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A Churning Stomach And An Upturned Nose

Several weeks ago, there was back and forth “dialogue” in the editorial pages of the Jewish Press concerning the very subjective view as to who is the more “authentic” Jew amongst the various segments of the Orthodox community. The stomach churning (read sickening) “holier than thou” attitude coloring the remarks exchanged in the letters sadly triggered a memory of another stomach churning experience – both figuratively and literally - the day after I arrived in Israel this past Chanukah.

As a treat for an upcoming milestone birthday, and because I wanted to spend money in Israel, I stayed in an upscale hotel in Jerusalem, one with the “feast your eyes and eat all you can stuff into yourself” breakfast buffet that Israeli hotels are famous for.

When I went down for my first ever “hotel breakfast” – having arrived the evening before, I was overwhelmed by the fruits, cheeses, egg dishes, pancakes, hot cereals, smoked fish, breads, crackers, cold cereals, jams, marmalades, juices pastries, cookies and cakes that constitute a tourist’s morning meal.

But while it was about 9:30 am Jerusalem time, it was 2:30 am for my digestive system, a time I normally am fast asleep, and maybe dreaming of food, but not actually feasting on it.

After a coffee and some crackers with cheese, my stomach let me know enough was enough – literally. Knowing that I might end up having a jet lagged induced nap and wake up starving, I decided to take up some fruit and cookies up to my room. As I started to put a fig into a small baggie I had found on the table, I heard a female, yet no-nonsense type of voice behind me exclaim in English, “What are you doing?” Being trained from birth to be polite, I turned around and answered, ” I’m taking some food.”

“You can’t do that,” I was firmly advised by what I assumed was a self-appointed food police – (or else she would have been wearing a white blouse with a bow-tie.) The woman reprimanding me was tall, thin, and wearing a long robe.

“Why not?” I asked genuinely puzzled, adding in a moment of inspiration that I was a guest at the hotel – although I had concluded that since she was not a hotel employee, it was none of her business.

“Because you’re stealing,” she exclaimed in a self-righteous voice and with a nose quivering in a manner very similar to the way a nose would in a fish store during a blackout. Stunned equally by her accusation and her “holier than thou” aura, I could only look at her as she spun on her heels – and walked away. (Her nose by the way was up so high I thought she might scrape it on the ceiling).

Now, although I was new to eating in Israeli hotels, I had throughout my youth and adulthood been at kosher hotels in the Catskills and Florida. It went without saying that because there was no lunch served, guests would take fruits, pastries and other breakfast items up to their rooms “for later”.

As far as I’m concerned, doing so can almost be considered a minhag practiced by all streams of Judaism. Looking around me, I noticed that my fellow guests appeared to be quite machmir in this area, with a slightly different twist. Plates were piled high with a week’s worth of breakfast and not wanting to be wasteful, guests were taking the intact leftovers out of the breakfast room.

To this day, I ask myself what possessed a person – to approach a stranger and publicly accuse her of stealing? Even if it was true – that it was gnaiva to remove even a raisin from the dining room, why would she think that putting a fellow Jew in a situation where she could be embarrassed was preferable than letting the “thief” get away?

Based on her tone of voice and her body language – which was full of disdain, I felt that she looked down on me. Could it be that in her mind, I was not observant as she? (Maybe because I’m from Canada, any temperature above 50 F causes me to dress summerishly, meaning shorter sleeved shirts and open toe sandals.)

My aggrieved 2:30 in the morning stomach churned even more from the distress I felt that day. In the holy city of Yerushalayim, in walking distance of the most sacred site in the world, I had been exposed to sinat chinam that was responsible for our miserable exile and the remnant wall we wail at - when once we had a magnificent Temple that heralded Hashem’s Glory and ours as His Chosen People, blessed with the mission of being an example to the rest of the people of this world.

Good thing that Moshiach wasn’t a guest at the hotel. He might have left Israel for good!

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