Recently deceased actor and director Sidney Poitier was groundbreaking in his time. He was the first African-American man to win an Academy Award for best actor. But his life wasn’t always dreamlike. He was born in poverty to tomato farmers but eventually found his way to success.
During Poitier’s first audition, when he was handed a script to use, he was unable to read it. As a child he had little schooling and was therefore illiterate. He had found a job washing dishes in the back of a New York restaurant and it was at this restaurant that he met someone who would change his life’s trajectory forever. Later, in an interview with CBS News, he recalled the following exchange.
“One of the waiters, a Jewish guy, elderly man, looked over at me, and he was looking at me for quite a while. I had a newspaper, it was called Journal American. And he walked over to me, and he said, ‘What’s new in the paper?’ And I looked up at this man. I said to him, ‘I can’t tell you what’s in the paper, because I can’t read very well.’ He said, ‘Let me ask you something, would you like me to read with you?’ I said to him, ‘Yes, if you like.’”
From that day on, they would study together every night after closing time. This Jewish waiter used newspapers to patiently teach Poitier phonetics, the meaning of the words, and punctuation. With a lot of hard work and practice, Poitier became a fluent reader in about six months.
Poitier clearly stated in the interview that the waiter who helped him was Jewish. A national kiddush Hashem was made that day.
Another story, from Living Emunah for Children by David Ashear, shares an incredible example of a kiddush Hashem we can all learn from. A young yeshiva bachur, Ephraim, hopped into a cab to go home. He had become immersed in his learning, and was leaving late.
There was traffic along the way, and he began to learn from the Gemara in his hand. When the taxi pulled up to his house, he thanked the driver and got out with his nose still in his sefer. As he approached the front door, he realized he had not paid the driver, but the car had already zoomed off.
He began to run after the taxi to pay, but every time he got close, the car sped off again, presumably looking for his next customer.
After some time, he caught up with the cab and was completely out of breath. “I forgot to pay you!” Ephraim gasped.
The driver was flabbergasted that he had run all that distance just to pay him.
Thirty years later, the young boy – who was now an older man – saw a poster featuring a famous rav, who was giving a speech about kiddush Hashem. He decided to walk in.
At one point, the rav mentioned that Hashem promises us that if we perform a kiddush Hashem, we will see the good that comes from it.
After the class, the man approached the Rav with a question. “Excuse me, but thirty years ago I performed a specific kiddush Hashem, and I never saw the fruits of my labor. I chased after a taxi for a long time in order to pay the secular driver.”
The rav replied, “I cannot believe this! I am that driver! After meeting an honest yeshiva boy, I decided to become religious myself. I started learning, and I became a rabbi – all because of you! Right now, Hashem is showing you the wonders that have come from your mitzvah.”
Among the many celebrations worldwide for the Siyum HaShas, 7,000 participants gathered at the Wembley Arena in London to celebrate the completion of over seven years of learning the entire Gemara. The following email, written by Becky Syrett, operations manager at Wembley, was circulated widely the morning after the event.
6,748 tickets were scanned at the door, aside from the top table Rabbis who entered via the VIP entrance, and of course all of your volunteers and crew. There are a number of points that have blown us away:
- We have a security cupboard in which we allow guests to deposit anything deemed dangerous or inappropriate. At an event this size we would normally have anything between 700-1,000 items. Tonight we held nothing.
- There was not a single incident of drunkenness, boisterous, or rowdy behavior. Not a single one. I have been with the arena for 28 months and accommodated over 300 events in that time. Never have we had no incident.
- All the team were blown away by the amount of thank yous that we received at the end of the evening. I actually thought everyone had been instructed to do this!
I am devastated that the Siyum only takes place once every seven years. This event was a delight for all of us.
Regardless of who or where we are, we all hold the power within us to perform selfless acts and blessings to Hashem. Large or small, if we take just a moment to make a kiddush Hashem each day, then we truly can make a difference in the world.