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Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Yom Tov Guest

We had the mitzvah of a guest over Sukkot and Shabbat this last week. I have known this young woman since she was a little girl, and her parents are wonderful people. I haven't seen her in several years, but she is now in Israel for her post-high-school "yeshiva year" at a seminary here in Jerusalem.

I'm not sure I can describe her without sounding sappy, but she impresses me SO much that it's hard to write something without making it sound terribly exaggerated. It's not. Simply put, she is my ideal of the Jewish daughter: she is extremely intelligent and articulate, has a fabulously wicked sense of humor, is widely read, extraordinarily well-versed in Jewish texts, halachah, mussar, and history; she is slender, attractive and well-groomed but also well-dressed, modest and becoming.

She is not only a credit to her parents. She is a credit to all Am Yisroel.

She is also intuitive and kind-hearted. We have a special needs son who looks deceptively "normal" but is aware of his left-hemiphlegia, his limited vision and his speech issues. Like most teens, he is painfully concerned about his appearance. For example, he refuses to wear glasses (which his surgeon and vision specialist tell us are optional at this point in his development) because he was teased about being a "geek" and called "four-eyes" in first and second grades. He remembers this too clearly because he was teased daily about his glasses, about his limp, about his speech retrieval problems and about his fine motor deficits ("My baby sister could draw better than you, you geek!").

Like most teenage boys, he is less than careful about wearing wrinkle-free clothing, getting the soap out from behind his ears, brushing and flossing and making sure he has bathed thoroughly, which includes all body parts and hair in Ima's estimation. Running quickly under the shower head so you'll have more time on the computer is not a "shower" in this household.

The Boy remembers our guest from their childhood at our Chabad congregation in northern California. What he remembers is a very nice girl, only slightly older, who was kind enough to play ball with him. Just as the memory of being bullied and teased has stayed with him, that memory of her kindness has always stayed with him.

When I told him that she was coming to spend the Yom Tov and Shabbat with us, he was thrilled. NO problem surrendering his bedroom so she would be comfortable--he'd be happy to sleep on the sofa (not that he had a choice, but he didn't know that).

And a miracle ensued...the Boy who could care less about personal appearance suddenly was consulting me on which shirt looked best; were his teeth clean enough? How was the shave and was it close enough? Did his face look clean? He was miraculously under foot in the kitchen, constantly offering to help. (Our kitchen is the size of a postage stamp and his biggest help would have been getting out of the way, but since our guest was in the kitchen helping out, he was unwilling to leave until I ordered him to get out from underfoot.)

The young lady in question is quite serious about her obligations, and when it was time to daven, suddenly my son was emphasizing the "Orthodox" over the "Modern"; I haven't heard this level of kavanah in his prayers since his bar mitzvah! He was singing his way through Mincha one afternoon like a cantor.

Then his father and I noticed something else: he was wearing his glasses! He has a pretty stylish pair of glasses that he has consistently refused to wear over the last several years, claiming he sees better without them. (In fact, he now sees about the same, apparently having outgrown his severe astigmatism, but the glasses help disguise the obvious alterations around his eyes from eye surgeries.) He has never believed us when we told him that he is more attractive WITH the glasses. Suddenly, he asked our guest what SHE thought. She considered him both with and without glasses as he requested, then told him she thought he looked better WITH the glasses--and voila! Now he wears glasses!

But more important than wearing glasses is his approach to Judaism. Yes, he goes to a dati-leumi-torani high school BUT his kavanah in prayer and motivation in Torah study has slacked off a bit in his struggle with Hebrew and adjusting to Israel....but all it took was a short visit from our guest to remind him of what's important in life, and he seems to have found his motivation again.

We accompanied her back to her seminary when Shabbat was over. The Boy wanted to help carry her belongings inside until I reminded him that as a male, he was not permitted inside, thank you. Still, he clearly wanted to help in order to prolong the moment. He is too well-mannered and too shy to do anything but say "It was great to see you,"; she, on the other hand, is well-bred and kindhearted, and refrained from smiling at his awkwardness. She said "thank you" to us for the holiday, and we expressed the hope she would join us again for another Shabbat.

It is I who say "thank you!" to her -- just her presence over 72 hours made our lives better, and her kindness to the Boy and her helpfulness to me reminded us of what a beacon of light a Jewish woman can be to her family, to any household and to the world.

Thank you, dear, for being our friend.

And kol ha k'vod, Ima and Abba, for raising such a daughter!

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