Imagine if Borough Park, Brooklyn, really had a big park in it, with hiking paths and a lake. But it doesn’t have such a park, and there’s a couple from France that is better off, very much better off, the way it is.
The following occurrence happened on a Friday in Borough Park, late one summer afternoon. About an hour before candle lighting, a chassidic woman from Williamsburg, staying at her sister’s home where she was visiting for Shabbos, was returning from an afternoon walk – I’ll call her “Rochel.”
A convertible pulled over to her and the driver – a man in a tee shirt and jeans (with a woman seated next to him dressed the same way) said he had a question. Holding a map in his hand, he asked, in a heavy French accent, “Can you tell me where the park is?”
Rochel could have curtly said, “I don’t know” and kept on walking. After all, she didn’t know these people. But instead, she stopped to speak to them. She did not know that this conversation with perfect strangers would lead to something quite remarkable.
“What do you mean?” Rochel asks.
The man pointed to his map and said, “It shows a ‘Borough Park’ here. We’d like to go to the park.”
Rochel explained that this was the name of the community and that there really wasn’t a park of any substance there.
That sounds like the end of the conversation, but there was more. The couple from France was curious about something. “Why are all of the stores closing?” asked the woman. “It’s not even 6 o’clock!”
Rochel explained that people are getting ready for the Sabbath. This piqued the French couple’s curiosity even more. “Could you tell us about the Sabbath?” asked the man. “We’re Jewish,” added the woman.
How do you explain the Sabbath with such little time before candle lighting? For Rochel, it was easy. “You should come in and talk with my brother-in-law,” she said. “He loves explaining things about Judaism.”
Remarkable that she could ask somewhat immodestly dressed strangers to come in and meet her brother-in-law, who didn’t even know they were coming! However, she felt that he would not object. She knew that he deeply cared for other Jews.
But it’s one thing to want to ask questions from inside a convertible. Would they want to get out of their car and enter a stranger’s house whose religious practices were alien to them?
A door was opening for this French couple and they could decide to stay in their comfort zone or they could have the courage to peer through to another world. To their credit, they followed Rochel through the door of her sister’s house and, at about an hour before candle lighting, they sat down with her gracious and welcoming brother-in-law to hear about what the Sabbath meant to him.
For the next 40 minutes, he answered all their questions; their eyes opened wider and wider as they learned about a spiritual path that was theirs by birthright, that they had yet to walk on. Perhaps he even invited them to stay for Shabbos and they declined. That part I don’t know.
But I do know what happened as they were leaving.
They thanked him profusely for his time and the information he shared with them. Then they spoke briefly between themselves. What were they talking about?
Rochel’s brother-in-law was soon to find out. They told him that they were planning to be married in Paris in a few months. They had planned to serve non-kosher food at the wedding. But as a result of their chance meeting, they had made a decision – not a small one – about their upcoming wedding.
“After talking with you,” the man said, “we have decided to make our wedding kosher.”
I hope that they followed up on their decision to have kosher food at their wedding. And that their wedding was a beautiful beginning to a wonderful life together.
A life enhanced, it seems, because they were looking for a park in Brooklyn one summer day.