I have a lot to say about the wonderful Shabbat we spent with Young Israel of Scarsdale, New York. This community is led by Rabbi Jonathan Morgenstern who, between various lectures and other gatherings during our stay, told me the following story:
“On my Bar Mitzvah I made a promise to myself: I would only eat food that was labeled kosher. Where I lived at that time, it was difficult to abide by such a promise, but I was strict in adhering to it for years.
“One day I went to a basketball game between two large Jewish high schools in New York. A girl sitting next to me offered me some chewing gum. I asked if I could see the package. I turned it over again and again looking for kosher certification but could not find any.
“I gave her back the gum, she stopped watching the game, and asked in astonishment: ‘What’s your problem?’ I gently answered that I try not to eat anything without kosher certification. She did not exactly understand, but this aroused her curiosity, impressed her, and she began to ask me all kinds of questions.
“And then the rabbi introduced me to that girl, his wife Jordana. Today they are not only parents but young grandparents as well.
“I asked permission to tell this story and Rabbi Morgenstern agreed, adding: ‘This story is not about the gum, but about what it represents. We are now reading about the nation of Israel in Egypt and about the challenge of retaining their identity within a foreign culture. Ultimately, this is the challenge that all of us face. To what extent are we swept up by the values and practices of the world around us, and how do we stay true to the values and practices that make us distinct? Yes, I did lose the chance to chew gum that day, but I found my better half in the process.’”
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Why Not Go First-Class?
How do we want to live our lives? Now that Hanukkah is over, the routine of work, study, and winter begins. I found the following story upon opening The Future Begins Now, a new book by Rabbi Yoni Lavi.
“Once a farmer in a faraway village in Russia had to go to Moscow, the capital city, but the road he would have to travel by horse and cart would take two weeks. One of his neighbors advised him to take advantage of a new invention: a speedy train.
“The village farmer, who had never traveled by train, bought a ticket for the luxurious first-class compartment. He waited on the platform but, since he did not know how to behave on a train, he decided to do exactly what those standing in line in front of him would do.
“The train arrived and he followed the two people in front of him while they boarded the third-class compartment, not knowing that they did not have tickets. Each time the conductor approached, the two quickly hid themselves under some seats. The famer, who thought that this was what you did when traveling by train, followed suit.
“At a certain point, the conductor noticed them hiding and demanded to see their tickets. The farmer pulled out his ticket and the conductor was in shock. ‘Why are you traveling third class and hiding under a seat with filth and spider webs when you have a premium first-class ticket?’
This parable is about us. When we were born, each of us received a ticket for a trip through this world. Shall we take that trip in a lowly, degrading, marginal compartment, or do we understand that we have a premium ticket to go first class, living a life full of joy and meaning?”