I spent Simchat Torah at the Chabad in the city of Ness Ziona with my friends David and Dan (<--for more Israel stories, check out his blog).
I pulled on my long black skirt (purchased for those times that I'd need to costume as a highly observant Jew) and my other conservative clothes and sat down behind the mechitza with the ladies in their sheitls. They tended to their children while the men danced, sang, prayed, and took “L'chaim tishim v'sheish” (shots of "Victory" brand vodka, 96% alcohol). When their festivities ended, my two friends and I helped serve the men and women dinner (eaten separately, of course). It was fun – I played with babies and spoke all the Hebrew I could. I even complimented a little girl on her shoes. She grinned back at me.
We stayed at the house of one of the “chabadniks,” a pretty cool guy whose name I don’t feel I’m at liberty to share. Before he became religious and a member of the chabad, he was…well…a nerd (not unlike the boys here in Rishon). He was a hardcore Trekkie who went to University and majored in science and mathematics.
After the party the first night, we went back to his house with his wife and four children (all very, very cute). We stayed up a while longer, talking to him about life. We tried to talk philosophy, but he stopped us. Philosophy is fickle, he says. We asked him what he meant – wasn’t his religion just a personal philosophy that he followed?
No, he answered. “Philosophy comes from many different sources and isn’t necessary. Religion is necessary. It is not a philosophy – it is my life, what I do.”
We asked him to tell us just what he believed. He shook his head and told us this story.
“There was a famous Israeli director who became known for his promiscuous lifestyle. He attended a wedding where the rabbi was renowned for his wisdom. As the rabbi was speaking, a man interrupted and asked, why should we believe what you say?
“The rabbi answered, ‘unless you have the time to listen and to be changed by what I will share with you, I don’t want to waste my time. Anyone whose mind is not open to change should get up and leave now.’ And what happened? Everybody except for the director got up and left.”
The chabadnik ceased pacing and looked at us. “I don’t want to waste time unless I think I will convince you that my beliefs are right. Philosophy is amusing. My life is not something for you to find ‘interesting,’ it is my life.”
We were so impressed we didn’t know what to say. We didn’t question him any further, and we're still not sure why. Perhaps it's because we truly didn't want to waste his time. We didn't want to tell him that we really did find him extremely interesting. It seemed to offend him.
Chabadniks really know and believe their stuff with all of their hearts. It’s good to know that people still have a strong faith in something.