Some short stories that illustrate the point. When my dear wife was a pathology resident at UMass Medical Center, she kept a siddur on her desk. It was there for birkat hamazon, and just as a personal item the same way one puts a picture or other item on their desk to personalize it. Her hair was covered. Every Friday afternoon she rushed to get home for Shabbat. One of the senior attending physicians had an involvement with medicine in Israel, and sometimes they would talk about that. This was her routine, and otherwise she ‘minded her own business’.
One Friday, as she is moving to get home, a colleague says “Shabbat Shalom”. Turns out this person is Jewish. No one knew. They had forgotten all about such things until Dr. Scher showed up. No speeches or demonstrative acts; just doing her thing as a Jewish woman in the workplace. That, however, was enough to get this person thinking and reaching out for Jewish contact.
Similarly, when my wife did Family Practice residency (yes, we went through insanity more than once!) she sometimes had to be at her rural clinic over the weekend. For the sake of shalom bayit, I avoided telling her how to handle this and left it between her and her rav. I did, however, spend Shabbat at the clinic when she was stuck out there. There were other Jewish residents, not so ‘secretive’ as the one mentioned above; but none were overtly very observant. All worked the clinic on Shabbat without a fuss. After a few times, however, we had one fellow join us for Kiddush and a quick bite. Another resident invited herself to our Sukkah. A med student visiting from Israel even made Sukkah decorations for us! All this came about just because my wife didn’t change who she is when she was at work. Jews came up and introduced themselves, invited themselves over, looked for a chance to connect. This can be far more powerful than we suspect. As Shlomo Carlebach would say, “you never know”.
Why did I think of this? The other day I was at a local motorcycle dealer to see about some parts for my bike. I was out in the parking lot by my bike, when a fellow comes striding up, sticks his hand out and says “I’m Ploni, and I can’t believe I’m seeing a Jew with a kippah and tzitzit!” It turns out he had strayed away a bit from the more traditional education that he had (including one year at YU), but seeing an obvious, unabashed Jew at the motorcycle shop struck him. Not many traditional Jews out here in New Mexico, and even fewer with their tzitzit flying in the breeze as they commute on a motorbike.
We spent about a half hour standing there talking Jewish communities, and motorcycles, and finally got around to inviting him for Shabbat. He declined this time, but we traded numbers and there’s a good chance we’ll have him and his wife as our guests some other time.
Years ago a student of mine, Miriam Rosenblatt, complained when I had my tzitzit tucked in for some reason. She said they were there for others to see, too. You never know… J.
Mordechai Y. Scher
galut Santa Fe, for now\