Summer 2016 has drawn to a close, too soon as always, and we have already resumed our studies in Brooklyn. But before we hang up our “roving rabbi” hats (temporarily, of course), we’d like to share a few snapshots of our recent encounters in the San Mateo county of Northern California, an area that is home to a host of tech startups, highly educated people, beautiful beaches, tourists attractions, as well as a small number of Jews.
Donald bears the distinction of being the first Jewish person we met. We had a nice, albeit short, conversation since he was on his way to an appointment. A week later, we were in his neighborhood again and decided to drop by his home and pay him a visit. Again, he was happy to see us. As we began chatting, he informed us that his wife would be picking him up in five minutes. At 84 years old, there’s always some doctor or other to see. So we quickly grabbed our tefillin, gave Donald a thirty second intro, and offered him the opportunity to do this special mitzvah. He immediately agreed, and only afterwards did we discover that it was the first time for him. We spent the remainder of our short visit celebrating that momentous occasion together.
Nathan G. and Edward R.
Rabbi Shaul Goldman, Chabad rabbi in Daly City, had given us the contact information of Edward R., who lives in Pacifia—a small city with a tiny Jewish population. When we pulled up to his building, we were greeted by a Jewish man standing outside, and we automatically assumed it was Edward. Turns out it was Nathan, and we had an impromptu meeting right then and there, which culminated with him putting on tefillin for the first time. We then headed upstairs to meet Edward. It was a mutually enjoyable visit—Edward regaled us with his vast knowledge of Chabad history and happily agreed to put on tefillin. Both gentlemen told us that they would look into attending programs at the nearby Chabad of Daly City.
We’d been having a frustrating morning; all the people we were scheduled to visit in a gated community in San Bruno weren’t home. Imagine our delight when we noticed a mezuzah hanging on the door to one of the homes which wasn’t even on our list! We met Daniel and discovered that he had moved from Rechovot, Israel, a year prior. He told us how much he missed his engagement with the large Chabad community there and he was thrilled to receive Rabbi Goldman’s contact info in Daly City, where he will be moving in two weeks’ time.
Alex A. and Alex H.
Alex A. of South San Francisco (South City) is an exuberant middle-aged man, a Russian expat. His enthusiasm over our visit was a most welcome change for us! He wanted to serve us something, and called his friend Eugene, a religious Jew, to ask what is permissible. After making sure that we had eaten sufficiently, he was happy to put on tefillin. We had a great discussion about Chabad and our mission. A man of action, he led us to a neighboring building, home of his friends Alex H. and Rachel. We were pleased that Alex and Rachel seemed interested in some of the programs Chabad offered. At Alex A.’s urging, we presented our tefillin to Alex H. He had never seen them before, and was understandably hesitant. It took some gentle persuasion, and then he was duly wrapped up, and we were marking this special bar mitzvah.
Jonah and Ronit M.
The remarkable thing about this visit was a photo that caught our eye in Jonah’s and Ronit’s home. Jonah is a photographer and artist, and his walls feature a collection of mezuzot, unique photos and other artifacts. Nestled amongst them was a photo of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory. “Did you know the Rebbe, Jonah?” we inquired, and to our surprise he replied that he had taken that photo himself! He had been lucky enough to be granted an audience with the Rebbe, and told us that he could sense the holiness when the Rebbe gazed at him. We had to pinch ourselves. In Daly City, of all places, we were sitting with someone who had met and interacted with the Rebbe. And because we found ourselves in Daly City solely as followers of the Rebbe and his teachings, we took that moment as a personal approbation of the work we were doing.
We had what could easily be classified a “farbrengen”—Chassidic gathering—with our new friends, Jonah and Ronit, after which Jonah expressed his desire to find ways to strengthen his commitment to Judaism, and we are certain he will succeed.
For us, it’s back to the books now, with a heavy dose of inspiration from our Californian friends.