15 Teves 5766
I recently took a train from Baltimore to New York. Sitting next to me was a young woman who looked to be approximately my age. We started talking, and in the course of the conversation, she mentioned she is Jewish. She is from a Reform/Reconstructionist background. She is definitely aware of her Judaism–her family has a seder, she goes to High Holiday services..but has no real interest in anything further. She told me she is currently in a law school that has an active Hillel house with many Orthodox members. She even has a friend or two from there who are Orthodox. She has taken one or two classes given by the university on religion–all religions.
She was only on the train for about an hour, (she got off at an earlier stop), but in that time, we had a very enjoyable conversation. As we talked, I tried to figure out how I could use this encounter to encourage her to check out Orthodoxy a little bit more.
I did nothing.
I thought of a bunch of things I could do. I could have told her about Partners in Torah–mentioning it as a means of learning more about Orthodoxy on an intellectual level. (She took classes on religion, and has some Orthodox friends so she might find it interesting.) But she hadn’t expressed any real interest or given me any opening for that. Because I couldn’t find a good opening, I was afraid to come across too strong. I thought about giving her my name or number, or taking hers, but we were just casual train ride acquaintances…I thought it would seem really strange.
So, in the end, I did nothing. As she walked off the train, I thought to myself, there’s a reason this girl was sitting next to me. I missed the boat. But I still couldn’t figure out what I should have done. Should I have given her Partners in Torah’s name and number, even though she didn’t express any interest? Should I have asked her straight out if she’s interested in learning more about Orthodox Judaism? Should I have asked her if she’s ever in the New York area.and then given her my name and number? Should I have taken her name and number (I only know her first name) to give her a call sometime in the future? I still don’t know what would have been an appropriate response to this encounter.
Please give me some ideas of what to do next time I am in a situation like this so I can make more of the opportunity.
Last year I got a call from an Israeli woman who was surprised that I didn’t remember her. Six years before she had been on an El Al flight with me and we had struck up a conversation. The discussion turned, not surprisingly, to religion. This was not that different from many such conversations I have had over the years and so when she called me, I had to struggle to remember her.
The reason she was calling, was that she had become chozeres b’tshuva. She cited our conversation as one of the reasons she had decided to become frum. Now, she had a question and she wasn’t sure who to speak to. She called me because for six years she had carried in her wallet a small piece of paper with my name, address and phone number on it.
At the end of our conversation, I had invited her to come to my home for a Shabbos and hastily scrawled the information on a piece of my placemat. She had kept this with her all those years.
One time I gave a fellow a lift. He was learning in Kollel and asked me if I remember having gone out to dinner with my wife ten years ago. Now I’m cheap, but I haven’t taken my wife out so few times that I could recall every occasion. He told me this particular time my wife and I struck up a conversation with the young waitress who was studying in Hebrew U. Again, not something I considered particularly memorable. He then pulled out of his pocket a torn piece of the placemat with my details scribbled on it. “My wife has kept this with her all these years” he said.
There have been dozens of times when, like you, I met someone on a plane or a train or in a store and after a pleasant conversation jotted down my details and invited them to come for Shabbos or just to keep in touch. I have hardly ever heard from any of them again. These stories, however, showed me that the act itself was extremely meaningful to the people I met.
You could offer your name and number to young women you meet, or ask them for theirs and offer to stay in touch. I can tell you personally that it feels a bit awkward, but our job is just to plant the seeds. Whether they grow or not is in the hands of Hashem.
Recently I was going shopping and the security guard, a young man with a ponytail, asked me a question about Shavuos. In retrospect, I suppose it was a test to see if I was really a frum person, or, chalila, a terrorist disguised as a frum person. When I called my wife and related the story she shared it with my kids. One of them called out “why didn’t Abba invite him for Shabbos?” So on the way out I went up to the young man and gave him a scribbled note on the back of a torn piece of a paper bag. I haven’t heard from him yet, but who knows?