his name was Mendel, we passed through crowds of Tulane University students with various colorful and wild costumes.
That Friday night was also Halloween and the students were having a great time, many were drinking, some were drunk, some were screaming the Tulane cheers-their chants ranged from just loud to inappropriate.
I told my guest that this was not such a ‘Shabbosdik’ environment and we might do better walking on a side street. Just then we both noticed him. He was alone, with a cigarette in one hand and a beer in another. His costume immediately struck our curiosity, for he was dressed as a chossid. He wore a black hat, had a fake beard, and even a pair of home made payos covering his sideburns. He didn’t look particularly happy and he walked alone. We both had an initial impression that this reveler was not even Jewish, but…
“Hey man,” Mendel shouted above the roar of the crowd, “I love your costume.”
Instead of answering with some joke in the spirit of crowd, our Halloween Chossid seemed almost embarrassed. He mumbled something about not being Jewish and this only being a costume. He started to walk away. But my guest Mendel wasn’t about to let him off so easy.
“Just out of curiosity, why did you pick that costume,” Mendel insisted.
The Halloween Chossid, took a deep puff of his cigarette and answered, “I was not trying to make fun of Jewish people and I hope you’re not offended, it’s just a costume,” he said. “In fact my grandmother was Jewish.”
In unison, Mendel and I asked, somewhat in amazement, “Your Grandmother Your mothers mother or your fathers mother.”
The ‘Halloween Chasid’ took another puff of his cigarette and answered that it was his maternal grandmother.
“In that case,” Mendel answered triumphantly, “I have big news for you, you yourself are 100% Jewish, according to Jewish law. Since you are Jewish, I have good news and bad news for you: tonight is Shabbos. The Jewish Sabbath a very special day for all Jews everywhere! But the bad news is that since it is the Shabbos, you are not allowed to smoke a cigarette today!”
Surprisingly, our friend immediately took a last puff, threw the cigarette onto Broadway and stomped it out without a question. We then told him a few facts about his heritage, explained a few rudimentary laws about Shabbos, wished him a Good Shabbos and we proceeded back to my home.
At home our conversation was all about him. Mendel declared he had one of the signs of a Jew according to the Talmud. He was bashful and was embarrassed by his costume.
“Furthermore, did you see how quickly he threw away his cigarette?” Mendel added. “He obviously knows very little about Judaism but maybe his wearing a Jewish costume is a sign that his neshama is hungry for yiddishkeit!”
What a mistake I made, I lamented; why didn’t we invite him over for kiddush and and Shabbos meal. I must have been in shock. My initial impression of this smoking ‘chossid’ was negative; but now I regretted my decision.
Mendel jumped up. “We must find him,” he said.
How we going to find him among 10,000 costumed college students? I asked.
Don’t worry, said my indefatigable guest, we will.
My wife spoke up at this moment and said, “Go find him bring him here before the soup gets cold!”
And so, for the next two hours, we walked around from crowd to crowd, and in and out Jewish and non-Jewish fraternity houses. “Have you seen the guy dressed in a Chassidic costume?” we asked over and over again. The students were for the most part friendly and tried to be helpful, but had no idea what we were talking about. He was no where to be found.
Just as we were about to give up, Mendel had an inspiration. Wait a minute, this guy is a loner. He was drinking a beer, I bet we find him in a barroom.
There was a bar adjacent to Tulane’s campus. But go in a bar on Shabbos? Why not, I reckoned. It’s pikuach nefesh. We have just gone to fraternity houses where the atmosphere was similar.
So we opened the door to the “Boot” and there he was still dressed in his Shabbos finest, sitting at the first stool with a beer in hand. Mendel asked him if he would mind stepping out for a few moments so we could talk above the loud music. He complied.
He told us that his first impression of us was that we were some type of Jewish vigilantes coming to take vengeance on him for his insulting costume.
Not at all, we assured him. We came to invite you to our home to join a Shabbos meal with our family!
He said he was tired. “I was not raised Jewish and only had one Jewish friend in the past,” he said.
We explained to him that perhaps that fact that he chose the costume that he did indicated that he had a certain latent fascination with Jews and Judaism and this could be explained by the fact that halachicly he was a Jew.
This seemed to interest him. I invited him to sit with me on the next Shabbos at the local Chabad on campus and he seemed genuinely interested. We parted ways as friends. Mendel and I marveled at this Jew who thought he was a gentile wearing a Jewish costume.
What happened next, you are wondering.
Well, I am sorry to say that I never saw this Jewish student again. I do think of him from time to time and ponder if the seed that was planted has ever sprouted. Perhaps he now wears a shtreimel in Williamsburg or maybe he still celebrates Halloween. At least he knows that he is a Yid and that “the tents of Yaakov are never closed.”