He lives with other mentally handicapped adults in an isolated institute in Ra’anana, Israel, and there is no Jew on God’s green earth who celebrates Shabbat so faithfully.
His home is so far from the community he strives to be a part of that the only other building on the road he lives on is the city’s dog pound – two populations that people just don’t want to be with.
So every Friday at 4 p.m. he sheds his status and walks out of the community of caregivers in search of a synagogue. He checks the height of the sun in the sky. If it is winter time he will have to rush to the nearest synagogue to arrive in time for evening prayers, but in the summer he will have time to make it to us – the furthest of seven synagogues in the area within which he is allowed to walk.
So throughout the year, depending on how much sunlight is left in the mundane week, he prays at the old Ashkenazi shul, at the modest Moroccan synagogue or at one of the Yemenite minyans, those from Sana’a or Eden.
And like the elders of Safed, who sang “Le’cha Dodi” as they walked east on Friday afternoons to hasten the start of Shabbat, he too joyously walks out of his horizon every Friday and into Shabbat.
In each season he is embraced in a different synagogue, like the rabbis of Eastern Europe who traveled to teach in distant communities.
He resists when congregants ask him to take off the bright yellow vest his caretakers insist he wear to protect him from being hit by cars when he walks back in the dark. Ishar, the gabay at our synagogue, perfected the art of coaching him to take it off with promises to remind him to put it back on before he leaves. And so he sheds its yellow loudness and settles into a seat, harmoniously becoming one of us.
Then he ceremoniously picks up a prayer book, although he doesn’t appear to know how to read, and as the sun goes down and the synagogue darkens, he radiates a light like no other. A lightness of piety and community.
We begin to sing “Le’cha Dodi” to welcome a profound time that ends a week of us all trying to be richer than the other; to have more; to be distinguished in some way, all contrasted by his content on Shabbat to finally be just like the rest of us – Ahad HaAm.
There is an African saying: “It takes a village to raise a child.” I thank God my village has a home for the handicapped – it renders some normalcy for the rest of us. And I thank that lonely Jew whose unspoken inspiration taught my children the supremacy of being over having and strongly affirmed that the things that come from prosperity are to be wished for and the good things that come from adversity are to be admired.
The above is a vignette from Dov Hoch’s forthcoming book: “Ish Kveesh – Uplifting Profiles of Downtrodden People My Three Sons and Dog Exquisitely Encounter.”