Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Love Being Surprised In This Way (A Nice Story)

This experience might belong in my bris milah blog because it only happened to me because of my being a mohel. Since it is more in line with the "rabbi without a cause" mantra (as opposed to being about a bris), I am sharing it here.

I am in Puerto Rico for a bris.

My host, the baby's father, picked me up this morning and brought me to Chabad for Shacharis. Including us there were about 15 people there - mostly Americans and Israelis.

Back at the hotel elevator, two men came out as I was about to go up. As the door was closing, one of them stuck his hand back in to prevent it from closing. [I thought it was someone else trying to catch the elevator at first...]

He said something in Spanish which I did not understand, then he said to me "Spanish?"
No. I don't speak Spanish.

Then he said, "Minyan? Yesh minyan?" (is there a minyan here?)
Yes. There was one at Chabad - I just came from there.

"Eifoh Chabad?" (where is Chabad?)
I don't know. Someone brought me there.

Then he lifted his arm, which was uncovered because he was wearing shortsleeves, and I saw he had the tefillin markings that stay on the arm for a little while after wearing tefillin.

He said, with an only-slightly exasperated tinge which suggested I-wish-I-had-known, "Hitpalalti b'yachid" (meaning, I davened by myself in my hotel room).

That the man is Jewish is no surprise. Jews are everywhere. That he had worn tefillin and might have otherwise been at the minyan had he known about it was quite unexpected. Seeing tefillin markings on others' arms is normal where I live. But seeing them on someone's arm in a hotel in Puerto Rico somehow seemed out of place. Maybe it comes from my living in a certain kind of homogeneous environment, that I don't expect someone who does not wear a kippah to have worn tefillin. I know there are Sefardim and Israelis (and some Ashkenazi Jews as well) who will wear tefillin and will wear the kippah when davening, learning, and eating. But in a different context, such as a fairly vibrant Jewish community, it is normal and expected.

But here in San Juan?

I was smiling all the way up in the elevator.

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