Social Media/ Mitzvah

Vanessa meets Samuel.

It’s late Wednesday afternoon. We’ve just taken the kids out for an early supper (a rare treat).

As I get into the car, I extend a coin to the car guard. He’s an older, affable fellow, but I’m late for Mincha and need to tip and scoot.

He stops me mid-handout.

Turns out, he’s found a purse lying on the pavement. He is sure it belongs to someone Jewish, and wants me, the rabbi, to trace its owner. I peek inside to find a few credit cards and a driver’s license.

Vanessa Carvalho*.

Not quite Jewish. Unless her great-grandparents were desperado Jews during the Inquisition.

Now, I’m really late for Mincha.

Samuel- the car guard- is disappointed. He’s keen for the mitzvah of hashovas aveida (returning lost items). I have a twang of Jewish guilt- surely the rabbi should be more excited for the mitzvah than old Samuel.

I snap a photo of the driver’s license, because I doubt I’ll remember Vanessa’s last name, rev the engine and promise Samuel I’ll do my best.

Chassidim do, after all, believe that everything happens for a reason.

Traffic’s backed up on the freeway. I’m really,really late for Mincha, and I know that today they don’t have a minyan without my boys and I.

Who should I ask about Ms Carvo (or whatever her name is)? My contacts in the local Portuguese community are scant at best. I have one Greek friend and an Irish one (Iceberg, Goldberg), should I try them?


The brainwave hits during the Amidah (as it usually does).

“Oseh Shalom”, the mourners wind up the last kaddish and I quickly tap out a precis of Samuel’s story on social media. I copy some local radio stations, a couple of journalists and my European friends. Does anyone know Vanessa?

Later that evening, a Jewish woman I don’t know messages me on Facebook. She knows Vanessa C and has confirmed that she had dropped her purse in the vicinity of where Sam found it. How can she retrieve her personal items?

I direct Hazel to tell Vanessa to meet Samuel on his street-side beat in Norwood. After all, he’s waiting to do the mitzvah.

Vanessa catches up with Samuel Thursday lunchtime. They flash smiles and celebrate with a selfie, which they send me as a thank you.

Mitzvah accomplished, compliments of Facebook.

Jews believe that G-d created every person and every item with a purpose. That fellow you look right through as your park your car might retain some simple values- like care for a stranger- that our sophisticated world has forgotten. And the sophistication of technology is best used for a basic act of kindness.


* She asked me not to use her real name.

About the Author
Rabbi Shishler together with his wife, Naomi and their eight children, runs Chabad of Strathavon in Sandton, South Africa. Rabbi Shishler is a popular teacher who regularly lectures around the globe. he hosts a weekly radio show in South Africa and is the rabbi of Facebook's largest Ask the Rabbi group.
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