The Roving Rabbi uniform - white shirt, dark pants, tzitzit, and black hat or kippah - is bound to stand out from the crowd, and it's particularly prominent on the colorful island of Kaua'i, Hawaii. But truth be told, it serves us well wherever we go, because it announces us as the new Jewish address in town.
Our first night on the island and we bumped into a friendly young Hawaiian right outside our apartment. Kamua had never seen religious Jews before, so we explained who we are and why we were spending our summer in Kaua’i. Kamua seemed impressed and suggested, “You know, my boss is Jewish, you guys should meet him.” We pressed him for more details and arranged to meet his boss, Greg, the following morning.
Greg owns a surfboard and scuba gear rental shop in Hanalei. As we drove up, he called out a boisterous “Shaloha!” - his unique hybrid of Shalom and Aloha.
We started chatting, and Greg shared some details of his childhood in California, and life in Kaua’i, his home for the past 40 years. His parents, both Holocaust survivors, had raised him in a home completely devoid of religion, so although Greg knew he was Jewish, he knew very little about his heritage.
We offered him the opportunity to put on tefillin, explaining what they are and why we wear them.
Greg agreed, “Sure, there’s always a first time, right?”
He put on the tefillin, said the shema prayer and we danced the hora in celebration. But soon the enormity of the moment caught up with Greg, and he found himself overcome with emotion, tears rolling down his cheeks.
“Does G-d love me?” he asked suddenly.
We assured him that He does. Because of the atrocities his parents had suffered, they believed that G-d had scorned them, and Greg grew up subconsciously believing the same. While there are no explanations for the Holocaust, we told Greg that G-d is our compassionate Father, and His love for us is deep, binding, and unconditional.
We had opened a whole new world for Greg, and he was eager to explore. Too soon, it was time to go. We promised we would visit again, and left Greg with these parting words:
“Greg, here’s proof that G-d loves you. He arranged that we go outside at the exact moment that Kamua was walking by. It’s by Divine Providence that we’re here today. Shaloha!”
We met Gregg again today. He was delighted to see us.
He told us that he had read the booklet about the Rebbe that we had given him, and it inspired him very much.
We put on tefilin again.
We promised to stay in touch.