By Rivka Perlman

January 20, 2012

(Don’t?) Talk to Strangers

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      I was already checking out my groceries when I saw them. The conveyer belt was full but I asked the man behind the counter “please ring me up,” I have to go now. I was in ¬†Baltimore’s ¬†kosher supermarket so the religious man behind the counter was understanding. I walked over to where they were.

      I was intrigued. Jeans, a super large piercing and a cool tattoo, standing in front of the Chanuka candles. I love meeting people and especially people with spunk – but this time I was on a mission. I wandered near them for a minute or two and realized that the two girls were deep in conversation and probably didn’t want to meet me right then!

      So I went back to the register and started piling on more groceries. The girls had moved on  to a different part of the store and I was left questioning myself. Was I normal? What would I even had said?

      I run a Jewish learning program and I wanted to let these girls know about our program and what was available for them. But it seemed I wouldn’t get to talk to them. I felt a little awkward, having strolled around the candle section for no reason and now standing at the register for the second time.

      Then a few ¬†minutes later, I saw them again! This time I told the man behind the counter “see ¬†those two girls, I must go speak to them.” He was smiled with amazing patience.

      You know, when someone’s walking into an all kosher supermarket they ¬†can sometimes feel like they’re walking into foreign , even unfriendly territory. I wanted these girls to know that they were welcome.

      ¬†The truth is, we are all the welcoming committee.You may think it’s crazy, but if you do, think again. Everywhere we go, people are consciously or unconsciously waiting for us to acknowledge them, to show that we value them and don’t look down on them.

      When we pass by a person who is less observant, we may think that we’re just being quiet, lost in thought. But what we may not know is that our quiet may sound to the other person like a LOUD disapproval. So we have to go out of our way to show our love.

      Anyway, that all sounds marvelous on paper. But even so, I was  still scared. I felt the fear of rejection. What would they think of me? Would I look pushy, strange?

      No matter how many strangers I speak to, I almost always have that moment. That pang of self-doubt. But I think to myself ¬†“How can I NOT talk to them? How can I not share this gift called brotherhood, this gift called the Torah with them?

      My brother Gav OBM used to say it like this. “You get up to Heaven and there you are waiting in line. The Garden of Eden awaits you and you’re happily about to enter. Behind you a guy starts screaming.

      You knew about this! I can’t believe it! Why didn’t you tell me?”

      “Hu? Tell you? I didn’t even know you?!”

      “Yes, you did! Remember, ¬†I sat next to you on the bus! The whole bus ride I was next to you and you didn’t say a word! How could you not have told me?!

      So I walked over to them. I had¬†to. After all,I had two new Jewish sisters to meet. It turned out that one of them wasn’t Jewish and I ended up speaking more with the other.

      Her name was Jennifer. And she was wonderful. Her eyes sparkled with intelligence and there was sincerity in her voice. After a few minutes of shmoozing I told her about WOW (our group).

      me – “WOW is ¬†a great group for singles to meet and to learn something Jewish.”

      Jennifer – “oh, thank you, but I”m married”

      me – oh, married people come too. We actually have a few married couples now

      Jennifer -“oh, thank you but I’m moving in two weeks”

      me – oh, where are you going?”

      Jenifer – “Scotland”

      me – (feeling like a salesman ¬†– then reminding myself that this isn’t about WOW, it’s about loving a fellow Jew) have a wonderful time in Scotland and if you need anything Jewish, here’s my card, I have great contacts all over the world.

      I went back to my groceries….again. Happy that I’d met another Jew. Self conscious though. I had to try really hard to stay in G-d’s world.

      “It’s not about me looking good, it’s about what He wants”.

      When I got home later in the day… surprise! There, on facebook was a long and beautiful message from Jennifer. She told me that she had come up to ¬†my neighborhood, more than a half hour from where she lived to buy Chanukah candles. Then she told me a little bit more about her Jewish journey and how she wished she had known about WOW earlier. She told me how she learns as much as she can online and how her and her husband swap Aish articles.

      I was overwhelmed, overjoyed and overawed.

      Look at Your precious Children, G-d! Look who you let me meet! Look what kind of amazing people are out there waiting for us to break the loud silence. Thank you Hashem for giving me the courage to reach out!

      Jennifer and I have kept in touch a bit since she’s been in Scotland for this past month. And I love looking at the map that ¬†is on the admin page of this site. It shows me where the readers are from and there is Scotland, flashing on and off. Jennifer’s out there. Her beautiful, thirsty soul is listening. I asked her if I could share the story of how we met and if she would mind writing a ¬†bit to fill in the blanks. Below is her response.

       

       

      I was born in Pikesville. My parents grew up in a non-denominational Judeo-Christian church from a young age, so I was born in to keeping many of the Holy Days, food laws, etc. my whole life. We often used “Strong’s Exhaustive Bible Concordance” to understand the Hebrew words of the old testament, but never delved in to much of the culture surrounding.

      I’ve always grown up very proud of my German heritage and several years ago my mom happened to bring up that we were “part” Jewish, but no one really talked about it. I began getting interested in and researching Jewish customs, but never felt very comfortable with it, perhaps because no one around me was very supportive. Four years ago my father died after a two year struggle with cancer. I became very lost spiritually for a while. I felt like something was really lacking in my life and nothing would fill it. Church felt a bit shallow, I didn’t feel like I belonged as much due to the way I was living my life. Slowly, for some reason I can’t recall, I became more interested in things Jewish, again. Aish, among several other Jewish-related, became some of my favourite websites. I found comfort in the wisdom I found and I no longer needed someone to “support” me in my quest. I began reading the Bible more and asking myself if everything I believed and have been taught is true. I began wearing my hair covered and back in a bun and dressed more modestly.

      In December of 2010 I met one of my good friends that I hadn’t seen in 5 years but kept in contact via email‚Ķ 2 weeks later, he asked me to marry him! I finally found the strength to walk away from a very unhealthy lifestyle and G-d blessed me more than I could ever imagine and gave me a “new start”. Stefan has been living in Scotland for the past year and a half for school. Moving over here has given me the opportunity to create a new and better person of myself.

      Stefan’s from Sweden and also grew up in a similar church as I. He found it cool and was supportive that I was interested in “Jewish stuff” because his mother’s mother whom fled from the Ukraine and changed her name, was from a Jewish family.
      Last May I subscribed to “Ivrit” newspaper from The Jerusalem Post to work on reading and understand Hebrew. A couple months, ago I bought my first Mezuzah (which we’ve yet to hang up in our new home, lol). In December I bought my first Chanukah Menorah not more than a few hours before I met you! My husband and I had decided to celebrate for the first time together in our new home. I made Latkes and Sufganiyot, but other than that, our celebration was a bit awkward since we’re both so new to it, lol. Stefan especially enjoyed the Sufganiyot, though.¬†

      I’m still very nervous over here to “be myself”, though. See, I’m still Christian, but digging deeper in to my Jewish heritage‚Ķ Where I use to work, I was always “The Jew”. I didn’t keep Christmas or Easter, go to church on Sundays, etc. Here, it seems to be even more intense. But I’m always afraid that I’m not “Jewish enough” to be a part of a Jewish community. Right now I just kind of lay low. My husband says when if I go to a job interview don’t say anything about my religious beliefs, just when I’m not available to work, as they might not hire me due to my beliefs.

      I very much feel that the huge turn of events in my life over the past year has been due to the change in my beliefs and worship. G-d has blessed me greatly and I’m not about to stop learning who He wants me to be and growing.

      Thank you Jennifer! You’ve been a messenger of so many lessons! Your faith and your fire is so inspiring! G-d sent you to Scotland and we know that you will shine His light there and make Him very proud.’

      Friends – stop by Jennifer’s FB page and say Hi. (Jennifer Saxin – you can look her up on my page) Let her know you read her story.Drop her a line from time to time to keep her company out there. Tell her that you’re here for her, inspired by her.

      Or leave a comment below and I know she’ll read it. And the little light in Scotland will be flashing on the map once again.

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