Monday, March 31, 2008

A Jewish feel good story


This is rather long but it is a beautiful Jewish/feel
good story.

On his way out from shul in Jerusalem, Dan approached
a young man
in jeans, backpack, dark skin, curly black hair, he
looked Sephardi,
maybe Moroccan.

"Good Shabbos. My name is Dan Eisenblatt. Would you
like to eat at
my house tonight?"

The young man's face broke in an instant from a
worried look to a
smile. "Yeah, thanks. My name is Machi."

Together they walked out of the shul. A few minutes
later they were
all standing around Dan's Shabbos table. Dan noticed
his guest
fidgeting and leafing through his songbook, apparently
looking for
something. He asked with a smile, "Is there a song you
want to sing?
I can help if you're not sure about the tune."

The guest's face lit up. "There is a song I'd like to
sing, but I
can't find it here. I really liked what we sang in the
tonight. What was it called? Something 'dodi.'"

Dan paused for a moment, on the verge of saying, "It's
not usually
sung at the table," but then he caught himself. "If
that's what the
kid wants," he thought, "what's the harm?" Aloud he
said, "You mean
Lecha Dodi. Wait, let me get you a siddur."

Once they had sung Lecha Dodi, the young man resumed
his silence
until after the soup, when Dan asked him, "Which song
now?" The
guest looked embarrassed, but after a bit of
encouragement said
firmly, "I'd really like to sing Lecha Dodi again."

Dan was not really all that surprised when, after the
chicken, he
asked his guest what song now, and the young man said,
"Lecha Dodi,
please." Dan almost blurted out, "Let's sing it a
little softer this time,
the neighbors are going to think I'm nuts." He finally
said, "Don't
you want to sing something else?"

His guest blushed and looked down. "I just really like
that one,"
he mumbled. "Just something about it - I really like
it." In all,
they must have sung "The Song" eight or nine times.
Dan wasn't
sure -- he lost count. Later Dan asked, "Where are you
The boy looked pained, then stared down at the floor
and said
softly, "Ramallah."

Dan's was sure he'd heard the boy say "Ramallah," a
large Arab city
on the West Bank. Quickly he caught himself, and then
realized that
he must have said Ramleh, an Israeli city. Dan said,
"Oh, I have a
cousin there. Do you know Ephraim Warner? He lives on
Herzl Street."

The young man shook his head sadly. "There are no Jews
in Ramallah."

Dan gasped. He really had said "Ramallah"! His
thoughts were racing.
Did he just spend Shabbos with an Arab? He told the
boy, "I'm sorry,
I'm a bit confused. And now that I think of it, I
haven't even asked your
full name. What is it, please?"

The boy looked nervous for a moment, then squared his
shoulders and
said quietly, "Machmud Ibn-esh-Sharif." Dan stood
there speechless.
What could he say? Machmud broke the silence
hesitantly: "I was
born and grew up in Ramallah. I was taught to hate my
oppressors, and to think about killing them would make
me a

But I always had my doubts. I mean, we were taught
that the Sunna,
the tradition, says, 'No one of you is a believer
until he desires for his
brother that which he desires for himself.' I used to
sit and wonder,
Weren't the Yahud (Jews) people, too? Didn't they have
the right to
live the same as us? If we're supposed to be good to
everyone, how
come nobody includes Jews in that? "I put these
questions to my
father, and he threw me out of the house. By now my
mind was made
up: I was going to run away and live with the Yahud,
until I could find
out what they were really like. I snuck back into the
house that night,
to get my things and my backpack.

My mother caught me in the middle of packing. I told
her that I wanted
to go live with the Jews for a while and find out what
they are really like
and maybe I would even want to convert.

She was turning more and more pale while I said all
this, and I thought
she was angry, but that wasn't it. Something else was
hurting her and
she whispered gently, 'You don't have to convert. You
already are a Jew.'
"I was shocked. My head started spinning, and for a
moment I couldn't
speak. Then I stammered, 'What do you mean?' 'In
Judaism,' she told me,
'the religion goes according to the mother.

I'm Jewish, so that means you're Jewish.' "I never had
any idea my mother
was Jewish. I guess she didn't want anyone to know.
She whispered
suddenly, 'I made a mistake by marrying an Arab man.
In you, my mistake
will be redeemed.' "My mother always talked that way,
poetic-like. She
went and dug out some old documents, and handed them
to me: things
like my birth certificate and her old Israeli ID card,
so I could prove I was
a Jew.

I've got them here, but I don't know what to do with
them. "My mother
hesitated about one piece of paper. Then she said,
'You may as well
take this. It is an old photograph of my grand-parents
which was taken
when they went visiting the grave of some great
ancestor of ours.' "Now
I have traveled here to Israel. I'm just trying to
find out where I belong."

Dan gently put his hand on Machmud's shoulder. Machmud
looked up,
scared and hopeful at the same time. Dan asked, "Do
you have the
photo here?"

The boy's face lit up. ""Sure! I always carry it with
me." He reached in
his backpack and pulled out an old, tattered envelope.

When Dan read the gravestone inscription, he nearly
dropped the photo.
He rubbed his eyes to make sure. There was no doubt.
This was a grave
in the old cemetery in Tzfat, and the inscription
identified it as the grave
of the great Kabbalist and tzaddik Rabbi Shlomo

Dan's voice quivered with excitement as he explained
to Machmud who
his ancestor was. "He was a friend of the Arizal, a
great Torah cholar,
a tzaddik, a mystic. And, Machmud, your ancestor wrote
that song we
were singing all Shabbos: Lecha Dodi!"

This time it was Machmud's turn to be struck
speechless. Dan extended
his trembling hand and said, "Welcome home, Machmud."

This true story, submitted by Nechama Goodman, is
documented in
"Monsey, Kiryat Sefer and Beyond" by Zev Roth.

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