The Effect You Can Have Just Being You

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\

7 comments on “The Effect You Can Have Just Being You

  1. Aha, Rabbi Scher, you found my blog and I found yours!

    As the original Miriam in question (gosh, I’m blushing!), I have to, um, agree with myself. :)

    Living in Israel, seeing a fellow Jew is (B”H) no ‘chidush’ – but even here, being openly very religious (through certain aspects of dress and so on) gives you a constant opportunity to provide a kiddush Hashem, or even to allow other people who are religious to be more tolerant of other kinds of religious. For example, I’m living in the charedi society, and if by appearing chareidi and acting in a refined way in public, someone who feels negative about chareidim sees me and says, “hey, they’re not so bad after all” – well, that’s increasing ahavas chinam in the world, and I’m all for it!

    And on a more practical level, one of the things I first liked about my husband when I met him was that he wore his tzitzis out. :)

  2. Shalom justme!

    I had to laugh, I’m sorry! My wife also got a sheitel because she didn’t like a hat, etc. in the workplace. Felt very self-conscious. But, as you already pointed out, the sheitel can be torture on a hot day, in the OR, etc., etc. Especially late nights on call, in the NICU or OB a sheitel wasn’t going to work! To this day she goes back and forth between sheitlach and hats, etc. The sheitel and pants is especially interesting. :-)

    Be kind to yourself, be gentle with yourself, have a good sympathetic rav for when you need him, and hook-up with the other women in your position (could be nurses, too). You’re really not alone.

    Let us know what we can do to help!

  3. Thank you very much for your post. As a female med student and B”H soon to be resident, I have grappled with these questions for a long time. To be me and do my own thing, or to conform. Covering my hair is by far the biggest challenge, and I have considered many times stopping. I wear a sheitel to fit in, but after 12 plus hours work and sometimes being on call, I can’t stand it, and want nothing more than to rip the thing off my head. It would be so easy. I do not yet have the self confidence to wear a hat or tichel and stand out that way. B”H one day I will, and will have the same strength as your wife.

  4. ‘Another Jew’, Shalom!

    I didn’t take Miriam’s intent (nor is it mine in retelling) to be that there is an *obligation* to wear tzitzit out. Her point was the influence it had on her, and possibly others, just be seeing someone else’s mitzvah. This is what she told me herself at the time. I think she had a good point, and I’ve obviously remembered the incident.

    Whether or not one should wear tzitzit out is a question of normative practice and halacha. The Sefardi mekubalim hold the method that they should be in; so reports Rav Haim David Halevy, ztz”l and the Netivei Am in the name of the Ari. OTOH, the Ashkenazi mekubalim I think typically wore them out. I seem to remember Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook, ztz”l insisting that they should be out. I never asked why. The simple understanding of the Shulhan Aruch lends itself to wearing them out.

    I think the Torah itself allows for an understanding that others should see them, not only the wearer. “You shall see them, and you shall remember all of Hashem’s mitzvot.” If, among other meanings, remembering all of Hashem’s mitzvot means to be reminded of the whole broad sweep encompassed by the commandments (a notion that may be supported by the midrashim), then this is a benefit that can be had by others seeing the wearer’s tzitzit as well. Also, the midrashim say in at least two places that I know of that the tzitzit should be ‘niret’, the passive form ‘seen’ or ‘visible’. That might imply that there is an intention for others to see them as well.

    A fellow Jewish motorcyclist read this post and mentioned to me that he hasn’t had such reactions, but that he usually wears a hat (rather than a kippah) and his tzitzit in. It should be clear that is fine, too.

    Of course, the point of the post wasn’t about tzitzit per se; it was about the effect we have on others as we go about minding our own Jewish business. This occurs in many, many ways; none exclusive one of the other; as I think you have already agreed.

    Hashem should bless us that we be an encouragement and beneficial influence on all the people we meet… :-)

  5. Re tzitzit: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.

    Not really, and it should not be assumed that it is even required. Your wife managed to convey her identity by who she was.

    I’m not opposed to you or anyone wearing tzitzit out, just want to keep perspective that what truly defines us as Jews is our modest, but serious, religious, moral behavior as modelled by your wife. ( And yourself of course)

Comments are closed.