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If there is one thing I avoid, its traffic.
I’ll leave two hours early rather than deal with traffic in New York.
Tuesday August 2nd was no exception.
I was attending the Project Witness event in Manhattan which was beginning at 5:30 PM.
I headed out early which allowed me to take a rare ‘Shpatzir’ in the city.
I just knew that my early arrival was would lead me to personally ‘witness’ something special.
As I walked down Lexington Ave a couple with three children approached me.
In heavily accented English they asked me if it was still permitted to eat meat during this period. As the Hebrew date was the 27th of Tammuz I replied that meat can be consumed.
They were from France and they wanted to know if they could go to a fleishig restaurant.
I was happy to help; somehow I knew they were not my true ‘witness’ experience.
I passed two policemen on the beat and made a point of telling them how appreciative we are of our men in blue.
It was under the 59th Street Bridge when I heard the scream.
Somehow I knew the shriek was meant for me.
“I am so happy I saw you. I have been meaning to ask someone this question for 63 years!”
I turned to see an elderly woman rapidly approaching me.
“What could this woman want from me?”
Without a word of greeting she began, “I could not help but notice your Tzitzis. I have been washing my husband’s Tzitzis by hand for the last 63 years. Please tell me, how do you wash them and make sure that the strings don’t untangle? I wash his Tzitzis and no matter how much I try, the strings unravel and I have to discard them. Can you please tell me how to wash them?”
I looked carefully at her.
She was wearing pants, no head covering and she appeared to be over 80 (she admitted to me that she is 83); she had a very determined look in her eyes.
This certainly ranked among the most bizarre shaylas I would ever be asked.
Although I am not the right source for Tzitzis washing instructions; I answered as best I could and we subsequently spoke for twenty minutes.
She told me how proud she is of her son the lawyer.
“How does your son wash his Tzitzis?” I naively asked.
“He doesn’t wear Tzitzis; only his father does; I never sent him to Yeshiva.”
We were about to part ways when she said, “Can I ask you for one more thing?”
I figured it could not be any stranger than her first question so I said, “Yes, of course.”
“Can you say a prayer for my husband in Shul today? He is very sick. I myself am not such a believer; but, he would appreciate it; as he is very religious.”
I told her I would and gave her my contact information.
Over two months later, as I shopping for my perfect Esrog, the woman from under the 59th Street Bridge called, “I wanted to thank you. My husband was released from the hospital today and Thank G-d he is doing much better. Thank you for praying for him. Also, my son- the one who I never sent to Yeshiva- decided today to begin wearing Tzitzis. When he heard there was a way to wash them and when I told him that you prayed for his father- without even knowing him- he decided to wear them. Rabbi, wasn’t it good I stopped you on the street in July?”
I now knew what my own private ‘project witness’ was.
I had to be a ‘witness’ to the unraveled and knotted connection between a Jew and his heritage.