Learning to Love Shabbos – A Modern Tale

310I heard it from a man I met almost twenty years ago.Some ten years before I met the man who told me his story, the Ultra Orthodox were first attempting to close Meah Shearim Street to traffic on Shabbos. There were trash bins set up across the street and there was anger and indignation all around.

There was a committee formed to oppose the closure of the street, called by a name which declared their opposition to “religious coercion”. They saw it as coercive against the secular that the Ultra Orthodox wanted to close the street which runs through their completely Orthodox neighborhood. This committee against religious coercion used to bus ruffians into Jerusalem from kibbutzim and other places, to attack and beat up Ultra Orthodox.

This man was one of those ruffians who went up to Jerusalem to fight religious coercion by beating up the Ultra Orthodox in order to force them to open the street in their neighborhood to traffic.

One Shabbos, he was in Jerusalem with his own automobile and decided to show those Ultra Orthodox a thing or two. He drove his car down Meah Shearim Street “like a Roman charioteer”, as he described it, with pedestrians scattering in panic; pregnant women sprinting from the street, women with baby carriages bouncing across the uneven pavement. All to show them that they can’t impose their “Shabbos” on him.

One man a local teacher had the presence of mind to memorize the number of his license plate and look him up the next day at the motor vehicle Licensing Bureau. Then he found the driver’s telephone number. Then he called the driver up and invited him home for Shabbos, explaining that he wanted him to see what Shabbos is and “why it means so much to us.”

The driver declined, explaining that he would not want to spend the whole of Shabbos. The teacher said “I am inviting you to be my guest, not my prisoner. You are free to leave whenever you want. Just do me the courtesy of parking your car outside the neighborhood.”

He could find no honorable way of refusing a challenge so reasonably presented so he went Shabbos evening for Kiddush and the meal. They talked somewhat and he left. When he left, his host invited him to return another Shabbos and, to reinforce the invitation, called him during the week.

Eventually, he came again for Shabbos. And again. And again. Over the next year or so, he became first an occasional Shabbos guest, then a frequent Shabbos guest and finally a regular Shabbos guest. Over period of two to three years, he became a ba’al teshuvah. (newly religious)

A motorcade of secular Jews driving down Bar Ilan Boulevard on Shabbos is an opportunity to talk to them. They are in your neighborhood on Shabbos. Invite them for Kiddush. They have never seen you in a positive, sympathetic way before. Great good can come of it. Amen.