Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Illustrative photo of people celebrating Yom HaAtzmaut.

This morning in shul – at Ohr HaTorah of Toco Hills in Georgia – we had exactly a minyan, and one of the individuals had to leave early to get to work on time. This would mean that we would be unable to say the final kadeshim at the end of davening.

We were about to scramble and send out a text to see if anyone else could quickly come when literally at the moment the tenth man left a chassidishe-looking man (in full chassidishe clothes, long curled payos, a long coat, etc.) walks into the shul holding his tallis and tefillin. This is not the standard look for someone who attends our shul even if just passing through, especially since there are other shuls on the block that may be considered a better fit. I’ll be honest that if someone comes in looking like this, it’s usually to collect tzedakah.

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It turns out that somehow his Uber driver got lost and what was supposed to be a 15-20 minute drive from his hotel in Buckhead took 45 minutes, causing him to come in at that exact moment. He wasn’t even really coming to our shul originally, but through all the tumult of being lost, he saw our shul and asked the driver to stop so he could get out and hopefully catch a minyan.

The story gets better…

At the conclusion of davening, we said Tehillim on behalf of a woman from our community having surgery today, followed by a Kel Maleh for Israel’s fallen soldiers as today is Yom HaZikaron. (This man later mentioned to me how we was taken by the way we recited these tefillot so intently.) I then made announcements as to when Mincha is and the fact that we would have a Yom HaZikaron ceremony following Mincha, followed by a tefillah chagigit for Maariv of Yom HaAtzmaut. I must have also mentioned that there would be a falafel dinner to follow in celebration.

After some of the minyan attendees welcomed the man asking where he’s from and why he’s here, he approached me. He asked if it was too late to donate for tonight’s seudah. I responded of course not and he proceeds to pull out four $100 bills and hands them to me. I thanked him very much and said you know the seudah is for Yom HaAtzmaut and he didn’t flinch.

After he finished davening, I offered to drive him back to his hotel to show him how close it is, in fact, if you don’t get lost. We had a wonderful conversation in the car about his work that brought him to Atlanta, and he noted that he is the only Jew among his colleagues on this trip (there isn’t even a Jew with a small yarmulka! he pointed out). He also shared with me that when he goes to Israel he loves to daven in a Carlebach-style minyan that attracts all types of Jews. We bid farewell and he said he will see me later for minyan.

All too often, we unfortunately judge people and make assumptions based on appearances. I would have never dreamed that a chassidishe man from Brooklyn visiting Atlanta on business would essentially be sponsoring our shul’s seudah this evening in honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, but that’s the truth.

Mi k’amcha Yisrael.

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Rabbi Adam Starr is the rabbi at Congregation Ohr HaTorah in Atlanta where he has served since 2008.