My husband, Dov, is an Orthodox pulpit Rabbi as well as an attorney and law professor. Three years ago, Dov and I traveled to Louisville, Kentucky on the occasion that the federal judge for whom Dov clerked after law school was marking thirty years on the bench. As such, the judge convened a reunion of the clerks who served him over the years. As location and logistics would have it, Dov and I were to spend Shabbat in our hotel room and so we provided for ourselves from the local Krogers that served the surrounding kosher-keeping Jewish community. In addition to challah, grape juice, and real food, we bought some pastries under hashgachah (kosher supervision), deciding that we were on vacation and neither of us was studying for a blood sugar test upon our return home to California. The hotel provided a room refrigerator in which we disabled the light bulb so that we would not inadvertently turn on the light when opening the fridge door.
Shabbat in Louisville began much later than I had ever seen because of the coordinates of longitude and latitude. That enabled Dov and me to attend a Friday afternoon social hour in a lobby of the hotel where we were staying without impinging on the impending Shabbat. Before attending the social hour, we set the lights in our room that we wanted to provide light throughout the Shabbat. I unpacked the tealights—far more than I needed—and a box of matches, and off we went. Everything was in place for our return to the room when we were ready to start Shabbat.
While at the afternoon social hour, I learned that a whole bunch of the attendees were Jewish. At one point, Dov heard me excuse myself from a conversation with a young lady—the fiancée of one of the former judicial clerks. I explained that I would be lighting Shabbat candles in a half hour or so and wanted to get to my room. The woman, Aliza, said she had not brought candles, and asked whether she might join me as I lit mine? I replied that I had plenty of extra candles and she could have two of them to light in her own room.
Dov is a Rabbi to the depths of his heart and is always on what I call “soul patrol” even though he’s never heard me use that expression. I just made it up for this article. Before Dov spoke, I heard, in my own head, the loud buzzer that signals “wrong answer” on TV quiz shows.
It seems that my telling Aliza to light her own Shabbat candles in her own hotel room was the wrong answer. My thinking is that one lights candles where one is going to eat the Shabbat meal. Dov and I were going to eat Shabbat dinner in our room I learned that Aliza, her fiancé, and a subgroup of the Jewish attendees were going to eat in one of various local restaurants. Dov quietly whispered to me, “Habibi—It’s not the candles she wants, it’s to connect with you though the lighting of Shabbat candles. Let her join you; I’ll be up in a while.”
Aliza came with me to our room. I lit my set of tea lights and I guided Aliza with the bracha (blessing) through her own lighting of her two tea lights. She got tears in her eyes and hugged me. I hugged her back—okay, I’m not that big a curmudgeon.
Then, a knock at the door. “Mrs Fischer?” I knew it wasn’t Dov; he and I address one another less formally. I looked through the peep hole and saw a man with two young boys. “Your husband, Rabbi Fischer told me to come for Kiddush.” I let the man, Brian, along with his two sons—maybe ages seven and nine—into the room and Aliza’s finance, Josh, strode in after Brian and the boys.
Another knock. “Your husband sent me,” said a youngish man, no kids or other persons in tow. Not wanting to set off the wrong answer buzzer in my head, I sang out, “Come in Come in! Shabbat Shalom.” I had hoped Dov heard me in my usual, hospitable tone. In he came, pulled out some peach flavored grape juice from the kosher Kroger, and started singing “Shalom Aleichem,” swaying side to side, with everyone joining in. Then Dov recited Kiddush and taught the group something about Shabbat and how we can observe Shabbat even when we are away from home. Brian’s kids relished the peach grape juice and the pastries.
I learned something special. Kiruv—bringing a Jewish person toward observance—is more than explaining the technicalities of rituals, like where Shabbat candles may be lit. I learned that it’s the personal connection to another Jewish soul. My husband has taught me this, and I have not heard the “wrong answer” buzzer very often since Louisville.
ELLEN FISCHER IS A CONTRIBUTING WRITER TO JLIFE MAGAZINE.