Paying It Forward
Over Shabbat, we had the son of long-time family friends stay. We had not seen him for 20 years and he had no idea how much parents had impacted my life and the life of my family.
During the first Gulf War, I was in Israel for my year after high-school and when the war broke and the threat of scud missiles raining down on Israel became a real concern, my parents insisted I leave Israel and despite my protests, I finally took the last flight out of Israel to the UK. I did not have anywhere to stay and my mother, who was a teacher at a Jewish Day School in South Africa, mentioned my predicament to other teachers. One of her colleagues suggested that her in-laws, who live in London part of the year and Israel part of the year, would be happy to host me. Her in-laws became my adopted grandparents and they supported my efforts to return to Israel and continue my Jewish studies in a seminary. My parents were not supportive of the “ religious track” that I was on and wanted me back in South Africa to start my university studies.
I met Gavin in Israel during that year in Israel and told him that I wanted a home just like my adopted grandparents – an open home, full table of Shabbat guests and never ending stream of guests. For those of you who have known us you can testify that we have been hosting since the week after our sheva brachot.
At the Shabbat table this week we were discussing how my adopted grandparents had survived the horrors of Nazi Germany by escaping to England as part of the Kindertransport”. They had seven children of their own and countless “adopted children” like me that they had influenced over the years.
I shared how when I was a student in a foreign country with no money and totally dependent on the kindness of others I would say to my hosts that I was so embarrassed I could not reciprocate their kindness – I could not even bring a bottle of wine. They would always say that the best way to say thank you is to pay it forward. I have lived that mantra.
Over the course of Shabbat, we shared some stories that illustrated how their kindness shown to a random teenager from South Africa has continued to impact the world. Over the years we have had thousands and thousands of guests through our home. We know of quite a few Rabbis and religious families with many kids living in Jerusalem and other places who had their first Shabbat experience at our table. I shared the story of how we lived in a place called the Gold Coast in Australia. It had a very small Jewish community in a beach side town.
Thousands of Israelis would pass through each year and we would leave leaflets at the backpacker hostels encouraging them to join us for Shabbat hospitality. One week I went to shul and I met a couple who were backpacking through Australia and I invited them for dinner. When I asked then where they were sleeping they said in their car and I suggested they crash at our place. They stayed for two weeks and then continued on their travels. We moved to Sydney and six months later we met up with them in Sydney again and they kept saying how they were most influenced in all their travels by their two week stay at us. They went home and decided to start slowly doing Shabbat. One day the husband decided to quit his finance job and start studying in Israel. He completed his smicha (rabbinic degree) and now is successful community Rabbi in London. We shared similar stories of people in Cape Town, Jerusalem, Germany, and Australia.
Sometimes Gavin and I have movements of existential crises. We have been volunteering thousands of hours for 20-plus years and we often wonder if all our efforts move the needle at all. Do we in any way change the world or impact the crises of assimilation and intermarriage of the Jewish people? This Shabbat I had a moment to reflect how changing one person’s life in its own way can in fact change the world.
Originally published: May 20, 2014
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