This was written for my local paper, Marine Park Jewish Echo.
Marine Park, Brooklyn is known to house a large percentage of Irish and Italian families, but early on we began to realize that many of our neighbors were Jewish as well. Most are unaffiliated, but when they see an orthodox couple move in they somehow inform you that they are one of the tribe. Visit the neighborhood around Chanuka and you will notice many electric menorahs. Some of them are side by side with Christmas decorations, as intermarriage is commonplace here as well.
Although we are quite friendly with our neighbors there is something very personal and heartwarming when you invite someone into your own home. Despite the trepidation we initially felt, unsure of the reaction we would get, the response was overwhelmingly positive. We even had some humorous moments, among them accidentally inviting one of our Italian neighbors to the Shabbos meal. As we began to explain the concept of all Jews keeping Shabbos together, our neighbor interrupted, “Oh, I’m not Jewish but I’d still love to join!” and then she quipped, “and don’t worry I’ll make sure not to wear any shatnez!” We chuckled as she went on, “You can’t trust what it says on the label, right? You gotta open the suit up to check? That’s insane!” I guess it’s hard to live in Brooklyn and not become acquainted with our strange customs.
My children were so excited for this Shabbos! They were so proud to show people what their Shabbos is about. My 9 year old was careful to practice translating her Dvar Torah into English so the guests would understand. My wife cooked up a storm, the house was perfect, and the table was set on Thursday night!
Harvey and Michelle, an older couple who live just down the block, joined us for Friday night. They are the sweetest people. After we extended the invitation they googled the Shabbos Project and let us know how excited they were to be part of this worldwide event. Harvey grew up in Brownsville and Michelle in Boro Park. During the Shabbos meal we learned that both their grandparents were Rabbis, but their parents raised them completely secular. My son piped up, “That’s called Rabbi’s son syndrome!”
Our guests were awed by the homemade challah, enchanted by our adorable children, and delighted with the delicious Shabbos food. They showed up with a personal gift for each of our children.
The interesting thing was, I had more questions for them than they had for us. I’m a curious guy and wanted to hear about life “back in the day.” Michelle said she remembered the Shabbos demonstrations that marched down 13th Avenue. It was hard for me to picture a Boro Park where most stores were opened on Shabbos. Harvey remembered all the Jewish food his Bubby used to cook in the tenants. He can describe the aroma of Friday afternoon, as the Jews in Brownsville prepared for Shabbos. He remembers quite vividly when, in just a few short years, the Jews of Brownsville migrated up to the Bronx.
Everyone was on their best behavior. It made me think, we should act like this every week, as if we had strangers in our home and try to create that special serene environment that Shabbos truly deserves. Enjoying every moment, recognizing the significance of each action from Kiddush until Havdala.
I can’t say the experience was transformational or that lives were altered. Our story isn’t going to make it into the next Pesach Krohn book. Nonetheless it was memorable.To connect with our people over a Shabbos meal, an oasis of serenity that can get lost in the shuffle of daily life is a true blessing.
In the past year we’ve discovered that we actually underestimated the numbers of Jews living nearby. Pesach time we were looking for a neighbor to babysit our goldfish as the food was possibly chometz. One of our neighbors, the one that wears a cross necklace proudly around her neck, was delighted to help us out as she commented to us that her parents baptized their whole family when she was a child. She would love to help a Jewish family as her ancestors were one of us.
We don’t live in a vacuum; every action we take influences our surroundings. We are responsible to make sure that it’s a positive one and to make a Kiddush Hashem amongst ourselves and strangers. To me it was remarkable to see other Jews that live in such close proximity to us and yet a universe apart. We think of Brooklyn as the capital of Orthodox Jewry yet many of our neighbors are not included. So close yet so distant. Sadly we too often don’t concern ourselves with one another. The Shabbos Project broke that cycle for us. The amazing positive cooperation that it took to make this happen has brought us closer together as a nation and inspired us to be our best selves. Thank You.
Dovid & Elisheva Teitelbaum
Brooklyn NY USA