Ordinary Orthodox Jews Being Extraordinary

Two simple stories. Two small acts of kindness performed by Orthodox Jews that wouldn’t be newsworthy if we didn’t bother to tell them. The first story happened earlier this week when a man was collecting charity for the wedding fund of a poor bride. The man was going from door to door in the “ultra-Orthodox” neighborhood of Lakewood, New Jersey and along the way came upon a home where the woman of the home asked him to wait as she searched for money. He waited for a few minutes, but when the woman returned, she was empty-handed and apologized for not being able to find any cash to donate to the bride’s fund.

The man thanked her for her effort and continued down the block, collecting from other familes. After finishing in the area, someone offered him a ride to the Yeshiva on the other side of town. While getting out of the car at the Yeshiva, the man was shocked to see the lady who didn’t have any cash pull up behind him and get out of her car. As she came over to him, a bit out of breath, she handed him a ten dollar bill.

The man was confused, so the woman promptly explained what had happened. After the man left her house, the woman thought of one more place to look for money, and when she did, she finally found some. Excitedly, she ran outside to give it to the man, but saw him getting into a car down the block and pulling away. She rushed into her car and started to follow him, not knowing where he’d end up. The last thing she had told him was that she didn’t have any money, but when she found that she did have money, she didn’t want her words to be untrue, so she kept driving until she could catch him. The man collecting charity was stunned and deeply touched at how this woman had gone above and beyond to keep to her word and help the bride.

The second story is about a Hasidic Jew from the Lubavitch community and happened to my friend (and one of the JITC Orthodox Jewish All Stars) Mendy Pellin. In the Lubavitch community, there is a custom to read a letter that the late Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson wrote at the chuppah (marriage canopy) of every bride and groom. In deference to the Rebbe, the custom is for all in attendance to stand while the letter is being read.

But you see, a few years ago, Mendy couldn’t stand at the wedding he was at, or really at all. He had been injured in an accident and, as a result, was confined to a wheelchair for several months. Steps and narrow doorways became his enemies. Not wanting to be seen in his “old man’s chair,” he avoided it like the plague. He pushed himself around (inconspicuously) on an office chair when possible and generally stayed away from public events. However, his physical impairment was not going to stop him from celebrating the wedding of his good friend, Rabbi Chaim Danzinger, in Pittsburgh.

Arriving at the chuppah early, Mendy transferred from the “nebach chair” to a folding chair in the front row and asked a friend to hide evidence of the other chair. The seats quickly filled up. Sitting next to Mendy was an old friend from the Ukraine, Rabbi Akiva Rominofsky. They didn’t speak each other’s language, but caught up instead with hand gestures and a broken Yiddish that neither of them understood.

As the proceedings got underway, Mendy’s heart skipped a beat when he heard the MC ask everyone to please rise for the reading of the Rebbe’s letter. He couldn’t. Mendy watched everyone stand up as he helplessly sat in the front row. After the first few words were uttered, someone from behind gave Mendy the classic, “Nu-uu! Stand up!”

Without hesitation Rabbi Akiva Rominofsky, realizing what was happening, sat down next to him. He didn’t want Mendy to be the only one to get dirty looks. The two of them just sat there in the front row shrugging off all the “nu-uus” from the crowd. It was one of the nicest things anyone had ever done for Mendy. A man that lives for the Lubavitcher Rebbe day and night sat down during the Rebbe’s letter so a fellow Jew wouldn’t feel alone in a helpless situation.

Stories like these never make the headlines, yet they are quietly happening in religious Jewish communities all around the world, everyday. If we don’t spread these stories ourselves, people may come to believe that our community is only made up of those people who make the news.

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  • Avatar photo Neta says on June 21, 2013

    Nice article but it would have very little substance in the secular world. In the case with Mendy and his uncomfortable situation, people might say it was fellow Jews who had made him feel so awkward. And in the charity case people might say she should have kept it to herself, an that its not relatable to most people’s lives.
    This was a pleasant read, but quite limited and didn’t have enough substance.

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on June 21, 2013

      thanks for your feedback, Neta, but this article has been “liked” and positively commented on by numerous non-Orthodox Jews and non-Jews since it was posted a few hours ago. it’s people going above and beyond to be honest and kind, and even if the context isn’t exactly relatable, the basic idea of going out of your way to live up to honesty and kindness is universal to all good people.

  • Avatar photo Katie says on June 21, 2013

    Very nice article. Reading about acts of kindness always seems to make my day brighter, even if the relatable substance is not necessarily obvious to the secular or non-Jewish reader.

  • Avatar photo E.J. says on June 22, 2013

    I was having a conversation the other day with a lovely woman I work with. She and I were talking about how it seems only the negative light is shown on Observant Jews and Catholics and how unfortunate it is. (Long Island Princesses anyone? That show angers me beyond reason really) I’m going to print this out and bring it in. Thank you so much for focusing on some positives.

  • Avatar photo Toby says on June 24, 2013

    Allison, I have just discovered your website through a friend on Facebook and I look forward to checking out your many articles, videos and activities and with your permission, would like to mention you on the Facebook page I admin: Love Being Jewish. However, I was so looking forward to some inspiration from this first article but you lost me at the mention of “the Nebach chair”. Why did he have to feel that way I wonder? Only because he knew that’s how others at the wedding/in his community would look at him. Those who work for “Inclusion” and generally social acceptance would cringe at reading a reference like that. I am myself a Frum Jew (ideally) and have a lot of strong connections to Chabad Chassidus, but I have to admit in actuality… we have come along but we have a looong way to go towards becoming more accepting and loving toward our fellows. Wishing you Bracha and Hatzlacha!

    • Avatar photo Allison Josephs says on June 25, 2013

      thanks for your comment, Toby. the section about Mendy was adapted from a post he wrote and that was his term. i can’t read his mind as to why he chose that term but Mendy is an extremely inclusive guy. he’s a goof ball and my understanding of his using that term is that he’s supposed to be the life of the party and being injured was holding him back from that or making people feel down when they saw him when normally he makes them happy. i don’t think he meant anything more than that and i’m sure wouldn’t want anyone to feel badd about the term.

  • Avatar photo JB says on July 7, 2013

    Thought I’d post this here, in addition to the OU’s site, where I saw this article initially . . .
    I am married to a man very skilled in many areas of life, who just happens to have a condition that necessitates the use of a wheelchair and electric scooter. Rather than be inspired by the second story, it saddens me greatly. Why any intelligent person would look at a wheelchair as an “old man’s chair” and, far worse, a “nebach chair,” is beyond me, especially when the reason for needing one is almost 100% of the time beyond a person’s control. In addition, if he had remained in the wheelchair, he could have entirely avoided insulting the Lubavitchers by his sitting through the reading of the Rebbe’s letter; it would have been obvious that his sitting wasn’t meant to be insulting, but rather, was a condition beyond his control.

    And finally, we should be encouraging acceptance of all, with whatever disabilities they may have, rather than perpetuating stereotypes of the physically disabled, who may have far greater abilities in many areas other than walking.


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