Yidden are here, Yidden are there…

Today it was officially confirmed that I have a face that broadcasts ‘Bais Yaakov girl’ to other Jews. It’s happened before, but this is proof.

Ok, on to the proper post. I was walking towards a fairly busy urban bus stop, and I see a woman who seems to be talking to someone as I approach. It turns out, she was talking to me. Over the wind, I didn’t hear her at first, but when I was safe and warm(er) in the shelter, she repeated herself.

“How was your Shabbat?”

And so a conversation began. It wasn’t always easy to hear, but I discovered that she was an adult participant in one of the special needs programs the local frum community runs. We talked about Shabbat, Chanukah, stir fry (yes, really,) and, while on the topic of food, some of my best memories from my last visits to my grandparents abroad – chicken soup was high on the list.

This may be surprising, but I’m not actually good at talking when put on the spot. But if you’d been there, you too, likely, wouldn’t have felt you could end the conversation. So the whole time, I was just focused on trying to understand what she was saying, and to reply in kind. (Thank you, Imma, for all the times you’ve dragged me to talk to absolute strangers for the sake of a mitzvah!)

Once I was sitting on the bus, snug in the rear-most seat for the long ride home, I had a chance to think about what G-d wanted me to learn from this, my latest question about everything. Why was this opportunity given to me? And why did this woman start talking to an absolute stranger, just because I looked Jewish, as though we were friends? I want to be all philosophical, and say it’s a universal connection between all Yidden, everywhere. And maybe it is.

But what formed that connection? I think it can only have been past experiences. If this woman thought that she would enjoy talking to me and was totally comfortable giving it a try, there must have been other Bais Yakkov girls in the past – girls who started the conversations, and then girls who responded to her greetings with warmth and genuine interest. I can’t have been the first person she talked to like this – especially not spontaneously, outside the framework of a program. So she knew that I would be nice and she could talk to me. I don’t know who all these other young women are, but I’m proud to be associated with them.

It makes me look back at some other moments I’ve had over the past month. A woman at a local Jewish bookstore who asked if I knew where she might find a headcovering shop. (I actually found that conversation very heartwarming. She was invited for Shabbat to a chassidish family, and she wanted to cover her head properly out of respect for them. I gave directions to a local store that sells hats and snoods, and would have gone with her if I didn’t have class in five minutes. I knew she would be in good hands there.)

Two bochurim taking the same late-evening bus I was, and who, while talking to each other, missed an announcement over the intercom abut a delay in the route. They were too shy to ask anyone around what the message had been, and I could relate enough to put aside my own shyness and repeat the message for them.

All this newfound voice came in bits and pieces, but a major turning point was Chol Hamoed Sukkot – I was walking to an appointment with offices housed inside a hospital. I was running late, and my mother dropped me off by the main doors and told me to rush, but not panic. Then she spotted and elderly gentleman waiting outside the doors in a wheelchair, carrying a lulav bag. She told me to go wish him a Moed Tov, and, so surprised at the change of priorities, I obeyed without question, stamping my shyness down inside. The man’s face lit up once I plucked up the courage to speak loud enough to be heard, and we began a short conversation about the chag in my badly accented Hebrew (with English when I got desperate.) I wasn’t late for my appointment, and the whole discussion warmed my heart in a way I so badly needed that day.

Reflecting, I’m very grateful I’ve had a chance to strengthen this bond between all Yidden, this feeling that you can trust the Jew beside you. People talk about unfriendliness, but I see that mostly (still rarely) happening in groups. Without the peer pressure, and without the thoughts that someone else could do a better job, we are all more ready to act on our feelings of responsibility for each other. On the road, amid the rest of the world, I’ve seen so much kindness regardless of religion, age, or background, but I’ve also seen the way Jews are ready to speak to each other and care.

A little bit of change

I was taking public transit home after spending some time with friends, a good hour’s journey direct from home. To return, I needed to take two buses, and due to a mishap at the first bus stop (the station that actually didn’t exist, and was also two intersections away from where the schedule said it was,) I didn’t have the exact change I would need to get on the second bus.

After confirming that only exact change would get me a ticket, I asked the kind-looking woman sitting opposite me if she had change to exchange for a small bill. She said she didn’t, apologized, and then began to look in every pocket of her bag on the off chance that she did after all.

There was an elderly couple sitting in front of her, who overheard the discussion. The gentleman passed me a handful of small change, and asked if it would help. I explained that I was just trying to get smaller change, and showed him the bill. He and the wonderful woman beside him insisted that I just take the money, as it wasn’t very much, and not to worry that they didn’t have enough change to make an exchange. It made a huge difference to me, and I conveyed my appreciation as much as possible.

***

The trip was meant to just be three friends hanging out together and enjoying the vast nature surrounding us, and it was peaceful, gorgeous, and a chance to get to know everyone a little better and make a stronger connection. And those 24 hours were all that, and more. The friend who was the host is a holy lady, and while we were eating breakfast together on the front porch, she mentions that she was about to do her daily Tanya study. Knowing that I’m usually interested in whatever she’s learning, she offered to read it aloud. Given that, while I was interested in learning Tanya but knew almost nothing, and the ‘cycle’ of lessons is currently near the end, she had to explain a few concepts to me as we learned. One of them was how our world is made up of G-d’s holy light, contracted and ‘scrunched up’ many, many times, and that the world we see is the barest fraction of the true power and glory of the Almighty. (It sounds much better in her words, or in the original Hebrew.)

While we paused to let my brain take all of this in, I was looking around at the trees surrounding the porch, and the clearing that showed so much of the land. I realized that there are billions of trees, and no two are truly identical – and each one is beautiful in some way. After spending some time there, I could appreciate tree differences very well. There are billions of trees in the world, and billions of people, and countless other beautiful and unique beings of all sorts. And this is only a fraction of a fraction of G-d’s power and majesty and creative light? My mind was blown, but in a good way. We finished learning, finished breakfast, and went out to collect mosquito bites (sorry, to see the fields and the butterflies and the garden and the pond,) and this echoed around in the back of my mind. It really changed the way I saw everything.

I’m sorry for rambling – I’m so tired, but I wanted to get this post out before Shabbat. I may edit for clarity soon. Have a wonderful Shabbat, readers!

Compassionate Convenience

My sister and I were walking home from the bus stop and preparing to go our usual route home. However, the route we normally took was obstructed. The only way to get to my street was to walk all the way to the end of the street and around. That’s a lot of walking.

As my sister and I looked around, stewing over what to do, a construction worker noticed our hesitance.

“Are you trying to get across?” he yelled from the road.

“Yeah,” we shouted back.

“Okay, then I’ll stop traffic for you,” he said calmly, as if it was nothing at all.

My sister and I looked at each other in disbelief and expressed our utmost thanks to the man.

“No problem,” he said, and we crossed without mishap.

 

Thanks are in order to all those compassionate construction workers out there!

Neighbourly Kindness

Today as I was walking home from school, I saw my neighbour jogging by. I usually see her in my area, and we always wave and smile at each other. She’s about my age, and sometimes we bump into each other as we’re heading to school.

I waved as usual, but instead of simply waving back, she ran across the street to me!

“Hey, what’s up?” I asked. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” she said, smiling. “Do you have a phone or a tablet?”

“Yeah,” I said. I was a bit bewildered.

Before I knew it, she pulled out a stylus and handed it to me. “I had an extra one of these and I thought you might want it.”

I was so utterly surprised and touched by this, and I told her so.

Thank you, Emma! (*name was changed)

 

Miles of Mitzvot

I would never have accepted the ride from my friend if I knew that she was driving totally out of her way just to pick me up. For reference, she lives a two minute drive from the event we went to, and I live about 20-30 minutes away. But when she heard that I wouldn’t be able to go without a lift, she offered to come. Not ‘if you can’t find anyone else’ or ‘can you meet me half-way?’ A round trip, in traffic, just because I needed a ride.

Much appreciated! Thank you

Warmth in the wet

A post Mim collected from one of our readers

One time I was at the bus stop after school waiting for the bus to come. It was a rainy, windy day and the stop shelter was filled with people trying to escape the weather. I managed to squeeze in at the opening but the wind was blowing the rain into me, and since I was only wearing a thin jacket it was really cold. The woman behind me had an umbrella and, seeing that I was shivering, held it in front of me to block the rain. Every time I shifted she angled the umbrella differently so it would continue to shield me. When the bus finally came, she held the umbrella over both of us as we left the stop. She didn’t know who I was, but she did one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me and I will never forget it.

Prayer is Power

One night, I was lying in bed thinking about my life, specifically the not so good parts. I thought about someone who I’d done many not -so-kind things too, and I knew there was no way to make it up for her. So, I sent up a quick teffilah that G-d should send her an extra measure of goodness and bracha in her life.

Not even a week later, I hear that she survived a potentially near-death experience. That nighttime bracha came to mind. Prayer is powerful, people!

G-d in our lives; Chanukah post 1

One major theme of Chanukah is seeing G-d in life; not just the huge miracles and victories, but nature and the ‘ordinary’ things He arranges with a Hand too subtle for us to see.

Thank You for the seat in the crowded bus so I could get home without tiring myself out. Yes, that’s a big deal.

Literally Running for the Mitzvah

On the bus home this afternoon, I became aware of a commotion. Two girls had gotten off earlier than their usual spot, and the other riders wanted to know if the twins’ older sister was coming too.

“No,” she said. So why had they gotten off, and in such a hurry? “(Classmate) left her phone on the bus. They wanted to give it back to her. So off they ran, three blocks I think, and four back.

Kol HaKavod!

Memories of London

Reading someone’s article brought back fond memories of my family’s’ trips to London, England. Specifically, what I’m thinking about now are the times we were in a Tube (Subway, properly known as the London Underground) station with a long curving staircase down from one platform to another when we needed to change trains. Often, when my father would pick up one end of the stroller to carry it down, some random stranger would rush to help him so that he didn’t have to do it alone, or enlist one of his older children (we were pretty strong, having done it before, but being short back then it really was a help.) Said person would help, against my father’s protests, the entire way down and sometimes, offer to help us the rest of the way. It’s happened more than once, and it makes me smile.