20 years ago I was an intern at Cosmopolitan, working as the lowest hanging branch on the features desk at the famous women’s magazine.
I got to interview the least glamorous celebs, test beauty products, run errands around Central London for impossibly cool photo shoots and attend mainly deathly dull press conferences.
I also got to test the parameters of my own religious observance. This included explaining why I needed to leave early on a Friday, pretending to be on a call when I was actually benching. Schlepping half an hour to selfridges to get my kosher sandwiches (with no time to gaze at the shoes) and eating them (the sandwiches) on the walk back to avoid taking more than an hours lunch break.
It also involved trying to look uber stylish in long sleeves and long skirts, davening on the Central and Northern lines – and I prayed a lot during that time because my brother was serving as an ammunition loader in a tank unit for the IDF and the news from Israel was terrible and grim.
On Purim of that year I found an early morning megilla reading at Chabad, for young professionals (cringe) that started at 7.00am.
My plan was to hear the megilla and then peg it to work for 9.00.
As I rushed into the Chabad house in Edgware I heard the word בימי. Meaning I missed the first word. I couldn’t believe it. I had never, to my knowledge, missed a word of the megilla. Sometimes I hadn’t heard every word clearly, but this time there was no room for any hopeful doubt. I actually arrived after the first word.
So I took my seat, overwhelmed by the rush to get there and so disappointed to have failed at hearing the megilla properly. I decided to stay and listen to the rest of it and hoped that at least, would be better than nothing.
When it was over, I leapt up ready to leave for the station.
The Rabbi who had read the megilla stopped me. He said: “I noticed you missed the first word.” and sensing that I was about to make an excuse to leave he looked me in the eyes and quickly continued: “I’m going to have a quick cup of coffee and then I’m going to read it for you again.” Then he asked: “Where do you work?”
I imagined uttering the words Cosmopolitan Magazine in the sanctity of Chabad house and opted instead for a shame-faced: “Carnaby Street.”
The Rabbi continued: “You’ll stand right here by the megilla and I will get it done in 15 minutes. You won’t be late for work.” I was stunned, firstly that he had noticed me at all, at the back of the large and packed room but also that he was prepared to give a private reading for some random, he had never met before. So even though it meant cutting it fine, I was relieved to stay and be fulfilling the mitzva of listening to every word of the megilla.
As everyone filed out the room the Rabbi downed his coffee and then began reading from the scroll clearly yet with incredible speed. Motioning for me to read out loud at the various times necessary (multiple cringe, especially at Haman’s sons).
When he had finished, I thanked him but in retrospect, not nearly adequately, and rushed into work -I got there on time!
Later that day sitting around the busy news desk I sneezed and not a single person said: bless you.
Never was it more clear to me how all the puff and glitter is just a distraction for what is really important.
It struck me then as it still does now, what a difference it makes when we are noticed and when people put themselves out for us.
How grateful I felt to be standing with the Rabbi hearing every word of our purim story, feeling included and connected and cared for.
I just felt I wanted to share this story. It moves me so much to think of the Rabbi’s sensitivity and amazing capacity to care. I hope that this year when we read and listen to every word of the story of Esther we feel the impact of how important every word is and equally how crucial every Jew is.