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An Afternoon In Queens

An Afternoon In Queens

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A tendency to celebrate is embedded in the DNA of our nation. So much so, that when our enemy in the Purim story, Haman, wished to harm the Jewish people, his contention to the king was that we were obsessivelyThe observance of the Jewish calendar shapes our very identity engaged in festivals and rituals. Between the weekly Shabbat and seasonal holidays, they are surely a burden to society, he charged. What his hateful mind could not grasp was the fact that the observance of the Jewish calendar shapes our very identity, making us the unique people G‑d intends us to be.

Inaugurating the Jewish calendar year are the festivals of the month of Tishrei. Each one is an integral element of the package of Divine energy that we need as we start a new year. Rosh Hashanah is a time to refresh our unconditional commitment to G‑d and His service. Yom Kippur is an opportunity to tap into our essential bond with our Creator and each other. Sukkot expresses the joyful aspect of the High Holiday services, and on Simchat Torah we celebrate our inseparable bond with the Torah.

Although each festival has a unique theme, there is a meaningful thread that holds them together: these holidays are about the revelation of the common denominator. On Rosh Hashanah, when we coronate G‑d as our ruler for the new year, the citizens are united as equals in submission to the monarch. The pardon granted on Yom Kippur is available to all, regardless of status and behavior. Everyone is welcome into the Sukkah, and every kind of Jew is represented in the Four Kinds over which we recite a blessing. And scholar and simpleton alike dance with the Torah upon its completion on Simchat Torah.

One year, when I was in my late teens, I was in New York for Sukkot. Following the Chabad tradition, we youngsters spent the better part of the daytime hours walking the city streets, encouraging fellow Jews to observe the mitzvah of shaking the lulav and etrog. One afternoon I approached a middle-aged man who was pushing a cart filled with empty soda cans and asked him if he was Jewish. He paused for a moment, responded that he was indeed Jewish, and then promptly launched into a loud tirade about every injustice that had befallen the Jewish people in the past 50 years.

At first, I was startled by the outburst and strongly considered beating a hasty retreat. But then, secure in the knowledge that I had done him no wrong, I realized that his angst was not directed toward meI realized his angst was not directed at me personally, rather to what my presence represented. I remained rooted to the spot, and every time he paused to catch his breath I would gently offer him the opportunity to do the mitzvah.

After several minutes of this awkward exchange, he finally asked me, “What do you want me to do?”

Handing him the lulav and etrog, I said, “Hold these!”

“That’s it?” he asked.

“And now we recite the blessings together.”

He obliged, and moments later all his anger evaporated into sincere emotion. He had tears in his eyes, and we had a lovely conversation about his youth and his childhood memories of his mother’s chicken soup.

On that autumn afternoon in Queens, the message of Sukkot came alive for me. Once the core of a Jew is reached, we share much more than we can imagine.

Rabbi Levi Greenberg is the director of programming at Chabad Lubavitch of El Paso, Texas.
Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Anonymous ny October 9, 2016

Shofar I myself blew shofar for a man that broke into tears stating that i reminded him of his father lchaim to all,and a sweet year! Reply

jim dallas October 7, 2016

fine art and inspiring words many times, a little is really a whole lot! charity can do wonders across the board, can bring people out of captivity and give life! Yom Kippur is a great time! Reply

Anonymous NYC October 6, 2016

This story made me cry. Reply

S U.K. October 6, 2016

Time Dear Rabbi Greenberg,I really enjoyed reading this because you did something very precious for this man. You gave him time, respect, a listening ear and the greatest gift of all a Mitzvah.

May HaShem continue to bless you, your family and your work. Reply

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