The sun sets much earlier these days and on Friday that means that the Jewish Sabbath starts earlier as well. Tonight I was walking toward some friends’ house to pick up Simon from a playdate and was approached by a middle aged Hasidic Jewish man and his son. He was obviously Hasidic because he was wearing a long black robe, a large furry hat, and long ringlets framed his face.
“Excuse me. Can you help us?” he asked. It was evident that despite the fact that he was probably born and raised here in Brooklyn, he did not speak English very often.
“Are you Jewish?” No I’m not.
“Good. You see, our stove has gone out and we can not turn it back on because it is the Sabbath. So, we need to move our food from our stove to a different stove, but because it is the Sabbath we can not.” I wanted to ask why, but then thought again. It was getting late and I had to pick up Simon.
My first thought was that this was a hoax of some sort. I know that the Jewish law has all sorts of specific laws that they must follow, but this seemed a bit extreme. But, my desire to help was stronger than my fear of being jumped by a group of Jewish men in furry hats, so I agreed to do what I could. The man led me into their apartment building, up a flight of stairs, past a large group of young girls clad in black dresses, into their apartment and showed me the stove.
“See? It is not hot at all. Can you pick up the pot and follow him?”
I followed the son out the door, down the hall past the staring girls again, and into another apartment. They had a hot plate plugged into the wall, sitting in a closet on top of the washer and dryer. I was instructed to move a towel that was covering a large pot filled with tin foil wrapped somethings, put another tin foil wrapped something on top to make room for my pot, and put the towel back on.
Another Jewish man, who I later found out to be the rabbi, and who lived in the second apartment, spent the next 5 minutes instructing me in broken English on how to remove a small, red pin from the electrical timer that the hot plate was plugged into. It was scheduled to turn off at some point during the Sabbath, but with the addition of their neighbor’s pot it now had to stay on. Unfortunately, taking the pin out also constituted a breach of protocol so that job also fell onto the shoulders of the gentile. The closet was dark, and not wanting to cause them to break the Sabbath by flipping the light switch, I used the light of my cell phone to find the pin and fix their problem.
After moving one more container of food to a different neighbor’s stove the job was done and I was thanked.
“Can we give you anything?” No, that’s fine.
“Do you want a drink? A glass of water? Some seltzer?” No, thank you. I’m alright.
“Can we get you a cup of hot coffee?” I smiled. No, no coffee thank you. I wanted to explain why, but then thought again. It was getting late and I had to pick up Simon.