"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Dear Friend,

The weather man did warn of it. By the afternoon of Sunday December 26 they were talking about a snow fall in New York of between 18-24 inches (45-60 cm) coupled with blizzard conditions. If you did not have a good reason to be out of your house it was advisable to stay at home. I had just arrived in NY on Sunday morning to attend a wedding of the daughter of a close friend and wanted to make every effort to be there for my friend on this special day. I realized that many people would probably not brave the elements and this made me even firmer in my resolve to try my best to attend.

When I set out to the wedding for what should have been a twenty minute drive the snow was already coming down thick and winds were blowing snow at a furious pace making visibility quite limited. Traffic inched along at twenty MPH but thank G-d I arrived to the wedding just as the bride was about to walk down the aisle. The father of the bride told me that he wanted to honor me with reciting of the seven blessings to the young couple at the end of the meal so I stayed for the full celebration which turned out to be very lively and beautiful and only set out to my car after midnight.


Even walking to the car was an ordeal as the blizzard conditions had not abated. Somehow I even managed to get out of the parking lot and into the street. Inching along with tires spinning I had covered about five blocks in an hour. This also was thanks to the help of a group of young men who were behind my stuck car and helped me out of a snowdrift. Their push allowed me to proceed by several meters but then I slid - against my will - into a very neat double parked position and try as I may I could not move forward or backward. Seeing no point in sleeping in my car in this not such safe neighborhood, I happily noted that there were railroad track some three blocks away. My happiness was curtailed after I climbed up the steps to the platform and found out that the train service of that particular line was suspended. The station master told us that only the underground lines of the subway were still running and the nearest station was at the corner of 74th and Roosevelt which was a ‘mere’ twenty seven blocks from the 111th and Roosevelt station that I was currently in. I announced my intention to walk to the other stranded passengers who were a true mix of ethnicities that so represents the melting pot of America, myself a Jew and along with me were Hispanics, Asians and African Americans all standing there and shivering in the station.  


‘You can’t walk’ protested one of the people on the platform. ‘Its ten miles’ he said. I thought that he was wrong and that the blocks were not very long in this part of Queens. Seeing no point in waiting for service to resume as there was no indication when that could take place, I proceeded to walk through the snow-covered roads till I finally reached the 74th street station about an hour later. I passed all kinds of vehicles that were stuck, including police cars, buses and taxis. Only the four wheel drive vehicles seemed to fare better. Between the hours of 2:30 am and 4:15 am I traveled two trains to finally arrive at the station three blocks away from my parents home in Brooklyn Crown Heights.


Strangely, I did not feel uncomfortable or scared as I probably would have been on a regular Sunday night after midnight in this part of town. People were all plodding through the streets and even helping stranded cars and nodding greeting to each other. A drunken South American looking male approached me at the subway station and pointing to my kippa said that his grandfather had also been a Jew. Then he made a comment which helped me crystallize my thoughts about the bizarre sequence of the night’s events. ‘Tonight there are no differences between people, whether rich or poor they are all stuck in the same situation’. Indeed, this must have been the subconscious feeling going through the hearts of the stranded masses, causing them to be a bit more gentle and compassionate, actually reaching out to help perfect strangers.


Money really could not help someone at 3am if they were stuck helplessly in a snowdrift in New York. A tycoon would be as powerless as a blue collar worker in the face of this powerful weather pattern. Actually, a rabbi friend of mine stuck in his car during the blizzard on a Brooklyn street, hosted a garbage truck driver in his car for three hours in the middle of the night as the heating on the garbage truck stuck in close proximity to him was broken.


These moments of ‘sanity’ when people open up to each other and help one another have to be savored and drawn upon to inspire our positive attitudes toward others even when there are no blizzards or other emergency situations.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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