To be brief, her father was a soldier in World War II. He was so moved by his exposure to survivors in the concentration camps that he decided to undergo an Orthodox conversion and moved his fledgling family to Jerusalem. Unfortunately he died at a young age and the children grew up experiencing much difficulty. One daughter went off the derech and moved back to the U.S., where she adopted a totally secular lifestyle. She had a few children who knew they were Jewish but knew little about Judaism.
One of those children was recently in New York to visit his aunt. Walking in Flatbush on Shabbos, he was approached by two frum women who asked him to help them by turning on a light. How should they have known that the black man with braids was a Jew? After they hinting to him several times what it was they wanted him to do, he understood and flipped on the light. A child witnessing the event sheepishly told the women, “I think he is Jewish.” The young man promptly responded, “Yes I am, and Shabbat Shalom.”
Let this story teach us not to make any assumptions. The first question to ask when approaching someone you need help from in such a situation is, “Are you Jewish?”
Dr. Joshua Canter
If this were not enough, I, too, once had the uncomfortable experience of discovering that someone I thought was a gentile was in fact Jewish. A number of years ago, I was involved in a Passover hotel venture, and my brother and I took over a hotel for the entire holiday. We brought in our own chef and a group of mashgichim, but for the most part we utilized the hotel’s kitchen and wait staff. In the week before Pesach, in the midst of kashering the entire kitchen, we had a number of orientation sessions for the hotel staff to fully acquaint them with the laws of kashrut and the additional Passover restrictions.
As there are many restrictions on what can be done in a kitchen on Shabbat and Yom Tov, many of the functions were to be performed by non-Jews. They learned, and understood exactly, what had to be done. I must say their performance was excellent.
At one point, though, in the middle of a casual and friendly conversation between one of the mashgichim and the kitchen steward, a seasoned man of no small abilities, it was discovered that although he considered himself a gentile, his mother was in fact Jewish. We were left with little recourse but to ask the hotel management to dismiss him for the remainder of the week and find a gentile substitute.
This brings us to the problem at hand, and one we must take great care in ascertaining: Is the gentile performing a labor for a Jew on Shabbat (i.e., driving a shuttle, pushing elevator buttons, etc.), in fact, a gentile? As we noted previously, when a gentile performs a labor for a Jew from which he personally derives benefit, there is room for leniency. However, if the “gentile” turns out to be a Jew, it is obvious that we cannot ask him to do anything for us as we will essentially be asking him to sin.
(To be continued)