Welcome to Israel: Two love stories

Story #1 Dinner

Having just arrived in Israel, we checked into our hotel, unpacked, and headed out to walk around the area looking for the right spot to have dinner. Shosh found a small and most definitely, intimate place on Ben Yehuda.

The mom and pop eatery had three tables inside and three out front on the sidewalk. In a charming combination of Hebrew and English, the owner helped us decide what to order (since the menu was a series of food photographs on the wall). We ended up with an array of salads, schnitzel, kabobs and great Israeli beer- just what we needed for our welcome home to Israel meal.

The drama began when I went inside to pay.

In a loud voice for all to hear, including his “Chevreh” seated inside, the owner/waiter, very proudly announced that a brand new credit card machine had been installed that morning, and that we, visiting Americans, would be the first customers to have their credit card swiped by it.

Accompanied by polite applause from the four regulars sitting and me as well, he took my card, typed in the bill (124 Shekels), swiped it, and…..nothing! He attempted several more swipes of card with no success and began cursing a blue streak. Whatever he was saying was definitely not Hebrew, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t a good time to ask him what language it was.

Instead, I stood in silence and watched.

Totally frustrated, he looked for his employee (who was outside on break) for help. Needless to say, the sought for savior to be, was smoking a cigarette and wouldn’t come in until he finished it.

I stood in silence and watched.

After a seeming eternity of tense total silence and very impatient waiting (3 minutes), the employee came back inside, and with great bravado, swiped card himself… nothing! Employer and employee started yelling at each other and the previously silent “Chevreh” immediately chimed in, each offering his sage advice by yelling at the other.

I stood in silence and watched.

Two more customers entered the fray, accompanied by much gesticulation, yelling, and futile swiping of the card, but without success.

I stood in silence and watched.

A deliveryman, with cases of soda, entered the restaurant and joined the action by loudly sharing his advice, all to no avail.

I stood in silence and watched.

In desperation, the owner turned to me and asked if I had any cash? I replied: “If I would have had cash, do you think I would have given you my credit card?” With a sigh, he turned back to attempting to master the machine.

I returned to stand and watch in silence.

Eventually, the delivery guy got the machine to accept the card and the receipt printed out. Expecting it to be an astronomical number, (considering how many times they swiped it), I was pleasantly surprised to see the amount was still the original 124 Shekels!

All of us shook hands, complimenting one another and rejoicing in our successful group effort, (mine, by standing in silence).

As Shoshi and I left, we heard the “Chevreh”, employer and employee, loudly rehashing what had happened and whose fault it was.

Next time, I’m bringing cash!

Story #2 The Philosopher Cabbie

The taxi arrived at 1:15am to take us to Ben Gurion Airport and our flight back to the States. As we settled into the cab’s backseat, Shoshi dozed and the cabbie began conversing with me. Itzik, a very affable and talkative fellow, asked me, in English, where we were from? When I answered him in Hebrew, the following conversation ensued.

Itzik wanted to know where I learned to speak Hebrew and telling him I had studied in Israel and was a Reform Rabbi, he immediately turned on the cab’s dome light in order to “see my eyes” when he spoke to me.

(It must be stated here that, considering my mind was not really attuned to serious religious discussions in Hebrew, without coffee and in the middle of the night with an Israeli cabbie, I believe I held my own pretty well).

Itzik referred to Reform as a Ket/Sect, but I immediately corrected him and said we were not a Ket, but Jews, as much a part of the Jewish People as any other Jew. Apologizing, he corrected himself and then fired off two questions in rapid succession: why were women wearing tefillin and how could they be counted in a minyan?

When I answered that, in reality, it was just “tradition” that women were forbidden to wear tefillin, but if they so desired, they could. I also mentioned that Rashi’s daughter was supposed to have worn tefillin. He was surprised. As to women’s presence in a minyan, when only men could form a minyan, I told him that there were all-women minyanim in the States, in both Orthodox and non-Orthodox communities.

Again, he was surprised, but then countered by mentioning that the three mitzvot incumbent upon women: challah, candles, niddah, were from the Torah itself and did not include minyan or tefillin. I corrected him saying it was Mishnah (Shabbat 2:6) and not Torah. He “corrected” me, adamantly holding that it was most definitely from the Torah and then quoted the following Torah verse:

“Rebecca told Leah those 3 things, because Jacob had told them only to her, in order to convince Jacob that it would be Rebecca, veiled under the chuppah. Therefore, those are the only 3 mitzvot incumbent upon women.”

When I told him that he was quoting a Midrash and not Torah, he wasn’t impressed, and in his own words: “Lo chashuv/it wasn’t important.”

Itzik couldn’t understand why, “the Reforms” came to the Kotel and expected to do things their way. If he went to a mosque, a church or a synagogue, he would follow what was traditional there. Why didn’t “the Reforms” act the same thing at the Kotel?”

I began to explain to him that the Kotel wasn’t an Orthodox shul, but just then, we had arrived at the first airport security checkpoint. Itzik rolled down his window and said to guard: “I’m bringing Rav Nachum, Shlit”a (Sheyichye L’orech Yamin Tovim, Amen/May he live a good long life, Amen) for his Swiss Air flight!”

The soldier looked at me, beard and kippaless, shrugged his shoulders, and passed us through. I laughed out loud and told Itzik that this was the first time I ever had Shlit”a attached to my name.

As we were retrieving our bags from the trunk, Itzik shared a final bit of his personal Torah with me. “What’s the proof that someone really appreciates and enjoys your story or joke” he asked? “When you are able to see the white of their teeth.”

We gave each other a very wide smile, laugh (showing the whites of our teeth and hug, promising to continue our discussion the next time Shoshi and I would be in Israel.

I look forward to it.

About the Author
Rabbi Norman S. Lipson is Founding Rabbi of Temple Dor Dorim in Weston, Florida. Israel advocacy and education have been in the forefront of Rabbi Lipson's more than 48 years in the rabbinate. Having led numerous Pilgrimages to Israel, he teaches about Israel and Judaism through inter-faith and adult education programs in South Florida. A graduate of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, he holds a Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. He is the author of two books: “How Many Memories Make a Minyan?” and “Rabbi, My Dog Ate My Shofar!” both available on Kindle Bookstore.
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