Sunday, January 4, 2009

Joseph and the Africans

Here I am, standing in the entrance way of 770, with half an hour's time hanging heavy on my hands, waiting for the ride that will transport me in relative comfort to the promised land that is Morristown.
This morning I was thinking about something I heard over shabbos. We read about Jacob's 22 years of mourning for his precious son, and sympathized greatly with his plight. Why was Jacob not consoled at some point? Because you can only become consoled over someone who has passed on to the next world. Jacob just couldn't get over Joseph because the dear boy/tzaddik yesod olam was alive in Egypt. On shabbos I heard someone say that this is how we know that the Rebbe is alive. It's been fifteen years since 3 Tammuz, and consoled we are not. Mourning we still are.
After this had been said someone said, "So where is he?" Normally I wouldn't bother with this type of question, because no one ever comes out of it happy, unless they came in looking for trouble. But I happen to know this particular wonderer well, and knew that they didn't mean anything with their question, so I deigned to answer. "What kind of question is that?" I asked, "who knows? Who cares? That's not the point at all."
Was this answer evasive? Possibly. But it's also the truth. Because I don't know the answer. I believe, sure, but I'm also not some sort of dupe who thinks with his heart and feels with his brain. I understand that there are problems, but at the same time I know that there's more under the sun than anyone knows.
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Meanwhile, in other news, my good friend and Chassidus in the morning Chavrusa Shraga Putter sent me a nice story that was recorded by a person, Harry Flaster, that he profoundly affected while on Merkos Shlichus in Maputo, Mozambique. Here it is. Enjoy:

This is a story about how I found my own tribe after passing through many different tribal territories. Or, perhaps more accurately, how my tribe found me.

In July of 2008 I decided to pack my bag and head southeast from Lusaka, Zambia, to Mozambique. I anticipated and looked forward to long bus rides, hitching on questionable vehicles, and empty, tropical beaches in Mozambique. I anticipated seeing many different tribes and hearing many different languages. I did not anticipate, however, meeting two wonderful, generous, Chabad rabbinical students my age. I did not anticipate davening in a Shul at the end of my journey. Yet when I returned to Lusaka two weeks later, it was to the sound of Hebrew prayer, not Zulu, Xhosa, Portuguese, Chewa, Nyanja, Shona, Bemba, or English.

In Lusaka I worked for the Center for Infectious Disease Research Zambia on a HIV prevention project. My role in the project would soon be over, so before the last month of work I decided to travel. I picked an unexplored overland route through the Bush that, if all went well, would take a few days to reach Beira on the Indian Ocean. If it all didn’t go well, I could be stranded for a while in the middle of nowhere sub-Saharan Africa.

The trip began beautifully. The bus only left three hours late from Lusaka, and I made it to Katete without any problems other than an overly enthusiastic preacher who grabbed the bus microphone, which dutifully amplified his all ready loud, raspy, high-pitched voice to our captive ears. At the border with Mozambique I was lucky to find a vehicle, which only required some minor repairs before it started moving. Fortuitously, it kept moving through that evening and well into the night. We rode across hundreds of miles of beautiful emptiness, only punctuated by small villages. The clear night sky was littered with stars, and when we stopped I had a few minutes to explore the local villages as we exchanged passengers and goods.

We had the good fortune of passing through during a local ceremony of the Chewa people, the dance of the Ne’u. The Ne’u were out that dusk, running around the village covered in straw and billowing chalk, scaring the children and causing the women to giggle and run. Later that night, the sounds of the Ne’u dance and drums could be heard under the vaulted stars.

The Chewa were just one of the many tribes I would encounter that trip. In Lusaka, where my journey began, there is a mix of many different tribes, languages, cultures, and traditions. The most predominant tribes are the Bemba, followed by the Chewa and the Tonga. When we left the city, we traveled through Chewa territory, which continued into Mozambique. The Chewa language is the root language of the urban Nyanja language, so I was able to speak a little with the people I met. By the time we reached Tete, in Mozambique, we had left Chewa territory, and I was no longer aware of the tribal identities of the people around me.

It was towards the end of my journey, in Maputo, Mozambique, that I met two Chabad Rabbinical students, Shraga Putter and Pinni Goodman. I met them on a bus ride from Maputo to Johannesburg, South Africa, where I would catch my flight back to Lusaka. At the time I was exhausted and worried about how I would spend ten hours alone in Johannesburg. I had never been to Johannesburg before, and I new little about it except that it is a very dangerous city. I had missed the first bus that morning in Vilanculus, and been unlucky in choosing buses since, so by the time I saw Shraga and Pinni I had been traveling for almost 24 hours without rest.

With their black coats, Yamakas and tufts of beard they really stood out, even more then a large white backpacker. While I waited for the bus to leave, I approached the one who had a Yamaka with the word Tucson, Arizona written on it. As a native Arizonan myself, it was a natural conversation starter.

After we started talking it wasn’t long before they asked me if I was Jewish. When I told them I was, they immediately asked what I would be doing in Johannesburg. Did I want to stay for Shabbas? Did I have a place to stay? Did I want a guided tour of the city?

I had questions for them as well. What were they doing in Mozambique?

Shraga and Pinni had gone to Mozambique to build a Jewish community. They only had one loose contact; an Israeli businessman who offered to put them up in a Hotel while they made their rounds. And so after arriving in bustling Maputo, they met the businessman who gave them the addresses of a few Jews that he knew. The trip started off well and they reported remarkable success in assembling the beginnings of a Jewish community in Maputo.

Progress was halted when, during a meeting in the office of a Jewish lawyer in Maputo, they were robbed at gunpoint. Almost everything was taken – Shraga’s wallet, the keys to the rental car, the rental car itself, everything except for Pinni’s wallet, which he had accidentally left at the Hotel that day. With their remaining money they were traveling back to Johannesburg to regroup.

But they weren’t intimidated at all. They were still excited about the progress they had made in Maputo, about the number of Jews they had met and the prospects for returning to further build a Jewish community. They were young men on a mission to bring the joy of Judaism and a Jewish community to Jews in Maputo. And so even after being robbed in a strange city, they didn’t hesitate to invite a disheveled stranger into their home and into their Shul.

In Johannesburg we went to Pinni’s house, where I had my first shower in days and something to eat. Then we went to the Chabad Shul to daven Shacharis. Finally, they dropped me off at the East Gate mall so that I could get a good meal and do some shopping before the flight back to Lusaka.

After traveling hundreds of miles, exploring different countries, cultures and languages, it was two courageous Jews that brought me home.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

that bit of circular logic ala since we claim to still mourn the rebbe so he must be alive is such predictable meshichist trite psyachobable that MB would print it except that the stopped admitting that the mourned somewhere in 1997.

Anonymous said...

woops! i meant to write BM (bet Masriach)

Farbrengen said...

BS"D
Awesome story... One of those classic Merkos Shlichus stories. Ashreinu Ma Tov Chalkeinu that we witness diamonds or miracles on a daily basis. Baruch Hashem.

The Real Shliach said...

Anon: To each his own.

Fab Gal: diamonds or miracles?

Farbrengen said...

BS'D
Typo, meant to say "Diamonds of miracles"
In Lubavitch we grow up amongst "diamonds", we constantly see open miracles, have a deep purpose to life etc. etc.

The Real Shliach said...

I'm glad you're so convinced of all this.

Farbrengen said...

BS"D
I'm brainwashed.
With the filth that's out there, a brain wash in the healthiest option we have to stay clean and real.

The Real Shliach said...

I suppose you´re probably correct. Still, you can´t stick your nose in the sand and think that it´s all hunky-dory. The way you discuss Lubavitch is the way people describe a cult. We are real people, with real problems, and real solutions, not just some sort of panacea.

Farbrengen said...

BS"D
Really, you're joking?
You mean not everything is perfect?!? Who would have thought!

In all seriousness, on the one hand, we have issues etc. and we are very real, and we deal with issues that shake us to our very essence and core.
Then, on the other hand, we are blessed with unfathomable tools and witness countless daily doses of inspiration and open hashgocha protis.

We have to be realisitc.
We have to realize that as much as their's pain and suffering etc, we are also born and bred on the "diamonds" of a Chassidish lifestyle. And as much as there's evil in this world, it would be a real denial of reality to not keep the good on the forefront of our thoughts.

Farbrengen said...

BS'D
**There's**

The Real Shliach said...

I knew I could always count on you for a dose of positivity.

Nemo said...

With the filth that's out there, a brain wash in the healthiest option we have to stay clean and real.

Speaking of circular logic.

And as much as there's evil in this world, it would be a real denial of reality to not keep the good on the forefront of our thoughts.

Why does good have to be on the "forefront" to not deny reality. This makes no sense. Why shouldn't they have equal and proportionate placement.

Nemo said...

Sorry, forgot some question marks there.

The Real Shliach said...

Didn't you listen to what mayor bloomberg said yesterday? There's no such thing as proportion.
B. Explain to me tracht gut ven zein gut.

Nemo said...

I didn't hear Bloomberg, but from what your saying, he's wrong. He needs to have a lawyer write his speeches (or maybe you need one to interpret them :)

Under international law, an attack on a military target embedded within a civilian population must be proportionate and designed to minimize collateral civilian damage. Proportionality is gauged by the relative military value of the target versus the potential civilian carnage. The standard used is the standard of a reasonable military commander acting under similar conditions.

Assuming that Israel has picked legitimate military targets (which I believe they have), and the military value of those targets is highly important - enough to risk civilian casualties - and Israel has done what they reasonably can to reduce civilian collateral damage, then Israel is acting PROPORTIONATELY.

(Incidentally, the law of proportionality doesn't apply to military targets and personnel. In other words, you can legally bomb them all back to the stone age in a time of war)

If Michael Bloomberg says that there is no such thing as proportional, then he is doing Israel, which is purposely acting proportional, a real disservice.

B. I don't understand the Tracht Gut question. I didn't understand that maxim to require a person to DENY reality.

The Real Shliach said...

B. Simply that when there are two things to be thought, think the positive one. You seemed to reject that earlier.

LE7 said...

When one start's claiming that everything we do and believe makes perfect sense, that we can do no wrong - then they're brainwashed.

The Real Shliach said...

At least when you are brain washed you believe in something.

Dovid said...

Although every group has their issues, I think everyone considers whatever group they belong to, to be "the best". Otherwise why are they still part of that group?
True its probably better to keep this pride inside rather than spray it on TRS comments, but I don't think its cultish to be deeply devoted.

The Real Shliach said...

Deeply devoted is one thing, chauvinist is another.

Who am I fooling? This is a moronic conversation. Way too serious. Makes me sick.

LE7 said...

What happened? I was totally expecting to be attacked for making a moronic statement.

The Real Shliach said...

Why are you so convinced that your statement was moronic? It made sense to me. Of course, some would argue that you are incorrect in your assertion, and would posit Judaism's perfection; in general however, the vultures on this blog seem to enjoy apikorsus, and they're not likely to call you out on it.

LE7 said...

I'm not so convinced, I was just looking forward to a battle. Oh well.

The Real Shliach said...

You are correct, it's been a bit boring lately.