“Thoughts” by Rabbi Nachman Seltzer: Of Heroic Moments, The Banff Approach, and Operation Pintele Yid

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Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Just when you think that all is lost and the world can not get any worse, along comes a person who does something special and reignites your intrinsic belief in humanity.

Last week’s column brought a host of responses/comments to my laptop. Amongst them was one boldly entitled “I Have An Answer.” This statement was in clear reference to my question at the end of the column, where I asked why it takes a national tragedy to bring out the sometimes dormant achdus within us.

Long story short, the two of us spoke on the phone.

“I recently went away on vacation to a place called Banff (located in Alberta’s Rockies) in Canada,” he began. “Attending the same vacation were an assortment of all types of Jews. I was climbing mountains – Chassidim on one side, black t-shirted guys on the other. Everyone got along wonderfully. It was something inspirational to see. So I asked myself, “why is it that we got along so well when in Banff and have such a hard time the second we get back home?

“While out in the Rockies,” he went on, “we were focusing on the basic elements that we had in common. Such as the fact that we were all Jewish people. (This is what unites us during a tragedy as well. We are all Jews. We have all been hit.) We saw the Pintele Yid in Banff. Back home however, we are suddenly struck by the million and one (tiny) differences that there are between us. The focus shifts and before we know it we’ve forgotten what really matters and then – fireworks.

“And what is your answer,” I asked him.

“I can tell you what I do to combat this.”

“Please.”

“I live in a mid size American town that is home to a wide variety of Jewish people. Many times I walk into my shul and I see people there who are not like me in dress or culture. I make a point of approaching these people and welcoming them to my shul and finding them a seat. This is my way of seeing the Pintele Yid in every single one of my brothers and reminding myself that we are one and that I should never forget that salient point.”

Our conversation left me with much food for thought.

“The Banff Approach,” needs to be implemented. There can be no question abut that. It doesn’t have to be done using this reader’s particular method, but there is no doubt that discovering “The Pintele Yid” within every Jew that we come in contact with is a vital task and must be activated by each of us – in whatever way suits us best.

Some of you may think that I am exaggerating, but I feel that this individual’s astute observation and subsequent undertaking – touches on the heroic to some degree. Here’s a Jew, just like you and I, who identified a problem and actually did something about it.

That’s heroic.

………………………

 

There’s a monastery situated in close proximity to Beit Shemesh. It was built in such a way that it can be seen from numerous angles. I saw the monastery many times on the way to and from Yerushalayim, but never really thought much about it.

Until I met the taxi driver that is.

We got to talking and he mentioned that he used to be a police officer.

“Used to be? What happened?”

“I got fired from the force.”

“Why did they fire you?”

“It’s a long story.”

“We have plenty of time.”

He was quiet for a minute – then he told me the story.

“One day the dispatcher told my partner and I, that there had been a break in at the monastery (the monks designed art work in their spare time, some of which had been stolen) and that we needed to go down and check it out. When we arrived at the scene of the crime, my partner insisted that I be the one to enter the monastery due to the fact that he was a Kohen and had never entered a church in his life. I felt a powerful feeling of foreboding inside myself just thinking about entering the monastery, but I had to admit that what he was saying made some kind of sense.”

“Was your partner religious?”

“That wasn’t the point. He felt that it wasn’t right for a Kohen to enter a church. In the end I agreed to go and speak to the monks without him. When I knocked on the front doors, a monk opened up and told me that I couldn’t come in from that entrance and that I should go around to the back entrance. I circled the building accompanied by one of the monks until we arrived at  a tiny door that was built into the thick stone walls. Entering the building through this entrance would mean that I would be forced to bend over as I walked inside. It was an insult, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to take down the details, and get away from there. The monk opened the door and as I entered the building, walking almost doubled over, I saw two statues in front of me. I suddenly understood that the reason they had brought me around to this side of the building and practically forced me to enter through this demeaning doorway, was to make me bow down to Avoda Zora on my way in.

I had one second to decide what to do.

“What did you do?”

“I should have walked right outside and told them that either they allow me in the front door or I was leaving. But I didn’t do that. Instead, I turned around and pretended as if I had dropped something on the floor and that was I was searching for it.

Then as I “searched,” I backed into the building. When we reached the part of the room where I was able to stand up straight, I turned around.”

“What did the say monk say when you did that?”

“You know the saying, “if looks could kill…”

“Got it.”

 

………………………..

“A month later a letter arrived at Israeli police headquarters from the Vatican in Rome. The letter claimed that the investigating officer on the scene (namely myself) had shown brazen disrespect to the church and that the Vatican was demanding my dismissal from the force – effective immediately. The letter’s aggressive wording made it clear that were this directive/order not carried out, the Vatican would consider it a personal affront. A shaken up police chief gave the order for my termination from the Beit Shemesh force. Though I had served on the force for twenty years, I was let go without a pension. I received seventy thousand shekel as a severance package and was shown the door.

While my partner the Kohen, has been able to retire with his pension, I have been forced to take this job driving a cab.”

I sat there silently assimilating the information I had just been told.

“You should know something,” he concluded catching my eye in his mirror. “even though this incident caused me much hardship and anguish, I would gladly loose my job all over again if it means not bowing down to Avoda Zora.”

When he dropped me off outside my home, I shook his hand and wished him well. And as he drove away, I reminded myself that there are those who acquire their share in the World to Come in one hour, and that maybe, just maybe, the taxi driver had had his hour. One thing I knew –  there was heroism in the story I’d just heard.

There you have it.

Every Jew a potential hero.

Every Jew with his Pintele Yid.

Every Jew worth getting to know and worthy of love.

 

………………………….

 

In all honesty we are not a nation with an obvious or overt love for poetry. The closest I can come to naming an Orthodox Poet Laureate would have to be Toronto’s Reb Abie Rotenberg.

Listen to this eloquent quote from Journeys 2 –

“But one car seems so different, inhabited by few,

Who say there is no time to waste, we’re only passing through,

The choices that you make today, are all that’s gonna last,

This train is moving down the track and it’s moving awful fast.”

I guess the question we all have to address is this. When the train finally pulls into the station, and it’s our turn to disembark – what words do we hope to see written across our ticket?

Dare we try for “Hero?

Rabbi Nachman Seltzer is the author of eighteen books including such classics as “The Network,” “It could Have Been You” series, “Class Acts,” and his newest book “48.”
He is a columnist for TheYeshivaWorld.com & International Hamodia magazine, where his true life stories are beloved around the world.
Rabbi Seltzer heads the Shira Chadasha Boys Choir which just released their fifth album “Am Yisroel.”
He can be reached for comments or regarding speaking engagements at [email protected]

1 COMMENT

  1. It sounds like this a chiddush to the author, and wonder why it’s so. Maybe there are some exceptions, but by and large here in America, I have seen Jews of all stripes treated with respect and not ignored. Maybe my luck. The one criticism often voiced about Brooklyn is that people don’t greet each other, but I think it is fair to say that Jews of all types are treated with respect.

    As far as the cab driver/cop, why didn’t he appeal the firing, or why couldn’t he be reassigned? That police chief who quakes in his boots because of an unenforceable demand from the Vatican doesn’t seem to have the courage to lead other men, no?