By Rabbi Richard Plavin
I was very impressed by Ron Kadden’s wonderful Kolot article about Sukkot in Jerusalem (“Sukkot in Jerusalem,” Dec. 5, 2014). It made me look forward to spending Sukkot in the Holy City and being as inspired as he was. His story about the trash collectors benching lulav reminded me of an experience I had in Mitzpeh Ramon half a dozen years ago.
Our Beth Sholom B’nai Israel synagogue group spent several days in Mitzvah Ramon exploring the canyon and other aspects of the Negev desert. Our first morning there we woke up before dawn so that we could say the Shacharit prayers overlooking the canyon and do it at just the right time so that we could say “Yotzer Or” (Creator of light) just as the ball of the sun was becoming visible over the distant horizon. In other words, about 5:30 a.m.
It was indeed an inspiring experience. But what followed was even more inspiring.
As I was saying my prayers, wrapped in my talit and tefillin, I saw a man sitting by himself at a distance observing our group praying but not coming to join us. He was wearing jeans and a tee shirt and his head was shaved bald. Various tattoos covered his arms. I assumed he was a secular Israeli or perhaps a foreign tourist, with no interest in something as spiritual as davening Shacharit. I was not entirely correct.
As we were finishing the prayers and we were taking off our prayer paraphernalia he approached me.
“Could you let me use your siddur, talit and tefillin? And could you help me put the tefillin on? It’s been nearly 20 years since my bar mitzvah and that was the last time I wore them. My father died just last month and I think he would be pleased if I did this in his memory.”
Clearly, this man had a deeply felt need to connect with a higher realm, and seeing our group davening gave direction to the spark that was already in his soul. Of course, I helped him put on the tefillin, we read a few prayers together and I gathered the group again so that we would have minyan for him to say Kaddish for his dad.
I have no idea where that man’s spiritual journey took him after that morning, but I hope his experience with our group moved him to be more connected to our tradition.
Rabbi Richard Plavin is spiritual leader of Beth Sholom B’nai Israel in Manchester.
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