During the first years that I lived in Sydney, Australia I was contacted by the Jewish community in Adelaide.
During the first years that I lived in Sydney, Australia I was contacted by the Jewish community in Adelaide. The high holidays were approaching and their synagogue had no rabbi. The chief rabbi of Sydney sent them to me but I could not see leaving my wife and four young children alone for the holidays.
The synagogue committee asked the chief rabbi what to do?
“Listen,” he told them, “Rabbi Gutnick is a Lubavitcher chasid. Write a letter to the Lubavitcher Rebbe stating that you need a rabbi for the high holidays. If the Rebbe tells Rabbi Gutnick to go, he will do so.”
I soon received a special delivery letter from the Rebbe expressing surprise that I didn’t consent to helping out and advising me to spend the high holidays in Adelaide. At the bottom of the letter the Rebbe added, “While in Adelaide concern yourself with the needs of the Egyptian Jews living there.”
I arrived in Adelaide the day before Rosh Hashana and went to the synagogue. As I was surveying the sanctuary, a woman entered and asked me, “Where is the most sacred part of the synagogue?” I was surprised by her question. I pointed to the Aron Hakodesh, the holy ark, where the Torah is kept.
Before I could say another word, she rushed out and returned immediately, leading a blind teenage girl straight to the Ark, and then departed. The girl kissed the curtains of the holy ark and burst out in tears. She remained there for several minutes after which the woman came back and escorted her out.
I described the entire baffling scene to the secretary at the synagogue. “Don’t give it another thought,” the secretary said. She’s one of the Egyptians. They don’t get along with our community. Her parents don’t even come to the synagogue on Rosh Hashana so she probably decided to visit before the holiday.
I tried to ignore the secretary’s degrading tone. All I could think of was the Rebbe’s words, “Concern yourself with the Egyptian Jews.” I rushed out to find the girl but she had disappeared.
On Rosh Hashana I felt the gulf between the local community and the Egyptian Jews. I tried to befriend some Egyptian Jews and asked about the blind girl.
After the holiday she too tried to contact me. The phone in my room rang. “Hello, I’m Betty, the blind girl.” But an abrupt click assured me that someone was determined to keep her from speaking to me.
On the night before Yom Kippur, I was finally able to obtain her address and phone number. My calls were fruitless for as soon as I identified myself, the line went dead. I would not give up. Despite the late hour, I took a taxi to her home. Her family was reluctant to allow me in. “Please,” I said,”I have traveled a great distance and I would like to speak with you.”
The door opened and I was invited to enter. Slowly I developed their trust. After a while the rest of the family left and I gently asked Betty to tell me what was troubling her. In an emotional tone she told me her story.
To be continued: