On Two Jews


by Mordechai Lightstone - New York

August 4, 2010

Where do the needs of one Jew stop, and those of the other begin?

I went to the Ohel, the resting place of the the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the other day. The weather was cool. Drizzle fell intermittently from brooding clouds casting everything in darker shades -hues of gray from the concrete of the path, the sienna of the earth crossed with the damp green of ivy crawling amongst the speckled marble of the headstones . . .

There’s something about seeing the people that come to the Ohel, that converge in silent prayer to their Creator by the resting place of a Jewish leader, that inspires me. The table of Russian Jews, three generations clustered together and writing their letters of petition in fine Cyrillic print, the Chabad emissary that stands with two small children from her community - in addition to her own growing brood - to light a candle in the foyer of the Ohel bathing their bodies in a flickering glow.

The Ohel itself was nearly empty - a trio of French Jews stood to one corner, a chassidic man well into his nineties, cane in hand and flanked on either side by grandchildren, stood to their right. The warmth of the muggy New York air and gray clouds half hiding the light of the sun seemed to envelope me. The air, save the turning of pages and murmuring of lips, was silent.

I’ve always wanted to photograph these little moments - yet somehow, they seem too intimate to photograph . . . what right do I have to intrude with my Leica on the private moments of others as they commune with the spirit world in the private audience of the soul?

So there I stood, surrounded by others, yet alone with my thoughts, my doubts and prayers, alone with the Rebbe.

A Lubavitcher couple from Israel entered. I prayed.

"We want [to do Your will], and You want . . ." I read in my ma'aneh loshon, the special text read by the resting place of a holy man.

*Snap - Click*

The husband began to take pictures of his wife in front of the headstones . . .

*Snap - Click*

I tried to ignore the flash of the camera and the noise of the couple as I double down in prayer. " . . . Who holds us back - [the evil inclination which is compared to] the yeast in the dough!"

"Slicha -Excuse me," the be'camera'ed man asked "Could you take a picture of me?"

Where do I stop - my existence, my needs, my desire for self-sanctity, my yeast - and those of my Israeli friend begin?

Was my moment of prayer, my method of connecting myself with my spiritual source, more important than his, however seemingly inane and distracting?

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