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Bean Town Blessings

My Jewish genes expect to be blamed when things go wrong for the gentiles, but the average American looked right past my decidedly ethnic Middle Eastern appearance.
Boston Strength

Boston Strength
Photo Credit: Yishai Fleisher

Last week was an intense time to be in the U.S. and certainly in Boston. Fresh from Israel, I was ready to talk about the story of the Jewish State, but it seemed God had other plans for me: to live a story in Boston.

So, Friday morning I was walking from the Young Israel of Brookline to the corner Kosher bakery, called Kupels, where I had breakfast every day while in Boston. I must admit I was a bit unplugged from the steady stream of breaking news tidbits and was walking around innocently, when I noticed that there were unusually few cars on the road and that stores seemed to all be closed.

I asked a young lady who was smoking nervously what was going on. “Didn’t you hear?” she said, and proceeded to fill me on everything that had happened overnight: the murder of a police officer, the shootout, the killing of the first suspect and the subsequent manhunt underway for the younger brother. Two things struck me about her tale, the first was the reality of what was happening around me and the strange providence that brought me from “dangerous” eastern Jerusalem to usually-calm Boston to be a witness to this tumultuous and historic time – and hopefully allow me to offer support as well.

The second thing that struck me was the willingness of random Bostonians to give over the whole tale; a kind, verbal kindness that seemed to come naturally to this city of universities, history and intellect.

I returned to the quaint Victorian motel on Longwood Avenue which I was staying at for the week. I began the process of checking out as originally planned but now I couldn’t leave. The city of Boston was on lockdown-manhunt mode and my speaking event had been cancelled. I had nowhere to go and the police did not want anyone going anywhere anyway. So my fellow guests and I congregated in the public kitchen, gathering in front of the television to watch the saga that was unfolding just outside.

To my right was a gentleman – let’s call him Joe. A tough old American, with a penchant for mildly anti-Semitic jokes. Another man came in from outside, bringing Old Joe a ham sandwich. Joe turned to me and said: “Hey Rabbi, you want some of this sandwich, I’ll bless it for you!” and he proceeded to cross the ham. We all laughed. Then Joe asked the other man where he got the food from. The other man, let’s call him Mike, said: “everything is closed except the Jewish deli” (the Kosher-style one where he got the pork). So Joe says: “they’ll do anything for a buck.” But Mike retorted “Na, only the Jews have guts!” Joe nodded.

No one in Boston gave me dirty looks. Nobody implied I was the source of all evil, somehow nefariously involved in the terrorism that had just struck. My Jewish genes expect to be blamed when things go wrong for the gentiles, but the average American – certainly the Bostonians that I met – looked right past my decidedly ethnic Middle Eastern appearance.

On Friday night, I had finished dinner with wonderful Jewish students at the Chabad of Boston University, when I heard merriment and revelry outside. Armed with this new understanding of this city’s willingness to talk, I ran outside and asked the first person – a happy dogwalker – to give me the lowdown. Of course, he immediately obliged, giving me the good news that police had located and captured the second terrorist. Relief was in the air for a city which had held its breath for a week.

On Shabbat day, I walked from B.U. to the Chabad of Harvard (and MIT) for prayer, great lunch, and to give a talk. That day was the 25th day of Omer (the 49-day count between the second day of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot) and the Sefira (Kabbalistic emanation which corresponds to each day of the count) was Netzach SheB’Netzach. In my talk I explained that Netzach means two things: eternity and victory, and that these represented two kinds of Jewish triumph. Eternity means that we outlast our enemies and that no matter what they do to us and how many of us they kill, we come back. We outlast the horrors inflicted upon us by Romans and the Nazis and everyone in between. But victory is different; victory is not only outlasting the evil, it is actually beating it. Our nation suffered through the long exile, and we outlasted our tormentors. But now, with the advent of the Jewish State, we are tasked with pursuing victory and helping the world be rid of those who hate peace.

After Shabbat I learned that the FBI had been warned by the Russians about the two Chechen brothers, and had even interviewed the elder would-be terrorist. Victims of the bombings are sure to feel doubly injured when they learn that those who were entrusted with the security of the country fell short of their responsibilities. The U.S. has to become more attentive if it is to beat terror. In Israel, we have already learned to live with an ever-vigilant defense apparatus and even with intrusive daily security procedures. In this atmosphere Israel is able to regularly foil the plots of terrorists. Yet, I pine for the day when Israel goes on the offensive and strikes fear into the hearts of terrorists and thereby allow a new generation of Middle Easterners to grow free of the Jihadist ideology and devoid of their carnage.

Back in N.J., I heard a woman being interviewed on the radio. A few years ago her hands and feet suffered a massive infection and her doctors were forced to amputate them. After getting over her own pain and loss she went to school to study amputee care and now she was heading to Boston to comfort and guide the many victims of the Marathon bombings who had lost limbs. I cried when I heard how she now felt purpose in her life, to help others fare better with their trauma and cope with their new reality.

The spirit of kindness is indeed indomitable, but not for lack of trying by the other side.

About the Author: Yishai Fleisher is the Contributing Editor and PR manager at the JewishPress.com, and Israel's only English language broadcast radio show host (Galey Yisrael 106.5FM). Yishai is an Israeli Paratrooper, a graduate of Cardozo Law School, and the founder of Kumah ("Arise" in Hebrew), an NGO dedicated to promoting Zionism and strengthening Israel's national character. Yishai is married to Malkah, they have two children, and they live on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.


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